The 25 Best K-Pop Songs Of 2015
Idolator has already brought you the best 2015 had to offer in mainstream and alternative pop, but what about the East? South Korea furiously churns out fun and innovative pop music — and the K-pop output of the past 12 months definitely didn’t disappoint.
Like just about everywhere else, K-pop was steeped in ’90s nostalgia this year — there was a Robin S. homage and italo-house galore heaped on to the already-established ’80s dance beats, ’70s disco and ’60s soul that K-pop routinely appropriates and then re-imagines. But despite looking back at the past, South Korea still excelled when it came to producing modern, genre-bending pop (just listen to Red Velvet’s The Red album or Ga-In’s Hawwah EP).
Hundreds of killer K-pop songs were released this year, but I’ve whittled it down to the top 25 instead. See how they ranked below.
25. Brown Eyed Girls — “Brave New World”
Despite starting out as a powerhouse vocal group, Brown Eyed Girls ended up being tagged as edgy EDM divas thanks to their iconic 2009 hit, “Abracadabra.” Six years later and they’re still not ready to relinquish the title, serving Jamiroquai on acid with the astrophysical “Brave New World.”
24. Girls’ Generation — “Lion Heart”
Girl’ Generation like to play the edgy card every now and then, but at their core they’re just a bunch of ultra-pretty girly girls. The lush “Lion Heart” captures the group’s timeless femininity and packages it as a retro-pop throwback filled with vintage girl group harmonies and a bassline snatched straight from The Four Tops.
23. Dal Shabet — “Joker”
Dal Shabet set tongues wagging in 2014 with the suggestive “Big Baby Baby,” but they achieved full size queen status this year with the just plain filthy “Joker”. The song’s awesomely theatrical production was overshadowed by its lyrical content — a thinly-veiled tale about wanting to take a big dick.
22. Red Velvet — “Automatic”
It’s hard to choose which Red Velvet track deserves a spot on this list because the truth is that 90 percent of their songs are worthy. That’s because most of them sound like a brattier version of f(x) at their most experimental, which is why the slinky “Automatic” stands out so much with its minimalist R&B beat and melancholy sensuality.
21. Yunho — “Champagne”
Yunho’s one of the most electrifying male pop stars of the past decade, but for his entire career he’s been tucked away in a group (and a duo). Right before beginning his mandatory military service, the charismatic dancing machine finally got to shine as the solo star that he is with this uber fun hip-hop/disco jam.
20. miss A — “Only You”
“Only You” was one of the more simple K-pop hits of the year, which is why it worked so well. The song’s sweetness is addictive and the trap-infused synth-pop production has a quiet coolness to it. In an alternate universe, I can imagine Amelle-era Sugababes recording this and absolutely slaying.
19. HELLOVENUS — “Wiggle Wiggle”
Every year K-pop produces a handful of trashy tracks that are deceptively good underneath their sleazy exterior. This year it was “Wiggle Wiggle” — an addictive, occasionally creepy banger built on popcorn synths, whispers and piercing shrieks. It’s a call to get on the dance floor and twerk!
18. MAMAMOO — “Um Oh ah Yeah”
There’s not a lot to say about MAMAMOO’s breakout hit other than that it’s just a super fun feel-good song performed by a bunch of girls that can really sing and rap. It’s hard to resist a nice slice of bouncy synth-pop, especially during the summer time.
17. Ga-In — “Paradise Lost”
Ga-In dropped one of the best albums of the year with her Biblical-themed EP Hawwah. If it isn’t cool enough that lead single “Paradise Lost” told the story of Eve’s temptation from the perspective of the snake, the song featured a demented breakdown of trap snares and church organs that truly showcased how innovative K-pop can be.
16. Wonder Girls — “I Feel You”
While everybody was busy playing with ’90s nostalgia this year, K-pop trailblazers the Wonder Girls went back an extra decade for a uncompromising ’80s concept album. Lead single “I Feel You” gave pop a much needed freestyle revival a la Exposé and Seduction, while the fully-committed music video took us back to vintage MTV and Robert Palmer.
15. BTS — “I Need You”
BTS have always been a decent boy band, but “I Need U” showed that they have what it takes to one day enter K-pop’s big leagues. Like “Baby One More Time” before it, this is an unequivocal ode to quaking teenage sexuality and emotion. And don’t get me started on the epic dub-step breakdowns, a.k.a. the best non-chorus chorus of 2015.
14. 1Punch — “Turn Me Back”
Creating a Korean version of Kriss Kross sounds like a ridiculous idea, and it is, but it’s impossible not to appreciate the old-school beats of Brave Brothers‘ short-lived hip-hop duo, 1Punch. The aptly-titled “Turn Me Back” is retro kitsch at its best, boasting ’80s electric guitar riffs, cheesy record scratches and the most danceable italo-house breakdown of the past year.
13. BoA — “Kiss My Lips”
K-pop’s Queen Bee BoA has been slowly maturing her sound and image over the last few years, but it wasn’t until the release of May’s “Kiss My Lips” that she really got her grown ass woman on. The former tomboy finally slapped on some lipstick and heels and got seriously sensual over a synthesized R&B groove courtesy of American hitmakers The Stereotypes.
12. IU — “Twenty Three”
After being branded a “sly fox” by the public for little reason other than that she’s a successful female artist, IU decided to play with her image with this satirical coming-of-age track. The talented star once again proved that she could seamlessly blend her singer/songwriter leanings with catchy hooks and melodies, cementing herself as this generation’s greatest K-pop princess.
11. AOA — “Heart Attack”
When I first heard “Heart Attack” I hated it for sounding like 2010 made-for-American-radio euro-pop. I mean, didn’t we just get over that whole thing? A handful of plays later, I loved it for those exact reasons. While it may not be original or innovative, it’s literally always stuck in my head, and that has to count for something. Just ask LMFAO or PSY.
10. SEVENTEEN — “Mansae”
Considering that their debut was delayed for YEARS, I don’t think anybody really expected SEVENTEEN to be the best new boy band of 2015. But somehow the 13-member group pulled it off — first with the funky sweetness of “Adore U” and then with follow-up “Mansae,” which took everything that was amazing about “Adore U” and multiplied it by seventeen.
9. T-ara — “So Crazy”
Just when you thought that Brave Brothers’ couldn’t possibly beat you into submission with another one of his cut-and-paste ditties, along comes T-ara with “So Crazy.” Despite sounding like something AOA probably passed on (fools!), “So Crazy” is a ridiculously catchy earmworm with hooks for days and days and days.
8. 4minute — “Crazy”
After spending two years peddling quirky Brave Brothers’ jams, the ever-evolving 4minute reinvented themselves into ferocious club kids with the relentlessly fierce “Crazy.” It’s the closest a female K-pop act has got to displaying Rihanna levels of badassery in years.
7. Oh My Girl — “Cupid”
Red Velvet released their fair share of demented bubblegum pop this year, but even SM Entertainment’s latest female titans couldn’t come close to Oh My Girl’s spectacular “Cupid.” Simultaneously hypnotic and jarring, the surprise rookie gem of the year sounds like Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” after being sliced and diced by the K-pop machine, stitched back together and then rolled in sugar.
6. STELLAR — “Vibrato”
K-pop’s sexual shock-jocks STELLAR seemed to bore their salacious fandom with an underrated attempt at TLC-lite with March’s gorgeous “Fool,” so they went balls out (or should I say, vagina out) for their iconic follow-up “Vibrato.” It’s blistering nu-disco that starts on a 7 but ends on 11 with the most explosive climax of the year.
5. f(x) — “4 Walls”
Using SHINee’s “View” as a blueprint, f(x)’s “4 Walls” upped the U.K. garage elements of the aforementioned hit and essentially turned out an ethereal remake of Robin S.’ “Show Me Love.” With Red Velvet now occupying their old turf, K-pop’s Queens of Insta-cool used “4 Walls” to complete the jump from teen idols to grown ass women making pop music for twentysomethings.
4. Nine Muses — “Drama”
Nine Muses hold the title of the most popular unpopular girl group in K-pop, but even some of their most loyal fans turned their backs on the leggy ladies after the release of the seriously underrated “Drama.” The group’s first single away from longtime producer “Sweetune” sadly proved too strange for some with its sudden rap breaks, a beat built around 1950s soap opera music and a dramatically abrupt conclusion.
3. SHINee — “View”
“View” sounds like it was lifted straight out of a gay New York nightclub in the early nineties, which is about the highest possible praise one can give a record like this. With Italo-house piano and splashes of garage, it’s a vintage club queen’s dream. The moment SHINee start swivelling their hips and vogueing to the chorus, you can almost hear Ru Paul snapping his fingers in the background with a sassy “You better WORK!”
2. Hyosung — “Into You”
“Into You” initially underwhelmed compared to Hyosung’s last hit, the hooky “Good-night Kiss.” But over time it pushes its way inside, capturing you with its breathy come-ons and shameless Spice Girls’ appropriation. Like Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” it’s a song made for the male gaze with a music video to match. For three-and-a-half minutes Hyosung creates a fantasy land where you’re the hottest guy in the room and the dream girl is all yours.
1. BIGBANG — “Bae Bae”
If Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” is the most romantic rap song of 2015, then BIGBANG’s “Bae Bae” is K-pop’s. Blending the band’s more commercial aspects with their often overlooked avant garde trappings, “Bae Bae” mixes hip-hip, pop, trap beats and country music guitar riffs, and then transcends the sum of its parts to becoming something that’s entirely its own.