You might have noticed that I labeled this series of posts “Top K-pop Releases” instead of “Top K-pop Songs.” That’s because I believe there’s a lot more to a group’s comeback or debut than just the song. While the music should always be the main focus, there are so many other elements that can shape it. Because I often watched K-pop videos as much as I listened to the songs, I decided to take all these factors into account when making this list. All of the releases that I have chosen are ones that I enjoyed for multiple reasons: music, choreography, music video, or even styling.
DISCLAIMER: This is a list of my favorite songs of the past year, comprised of my own personal opinions and preferences. It is not a ranking of what I think are the best songs of 2018. The deciding factors were primarily how much I liked the song/dance/music video, how often I listened to the song, how invested I was in the group/their promotion period, and how interested I remained in the song for the rest of the year.
#50: “Time for the Moon Night,” GFriend
“Time for the Moon Night” has all the makings of a typical GFriend comeback. It’s full of their usual bright and upbeat energy, with choreography that effortlessly adds graceful glides and spins to their trademark dynamic movements. Though the elegant string arrangement makes it seem dreamy and romantic, I like that there’s a more serious and wistful side to their music video. The storyline implies that one of the members has passed away; the suggestion is very light, but it still has a profound effect. GFriend seems to thrive on bubbly and bright music like “Love Whisper,” but I personally think their best songs are the ones that tap into relatable emotions like “Rough.” “Time for the Moon Night” is the perfect meeting ground between the two; it keeps in line with their popular “powerful innocent” concept, but its sentimental tones gently add some more dimension.
#49: “No More,” UNI.T
Not many of the 3rd generation girl groups really go for sexy concepts, so it was refreshing to see UNI.T rise to the challenge with their debut. “No More” is a slow jam with a catchy and subtly seductive melody, juxtaposed with some seriously suggestive dancing. While the choreography can be over the top at times, I’m impressed that UNI.T really embraced the concept and tackled it head on. They sing about being swayed by someone crossing the line, but at the same time they’re dancing with such provocative moves. I also really like the choreography because the staging shows each member’s personality and charm, building on the advantage that survival show tams have. I’m still very salty that UNI.T didn’t even get to promote for seven months as promised, but I’m glad that they left us with a nice debut song to enjoy.
#48: “Lady,” EXID
As a 90’s kid, I can say with authority that “Lady” is the ultimate 90’s throwback. It sounds exactly like the music I used to hear on the radio growing up; the sassy trumpets and that funky beat are definitive proof. And, the music video looks exactly like what I’d see I would see on TV – brightly colored streetwear and all. (I love how it’s edited to look like an actual older VHS video as well.) The overly bouncy and groovy choreography is an extra dose of fun, and it’s quite easy to learn. While EXID’s sexy image still reigns supreme, I must say I like the retro music they’ve been releasing recently. They seem like such a fun-loving and down-to-earth group, and it’s great to see them bring out that side in their performances. They can easily return to more powerful and sexy music with Solji’s return, but I hope they’ll still go retro every once in a while.
#47: “Tell Me,” INFINITE
The clean and light synth pop style of “Tell Me” reminds me of a lot of the boy group songs I heard as a kid. Though it’s very simplistic compared to most popular songs these days, the memorable hook is really all it needs to pull you in. Its gentle melody departs from the dramatic sound INFINITE has favored since 2015, but it’s still packed with the same intense emotions. The minimal arrangement actually allows their earnest vocals to shine even more. My favorite part is the choreography, which focuses on a very unique side-to-side dynamic. It’s smooth and uniform, but energetic enough to give the song a more dramatic effect. The members of INFINITE are in their mid to late twenties, and the polished comeback for “Tell Me” reflects their status as a mature veteran group.
#46: “Help Me,” NU’EST W
The majority of NU’EST’s songs has very agreeable and pleasant melodies, even when the contents are sad and regretful. Listening to their music is usually a calm experience, so I was very surprised to hear “Help Me” – quite possibly the most powerful and dramatic song that they’ve released. Their lyrics have always been emotionally compelling, but I think this is the first time that the music has ever matched that intensity in terms of tone. Power vocal Baekho is belting out high notes all over the place, and JR dominates the chorus with a fierce charisma wildly different from his more laidback rapping style. It’s a really nice contrast to Aron’s and Ren’s honey vocals. Saying NU’EST has been through a lot is an understatement, but those experiences have resulted in some excellent music. I think that “Help Me” reflects all of their growth and maturity in the best possible ways.
#45: “The Boots,” gugudan
Gugudan expanded their revisionist story concept this year by reinterpreting the “Cait Sith,” fairy cat creatures from Celtic mythology. “The Boots,” which is also based on the French fairy tale “Puss in Boots,” is a fun song that contrasts a light and playful whistle hook with strong beats and a powerful dance break. Though the fashionable music video is not as narrative-driven as their others, I interpret the concept as glamorous cat burglars who might actually be cats. I love how the shots of the girls with glowing eyes suggests that they’re literally enchanting the viewer, which goes hand in hand with the charming quality of the song. One of the reasons that I really like gugudan is because of the creativity that goes into their comebacks. “The Boots” wasn’t as quirky as some of their other releases, but it was still filled with their wonderfully unique flair.
#44: “You and I,” Dreamcatcher
“You and I” is fantastically dramatic. Dreamcatcher has dominated their supernatural horror concept and signature rock sound over the last year and a half, but this is the first song that has a distinct mysterious and almost magical feel. It starts out slow and dreamlike, then builds into the frenzied electric guitar-driven chorus that we’ve come to expect. “You And I” is also accompanied by one of Dreamcatcher’s recognizable high-difficulty choreographies – one of their most eye-catching yet – and an intriguing music video that builds on their spooky paranormal universe. The film school student in me loves all the small details that connect to their other music videos, like Yoohyeon’s character being exorcised as a result of her actions in “Fly High.” Dreamcatcher’s concept is niche in an industry that’s already pretty niche itself, so I love that they’re taking over a lesser known music genre and consistently reinventing it.
#43: “Remember Me,” Oh My Girl
Oh My Girl has made a name for themselves by mastering two concepts: delightfully cute and quirky, and effortlessly elegant and dreamy. “Remember Me” is their take on the girl crush style, filled with their own unique flair. The typical strong thudding beat is balanced by the girls’ signature gentle voices, and the choreography includes both confident power walks and delicate feminine touches. Plus, everything is tied together with the wonderfully peculiar music video. I love Oh My Girl and I love a good girl crush song, so I was bound to love “Remember Me” – but I especially appreciate that they did girl crush their own way. Instead of changing their style to fit the concept, Oh My Girl adapted the concept to fit their style. “Remember Me” keeps the parts of the girl crush trend that work, but rebranding the concept helps it stay fresh and innovative.
#42: “We Go Up,” NCT Dream
NCT Dream is the poster child for youthful concepts, but I think “We Go Up” is the first song that truly captures the essence of who these boys are. This bright and bouncy pop song is partially about enjoying yourself while you’re young, but it also celebrates growing up and looking forward to new stages in life. It’s nice because that idea is relatable to everyone, whether that moment is past or present. It’s also especially timely because Mark is graduating from NCT Dream, which adds a sweet and sentimental layer to the whole thing. I don’t follow them that closely because the boys are so much younger than I am, but I enjoy checking their music out occasionally. I’m always impressed to see how they’re constantly growing and evolving. K-pop groups will inevitably change and mature over the years, but it’s rare to actually see their companies acknowledge that or make it a theme of their creative work. Thank goodness SM stopped giving them overly childish looking concepts and started showing their strong potential.
#41: “Latata,” (G)I-DLE
“Latata” is just so darn addictive; I can’t ever get it out of my head! It follows the formula for your basic catchy pop song and throws in some trendy moombahton and trap for good measure. I love both of those genres, so it’s an instant hit for me. The choreography is also really fun, and the intricate hand movements accentuate the kind of exotic quality of the song. It’s easy to see why (G)I-DLE’s debut was popular; it showed that they’re a girl group with many potential charms. While it primarily had a girl crush vibe like other Cube girls, it had shades of several other qualities like cute and and eclectic. Leader Soyeon (of Produce 101 and Unpretty Rapstar fame) had a lot of influence in creating “Latata,” which I think helped solidly establish that image. I’m trying really hard not to add on to my never-ending list of bias groups, but I’m happy to make an exception for (G)I-DLE. They’re definitely rookies to watch out for!
MUSIC VIDEO SOURCES: Banana Culture Entertainment (EXID), Cube Entertainment ((G)I-DLE), Happy Face Entertainment (Dreamcatcher), Jellyfish Entertainment (gugudan), Loen Entertainment (UNI.T), Pledis Entertainment (NU’EST W), SM Entertainment (NCT Dream), Source Music (GFriend), WM Entertainment (Oh My Girl), and Woollim Entertainment (INFINITE)
NOTE: The music videos for “Time for the Moon Night” and “No More” are distributed by 1theK.