I call this part of the list the “Favoritism” section. That might seem a little weird since we’re basically halfway through the series, but it’s because I changed things up this year. I decided to allow more than two songs by my favorites groups because it was a more accurate reflection of what I really listened to, which means a lot of them have three songs that placed really highly. So, this post generally consists of my ultimate bias groups (aka SM artists – the takeover starts here) and/or groups that I saw at KCON and have become more invested in.
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.
“Love Shot” is a seductive slow jam, both an interesting contrast to the intentionally frantic and fast-paced “Tempo” and a clever play on EXO’s annual album-repackage strategy. It’s definitely mellower than most of their title tracks (except perhaps “Ko Ko Bop”), but that makes it stand out even more. The smooth and simple melody does its job of being catchy, and then it fades into the background to allow the more visual elements to take center stage – like the vividly colored music video or the sexy choreography. It’s definitely something to be enjoyed with both the ears and the eyes. One of the things I love about EXO is that they’re always full of surprises. You never really know what they’re going to come up with next, and the anticipation and guessing games are part of the fun. I for one was certainly not expecting something so sensual – that choreography is at least 85% body rolls – but I’m definitely not complaining.
EXID celebrated Solji’s much-anticipated return from hiatus with a single full of their trademark sexy charms. “I Love You” checks off all the boxes for a classic EXID comeback: a strong beat, a catchy hook, powerful vocals and rap, fierce dance moves, and a bold attitude. One of its major strengths is the music video that boasts their unique offbeat sense of humor. Though it isn’t as risqué as some of their others, it’s very cheeky and hilariously relatable: these ladies look beautiful and put together as always, but their actions show that they’re really a hot mess. (Hani re-editing their embarrassing VHS tapes to show just the good parts is inspired.) I especially love the moments that break the fourth wall, like when they’re too sick/sad/hungover to do their own choreography properly. It’s a silly but nice reminder that everyone’s human. I was a big fan of the retro style music EXID favored in Solji’s absence, but there’s really nothing like the full group in all of their sassy glory.
“Dejavu” is your typical smooth and polished NU’EST song, with a clean arrangement that allows the melody to shine and the soft grooves to drive the track. Though the overall mood of the piece is low-key and somewhat unassuming, there’s actually a massive amount of detail and interconnecting elements. The choreography often mirrors the slow but persistent pace of the song with deliberately drawn out movements, which is a perfect fit for its overall calm and collected feel. And the music video is top quality, especially in its cinematography and production design. I’m one of those people who doesn’t separate “entertainers” from “artists,” but what I love about NU’EST is that they truly value that K-pop is as visual as it is audial. Their work is always so intricate on multiple levels, and I’m continually impressed by their commitment to their artistry.
A fair amount of K-pop songs were influenced by latin pop this year, and Super Junior was right at the forefront leading the charge. Though most groups used the genre as inspiration, Super Junior took it a step further: they collaborated with actual latin pop singers, resulting in truly multilingual songs that sound like they could belong in the genre itself. “Lo Siento” is a very sexy yet chill track that has an addictive melody, with intriguing guitar embellishments sprinkled throughout to add a unique flair. Personally, I’m not overly attracted to this latest trend in K-pop – simply because I already hear so much of it living in the United States – but “Lo Siento” just draws me in because it’s so darn catchy. And having seen it live, I can also confirm that it’s unbelievably charming and flirtatious. I’m actually kind of surprised that Super Junior got away with a performance that had so much interaction with female collaborators, but I think the thrill of those moments was part of what made it so appealing.
After conquering nearly every style of sexy concept under the sun, AOA changed tacks and gave us a fun and flirty summer song. “Bingle Bangle” is playful and lighthearted, with an unforgettable whistle hook and cute cheerleader like choreography. The 8-bit video game concept for their music video is also really entertaining; it’s like a cross between The Sims, Diner Dash, and Just Dance. I must admit I was a little concerned about AOA’s future, given that they lost a member whom many considered especially important for their image. I was definitely surprised by their change of concept, but I have to say it works for them. AOA used to be one of those girl groups that seemed unapproachable (like many sexy concepts), and I think softening that image is a good look. Seeing the ladies play up their girly side was refreshing. Sure I miss the days when they were high-heeled cat burglars, but the charming down-to-earth approach suits them just as well.
TWICE has a tried and true formula: songs that will never get out of your head (EVER), dances that everyone wants to learn, and entertaining music videos that highlight the members’ individual charms. “Yes or Yes” isn’t the first time TWICE has veered into supernatural territory, but the aesthetic is delightfully darker and more mysterious than their usual bright and bubbly color palette. From crystal balls and tarot cards to fire dancing and target games, TWICE’s latest characters put their bewitching magic on full display to draw viewers in to see their carnival. The theme strikes a nice balance with the overwhelming peppiness and cheer of the song itself, which is almost over the top in its positive vibe; it’s definitely their most energetic track yet. I feel like the phrase “Yes or Yes” is actually an apt way of describing TWICE: you’re going to fall under their spell at some point, and you’ll just have to live with it.
Golden Child is so adorably wholesome. Their music is a prime example of what I fondly call “High School Musical” style: very pure and light bubblegum pop mixed with performances that look like musical numbers. “Let Me” is fun, fresh, and so gosh darn cheerful. It successfully piles on the positivity bit by bit, starting slow and building up all the way through until the ending feels like an actual burst of joy. I’m usually pretty immune to the standard “act silly and goofy” routine many boy groups employ – especially if there’s a huge age gap like here – but Golden Child’s bubbly and bright energy is infectious. “Let Me” is one of the few songs I rarely skip on my playlist because it’s so feel-good that I automatically smile the second I hear it. I’m a little biased because I became a big Golden Child fan after seeing them at KCON (twice!), but I truly believe they’re the perfect fit for “boy next door” type songs like “Let Me.”
“Power Up” is a throwback to the colorful quirkiness Red Velvet flaunted once upon a time – the chorus is literally just singing “banana” over and over – and everything about it has some delightfully peculiar touch. The song sounds like the background music for a 90s video game; I can almost envision 12-year-old me button-mashing away on my Game Boy Advance when I hear it. At least half of the choreography is what they affectionately call “the shark fin dance,” something that should look silly but somehow doesn’t. And the music video features the girls making CDs and records out of fruit and *possibly* turning each other into juice – a nod to last summer’s “Red “Flavor.” Even the fashion is somewhat eclectic, ranging from bright checkered print to girl scout uniforms to cheerleader outfits. It’s all borderline bizarre, but it’s also the quintessential Red Velvet that we’ve come to know and love. It quickly became one of my go-to summer songs.
We all know what an NCT 127 comeback usually entails: experimental hip hop music, off the charts charisma, questionable fashion, etc. So, it was a delight to see them go for something so bright and happy-go-lucky like “Touch.” It’s nice to hear a track that takes full advantage of their vocals and really has the group working as an ensemble, with harmonies and ad-libs that blend together beautifully. It’s another performance that looks and sounds like something off Broadway because you can actually hear those sincere emotions in their singing. This song is ridiculously sentimental to me because it was released right after I went through a breakup, and there was a period when I really relied on its positivity. There are still times when my heart swells when I listen to the final chorus, because it’s so earnest and wholesome. I still fully maintain that the music video looks like a GAP commercial, but that’s because it has that feel-good atmosphere that many advertisements try to capture. “Touch” was a rare opportunity to see a different side of NCT 127. I doubt that we’ll get music like it often, but I wholly appreciated the brief glimpse.
“Not That Type” is sassy girl power at its finest. The girls of gugudan have been low-key practicing this style through songs like “A Girl Like Me” and “The Boots,” and now they’ve honed everything to perfection. The key to a successful girl crush song is confidence, and their unapologetic lyrics and powerful dance moves prove they have it in spades. “Not That Type” honestly sounds like a song that an American pop diva would release, the party track that makes you immediately push people aside as you sashay your way to the dance floor. Now that we’re over halfway through this series of posts, I think it’s probably pretty apparent that I love girl crush concepts. I will happily consume anything with that label, but I reserve my most excited reactions for truly fierce and fabulous songs like “Not That Type.”
MUSIC VIDEO SOURCES: Banana Culture Entertainment (EXID), FNC Entertainment (AOA), Jellyfish Entertainment (gugudan), JYP Entertainment (TWICE), Pledis Entertainment (NU’EST W), SM Entertainment (Super Junior, EXO, Red Velvet, and NCT 127), and Woollim Entertainment (Golden Child)
“Bingle Bangle” is also distributed by 1theK.