2019 has been a rollercoaster year for K-pop as a whole. K-pop’s popularity has grown to an all time high with many broken records, amazing collaborations, and overseas activities. K-pop in 2019 featured a lot of nicely, diverse produced music and uniquely made ones as well. Many Rookies made their mark this year and many amazing comebacks as well. With so much quality to choose from, how on earth do we single out the best K-pop songs of 2019? The OH! Press Team is here to take on the challenge.
Sansa’s Picks: Taemin & Red Velvet
“Want” – Taemin
There’s no one doing sexy better than Lee Taemin. Absolutely no one. Taemin started 2019 with a bang and dared the K-pop boys to step up to his level. Suffice to say, none of them quite reached the pop perfection that is “Want”. From those soft, velvety vocals to the Michael Jackson-esque dance moves, Taemin proved that you don’t have to bare your naked body to get the girls going. The song feels stripped down and non-chaotic, which can trick one into thinking that it’s a pretty standard pop song. However, the song is anything but a standard pop song and is quite layered with all its subtle changes and imagery. The accompanying music video’s dark color palette aids in keeping things sultry and also features some neat choreography.
No male artist – group or solo – has topped Taemin since “Want” dropped, and he also gave the girls a run for their money. It is hard to find a more consistent artist in K-Pop as Taemin has released masterpiece after masterpiece since his solo debut. I would encourage everyone to listen to the entire album. It is truly one of the best of the year.
“LP” – Red Velvet
It was hard choosing between BTS, Red Velvet and Taemin for best b-side of the year as they all knocked it right out of the park with really well-made albums. Eventually, I went for Red Velvet as they were my most played artist this year. The Reve Festival series has had some god-tier b-sides, and I found it difficult to choose the one that I liked best. There were some like “Jumping”, “Love is the Way” “Bing Bing” and “Parade” that I wanted to highlight but I ended up choosing “LP” due to how underrated it is.
This track is truly a quintessential Red + Velvet song. It’s got the bright, bubbly nature of the group’s Red side but it is undercut by a smooth, sultry sound (so it’s Velvet-ish). The vocals are absolutely phenomenal – as is expected of Red Velvet – and the song does a great job of showing what the girls are capable of individually and as a unit. “LP” is elevator music, but it’s the best kind there is. The sexy R’n’B vibe with a dominant saxophone to back it is truly unique to K-pop but it should not surprise anyone that Red Velvet of all groups managed to pull this one off. I wish the K-pop community would give “LP” the love that it deserves.
Sakura’s Picks: (G)I-DLE & TWICE
“Lion” – (G)I-DLE
Who would’ve thought that the rookie group from Queendom would’ve made the most out of the survival show! Lion is a standalone track used as a comeback for the Queendom Finale. I feel like out of all the title tracks (G)I-DLE has released so far, Lion feels the most complete mainly because everyone’s strong points were well displayed. Shuhua in particular shined the most as she got a fair amount of lines and a huge part in the live performance. The music itself is minimalist, for most of the track (minus the chorus) Soyeon used a drum synth (or possible a live recording). Throughout the track, more instrumentals join until it gets to the last verse with just the drums. And we talk about Minnie verses!! Minnie showcased her deeper vocals right in the beginning and towards the second chorus, an amazing high note. And for the music video, it really stuck with a certain look and style. An old-time kingdom and they represent the queens (as well as lions as a metaphor). Visually the music video was simple but it all goes well together.
“TRICK IT” – TWICE
I’ve been loving all the tracks TWICE has been releasing from Fancy and Feel Special, including the b-side tracks. TRICK IT in particular stuck with me the most, mainly because of the upbeat mature sound. All the members felt like they were giving off a lot of confidence in this track. Apparently Dahyun helped write the song and if this is her style of music, I hope she writes more in the future. I don’t even know how to describe what kind of music this track is, it has a feel of both trap music and pop perfection vibes. It bounces between singing and rapping so often. Mina, in my opinion, stood out the most in this track. Some of the members vocals didn’t fit the transition between some of the verses in this track.
Mogwai’s Picks: Sunmi & Chen
“LALALAY” – Sunmi
Listen, Sunmi must truly be some kind of witch. I already picked Siren last year, and here I am with yet another Sunmi pick. She never even released a full album this year, choosing to share only a grand total of two official releases, but somehow her music still stood out to me. Among the two, I’ve picked “LALALAY” because it’s both a certifiable bop and utterly jam-packed with meaning. The first has always been true of her solos since “24 Hours” but it’s only in her current post-JYP era that she’s had the liberty to explore her own artistry. I’ve said all this before when I picked Siren but we’re still getting all of that in “LALALAY”. She most definitely is earning that term “Sunmipop”. Here’s hoping that 2020 brings us a full album filled with Sunmipop goodness.
“Amaranth” – Chen
Chen stepped out beyond the EXO safety net to debut as a soloist this year, but his best work isn’t one of his title tracks. “Amaranth” is a non-single track from Dear My Dear that features neither heavy instrumentals nor high-octane vocal theatrics. Instead, it revels in its subtle combination of acoustic guitar, delicate percussion and Chen’s masterful control of his voice. And it’s absolute magic. But the best part of “Amaranth” is the fact that Chen finally gets to use the lower end of his vocal range in one of his songs. We first heard him use it when he sang Drunken Truth on King of Masked Singer, but it’s been slim pickings since then. Being gifted the chance to listen to it again through his deep, low notes in “Amaranth” made me shudder in the best possible way. It had better not be the last time.
fallingslowly’s Picks: RUANN & GFRIEND
“Beep Beep” – RUANN
Did you think Black Eyed Pilseung would disappear into the ether like all other producers before them? Not so, friends — they just went a little more underground. For her Korean debut, J-Pop wunderkind RUANN pulled out all the stops. Bside Company sought out a song produced by the kings of bops and choreography from the ever popular Lia Kim. So it’s a shame, really, that they did everything right just for this song to go mostly unnoticed. “Beep Beep” is a revelation, everything I’ve ever loved about Black Eyed Pilseung’s work in one song. It’s both the modernized eighties song of my dreams and a seventies chiptune revelation. It’s simultaneously a stereotypical, stuttering love song and a hyperactive, high-octane video game theme song. It’s perfect, perfect, perfect. “Hello, this is RUANN,” the chorus proclaims over and over again. Fuck yeah, it is. May we see a lot more of her in 2020 and the years to come.
“Wish” – GFRIEND
GFRIEND gave us a massive concept change in 2020, to much controversy. To many, it felt as if a mold-breaking group was shoving itself back into a mold already well tread. Not the case, though — GFRIEND was simply growing up. They could not be in those schoolgirl uniforms and lederhosen forever. Fever Season was hopefully the start of a new era of GFRIEND’s usual softness with a cool girl edge. “Wish” encapsulates that so perfectly. It’s laden with the group’s gentle vocals (aside from its stunning climaxes) and lets its well constructed harmonies shine. But it also has an ever so slight techno edge. The beat plays in the background, never overbearing, as the girls proclaim how much they want to know about the target of their affections. There’s so much we’ve yet to come to know about GFRIEND. They didn’t change for the worse — they are simply reborn, and we are all the better for it.
jiyo’s Picks: Dreamcatcher & Cherry Bullet
“PIRI” – Dreamcatcher
First, a confession: I didn’t listen to K-pop much in 2019. Maybe it was something personal, maybe most of the releases didn’t live up to what I was expecting. In any case, I wasn’t that into it. There were exceptions, though, and “PIRI” was definitely at the top of the list when it came to those. Dreamcatcher has a very unique sound inside of mainstream K-pop, in the sense that if you listen to one of their songs you’ll know it’s theirs instantly. “PIRI” is still a Dreamcatcher song in all its glory, but with the addition of elements such as prominent rap parts, a very intense instrumental with metal influences and a flute-like sound that repeats itself all throughout the song. This proves to be what I consider their best title track.
The horror themed music video hits as hard as the music does, and as you hear the siren sound in the beginning of the song paired up with the red, black and white visuals you know you are in for a treat. However, “PIRI” is not only made of hard and intense moments; its slow segments are as interesting as the rest of the song, making for a very articulate and well done final product. Dreamcatcher has shown again and again they got what it takes to bring new and intriguing music to the K-pop sphere, so hopefully their upcoming releases will be just as fascinating and addictive as “PIRI” is.
“Violet” – Cherry Bullet
When I first listened to “Violet”, I knew I had run into something special. Unlike the other two tracks from Cherry Bullet’s debut album, this song is a much more melodic and delicate production, pairing up beautiful harmonizations and the soft sounds of an acoustic guitar with lyrics just as sweet. And, although the song is indeed very cute and very lovely, it never becomes too much. A lot of it is thanks to arranger and one of the composers, Matthew Tishler, who has made many Disney songs throughout his career. His past experiences certainly influences “Violet”, adding more to the wholesome vibes it has.
It’s not a complex song and not even innovative on the slightest, but don’t let that fool you; what it does, it does very well, and rather than trying something experimental it excels in elements already known to girlgroup fans, focusing on building a quality and all-around harmonic song that feels both new and familiar to its listeners. Anyhow, there’s something about it that made it my most played K-pop song of 2019. It has the type of sound that makes you feel safe; it’s like a hug after a tiring day, a drop of well-needed nostalgia. Simple and remarkable, “Violet” turned out to be a great surprise.
beram’s Picks: Taeyeon & SF9
“Four Seasons” – Taeyeon
2019 was a massive year for Taeyeon, musically speaking. In fact, the majority of my favourite kpop songs this year belonged to her. And that’s exactly why Four Seasons was the obvious choice for my pick of the year. Upon first listen, I knew Four Seasons was something special – it was magical, it was dramatic, it was heavy without being dense. In the song, Taeyeon describes spending a year with someone (passing through each of the four seasons with them), but questioning whether or not it was worth it. Taeyeon displays such impeccable control over what and how she’s singing, always applying the most perfect dynamic and emotion to her voice, which adds another dimension to the experience of listening to the song.
“Fall In Love” – SF9
Now, I could have written about another Taeyeon song, but we need some variety you know? But really, this was possibly my favourite kpop song of the entire year, and one of my favourite album tracks from an idol group in a long time, maybe even the entire decade. It’s a cold ballad about yearning after separation, and how their heart and mind keep going back to them. It has the feeling of a drama OST, sounding like it should be playing as the drama character breaks down crying on the side of the road (SF9 actually did a drama parody with Fall In Love as the BGM, which kinda fed the idea). It’s the kind of song I can just lay down, close my eyes and fully immerse myself in as I pine over someone I’m yet to meet.
bryyxyn’s Picks: IZ*ONE & TXT
Up – IZ*ONE
Amidst all the controversy in regards to the Mnet scandal, WIZ*ONEs have been staying stronger than ever to support the debut lineup through their rough time. With the release of HEART*IZ, came a song which was so addictive, it came number 1 on both my Apple Music Replay and Spotify Wrapped lists. This song is Up, and man, what an amazing song it is. The vocals are so invigorating (especially Yuri’s vocals) with the positive and dreamy instrumentals equating to a song you just want to repeat, and repeat, and repeat. And throughout the controversy, this is a song in which WIZ*ONEs will band together with. From their heartfelt lyrics, “write it in the sky, so that it does not disappear” to then having Yujin write IZ ONE on the live stage is such a touching moment to us. With more and more of the Korean public supporting the members each and everyday as well as changes to the CJE&M board, hopefully we’ll see IZ*ONE bloom next year, fingers crossed for January.
New Rules – TXT
With TXT taking all the rookie of the year awards, it’s no doubt that Big Hit has pushed the lever full throttle to bring TXT to the top, following the steps of their big brother group BTS. Coming back after a multitude of delays due to injuries and illnesses, New Rules dives deeper than the typical “frustrated guy” song. From the starting bass to then modulate pre-chorus only to be hit with “let me go, let me go, let me go go go” is such a refreshing mix amidst the boring K-POP 2018 and 2019 has brought us. Being the first track in “THE DREAM CHAPTER: MAGIC”, as soon as I heard this, I thought, there would be nothing that will top this for the rest of this year, and I was proven right. Not to mention, the choreography for New Rules is mesmerizing and the lyrics in Big Hit fashion are actually relatable to the modern day youth. Overall, a perfect song and what a way for TXT to end their rookie term with.
steelheart’s Picks: Red Velvet & TXT
“Psycho” – Red Velvet
Let me start off by saying that Red Velvet’s Psycho was absolutely a revelation for this year’s music in K-pop. When I listen to it for the first time, I was instantly hooked after finishing the song’s duration and I can’t get it out of my head until now. For me, the track was a reminiscent of the group’s Dumb Dumb and Ice Cream Cake eras–upbeat yet mystifying. The ReVe Festival took us to an out of this world roller coaster ride, and having Psycho close the carnival makes me excited on what Red Velvet has to offer next year.
Nap of A Star – TXT
This year has witnessed many promising rookie groups, and TXT is one of them. I was pleasantly surprised when Big Hit decided to release a melancholic ballad song for a group that just newly debuted. As a K-pop listener for five years now, you don’t often see companies make such a move—I’m glad they did. The song doesn’t feature explosive high notes or intense vocal acrobatics, but listening to it made me feel I was reading a book that slowly reveals more of its depth as you go along. Overall, the track is very beautiful and calming and I’m looking forward to see this side of TXT more in the coming years.