2018 was a massive year for Korean music. Continuing on from 2017, K-Pop saw a significant rise in global popularity, broke countless records, and made leaps and bounds musically. We said goodbye to the irritatingly persistent tropical house genre that dominated 2017, and said hello to amazing solo tracks, epic rookie debuts and game-changing comebacks. More Korean acts began to incorporate a variety of genres into their sound, leading to a year chock-full of diverse, groundbreaking, and exciting releases. With so much quality to choose from, how on earth do we single out the best K-pop songs of 2018? The OH! Press Team is here to take on the challenge.
Title Track | Day6 – “Shoot Me”
As far as I’m concerned, this entire list should consist entirely of Day6 songs. They’re a group who consistently raise the bar with each and every release. “Shoot Me” rose that bar so high that it snapped in half. The lead track of their album Shoot Me: Youth Part 1 is a mysterious yet powerful song that juxtaposes the expectation and reality of a broken relationship. The tense relationship described in the song seems to grow increasingly strained as the track goes on until it eventually explodes and the powerful chorus kicks in, cleverly imitating a gun going off.
“Shoot Me” is a rock-based song, fused with a myriad of musical influences, ranging from electronic to reggae. The track is delightfully experimental, littered with chromatic melodies and percussive shifts. From idiosyncrasies in the rhythm to Wonpil’s impressive keyboard break in the second verse, Day6 take countless risks throughout the song, almost all of which are pulled off entirely successfully. Not only that, but the vocal performance is stellar, backed with enough energy and strength to keep up with the powerful instrumentals. “Shoot Me” is a violently exciting and dynamic track, and serves as a reminder of why Day6 are renowned for their musical quality.
Album Track | BTS – “The Truth Untold”
Admittedly, BTS’ music isn’t necessarily my style, particularly in recent years. Going into 2018, I never would’ve expected my favourite B-Side to be a ballad either. However, this has been a year full of surprises. “The Truth Untold” is a track based on the heartbreaking tale of the “Smeraldo flower.” I suggest you check it out if you’re not familiar with it, as it adds a whole new layer of depth and meaning to the song.
The pain of loving someone yet not being able to show them your vulnerable side is conveyed with such raw honesty, making this track a hauntingly beautiful and truly poignant one. BTS’ delicate vocal performance successfully portrays the beauty within imperfection, a focal point of the track. The song also presents a different side to Steve Aoki, who surprisingly participated in producing the track, despite his usual preference for loud and exciting songs. A delicate piano melody, gentle vocals, and lyrics detailing despondency, insecurity and broken love are a heartbreakingly beautiful combination for “The Truth Untold.”
Title Track | fromis_9 – “Love Bomb”
Arguably one of this year’s universal fan favourites, “Love Bomb” is an addictive earworm that hooks you in immediately at first listen. It’s a fun and lighthearted track with a particularly addictive hook, “dalkomhan l-l-love bomb, l-l-love bomb.” This song put fromis_9 on the map for many international fans and hopefully marks the start of an upward trend in their career.
Album Track | NCT 127 – “No Longer”
For me, it came down to either this or “1,2,3” from NCT Dream (reppin’ NCT on the Press team am I right?!?!), but “No Longer” gets me super emotional whenever I listen to it, so it ended up being my pick. All bias aside, I genuinely think “No Longer” is one of the best ballads released this year. And that’s coming from someone who tends to skip ballads altogether. “No Longer” truly showcases the strength of NCT 127’s vocal line, who tend to be utilized ineffectively in the group’s hip-hop based title tracks. Although Jaehyun and Jungwoo sound great in the song, the powerful trio of Taeil, Doyoung, and Haechan command all attention with their performance. If SM hasn’t considered debuting an NCT vocal unit before, they should.
Title Track | Sunmi – “Siren”
Not many female idols manage to step out of their former group’s shadow. However, former Wonder Girls member Sunmi has come a long way since leaving JYP Entertainment. As a long-time fan, I always believed that she was capable of so much more, given the right push and resources. All her works thus far have only proven me right. From “Gashina” to “Siren”, there’s just something about her music, something seriously bewitching. The synth lines in “Siren”’s chorus make for a wildly addictive dance track, the perfect energy boost for my daily morning commute. What’s more empowering than listening to Sunmi sing “get away out of my face” in the morning rush hour crowd? Whew, Ms. Sunmi really is that bitch.
Album Track | EXO – “Gravity”
EXO seems to have the strangest habit of never promoting their best songs. And although this can be considered a positive reflection on their albums’ overall quality, “Gravity” deserves so much better. I’m well aware that commercial success does not necessarily equate to quality but I’m going to say it anyway. Out of every single track from Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, Gravity charted the highest, apart from “Tempo.” Even Korean listeners seem to feel the same way I do about “Gravity.” It’s so good that I can’t help but wonder how well “Gravity” would have done as a title track. I stand by everything I said about it in my review of Don’t Mess Up My Tempo. This is most definitely EXO’s best song yet and deserves to be named among the best K-pop songs of 2018.
Title Track | Shinee – “Good Evening”
I initially had no idea which song to choose for my top pick as too many came to mind. However, as I listened more and more through the K-Pop musical seasons, I would keep coming back to the same song. There is something so lovely about “Good Evening” that I can’t quite put my finger on. Each time I listen to it, it feels as though I’m hearing it for the first time. I’m a sucker for house music, and that combined with the R&B vibes and the members’ sweet vocals make this such a great song. The pre-chorus build-up paired with the chorus really sets this song apart from the rest.
Of all of their title releases this year, “Good Evening” has been my favourite. It’s a slightly bittersweet feeling, but I know it means a lot to many. Truly deserving of a spot among the best K-pop songs of 2018.
Album Track | Stray Kids – “Voices”
“Voices” is hands down one of the best K-pop songs of 2018. It would be a sin if I didn’t declare my love for it. It ticks a lot of boxes for me: great vocals, powerful rapping, solid song production. Even the accompanying music video blew me away. The contrasts in the vocalists’ sweet, melodic voices against the jarring rap and background bass make it quite anthemic — something I love in songs. The chorus also goes in hard, so if you like EDM buildups and bass drops, give it a listen.
To top it off, the lyrics are also something #Relatable. Whatever your interpretation, I find it comforting, and it warms my not-so-cold heart. The self-production is also important to mention, as Stray Kids are still in their rookie year (yes, I am horribly biased, but they have truly outdone themselves.) Overall, it’s just a great song and no one can stop me replaying it until the end of time.
Title Track | iKON – “Killing Me”
iKON may have recently won Song of the Year for their 2018 hit “Love Scenario” at MMA, but the standout K-Pop track of the year for me is their notably less upbeat “Killing Me.” I’ve never really been a huge fan of songs that throw in a loud, thumping breakdown for each chorus, but “Killing Me” is a glaring exception. This song just balances the melancholy tone of the verses with the aggressive beats of the chorus so remarkably well. All I wanted to do was listen to it on repeat when I heard it for the first time. Admittedly, I have moments where I still do.
Album Track | (G)I-DLE – “Maze”
Despite their rookie status, Cube’s most recently debuted girl group (G)I-DLE provided my favorite b-side of the year in the dark and powerful “Maze.” This song combines the quality vocals and rapping that is rare to find in equal parts in most K-Pop groups, with an arrangement that mixes both softer vocalizations and pounding beats. “Maze” is easily one of my most-listened-to K-Pop tracks of the year while working out. I thank these girls for delivering a chorus that made sprints somewhat bearable.
Title Track | VIXX – “Scentist”
In all honesty, “Scentist” didn’t grow on me all that quickly. I didn’t love it at the first few presses of the play button – it was just alright. But as I kept on listening to it, I began to hear it more profoundly than I did at first. Everything about the song exudes elegance, rooted passion, and the feeling of romance. From the rhythm and lyrics to the vocals, “Scentist” is a darkly whimsical song that will keep you hitting the replay button.
Album Track | EXO – “Sign”
Not to disrespect “Tempo,” but “Sign” is one of the songs on the album that’s also a solid contender for the title track. As you listen to it, the song slowly builds up for a beautiful, dramatic, and intense musical burst that will completely immerse you. “Sign” is perfectly balanced, and EXO’s vocals are addictive and purely eargasmic.
Title Track | APink – “I’m So Sick”
When APink made a move to switch up their sound with “Only One” in 2016, I thought Plan A would thereafter be discouraged to stray from their tried and true concept. “Only One” hadn’t done well by APink’s standards, which left a group of grown women to return to well-trodden territory.
And then 2018 surprised us. APink gave us a summer bop known as “I’m So Sick,” and the world was never the same again. The synth beats, the playful ad-libs, the jewel-toned color palette! It was the same old group, finally able to come of age. They grew up and escaped their pink, frilly music box.
You won’t find a song more perfect than “I’m So Sick”. It played to the group’s vocal strengths and perfectly mixed old eighties sensibilities with modern sensual pop. The result made chumps of every fan of theirs who refused to support a more mature sound. As the lyrics say, bye bye bye!
Album Track | Weki Meki – “Metronome”
I’m not necessarily on board for Weki Meki’s primary concept, if only because the music doesn’t entirely sell it. It’s as if Fantagio wants the best of both worlds – the quirky, bubbly pop mixed with the harder side of girl crush. The mix doesn’t work, not really. What’s most frustrating is that beneath the muddled presentation, Weki Meki has some hidden gems.
“Metronome” was the sort of low-key club bop that the world needed. It didn’t ask for boisterous, overpowering vocals as the group’s title tracks had. I think the song benefited from its smooth, simplistic styling. In fact, I’d say Weki Meki sold it a lot better than “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend” or “La La La”.
All of the b-sides on “Lucky” shared more in common with “Metronome” than the title track (“Iron Boy” and “Color Me” were equally strong offerings). It made things all the more mystifying. If you’re going to give a group some incredible electronic dance music, why not flaunt it?
Title Track | Vromance – “Star”
Many songs are a close second to this one, but “Star” was by far my favorite song this year. I’ve listened to this song nearly every day, and I cannot find a single flaw in it. The lyrics are so sweet and moving; the analogy of a star that you can see in the night is so clever and whimsical. When you read books or watch dramas, there are certain scenes that stop your heart because they are so moving. I get that feeling when I listen to “Star.” There is something so, so raw about the vocals and the composition. The music video perfectly compliments the lyrics, and it was just as creative. I feel like this will be my favorite song for a long time.
Album Track | Gfriend – “Love Bug”
Time for the Moonnight is my favorite GFriend album so far. I actually really enjoy it when the group deviates from their main style. The best song that came out of the album was “Love Bug.” One of the best K-pop songs of 2018, the song is so cute and catchy! However, it is still different from GFriend’s previous songs. It’s light and airy, but also has an addictive melody. The stage outfits were adorable and everything about it screamed: “make a music video, please.”
Album Track | Taeyeon – “Circus”
If one would argue that most, if not all, of Taeyeon’s songs are potential candidates for a list of the best K-pop songs of 2018, I would absolutely agree. That’s why it was so difficult to pick one song from her album Something New. “Circus” is an incredible song. Not only does it showcase amazing vocals that we know and love, but her voice just breathes emotion. The song builds up and grabs back at the perfect moments to keep you in ecstasy. The lovely piano keys combined with her vocal ranges feel so fine, I probably can’t describe it as anything else than an angel whispering into your ears.
Title Track | Red Velvet – “Bad Boy”
Red Velvet has had many standout tracks in their four-year-long career but “Bad Boy” marks the first true break from the group’s usual sound. I say this because it wasn’t just a break from their streak of upbeat, dance-pop, electro-pop infused, Red side, but because it marked a clear shift in Red Velvet’s overall image. “Bad Boy” was the Velvet track I wanted from them all along: something to take their musicality and artistic direction to new heights. Not only did they release one of their best songs yet, but they also released what was in my opinion, the best girl group single of the year – and by a large margin.
“Bad Boy” is a rather complex song. It is daring yet safe; in-your-face, yet soothing. This is Red Velvet’s first title track to revel in their obvious homage to legends like TLC, Destiny’s Child, and En Vogue. Irene’s sexy “Who that, who that, who that boy?” intro is an instant hook. The chorus is so sweet and melodic. It manages to be catchy without trying too hard to create a lasting hook.
The vocals, though, really make this track what it is. Red Velvet knows that RnB calls for a competent singer to back up those smooth instrumentals. Wendy, especially, does not disappoint – to no one’s surprise. However, their ability to harmonize is so often overlooked and underappreciated. Each member contributes greatly to the near vocal perfection that takes center stage in “Bad Boy”, that one may not be able to truly tell that there might be a bit of a gap in skill.
I have raged on and on about the vocals, but the production does not hold back. While “Bad Boy” is a slower RnB song, the instrumental has several complexities to it that makes the track even better than your run-of-the-mill RnB track. From the underlying trap beats, the subtle but ever-present Hip-Hop influences, to the weird sounds sprinkled all over the chorus, “Bad Boy” is mastered to perfection. Some things might seem a bit random – even annoying – but they really do help make the song better. The clicking heels in the chorus, the sound of sirens, the whistling, all these different things here and there make “Bad Boy” one of the best produced and well-proportioned titles ever.
Album Track | Taeyeon – “One Day”
Taeyeon has put out a stellar discography since her 2015 debut, and she was in full throttle with Something New. Every single track in the album was spectacular and it quickly became a tie for my favorite release this year. I almost put “Something New” as my favorite title track, but “Bad Boy” won it out for me. Still, I kept coming back to Taeyeon’s album for some time, and I soon realized it was because of “One Day”.
There’s nothing better than a slow RnB jam to properly showcase Taeyeon’s vocals and this track is it. Not only does it allow her to flex her technique a bit, but it also suits her vocal tone quite nicely. The chorus is her repeating “One Day I will” for the most part, but it’s not boring at all. It’s just so well done, by both the singer and the production team.
The song is soothing and catchy, almost title track worthy (but still not as good as “Something New”). I have listened to some really impressive albums this year including BTS’ Tear, Red Velvet’s RBB and EXO’s Don’t Mess Up My Tempo. Taeyeon’s “One Day” reigns supreme over them and deserves to be dubbed one of the best K-pop songs of 2018. I hope to hear more like this (and “Gemini” and “Circus” from her) but I am sure that she will continue to deliver into 2019 and beyond. Let’s go, Nation’s Leader Kim Taeyeon!
Title Track | SF9 – “Now or Never”
With an electro-funk and disco-esque house number, SF9 has shown us a song and concept that I can confidently say is their strongest yet. The verses and pre-chorus lead you on, and you excitedly follow it to see what’s behind that door. Once that door opens and the chorus hits, you’re greeted with a solid slap in the face, whilst it happily watches you jump from shock as if it had planned to trick you all along. Even six months after release, I still feel remnants of what I felt the first time I ever listened to it, and still get that solid slap in the face. “Now or Never” is nothing short of incredible, and truly deserving to be what I consider as one of the best K-pop songs of 2018.
Album Track | fromis_9 – “Miracle”
‘Miracle’ was originally a song from the finale of Idol School. A new version featuring all nine members was recorded and released with their debut EP, To. Heart. This song sends you on a journey through a fantasy world as you listen, as if you were floating amongst the stars in the evening sky. Miracle’s Korean title can translate as “You in my Fantasy” which, frankly, is exactly how it feels to listen to it. With its synths, accompanied by its melodies and vocal mixing, it presents a piece that is mystical, whimsical, and truly captivating.
In the interest of full disclosure, most us struggled to confirm our picks of the best K-Pop songs of 2018. This year has just been such an incredible one for Korean music that it was nearly impossible. We can only hope (but seriously doubt) that 2019 is just as fruitful. Do you agree with our picks? Let us know in the comments.