This year in K-Pop has been a rollercoaster. Between amazing comebacks and a devastating death; it’s been hard to pull together how to feel. So, to brighten myself up, I decided to pull together some of my favourite songs of the year. I will add, I’m not a music expert so my ability to tell you why is limited. If you have any song recommendations then drop them in the comment section!
1. Gashina – Sunmi
Is an explanation needed for why this song is my favourite of 2017? Sunmi has never disappointed me with her solo tracks. Yes, before “Gashina” there were only two, but “24 Hours” and “Full Moon” showed her raw sexual appeal and desire perfectly. Now, with “Gashina”, we have seen growth since 2014. In 3 years, her naive views on relationships – that there should be lust, you should spend all of your time with that person and the innocent excitement of when a relationship begins – has changed and matured. “Gashina” portrays someone who was broken up with, and the ways in which you become stronger and resentful as a result. Obviously, the dance is as much a part of why I love it, but on its own merits it’s a bop.
2. Yes I Am – Mamamoo
Now, I know Mamamoo aren’t good people by any means, but they release some great music. I was already in deep with “Yes I Am” by the time their scandal hit so it’s on the list. What I love about “Yes I Am” is that it goes into the chorus from the start and pulls back in waves. You have each member’s very different ways of approaching singing: Hwasa’s sensual purrs, Moonbyul’s rapping, Solar’s belts, and Wheein’s soft airy vocals. The song is about acceptance of your individuality and it recreates that throughout the song. The bridge is a nice break from the loudness of the rest of the track and gives you time to prepare for the end so it never gets boring to listen to.
3. Jam Jam – IU
“Jam Jam”, where do I start? Whether it be the breathy lyrics, drawn out words, quick synth beats, or build, I love it all. The lyrics to the song are about wanting to have a good time with someone without the unnecessary drama of a serious relationship, which is something a lot of people can relate to at some point. Given the lyrics, the beat, and the slow and sensual vocals, the song fits a club atmosphere perfectly. You’re dancing by yourself, you see someone, you dance together, and it’s all about that moment when the lights are low and you’re crowded by others. Where there’s that intimacy you can only have when you’re focused on one another. I can’t get enough of it.
4. Heart Shaker – Twice
Out of all the Twice songs this year, I was honestly surprised by this one coming out as my favourite. I remember when “Knock Knock” was released, I declared it to be the best single Twice had ever released because it didn’t grab for that huge pop sound. Now, a year later, with a song in the same position “Knock Knock” was supposed to be in (Christmas repackage!) and I’m actually gunning for the arguably most pop single Twice has brought us.
Perhaps it’s the freshness of the song, but it’s fun in all the ways K-Pop should be, and avoids the mistakes of other Twice releases where they put too much onus on giving a few members stand out lines. Where there’s usually a break in the song to give Chaeyoung and Dahyun their rapping part, it was instead distributed throughout “Heart Shaker” so the song flowed and kept its momentum. A bop.
5. Likey – Twice
Every time I, and my in real life friend, reference this song I have to try and remember if we’re being racist or not in remembering the chorus as “Me likey, me likey likey likey”. I do wonder if this was a conscious effort on the part of JYP and the producers to joke. But something in me feels as if that’s not the case and JYP unironically put that in as the chorus because it sounded catchy. Regardless, the song follows the same formula other Twice songs have done, with the exception for the improvements in rapping and Tzuyu’s vocals. Momo is a whole other deal… The dance break towards the end of the song is oddly nostalgic, as if in five to 10 years time we’ll go back and watch this with tears in our eyes.
6. Palette – IU
I don’t have much to say on this track. It’s relaxed, it’s IU, and it shows her matured state since her last album. G-Dragon’s rap was worrying before I listened to it, but it’s a mellow rap rather than something painted with all of GD’s colours. The lyrics detail what most women in their early 20s feel, honestly, so its no wonder I can identify with it. Other than that, it’s not really significant in her sound overall, but rather giving the public what they love about her.
7. Babe – Hyuna
When I first listened to “Babe” I wasn’t a huge fan. But after reading the lyrics, some theories, and repeatedly listening to it I grew to love it. The concept and lyrics do paint the story of Hyuna’s career and treatment by the public. She debuted at 15, and since then has never had an “innocent” phase of her career. Through that, she’s had a confusing image where she’s a sex symbol without a history, as people try to ignore how long she’s been in the industry and envisioned only as she is now. The instrumental and vocals itself are very Hyuna, just a lot of dance pop and rapping.
8. Move – Taemin
This is such a seductive song. Taemin, much like Sunmi, focuses on making his vocals breathy which lends to a sound that is sensual and draws you in. That, combined with the beat, is just begging to be played at a club. Taemin’s discography gained another great single.
9. Body Talk – Red Velvet
I have to explain why this is my favourite Red Velvet song of the year, since everyone else seems to love “Talk To Me” or “Second Date”. “Body Talk” feels like a slow drive home in the middle of the night with it’s slow synths and clapping beat. It’s a song that leaves you pleading to never have to experience a break up again. “Body Talk” also draws on the Stranger Things theme song through recreating some of the moody slower synth scales. “Body Talk” is a song for the times where you want to lie down and think.
10. Eclipse – Kim Lip (LOONA)
So far, with most of LOONA’s releases, they’ve fluctuated between songs I love and ones that really don’t float my boat. Eclipse is obviously the former. It feels like it bridges between “Body Talk” and “Peek-a-boo”, where the former has a deeper instrumental filled with different sounds that ends with a richer song, and the latter that uses deep sound sparingly but has a catchy chorus and brighter tone. Hopefully Eclipse is where LOONA will be going with their sound.
11. Happy – WJSN
I know, a lot of people really aren’t fans of WJSN’s sound. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and love that they have cute songs. I don’t really have much to say about this track other than I love it for being cute. It’s something you don’t have to dissect, and can casually listen to whenever you want to brighten your day. Which is basically what I do. Underrated.
12. Peek-a-boo – Red Velvet
Most Red Velvet songs I love instantaneously. This song was not one of them. I had to make a real effort to listen to it without the music video because the instrumental was really lacking something for me. However, because the music video was everything I wanted in a girl group concept, I have grown to love “Peek-a-boo”. Its music-box-esque sound works well with the imagery of an old wooden house where young girls practice rituals and kill pizza delivery boys.
13. Rookie – Red Velvet
Now, I know a lot of people hate “Rookie”, but have they ever tried listening to just the instrumental? The instrumental carries about 75% of why I love this song. I’ve really missed the bass-heavy sounds of K-Pop past, and the chorus has an amazing (real) bass that has me ready to sway. With the added horns and random splattering of electric guitar the instrumental is perfect. If the song did not have the incessant “Lookie lookie” and such, I think most people would have really enjoyed it. I’m all for songs that have a bigger lean towards rock, jazz, and classic sounds than those that lean towards things like trap so it’s no shock that I’ve enjoyed this song from the get-go.
14. Really Really – Winner
The line “neol joahae/I like you” said so plainly right before chorus kills me every time I listen. I will miss Taehyun being in the group, but clearly his leaving has benefitted both himself (he now has a following for his band, and is not obligated to live an idol life) and Winner. Winner has finally achieved a strong single, even if it does lend itself to every popular Western sound right now. “Really Really” is a mature and strong song to come back into the picture with, and I think its done well in advocating a new direction for Winner.
15. Fingertip – GFriend
When it was released I said “This song is a dud.” more than once. Over time the chorus grew on me more, as did the concept, and I’ve grown to really love how powerful it is whilst still maintaining the GFriend image. As with most of K-Pop the choreography and concept are huge contributors as to whether I listen to a song or how often I listen to it. GFriend did themselves a solid with the “tang tang tang” and exceptional choreography. Again.
16. Wee Woo – Pristin
Pristin gets a lot of unnecessary hate, especially considering their sound nor their image is that different and the members have not got themselves into any trouble personally. “Wee Woo” was a strong debut song. It did what every girl group should do and gave each member a distinguished identity and sound so that it presents itself as less polished and more relatable. The chorus is full of cute and catchy repetitive lines, and that’s essentially what kept bringing me back.
17. All Night – Girls’ Generation
“All Night” was a tune that hit on 80s beats and subtle synths layered in the back that created a fun and funky vibe. While “Holiday” was a shoutout to young Girls’ Generation, “All Night” was what they had become. A fun, mature sound that anyone could dance to. If you are a fan, I hope it reminds you of “Mr Mr” and its album, along with the B-sides of Lion Heart. It’s a progression of where their sound was headed. They had become more about a great album than a collection of fillers. “All Night” was the title track I needed from Girls’ Generation, as a fan of seven years, and it being their 10th anniversary. It’s nostalgic for what would be songs that last over the years. It’s also painful.
18. I’ll Be Yours – Girl’s Day
This year has not brought me a lot of jazz-inspired songs. So, I’ve lapped up anything that even resembled it, and “I’ll Be Yours” was definitely going to be making this list. It’s powerful, it’s full of attitude and it could easily be a stage number in a musical. I’ve missed Girl’s Day and they didn’t disappoint this comeback. There are lots of great things about this song, from the piano creating the beat, to the horns punctuating the end of the chorus. Every little detail about this song makes me excited.
19. DDD – EXID
Who knew a song that sampled Missy Elliott’s “WTF” over and over would create such a bop? The back and forth between Missy Elliott’s sample and the groups “DDD” sound was already fun enough. Then it combined that back and forth with the changing vocals throughout, and the song never becomes stale. Hani deepens and lightens her voice many times, cheekily adding spoken phrases like “mweoga mianhande/but what for?” next to the falsetto is a fresh move. People had speculated without Solji the group would be missing something essential. However, Hyerin’s vocals are good enough that I didn’t feel it myself. Another fun single from EXID.
20. Lonely – Sistar
This year Sistar disbanded, one of the many second generation girl groups to do so recently, but gave us a beautiful ballad as they bowed out. However, if they released this before they announced they were disbanding it probably wouldn’t have gained much attention from international fans. It doesn’t do anything different from what we’ve heard before with ballads. Knowing it’s their last single is what makes it special to us all. The desperation in the voices during the chorus as they sing “Lonely” over and over again creates a painful reminder of their future without Sistar. And then there’s the painful words spoken at the end:
With time, everything will be forgotten
And so will you
That’s what’s really sad
A real reality for some girl groups.
21. Knock Knock – Twice
I explained earlier that “Knock Knock” was my favourite Twice song because it didn’t fall into the same pitfalls. It’s not trying to be a hit single, and is much more about the atmosphere around winter. It feels nostalgic and fun simultaneously.
22. Holiday – Girls’ Generation
This was Girls’ Generation’s 10th anniversary single. As that, I’m not entirely impressed, since it just feels like a musical number. That’s not what Girls’ Generation was entirely known for. Yes, their big hits were things like “Gee”, “Genie” and “Oh!” but they were also known for being an inspiring girl group to idols and the public alike. They hushed in a new era of girl groups who could be anything they wanted to. Listen to any idol group that talks about what encouraged them to be an idol and I can guarantee that a good portion will say Girls’ Generation.
I really wanted something that would be an inspiring tune like “Into the New World”. I do understand though, that “Holiday” is simultaneously speaking to a love interest and the fans. As a song on its own terms, without being about the 10th anniversary, it is an incredible and fun thing to listen to.
23. Not Today – BTS
The pounding beat of the chorus along with the chants of “No, not today” gives me chills. It’s like a call for a revolution, and an aggressive call at that. The fact that the aggression lets up when it comes to the verses makes the choruses even more powerful. If it had tried to be hard hitting all the way through then the impact would have been lost entirely. I love listening to “Not Today” when I’m walking home at night, or through a crowded area, to give me power to get through.
24. Black Out – IU
“Black Out” recreates what being drunk feels like in the form of a song. IU’s voice switching between sensual, whispered, and yelling is an honest representation of a drunk girl out partying. The lyrics talk about getting lost and confused. They also talk about being in the vibe of the music, and wanting to kiss anyone. And then it speaks to the drunk experience. At least, for me. I love that, despite it being a song dedicated to clubbing, she’s thrown in references to bisexuality:
“Hey Mrs Dalloway/I love your party!
Come here and accept my kiss/Having a lot of love isn’t a bad thing!”
Mrs Dalloway is a character in a Virginia Woolf novel of the same name. In the story, she is preparing to host a party. She thinks back to being young when she had feelings for multiple people – including another young woman called Sally. Virginia Woolf was also rumoured to have been bisexual. Her group of friends were very open with one another in terms of sexuality. She was especially close to one of her female friends to a different degree.
Basically, I’m queer and I like that IU has added a reference to queerness in her music.
25. Pow Pow – Elris
International fans, for whatever reason, tend to turn their noses up at cute concepts. Yes, Elris has very much fallen in line with every other nugu girl group cute concept. But there’s something about “Pow Pow” that made it stand out to me. It might be the fact that it has some rhythm changes with the lyrics itself, like the “boil deushi boil deushi boiji anneun/As if I can see but I can’t” that is gently but quickly spoken until the build right before the chorus. Or, it could be the chant of “Love! Love! Love is volcano! Pow!” after the chorus, Bella’s rapping, or Sohee’s softly sung bridge. There’s a lot of variety in this song and it deserves the love.
Lonely – Jonghyun
There’s not really anything I can say here. Ballads like this, like his one with IU (“Gloomy Clock”), remind me that I’m not alone. Rest in peace, Jonghyun. In K-Pop, I listened to the heavy pop songs to take my mind off of my mental health. I found home in music like yours that let me feel comforted that others felt lonely and depressed too. There was no encouragement or anger on your end, and that helped me a great deal. Thank you.