Being a K-pop fan since 2007, I’ve seen a lot of music videos and listened to more K-pop songs than I can count. K-pop in general is an umbrella term often used to refer to all Korean music and not just limited to what it essentially suggests, pop. I encountered a lot of good songs, there were also songs I never listened to the second time, and some songs that induced goosebumps the first time I listened to them.
In celebration of my 100th article as a writer in OH!Press, here is a list of the top 25 best K-pop songs from 2010-2020! This is not an absolute compilation of anything and is purely based on my own opinion and general taste in music. The songs below will only be among title track with only one song per artist.
25. WJSN – Secret (The Secret, 2016)
One thing different about WJSN is their mesmerizing concept translated to mesmerizing music and Secret is the best example of that. I can say that this is also the song who captured WJSN’s general atmosphere sporting a space-y and rather cosmic sound. The vocals in this song were divine, and the music itself is superb.
24. Kim Sungkyu – True Love (10 Stories, 2018)
I don’t think anyone can make such a simple song as beautiful and powerful like Kim Sungkyu does. This song sits right in heaven and proves how astonishing the combination between Kim Sungkyu and NELL’s Kim Jongwan (who produced the song) is. True Love is amazingly simple, and that’s what made it special.
23. Red Velvet – Red Flavor (The Red Summer, 2017)
Who can forget the biggest girl group song of 2017 who took the entire nation by storm? With Sistar’s absence, no one knows who’ll fill our summers with quality bops but Red Velvet took the challenge with Red Flavor. The song is quirky and fun yet it doesn’t compromise showcasing their vocal talent.
22. Dal Shabet – B.B.B. (B.B.B., 2014)
Actually, I had a really hard time between B.B.B. and Someone Like U as both songs are equally terrific. I chose B.B.B. in the end because of its incredible dynamic. At the time of its release, the K-pop scene was dominated by songs of the like yet it’s able to add Dal Shabet’s own color. The song screams power and with the girls’ vocals and rap, proved an extraordinary song.
21. Golden Child – Pump It Up (Pump It Up, 2020)
In K-pop, it’s a common sight to see a cute boy group transition to an edgy dark boy group. However, Golden Child proved that they aren’t the same and can freely switch whatever concept they want. Pump It Up sits above Golden Child’s discography, er, above all bright K-pop boy group songs in general. The chorus is extremely catchy, the verses are funky, and the whole song is just phenomenal.
20. Chungha – Roller Coaster (Offset, 2018)
I’ve noticed people are generally surprised by how big Chungha became as opposed to the other IOI members. I beg to differ because right from the start, I knew Chungha will dominate the music scene and I’m happy that I wasn’t wrong. Roller Coaster is a strong electronic dance track which has a very addictive melody.
19. AOA – Get Out (Wanna Be, 2012)
Many K-pop fans may know of AOA for various reasons including their songs, but most probably don’t know of this gem. Get Out was AOA’s first comeback and is still influenced by the roots of AOA as a hybrid girl group/rock band. The song is a great pop rock anthem that AOA executed perfectly despite being relatively new to the scene during the time.
18. H.I.N.P. – Rumor (30 Girls 6 Concepts, 2018)
With Produce 101, idol survival shows became more than a niche to the industry and the most iconic song to come out from those type of shows is no doubt Rumor. The singers were just trainees by the time this was released yet they already outdone perhaps more than half of existing groups. The song is a moombahton-trap track with a sultry yet powerful sound that entices the listeners from start to finish.
17. Gugudan – The Boots (Act 4: Cait Sith, 2018)
It’s a shame how we’ll never hear a song from this group again, the music they made were one-of-a-kind. Gugudan’s title tracks are all equally good (except one, I’m looking at you miss Wonderland) so choosing The Boots was decided after a long period of deliberation. The song marked a mature change with Gugudan’s sound incorporating R&B elements to this song. There is also a placement of electronic whistles which definitely added flavor and of course, Gugudan’s top-class singers.
16. SHINee – Sherlock (Clue + Note) (Sherlock, 2012)
We go back to 2012 with SHINee’s classic, Sherlock. While you may be oblivious of the title, you probably heard “Oh, I’m curious, yeah!” one way or another. The song is a perfect example of brass done right in a K-pop song. It’s very strong and may come off as over-produced yet carries extraordinary energy and power. It’s been a few years already since SHINee’s main vocalist left us, but I’m sure he’s glad that even after all these years, their music remains recognized.
15. April – April Story (Prelude, 2017)
April Story is one of the best girl group songs of all time. Everything about this song is just magical and ethereal. With the orchestra instrumental and the girls’ (well, three of them who actually sang) heavenly vocals, April Story left its mark. It’s a shame because it could’ve been the song to catapult April into stardom and while we can assume we can no longer hear any music from April from now on, let’s cheer on Chaekyung and Rachel who debuted with this absolute showpiece.
14. (G)I-DLE – Lion (Queendom Final Comeback, 2019)
Out of all Queendom songs and performances, none of them did it like (G)I-DLE’s Lion. I’m not even a fan of (G)I-DLE nor ever heard any of their songs prior to Queendom, Lion is just amazing. The song starts slow and as it progresses, momentum builds up and bursts with a powerful chorus. Props to (G)I-DLE member Soyeon for making this masterpiece.
13. Secret – Poison (Poison, 2012)
If there’s any girl group which I can call the “Queen of Concepts“, it’s Secret. Not because of their variety but their versatility to hover between either extremely cute songs and extremely sexy songs without ease. The girl group has a long list of hard-hitting songs like Madonna and I’m In Love, however their representative song is surely Poison. Its ingredients: the saxophone hooks, powerful vocals, and innate seductiveness combined to make Poison one-and-only.
12. EXO – Growl (XOXO, 2013)
This is one of the songs I can say that if you still haven’t heard, you are not a real K-pop fan. EXO’s concept for this album is “schoolboy” which shows how the song may come off as flirty and playful but deviant as well, because it’s sleek and chic at the same time. It’s rare to have a song where it’s listened to without watching any music video nor performance but still feel the feeling of being in-sync with just the melodies.
11. Wonder Girls – Be My Baby (Wonder World, 2011)
Wonder Girls, otherwise known during their prime as South Korea’s National Girl Group or the Queens of Retro, has been a prime figure in spreading K-pop’s influence all over the globe. The girl group’s discography is deeply saturated with quality songs but their best is none other than Be My Baby. Be My Baby is a fun and fresh retro track which shares some similarities with Christmas classic, All I Want For Christmas Is You. It’s jumpy and colorful, a perfect song for all the party retro music enthusiasts out there.
10. IU – You & I (Last Fantasy, 2011)
South Korea’s biggest singer, IU, has been sitting on top of the music industry for a long time now. She creates nothing but hit songs and one of those is the 2011 masterpiece, You & I. What I really love about IU’s songs during this era is that they’re dreamy and ethereal, complementing her melodious vocals. You & I is whimsical, very similar and an upgrade from 2010’s Good Day.
9. Day6 – Days Gone By (Remember Us: Youth Part 2, 2018)
I’m very proud to say that I’m one of the MyDay (Day6 fans) who followed them from pre-debut to now. Seeing their growth over time, from being just “JYP’s first band” and not charting well to being household names and hit-makers, I can’t say anything but everything is well deserved. The band’s robust discography boasts of superb songs and honestly, choosing Days Gone By is purely out of just preference. The song is a solid 80’s rock track which utilized a more synth-driven sound unlike their other title tracks.
8. IZ*ONE – Panorama (One Reeler/Act IV, 2020)
The newest song in this list is IZ*ONE’s latest masterpiece, Panorama. IZ*ONE’s music never failed to impress me and Panorama is evidence that their music got better since debut (except you SSOTS). What I absolutely loved about the song is its power and intensity which contains the highlights of their previous songs: Fiesta‘s fast tempo, SSOTS‘s tension, and La vie en Rose/Violeta‘s elegance. However, listening to Panorama has a little bit of angst as the lyrics are most likely about their impending disbandment. Example is the hook “shoot, take a panorama”, which suggests they need to take wide shot since they’re too many to fit in a normal picture, to be kept as whole in the memories of many.
7. Rainbow – A (A, 2010)
Ah, Rainbow… The girl group who could have stood atop the music industry if only they were promoted properly. Yes. I’m looking at you, DSP Media. Newer K-pop fans may not be aware but Rainbow used to be a considerably popular girl group, they have hit songs like Mach, Tell Me Tell Me, and Sunshine but unfortunately never got to be as successful as their predecessors, KARA. Their representative song A was released more than ten years ago, yet remains in my playlist. Watching the music video, none of these would have worked if it was released today but A remains as a timeless electronic dance pop bop.
6. Lovelyz – When We Were Us (Beautiful Days) (Once Upon a Time, 2019)
I know if we talk about Lovelyz, everyone will immediately think of Ah-choo, Destiny, or That Day. Yes, those are iconic bops. However if we dig further inside Lovelyz’ phenomenal discography, you’ll find their magnum opus, When We Were Us (Beautiful Days). It still baffles me how this is one of their most under-performing tracks when it’s everything beautiful translated into a 3 minute and 53 second song. The song showed the girl group’s growth from their debut without compromising their signature elegant sound and as per usual, boasted of the members’ incredible talents.
Before we head to our top 5, let us first check out some of the honorable mentions!
Berry Good – ANGEL (Very Berry, 2016)
BTS – Spring Day (You Never Walk Alone, 2017)
Jun Hyoseong – Find Me (Colored, 2016)
NCT U – BOSS (NCT 2018 Sympathy, 2018)
Gfriend – Rough (Snowflake, 2016)
Brave Girls – Nowadays, You (Re-issue, 2012)
VERIVERY – G.B.T.B. (Face Us, 2020)
MAMAMOO – Um Oh Ah Yeh (Pink Funky, 2015)
5. KARA – STEP (STEP, 2011)
While writing this article, I was actually listening to a medley of KARA’s songs and I felt really nostalgic and impressed. Even after almost 10 years after its release, Step still gives me the hype it gave me when I first listened to it. Produced by musical geniuses, Sweetune, Step is an electronic 80’s song that has a very catchy tune and fascinating choreography. Without even watching any video related to the song, you can hear the colors bursting in this track. KARA’s music is surely timeless and everlasting, just like the memories Kamilias (KARA fans) made with the beloved Goo Hara.
4. miss A – Goodbye Baby (A Class, 2011)
JYP really hit big when they debuted miss A; but, their incompetent management and favoritism ruined what could’ve been an act still dominating the charts right now. Despite their short-lived career as a group, miss A truly left a mark in the industry with their superb discography. Goodbye Baby is a solid song that highlighted the members’ confidence complementing the girl group’s solidified image on feminism and female empowerment. The parts of Goodbye Baby are really good much specifically the really bad-ass chorus and rap.
3. VIXX – Fantasy (Hades, 2016)
If there’s one word to describe VIXX’s Fantasy, it would be EPIC; I don’t think any other K-pop title track will ever come close to how epic this song is! Fantasy is a hard-hitting jaw-dropping mysteriously dramatic and electrifying song that is all sorts of amazing. VIXX, as the K-pop Kings of Concepts, never fail to deliver absolutely great music specially those in the darker tones but Fantasy is definitely their best work, VIXX’s magnum opus.
2. Nine Muses – Wild (Wild, 2013)
If you haven’t heard of this song or any Nine Muses song ever, then you’re truly missing out. Dolls is equally impressive, to be honest, but if I had to choose, it’s Wild. Wild is the best “sexy” K-pop song EVER. It’s not sexy due to revealing skin and suggestive choreography, it’s sexy in a way that is classy and is natural, the girls of Nine Muses don’t even have to try. What’s really impressive about Wild aside all the eye candy is how impressive the song’s composition is, as expected of Sweetune’s retro-infused music. The intro is appealing, the verses are great, the rap parts are thrilling, the bridge is captivating, and most importantly, the chorus is explosive. Altogether, all these pyrotechnic parts create a phenomenal 3 minutes and 17 seconds of heart-racing pure quality music experience.
1. INFINITE – The Chaser (INFINITIZE, 2012)
Putting INFINITE’s The Chaser into words is not enough and just writing about it is blasphemous as it doesn’t need any explanation on how it’s on top of the entire K-pop scene; the song itself is proof on how it’s on a realm of its own. Another majestic Sweetune work (same as this list’s #2), The Chaser is an synth-pop masterpiece taking elements from the 80’s with a modernized INFINITE touch. Let’s dissect the different parts of The Chaser to further discuss why it’s number one.
THE VOCALS | First of all, the vocals. One thing I appreciate most about Woollim groups is that they never compromise in any aspect and their artists are all exemplary singers. The vocals in this song is out of this world and is very impressive for the 2 year old INFINITE back then. The two main vocalists Sunggyu and Woohyun brought contrasting charms to the song with the former’s sharp and crisp and the latter’s rich and robust tones.
THE INSTRUMENTAL | The Chaser‘s masterful production made the song the phenom it is right now. Listening to the instrumental alone is already a compelling experience. Every part of the instrumental are just so brilliantly crafted bringing the synth, guitar, brass, THE KOREAN INSTRUMENTS, and all the elements together as one crazy song. The siren sounds in the instrumental is like a warning of how deep into The Chaser you’re going to be after listen.
THE INTRO & OUTRO | Right from the beginning, The Chaser‘s intro already brings forth a chill to the spine with its symphonic melody. The synth in this part is already good but is just a small bud of what’s going to be experienced later on with the song. The same sound is featured in the end of the song but in a much more intensified way as resolution.
THE VERSE | The verse is 10 out of 10 and it’s the least memorable part of the song. That’s just how good The Chaser is. I’d say the first verse is like the (first) calm before the storm because its most certainly the most chill part where you can catch your breathe after what happened with the part prior and save some air for what’s going to happen after.
THE PRE-CHORUS | Now you’re going to feel the thrill that has been established with the intro and maintained by the verse going up to what you already predict to be an extraordinary definition. One thing to note about this part is how the lyrics creatively incorporated traditional Korean lyrics. As you listen to the pre-chorus, you can already hear the angst building up in the background.
THE FIRST CHORUS | Amazing, but not the best chorus in all K-pop music. The tension that was being built up exploded into one fine chorus. It’s sang by all the members already boasting of their amazing vocals and harmony throwing you down from your seat which is what you’d notice first but actually throughout its duration, you can hear the striking brass that is almost already trying to pin you down, not letting you get back up.
THE RAP PARTS | The rap parts? Exhilarating. These come right after the of a choruses and despite its less prominent instrumental, the rap itself keeps its momentum alive.
THE SECOND CHORUS | Unlike the first chorus already hitting hard, the first part of the second chorus was more of a half-time figuratively as its a part that is not driven by its action-packed instrumental and is instead carried by Sunggyu’s vocals and literally since we’re already halfway the song. The second part of this chorus is the same as the first chorus but in a much more elevated tone.
THE BRIDGE | The second calm before the storm. It’s like the verse but with a more suspenseful instrumental. In the background, the instrumental is already busy in its work building up whatever tragedy’s going to happen next.
THE THIRD CHORUS | Now, this IS easily the best chorus in all K-pop music. Sang by Woohyun then everyone, this is one heck of a powerful part to remember. The transition between the bridge and this chorus is almost an epitome of perfect and is the most magnificent transition I’ve ever heard in K-pop. The key is most certainly more intense as well since from here on, the vocalists are already belting their parts. Woohyun’s solo is already much more powerful than the entire song but they turned it up a notch with the second part of the chorus with all of the members singing together. The force of the seven members’ vocals with the compelling background is just astounding. I never heard any chorus as satisfying and perfect in any other K-pop songs.
THE STORY | The song’s lyrics and story is rather heartbreaking as it’s all about the other person leaving INFINITE after falling out of love while they desperately try to win her back, chasing after her ’til the ends of the world. What’s so great about this is that despite it being in Korean (which most cannot really understand), the song was effectively able to convey the feelings and emotions of the song. The Chaser is an entire chase indeed, and after the song you’ll feel as if you’re the one who ran after someone. It may be tiring, but you’ll keep on repeating the song and that’s its deadly charm.
Overall, The Chaser is an example of a K-pop song done perfectly. I must say that if there are any other K-pop groups whose goal is to release quality music and have a robust discography, they should use INFINITE and this song as an example. The Chaser is not just a phenomenal masterpiece, The Chaser is the pinnacle of K-pop music.
The K-pop scene is nothing but evolving and becoming bigger as we speak. Perhaps we can see Korean artists constantly breaking out to non-Korean music markets here and there from now on. However, what we shouldn’t forget is how the previous years and generations forged and imbued K-pop in general with the influence and quality music making it what it is now. Do you agree with the top 1? Which songs do you think would’ve been in your top 25? Drop them down below!
This is an important article as it is my 100th writing here on this site and looking back, I really do enjoy writing about these stuff so much. Thank you for reading this list and I hope you enjoyed it.