The end of the year countdowns are here! We’re starting things off with the big one… the top 50 songs of the year! Each day this week, I’ll be counting down ten of the year’s best, until number one is revealed on Friday.
Unlike last year, j-pop releases will be placed in their own countdown, including those by Korean artists.
To be eligible for this top 50 list, tracks must have had a commercial release between Dec. 1st, 2015 and Nov. 30th, 2016.
MAKE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE COUNTDOWN FIRST
10. Beast – Ribbon
I remember being incredibly skeptical when Beast announced that they would be returning with a ballad, but Ribbon is the kind of dramatic production that transforms the genre into something memorable and exciting. That synthesized violin sample is one of the year’s most theatrical bits of instrumentation, but it’s Beast’s emotional performance that seals the deal. (full review)
9. Snuper – Platonic Love
K-pop has often had a fascination with the 80’s, but few songs have gone as full-on retro as Platonic Love. Luckily, mega-producers Sweetune get the sound exactly right, imbuing the track with a timeless melody and lush vocal layering. That icy synth riff is instantly recognizable, but meshes surprisingly well with the song’s more traditional k-pop tropes. (full review)
8. BTS – Blood, Sweat & Tears
BTS have managed to be k-pop’s big international success story for two years straight, and it feels totally deserved. They blitzed us with three fantastic singles in 2016, but Blood, Sweat & Tears inches its way to the top thanks to its lush production and gorgeous vocal performance. Even that non-melody of a chorus goes down easy when everything around it feels so vital and alive. (full review)
7. Infinite – The Eye
Infinite have experienced a gradual, but dramatic change in sound since they first appeared with their upbeat Sweetune-produced pop in 2010. In many ways, The Eye feels like the full realization of that shift, blustering forward with a dense blend of claustrophobic violins, haunting piano and dramatic electronics. (full review)
6. UP10TION – Tonight
By far, the biggest grower of the year. Tonight is a steady stream of playful, hooky moments that come together to create the very best kind of summertime hit. Moving away from current trends, the song rides on a warm instrumental of bright brass and sweeping strings. Five other songs may rank higher on my list, but none was quite as joyously giddy as Tonight. Against all odds, it was my song of the summer. (full review)
5. Astro – Hide & Seek
Speaking of joy, this incredibly sunny debut leapt onto the k-pop scene with energy to spare. Astro had an incredibly consistent 2016, but their first release remains their best. That’s thanks to Hide & Seek‘s addictive gallop, which spins off energy as it builds towards its dynamite chorus. It’s everything a debut from a pop group should be — self assured, catchy as hell, and tethered to a euphoric pop melody. (full review)
4. GFriend – Navillera
If GFriend impressed by showing their potential in 2015, they absolutely blew that promise wide open in 2016. Navillera amps up their core sound to an immensely energetic level with its unending dancefloor assault. The vocals soar as the relentless beat drives toward the song’s explosive climax. It’s the fiercest piece of music the girls have given us yet, and a thrilling glimpse into the expansion of their already potent sound. (full review)
3. Seventeen – Very Nice
I still recall the exhilaration I felt after watching the music video for Very Nice the first time. There’s something to be said about a group performing at their peak — delivering the kind of pop sucker-punch that feels as effortless as it does perfectly constructed. Very Nice could have easily become a subpar Uptown Funk retread. But Seventeen is not that group. They understand how to calibrate each element — from the melody, to the rap, to the instrumention, to the choreography — so that it fuses together to create what can only be called a showstopper. (full review)
2. GFriend – Rough
Though there were other songs that piggybacked on a catchphrase or insistent repetition to achieve k-pop ubiquity, Rough did it all on the strength of its melody and production. Its chorus is one for the ages — a galvanizing, eminently singable piece of pop music that only grew more impressive the longer it remained in public consciousness. That gorgeous instrumental refrain that follows is just icing on the cake, giving the track an orchestral heft that instantly separated GFriend from their peers. (full review)
1. NCT U – Without You
Sometimes, all it takes to get to the top is a perfect melody, perfectly executed. Without You isn’t trendy. It doesn’t include any instrumental gimmicks or even sound like anything else that was popular in k-pop during 2016. What it does have is the best chorus of the year, with the most gorgeous vocal blend you could ever hope for. I wasn’t surprised when its hip-hop counterpart received all the buzz, but Without You is a different kind of beast. This is classic pop songwriting, the kind of song that transcends eras and genres. It was the track to beat ever since its release back in April, and no other song managed to trump the simplicity of its anthemic power. (full review)