Though the Bias List focuses almost exclusively on k-pop, many Korean artists make a foray into Japan as well. Those releases deserve their own countdown, paired with a number of their Japanese counterparts.
Huge disclaimer with this countdown. I am a k-pop blogger, first and foremost. My j-pop exposure is limited, and tends to be focused mainly on a few specific styles. So j-pop lovers, don’t consider this list in any way comprehensive. Instead, take the opportunity to (hopefully) discover a new song or two.
And please comment with your own j-pop choices. I’m always on the lookout for new music!
+ Make sure to check out the rest of the year-end countdowns here!
20. Apink – Go! Go! More!
Though Apink‘s recent Korean material has opted for a more subdued sound, Go throws every bit of energy on the table, barreling forward with a cheery assault of bubblegum hooks. (full review)
19. Insoo – Naked Love
With its soaring refrain and straightforward EDM pulse, Naked Love reinvented MYNAME’s Insoo as a j-pop club king, elevating its generic instrumental with a killer melody. (full review)
18. B1A4 – Follow Me
Merging an r&b vocal style with an off-kilter pop shuffle, Follow Me retains the elements of B1A4‘s sound while standing as one of their most idiosyncratic releases this year. (full review)
17. XOX – High School Boo!
A refreshing burst of buoyant, summertime funk pop that is guaranteed to improve your mood. That strings-kissed chorus is utter jubilation.
16. Faky – Surrender
Missing the age of badass girl groups in Korea? Look no further than Japan’s Faky, who unleashed their dark electro-pop side with the anthemic Surrender.
15. Bullet Train – Chou Never Give Up DANCE
The ridiculously titled Chou Never Give Up DANCE is another addictive slice of off-kilter dance pop from one of my favorite j-pop groups. The half goofy/half serious music video does a wonderful job distilling what makes Bullet Train so entertaining. (full review)
14. EXO – Coming Over
Released all the way back in December of 2016, Coming Over follows up on funk-driven singles like Love Me Right. Its big, brassy chorus is an absolute treat. (full review)
13. SHINee – Get The Treasure
Though not their greatest j-pop single (or even the greatest song from its accompanying album), Get The Treasure does a thrilling job of harnessing SHINee‘s formidable funk-dance genius. (full review)
12. Kis-My-Ft2 – Tonight
Moving to a more rock-influenced sound, Tonight‘s guitar crunch and orchestral swell is practically operatic at times. But underneath all the ornamentation lies a super-solid, propulsive dance track.
11. B1A4 – You And I
For anyone familiar with leader Jinyoung‘s compositions for his group, You And I will feel instantly familiar. It’s a song built around a brilliant power pop chorus that practically begs listeners to sing along. (full review)
10. Boyfriend – I Miss You
Boyfriend has long been more active in Japan than their native Korea, and their j-pop material has begun to improve as a result. I Miss You is a gorgeously melodic pop song with a driving dance beat. (full review)
9. Generations – Sun And Moon
I find a lot of the Exile Tribe related material to be somewhat lacking in personality, but not this enormous guitar-driven slab of dance pop. It’s got an incredible chorus and energy to spare.
8. Kis-My-Ft2 – Explode
Following up the rock-fueled Tonight with a song that utilizes the same template could have easily resulted in diminished returns. But Explode goes even more epic, blasting forward on a dramatic surge of layered vocals and bombastic chorus.
7. News – Emma
News rarely sets a foot wrong, and Emma easily maintains their stellar singles run. From its spaghetti-western guitars to the ABBA-esque vocal arrangement of the verses, the guys are in their wonderfully cheesy, ultra-anthemic element. (full review)
6. Faky – Someday We’ll Know
J-pop doesn’t often go trendy, at least where Western listeners are concerned, but Someday We’ll Know could easily pass for a European or American release. The difference is that this song is a hundred times better, anchored by an absolutely euphoric chorus.
5. Wednesday Campanella – Aladdin
Okay, I’m fudging things a little with the release dates, but I had to include this brilliantly quirky piece of modern disco because it truly was one of my favorites of the year. Dynamite music video, too.
4. SUPER ☆ DRAGON – Mr. Game
Stardust Promotion’s music collective EBiDAN doesn’t always get it right, often going too far in the WTF direction with its artists. But when a song hits, the results can be spectacular. Mr. Game is edgy, addictive and like nothing else released in 2017. That brassy beat, dynamic rap and grungy chorus combine to create absolute pop magic.
3. Junho – Ice Cream
Junho’s Japanese material has been stellar over the past few years, and Ice Cream continues the trend. It’s one of the year’s most feel-good tracks, bopping along a retro dance beat and featuring an impossibly catchy hook that narrowly avoids novelty thanks to the utter joy of the performance. (full review)
2. B1A4 – Sukidakara Shouganai
B1A4 had an active year in Japan, and Sukidakara Shouganai was the pinnacle. It’s simply a perfect pop song, harnessing an incredible melody and produced with a classic, trend-free sentiment. There are few groups that could pull off this sound so convincingly, and that’s what makes B1A4’s music essential. (full review)
1. FlowBack – Heartbreaker
Heartbreaker is a red herring in FlowBack’s discography, and that’s an utter shame. The song channels the best of 80’s pop without coming across as a retread, and that’s thanks to the assured performance the group delivers. The hooks are lethal, and the synth-driven beat makes for a surprisingly compelling playground for the standout rap segments. This is a group to keep an eye on, and this is their dance pop masterpiece. (full review)
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I don’t follow J-pop much, but Bullet Train are my new ultimate biases no questions asked #stanbullettrain
Haha they’re certainly bias-worthy. I’m curious, did you know about them before this?
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on AAA’s “No Way Back” and/or “Magic”. I too am not really into J-Pop; however occasionally I’ll hear J-Pop songs. I think that the songs I mentioned are good, although since I don’t really know the genre well, it’s possible that they’re not. Either way, I hope that you enjoy them! I appreciate that you take the time to make a J-Pop list too. 🙂 So thanks.
I’ve wanted (and tried) to get into AAA for the longest time, but for some reason I just haven’t been able to find that song or album that really connects with me. It’s weird because their songs are good (including the two you mentioned), but something stops me from wanting to listen further. Maybe sometime down the line it’ll all click for me. It’s definitely happened before… especially when it comes to j-pop.
I can understand that, that’s happened to me with a couple K-pop groups. 🙂
Hey, good list. I love Heartbreaker–so great and oh so simple too, probably my favourite song right now. Fingers crossed for FlowBack. Have you tried Daichi Miura? Some of his songs might be up your alley, like Cry and Fight. He’s also great live.
I’ve listened to a few Daichi Miura songs and thought they were pretty good. I just need to dive in and explore a full album. He sure seems popular!
Haven’t heard many songs of Daichi’s songs, though. I do love watching some of his live performances.
Oh and about FlowBack, sharing this early song in case you haven’t listened to it yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtac13PyRxs. There’s that retro feel, too. It’s no Heartbreaker, but it at least sounds interesting.
(Btw, found out about Satori Boys Club – Help You because of your write-up. I enjoyed the song! For some reason, it reminded me of 90s anime openings/endings like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoSj5-LxoB8.)
Shake The World’s great! I haven’t been as into FlowBack’s more recent material, but new single Breakout is my favorite since Heartbreaker.
I’m glad you gave Satori Boys Club a listen. I’ve been kind of obsessed with the song over the past few weeks. It definitely has a 90’s feel
I agree. Earlier FlowBack felt crude but more interesting to me. Their sound’s more refined now, but I hope they don’t continue playing it safe given their increasing popularity (Booyah’s playfulness is fine though not as strong as their earlier ones). And yes, more 80s feel from them, please. I really like the group and so I’m hoping for the best.
I’ll be keeping an eye on Satori Boys Club! They’re low-key skilled and charming. Oh and thanks for your well-thought-out write-ups.
Yesssss, so glad to see FAKY on here. They’re criminally underrated imo.
Kinda sad no V6 though. CAN’T GET ENOUGH was my favorite jpop song for 2017.