The end of the year countdowns are finally here! As always, things kick off with the big one… The Bias List’s 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.
To be eligible for this top 50 list, songs must have had a Korean release as a title or promotional track between Dec. 1st, 2017 and Nov. 30th, 2018.
10. NCT U – Baby Don’t Stop
At their best, NCT meld trendy sounds with SM Entertainment’s penchant for odd, genre-bending arrangements. With only two performers to its name, Baby Don’t Stop reigned as the cream of the 2018 NCT crop thanks to its indelible synth beat and surprisingly buoyant pop hook. The track oozes charisma, positioning every element — from vocal run to squeaky sample — as a vital cog in the percussive machine. (full review)
9. Lovelyz – That Day
It’s hard to get this kind of fluffy synth-pop song exactly right. Too edgy and you lose its simple, cotton-candy appeal. Too cutesy and the whole thing collapses under its own saccharine weight. But Lovelyz — and more specifically, Sweetune — found the perfect balance with That Day. Its muted verses build interest with their jazzy undertones, but it’s that sugar shot of a chorus that lands the song in the top ten. Rarely has the combination of bubbly synths and layered harmonies sounded so refreshing. (full review)
8. Stray Kids – District 9
Idol group debuts should be explosive. They should be ferocious. If not, then what’s the point? In the midst of 2018’s obsession with trap and tropical house, K-pop often forgot just how effective a killer dose of rock guitar can be. District 9 launched Stray Kids with a full-blown identity, distinct enough from other acts to stand out. Its blistering rap verses impressed, but the sheer bombast of the chorus truly threw down the gauntlet. (full review)
7. Sunmi – Heroine
Heroine was the opening salvo to an incredible year for K-pop’s most magnetic diva. Plagiarism accusations aside, this was one of the few 2018 tracks that got away with the instrumental-drop-as-chorus. That’s thanks to a standout arrangement, which moves from sultry and beguiling to slap-your-face commanding with effortless finesse. As you would expect, Sunmi sells both moods with equal ferocity. (full review)
6. Golden Child – It’s U
Is it possible for a pop song to be too in-your-face catchy? I must have thought so back in January when I was more hesitant about It’s U’s charms. But, the track’s incessantly giddy energy won me over quickly. The retro Sweetune synths certainly help, but Golden Child’s infectious eagerness seals the deal. Pop music like this is only effective if everyone involved approaches it with conviction, throwing any sense of irony out the door. It’s U takes its fizzy hooks very seriously, and that earnest attitude pays off. (full review)
5. Sunmi – Siren
Expanding on the sonic touchstones of January’s Heroine, Siren delivered a fleshed-out melody that added a welcome dose of desperation to Sunmi’s hypnotic vocals. Its strong 80’s influence would have been right at home on Wonder Girls’ 2015 retro opus Reboot, but feels downright vital when couched within 2018’s downbeat pop climate. The chugging synth beat puts Siren in a category unto itself, but that instantly memorable chorus solidifies its greatness. (full review)
4. Golden Child – Lady
Golden Child again, you say? Well, hear me out. There were many moody, mid-tempo comebacks this year. With an ear towards current trends, most relied on elements of trap or future bass to drive their angst. In contrast, Lady went full on melodic, hanging a classic pop arrangement over a gorgeous, piano-led instrumental. Its transition from verse to pre-chorus is among the year’s most dynamic moments, surging forward with all the cinematic grandeur of a satisfying drama. (full review)
3. SHINee – Good Evening
When you think about it, it’s easy to express melancholy through the kind of strings-laden balladry favored by so many drama soundtracks. What’s harder is capturing a complicated, bittersweet sentiment, channeled through a high-energy genre more often suited towards jubilant, floor-filling excess. Good Evening pulls off this tricky balance, filtering its hues of grief through a wistful — and ultimately hopeful — catharsis of electrifying deep house. It’s the saddest sequel to View we never thought to ask for. (full review)
2. Golden Child – Genie
I often complained about K-pop’s lack of sharp hooks in 2018. In so many ways, Genie is the polar opposite of that criticism. Here, everything is a hook — and they’re as honed as they come. In fact, the track pulls us through four distinct segments before we even get to its instant-classic chorus. No murky, time-filling verses here!
But what makes Genie a true standout is that it doesn’t rest solely on its catchiness. The song could have easily become throwaway pop fluff, but the rousing, infectious melodies are backed up by a parade of robust vocal arrangements, culminating in a climactic wallop with power notes to spare.
A lesser track would have ditched those last thirty seconds for economy’s sake, but Golden Child know that — despite what the cool kids might say — a high octane, effervescent pop song is still an excellent outlet to showcase skill. From its bombastic dance break to the opening verse’s steadily building percussion, no title track this year offered more bang for your brightly-colored buck. (full review)
1. ONF – Complete
When I consider the pop songs that move me most, it’s all about a sense of propulsion. More than any other artistic medium, music has the power to evoke what it must feel like to fly. ONF’s Complete takes flight from its very first moment, and never lets up.
Its brisk pace has a weightlessness to it, yet feels tightly wound and urgent. But right when it seems like it’s about to slide into comfortable cruising territory, the track yanks you up another level with a rugged guitar-and-brass beat drop straight from the pop gods. It’s a simple trick, and one used infinitely over the past few years. But to my ears, no K-pop song in recent memory has pulled it off with more panache.
Yet, Complete knows not to overplay its hand. Rather than move in expected directions, the instrumental weaves through an enthusiastic rap break and filters into a serene, eye-of-the-storm bridge that clears the air for the climactic finale to punch with maximum potency. It’s this balance between freewheeling energy and taut song construction that makes Complete the perfect pop package, and earns it a well-deserved position at the top of my list. (full review)