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The Top 50 K-Pop Songs of 2018 (Day Five: 10-1)

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.

Make sure to check out the rest of the countdown first!
Day One: 50-41
Day Two: 40-31
Day Three: 30-21
Day Four: 20-11


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)

~

28 thoughts on “The Top 50 K-Pop Songs of 2018 (Day Five: 10-1)

  1. Pingback: The Top 50 K-Pop Songs of 2018 (Day Four: 20-11) | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  2. Did I miss it? I didn’t see Day6 Shoot Me on your list at all, but definitely thought it would be somewhere in the top 20. You definitely rated it higher than a lot of songs in the Countdown! One of the top 5 Kpop releases for me this year…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh, nice top ten. I did enjoy a lot of these songs and quite a few of them would end up in my top 100. Top 10 would definitely look a bit different from yours though.

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  4. oh good list, even if i dont rly agree with it. i was never a huge fan of good evening or complete, but genie is probably my no1 boy group song of the year, together with some others though. same goes for that day + sunmis songs

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  5. Pingback: K-POP Best of 2018 Masterpost | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  6. Just in order to share opinions, here’s my Top20 (not all of them are title tracks):

    1. THE UNI+, Dancing With The Devil
    2. BIGFLO, Upside Down / Your Friend
    3. ONF, Complete
    4. JBJ95, Home
    5. SUNMI, Siren
    6. SAMUEL, One
    7. HOLLAND, I’m Not Afraid
    8. IMFACT, Na Na Na
    9. EXP EDITION, Gadawada
    10. TARGET, Tempest
    11. WANNA ONE, Spring Breeze
    12. BTS, Idol (Stadium rmx)
    13. APRIL, Oh! My Mistake
    14. IKON, Killing Me
    15. MINZY, All Of You Say
    16. S.O.U.L, Get Myself With You
    17. NCT 127, Simon Says
    18. UNDER NINETEEN, We Are Young
    19. NAM TAEHYUN, Star
    20. N.TIC, Do You Know Who I Am

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    • Solid list, with a few unexpected choices! It’s surprising how little we matched, though you’ll likely see one or two of these on my Top Album Tracks list later this month.

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  7. Amazing list Nick, thanks for all those incredible recommendations! ONF sure deserve that top spot 😀 !! I’m eager to see your top b-sides, can you tell when it’s coming?

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  8. I always find it interesting to see other people’s lists… mine definitely looks very different to yours 😀 It’s nice to see the different music preferences come through, for example my list has a lot more R&B and rock based songs than yours 🙂 I like Complete, and I think it’s a fun summer song, but it is definitely nowhere near my favourite song of the year.

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    • This is awesome!
      I’m so happy (and a little jealous) that you get to experience their awesome discography for the first time. If only we could get a comeback so that that awesome discography could grow a little larger…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m here. I did it! I spent a whole night writing for you, really why don’t I start my own blog? Same JYHB content, but – get this – with proper proofreading!

    Anyways, before my top 10, it’s worth mentioning that halfway through typing my list, I realized that I had forgotten “No More” by Uni.T, which is an awesome reggae-styled Shinsadong Tiger song that would have hit around 33-35 for me. Other songs that I didn’t forget but which just missed my list are “Thanks” by Seventeen, “My Pace” by Stray Kids, “Genie” by Golcha (sorry TT), and “Tempo” by EXO, and “What The Heck” by Sha Sha.

    10. TVXQ – The Chance of Love: I know, I know. But electro-swing always wins. It really does. It always wins. The riffs are great. The melodies are effortlessly cool. The bass line is great. The rhythm is swinging. I would dance to this, and I don’t dance. But I would. I resent you putting this song into the “they ‘matured’ and got more boring” category; this is a bop. In this essay I will

    9. Fanatics-Flavor – Milkshake: K-pop continues its inexplicably good run of great songs about ice cream (seriously, “Ice Cream Cake,” Hyuna’s “Ice Cream,” OC’s “Abing Abing” – it’s WEIRD). “Milkshake” is weirdly dark and minor key for a song about ice cream, and more or less just something we don’t hear too often in kpop. The riffs that underlie the rap bits (particularly that phrase-ending one on the lower end of the mix) are excessively good, the pre-chorus/chorus lines are catchy yet just as melancholy as anything with a more overtly sad tone (like “I’m So Sick” or the Aseul songs). Just like Ah-Choo, for a similar example, was a really kind of lachrymose song about sneezing in love, Milkshake manages to be a lachrymose song about ice cream in love.

    8. Loona – Hi High: “Hi High” indeed, THIS is the song that out-acid tripped the already abrasive and crazed “Love Bomb.” Besides having maybe the best first 15 seconds in kpop with those icy synths, I didn’t like “Hi High” at all at first – namely because I was convinced spacey gg songs like this needed space for their fizz, and this is the opposite of a spaced-out arrangement. “Why can’t this be arranged like ‘Love & Live’ or ‘Ah-Choo’?” I thought, erroneously. “Hi High” is really just a different animal, and once I switched my mindset from “this instrumental is cluttered” to “this instrumental is cocaine,” then I started to see greatness. Hi High wins out over “Love Bomb” by having that incessant “Hi! High! Hi High! Love! Love!” chorus, which allows the already extremely extra to be realized at full-capacity extraness. I would argue that a more complex melody would have blunted the gg-on-drugs effect by constraining all of those ultra fast arpeggios to the back of the mix

    7. iKon – Killing Me: I think I’ve already detailed that I like this song a lot! It plays a lot of the same tricks as Love Scenario with the subtle bookend refrain that starts and ends the song, but manages to be better on the merits of beautiful production and, imo, a more appealing tone. I love, and I mean LOVE, how the post-chorus “drop” is actually a fake-out to a more fleshed out second chorus; I love the dark, surreal pre-chorus melody, I love how the vocals are mixed so that it sounds like the lower frequencies are harmonizing with the main melody (I dunno anything about mixing, but I hear it, and it’s a clever trick). The only thing that could have made this better would have been a more engaging bridge melody because it drags a little there, but is this a serious complaint? No. “Killing Me” is as good as this genre of moody boy group songs will ever get.

    6. Dreamcatcher – You and I: Dreamcatcher really toned down the metal for this one, but that’s okay because they kept the songwriting excellence up. Really judging DC songs up until “You and I” is a matter of how much you like the chorus melody on display; they’re all great, and “You and I” is easily the best since “Good Night.” It’s a really a testament that I can sing all of You and I’s chorus without putting any effort into memorizing it, despite my terrible lyric-processing skills (in any language) and there being no real hookiness on display.

    5. Sunmi – Siren: Peak good. Sunmi’s the queen. What a chorus. I’m tired but we both know that this deserves a top 10 spot on any list.

    4. CLC – To The Sky: Extreme levels of sunny happiness but low levels of cloying aegyo, a highly-rocking guitar base, and plenty of time for the riff-based chorus to get stuck into your head makes “To The Sky” the best CLC song, and easily one of the very best songs of this year. I knew this was going to be a Top 5 of the Year song back when it came out, and the addictive energy definitely held up. Screaming “run to the sky high” was a massive 2018 hobby, because who wouldn’t want to sing along to this?

    3 Aseul – Fill Me Up: If you thought I was done with Aseul, you were wrong! SIKE part 5: the ultimate sike. “Fill Me Up” is great. It comes from the school of “random noise that slowly coalesces into a proper song (but only sort of)”. Unlike most of the songs this high on the list, I really don’t know what ingratiated me so hard to “Fill Me Up.” It’s weird; it definitely doesn’t have the same sort of melodic sense as “Sandcastles” or “Always With You,” or really any other song on the album. You just kind of have to listen to it a few times to understand. I certainly kept coming back, to the point where I feel obligated to place it this high.

    2. Twice – What Is Love?: If you thought I was done with Twice, you were wrong! Explaining why I like “What Is Love?” so much is probably impossible. It’s just a really good, straightforward pop song, and probably the song I relied on most this year. Twice are good times when everything sucks, and this year sucked massively. However, my massive crush on Twice’s music was a good mainstay, and escapism is what kpop is for – at least to an extent – to most everyone who likes this genre. I’m not a hardcore Once by any stretch (I haven’t been a proper fangirl since I was like 14) but that doesn’t change that Twice were my faves this year, releasing great track after great track. “What Is Love?” just happens to encapsulate everything I like about Twice and kpop in general, so it gets my #2 place.

    1. Oh My Girl – Secret Garden: You know it had to be this one, man. I knew in January when this was released that nothing would top it, and boy was I correct. Nothing topped it. “Secret Garden” is masterful in all areas. It just doesn’t get better than this in kpop. It just – it doesn’t. 11/10. The archetypal girl group song realized perfectly on essentially every level.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I accurately predicted four of your top ten. I knew Oh My Girl, Twice, Sunmi and iKON would be up there. I’m honestly surprised about TVXQ, but then again I know you like the swing elements a lot more than I do.

      Even though it didn’t make my list (I’m team Remember Me), I do like Secret Garden quite a lot. It’s not necessarily the kind of song I gravitate towards, but I enjoy it even more now than I did this time last year. It’s a strong #1. And hey, we both had WM artists at the top!

      LOONA is one of the most frustrating things for me, because I see so many people going crazy about them and I just can’t relate. I feel like I didn’t get an invitation to the party.
      I love their concept. I love the imagery and the fact that they don’t always head down traditional girl group routes. I just haven’t been able to connect to their music yet. I think I need that one entry point that might make it all click for me.

      Your list is a great balance to mine, since it’s like 80% girl groups/female performers and mine was 2/3 male, 1/3 female. It’s fascinating to see where we connect and diverge. Thanks for taking the time to post all these!

      Liked by 1 person

      • None of the Loona songs this year were instant hits with me – I mean, I actually hated Hi High on first listen – and all of them took months before I suddenly had an 100% turn around. This is true with almost every Loona song I ended up liking, actually (Love & Live, Love Cherry Motion, Girl Front, and Eclipse all took varying amounts of time for me to really enjoy). I think the only ones I’ve connected with off the bat are “new” and “Loonatic,” and both of those would be way up on my Top of 2017 list. So, maybe come back to some of the older ones and check if you’ve changed your mind!

        I think my boy group/girl group split this year comes down to (a) boy groups riding the skitterskitterLURCH trend much harder than girl groups and (b) upbeat boy group songs, when they do appear, often go down the funk/trop house/Latin pop route and I just don’t like it that much, while upbeat girl group songs stick much closer to classic synthpop sounds and the kind of retro I do like. Not sure why this is, but it’s definitely a pattern. I think a big thing is that you usually use “freewheeling” as a compliment, whereas I’m like “get your melody in line, please.” And girl group songwriting, if it wants to do something different, will push things with its instrumentation/harmonies or 90 counterpoint melodies at once (see: April). Melody lines in general are more to the point, and even when ggs suffer from the dreaded Over-phrasing Plague, vocals rarely sound improvised, just overwrought. Boy group songwriters seem to find more value in improvisation energy (though it’s surely not – it’s k-pop after all)

        Also yes, @ WM and Woollim absolutely bringing it this year! Good songs all around.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Song Review: ONF – We Must Love | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  11. Pingback: Song Review: Sunmi – Noir | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

    • Ugh, you got me. I guess I’ll pack it up and stop reviewing. In fact, maybe I’ll stop listening to music altogether. Do you want the password so you can take over the site?

      Like

  12. Pingback: Song Review: IZ – Memento | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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