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The Top 10 K-Pop Artists of 2018

I always feel like I need to post a disclaimer before this particular countdown. In most “best artist” categories, the nominees are determined by taking things like sales and popularity into account. My top artists countdown is a bit different.

This is a countdown for artists that made waves in 2018. Maybe they’re a newer group who really clicked with me this year, or a veteran who reignited interest thanks to a strong line-up of releases. Or maybe they released songs so iconic to 2018 that I just couldn’t leave them off the list.

Longtime readers will notice that some of my absolute favorite groups didn’t make the top ten this year. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed their work any less — just that 2018 didn’t see the kind of forward velocity of past years. In other words, their work was reliably solid, but not year-defining. In fact, there’s only one repeat artist on the list this year. Nine out of ten have never been a part of my “top artists” countdown before!

As usual, rookies are ineligible. They’ve got their own countdown.

+ Make sure to check out the rest of the year-end countdowns here!


10. COSMIC GIRLS (WJSN)

Cosmic Girls have had their share of solid singles in the past, but in 2018 they really leaned into their spacey synth sound. For the first time, it felt like the group had cemented a signature style. Save Me, Save You was one of the year’s biggest growers, but the girls also kicked off the year in strong fashion with Dreams Come True. Their mini albums were more consistent than ever, providing a promising template for what I hope we’ll hear from them in 2019.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: Dreams Come True, Save Me, Save You


9. iKON

After two years of sparse Korean promotion, iKON dominated 2018. I wasn’t always a fan of all of their music, but the sheer breadth of their material this year helped them gain a stranglehold on the industry. Love it or hate it, Love Scenario was one of the year’s defining hits, and the group followed it up with two more solid (and varied) singles.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: Love Scenario, Killing Me, Goodbye Road


8. BOA

SM Entertainment gave their older generation of artists a lot of love this year, but none released a stronger slate of music than BoA. Her 2018 was quite prolific, with a mini and full album in Korea and another full-length in Japan. She’s also had a renewed presence on television, most recently as a panelist on singing series The Fan. It’s been a welcome return to prominence for one of K-pop’s bonafide legends.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: Jazzclub, Nega Dola, One Shot, Two Shot, Woman


7. THE BOYZ

The Boyz didn’t rank all that high on last year’s “top rookies” list, but they’ve proven their mettle in 2018 with four strong singles. I’m especially interested in their funkier output. Giddy Up and Right Here point towards a future that could easily see them becoming a personal bias group. But, even their more subdued material has grown on me. Along with a few other acts their age, The Boyz seem poised to lead the next generation of K-pop.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: Giddy Up, KeePer, Right Here, No Air


6. MOMOLAND

If you would have asked me this time last year, I never would have thought Momoland would end up on this list. I’d always enjoyed the group (especially their underrated Wonderful Love), but 2018 truly shot them into the stratosphere. They may have only released two singles this year, but both were examples of world-conquering K-pop — solidifying the group’s upbeat, hook-infused sound.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: BBoom BBoom, BAAM


5. NU’EST W

Nu’est’s resurgence began in 2017 with their stint on Produce 101 and the debut of sub-unit Nu’est W, but 2018 felt like the fulfillment of that potential. Unexpectedly, I found their material to be a bit stronger than agency-mates Seventeen this year (and you all know what a rabid Seventeen fan I am). But beyond music, the guys were everywhere this year. JR, in particular, has become a variety show mainstay. Their sudden 2017 success proved to be no fluke, as the guys now find themselves solidly in the K-pop a-list.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: Dejavu, I Don’t Care, Help Me


4. SHINEE

No group entered 2018 with a greater hurdle to overcome. After losing founding member Jonghyun late last year, SHINee’s tenth anniversary was thrown into crisis. Honestly, the fact that the guys were able to push through tragedy and deliver any music at all is commendable. But despite the obvious personal and professional struggles that the year provided, SHINee had an incredibly prolific 2018. Four fantastic Korean singles and some really solid solo material made this a tenth anniversary to remember.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: Shinin’ (Jonghyun solo), Good Evening, I Want You, Our Page, Countless, Forever Yours (Key ft. Soyou), Under My Skin (Taemin solo), One Of Those Nights (Key ft. Crush), Blue (Onew solo)


3. NCT

The sheer amount of material released by NCT this year easily earns them a spot on this list. Though none of the group’s 2018 work quite matched up with my personal favorite NCT songs, SM Entertainment’s ambitious release schedule really took advantage of the NCT project’s scope. In contrast to a relatively barren 2017, the guys released no less than thirteen singles — performed across a variety of units, solos and even as a full 18-member group. Through it all, SM began to develop an identifiably oddball sound for the guys, blending current trends with the agency’s love of off-kilter arrangements.

Last Year: 8

2018 Singles: Timeless, Boss, Baby Don’t Stop, Go, Touch, Yestoday, New Heroes (Ten solo), Black On Black, Chain, We Go Up, Regular, Simon Says, Hair In The Air (with Yeri)


2. SUNMI

In contrast to NCT’s staggering amount of 2018 releases, Sunmi only delivered two title tracks. But damn, were those two tracks good. Her music sounded like no one else’s this year, harnessing her innate charisma for a truly unstoppable one-two punch. I was late to the party when it came to 2017’s Gashina (which really should have found a spot on my top 50 of last year), but both Heroine and Siren were instant hits with me. It takes a lot for a soloist to rank this high on my countdown, but Sunmi provided more star power on her own than most entire groups ever manage.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: Heroine, Siren


1. GOLDEN CHILD

My top rookie of 2017 exceeded expectations in 2018. In every way, Golden Child provided the antidote to so many of my misgivings about this year’s K-pop landscape. While others went dark, they maintained a bright, upbeat sound that focused on classic pop melody and high-energy performance. Not only did they kick off the year working with my absolute favorite producer (Sweetune), but their follow-up material proved they could be just as potent (if not more so) when paired with other composers. Sure, Golden Child didn’t snatch the kind of headlines and notoriety of big-name groups like BTS and Wanna One, but they were everywhere this year, barely taking a break between comebacks. There’s a reason that all four of their singles ranked near the top of my year-end countdown. I realize that their brand of upbeat K-pop won’t be for everyone. It’s certainly not trendy. But, they were undoubtedly The Bias List‘s bias group of 2018.

Last Year: n/a

2018 Singles: It’s U, Lady, Let Me, Genie

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4 thoughts on “The Top 10 K-Pop Artists of 2018

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

  2. Great list, though oof @ Seventeen falling completely off the list. I thought they had a strong year (though Director’s Cut was perhaps one of my favorite repackages in all of KPop, and seeing it remiss on your album countdown kinda gave a bit of a heads-up). I wonder if they’d end up on the list had they not chosen the tail end of 2018 to promote their last comeback of the year.

    I haven’t really vibed with Golcha’s material this year–I personally find their title tracks lacking in catchiness even though the style is right up my alley. Artist of the year for me would be NCT (the U subunit especially), followed by JBJ (if we’re counting solo and unit releases, as was the case with SHINee). Sunmi was a revelation as well–I’d had her marked for a one-hit wonder with Gashina, but Heroine is my favorite solo track of the year.

    Like

    • I knew that the absence of Seventeen would be noticed! Like I mentioned, a lot of my favorite artists weren’t on the list this year. It’s not that I don’t still love Seventeen and their music, it’s just that 2018 didn’t make me love them any more than I already do, if that makes sense.

      I hope that Golden Child win you over eventually. I think they’re going to surprise a lot of people in the coming years. As you can tell from their heavy presence on my lists so far, they’ve certainly impressed me.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Song Review: Hong Joochan (Golden Child) – A Song For Me | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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