It’s time to flash back seven years to 2012, an era of huge choruses, thumping dance beats and an endless supply of sci-fi influenced music videos. 2012’s charms were endless, but here are fifty of the absolute best singles.
To be eligible for this top fifty list, songs must have had a Korean release as a title or promotional track between Jan. 1st and Dec. 31st, 2012.
10. 2NE1 – I Love You
2NE1’s most successful foray into European dance music, I Love You is a dynamic piece of pop production. They could have kept it simple, but instead of opting for a streamlined song, the stop/start beat gives the track peaks and valleys that keep it engaging and interesting throughout. This also allows for some of the best builds of their entire discography, with that euphoric chorus providing a sugar rush of excitement each time it rears its head.
9. Bigbang – Fantastic Baby
For many, Fantastic Baby is the answer to the question: “What is K-pop?” Beyond that, this iconic dance track perfected so many of the tricks that have been a staple of Korean pop music for the past seven years. It’s a colossal moment for Bigbang, and still the very best display of their raucous, party-starting energy.
8. Sistar – Loving U
The first in a legendary string of summer singles, Loving U remains the peak of Sistar’s effervescent side. It’s the sound of pure poolside joy — a carnival of sleek pop hooks and cascading, sun-splashed production. It’s also home to Bora’s most iconic rap break and the group’s catchiest, singalong chorus. Its sheer optimism never fails to put me in a good mood.
7. EXO – Mama
Fusing rock opera bombast with heavy chants and dance-pop precision, Mama stands as a sterling example of everything high budget K-pop can be. It’s exhilaratingly ambitious in its epic sound, and established EXO as a boundary-pushing rookie to watch. Modern K-pop could do with more of this anything-goes energy.
6. Boyfriend – Janus
Boyfriend’s masterpiece, and one of production team Sweetune’s strongest tracks. From its orchestral instrumental to its heavenly backing vocals and flourishes, it easily secures its place as one of 2012’s definitive standouts. The touches of guitar add to the song’s stately, majestic feel, but nothing hits as hard as that surging, anthemic chorus.
5. Bigbang – Monster
Monster feels like the bookend to earlier Bigbang hit Haru Haru, fully harnessing Bigbang’s moodier side and boasting the most gorgeously sorrowful melody of their career. It’s a song firing on all cylinders, laser-focused to the point where every element works cohesively to support its central concept. That soaring chorus absolutely kills.
4. EXO – History
The jagged funk of History‘s beat and commanding, layered vocals of its chorus unite to create EXO’s most potent, streamlined track. There were flashier songs in 2012, but few had this much of a kick. Rather than scatter in several different directions (as SM songs of this era tended to do), History fuels itself on an unshakable groove and all-killer, no-filler arrangement.
3. SHINee – Sherlock
From its mammoth instrumental, to the anthemic refrain courtesy of producer extraordinaire Thomas Troelsen, Sherlock is an exhilarating piece of performance pop. SHINee turned things up to eleven in every respect, punching hard over a sledgehammer beat and bursts of life-affirming brass. This is one of the most powerful tracks in all of K-pop, and a more-than-worthy number one in any other year.
2. TVXQ – Catch Me
The high-water mark for TVXQ as a duo, and perhaps the best use of dubstep elements in any K-pop song. Catch Me‘s electro-dance beat fuses sweeping production elements into a near symphonic euphoria. It’s one of the biggest-sounding dance tracks the guys have ever given us, propelled by chill-inducing vocals and an explosive energy. Genius composer Yoo Young-Jin proved that he could work within the era’s trends while maintaining his personal idiosyncrasies. With Catch Me, he and TVXQ offered the perfect balance.
1. Infinite – The Chaser
Anyone remotely familiar with The Bias List would have easily guessed that The Chaser would find itself at the top of this list. After all, it’s not only my favorite song of 2012, but my favorite K-pop song of all time.
The Chaser brings together so many aspects of what made 2012 incredible and forges them into a taut blast of unflagging energy. Seven years later, I’m still invigorated by the song’s dramatic build, powerful vocal arrangement and inventive, densely packed production. It’s the standard I hold every other K-pop song to, and it has yet to be beaten. I’m not sure it ever will be.