So far, 2019 has been an odd year for K-pop. If I were to sum it up, these first six months have pinballed between “thrilling” and “frustrating.” Taken as a whole, I think 2019 easily usurps 2018 at this same point. But, many of my favorite songs were released in close proximity to one another — spurts of excellence surrounded by stretches of dull monotony. This has created an uneven release schedule that often seems less impactful than it actually is. Luckily, when 2019’s K-pop has been good, it’s been really good.
This is thanks largely to an influx of rookie groups. 2018 didn’t offer much when it came to rookies, but 2019 has been absolutely flush with new faces. Most of these emerging acts have exceeded my expectations, which bodes well for the future. You’ll notice far more honorable mentions than usual this year, and rookies played a big part in that.
As any longtime reader knows, I’m usually biased towards the music released by boy groups. That’s been especially true this year. Few girl group releases have really done it for me in 2019, though the general quality has been decent. The one group that made it into my half-year list is going to polarize many, but their song has grown to become my favorite female-fronted title track of the year.
Now for the big question: have we heard the Bias List’s song of the year yet? Possibly. There have been some strong contenders released these past six months, but being an eternal optimist I hope that there are still bigger and better things on the horizon.
Stay tuned for my annual mid-year albums list and the always fun “biggest risers and fallers” feature — both coming soon! And be sure to sound off in the comments. What were your favorite singles during the first half of 2019?
(in alphabetical order)
ATEEZ – Say My Name (review)
Cosmic Girls (WJSN) – Boogie Up (review)
Lovelyz – Beautiful Days (review)
Oh My Girl – The Fifth Season (SSFWL) (review)
ONEUS – Valkyrie (review)
ONF – We Must Love (review)
Pentagon – Sha La La (review)
Stray Kids – Side Effects (review)
VERIVERY – Ring Ring Ring (review)
A.C.E – Under Cover
Fusing a heavy rock stomp to hip-hop and dance elements, the bombastic Under Cover hearkens back to K-pop’s anything-goes past. It’s rare to hear this kind of ambition from a group of A.C.E’s stature, and provides a thrilling peek at what they’re truly capable of. (full review)
ATEEZ – Wave
The standard K-pop trop-bop, elevated by shots of anthemic melody and an expansive, utterly refreshing climax. It’s perfectly structured, and fueled by some of the most exciting new voices in K-pop. (full review)
BTS – Boy With Luv (ft. Halsey)
BTS came roaring back to my attention with this breezy pre-summer bop. Its carefree funk-pop backbone is irresistibly buoyant, and offers the group a chance to pull back on the angst and simply have fun. (full review)
ITZY – Dalla Dalla
An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production, Dalla Dalla successfully melds together an immense number of current girl group tropes to create a rousing shot of attitude. It’s the one time this year when the omnipresent post-chorus trap breakdown actually works. (full review)
NCT 127 – Highway To Heaven / Superhuman
Two diverging halves of a knockout comeback, NCT 127 hit us with a stadium-ready pop anthem right before throwing a curveball with a SHINee-esque slice of retro electro-funk. (Highway To Heaven review / Superhuman review)
Stray Kids – Miroh
Stray Kids proved their rookie of the year status with this immense blast of hard-hitting EDM-pop. Its chant-like verses are hypnotic, building to sucker punches of galvanizing rap that culminate in the very best kind of instrumental drop. (full review)
TXT – Crown
Easily the year’s most refreshing debut so far, Crown‘s bubbly synth pop is streamlined to perfection, resulting in a hooky-as-hell dance track that thrives on its performers’ wide-eyed gusto and palpable charisma. (full review)
Woohyun – Hold On Me (ft. Junoflo)
My favorite voice in K-pop finally gets the solo dance track he deserves! Hold On Me speaks largely through its guitar-driven instrumental, but it wouldn’t work nearly as well without Woohyun’s polished, passionate performance. (full review)