2013 was a high-concept, musically diverse year in K-pop. Hip-hop hadn’t yet taken over, and melody was still king. Instrumentals aimed for the rafters of stadiums, bringing in explosive guitar, sledgehammer beats and bombastic electro riffs. Songs played around with structure in artful, unexpected ways, often polarizing opinion before unveiling themselves as future classics.
Here are fifty of those classics, ranked all the way up to my favorite song of 2013!
Curious what I thought about other years? Check out all of my year-end countdowns here!
40. Henry – Trap (ft. Kyuhyun & Taemin)
Joined by two of SM Entertainment’s heavy hitters, Henry’s solo debut still managed to showcase his musical charms by hinging the entire track on an insanely addictive piano loop.
39. Lee Hi – Rose
One of Lee Hi’s most stirring singles, Rose places her evocative vocals over a surging instrumental that brings the drama while remaining nuanced and vulnerable.
38. Jay Park – Joah
A warm, singalong slice of old-school r&b/pop, Joah is by far my favorite Jay Park song, and miles away from the kind of westernized, swag-filled content he now releases.
37. Girl’s Day – Female President
Arguably Girl’s Day’s hardest hitting track, this female empowerment anthem marked an aggressive, guitar-and-percussion shift that still stands out within their discography.
36. Spica – Tonight
Tonight effortlessly combines Spica’s big vocals with a melody that’s in constant climb. It’s a gargantuan pop song, performed with a go-for-broke intensity.
35. Block B – Be The Light
Be The Light was the first time Block B showed us a softer, more emotive side. To call this the greatest Bigbang song that Bigbang never wrote would be accurate, though a bit of a disservice to the beautiful performance that the guys bring to the track.
34. Demion – Ask Her Out
One of K-pop’s most underrated songs, Ask Her Out circles around a mammoth chorus, underlined by ceremonial slabs of bright, exuberant brass. (full review)
33. Sunmi – 24 Hours
24 Hours‘ insistent electro thump perfectly mirrors the urgency in Sunmi’s breathy performance, crafting a tense arrangement that feels as if it’s constantly trying to catch up with itself. (full review)
32. 2NE1 – Missing You
2NE1’s strongest ballad, made even more so when the beat drops out and the song warps into a compelling choral arrangement for its stunner of a conclusion. (full review)
31. Taeyang – Ringa Linga
Easily the most uptempo offering from Taeyang’s singles run, Ringa Linga almost sounds more like something bandmate G-Dragon would release, equal parts hip-hop and sing-song melody.
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It’s too bad henry never went as bombastic as “trap” again after leaving SM
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Totally! Fantastic was soooo good, but sadly I don’t think it was the style he really wanted to perform given his self-produced, post-SM work.
Where do I start?
I am kind of sad that Henry’s trap is so low as I am still amazed by its near perfect blend of piano-pop-vocals, it would land in my top 10….
While I like Joah and the light, tonight and female president fall under the “am I the only one not wowed by this song?!” category, but is appropriate to call the light the “greatest Bigbang song that Bigbang never wrote would be accurate” is so right …
I am happy! I literally thought I was the only one who remembered ask her out! I love that song! I would put 24 hours higher but ringa linga is in its perfect position….
“Ringa Linga almost sounds more like something bandmate G-Dragon would release”, uh… maybe because he wrote it?
Thanks for the list Nick!
Girls Day “President” song doesn’t do it for me either. I find it to be more screaming than singing for my taste.
Henry “Trap”, my humble opinion: I think he gets out-sung by Kyuhyun and Taemin. For me, the song gains charisma and gravitas when they appear. I prefer the Henry songs where he crushes it on an instrument, and then the instrument continues to have a role, like “Girlfriend” or to a lesser extent, “Fantastic”, because his voice and dancing are competent but not compelling. Actually (ooh here I go), I think his best performance is his cameo in SuJu “Don’t Don”.
Henry, have you ever considered Visual Kei?
Ooh… I just love Henry’s violin part in don’t don, he should have joined main Suju………
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I’m glad to find another person who remembers the amazing Ask Her Out, Helloall101!
“Be the Light” Top 10 for me. My favorite Block B song ever.
This is the first song Block B released after suing their label, successfully leaving with the group intact, and restarting under their own aegis. It was horrible. They weren’t getting paid for years. Jan 2013 they sue the company. The CEO disappears with a pile of embezzled money from their parents. CEO commits suicide. Courts rule against the group. Acting head of old company negotiates to end the contracts and transfer rights to a new company of their very own believed to be funded by PO’s parents. We are only up to Aug 2013 now.
And then the very next month Sept 2013 they release this song. Be the Light. The lyrics suggest despair and hope for the future, disguised as a bad breakup love song. Zico of course is co-author. “I am getting used to this misery, I am living like a shadow.” “I chase after something that twinkles far away.” “Be the Light, shine on my black and hidden heart.” Now, I know that they are groups who have songs with similar sentiments about how hard life is, but this was very real and very personal.
The video is challenging to watch – the main scene consists of U-Kwon getting the shit kicked out of him by a group of thugs for 3:15, and then the rest of the group show up to rescue him. They said the video reflects what the group felt like and how they were being treated. (The cool shot of the helicopter in the video was a lucky accident – coincidentally as they were filming, a helicopter actually lands.)
For the song itself, Zico sings in his scratchy baritone. Taeil gets a thrilling high note at the climax. There is a rap off by Zico and Park Kyung. The vocal line fills out the rest of the chorus, and Jaehyo gets some actual lines.
The following month Oct2013, they release “Very Good”, which hits number one on the album charts. Whoosh, what a year.
I also have Lee Hi Rose, and SPICA Tonight in this range.
24K “U R So Cute” is on my list right about here.
24K didn’t make my list, but I do like U R So Cute. It’s crazy how different that song is from the rest of their singles run.
so many good picks omfg 2013 kpop was really something else
be the light is block b’s best song to date change my mind! and i love trap so much i still listen to it sometimes
and missing you! 2ne1’s masterwork imo… when that tempo change hits in the chorus i still get chills
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