Slim pickings this year, my friends. In fact, if not for June I’m not sure I could have compiled a mid-year list at all. As it stands, I only have five picks compared to last year’s eight, and the honorable mentions list has been cut in half as well.
What does this all mean? It means we can only go up from here!
Yes, I am an eternal optimist.
To be fair, it’s hard to judge 2020 by typical standards. It’s been a year fraught with global challenges that have filtered down to every aspect of life, including K-pop. Musically, it’s often been characterized by trap, girl crush, moody boys and cheerleader chants. Almost all the big-name acts have disappointed to some extent, while breaking sales records left and right. Most rookie groups have emerged from under-the-radar agencies, with few of them bringing anything new to the table.
And then, every once and awhile, 2020 delivered a highlight that reminds me why I first fell in love with K-pop. More than individual groups, there are certain producers I feel I can count on to craft something more inventive than the 2020 norm. All five of my top picks come from composers I personally love, and that’s no surprise.
Interestingly, only one act in my top five is a repeat from last year, showing just how volatile the K-pop industry can be. My fingers are crossed that the second half of 2020 delivers a more consistent quality, especially from some of my personal favorite groups who may have underwhelmed during these first six months.
Stay tuned for my annual mid-year albums list and the always popular “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 2020?
(in alphabetical order)
ATEEZ – Answer
The thrilling conclusion to their fantastic Treasure series, Answer continued to grow ATEEZ’s bombastic sound with a larger-than-life chorus and emotional climax. (full review)
Dreamcatcher – Scream
Another LEEZ & Ollounder-produced track, Dreamcatcher’s Scream stands as a unique entry in 2020’s girl group oeuvre. It’s delightfully theatrical, building toward a propulsive blast of percussion. (full review)
Golden Child – One (Lucid Dream)
A full-on feast of hooks, Golden Child’s One has so many individual highlights, opening with an abrasive electro beat and building to a transcendent, Daft Punk-esque vocoder breakdown. (full review)
ONF – New World
New World goes big in a way few K-pop songs have this year. Its verses treat us to the fastest, most energetic arrangement of ONF’s career, while its anthemic chorus hearkens back to their 2019 work in the best way. (full review)
Sunmi – Pporappipam
A refreshingly straightforward dance track, Pporappipam harnesses Sunmi’s love for retro sounds, but modernizes the style just enough to feel novel. It’s all anchored by a chorus that reminds us how powerful a killer pop melody can be. (full review)