In celebration of The Bias List’s fifth year anniversary, I’ve embarked on my most ambitious project yet. After years of hemming and hawing, I’ve finally ranked what I consider to be the best 100 songs in K-pop.
There will never be a definitive list of this nature, because it’s impossible to rank something that’s inherently subjective. Please feel welcome to agree, disagree, argue and justify, but at the end of the day know that this list is personal. If we happen to share a similar taste in music, it may match closely to your own list. If not, I hope you enjoy reading (and discussing) anyway!
Links to old reviews will be provided when applicable, though those ratings may be somewhat out of date.
40. EXO – Growl (2013)
Sometimes you recognize an iconic hit the first time you hear it, and Growl proved to be a seismic shift for EXO’s popularity and influence. Its durable, addictive groove is paired with an ultra-charismatic vocal and thumping hook to brilliant effect. If you know K-pop, you know Growl. (full review)
39. Golden Child – Genie (2018)
A ray of sunshine like Genie could have easily devolved into throwaway pop fluff, but its rousing, infectious melodies are backed by a parade of robust vocal arrangements, culminating in a climactic wallop with power notes to spare. Everything is a hook here — and they’re as sharply honed as they come. (full review)
38. ATEEZ – Wave (2019)
No song that rests on “hakuna matata” as a central refrain should be this deliriously great, yet ATEEZ transform a cliche into a rallying cry through the sheer force of their personality. But, what really sends Wave soaring is its final, galvanizing refrain. It’s a piece of melody so sublime that its sheer boldness transcends the track’s tropical base. (full review)
37. EXO – What Is Love (2012)
Rather than clobber listeners with a high-octane dance track, EXO’s first pre-release spotlighted their inarguable vocal prowess. None of their slow jams have come close to bettering What Is Love‘s mysterious, downtempo funk. It’s otherworldly stuff, utterly compelling from start to finish. (full review)
36. Girls’ Generation – Tell Me Your Wish (Genie) (2009)
Powered by one of K-pop’s most iconic hooks, Genie catwalks forward with incredible confidence and ease, transforming into an edgy, staccato dance track with a chorus that washes over like pop majesty. In an age of hyper-aegyo chirps and cheerleader chants, I think fans forget just how immense a proper girl group banger can sound.
35. BoA – Atlantis Princess (2003)
Though there have been more aggressively produced and performed singles in BoA’s arsenal, none matches the emotional and melodic warmth of Atlantis Princess. Its second verse, which incorporates a gorgeous swirl of background vocals and symphonic flourishes, might just be the most sonically resonant moment of her entire career.
34. TVXQ – ‘O’ – Jung.Ban.Hap (2006)
The template for so many SM boy group releases to follow, O‘s jagged, guitar-laced beat is only surpassed by the track’s immense, layered chorus. It crashes in with militant intensity, followed by a pitched vocal hook that adds a welcome jolt of playfulness. Then, the song’s final twenty seconds slam the listener with an unbridled wave of guitar-shredding glory.
33. GFriend – Rough (2016)
Rough is one of the quintessential girl group songs of the 2010’s, encapsulating every element that makes GFriend’s music so engaging. Its chorus is an instant classic, made even more so by the gorgeous orchestral refrain that follows. Their debut-era concept of “powerful innocence” remains an unmatched highlight of the era. (full review)
32. Girl’s Day – Don’t Forget Me (2012)
Don’t Forget Me‘s glossy, propulsive production is flawless, and surprisingly hard-hitting. But, its chorus is melodic perfection, fusing a sense of desperation to a surging refrain that manages to convey an emotional complexity far beyond the track’s pop leanings. This is a tears-on-the-dancefloor masterpiece.
31. 2NE1 – I Love You (2012)
A breathlessly successful foray into European dance music, I Love You is as dynamic as it is beguiling. The song’s stop/start energy creates peaks and valleys that keep it engaging throughout. This also allows for the best instrumental builds of 2NE1’s career, with that euphoric chorus providing a sugar rush of excitement each time it rears its head.