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Links to old reviews will be provided when applicable, though those ratings may be somewhat out of date.
20. B1A4 – What’s Happening (2013)
Every bit of What’s Happening is a sharply-constructed pop hook, from the sing-song rap segments to the punchy, anthemic chorus. Where other groups would have opted for a cutesier arrangement, B1A4 always found a way to make this youthful sound feel grounded and unexpectedly weighty. In this regard, What’s Happening is their masterclass.
19. Snuper – The Star Of Stars (2017)
The Star Of Stars is as perfect a song as modern K-pop can give us, pulling from its era’s tropical trends, upping the tempo and supplying a constant sense of build. It’s all structured around a melody that’s like lightning in a bottle — taut and playful, and even ethereal when it needs to be. It’s just a fizzy head rush of sharply-calibrated, timeless pop hooks. (full review)
18. Sistar – Loving U (2012)
Loving U is K-pop’s ultimate summer anthem, delivered by the industry’s queens of summer. 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. Loving U‘s sheer optimism never fails to put me in a good mood.
17. Infinite – Be Mine (2011)
Be Mine is a perfect encapsulation of Sweetune’s synth-driven sound — so flawlessly written and disarmingly simple, as if the melody has been around for as long as anyone can remember. Its verses blend propulsive electronics with some truly nimble rhythm guitar, building to that pulse-pounding, impossibly catchy chorus that has made this a modern K-pop standard. (full review)
16. EXO – Mama (2012)
Fusing rock opera bombast with Gregorian chants, screamo rap and dance-pop precision, Mama stands as a sterling example of everything high-concept K-pop can be. It’s an exhilarating slab of epic ambition, and established EXO as a boundary-pushing rookie to watch. We still haven’t heard anything else quite like it. I’m not sure we ever will. (full review)
15. Boyfriend – Janus (2012)
Janus is Boyfriend’s masterpiece, and one of Sweetune’s strongest tracks. Its orchestral instrumental gives way to an incredibly engaging vocal arrangement, crashing waves of layered voices against anguished ad-libs to craft a cathartic blend that perfectly realizes the song’s dynamic melody. Touches of rock guitar add to Janus’s stately, majestic feel, but nothing hits as hard as its surging, anthemic chorus.
14. Infinite – Man In Love (2013)
Man In Love stands as the most bubbly, bright pop confection in Infinite’s discography. No one does “bubbly and bright” better than Sweetune, and they anchored the track with a propulsive wall-of-sound appeal, opening with a lethal synth riff before the squeal of guitars amps the energy further. If that wasn’t enough, Love clobbers us with one hell of an electronic build as the track rockets toward its climax. (full review)
13. SHINee – View (2015)
Somehow, View knew exactly what the next few years of K-pop would sound like, and offered a high-water mark that has yet to be surpassed. Compared to their more bombastic material, View might seem like a simple summer euro-dance track with a catchy beat. But, that instrumental is so perfectly synced with the melody that the final product carries an organic, instinctive groove that’s undeniably cool.
12. SHINee – Lucifer (2010)
Lucifer is a frenetic attack on the senses, at times militant, robotic, and sexy. It sounds like very little else out there, and I can’t think of a better foil for SHINee’s tight, powerful vocal blend. It’s a workout of a dance track, shifting into double-time for its staccato chorus that only becomes more hard-hitting each time it comes around. This is as idiosyncratic as K-pop gets, at times sounding as if it was composed and recorded in another dimension entirely.
11. Kara – Step (2011)
Step is a moment — a flawless distillation of K-pop’s most joyous, larger-than-life dancefloor influences. Sweetune unveil a synth riff for the ages, which is only bettered by Kara’s immense vocal blend as the song’s towering chorus hits like a ton of bricks. Being number eleven in a countdown of this magnitude is nothing to scoff at, but it killed me not to place this in the top ten. It’s perfection in a pop song.