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The 100 Best K-Pop Songs of All-Time: 20-11

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Links to old reviews will be provided when applicable, though those ratings may be somewhat out of date. 

Countdown Archive:  Honorable Mentions // 100-91 // 90-81 // 80-71 // 70-61 // 60-51 // 50-41 // 40-31 // 30-21

Full Archive Here


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.


NEXT: NUMBER 10

53 thoughts on “The 100 Best K-Pop Songs of All-Time: 20-11

  1. Pingback: The 100 Best K-Pop Songs of All-Time: 30-21 | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  2. The Peaks Were Unbelievable and Over The Top awesome!
    Infinite has 3 songs
    TVXQ has 2
    SHINee has 1
    Bigbang has 1
    G dragon has 1
    SNSD has 1
    EXO has 1
    So practically I have made a few mistakes In the Peaks
    H.O.T’s Peak: 70! (Peaked Song: We Are The Future)
    Super Junior’s Peak: 48! (Peaked Song: Sorry Sorry)
    Peaks:
    B1A4’s Peak: 20 (Peaked Song: What’s Happening)
    Snuper’s Peak: 19 (Peaked Song: Star of The Stars)
    Sistar’s Peak: 18 (Peaked Song: Loving U)
    Boyfriend’s Peak: 15 (Peaked Song: Janus)
    Kara’s Peak: 11 (Peaked Song: Step)

    Next Time! We’ll have 7 Peaks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • My predictions

      1. the chaser
      2. Rising sun (my personal no1)
      3. Crooked
      4.Back
      5.Catch me
      6. Paradise
      7. Sherlock
      8. into the new world
      9. Monster
      10, History

      Also thanks Yan Zaman for the peak tracking, you had once talked about the top b-sides, so I compiled some 10 or close to 10 bsides for nick with some of my personal picks

      Love in the Ice – TVXQ
      Shower – Infinite
      Cover Girl – Infinite
      Lately – Golden Child
      Time Lapse – Taeyeon
      One minute Back – SHINee
      Queen of new york – SHINee
      Phantom – TVXQ

      Liked by 1 person

  3. .

    HOW WOW YOU CRAZY
    Lucifer would be like number 2 or 3 on my list.

    Also, yes, absolutely yes you should have squeezed KARA “Step” into the top 10.
    Just saying.

    Like

  4. Bets on the Top 10:
    6 legendary songs (i.e. the ones that aren’t KAT-TUN’s Rescue), Monster, History, Paradise, Back.
    Unless I missed that one of these was already included.

    If that’s the case, more than a little disappointed that Mama didn’t make the Top 125. Nick, how could you!

    Like

  5. I am crying here cuz step missed out of the top 10………………….

    My top 10

    1. Rising sun
    2. Don’t don
    3. Lovei n the ice
    4. Resolver
    5. Step
    6. The chaser
    7. Mama
    8. One shot
    9. O jung ban hap
    10. Ghosts of the wind

    Like

    • Yeah, I was wondering if anyone would catch that. I still like Devil a great deal, and it would be in my top 200 easily, but I vastly overplayed (and overrated) it in 2015/16 and rarely return to it now. Still a great song, though. My “Top Ten” Super Junior list needs a major overhaul, along with a few of the lists I compiled early in Bias List history.

      Like

      • Tastes and opinions change. It’s part of what makes forming, sharing and defending viewpoints interesting. The world would be pretty bland if that weren’t the case. That being said, you’ve made an absolute mess of your “top ten singles by X” articles! It’s probably not worth updating all those, but some of them are down right comical in this new context. Not quite as funny as the fact that you gave “Navillera” an 8 for hooks in your original review, but still pretty funny 🙂

        Like

        • Oh believe me, I know. 2016 wasn’t all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but my experience and expectations have changed so much since then. Writing in-depth about K-pop every day for years will do that, I guess.

          And yep, an “8” feels downright sacrilegious now!

          Liked by 3 people

    • Almost every countdown I do ends up being around 3:1 boy group vs. girl group, which isn’t intentional. It’s just the kind of music I prefer, I guess.

      Like

  6. I had to go back to the honorable mentions because I wasn’t sure… but there wasn’t any Taemin song in the list ! That’s a big surprise because if I’m not wrong you were very positive about Danger and Press Your Number.
    Anyway, I’m glad that a girlgroup will be in your top 10.

    Like

    • Yeah, Taemin didn’t make the list as a soloist, though he’s well-represented as a member of SHINee. I adore Danger and (to a slightly lesser extent) Press Your Number but I just couldn’t find a place for them, unfortunately.

      Like

  7. Pingback: The 100 Best K-Pop Songs of All-Time: 20-11 | Rap Star Media

  8. Out of pure curiosity (and because I am a giant nerd for stuff like this) I have been keeping a running tally of the number of times each artist and entertainment company has appeared on this list so far. If you are interested here are the totals for 100-11:

    Artists: (Note I’ve only listed artists with 3 or more songs on the list.)
    Shinee – 6
    Infinite – 5 (Given that this is the bias list we all know this number will go up between 10-1. I fully expect Shinee’s Sherlock to be there and we all know The Chaser will be. EXO and TVXQ will probably go up too, but I would be surprised if they caught up to Infinite or Shinee. So, the real question is how many infinite songs will make the top ten? I would guess 2 if not 3 so Infinite would have the most, but honestly, I would only be surprised if they didn’t.)
    EXO – 4
    Big Bang – 4
    BTS – 4
    TVXQ – 3
    Seventeen – 3
    Girls Generation – 3
    Kara – 3
    B1A4 – 3
    Boyfriend – 3
    Snuper – 3
    Company Tally: Of the groups listed above 4 are from SM, 1 from YG, 1 from Big Hit, 1 from Wollim, 1 from Pledis, 1 from DSP Media, 1 from Starship, 1 from WM, and 1 from Widmay Entertainment. That totals to 12 groups with 3 or more songs on the list from 9 different companies.

    Companies:
    First, I can’t quite decide if this result is surprising or not but the company responsible for the most songs on this list is SM Entertainment with a whopping 26 songs. That tops the second most on this list by 16. The second most being Wollim Entertainment with 10. This is followed by YG Entertainment with 8, Big Hit Entertainment with 6, and JYP and Starship Entertainment tied at 5 a piece.

    The only other companies responsible for three or more songs are Pledis with 4 (basically because SVT exists), WM with 4 (because of B1A4), DSP Media with 3, and Widmay Entertainment with 3. Both DSP and Widmay have three or more songs on the list because of a single artist.

    Overall, I don’t think the top four companies being SM, YG, Wollim, and Big Hit would shock anyone, but the fact that Starship currently ties JYP for 5th might. Also, the fact that SM outpaces all of the others by 16 or more might be of interest as well. Yet to be fair SM is pretty much the first Kpop company to exist, so they have several years on many other companies in the industry. For example, the second oldest song on the list belongs to SM (1997).

    Some interesting trends (so far):
    – Currently YG’s most recent song on the list is from 2014. (We all know YG’s gone downhill but damn.)
    – Big Hit entertainment and Widmay entertainment are tied for the highest song total relative to the number of artists who contributed to that total. (Big Hit = 6 songs to 2 artists) (Widmay = 3 songs to 1 artist)
    – JYP was the only big three company to not have a single artist listed with more than 1 song.
    – If you count the subunits of NCT as a whole, they also have 3 songs on this list. Which would mean that every SM entertainment boy group debuted since 2003 has at least 3 songs on the list.
    – If you included the honorable mentions both EXO and B1A4 would currently tie Infinite at 5 songs each.
    – Excluding Akdong Musician the current ratio of male to female artist is 69 to 20. (As someone who is also heavily biased towards boy group music, I totally get this, but I’d be very interested to see a girl group biased counterpart.)
    – 12 artists make up 44 songs or 44% of this list, meanwhile 19 artists represent 1 song or 1% each. (again, though this depends on how you classify NCT, if you consider the subunits as individuals that number rises to 22 artists representing 1 song each.)
    – Currently if you look at 2010-2019 as a complete decade, that decade is responsible for 74 of the top 90 songs on the list. 2013 was the most represented year with 13 releases, followed by 2012 with 11. The least represented year was 2010 with 2, followed by 2018 with 4.

    Obviously, none of the things I said here is definitive proof of anything because all of this is based on one person’s opinion and my possibly inaccurate viewing of it. I just did this for fun. Also, most of this will change with the inclusion of the top ten. The only thing that definitely can’t change at this point is no other company can outpace SM for largest total number of songs on the list.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for doing this! I’m a nerd for this kind of stuff as well, so it was very interesting to read. I think the number counts for artists underestimate how much I like B1A4 and overestimate how much I like BTS, which is interesting. I’d chalk it up to the fact that BTS have some great singles but a lot of album tracks that don’t necessarily appeal to me, while B1A4 are more consistently in line with my taste, but have fewer definitive, influential peaks.

      I’m not surprised to see SM at number one. Though Woollim has always been my favorite agency, their pool of songs amount to a small fraction of what SM has to offer. SM is by far my favorite of K-pop’s biggest agencies, and I think that’s well-reflected on this countdown. To me, they are the first thing I think of when someone says “K-pop history.”

      I’ll be interested to see how these stats change as the top ten is unveiled!

      Like

  9. still holding out hope to see some Nine muses!!

    loving u really IS the top kpop summer song ever but ‘falling in love’ by 2ne1 really captures a similar feeling to me – they’re definitely in conversation with each other, you know?

    Like

  10. Now these are what we call GREAT picks. Jesus christ I love every single song here!

    Step, Mama, Lucifer, and Be Mine would definitely be in my top 10. They (and a few other songs) were the soundtracks of my middle school years. 

    I’d put What’s Happening, Janus, Man in Love, and The Star of Stars in the 30’s.
    Loving U and View would be just outside the top 10 (11 & 12 respectively).

    I probably won’t have any TVXQ in my top 10, but there’ll for sure be plenty of them in the 50’s.
    No GD anywhere on my list.

    Our tastes match quite a bit, except for the holy trinity that is Bigbang-2NE1-solo Bigbang. I’m not good with musical terms, so I cannot tell you exactly what it is about their music that turned me off. Maybe their image played a part too? Their vocal tones? I found some of the members’ to be (extremely) annoying (CL’s and GD’s most notably). Again, not sure.
    Aside from all that, Bigbang’s 2012 title tracks were great. I like Monster quite a bit, but Fantastic Baby has been too overplayed and so my fondness for it has decreased significantly.

    Also, it’ll be exciting to see you list your 150-126 songs, the “honourable mentions to your honourable mentions” before revealing your number one song (top secret!). That’s too much work eh?

    Like

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