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Links to old reviews will be provided when applicable, though those ratings may be somewhat out of date.
9. Bigbang – Monster (2012)
Monster arrived as a repackaged single from an album that had already spawned multiple classics. As such, I think it frequently gets lost in the shuffle of Bigbang’s discography, but I believe it to be their uncontested peak. The song is quite high-concept for them, and melds that evocative imagery to an equally powerful melody. If songs like Lies and Haru Haru laid the groundwork, Monster perfected the angsty Bigbang formula. I can’t praise it enough, though I’ll attempt to do so as I break down the song.
Put on your headphones and join me as I break down this song and explain why Monster deserves its place at number nine.
Music: G-Dragon, PK, DEE.P (Future Bounce)
00:00-00:15 – These kind of piano arpeggios are a common theme in Bigbang’s more sentimental material, but none is stronger than Monster’s. Right from the start, the tone is set and the emotional urgency is clear. Gorgeous.
00:15-00:30 – And here we have it… the most effective use of T.O.P’s cavernous tone in any Bigbang song. This spoken-word intro is utterly compelling, even more so when you contrast the measured gravity of T.O.P’s delivery with the more frantic, unsettled flow of G-Dragon’s.
00:30-00:45 – Most K-pop songs would have unveiled their verse or even an opening chorus by now, but it takes thirty seconds before Monster’s melody gets started. And when it does, it’s still the T.O.P and GD show. In fact, the whole first forty-five seconds are driven entirely by these two contrasting voices. It adds a great sense of continuity and dramatic effect to this verse, which is already incredible on its own.
Its structure is in constant ascension, but it’s not the kind of arrangement that conjures euphoria. Instead, there’s something very sinister about the quick back-and-forth between these two characters, underlined by haunting piano and an insistent kick.
00:45-00:59 – Here, Taeyang comes in to clear the tension with his crisp vocal color. Extra percussion is added to create a sense of build, but we’re no longer in an unstoppable melodic ascent. Instead, the piano begins to climb and it’s clear we’re in for some sort of explosion. This is the smoothest portion of the track, but incredibly evocative and powerful.
00:59-01:30 – We finally hit the payoff from all that build, and it doesn’t disappoint. This is one of K-pop’s greatest choruses. It’s a simple melodic refrain, tugged in all the right directions for maximum emotional effect. The piano and violin accents are perfectly placed, and the trade-off between Daesung and Taeyang’s vocals results in two different interpretations of the same melody, ensuring that this relatively long chorus never dulls.
01:30-01:44 – I want to spotlight just how brilliant this second verse is. In an age of trap breakdowns, the power of second verses has been largely forgotten. With Monster, we’re presented with a different melodic structure than the opening verse, but it retains clear through-lines that mark it as a welcome extension of an already dynamic song. The ascent into falsetto during the end of this segment absolutely kills me. What a perfect, unexpected melodic flourish.
01:44-01:59 – And what do we have here? That gorgeous pre-chorus we heard before could have easily been repeated a second time, but it’s jettisoned completely in favor of a breathless rap verse courtesy of the GD/T.O.P duo. Their vocal inflections are heightened and their flow is much more urgent than before. All the while, this change in structure never upends the song’s drive. It remains tightly wound to the instrumental, constantly building energy rather than jumping back and forth between ill-fitting moments.
01:59-02:29 – Same chorus as before, which is great because there was no need for it to change. I’d like to point out the subtle use of electric guitar, which gives the track a welcome sense of heft in the background.
02:29-03:00 – Here we have a proper bridge – that often-neglected piece of a pop song. If a track like this is going to slow down, this is the place to do it. It’s a very mournful interlude, and a real treat to hear on headphones. The guys’ vocals surround you, echoing in a rhythmic pattern. The percussion throbs like a heartbeat in the background, gradually intensifying before…
03:00-03:03 – Honestly, this brief moment of discordant piano is one of my favorite parts of the entire track. When we’re talking about songs this good, it’s the little details that really elevate the music and performance. What a great, unexpected climactic punch to bring us into the final chorus.
03:03-03:33 – Chorus three, only the strings are more intense this time around. The difference is kind of subtle because they’re not all that prominent in the mix, but it makes an impact.
03:33-03:51 – Monster gives us a proper outro, too. I’m not a huge fan of English lyrics in K-pop, but Monster is a notable exception. The repeated “I think I’m sick” feels incredibly nuanced and evocative, especially as the instrumental’s more histrionic moments gradually fade into silence. It’s hard to come away from this track without feeling something, and its emotion lingers long after the music has ended.