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Links to old reviews will be provided when applicable, though those ratings may be somewhat out of date.
6. Girls’ Generation (SNSD) – Into The New World (2007)
Debut songs are often good, but they rarely become the very best title track in a group’s arsenal. However, Girls’ Generation entered the K-pop industry with a bang, delivering an utter classic that has only grown more impressive and important over the years. Some songs earn their respect through experimentation or breakthrough production techniques, but Into The New World thrives on a more classic approach. It delivers that most elusive of ingredients: a potent, timeless pop melody. This is easier said than done, and the track’s apparent ease obscures just how difficult it is to craft a song this perfect.
Put on your headphones and join me as I break down this song and explain why Into The New World deserves its place at number six.
Lyrics: Kim Jeong-bae
00:00-00:27 – Certain sounds conjure images and emotions, and this immortal synth riff has always felt like a new beginning. Its bright texture and simple structure heralds a renaissance of sorts, like the ceremonial salute of trumpets as royalty unveils itself.
Soon after, guitar is brought into the fray to give this instrumental a bombastic, rock-infused appeal that heightens the drama. Kenzie clearly knew just how much of an instant classic this instrumental would become, and lets the riff continue unabated for longer than most K-pop intros would dare. It gives the listener time to soak in the feeling, and it’s downright euphoric.
00:27-00:45 – And here, we’re met with a voice that would soundtrack an era, as Taeyeon kicks off Into The New World with incredible confidence. At only two lines, it’s amazing how effective she is at pulling us into the song’s charm. Seohyun follows, offering a lighter, more traditional girl group performance.
00:45-01:02 – Girls’ Generation certainly had their cutesier moments, but can we just appreciate how much they’re singing here? This is no cheerleader chant, chirpy aegyo nonsense. This is full-throated vocal bombast, grafted to a rich melody that compliments this kind of performance.
We just don’t get that too often from K-pop girl groups anymore, and it’s a shame. Honestly, it’s one of the biggest reasons why boy groups loom large on most of my countdowns. I’ll always prefer big-voiced, big-melody pop songs. It helps that Girls’ Generation had a strong vocal line, but they also had an avenue to fully showcase their talents. From the verses on, Into The New World is pure, melodic heft.
01:02-01:20 – This is just classic pop melody-writing at it best. This pre-chorus builds so naturally from the verses that it feels like a part of them, rather than some competing piece dropped in the middle. Yet, this continuity of sound never grows boring. The melody stretches in all the right places, highlighted by a crystal-clear vocal from Sunny.
01:20-01:37 – We have now reached one of K-pop’s greatest choruses. The arrangement brings all the girls together for a performance in unison, which is much more commonly found in J-pop. In fact, as a whole Into The New World is far closer to J-pop’s standard songwriting template, which makes sense because at this point K-pop was still heavily-indebted to Japanese influence.
The surge of this melody is so, so satisfying, and tethered to the perfect arrangement. Electric guitar re-enters the fray to give the hook extra oomph. A few sprinkles of bright synth lend it a sense of otherworldly majesty. But, my favorite part of the chorus occurs just as the melody really takes off during its second half. At about 1:29, a gorgeous influx of backing vocals supports the melody’s ascent, giving the track a slight gospel appeal even though these vocals are pushed relatively far down in the mix. They support a robust feeling of growth and optimism that’s really hard not to get swept up in.
01:37-01:56 – The refrain repeats, with different lyrics but the same general arrangement. At this point, Into The New World’s chorus has lasted nearly half a minute. These days, we’re lucky to get a ten-second hook! I’ll also point out how the song’s introductory synth riff is brought back during its chorus, though at points the synth sounds like it’s replaced by guitar – especially after the refrain’s opening line.
01:56-02:05 – In the music video mix, this breakdown is longer and more guitar-focused, which I enjoy quite a bit. In the audio version, it’s a bit shorter and less intrusive. Outside of live performances, I think this is the right way to go. A song like this thrives on momentum, and too long of an interruption can be detrimental to its overall flow. Either way, this is an unexpected, fun little moment that plays with some of the track’s instrumental elements but almost feels as if it could have been ripped from another track entirely.
02:05-02:22 – That breakdown has another purpose, though. It sets up the second verse’s beat drop as a major moment. I’ve already written about how much I love the sensation of being yanked out of a song only to be quickly thrown back, and that’s what we have here as well.
Into The New World‘s second verse is half as long as its first, which is a good rule of thumb if you want to keep a song’s energy building. And I know I already mentioned it, but can we just celebrate how absolutely incredible Taeyeon’s vocal is here?
02:22-02:40 – Like the first pre-chorus, you could strip away the vocal and still be left with the bulk of the melody intact thanks to that synth shimmer that hits all the central notes like a music box. It’s a somewhat heavy-handed technique I’m not always fond of, but it works wonders here because the bright sound of that synth is so pleasant and positive.
02:40-03:18 – Chorus two unfolds nearly identical to the first, which conforms to the classic pop song structure. It’s worth noting that Kenzie doesn’t cut corners here, taking that full twenty-eight seconds to let the melody play through twice. In the age of streaming, I could imagine this being cut in half the second time around. That would be a mistake.
As with chorus one, I have to reiterate just how much I love those moments where the rush of backing vocals comes in to support the melody’s ascent. It’s the feeling of a dam bursting, and the song’s full euphoric blast just streaming out.
This second chorus leads into the bridge with a sustained, high power note. It’s one of the song’s most riveting moments, especially as it contrasts so greatly from the ending of the first chorus. We’ve reached the point where the track has fully blossomed and refuses to look back. It’s a thrilling sensation that too few pop songs even attempt.
03:18-03:38 – This is a really dynamic bridge, even though it doesn’t last all that long. We enter at a really high point, with a piercing vocal from Seohyun, only to descend to a more comfortable level before building up again. If you were to trace the melody with your finger, it’s like a lopsided “u” shape. This all happens within the space of seconds, giving the melody an incredible sense of movement.
The bridge climaxes with another hair-raising power note, accented with triumphant stabs of percussion that hit right to the heart. It’s unbelievably rousing in the way that only the best pop music accomplishes.
03:38-03:56 – This final chorus is all about the ad-libs. Everything is bigger here, but the additional crests of melody are what really make this one for the history books. Taeyeon kills me with her powerful extension of the word “안녕” (annyeoung). Just incredibly stirring.
03:56-04:26 – I divided this last chorus into two, just so I could gush about how much I adore Jessica’s echo of “도와 줘” (dowa jweo). One of my favorite K-pop ad-libs ever. So, so powerful.
While Into The New World’s first chorus concluded on a lower note, and its second climaxed at a thrilling high note, the final chorus hits right in the middle, extending the girls’ voices at a register that has a welcome sense of finality to it. Distorted guitars drive us toward the song’s conclusion, offering needed space to process the pop majesty we just experienced.