The end of the year countdowns are finally here! As always, we’ll kick off with the big one: The Bias List’s top 50 songs of the year! Each day this week, I’ll be counting down ten of the year’s best, until number one is revealed on Friday.
To be eligible for this top 50 list, songs must have had a Korean release as a title track or promotional video between Dec. 1st, 2019 and Nov. 30th, 2020.
Curious about last year’s countdown? Check out the masterpost here!
10. GFriend – MAGO
MAGO capped off a year of musical reinvention for GFriend, repainting their sound with a thumping disco beat. It’s as smooth as butter, pulsing forward with glossy synth textures that set the perfect stage for a surging chorus. And like the best disco songs, MAGO grows to a swirling, singalong hook that beckons listeners to the dancefloor with an effortless sense of style. (full review)
9. A.C.E – Goblin (Favorite Boys)
More and more, A.C.E feel like the little engine that could, unsuspectingly storming my top ten for the second year in a row. Goblin (Favorite Boys) is a thundering wallop of a dance track, melding rap and rock for dramatic verses that build toward an immense, chant-heavy chorus. It feels like a natural continuation of 2019’s Under Cover, proving that small agencies can produce huge material if you just give them a chance. (full review)
8. Sunmi – Pporappippam
After a brief foray into more percussive material with last year’s Lalalay, Sunmi returned to tackle the decade she does best. Pporappippam draws from 80’s city pop with fantastic results, marrying her quirky delivery to a charming melody that pops in all the right places. The song forgoes elaborate tricks, satisfying listeners with a simple drop into the groovy chorus. This dynamic hook feels breathless and laidback all at once. But, even the quieter moments in Pporappippam captivate, delivered gorgeous synth strings and sprinkles of electric guitar. (full review)
7. DRIPPIN – Nostalgia
Boy groups don’t often deliver this style of K-pop anymore, making a song like Nostalgia stand out all the more. DRIPPIN came out of the gate swinging in 2020, funneling influences from senior groups like VIXX, SHINee and Infinite while adding a trendy youthfulness that keeps Nostalgia from feeling dated. The track’s claustrophobic synths give way to a clobbering two-part hook. Driven by slap bass guitar and layered vocals, the melody twirls with a sense of grace that feels especially potent in an age of noisy EDM drops. If anything, the song is over too soon, which just goes to show how absorbing it is. (full review)
6. Twice – I Can’t Stop Me
Twice have been one of the biggest pop groups on the planet for years now, yet this is the first time they’ve leapt into my top ten. All it took was an ultra-catchy retro track. I Can’t Stop Me is the perfect conduit for their expressive charms, built upon an icy synth riff and percolating electro bass. But, it’s the serpentine refrain at the heart of the song that makes this a true triumph. It’s the ideal blend of cool, sly and emotive, relying on full-throated melody rather than the sing-talk exclamations preferred by so many others. (full review)
5. Golden Child – Pump It Up
Bucking the trend to go dark and stay dark, Golden Child proved that their addictive personality is their greatest asset. True to its title, Pump It Up is a shot of musical serotonin, ebullient in its sound and energy. From its filtered backing vocal riff to the bounding Jackson 5-esque funk pop beat, there isn’t a moment of down time within the track’s tight frame. But as always, the guys elevate relatively straightforward material with a bright, bold performance bursting with charm. Special kudos goes to that beautiful pre-chorus, which blooms into a full-on choir show moment before the hook arrives to smack us over the head. (full review)
4. Everglow – La Di Da
If I’m being honest, Everglow were hardly on my radar before La Di Da. Yes, I liked some of their songs. And yes, I knew how popular they were becoming. But, this right here is a moment. From the gritty battle cry that opens the first verse, La Di Da‘s energy snowballs. The icy synth stabs with an aggressive drive, powering verses that feel immense and cinematic. But even this pales in comparison to the megawatt chorus. It’s instantly iconic, and propels Everglow to a new tier in my eyes. The finale is especially galvanizing, harnessing the kind of power notes we don’t hear nearly enough from K-pop girl groups these days. (full review)
3. ATEEZ – Answer
ATEEZ ruled last year’s countdown, but 2020 was comparatively quiet. Still, all it takes is one knockout track, and Answer ranks right up their with the group’s best. Though its chorus was teased in late 2019, the full song builds compelling drama around that core melody, giving the conclusion to their Treasure series an operatic furor.
Answer knows where its bread is buttered, and announces itself with the year’s most stirring introduction. This refrain is transcendent in its bombast, drawing upon power vocalist extraordinaire Jongho for a performance that just rips the roof off the track. A final ascent toward a secondary refrain makes for a goosebump-inducing listen as we reach Answer‘s climax, sending the first stage of ATEEZ’s career to a flawless conclusion. (full review)
2. Golden Child – One (Lucid Dream)
My initial reaction of Golden Child’s “darker” sound was hesitant. After all, it’s a territory well-covered by almost every boy band in K-pop. But after a few angstier offerings, One (Lucid Dream) had fun experimenting with the various textures in this palette.
While there’s plenty to love about One, I think the crispness of its production will end up becoming its defining feature. While stuffed with ideas, the song manages to use empty space to its advantage, highlighting each element to its fullest potential. The heavy distortion that drives verse one would overpower most pop tracks, yet the group’s vocals slide effortlessly over the top, cutting through the tense atmosphere. This gives way to a gorgeous pre-chorus with some of the best vocal work we heard all year.
As if this wasn’t enough, One attacks with a funky, bass-driven hook that subverts expectations by bringing a light touch to an otherwise bulky track. This flexibility continues into the song’s outro, clearing way for an otherworldly vocoder effect that imbues an already tactile experience with one more layer of texture. (full review)
1. Taemin – Criminal
Taemin has flirted with the idea of becoming a Michael Jackson-esque figure in K-pop, particularly during the early years of his solo career. But, times have changed and trends often required a subtler, sexier turn. Still, when it comes to pop royalty like him, I always hope for the kind of showstopping sounds that befit a legend.
For the first time in years, that wish was granted in the form of Criminal. Here, Taemin brilliantly refutes the title of his latest album series (Never Gonna Dance Again), and rides K-pop’s synthwave resurgence to utter brilliance. The song itself is strong, built upon a throbbing synth line – at once sinister and driving. The melody echoes this tense atmosphere, in constant ascent before the hypnotic chorus grabs us by the collar and weaves its magic.
But here’s the thing: not just anybody could have ridden Criminal to such great heights. Yes, it’s an incredibly solid track. But, it earns this top spot because of Taemin himself – specifically, his bravura performance during the song’s final moments. He tears the chorus apart, tugging on every note with a beguiling blend of release and restraint. It’s what all the true legends in pop music do – elevate strong material into timeless, world-class magic. (full review)
The fun is just getting started! Stay tuned all month long for more year-end countdowns, and be sure to check out this year’s masterpost for all the links.
And, if you’d like to listen to the top 50 (and honorable mentions) all the way through, reader greyemk has been kind enough to collect it all in a spotify playlist!