Feature

The Top 50 J-Pop Songs of 2020: 10-1

I’ve compiled a “Best of J-pop” list every year since The Bias List started, but it always came from a very narrow point of view. In 2020, one of my personal resolutions was to follow the J-pop industry more broadly and (hopefully) expand my palette in the process. So while those past lists definitely included some epic songs, this is the first one that I feel really satisfied with.

Because of this, I’ve expanded 2020’s countdown to encompass fifty songs — and I could have gone longer. You’ll immediately recognize the genres and sounds I tend to like, though the list is definitely more diverse than past ones. And since Japan releases music in a different way than Korea, my eligibility rules for this list are simple. A song only had to be released since I posted last year’s countdown!

PART ONE: 50-31

PART TWO: 30-11

2020 YEAR-END MASTERPOST


10. SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Jean-Ken Johnny – Chaos Drifters

The composer of my favorite J-pop song of 2019 (Hey! Say! JUMP’s Call & Pray) works his magic again. This time, Sawano Hiroyuki teams with Man with a Mission’s Jean-Ken Johnny for the percussive rock of Chaos Drifters. It’s a massive-sounding, guitar-driven track with one of the year’s best post-chorus hooks.


9. Hey! Say! JUMP – I Am

Hey! Say! JUMP’s I Am built upon the growth they displayed on their excellent 2019 album Parade, drawing upon a surging pop melody and chugging, guitar-assisted instrumental. The group are at their best when performing in unison during that colossal chorus. (full review)


8. SixTONES – Imitation Rain


Written by J-rock legend Yoshiki, Imitation Rain was not a typical Johnny’s debut. But, the risk paid off big-time. The dramatic rock dance ballad hybrid perfectly realizes SixTONES’ unique appeal, and will be difficult to top. The chorus is instantly iconic, but those soaring verses and sinister breakdowns are even more satisfying. (full review)


7. Sandaime J Soul Brothers – Rising Soul

J-pop heavyweights Sandaime J Soul Brothers threw down the gauntlet with the show-stopping Rising Soul. The group echoes the 80’s synth revival with utter panache, delivering high-octane verses and an icy, addictive chorus. As the guys proudly declare, “music moves your feelings.” This music will move your body, too. (full review)


6. King & Prince – Mazy Night

(click on image for video)

With Mazy Night, King & Prince flashback to the EDM/club sounds of the early-2010’s, complete with sky-high chorus and fist-pumping chant. It all makes for a slick, galvanizing piece of dance pop. The song is armed with multiple instrumental breakdowns, bringing a dynamic edge to the group’s typically-sweet singles. It feels like the start of something really exciting for them. (full review)


5. Official HIGE DANdism – Laughter

Great music can offer real catharsis, and Official HIGE DANdism’s Laughter builds to a peak of emotional release that’s downright transcendent. Compared to most of the songs on this countdown, Laughter is a slow burn. But, it rewards patient listeners. Fujihara’s goosebump-inducing vocals are used to their full potential, driving the track forward with a gripping intensity. By the time Laughter hits its overpowering bridge, you’ll be a puddle on the floor. (full review)


4. Yurina Hirate – Dance no Riyuu (Reason For Dance)

Yurina Hirate’s charisma is so undeniable that, even in a Keyazaka46 crowd of performers, she stood uniquely on her own. With Dance no Riyuu, she’s unleashed her full potential as a soloist, delivering a call to arms that’s impossible to ignore. The track grows and grows, culminating in near-operatic fervor as the drumline pounds and Hirate’s vocal moves between confident sneer and primordial roar. (full review)


3. BuZZ – Sun And Love

In an age of busy EDM productions and overstuffed drops, sometimes simple is best. BuZZ’s Sun And Love cuts through the noise with an incredible melody, repeated often. As much a hymn as a pop song, the track has an easy vibe, helped along by electro-meets-acoustic production and a choir-like chant that fosters a looping, hypnotic quality. BuZZ’s rich vocals make the whole package absolutely soar. (full review)


2. M!LK – Winding Road

There’s something so wistful and nostalgic about a song like Winding Road. It has a surging urgency right from the start, yet that sense of tension never overwhelms the heart at the center of the track. The song is built like the arc in any good coming-of-age story, weaving its way toward a series of crescendos (both instrumental and vocal) and finishing with a sense of well-earned affirmation. The production, which merges chugging guitar and splashes of synth breakdowns, is as perfect as can be, but it’s M!LK’s emotive performance that ultimately sells the track.


1. Sexy Zone – Run

As crappy as 2020 has been, it can be forgiven one thing: it gave us Run.

To call this song “number one” almost feels like a disservice. It’s far and away my favorite song of 2020, and may very well be my favorite song since Infinite’s The Chaser. Long-time readers will know what an unprecedented statement that is, coming from me.

Run is a force of nature. It’s a perfectly-calibrated, dynamically performed and arranged blast of pure adrenaline. It has no weak moments or missteps. From the brassy salvo that opens the track to the overpowering climax, Run‘s ride is consistently engaging and unbelievably cathartic. But the song also makes room for potent surprises, from its bass guitar-driven breakdown to the off-kilter, seesawing strings that sweep through the choruses.

Having written critically about pop music for years, it can sometimes feel as if the genre’s best moments are behind it. But then a song like Run comes along and reaffirms the pure power that music can deliver. I have fallen head over heels in love with this track. I hope you will, too. (full review)


30 thoughts on “The Top 50 J-Pop Songs of 2020: 10-1

  1. Pingback: The Top 50 J-Pop Songs of 2020: 30-11 | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  2. Pingback: K-POP Best of 2020 Masterpost | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  3. I can’t believe that Sexy Zone’s Run is your favorite song ever since Infinite’s The Chaser.

    One question , Nick , Which songs do you classify as your favorite from any language?

    I hope Golden Child also release something which is Chaser-worthy, something very different From Infinite’s The Chaser but borrows the unflagging energy and propulsiveness!

    Also, One more question, Is Sexy Zone’s Run your favorite Jpop Song ever?

    Gosh! Jpop 2020 reminds me so much of Kpop 2020!

    Like

    • My brain cells can’t even process “favorite songs of any genre.” Maybe I’ll be able to answer that some day. Right now, it feels like comparing apples to oranges.

      As far as Run… it’s up there with my favorite J-pop songs of all time. It’s probably too early to tell where it would land.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Which songs … ?
      Ha! Ha ha ha! As if.

      We all hope for bombastic propulsiveness! Who will it be? Will it be Super Junior, as all the pre-releases have been midtempo so far?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I really , really love Don’t Don…. Maybe… something in the vain of that?

        SM , you know what to do.

        Also…. what about That new Yunho solo?
        hmmm

        Like

  4. Whoa, went through your whole countdown as a whole, and there were some BIG surprises.

    Run is better than Crooked based on what you said, is it better than Rising Sun for you?

    Miyavi missed out on the top 10 :(, Bang is one of my favorite songs this year, it ‘saved’ early 2020 for me.

    Are you doing a b-side countdown? If not, what are your favorite J-Pop b-sides? PLEASE tell me Heaven is a Place on Earth gets a spot.

    Surprised at the rankings, would put Laughter higher.

    Now I am going to listen to those two or three songs I do not know.

    Thanks for the countdown Nick 🙂

    Like

    • Like Yan Zaman’s question above, I can’t even process a Run vs Rising Sun comparison right now, especially since one’s been around fifteen longer than the other.

      I’m not planning on a b-side countdown, but I figured someone would ask so I have a few:

      Arashi – Someday When The Second Hand Meets
      Ballistik Boyz – Front Burner/Bang Out
      Bullet Train – Jasper
      BuZZ – Choo Dangerous/Twinkle Happy End
      DAN JYO – Kono Feeling
      Genic – Histories/Ready Go
      Hey! Say! JUMP – Puppet
      Johnny’s West – W Trouble
      Juice=Juice – Borderline/Va Va Voom
      King & Prince – Full Time Lover
      Kis-My-Ft2 – Sailing
      M!LK – Dear Life
      Miyavi – Heaven Is A Place On Earth/Holy Nights (I guess it technically has an animated video)
      News – Story/Seven/Superstar/New Story/Hazy Moon
      Sekai No Owari – Dropout Boulevard
      Sexy Zone – Small Love Song/Melody
      SixTONES – New World/Telephone
      The Rampage – Livin’ It Up

      Like

  5. The simple fact that THE Mazy Night didn’t make it to top 5, wait, wasn’t the best song of 2020, may only mean two things – I haven’t heard enough of j-pop songs or someone hacked into Nick’s account here.
    Still, for me, as for now, nothing can beat Mazy Night. It’s just pure gold. But here I am to listen to the other contenders for the number one spot.

    Like

  6. Sad that JO1’s Shine a light didn’t make it to the top 50 😦 but I found some new songs that will make their way to my playlist, especially M!LK’s Winding road and Sexy Zone’s Run.

    Like

  7. Still gotta actually go through and check out all the songs on your list. I’m a longtime Jpop listener but didn’t recognize most of these artists. Will share thoughts on it when I get a chance.

    Didn’t listen to much from Japan this year, but my top Jpop song is Utada Hikaru’s “Dare ni mo Iwanai”, which I feel is edging closer and closer to bridging the gap between her Japanese and English language releases. Also loved BBHF’s album.

    Like

  8. Aside from Utada Hikaru and Wednesday Campanella, I’m not familiar with any j-pop artists at all, so I’m sure I’ll discover something in this list.

    In fact, I loved Yurina Hirate’s song when you first reviewed it!

    Like

  9. Oh, a whole top 50! That’s awesome. I’ll listen to a few of these a day for the next couple weeks.

    … okay, so it’s now about 4 hours later, and I’ve worked my way through the entire list in one evening. I really wasn’t prepared for the quality – almost every (non-Johnny’s) track was added to my library for further listening. I’m so glad you expanded this countdown! And I couldn’t agree more with your #1 – a song so good, I went to the trouble of acquiring a physical copy.

    Like

  10. Awesome list! For me though nothing beats Laughter by Higedan. Song still gives me goosebumps and makes me teary-eyed each time I play it, and I’ve been spinning it since you featured it on this blog…

    Like

    • Agreed! The only reason I ranked it lower is that its length and weightiness make it less malleable than some of the other songs, if that makes sense. Basically, it’s not the kind of track I’d throw on a playlist or even listen to as often as the songs above it. It requires more investment and focus, in a way.

      It’s hard to explain. I don’t know if I’m being coherent haha

      Like

      • I get you, and that’s fair! I mean, this is pop music, so replayability is definitely a factor to consider in your rankings. I on my end am a veteran of progressive, doom and atmospheric/post- black metal; six minutes is really short as far as I’m concerned, and it’s time I’m very much happy to give to this wonderful song. Thanks for featuring it, at any rate, I’ve checked out Higedan’s other work since then and I’m lowkey a fan now. I love their long, meandering, cinematic rock, and Satoshi Fujihara’s voice really elevates these songs.

        Fwiw I chose my top 5 songs of 2020, over all genres. Laughter came in at #2, just behind Break The Wall (which was never not gonna be #1 tbh). My list is a mix of niche picks and things everyone knows:

        5. Havukruunu – Uinuos syömein sota
        4. Taylor Swift – exile (feat. Bon Iver)
        3. Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment
        2. Official HIGE DANdism – Laughter
        1. Dreamcatcher – Break The Wall

        Tbh I didn’t have a clear 5th, but I picked out my favorite song on probably my favorite metal album this year; in reality I pretty much never listen to 5 alone without listening to the whole album of the same title it’s on, and I find all the songs on it to be of roughly equal, very high quality.

        Like

  11. Pingback: The Top Three K-Pop Songs of December 2020 | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  12. Pingback: Song Review: M!LK – Energy | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.