This week, we’re journeying back half a decade to look at K-pop’s best releases of 2015!
2015 was a prime year for K-pop. It saw the return of industry royalty, as Bigbang blitzed the market with no less than seven singles. It acted as the launchpad for many of today’s top acts (Twice, Seventeen, GFriend, Monsta X, Oh My Girl, DAY6, etc) and fostered the growth and resurgence of others (BTS, Red Velvet, BTOB, GOT7). In fact, I think the case can be made for 2015 being the start of a whole new K-pop generation.
It was also a year without one definitive musical trend. This allowed for a diverse palette of sounds and ideas. At the same time, many of K-pop’s modern genre touchstones (house, tropical, EDM, trap) really began to flourish in 2015. The year was transformative in so many ways, and this list will only touch the tip of that iceberg.
Each day this week, I’ll be counting down ten of the year’s best, until number one is revealed on Friday.
**Note: This countdown covers January-December of 2015, which means there may be some overlap with my old 2016 countdown, which included 2015’s December releases as well.
50. B1A4 – Sweet Girl
Anchored by Jinyoung’s impeccable songwriting, Sweet Girl‘s addictive disco groove goes down easy. The song may feel more subdued than much of their work, but that strings arrangement pulls it together with flair.
49. Brown Eyed Girls – Warm Hole
When it comes to title tracks, K-pop rarely gets this… explicit. But, Warm Hole‘s tongue-in-cheek concept is incredibly fun, especially when paired with the instrumental’s 60’s-influenced swagger. Leave it to Brown Eyed Girls to do whatever the hell they want.
48. Dickpunks – Let’s Play In The Han River
Dickpunks may have K-pop’s most baffling band name, but their music is far more reserved than you’d expect. With Let’s Play In The Han River, they conjure the ultimate ‘summer festival’ singalong, pulling influence from decades past to create a track that bounds along and endless supply of good vibes.
47. DAY6 – Congratulations
One of 2015’s big debuts, DAY6 stormed the scene with the anthemic Congratulations. From its stomping drum beat to the surging chorus, the track quickly established DAY6 as the type of band who could merge sentiment with strong melody and unyielding vocal performances.
46. JYP – Who’s Your Mama? (ft. Jessi)
K-pop’s elder statesman refused to ‘act his age,” teaming up with Jessi for the funky Who’s Your Mama?. The song is basically a caricature of his persona, but the hooks are too indelible to pass off as pure novelty. Once that brassy breakdown hits, it’s hard to resist the pure force of JYP.
45. Twice – Like Ooh Ah
Little did we know that Like Ooh Ah was the formal introduction of K-pop royalty — a group who would reign atop the industry for years to come. This may not be my favorite Twice song, but all the ingredients for their success are here: addictive chorus, hooky verses and personality for days.
44. HIGH4 – D.O.A (Dead Or Alive)
HIGH4’s D.O.A pulls the rug from underneath you at every turn, inverting K-pop expectations by bringing its rap verse up front, clearing space for its atmospheric chorus and punctuating that space with nuanced vocal ad-libs. I’ll never get over how fantastic the abrasive, descending synths work as rhythm for the verses.
43. Road Boyz – Show Me Bang Bang
You’d be forgiven for responding to this song with a big: “Roadboyz, who?” Their short-lived stint in K-pop idoldom lasted about two music videos, but they debuted with this perfect ode to second-gen sounds — just as those sounds were starting to fall out of fashion. It’s pure propulsion from start to finish.
42. Stellar – Vibrato
During this period, Stellar received criticism for over-sexualization, and the concepts were indeed driven by exploitation rather than artistic desire. But, Vibrato‘s controversial video belies just how amazing the song is. This is electro pop at its most inventive, charging toward a climactic shift in rhythm that sends the track off on a breathless high. Fun fact: this was one of the first singles produced by the now-ubiquitous Monotree production team.
41. Kim Sungkyu – Kontrol
Sungkyu cemented his status as one of the industry’s most accomplished idol group soloists with his 2015 mini album. Kontrol pushes his sentimental sound in an edgier direction, driven by atmospheric synths that forge together for a knockout drop during the song’s hammering chorus.