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.
40. Boys Republic – Hello
To me, Hello has always sounded like a sleepy summer afternoon. It has a superb sense of melody, tugging in all the right places to fully develop its wistful tone. Boy groups don’t often go this subdued for title tracks, but Boys Republic delivered an underrated classic by pulling back on the bombast.
39. EXID – Ah Yeah
Fresh from their unbelievable resurgence with 2014’s Up & Down, EXID’s Ah Yeah had a LOT to live up to. But, the ladies (and Shinsadong Tiger!) forged another big, brassy chorus and performed the hell out of it. The result turned out just as addictive as their breakthrough, setting them on a path to long-term success.
38. The Ark – The Light
There’s something so classic about The Light. The song could find an enthusiastic audience in any decade, thanks to some dynamite songwriting (that chorus!) and a timeless arrangement. The fact that it ended up being a one-off for its quickly-disbanded group only adds to its legend.
37. Park Gyuri + From The Airport – The Little Prince
Kara’s Park Gyuri teamed up with indie duo From The Airport for this oft-forgotten single. Rarely does K-pop embrace synthpop this whole-heartedly, and The Little Prince is all the better for its icy keys and nimble rhythm guitar.
36. G.Soul – You
Some ballads glide on sentiment, building quietly toward an emotional climax. Others simply lay it all on the line. Each chorus in You arrives like a hurricane. The clouds part, G.Soul takes a deep breath and the song rushes out full force. It’s clearly a student of the “I Will Always Love You” school of songwriting, and that’s no small compliment.
35. Romeo – Lovesick
Production team Sweetune didn’t release much material in 2015, but their work with new debut Romeo is definitely worth celebrating. Lovesick takes so many of their hallmarks (catchy synth riff, layered vocal arrangement) and ties it to a fluffy pop melody that hits all the right notes.
34. Red Velvet – Dumb Dumb
Though the girls scored a major breakthrough earlier in the year with Ice Cream Cake, Dumb Dumb sealed the deal for me. My love wasn’t instant, but that hypnotic, unyielding rhythm quickly sunk its teeth in. The song is completely off-the-wall in the best way, down to that ridiculous MJ-quoting bridge.
33. Brown Eyed Girls – Brave New World
Disco throwbacks may be popular in 2021, but Brown Eyed Girls already perfected the format six years earlier. Brave New World chugs along its strings-assisted groove with utter panache, culminating in a dramatic chorus that shoots the track to the stars. Every element here refuses to compromise. Brave New World goes in.
32. 1Punch – Take Me Back
Before Produce 101 was even a concept in producers’ imaginations, Kim Samuel made his debut as one half of Brother Brothers’ throwback duo 1Punch. Take Me Back is perfectly-calibrated new jack swing, made even more addictive when filtered through K-pop’s unique energy. What a total jam.
31. Kim Sungkyu – The Answer
Sungkyu and frequent collaborator Kim Jongwan find their sweet spot with The Answer. This ballad may be sentimental, but it’s never cloying. Combine lush production with Sungkyu’s expressive vocal and you’ve already got a winner. Throw a knockout pop melody over the top and you have an instant classic.