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.
30. Romeo – Target
By now, you all know my bias toward producers Sweetune. Their involvement in Romeo’s 2015 singles ensures both songs a place on my list. Target is the kind of cheesy, bombastic dance pop that boy groups have largely abandoned. It’s our loss, because this song is an absolute blast.
29. Teen Top – ah ah
Teen Top’s ah ah hits a summer sweet spot, hinging on a laidback groove with plenty of atmospheric effects thrown over the top. A brilliant pop melody holds it all together, as breezy and fresh as the instrumental underpinning it. After maturing their sound in 2014, ah ah finds the perfect balance between reserved and flashy.
28. BTS – Run
BTS capped off an incredible 2015 with their most instant single yet. Run fuses the pathos and drama of I Need U with a propulsive, rock-influenced instrumental that bounds forward with anthemic energy. It’s a superb blend of their hip-hop and pop influences.
27. Oh My Girl – Closer
Oh My Girl found their ethereal match in Closer. The arrangement’s lush bed of synths lends instant atmosphere, while the gentle pulse of percussion urges the track forward. The girls’ faery-like vocals bring it all together, climaxing in one of K-pop’s most memorable bridges. That choir-like break is utterly transcendent.
26. Xia Junsu – Flower (ft. Tablo)
One of K-pop’s most ambitious songs, Flower melds Junsu’s strength as a theatrical balladeer with operatic fervor. The song is over-the-top in the best way, and though you might have to be in a specific mood to seek it out, its breathtaking build and melodramatic orchestration rewards those looking for something a little left of center.
25. GFriend – Glass Bead
Few debuts arrive with as singular a vision as Glass Bead. GFriend rewrote the 2015 rulebook by returning to K-pop’s roots. The song quickly established their “powerful innocence” concept, delivering a knockout chorus and punchy production that tempers its sweetness with gutsy energy.
24. Bigbang – Bang Bang Bang
I might give Bang Bang Bang a bit of side-eye for popularizing the ‘half-time EDM drop chorus’ structure, but that iconic catchphrase is buttressed by a tempest of thrilling energy. Taken together, these two pieces create an irresistible hype track that’s fueled by the group’s formidable charisma.
23. Bigbang – Let’s Not Fall In Love
Bigbang concluded the 2015 run of their Made series with this killer slow burn. Let’s Not Fall In Love may not be as flashy as some of their other singles, but it luxuriates in a mighty pop melody, allowing the guys to reach maximum emotive idol mode. But, it all feels distinctly Bigbang, roughed up around the edges to give it that addictive sense of authenticity.
22. BTOB – It’s Okay
Among other things, 2015 was a year of terrific K-pop ballads. This proved to be a boon for BTOB, who enjoyed commercial resurgence thanks to this striking single. It’s Okay is overwrought in the best way possible, building to a crescendo of vocal fireworks that thrills as much as it comforts.
21. Bigbang – Sober
Two years after G-Dragon’s industry-shaking Crooked, Bigbang revisit a rock sound with the explosive Sober. This is YG Entertainment at their most accessible, inviting listeners to shout along to the song’s immense chorus. The track busts in like a sledgehammer, unveiling climax after climax as it moves breathlessly toward ultimate musical catharsis.