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.
Honorable Mentions // 50-41 // 40-31 // 30-21
20. Super Junior-D&E – Growing Pains
In a year of engaging pop melodies, Donghae and Eunhyuk found one of 2015’s strongest. Growing Pains is pure aural melodrama, surging and swelling and hitting all the right moments of catharsis. It’s immensely melancholic… yet that brisk, guitar-led dance beat is anything but.
19. Seventeen – Adore U
Seventeen hit right out of the gate with the infectious Adore U. It’s a funk pop firecracker, bounding from one sharply-honed hook to another. The guys perform the hell out of it, belying their status as rookies. This was the beginning of a new voice in K-pop — one that would quickly come to rule the charts.
18. GOT7 – If You Do
GOT7 showcased a variety of moods in 2015. Fresh off the quirky hip-hop pop of Just Right, the guys delved into angsty territory with If You Do. The chorus on this one is a behemoth, effortlessly smooth as it aims straight for the heart.
17. GOT7 – Just Right
One of 2015’s most idiosyncratic singles, GOT7’s Just Right merges a southern hip-hop rhythm with K-pop’s love of bright, cute concepts. The entire track is an earworm, climaxing in a harmonized hook that gives Just Right a killer twist.
16. Super Junior – Devil
Ten years into their career, Super Junior fully embraced their rightful place as elder statesman, releasing the super-smooth, super-cool Devil. The song’s addictive chorus feels almost effortless, buoyed by the group’s polished and varied suite of vocal tones.
15. Nine Muses – Hurt Locker
Nine Muses pulled no punches with Hurt Locker, delivering a gale force pop stomper that brought an unexpected intensity to the summer of 2015. The entire song is a highlight, but those layered, ascending power notes that punctuate each chorus are pure nirvana.
14. GFriend – Me Gustas Tu
GFriend expanded on the powerful sound of Glass Bead with an even catchier hook. Me Gustas Tu quickly became iconic, and for good reason. It’s a brilliant blend of delicate keys, hard-hitting percussion and gorgeous strings. The chorus takes no prisoners, pounding forward with sheer exuberance.
13. Infinite – Bad
After a year’s hiatus, Infinite brought their dramatic, symphonic sound to a more hip-hop oriented single. Bad swells with urgent intensity, opening with a swirl of theatrical strings before moving into a hard-hitting verse. The chorus is less melodic than any of the group’s past singles, but that rhythmic hook works wonders.
12. EXO – Call Me Baby
Legends meet Legend with Call Me Baby, as EXO turned to pioneering producer Teddy Riley to craft this monstrous beast of a funk workout. With synth brass forming a mighty backbone, the track pulses on relentless energy. EXO deliver a whopper of a performance, especially as the instrumental pulls away for focus on their effortlessly smooth vocals.
11. SHINee – Married To The Music
SHINee lose themselves in the music, and make sure that we’re all brought along for the ride. Married To Music continues SM’s funk pop explosion of 2015, establishing an effusive groove and kicking it up a few notches as the track moves forward. That dramatic transition to the second verse is everything.
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Mansae in the top 10!
Wohooooo! The legend!
it better be top 3
My 11-20 in no particular order.
My Yes, Of course list: Shinee “Married to the Music”; Infinite “Between You and Me”; Exo “Love Me Right”; Exo “Call Me Baby”; BTS “Dope”; Big Bang “Bang Bang Bang”.
4Minute “Crazy”: 2014-2015 were my inaugural years in kpop. This song slaps. It is also was my first experience of a group releasing a monster hit and then a few months later disbanding. One can learn a lot about kpop as an industry by following the 4Minute story. Also, the song slaps.
Zico “Boys and Girls” ft Babylon: though released in late 2015, this was my song of summer 2016. If one could wear out an electronic recording, I wore this one out. Babylon also gives a nice clear vocal performance here. ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsaJsymfuWU
Super Junior in this bucket: “Sarang (heart)” and “Dorothy” = b-sides off the Magic/Devil repackage album aka the one with the really boring blue / silver circles cover. This album was a crossroads album for SuJu, as Yesung had just returned from military service, Shindong+Sugmin had just gone, and within a few months Donghae+Eunhyuk+Siwon would also go, and so the group goes effectively on hiatus until “Black Suit” era.
“Sarang (heart)” is written and performed by Leetuek and Heechul. Leeteuk gives his finest vocal performance ever and Heechul delivers a buttery smooth sotto voce rap. . I love the interplay of the different registers. The song is a fantastic mid-tempo cornball love song at it best. All the live versions are blurry bumpy fan cams, so here is a lyric video ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k89LFfPGYUs
“Dorothy” is one of the better KRY subunits songs. The lyrics tell a great story so you can look those up, but I’ll link the live version which is notable for the real live backing band right behind them and crisp, clear vocals. Nothing canned here at all, just pure music. ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcRsHl33zEQ
I have SuJu D&E Growing Pains yesterday in the 20’s and SuJu Devil tomorrow in the top ten. The usual “Devil” video everyone watches is the white dance version ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzujUrSZihc The real video version Nick links to was apparently never shown on Korean TV. According to legend, it was their most expensive video ever. But they had to pull it because after it was all done, it was discovered that the chick they are all getting extra flirty with was underaged, maybe 16 years old and they were all in late 20’ early 30’s, so it just wasn’t appropriate. So in a hurry they filmed the dance version in front of the white cyc on Doni+Coni’s “Weekly Idol” set. Well that is the story going around, and it sounds plausible enough. The dance is notable because it deliberately incorporates sections for fan service improv at their Super Shows. Its a dance meant for fun performances, not super synchronized with stunts and novel choreo.
(Also, Kyu/SuJu mention tally Myma 6 : Nick 2)
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Ah, why not, its a quiet day, a quiet blog post, I’ll just post the full clickable video here.
Really real band!
I’ve always had an issue with Just Right for a few reasons: 1. I find the music video deeply creepy 2. I never really cared for the way the song sounded 3. The inherent and kind of sadly hilarious irony of a song from a JYP (or any company) group telling women that they look perfect the way they are when in reality these companies bend over backwards to force female idols to lose weight, get plastic surgery, and change everything about themselves. That being said, glad Hurt Locker is on here because I LOVE that song.
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So… Shake It, Ah Choo, Heart Attack & I Feel You in the top 10? Fingers crossed!
I know! There are so many goodies packed into 2015 that we could all easily populate a top 100. And besides your list of four above (which to be honest, and to my point, I don’t have on my list at all), Nick has not yet listed Mansae, View, Dope, I Need You, Catch me if you can, etc, so they are also still in play.
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Is it blasphemous that I like “Adore U” more than “Mansae” now? Both are great songs, but “Adore U” is SUCH a blast when driving, unlike a lot of Kpop that I can’t stand playing in the car due to poor mixing.
… it depends on the car.
Have you tried twiddling with the dynamic balance on the audio controls? In my car, I usually have the treble up a tick or two, and the bass down a tick or three.
For song, there are a small handful that just don’t work in mine. EXO “History” is way too subtle and everything but the main vocal and the fast sixteenth repeated chords get completely washed out by the road noise.
Sorry if this is off topic, but, yeah, I do fiddle with those, and apparently most of my friends don’t, haha.
I’m the opposite. I usually turn the treble down two notches below the default and the bass either up one or leave it at default.
I do have noise sensitivity, so hearing things that sound sharp or tinny really bothers me. But I have noticed Kpop more than anything else I listen to usually doesn’t sound good no matter what combination of settings I use. So Kpop is mostly played on over the ear headphones.
This kind of makes me want to play my 10 hour Kpop favorites playlist in the car to see what sounds good to me and what doesn’t . . .
Ah, and right now is a bad couple years for sharp and tinny sounds in kpop. Sharp and tinny is almost the sonic equivalent of what the kpop boy group dark theme looks like.
May I suggest you make a sub-playlist of kpop songs prior to about say 2017 or 2018, and hear how they sound in your car. Or make a playlist of your personal selections from this 2015 list. Or both!
Once upon a time, back in the day, bands used to do a quick copy of a raw recording studio mix to a cassette tape, and drive around for an hour playing it to see “how does this sound in a car” before they ran out of their studio time so they had time to re-record sections if needed. This is why songs from about 1990-something and prior sound great in the car and on the radio, because they were recorded and mixed to sound great in cars and on radios.
These days, songs are mixed for earbuds, bluetooth speakers, phone and ipod speakers, old school home audio speakers, TV speakers, computer speakers, outdoor speakers by the patio and pool, cars, trucks, high school gyms, stadiums, and all of the above all at the same time, so of course songs can’t possibly sound good on all of them all at the same time.
Yeah, that all makes a lot of sense. The bulk of my favorite music is from the late 90s to the early 2010s, before streaming became mainstream.
I was thinking of doing my car test blind, to not skew my results, but it may not work since I’ll know most of the release years of each song. Oi.
Mansae vs Akkinda is hardly blasphemous.
The MV for Married to the Music still freaks me out, but the song slaps (extra special points for Jonghyun’s pineapple hair)
I expected Hurt Locker to be a bit higher, given your love for it, but really all the songs here are solid. The only one I don’t love much at all is Adore U, but at least Mansae soon happened.
Me Gustas Tu should be in the list of “100 Best KPop Songs of All Time”, atleast, in the Honorable Mentions. It’s excellent AND iconic AND impactful.
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