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.
10. Sistar – Shake It
Shake It may be Sistar’s last unabashedly summer single, but they sent the season off with a bang. That rollicking pop beat is one for the ages, supporting a series of bubblegum melodies that take full advantage of the girls’ airy vocals. This is a shot of pure serotonin.
9. AOA – Heart Attack
When I think of the best that a Brave Brothers production has to offer, my mind immediately goes to Heart Attack. This is K-pop at its most overstuffed, never once losing its propulsive energy. It unveils hook after sharply-honed hook, all wrapped in a bubbly performance that’s dripping with charisma. It’s only grown stronger with time.
8. Lovelyz – Ah-Choo
Lovelyz have always tempered their cutesier concepts with robust melodies and a killer line-up of vocalists. Ah-Choo strikes just the right balance. It’s a fizzy head rush of a track, gently climbing to a knockout chorus. And though the song hinges on a sense of catchy novelty, its production and performance feel absolutely genuine.
7. Lovelyz – For You
“Healing” songs are quite common in K-pop, but For You truly earns the distinction. It’s a big musical hug, bursting with melody and bounding with optimistic drive. This is the kind of robust, layered pop sound I tend to love. Just listen to that squealing guitar that rounds off the chorus!
6. BTS – Dope
It’s hard to believe that Dope isn’t even technically a title track. Its influence looms large, both as part of BTS’s career and the K-pop industry in general. There’s no escaped that frantic, brassy riff or breathless build. Dope is freewheeling and fun, yet deadly serious when it comes to delivering a killer hip-hop throwdown.
5. BTS – I Need U
I Need U stands as BTS’s big breakout moment, even if the guys would move on to even more momentous feats in the future. Its sorrowful, downbeat sound was a big shift for them at the time, and took awhile to get used to. But looking back six years later, this is as close to a modern K-pop standard as you get. It just surges with emotion.
4. Seventeen – Mansae
If Adore U was an epic opening salvo, Mansae proved that Seventeen had dozens of tricks up their sleeve. The song gallops with a walloping funk energy, driven by the guys’ powerful performance. They’re leaping all over the place in the video, and that sense of movement makes its way into every moment of the song itself. For those who don’t already know, “mansae” translates to “hooray” in English. I can’t think of a better exclamation for this track!
3. Wonder Girls – I Feel You
Wonder Girls delivered a convincing 80’s throwback with their Reboot album, and I Feel You set the tone. This retro synthpop banger is right up my alley — stylish and glossy and dripping with personality. The song is so comfortable within its own skin, unfolding effortlessly atop icy synth hooks and breathy refrains.
2. EXO – Love Me Right
Careening right out of the gate, Love Me Right‘s immense funk backbone represents a pinnacle of this excellent SM era. The song has an addictive momentum, pounding along its blend of bold percussion and nimble rhythm guitar. By the time we reach that megawatt chorus, Love Me Right has truly made its mark. What a bolt of energy!
1. SHINee – View
With View, SHINee ushered in a new musical trend while simultaneously perfecting it. The song’s deep house bounce was a new twist in their style, more subdued and streamlined than bombastic material like Sherlock and Dream Girl. But, this serpentine rhythm and slick, breezy melody proved to have long-term appeal. View ruled the summer of 2015 for me — and went on to rule the rest of the year, too! Sometimes, simplicity is the most powerful tool a pop song has. View is both trendy and timeless, just like SHINee themselves.