The Bias List launched at the beginning of 2016, making that year’s song countdown the first I published in any meaningful way. I’ve since gone back to look at 2015, 2013 and 2012 (hmmm… I guess I need to fill the holes that are left…).
Now that it’s been almost six years, I thought it would be fun to look back at my top ten songs of 2016 and see how things have shifted. Taking into account longevity, personal play count and shifting taste, I’ve got a new line-up of fabulous songs. Wow, 2016 was a strong year for K-pop!!
BONUS: My favorite song of 2016 isn’t even K-pop at all. It’s this!
10. Snuper – Platonic Love
Movement: ↓ 1
What I Said Then: “K-pop has often had a fascination with the 80’s, but few songs have gone as full-on retro as Platonic Love. Luckily, mega-producers Sweetune get the sound exactly right, imbuing the track with a timeless melody and lush vocal layering. That icy synth riff is instantly recognizable, but meshes surprisingly well with the song’s more traditional k-pop tropes.”
What I Say Now: Long before our current retro trend, Snuper and Sweetune were on the ball with this brilliant 80’s pastiche. Even so, there’s no way this could prepare us for the majestic year of music Snuper had in store for 2017.
9. EXO – Lucky One
Movement: ↑ 4
What I Said Then: “Though the charts preferred Monster, it was Lucky One‘s disco beat and addictive flute sample that stole the show for me, giving EXO the chance to once again indulge in the funk-pop side of their sound.”
What I Say Now: When it comes to my own listening habits, bright bubbly arrangements will always win in the end. I desperately miss this side of EXO’s (and SM’s) sound. What a perfect pop hit!
8. BTS – Blood, Sweat & Tears
What I Said Then: “BTS have managed to be k-pop’s big international success story for two years straight, and it feels totally deserved. They blitzed us with three fantastic singles in 2016, but Blood, Sweat & Tears inches its way to the top thanks to its lush production and gorgeous vocal performance. Even that non-melody of a chorus goes down easy when everything around it feels so vital and alive.”
What I Say Now: For me, this still feels like BTS’s big breakthrough. Its opening bars have gone on to become iconic, even if the group has long since moved on from this sound.
7. Snuper – It’s Raining
Movement: ↑ 15
What I Said Then: “With a production style that takes cues from k-pop’s all-time greatest song, Sweetune gave rookie group Snuper a gargantuan 80’s sound, full of bright brass and indelible hooks.”
What I Say Now: The biggest gainer of the year by far, It’s Raining leapt all the way from number 22 in my countdown to the ninth most-played K-pop song in my entire library. (Granted, that data is from mid-2015 on, which handicaps a lot of older classics…)
6. UP10TION – Tonight
What I Said Then: “By far, the biggest grower of the year. Tonight is a steady stream of playful, hooky moments that come together to create the very best kind of summertime hit. Moving away from current trends, the song rides on a warm instrumental of bright brass and sweeping strings. Five other songs may rank higher on my list, but none was quite as joyously giddy as Tonight. Against all odds, it was my song of the summer.”
What I Say Now: Not a summer goes by without Tonight blasting from my speakers. It’s developed an almost legendary presence on my playlist. That breezy groove is perfection.
5. Astro – Hide & Seek
What I Said Then: “Speaking of joy, this incredibly sunny debut leapt onto the k-pop scene with energy to spare. Astro had an incredibly consistent 2016, but their first release remains their best. That’s thanks to Hide & Seek‘s addictive gallop, which spins off energy as it builds towards its dynamite chorus. It’s everything a debut from a pop group should be — self assured, catchy as hell, and tethered to a euphoric pop melody.”
What I Say Now: Well, yeah. “Joy” is the key word here. I’d add “giddy” to the mix as well. This song is so bright it should be a guilty pleasure. Instead, its sheer force of sunny pop goodness becomes weirdly transcendent.
4. GFriend – Rough
Movement: ↓ 2
What I Said Then: “Though there were other songs that piggybacked on a catchphrase or insistent repetition to achieve k-pop ubiquity, Rough did it all on the strength of its melody and production. Its chorus is one for the ages — a galvanizing, eminently singable piece of pop music that only grew more impressive the longer it remained in public consciousness. That gorgeous instrumental refrain that follows is just icing on the cake, giving the track an orchestral heft that instantly separated GFriend from their peers.”
What I Say Now: I’d be thrilled if K-pop’s girl groups were still delivering material like this on the regular. Rough is fiercely melodic, and that approach feels even more vital in today’s K-pop landscape.
3. Seventeen – Very Nice
What I Said Then: “I still recall the exhilaration I felt after watching the music video for Very Nice the first time. There’s something to be said about a group performing at their peak — delivering the kind of pop sucker-punch that feels as effortless as it does perfectly constructed. Very Nice could have easily become a subpar Uptown Funk retread. But Seventeen is not that group. They understand how to calibrate each element — from the melody, to the rap, to the instrumentation, to the choreography — so that it fuses together to create what can only be called a showstopper.”
What I Say Now: I mean, I think we can consider Very Nice a modern classic at this point. In the past six years, it’s broken free of its Uptown Funk aspirations to become the killer concert closer and reliable mood-lifter. I pray they’ll deliver something this epic again.
2. NCT U – Without You
Movement: ↓ 1
What I Said Then: “Sometimes, all it takes to get to the top is a perfect melody, perfectly executed. Without You isn’t trendy. It doesn’t include any instrumental gimmicks or even sound like anything else that was popular in k-pop during 2016. What it does have is the best chorus of the year, with the most gorgeous vocal blend you could ever hope for. I wasn’t surprised when its hip-hop counterpart received all the buzz, but Without You is a different kind of beast. This is classic pop songwriting, the kind of song that transcends eras and genres. It was the track to beat ever since its release back in April, and no other song managed to trump the simplicity of its anthemic power.”
What I Say Now: Part of me wonders if this would have stayed at the top had NCT gone on to record other songs in this vein. The transitory nature of Without You makes it a true diamond in their rough. I still play it often. It’s still as stirring as ever.
1. GFriend – Navillera
Movement: ↑ 3
What I Said Then: “If GFriend impressed by showing their potential in 2015, they absolutely blew that promise wide open in 2016. Navillera amps up their core sound to an immensely energetic level with its unending dancefloor assault. The vocals soar as the relentless beat drives toward the song’s explosive climax. It’s the fiercest piece of music the girls have given us yet, and a thrilling glimpse into the expansion of their already potent sound.”
What I Say Now: My most played song of 2016, and the third most-played song in my (post-2015) iTunes library. Navillera is basically The Chaser Pt.2 with added Yuju. It’s a mighty, unflagging dance track. I absolutely adore it, and it’s gone on to leapfrog over everything else on this list.