See Top 20 under the cut :
20. Orange Caramel, “Catallena” (The Third Single Catallena, 2014)
Orange Caramel were magical girls with a wink, in all of their hyper-pigmented glory -- and they were at the height of their powers on “Catallena.” This song presents a K-pop take on disco while sampling a Punjabi folk song called “Jutti Meri Jandiye.” There’s the infamous howl at the beginning of their live stages, where the camp agenda was on the menu as they dressed as different food items. After all, this three-for-one deal play pieces of sushi in the surreal MV. Make no mistake, they were in on the absurdity of their concepts, which only intensified their shine. Although this After School spinoff was too short-lived, they live on in our “Candy Culture”-coated memories as the quirkiest subunit of all time. -- C.K.
19. Ladies’ Code, “Galaxy” (MYST3RY, 2016)
For much of its runtime, “Galaxy” sounds weightless -- lush waves of synths and sparkling chimes make you feel like you’re floating among the stars. But when the chorus kicks in, effervescent jazz instrumentation snaps you back to reality, or at least a simulacrum of one. With its expansive and celestial atmosphere, “Galaxy” places listeners in a liminal space between life and the afterlife -- a purgatorial stasis that leaves one anxious, hopeful, and mindful of one’s own presence. After the tragic deaths of Ladies’ Code members EunB and RiSe, this single felt like Ashley, Sojung, and Zuny were reflecting on the day they’d meet their old friends. “Hi, I’ve waited for you,” they patiently sing. For three-and-a-half minutes, it sounds like they’re on the precipice of a loving reunion. -- J.M.K.
18. TWICE, “TT” (Twicecoaster: Lane 1, 2016)
How do you follow up a career-making viral hit like TWICE's "Cheer Up"? Do it again, but even better. The decade-defining girl group solidified their legacy with this gooey synth-pop track that created a new go-to phrase for K-pop fans worldwide. ("TT" jokingly refers to dramatically crying over something, the top of the Ts are one's eyes, the vertical lines represent streaming tears.) From Nayeon's opening "Ba-ba-ba-baby" to Sana's "na na na" line, plus the "I'm like TT/ Just like TT" chorus, this song boasts an earworm for anyone and everyone's taste. -- J.B.
17. KARA, “Step” (Step, 2011)
There are few tracks out there as euphorically festive as KARA’s “Step,” which starts strong and keeps the momentum building throughout. With addicting “lalalas” and verses growing and dropping in tonal intensity -- leading to the surging chorus full of bright synths and pulsating beat -- the song is impossible not to dance along to. In an industry defined by genre-blending and experimentalism, “Step” holds nothing back while surging forward in confidence that it is one of the purest pop confections out of K-pop this decade. -- T.H.
16. Rainbow, “A” (So Girls, 2011)
Hindsight is 20/20 -- it’s how and why we know Rainbow deserved so much more for the top-notch singles they graced the industry with. On “A,” yet another gem from the Sweetune collection and the cream of Rainbow’s crop, there’s no time wasted on easing you in. Snappy synths and surf guitar rush to meet you right at the outset. With its vibrant instrumental, electrifying chorus, and Woori’s nimble rap (seriously, that’s a lot of syllables to pack into a few bars), “A” will go down in the books for more than just its “scandalous” shirt-lifting choreography. Flirty, fizzy, and downright fun, “A” still gets an A+++ close to a decade later. -- M.M.
15. Seventeen, “Very Nice” (Love & Letter (Repackage), 2016)
Self-producing idols Seventeen have worked with everything from warehouse party-ready tech house to syrupy Brat Pack balladry since their 2015 debut, but it was the funky-fresh pop sound of “Adore U” that established the start of their career. The sound distinguished them in a bloated K-pop industry, and the group went on to perfect it three singles in on “Very Nice,” a boisterous ode to heart-bursting young love. Opening with a vocal kick-in-the-face from main vocalist Dokyeom, this track keeps the energy at a 15 out of 10 with its shouted refrain and busy horns, thanks to Bumzu and member Woozi’s adept production. “Very Nice” brims with a playful, rambunctious energy that forces you to smile, even when you’re a stone-faced actor at Korea’s equivalent of the Oscars. -- M.M.
14. Lim Kim, “Awoo” (Simple Mind, 2015)
Before Lim Kim became a bona fide art-pop star, she graced the K-pop industry with “Awoo,” an unforgettable slice of post-Chvrches synth-pop. In the song, she wields her sultry drawl as a weapon, letting every word spill out of her mouth with a knowing sense of power. Her goal is to lure a lover, and she lays out specific steps in the most procedural of manners as producer Primary follows her lead. Vocal edits dot the verses in mesmerizing fashion before they mutate into an amorphous, cavernous haze: an indication that Kim’s all but ensnared her target. The chorus acts as a sudden release of tension as she lets out the titular howl, proud of her success; she knows she’ll win every cat-and-mouse game. -- J.M.K.
13. Wonder Girls, “Be My Baby” (Wonder World, 2011)
After temporarily abandoning their post as K-pop's top girl group to follow their Billboard chart promise in America, Wonder Girls returned to Korea to remind everyone just what what made the industry fall in love with them. Honoring their longtime status as the queens of retro concepts, the outfit smashed back onto the scene with a song that boasted a feel-good Motown vibe with punches of hard-hitting, modern-day synthesizers. Expectations were high for this true K-pop comeback, but WG proved the power in staying true to one's artistry with only the slightest updates to create maximum satisfaction. -- J.B.
12. EXO, “Call Me Baby” (Exodus, 2015)
The year before “Call Me Baby” came out was a fragmented one for EXO. With two members leaving and the future of their Chinese subunit, EXO-M, hanging in the balance, they needed revamping. Breaking away from the bass-thumping, power-packed dubstep bravado of “Overdose,” this track drew heavily from early ‘90s pop, tailored to perfection for each member’s strengths. Not only did it set the stage for a musical space that EXO would claim entirely for their own, but the music video is symbolic of the members coming into their own as individuals. Forgoing the schoolboy outfits of “Growl” or the contrasting co-ords of “Overdose,” this one was sartorially adventurous in letting each member’s personality shine through -- a literal graduation ceremony for what went on to be one of the most influential K-pop acts of the decade. -- L.S.
11. Gain, “Bloom” (Talk About S, 2012)
“Bloom” is a fantasia dedicated to, well, deflowering. The MV starts off chaste enough as old film captures wholesome moments at home. Then lush orchestration gives way to a funky guitar riff, and Gain enters a “whole new world.” The visual’s portrayal of sexuality was shocking in the world of K-pop, where sex is often relegated to subtext. How many K-pop divas could get away with a self-pleasure scene? Gain pulled off a delicate balance: she pushed the boundaries of taste while retaining a sense of wonder. You could say she planted the seed that it’s worth it to test the limits of decorum. -- C.K.
10. Primary feat. ChoA & IRON, “Don’t Be Shy” (2, 2016)
It doesn’t get much chiller than “Don’t Be Shy,” one of the greatest reggae-fueled Korean songs of all time. The track features a creeping rhythm, paired with the eerie crooning of former AOA member ChoA, and a brief rap bridge. “Don’t Be Shy” is as haunting as it is captivating, and it is paired with a seance of a music video to match. The unique style of “Don’t Be Shy” made it an instant underrated classic, with its spooky groove serving up a timeless sonic experience. -- T.H.
9. f(x), “4 Walls” (4 Walls, 2015)
There’s a current of anxiety underneath the surface of “4 Walls.” It’s there in the enigmatic lyrics, the undulating sub-bass, the fidgeting garage house beat. When “4 Walls” came out, it marked the first single that f(x) released without Sulli. Her absence had cast a shadow over the song, making its uneasy tone readily apparent. For a song with a chorus that bellows out that “Love is four walls” -- that love was a means to emotional security -- why did Amber exhibit cautiousness in her mid-song rap verse? Why did she confess, “I had the answers but now they mean nothing”?
Since Sulli’s passing, the song’s looming dread has only magnified, but so has the poignance of its bridge. The sudden key change brings with it a sense of sublime bliss; it’s only natural that Luna pleads “bring me with you” in this brief moment of serenity. Life can be confusing and unpredictable in its unwieldy journey. There are moments of fear and disappointment and sadness amidst those of deep, genuine love. But it’s that love -- more durable, more permanent than steel frames and concrete -- that’ll get us through every trial. -- J.M.K.
8. BIGBANG, “Bad Boy” (Alive, 2012)
BIGBANG's brand of emotional hip-hop didn't so much stand out for its reinvented sound, but for how it captures a sentiment that could only be expressed by the superstar boy band. Co-written and produced by leader G-Dragon, "Bad Boy" is a prime example of the star's ability to tap into a dynamic yet moving style with the mellow, near-melancholic delivery tempered with hum-along-to melodies and relatable lyrics. That fascinating juxtaposition of ideas has been present throughout BIGBANG's decade-plus together, but "Bad Boy" stands as the anthem that best encapsulates the quintet: rooted in the best parts of rap, mixed with unexpected and evocative pop moments, and all shared via lyrics that read like a private journal or a drunk voicemail. -- J.B.
7. BTS, “Blood, Sweat & Tears” (Wings, 2016)
The most seminal acts in pop have a moment when they’re no longer standing on the precipice of greatness -- a little nudge sends them hurtling through the annals of fame. For BTS, “Blood, Sweat & Tears” might just have been that moment. This addictive union between tropical house and moombahton pegged BTS as a formidable act, one who could just as easily navigate the minimalism of “Save Me” as they could the grandeur of “Blood, Sweat & Tears.” The midas touch to this was, of course, the gloriously luxuriant music video, drawing upon biblical and literary motifs to show us how temptation lures us to fall from grace -- which was paralleled by the decidedly mature, borderline sensual looks the members sported. Lush, emphatic, and captivating, “Blood, Sweat & Tears” might have been the last calm before BTS took the world by storm. -- L.S.
6. SHINee, “Sherlock (Clue + Note)” (Sherlock, 2012)
K-pop’s approach to genre-bending often gets called “Frankensteinian” -- but SHINee takes that description literally. Their ninth single is a remix splicing two B-sides that leap-frog across the song structure. It’s not hard to sleuth out which album cut each segment originated from. The bulk of the instrumentation is taken from “Clue,” with a beat made out of a digitized kettle, little spurts of brass, and the recurring sound of shattered glass. But the incendiary chorus is all “Note,” and the soaring strings from “Spoiler” sound right at Holmes at the start. At the same time, the lyrical overhaul jumbled the B-sides into a ransom “Note” of a storyline. The newly interlaced lines reconstructed “Sherlock” into a whodunnit about a love crime. K-pop is nothing if not transformative, and the best songs test the boundaries of pop. “Sherlock” places a magnifying glass over the ways the Korean industry’s innovation is pushing music forward. -- C.K.
5. Girls' Generation, “I Got a Boy” (I Got a Boy, 2013)
“I Got a Boy” is a heroine’s journey into the new world of K-pop’s genre mish-mashing. This is the defining song when you talk about what sets the industry’s song structures apart. Written in 15 minutes, the labyrinthine composition shapeshifts every few seconds into a completely new genre. Each section has its own sound, and the abrupt transitions break the boundaries between hip-hop, rock, and electro-pop. The pop behemoth’s playful relationship to BPM is echoed by Jessica’s immortal words: “let’s bring it back to 140.” Hyper-segmentation is almost built into the K-pop framework as groups have so many voices to spotlight. Girls’ Generation just happened to make that the defining characteristic of “I Got a Boy.” The elasticity of this career-defining anthem goes to show that K-pop can be anything, sometimes all at once. -- C.K.
4. 2NE1, “I Am the Best” (2NE1, 2011)
Before “Gangnam Style” galloped onto the global stage, 2NE1’s “I Am the Best” defined K-pop for Internet denizens who, under the girl group’s tutelage, came to know the Korean industry as sleek and styled to the nines. Produced by YG stalwart Teddy Park, the maximalist self-confidence anthem packs a refrain of “bom-ra-ta-ta-tas” that transcends linguistic barriers, Middle Eastern strings backing CL’s stand-out middle eight, zooting synths, a frenetic electronic soundscape, and a flashy music video featuring Illuminati conspiracist bait to complete the formula.
But even with its grandiose elements, a single with lyrics like, “If you planned to guess my worth, then I’m a billion dollar baby” would have fizzled in the hands of a less self-assured act -- it’s “I Am the Best,” not “I’m Decent, I Guess.” But 2NE1 supplied confidence by the truckload -- notably via the rapper and leader who goes by the name of CL -- and filled in the track’s blanks with aplomb. Undeniably iconic, “I Am the Best” will always be the track that bulldozed into our lives and pulled so many of us into the wondrous world of Korean pop. -- M.M.
3. INFINITE, “The Chaser” (INFINITZE, 2012)
There are few greater examples of symphonic synth-pop than INFINITE’s 2012 magnum opus, “The Chaser.” As near to perfection as any human creation can be, this K-pop classic spends its time reflecting the emotional turmoil of someone unable to move on, infusing a sense of staid fury into its groovy strings and pounding, synthesizer-fueled melody. The song surges and pulls back from the eventual climax as each chorus builds in intensity, bolstered by ‘80s-inspired rock instrumentals that glimmer with hints of funk. Each member’s verse -- whether it’s an agile rap or a rhythmic affirmation of love -- is filled with a sense of dire fervor, building in magnitude as the song progresses. With determination rather than desperation fueling the lyrics, the landmark single never falters in its dramatic pacing.
A song that amps its sonic elements up with each and every moment, “The Chaser” flies towards its end with a last minute tonal shift, keeping the melody the same but throwing in a key change that turns everything on its head. As it arrives at the pulsating descent, the song culminates in Woohyun delivering the soul-stirring anguish of his verse for a grand finale -- leading into a sonorous final declaration, before the sudden cool-down. With pristine, layered production, “The Chaser” scatters nuanced sonic elements around each and every beat, with something new to discover in its depth upon each new listen. The song has gone on to develop a cultish following of sorts among K-pop fans, due to both its excellent production value and the dynamic, sleek choreography. -- T.H.
2. Red Velvet, “Red Flavor” (The Red Summer, 2017)
The best pop songs can take a basic human emotion and make it the biggest, most extraordinary thing in the world -- despite such familiarity, certain feelings can be rendered anew through precise distillation and amplification. It’s the reason “Red Flavor” was such an undeniable hit since day one and remains ever-beloved by fans worldwide -- it overflows with an exuberance that’s palpable from the very first second.
Red Velvet have one of the most impressive and wide-ranging discographies of any K-pop group ever. From the sophisticated R&B throwback “Automatic” to the frenetic Shibuya-kei-indebted “Russian Roulette,” the ornate balladry of “One of These Nights” to the brass-and-rap hypnotism of “Dumb Dumb,” they could never be pinned down by their self-imposed “Red” and “Velvet” concepts. “Red Flavor” is most akin to the dubstep cheerleader romp of “Ice Cream Cake” -- itself a symbolic baton pass from f(x) to Red Velvet as the best idol group alive -- but packages its kitchen-sink extravagance into an easily digestible form.
Most importantly, the song’s evocations of a bright summer romance are felt in every flourish and quirk. There’s swirling chimes and girlish sighs, chipper woodblocks and resounding horn stabs, drumline percussion and flagellating vocal samples -- production and songwriting duo Caesar & Loui brought everything to the table, because a lover can change everything about your outlook on life. Beyond the bricolage, “Red Flavor” features moments of sweet repose that lead to a final, heartfelt confession that the “summer flavor” they adore so much is “you.” In three short minutes, Red Velvet make tangible the most ineffable of things: love. -- J.M.K.
1. IU, “Good Day” (Real, 2010)
As the decade comes to an end, the name IU has become synonymous with descriptions like "unbeatable chart-topper" and "fearless artist" in Korea. But at the start of the decade, this was not the case as the honey-voiced singer-songwriter was still trying to find her place in the industry. All that changed with the holiday single "Good Day" that brought the then-17-year-old sensation to national attention, and officially began her reign as chart queen.
"Good Day" is the epitome of K-pop's rare ability to cross unexpected genres and make them mainstream, as orchestral instruments harmonize with unexpected blasts of brassy horns. Throughout the subtle key changes in the track, IU's saccharine pop delivery glosses everything over to make these mastermind musical decisions essentially undetectable. With one song, IU the vocalist makes her true debut, with a comforting, sweet, and easy-to-sing-along style on the chorus -- while letting listeners hear her true potential when the high-pitched climactic note hits on each refrain. It feels as ambitious and complex as it does straightforward and effortless, a delicate balance that can only be pulled off by a musician like IU, who continues to influence generations of future singers.
While the K-pop scene has grown in its international influence and acts as a roadmap to the world's pop future -- thanks to its tentpoles, like forward-thinking song structure and genre-spanning appeal -- ultimately, it all comes down to strong music at the core. A song like IU's "Good Day" defines this decade not only because it speaks specifically to the 2010s, but because it speaks to any decade and ultimately lets musicality take center stage. Strip away the chart success, the visuals, the media hype, the videos, and the choreography -- what needs to be left is a game-changing song, sung by the right artist. -- J.B.
The full list can be found HERE
source: billboard : twitter, article, youtube @ 1theK (1,2,3,4,5,6), @ SMTOWN (1,2,3,4,5), @ BIGBANG, @ ibighit, @ 2NE1, @ PLEDIS ENTERTAINMENT, @ LADIES CODE, @ jypentertainment, @ wondergirls, @ DSP Kara, @ Rainbow Official,
mods, I hope it's okay that I chose not to post the whole thing - it was too damn long. But I did add the videos for the top 20 hoping this might be a nice way for some of us to remember some good things about 2010s Kpop. The whole list doesn't always make sense to me but it also has some of my favourite kpop songs ever. I'm pretty sure it's missing a lot of them but I haven't had the time to find which ones yet so I'm mostly fine with it for now! Most especially, I'm very very satisfied with #14, #11, #10, #7 and #3 tbh. #1 is a whole anthem and I love it. #8 on the other hand...