I use a lot of different criteria to determine my Top 50, which means that these songs are rarely ever grouped thematically in my posts. However, this particular set does happen to have a common thread: they’re all songs that I think were successful from both a musical and an artistic standpoint. The groups below have varying levels of commercial success – some are well-established, some are up and coming, and some are underrated. But whether or not those songs ended being “popular” among fans or the general public, I put them here because I felt they showed creativity and were a good fit for their respective groups.
DISCLAIMER: This is a list of my favorite songs of the past year, comprised of my own personal opinions and preferences. It is not a ranking of what I think are the best songs of 2018. The deciding factors were primarily how much I liked the song/dance/music video, how often I listened to the song, how invested I was in the group/their promotion period, and how interested I remained in the song for the rest of the year.
“Love Bomb” is really dynamic in its arrangement and energy, which makes it all the more exciting and upbeat. Though the “love bomb” in question refers to an explosion of feelings towards a crush, the wonderfully quirky and colorful music video takes it quite literally. The girls of fromis_9 are as cute as ever, but the fuses on their heads are no fashion accessories – they’re literally the “love bombs” that they’re singing about. They alternate between gleefully trying to set each other off and panicking about the impending explosion, which presents a nice visual contrast of enjoying falling for someone versus panicking about it. I became a big fan of fromis_9 when I saw them at KCON, and I was absolutely delighted by “Love Bomb.” They do the cute concept well, but I think the offbeat elements of the song and music video helped set them apart from other rookie girl groups.
The Pristin subunit we never knew we needed took a 180-degree turn from their normal bright music, choosing to conquer a bad girl image instead. (“Pristin V” stands for both for “five” – the number of members – and for “villain.”) “Get It” is a bit of a slow jam compared to the music that usually accompanies a fierce look, but the girls pull it off effortlessly, radiating chic in their smooth and sultry choreography. And while I try not to focus a lot on visuals, I have to say that their stylists knocked it out of the park; they nailed every single hairstyle, makeup choice, and outfit. Each girl has her own unique style, and it is all on point. I said last year that Pristin is a group that other girls are supposed to admire – and even envy – and their version of girl crush definitely creates that effect. I was so disappointed there wasn’t a full group comeback this year, but at least we got this fabulous subunit.
K-pop groups are often encouraged to try multiple concepts in their rookie days, but the downside is that they can take years to find their signature look and sound. In my opinion, one of the greatest accomplishments for a rookie group (or any group, really) is when they release a song that’s instantly recognizable as part of their brand. This is what happened with “Now or Never” – I knew it was an SF9 song the second it started playing. All of the elements from their previous comebacks are present: a strong EDM influence, a music video filled with bold and vivid colors, and flawlessly synchronized choreography including some Michael Jackson-inspired footwork. “Now or Never” is also lot more mature compared to their earlier work; there’s a sophistication in both their vocals and choreography, and even the rapping is smoothly delivered. I might be biased because I’ve seen SF9 in concert, but I honestly think they’re a massively underrated group. “Now or Never” is perfect for a group transitioning out of their rookie phase, and songs like this will keep them from flying under the radar for too long.
After finding massive success with “Bboom Bboom,” Momoland doubled down on that funky and slightly silly image with the summer bop that is “Baam.” Everything is intentionally over the top, from the party music dance beats to the bouncy choreography to the playful music video. I know what some of you might be thinking: why is “Baam” on the list when “Bboom Bboom” is a candidate for Song of the Year at awards shows? While I agree that the two pretty much share the same song structure and choreography breakdown, I personally think that’s because Momoland’s team was trying to take what was successful and improve on it even more. I prefer “Baam” because it’s more dynamic musically, more colorful visually, and more engaging performance-wise. I enjoy that it’s pretty much three and a half minutes of nonstop fun. Last year, I said that Momoland needed to find a way to stand out after a string of several cutesy songs. I’m so glad that they have found a way to express their fun-loving sides, whether it’s with “Bboom Bboom” or “Baam.”
This year, Cosmic Girls lived up to their name and really committed to their otherworldly aesthetic. “Save Me Save You” is a gem that takes advantage of all of their strengths: beautiful voices, feminine charms, and intriguing “magic school” concept (think Sailor Moon meets Harry Potter). It’s also a significant -and welcome – step up in maturity from most of their previous work. Their dramatic and alluring choreography contrasts their elegant vocals with confident footwork, seductive swaying, and even some borderline scandalous touching. I’ve been waiting for Cosmic Girls to bring back their mystical concept since they released “Secret.” “Dreams Come True” was a step in the right direction, but “Save You Save Me” definitely did it for me. It’s magical, ethereal, and enticing. Cosmic Girls are stunning beauties on their own, but their eye-catching dance formations and gorgeous music videos make them more of a delight to watch.
“What is Love” is classic TWICE: bubblegum pop, catchy choreography, and a cosplay-themed concept. They play to their strength of personalizing each member in their music video by re-enacting famous movie scenes like “The Princess Diaries” and “La La Land.” The girls take it a step further by acting as each others’ love interests, which provides an interesting and entertaining twist (and inadvertently creates plenty of fodder for shippers). The film school student in me loves all of the references and the variety of movies that they chose, but I think the true delight of “What is Love” is the pure and happy song itself. TWICE is often labeled as a “cute” group; though I don’t think they strictly fall into that category, “What is Love” has that sugary sweet quality that I often associate with it. The girls are absolutely adorable as they wonder if they’ll ever find love like they see in movies and dramas. It’s all light-hearted fun, with a strong rom-com feel that no hopeless romantic will be able to resist.
iKON shot to the top this year by trading their swagger-filled hip hop anthems for a more public-friendly sound. While their other two 2018 singles deal with the more sentimental aspects of a breakup, “Killing Me” is a searing reminder of the most painful and regretful moments. The heavy EDM influence softens its rough edges to make it sound like your standard club jam, but there’s an underlying tension that persists throughout. The sharp isolation-heavy choreography also paints the visual of a harsh disconnect, literally hitting those unsettling beats home. Though “Love Scenario” and “Goodbye Road” are both excellent songs, I personally prefer iKON when they have a bit of an edge to them – which is why “Killing Me” was my favorite song they released this year. It’s a good compromise between the “go hard” style that formed their initial identity and the mellower feel that’s shaping their new image.
GOT7 spent a couple of years experimenting and building their signature sound. Now, they’ve returned to the familiar realm of upbeat dance jams. Though they’ve released house-influenced music before, “Look” is probably the closest they’ve come to a pure pop song. GOT7 channels their trademark light-hearted spirit into it with their soulful vocals and playful rapping, giving it a bright energy reminiscent of their rookie days. Also, the stunningly complex choreography is a major highlight; it’s become one of my favorites of the year. I’ve always loved GOT7 and all of their singles, but I was starting to find that I wasn’t as enamored with their more recent music. This all changed with “Look,” which perfectly suits my personal tastes. GOT7 is one of those groups where you can see their progress and growth with every comeback. Each of their tracks is a stepping stone that takes them higher, and “Look” is the result of a mature and seasoned boy group heading towards the top of their career.
SHINee had some great releases this year, and their Color of Light trilogy is a beautiful masterpiece. It’s hard to pick a favorite amongst the title tracks because they’re all good for different reasons, but my personal choice is “I Want You.” I’m not much of a lyrics person, but the optimistic story of waiting to get back together with an ex tugs at my heart. All of the members of SHINee are especially good at imbuing their vocals with emotion, so it’s easy to tell what the song is about without even understanding anything. And the warm fuzzy feelings don’t stop there: the upbeat tempo, tropical elements, and uplifting spirit make “I Want You” sound like a breath of fresh air. (I think I’m one of the few people left who still really loves tropical house.) Simply put, it’s pure positivity. Accompanied by an interestingly eccentric music video and choreography that looks like an actual modern dance piece, “I Want You” proves that SHINee is a group that very much marches to the beat of its own drum, and that flair for creativity results in some fantastically diverse music.
One of the things that I like about Pentagon is that they really embrace their musical identity. Though “Shine” is probably their most public-friendly song yet, it’s also filled with those little touches that make them such a unique group. There are plenty of parts that clearly depict the different members and their personalities, like effortlessly bubbly Kino and ever-enthusiastic Yan An. Pentagon stands out even more with decidedly eccentric fashion (I’m constantly side-eying whoever keeps putting the TALLEST member in short shorts) and borderline cheesy yet endearing choreography. Most importantly of all, “Shine” is enjoyable because Pentagon is clearly having the time of their lives whenever they perform it. I saw them live twice at the KCONs, once before E’Dawn’s dating news and once after. Though the circumstances were drastically different, Pentagon had such a bright and infectious energy that filled up the entire arena during both performances. K-pop groups are supposed to look eternally happy, but I could tell they were sincerely enjoying themselves. And given what was going on behind the scenes, I was truly impressed by that. Because of recent circumstances, “Shine” will probably always be associated with E’Dawn. That can be both good and not-so-good, but there’s no denying that “Shine” will always remain a bright point in Pentagon’s career.
MUSIC VIDEO SOURCES: Cube Entertainment (Pentagon), FNC Entertainment (SF9), JYP Entertainment (GOT7 and TWICE), MMD Entertainment (Momoland), Pledis Entertainment (Pristin V), SM Entertainment (SHINee), Starship Entertainment (Cosmic Girls), Stone Music Entertainment (fromis_9), and YG Entertainment (iKON)
“Shine,” “Baam,” “Now or Never,” and “Get It” are also distributed by 1theK.