My Favorite 30 K-Pop Songs From the First Half of 2020

Hello all! I’m taking a break from profile updating to try out out something new. Back when I was more active on this blog, I used to do a Top 50 list of my favorite K-pop songs at the end of each year. (NOTE: Even though I say “songs,” I actually mean “comebacks” or “debuts” because I like to look at everything as a whole package: song, choreography, music video, styling, concept, etc.) While I still plan on continuing that tradition, I thought it would be fun to make a kind of “halfway point” list because 2020 has had a lot of great music that I want to talk about. So, here’s a little bit about everything I enjoyed between January and June!

Quick disclaimer: I want to emphasize that this post is all my own thoughts and feelings. It’s been a while since I’ve done any opinion writing or reviewing, so I want to polish those skills a little bit. That being said, it’s NOT a ranking of what I think is the best. While my biases and preferences do naturally come into play, it’s more of a reflection on how I personally consumed K-pop over the past six months. A top-ranked comeback essentially means it’s one that took up a lot of my time and attention: I listened to the song a lot (and probably still do), watched performances and the music video many times, and was just very engaged overall. A lower rank just means that I liked it but didn’t continually listen to it or watch as many related videos.

Also, there are times in this post where I’ve written something like, “This song is super popular in South Korea.” So for those who don’t follow me regularly, I just wanted to point out that I currently live in South Korea, and this is not just me making assumptions looking at Gaon Chart, Melon, music show broadcasts, etc. While my scope of knowledge is limited to the city I live in, I imagine it’s very similar across the country. So while I’m using a general statement, it’s also coming from my experience.

30. KARD, “Red Moon”

Red Moon (4th mini album)
February 12, 2020
DSP Media

As someone who’s grown up on pure pop music, I’m really all about those dance tracks – and I know I can always count on KARD for some good ones. “Red Moon” is the newest of their club jams, and it’s another perfect example of their signature style: cool and sexy choreography plus alluring vocals and charismatic and rapping, all layered over powerful thudding beats and grooving instrumentals. Everything is fantastic, but the reason I like it a lot is because it shows how far KARD has come since debut. In the beginning, they relied a lot on their identity as “the co-ed K-pop group,” often having different choreographies for the guys and the girls and/or pairing them up together. “Red Moon,” however, mostly forgoes those dynamics and shows them as a more cohesive unit – which makes their already flawless teamwork even more apparent. I’ve always enjoyed KARD’s music, and I’m glad that “Red Moon” has an equal emphasis on both their individual and collective talents.

29. IZ*ONE, “Fiesta”

BLOOM*IZ (1st full album)
February 17, 2020
Off the Record Entertainment and Stone Music Entertainment

My favorite parts of “Fiesta” are the visual aspects, specifically the fun and entertaining music video with its vivid colors. The choreography is amazingly complex and fast-paced, and the formations and synchronization are stunning as a result. There’s definitely not a lot of room for error, so it’s impressive that everything looks so flawless. I’m admittedly not as much a fan of the song itself, and that’s really only because it sounds too similar to “Violeta” for me. (At this point, my mind has blended both of them into some kind of hybrid mashup.) BUT, I’m so happy that IZ*ONE returned with such a bright and upbeat song after everything they went through with the Produce scandals. It’s probably what they were going to promote before their forced hiatus anyway, but I admire how they came back with a vengeance and turned it into a proud moment. Even if I like “Fiesta” more than I love it, I still see it as a major triumph for IZ*ONE.

28. LOONA, “So What”

# (2nd mini album)
February 5, 2020
Blockberry Creative

While I truly admire LOONA for their diverse discography and immense amount of creativity, I’d never really been drawn to any of their music until “So What.” And yes, I probably paid it more attention because I just really like fierce girl crush songs – but “So What” is undeniably a great example of one. I love the foot stomping rhythms and the attitude the girls have in spades. There’s a really powerful message of being proud of who you are, good AND bad, and the repetitive but catchy rapping and vocal harmonies really make it feel like an anthem as they shout out to fans all over the world. The music video also has a lot of great moments that I really enjoy, like a badass looking Yves dancing in a room of ballerinas. 2020 has brought in a lot of girl crush songs, but I think “So What” really made LOONA stand out among them.

27. (G)I-DLE, “Oh My God”

I Trust (3rd mini album)
April 6th, 2020
Cube Entertainment

When I first heard “Oh My God,” I was so impressed because I thought that it sounded really original. It’s quite dramatic in many ways, especially when you watch its stunning music video, but the melody is also very pleasant and easy to listen to. I really love the soft vocals in the chorus, and I think it flows nicely. It really goes up and down in ways that you might not expect, which I find quite intriguing no matter how many times I listen. It’s definitely true that there are some line distribution issues, and that made elements like the performance a little unbalanced for me as a result. But I do think it allowed each of the members to show off her unique style, however briefly – especially in the aforementioned gorgeous music video. One thing that I really like about (G)I-DLE is that they’re really creative and always trying new things, and “Oh My God” showed a more experimental side to them that I hope will continue in the future.

26. Baekhyun (EXO), “Candy”

Delight (2nd mini album)
May 25, 2020
SM Entertainment

Baekhyun is really versatile as an idol and can easily fit a lot of different images, but I think something like “Candy” is a 100% perfect match for him. It has a light and breezy feel which indulges the fun and playful side that fans know and love him for. At the same time, there’s a confident and charismatic aspect that lets him pack on the charm and melt fans’ hearts. Plus, it shows that not only is he an amazing singer, but he’s also an entertaining dancer and performer. While “Candy” has all these great things going for it, it’s pretty much on my list for one reason: it literally has not left my head since it came out. Even if I don’t hear it while I’m out and about, I’ll suddenly find myself humming along to the chorus without even realizing it. It’s THAT catchy. Like the name of Baekyun’s album, “Candy” is, quite simply, a delight.

25. BTS, “ON”

Map of the Soul: 7 (4th full album)
February 21, 2020
Big Hit Entertainment

I fully admit that “ON” is not that high on my list because of my lack of engagement with it. I’m not someone who can constantly consume one group’s content all day every day, and I need to take breaks from groups so that my enthusiasm naturally replenishes in between comebacks. I do this with ALL K-pop groups that I like. But this is impossible with BTS because they’re EVERYWHERE, so my interest in them plateaus after a relatively short time. HOWEVER, putting those feelings aside, it’s still a fantastic comeback for BTS. The song has a memorable melody with thought-provoking lyrics you can really relate to – especially given current world events. The choreography is incredibly engaging as always, and I love the diversity of their background dancers. And that music video legitimately looks like it’s a Hollywood movie condensed into about six minutes. (The detail! The symbolism! The imagery!!!!) As usual, BTS’s latest comeback was undeniable proof that they are today’s standard of excellence in K-pop.

24. Apink, “Dumhdurum”

LOOK (9th mini album)
April 13, 2020
Play M Entertainment

Honestly, I’m incredibly impressed by Apink. They’re pretty much the only girl group from the second generation who is still actively promoting, when all the others have either disbanded or are on extended hiatus with no end in sight (*sob*). Not only that, but they’ve successfully translated their original pure and innocent concept to something very and mature and more fitting of women in their mid and late twenties. “Dumhdurum” is their latest hit using this sophisticated style, and it’s an absolute treat. As a veteran girl group, Apink knows how to emphasize their strong points, and this one has them all: beautifully emotional vocals that touch your heart, elegant choreography, and plenty of glamorous visuals. I love how it looks (and sometimes sounds) soft and delicate like Apink’s original image, but there’s an interesting contrast with those retro dance beats. “Dumhdurum” was super popular here here in South Korea, and it’s definitely not hard to see why.

23. GOT7, “Not By the Moon”

DYE (11th mini album)
April 20th, 2020
JYP Entertainment

In my opinion, last year was AMAZING for GOT7. I truly think “Eclipse” and “You Calling My Name” are some of their best title tracks to date. Unfortunately, having such strong feelings for those songs resulted in me being a little underwhelmed by “Not by the Moon.” However, I still think this was a strong comeback for GOT7 with some great qualities. While it’s very emotionally intense, it hits a little differently than some of their more dramatic sounding songs. I think that’s because it’s mostly vocal based except for a short rap verse – and even that’s borderline talk-singing – which adds a softer and more sentimental aspect. And they draw that out even further with modern dance in their choreography and their Romeo and Juliet inspired music video, which is by far my favorite part. I really like how “Not By the Moon” shows us GOT7’s more romantic side.

22. Monsta X, “Fantasia”

Fantasia X (8th mini album)
May 26th, 2020
Starship Entertainment

This is technically another song that should be higher on the list if I were being more objective… but I went overboard listening to it and totally maxed myself out after a few weeks. I only have myself to blame for getting too excited about it. But before that happened, I absolutely LOVED “Fantasia” – which makes sense, because I do love my dance jams. I tend to like songs that go hard and don’t let up, and “Fantasia” is definitely in that category. The chorus is SO catchy, and I always (try to) dance along to this song when I hear it. I’m also a huge fan of the music video – it’s deliciously decadent, and I’m very drawn to all the gold and the overall shiny aesthetic. I did have bit of a disconnect with Monsta X last year, especially after everything that happened with Wonho, but this comeback absolutely made me fall in love with them again. It’s a well-balanced blend of all their individual talents, and it really shows everything they have to offer.

21. NCT 127, “Punch”

Neo Zone: The Final Round (2nd album repackage)
May 20th, 2020
SM Entertainment

“Punch” has a lot of things NCT 127 is known for – unique sound, smooth vocals, powerful rap, aggressive dance, etc. However, I think there’s an emotional undercurrent to it that makes it stand out. It has a rough and gritty feel in the beginning, which represents that fighter concept, but then it smooths out into an earnest anthem as the song goes on. Perhaps out of all their music, I feel like “Punch” best reflects NCT 127’s journey as artists. SM Entertainment is arguably considered the biggest K-pop agency, but NCT 127’s path to success has been a little different from most of their label-mates. Though they’re a popular group now, they really had to work hard and push to get that recognition here in South Korea. “Punch” represents NCT 127’s ambition and drive to keep making breakthroughs, and this comeback made it clear to me that they’re only going to keep climbing from here.

Up Next: The Top 20!

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