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

20. Super Junior, “2YA2YAO”

Timeless (9th album repackage)
January 28th, 2020
SM Entertainment

This blog doesn’t really show it because of my repeated hiatuses, but Super Junior has been my favorite K-pop group for the past couple of years. Coming face to face with Donghae at KCON in 2018 ended up being a turning point in my life as a K-pop fan, and it’s resulted in me having a soft spot for everything they do. But objectively, I really do think “2YA2YAO” is a fun comeback that should have gotten more attention. Since it was their first time trying out hip hop, I think having Zico produce the song was a smart move. He knows how to make music that matches the singers, so “2YA2AO” suits Super Junior’s style and also lets them play with something new. While it has a more aggressive sound than what we’re used to from a dance pop group, it still allows the members’ strong vocals and personalities to shine through. I ranked it a bit lower overall because I really couldn’t get behind the overly retro styling and Donghae’s face being completely obscured by that giant bucket hat. But I have fond memories of this comeback and still listen to it often.

19. Everglow, “Dun Dun”

reminiscence (1st mini album)
February 3rd, 2020
Yuehua Entertainment and Stone Music Entertainment

I love music that’s confident and fierce, and Everglow is just about as unapologetically fierce as you can get. “Dun Dun” is a head banger that barely lets up from start to finish, accompanied by a sassy choreography filled with body waves, foot stomping, and power posing. Predictably, I love the dance break at the end – I think it’s the perfect finale to the performance. It would be nice to see more of other members besides Mia in future comebacks, but I do think that she’s a strong vocalist and dancer who represents the concept well. I can see why she was given all that responsibility. Everglow is one of the rookie girl groups that I’m currently keeping tabs on because they’ve been all about the girl crush aesthetic (my favorite) since their debut. As far as I’m concerned, they’re one of the groups setting the standard – and I’m curious to see what else they’ll contribute as girl crush gets ever more popular.

18. WayV, “Turn Back Time”

Awaken the World (1st full album)
June 10th, 2020
SM Entertainment and Label V

NOTE: Though I personally prefer the Chinese version, I’ve put the Korean version because WayV did promote it on some music shows here in South Korea.

I really like all of WayV’s songs, but I haven’t watched much of their content because I’ve been trying to improve my Korean skills. (Apparently the very small amount of Mandarin I’ve retained from high school OVER A DECADE AGO really messes with me). But now that my level of Korean has sort of passed my level of Mandarin, I can start to get more into what WayV has to offer – starting with the excellent “Turn Back Time.” It’s a fast-paced and energetic song that mixes both powerful rapping with intense vocals, and it features amazingly complex choreography. There are so many great moments to appreciate: the time turning key point! Lucas’s killing part! Xiaojun’s high notes! And while I don’t tend to watch music videos repeatedly anymore, I really enjoy this one. It gives me X-Men vibes (but maybe that’s because Lucas is sprouting wings like Angel). Though I sometimes wish that WayV could have a clearer connection to the rest of NCT, songs like “Turn Back Time” show that they definitely also deserve to be seen as a group in their own right.

17. Cherry Bullet, “Hands Up”

Digital Single
February 11th, 2020
FNC Entertainment

Cherry Bullet is a rookie group that I’ve had my eye on since their debut, because I’m really interested in their video game-themed concept and music videos. However, I didn’t really click with any of their songs until “Hands Up” came along. My bias towards girl crush is probably flaring up again, but I was so interested in “Hands Up” because I thought it approached the concept in an interesting way. The general stereotype of girl crush is a fast-paced powerful song with an aggressive beat and choreography performed with a fierce attitude, which normally I’m all for (as you can see from other songs on my list). However, “Hands Up” is rather nuanced in comparison, choosing to go with an even tempo and restrained yet precise dance moves. It’s more of a “cool girl” style, and it’s super appealing. It’s a shame that this comeback didn’t get much attention, but I think going the chic route was absolutely the right creative choice for them.

16. NCT Dream, “Ridin'”

Reload (4th mini album)
April 29th, 2020
SM Entertainment

I’ve always maintained that I’m really just a casual listener of NCT Dream. I’m keenly aware of the 10+ year age difference, so I haven’t identified with their youth-oriented title tracks in the past. But as they’ve grown up and moved away from a concept so closely tied to their age, I’ve found myself enjoying their music a lot. “Ridin'” is energetic and hits REALLY hard. While it’s the type of song that naturally appeals to me, I think it’s my favorite NCT Dream song because it clearly shows what four years of experience has done for this group. They’ve always been on point with their vocals, and now the rappers are coming into their own as well. And “Ridin'” not only shows off their superb dancing skills and synchronization, but also highlights both the members’ individual strengths and the group’s collective maturity. Since NCT Dream will be restructured in the near future and we don’t know what that will look like yet, this comeback probably signaled the end of an era – but what a high note to end on.

15. Weki Meki, “Dazzle Dazzle”

Digital Single
February 20th, 2020
Fantagio Entertainment

The “teen crush” concept served Weki Meki well in their formative years, but “Dazzle Dazzle” showed that they’re ready to take on something else – and I’m definitely here for it. This song is is SO. MUCH. FUN. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I don’t hear much purely peppy and energetic K-pop these days. So, that makes me even more excited when a song like this comes along. I love the bright and jazzy influences, and it’s just so darn catchy. I also think it has one of the best girl group dances that I’ve seen so far this year. There are so many fun standout moments, and I love the key point choreography. It’s kind of like jazz dance mixed with cheerleading or zumba, and it’s all just a delight to watch. I’ve always felt Weki Meki was underrated, but “Dazzle Dazzle” just strengthened those convictions.

14. Cosmic Girls, “Butterfly”

Neverland (9th mini album)
June 9th, 2020
Starship Entertainment

Cosmic Girls is yet another girl group that I feel should have more success than they do. Though “Butterfly” did pretty well, I personally feel that it should have been an absolute hit. It certainly had all of the criteria necessary for one. It’s quintessential pop, and it truly sounds like a classic girl group song – catchy, fun, and fresh. The choreography is also absolutely genius, and I honestly thought it would become iconic or go viral. I like how the chorus really does emulate the movements of a butterfly, and it looks graceful and classy even if some of the movements hit hard with the strong beat. But my favorite part is that on top of all this excellence, it has a truly empowering message. I’ve never really looked towards pop songs for inspiring lyrics, but I’m always touched when they have them. Everything about “Butterfly” reinforces my belief that Cosmic Girls has all the makings of a top-tier girl group. Though it ultimately wasn’t their breakout song (and it should have been), I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

13. Pentagon, “Dr. BeBe”

Universe: The Black Hall (1st full album)
February 12th, 2020
Cube Entertainment

I get really emotional whenever I talk about Pentagon, because they’ve had such a hard time over the past couple of years. Though their music has remained as creative as ever since DAWN’s departure, it’s clear the situation dealt them a huge blow. But although “Dr. BeBe” was criminally underrated, it definitely heralds a new era for them. It’s darker than anything they’ve done, but they wholeheartedly embrace that – and you can see and sense it in a lot of different ways. It’s incredibly emotive and shows off their vocals, which I’ve always felt was one of their greatest strengths. I love how the vocalists often play off each other to build up the more intense parts of the song, and some of the melody is downright chilling. And my favorite part, the choreography, is absolutely stunning. I feel like I’m watching a full-on musical production rather than something designed for broadcast. Pentagon has been through a lot, but “Dr. BeBe” shows how they’re always growing and evolving. In my opinion, they’re finally coming into their own and I’m delighted to see it.

12. Dreamcatcher, “Scream”

Dystopia: The Tree of Language (1st full album)
February 18th, 2020
Happy Face Entertainment

Dreamcatcher was one of the first groups I started covering on this blog, and my fondness for them has only grown over the years. I do understand why they don’t get much attention in South Korea, but it truly pains me because they’re always doing the most and constantly building and improving on their work. Everything they’ve done has always been high quality, but “Scream” is honestly on another level. I’d actually go so far as to call it “epic.” Their whole discography is inspired by that darker more rock-inspired sound, but the intensity of this song is amped up by several notches. And as always, both the dance and music video are incredibly immersive and entertaining to watch. The choreography in particular is excellence from beginning to end, showing off their strong teamwork. Much like Pentagon and “Dr. Bebe,” I really thought I was watching a performance from a musical because everything was so elaborately staged. “Scream” isn’t higher up on my list because there are songs I ended up listening to more; but aesthetically and artistically, I consider it a masterpiece.

11. ITZY, “Wannabe”

IT’z ME (2nd mini album)
March 9th, 2020
JYP Entertainment

As expected of JYP’s newest girl group, ITZY is the perfect package of talent, looks, and personality. I’m not sure how popular they are globally, but I know people LOVE them here in South Korea. My elementary school students – whom I sometimes use as a barometer for a K-pop group’s level of fame – seriously can’t get enough of their music. Since ITZY debuted last year, they’ve been dominating with a series of instant classics. “Wannabe” is a mix of attitude and light-hearted fun, with maybe a bit more emphasis on the attitude than their previous hits. While I’m not personally as enamored with it as much their other songs (I definitely overplayed it), there’s no denying that it’s a bop. It’s bouncy and upbeat while still having that signature girl crush sass and delivering an important message. And that dance break? Fierce, fierce, and fiercer. “Wannabe” makes it abundantly clear that ITZY is a force to be reckoned with.

Up Next: The Top 10!

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