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

10. BLACKPINK, “How You Like That”

Pre-release single
June 26th, 2020
YG Entertainment

I have to be fully transparent here: I’m of two minds when it comes to “How You Like That.” If I look at it on its own, there are endless great things to say. It’s a certified club jam, the chorus is catchy, the dance is iconic, the MV’s aesthetics are stunning, the girls look gorgeous, etc. But when I think of everything BLACKPINK has done, it becomes a little less exciting in comparison. It’s *just* different enough to not be a carbon copy of their previous hits, but it’s for sure in the same family. This is definitely a YG problem, but I’m getting tired of this strategy of making us wait months for a variation of the same theme (even if it works on me). Is “How You Like It” a good song in its own right? Yes. It’s the type of song and style I’m drawn to, so of course I really like it. I put it in my Top 10 because I know I’ll be listening to it for months and eventually singing it at noraebangs (COVID-19 pending). That being said, I’d love to see more from BLACKPINK – because I KNOW they’re fully capable of more – and I’m really hoping that happens with their upcoming album.

9. Oh My Girl, “Nonstop”

Nonstop (7th mini album)
April 27th, 2020
WM Entertainment and 1theK

Oh My Girl has been steadily rising in notoriety over the past couple of years, which makes me so happy because I’ve always believed they’re incredibly talented. And I’m thrilled that “Nonstop” has become their breakout hit. I kid you not; this song is EVERYWHERE in South Korea. I hear it out in public at least once a day, and it’s even the ringtone that some of my students use. (Again, kids here can be the best indication of what’s popular.) It was the perfect comeback for that transition period between the end of spring and the beginning of summer – bubbly and fresh with a classic choreography. And while it’s on the easy listening and more public friendly side of Oh My Girl’s discography, it also has plenty of their signature quirky style. Their music video is so much fun, and I loved the board game theme they had. When I first heard “Nonstop,” I thought it was a song that everyone could love. I’m glad that actually turned out to be the case.

8. SF9, “Good Guy”

First Collection (1st full album)
January 6th, 2020
FNC Entertainment

I LOVE a smooth and sophisticated “gentleman” type concept. Maybe it’s because I’m older than the average K-pop fan, but I find this style to be super appealing – perhaps even more so than the comebacks that favor ab reveals and outright sexy choreography. SF9 has been doing a lot of songs in this vein recently, but “Good Guy” is sheer excellence. Everything about it is great, especially the sharp choreography (I love those “Vogue” style isolation movements). And what’s more, it’s the only song I’ve consistently listened to throughout the first half of the year from January to June – which is significant for me, given my short attention span. Much like Cosmic Girls, I truly believe this should have been SF9’s breakout song. And I will wait patiently until they get all the recognition that they deserve.

7. Stray Kids, “God’s Menu (神메뉴)”

GO生 (1st full album)
June 17th, 2020
JYP Entertainment

I’ve always felt that Stray Kids is a pretty innovative group. I know they’ve been pushing the envelope since debut, but I find myself so taken with “God’s Menu” because the concept is just so completely out there. Maybe it’s because I finished reading Food Wars (the manga) around the time of this comeback, but I was REALLY into this parallel they’re drawing between chefs and creatives. I also appreciate how they really went all in on the cooking concept, from the knife chopping and seasoning moves in the choreography to the chef and waiter costumes they wore during promotions. It’s definitely a choice, but I love the commitment. The song does trend towards what might some call “noise music,” but I love music like that so I never think that’s a bad thing. And in my opinion, “God’s Menu” expertly walks that line between being aggressive and being too much. Though many of my friends are really into Stray Kids, it’s been a running joke in my circle that I’m not… at least, until now.

6. NU’EST, “I’m in Trouble”

The Nocturne (8th mini album)
May 11th, 2020
Pledis Entertainment

NU’EST has always gone above and beyond in everything they’ve done. They’ve put so much stock in their aesthetic and the quality of their work, and it’s only improved the more popular they’ve become. What I love about “I’m in Trouble” is that while it might look less elaborate than a comeback like “Bet Bet,” it’s packed full of small yet significant details. At first, everything about it seems fairly straightforward: the melody is pleasant to listen to, the choreography is eye-catching, and the music video beautiful as always. But the more you listen and watch, the more new things you discover. A lot of K-pop really depends on a major wow factor to draw fans in – which is great, but NU’EST and “I’m in Trouble” shows us that more subtle works can be equally excellent. NU’EST truly never disappoints me, and I think “I’m in Trouble” is an instant classic. It’s definitely the work of a top-tier boy group.

5. IZ*ONE, “Secret Story of the Swan”

Oneiric Diary (3rd mini album)
June 15th, 2020
Off the Record Entertainment and Stone Music Entertainment

IZ*ONE has a very specific image attached to all of their work so far – beautiful, sophisticated, maybe even ethereal. When their music video for “Secret Story of the Swan” was delayed and I watched their performance video instead, I assumed it would be something similar to what they’ve done before. (I generally avoid teasers in order to experience the full effect.) So when some dramatic music suddenly started blaring after their sweet intro, I felt like I was (figuratively) punched in the face. While the song itself is much stronger and more intense than I expected, the whole comeback is all essential IZ*ONE. They still have the same foundation as before: addictive melody, intricate choreography, stunning visuals, etc. They’re just adding some power and force behind it. In K-pop, girl groups usually have to choose between an elegant/feminine concept and a powerful/girl crush concept for their aesthetic and sound. I love how IZ*ONE flawlessly blended both.

4. SEVENTEEN, “Left & Right”

Heng:garae (7th mini album)
June 22nd, 2020
Pledis Entertainment and Big Hit Labels

In my experience as a multifan, I’ve found that almost every K-pop group has one song that just pulls me in and changes me from a casual listener to a fan. That weirdly had never happened with SEVENTEEN for me, but “Left & Right” is a GAME CHANGER. Objectively speaking, I know they’ve made hit song after hit song for five years; but “Left & Right” is truly top tier. If we’re talking purely about song quality and not sales and streams, I’d honestly consider it a contender for “Song of the Year.” It’s so catchy, so fun, and so easy for anyone to enjoy. And while I’ve come to rely on SEVENTEEN for superior complex choreography, I’m thrilled that they finally have a dance I can (maybe) learn the key points to. As far as I’m concerned, “Left & Right” is quintessential classic K-pop, and I’m going to be dancing and singing along for the rest of the year.

3. CRAVITY, “Break All the Rules”

Season 1. Hideout: Remember Who We Are
(1st mini album)
April 14th, 2020
Starship Entertainment

These days, I don’t really look at rookie groups much – partially because the age difference between myself and debuting idols is getting wider, and partially because I have a huge list of groups I already follow. In 2020, I decided I was finally going to be more discerning. However, CRAVITY has managed to break all of my rules. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Their debut track is, quite simply, a fantastic song with a very addictive melody. It might possibly be the K-pop song I’ve listened to the most so far this year (it’s a tie with #2) – it’s that good. Add in an entertaining choreography and a colorful music video, and it all totals in a stellar first release for CRAVITY. I often feel that rookie groups might need a comeback or two to really solidify their image and identity, but CRAVITY gave me a strong sense of who they were right out of the gate. The quality of “Break All the Rules” was so high that it didn’t even seem like a rookie debut to me. Since they made such a good impression, I’m definitely excited to see what’s in store for them.

2. NCT 127, “Kick It”

Neo Zone (2nd full album)
March 5th, 2020
SM Entertainment

If we’re talking just about the music, NCT 127 would be my favorite K-pop group. So, this is a definitely a case where my bias for a group comes into play. I know there were mixed reactions to “Kick It” across the board, but I personally love it. I like everything NCT 127 puts out, but my favorite comebacks are the eccentric ones that are just so out there. “Kick It” might not be a hit with the general public, but it has NCT 127’s unique flair and signature style all over it. There’s everything I’ve come to depend on them for – strong vocals and rapping, kickass choreography, and unique aesthetics. And above all, it really reflects their ambition and passion to be the best they can be. “Kick It” is also high on this list because it’s the song I have the strongest personal connection to. It was actually released a few days after COVID-19 hit South Korea hard, and I listened to this song a lot during that period of uncertainty. Initially I did it as a distraction, but the song’s message about pushing yourself and being unafraid brought me a lot of comfort. I have a lot of great memories of each NCT 127 comeback, but I’ll never forget how “Kick It” helped me through a tough time.

1. TWICE, “More & More”

More & More (9th mini album)
June 1st, 2020
JYP Entertainment

It’s crazy how my feelings towards TWICE have changed so much since I started this blog. Back then, I felt that JYP was relying on a certain formula for instant success (like I do now with YG and BLACKPINK) and I was afraid that would never change. But thankfully that period was short-lived, and TWICE has now become one of my favorite girl groups. I don’t usually get emotional about K-pop, but I almost cried when I saw “More & More” because it truly shows how they have grown. While it has a more mature sound and feel than previous TWICE fare, it still has that bright and fresh feeling that we’ve come to love from them. I also love the alluring choreography, the colorful aesthetic of the music video, and the overall bohemian/Garden of Eden vibes. Everything TWICE does is a commercial success, but “More & More” is also a creative triumph. Not only is it my current favorite song, it’s also my current favorite girl group dance and music video. So naturally, it clinches my first place for this half of 2020.

And that’s my Top 30! Last year I spent most of my time focusing on a much smaller amount of groups, so I’m pleasantly surprised that my tastes are more balanced again. There’s a nice mix of super popular groups and ones that could use some more attention. And I find it interesting the list is almost even between boy groups and girl groups (I didn’t plant it that way). I’m really curious to see how things will change over the rest of the year!

MUSIC VIDEOS BELONG TO: Big Hit Entertainment* (BTS and SEVENTEEN), Blockberry Creative (LOONA), Cube Entertainment (Pentagon and (G)I-DLE), DSP Media (KARD), Fantagio Entertainment (Weki Meki), FNC Entertainment (SF9 and Cherry Bullet), Happy Face Entertainment (Dreamcatcher), JYP Entertainment (GOT7, TWICE, Stray Kids, and ITZY), Label V (WayV), Off the Record Entertainment (IZ*ONE), Play M Entertainment (Apink), Pledis Entertainment* (NU’EST), SM Entertainment (Super Junior, Baekhyun, NCT 127, NCT Dream, and WayV), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X, Cosmic Girls, and CRAVITY), WM Entertainment (Oh My Girl), Yuehua Entertainment (Everglow), and YG Entertainment (BLACKPINK)
*Big Hit Entertainment acquired Pledis Entertainment as a subsidiary label in late May of this year. While Pledis Entertainment still operates independently, music videos – like SEVENTEEN’s “Left & Right” – are now released under “Big Hit Labels” on YouTube. NU’EST made their comeback right before this happened, so this doesn’t apply to “I’m in Trouble.”
**The music videos for IZ*ONE and Everglow are on Stone Music Entertainment’s YouTube channel.
***The music video for Apink is on 1theK’s YouTube channel.

THE COVER IMAGE IS A COMPILATION OF TEASER IMAGES OF THE FOLLOWING IDOLS (from left to right): JR (NU’EST/Pledis Entertainment), YooA (Oh My Girl/WM Entertainment), Taeyong (NCT 127/SM Entertainment), Mina (TWICE/JYP Entertainment), Joshua (SEVENTEEN/Pledis Entertainment), and Eunbi (IZ*ONE/Off the Record Entertainment)

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