Katherine’s Top K-Pop Releases of 2018: #1-10

Yes, this does in fact say “2018.” I WAS planning on writing my regular Top 50 list for 2020, but I came across this as I was going through my drafts and cleaning out some old posts that never got written. I TOTALLY thought I had posted this before I moved to Korea and went on hiatus! Now I’m just super embarrassed. And since I am a perfectionist/completionist and I already started this project two years ago, I feel compelled to finish it before I move on to 2020. So, let’s all just pretend like I actually posted this in early 2019 when I was supposed to… (^^”’)

DISCLAIMER: This is a list of my favorite songs of 2018, comprised of my own personal opinions and preferences. It is not a ranking of what I objectively think were 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. And, like I said, this was originally written right when 2018 had just finished (though I’ve edited it a little bit).


#10: “Tempo,” EXO

I usually try to avoid potentially controversial statements when it comes to K-pop, but I will say this: only EXO could have pulled off “Tempo.” I’m not talking about in terms of skills, but rather EXO’s impressively experimental discography and hard-earned level of popularity. By this point in time, they were completely self-sustainable – and the wild and frantic “Tempo” proved that they had reached that stage where they didn’t need to release public-friendly songs anymore. Some K-pop hits have “song within a song” syndrome, but “Tempo” has so many different elements at play: fast-paced rapping, smooth crooning, soulful belting, and even a stunning a cappella bridge. It’s a bit all over the place to truly surpass my standard EXO favorites of previous years, but I was astounded that they really went for a song like that. And on the fangirl side of things, it earned my good will because it’s one of the few songs where SEHUN HAS LINES!

#9: “Dance the Night Away,” TWICE

As someone who became significantly more invested in TWICE as time went on, I can confirm that their key strategy is charming you until you can’t resist. Their songs will always get stuck in your head, their choreography will always be fun to dance along to, and their music videos will always be entertaining. Though “Dance the Night Away” was slightly more formulaic than the other songs TWICE released in 2018, taking away all the bells and whistles helped it shine in its simplicity. The bright and catchy melody was a breath of fresh air, and the choreography was filled with iconic dance moves (that are STILL iconic). There were so many great K-pop songs that summer, but “Dance the Night Away” was the one that truly reminded me of summer itself. Thanks to the fun music video, I can imagine the beach and the ocean every time I hear it. I love when TWICE gives us colorful bubblegum pop with extra doses of their winning personalities, but it’s also refreshing when they tone it down for songs like “Dance the Night Away.”

#8: “IDOL,” BTS

There’s no denying that BTS was on top of the world in 2018 (obviously they still are), and this loud and energetic head-banger cemented their reputation as global stars. Though it was inspired by musical and visual influences from all over the world (notably Africa), it also paid tribute to Korean culture and showed that they didn’t forget where they came from. I enjoy most of BTS’s more recent music, but I originally loved them for songs like “Dope” and “Boy in Luv.” So when I first heard “IDOL,” a song that truly goes hard, my immediate reaction was pure delight. BTS is an extremely self-aware group for K-pop, and I liked that everything about “IDOL” was designed to generate a viral sensation – from the dance challenges to the colorful music video (one of their flashiest). BTS is known for making statements, but “IDOL” is an outright declaration that they know their self-worth.

#7: “La Vie en Rose,” IZ*ONE

I was fully expecting IZ*ONE to debut with a cute concept, so I was surprised and delighted when they released a beautifully elegant song instead. Boasting a sophisticated melody and choreography filled with feminine touches, “La Vie en Rose” is the picture of effortless grace. The gentle yet glamorous concept is somewhat rare in K-pop – especially among rookie groups – so I found this song to be a breath of fresh air. The Produce groups often ended up being very dancer and visual heavy, usually with only a handful main or lead vocalists. While IZ*ONE has their share of strong dancers and pretty girls, half of their members are also quite strong vocalists, which adds dimension and makes the song feel very well-rounded. It’s tough to squeeze twelve people into one track, but “La Vie en Rose” did an admirable job of catering to all the fans. I quickly became an IZ*ONE fan after binge watching Produce 48 in a week, and “La Vie en Rose” exceeded all my expectations. (Let’s ignore the vote manipulation scandal for this post, because it’s a touchy subject and we didn’t know about it in 2018.)

#6: “One More Time (Otra Vez),” Super Junior feat. Reik

To be honest, I was not overly enamored with 2017 and 2018’s trend of latin pop in K-pop. There was nothing wrong with it, but I just felt that many groups treated it like the latest fun thing to try. Plus I could already listen to actual latin pop songs that were readily available in the United States. That being said, I found “One More Time (Otra Vez)” irresistible. (And no, it wasn’t just because of Donghae). I think it’s because Super Junior collaborating with actual latin pop artists gave it more of an authentic feel. Their more famous hit “Lo Siento” was flirty and charming, but “One More Time (Otra Vez)” was romantic and emotional (though still, of course, very sexy). Super Junior regained the second of their three main vocalists with Ryeowook’s return from the army, and his soaring vocals really helped nail that sense of lovelorn yearning. It’s a little bemusing that Super Junior basically acts like their 2018 music doesn’t really exist now, but “One More Time (Otra Vez”) is a hidden gem of their more recent discography.

#5: “Hann (Alone),” (G)I-DLE

(G)I-DLE piqued a lot of people’s interest with their debut, but “Hann” was the song that proved they were a force to be reckoned with. I’m always partial to songs with whistle hooks because they’re catchy AF, but in this case the whistling made the song beautifully haunting and alluring. I was fascinated by how it sounded so serene yet so raw at the same time.The music video played up their various designated images, dressing them in colorful couture to express their exoticism or in all-black to accent their mysterious air. It was an effective way of making them look unapproachable and borderline femme fatale (well, as “femme fatale” as teenage girls can be). I listened “Hann” at least once a day from when it was released to the end of me, which was rare for me. I still love it to this day.

#4: “Simon Says,” NCT 127

It’s never been a secret that I have a preference for NCT. NCT 127 was my favorite boy group in 2018, and “Simon Says” pretty much smashed its way to the top of this list within a month. (It was released at the end of November, and I make my lists in December.) I knew that it would be part of my Top 10 after the very first listen, and it could have made its way to #1 if I hadn’t felt loyalty to the songs that were released before it. I love “Simon Says” because NCT 127 is completely in their element here. It has the experimental hip hop influences that define their signature sound, as well as the smooth swagger that they flawlessly adopted with “Regular.” They’re not the best with line distribution (every NCTzen’s lament), but I love how it’s filled with little things like Taeyong’s interjections and that now-iconic line, “Bless me achoo.” I previously said that “Regular” was a smart song choice for NCT 127 to break into the United States with, but I also fully believe that they should have gone with “Simon Says.” I have never heard a song like it in K-pop or otherwise, and it would have been an excellent reflection of what musicians from other countries have to offer. It’s too bad that it pretty much flew under the radar.

#3: “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” BLACKPINK

Girl crush started to overtake cute concepts in 2018, and BLACKPINK was at the front of that wave. There were many great songs in 2018 that gave off an air of girl power and confidence, but none were quite as fierce as “DDU-DU DDU-DU.” While we didn’t know it at the time, it influenced a lot of the girl group music and trends that are popular today. It’s a certified club banger, and it hits hard. It’s the kind of music I love, so I was of course 100% here for it. And everything about it is iconic: the dance moves, the GORGEOUS music video, and the eye-catching fashion. While K-pop is a fast paced industry, this song is still incredibly popular two years later. “DDU-DU DDU-DU” was a high point in BLACKPINK’s career, and it’s an era I like to remember fondly.

#2: “Bad Boy,” Red Velvet

Red Velvet started off 2018 riding high at “top girl group” status. At the time, I honestly didn’t think I could love them any more than I already did. (“Peek-a-Boo” was my favorite song of 2017).  I’m proud to say that I was 100% wrong, because “Bad Boy” is EVERYTHING.  This smooth R&B track is all about a game of seduction, and it is so effortlessly sexy that it makes me jealous. (Or at least, more jealous than I normally am of female K-pop stars.) I absolutely love the juxtaposition in the aesthetics.  The ladies of Red Velvet are clearly supposed to be dangerous – pointing guns, swinging bats, burning stuff – but they’re also girly-girls who read books about kisses and whisper secrets at sleepovers.  You could also see that in their performances, where they were dressed like total badasses but had a very feminine and alluring dance.  I love Red Velvet no matter what genre they do, but “Bad Boy” matched with my music and aesthetic tastes nearly perfectly.

#1: “Baby Don’t Stop,” NCT U

There is an important distinction that made “Baby Don’t Stop” my #1 song of 2018: It was the only song that I would never skip. Many of the songs in this Top 10 are very high-profile and iconic, and I still listen to “Baby Don’t Stop” more than I do any of them. I will fully admit that my heavy Taeyong bias accounts for 50% of why I love this song, but I also just think it’s that good.  It’s catchy as hell, like any pop song should be, but it also has so many layers and details.  I love how Taeyong builds on each chorus throughout the song: first he whispers it, then he moves to singing softly, and then he busts out into that trademark rap.  Taeyong is usually partnered with Mark, and their NCT 127 song raps are really aggressive and powerful.  In this song with Ten, he was much more intriguing and seductive.  And Ten is more than a match for him, with honey sweet vocals and compelling emotion in his voice.  The best aspect of it all where the two of them are strongest: dance.  It’s a good thing it’s 85% of their music video, because that’s why I keep watching over and over.


MUSIC VIDEO SOURCES: Big Hit Entertainment (BTS), Cube Entertainment ((G)I-DLE), JYP Entertainment (TWICE), Off the Record Entertainment (IZ*ONE), SM Entertainment (Super Junior, EXO, Red Velvet, NCT U, and NCT 127), and YG Entertainment (BLACKPINK)

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