Katherine’s Top K-pop Releases of 2020: #31-40

This section of songs feels a little random to me, but I think it boils down to how absorbed I ultimately was by them. I mentioned before that I tend to hop from comeback to comeback, and I devote my attention to new music for about two weeks on average. I spent a little more time on these songs, maybe a month or so – which is a lot for me. But I while I thoroughly enjoy all these songs and would highly recommend them, I guess I just wasn’t in love with them – like, I didn’t go into full on stan mode. I still like them a lot, though!

DISCLAIMER: This list is 100% based on my own opinions and feelings, and is not a ranking of what I objectively think are the best songs of 2020. The rankings are based on things like how much I like the song/choreography/music video/styling, how many times I listened to the song, how long I was into the comeback/debut, how many related videos I watched, etc.

#40. “1 Billion Views,” EXO-SC feat. Moon

After a strong first single last year, EXO-SC returned to give us another laidback summer groove. “1 Billion Views” is a sweet song about how your love interest is like a video you could watch a billion times. Or a song you could play a billion times – I was a little confused on the lyrics. But the main point is that you could never get tired of them, which is a nice message. It’s filled with a bunch of other technological and social media metaphors, which are also the focus of the fun and colorful music video. While there’s not really any choreography – EXO-SC weirdly doesn’t promote on music shows and I don’t understand why – they did a fun challenge where you do some cool hand motions with your phone. I was horrible at it, but it was quite entertaining. I wasn’t quite as infatuated with “1 Billion Views” as I was with “What a Life” – probably because there was no accompanying EXO concert to add to the hype – but it was a nice song to listen to over the summer.

#39. “DUN DUN,” Everglow

EVERGLOW has quickly become one of my go-to groups for good girl crush music, and “DUN DUN” is a great example. There aren’t a lot of other girl groups out there who are as willing to go all in on the “tough” look. They’ve based a lot of their aesthetic around being glamorous yet fierce, and I’m totally here for it. Many of the songs that I’m naturally drawn to are dance party type songs, so “DUN DUN” fits right in. I like how it’s unapologetically powerful and energetic. I also love my girl group dances, and I appreciate how the choreography makes such a strong image with sharp clear lines and dynamic movement. All the stomping and power posing is highly satisfactory – there’s so much attitude, and it’s great. While I do feel “DUN DUN” is a little unbalanced because Mia has so many parts, she does a good job of holding the song together (and her dance break is EVERYTHING). All in all, it was a job well done that further solidified EVERGLOW’s concept and general badass vibes.

#38. “B.A.D” Super Junior D&E

The second half of 2020 saw the rise of synth and electronic music in K-pop, something that I wasn’t initially feeling but eventually got on board with by year’s end. Since Donghae and Eunhyuk are actual 80’s kids, it only makes sense that they would take the opportunity to pay homage to the music of their childhood. Written and produced by Donghae, “B.A.D” is an exciting and funky retro trip that looks and sounds like it could have come straight from the 80’s, extra fashion and all. D&E are an experienced duo, and it shows with their high energy and smooth dancing. It’s so entertaining to watch them onstage because they’re so comfortable with each other – they are best friends, after all. While I thought “B.A.D” was a lot of fun and bopped along to a fair amount of times, I just wasn’t all in. “Danger” was my #1 song last year, and that was just so perfect in my eyes that it’s hard to compare anything that follows – especially since I’ve never really been into 80’s music or 80’s style music. And like I said in my last post, I’m very sensitive about how stylists dress Donghae… so you can probably imagine how I felt about these outfits. (Though I’m less outspoken about it because I accept that they are concept and era appropriate.) But even if I wasn’t *super* into “B.A.D” like I was with “Danger,” I could tell that Donghae and Eunhyuk were really proud of it and they were having the time of their lives. So I was more than happy to go along for the ride.

#37. “Gunshot,” KARD

I’ve come to rely on KARD for my club jams, and they never disappoint on that front. But every so often, they’ll surprise me and put out something really serious and meaningful like “Gunshot.” I normally don’t pay much attention to lyrics, but I took a look given that the name of their single album was Way With Words. And let me tell you, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I cried. “Gunshot” is a searing commentary on how words can be destructive weapons. While this is a sobering message in general, the lyrics seem to reference a toxic relationship. I’ve been there, and the lyrics were so powerful that they took me right back to that time. The music video was also especially thought-provoking, portraying two parallel worlds where KARD’s criminal actions in one affected the innocent KARD members in the other. They explained that the idea was that words and actions can inadvertently hurt people you don’t even know – a message especially important in the age of social media, where countless internet strangers start fights with each other or post hateful comments daily. I understand that K-pop (and pop in general) is not a deep thing, but I really appreciate when groups take the time to explore more serious topics and themes.

#36. “Black Mamba,” aespa

SM’s new girl group aespa finally debuted this year, and they immediately caused a buzz with their fancy stage names and their stunning visuals. “Black Mamba,” their very first single, is a powerful girl crush type song visually accented by neon colors, sparkling costumes, and an AI concept that I’m a *little* cautious about. I liked this song a lot – in fact, it’s the only girl group debut in my Top 50. I really liked the choreography, especially the dramatic drop to the floor and leg sweep. And I was also quite intrigued by the music video, though I’m not going to pretend that I understand what’s happening. However, I’m not 100% sold on aespa from “Black Mamba” alone. I can tell that SM wants them to be one of the new trendsetting girl groups (which they surely will be given time), but this debut doesn’t really give me a strong sense who the members are and what they bring to the table. They’re definitely talented, and I can see that SM pedigree at work – especially in their synchronized dancing and charismatic singing. Their teamwork is stellar for a newly debuted group. But while “Black Mamba” shows me a united front, it doesn’t really show me any of the members’ individual colors, and it would have been on another level if it had. To sum everything up, I’m not all in on aespa just yet… but “Black Mamba” sufficiently piqued my interest. I’m reserving judgment for a future comeback.

#35. “Hands Up,” Cherry Bullet

While “Hands Up” was one of many girl crush songs that came out the beginning of this year, it took a different approach to the concept that helped it stand out. Many girl crush songs are very fierce and sassy – which I love – but I was very taken by how “Hands Up” is much more lowkey and restrained in comparison. Instead of bringing in powerful beats and energetic percussion, it keeps a calm and even tempo and makes the remix of “Für Elise” the main hook (which is super catchy). The choreography is also very toned down, yet sharp and precise. Cherry Bullet opted for the “cool girl” look over the “bad girl” one, and I think it had a great effect. I could make a whole separate list of underrated songs, and I can tell you that “Hands Up” would be quite high up there. It’s one of those songs where you can just tell it would have been a hit if it had been released by a more popular group, which makes it all the more frustrating that Cherry Bullet isn’t getting the attention they deserve. They went back to a more bright and cutesy style for their other 2020 comeback, but I hope they’ll return to something like “Hands Up” in the future.

#34. “Nonstop,” Oh My Girl

While I like “Nonstop” a lot, it has fallen significantly lower on my list because of the overexposure factor. I mentioned back in June or July that I heard this song everywhere, and that has held true for the entire rest of the year. It’s so popular that my students are even learning the choreography for it during their after school dance clubs. So like any song I was forced to hear over and over, I inevitably lost interest. That being said, “Nonstop” is an undeniable bop. It’s bubbly enough to appeal to the Korean general public, but it doesn’t go overboard on the sweetness. While it has plenty of Oh My Girl’s whimsical quirkiness, it’s not so peculiar that it falls flat with mainstream audiences. And the members’ sweet feminine vocals are well-balanced by Mimi’s charismatic rap break. (Finally! A song where she gets a chance to shine!) I’ve been following Oh My Girl for a long time, and I’m just so thrilled that they finally had their breakout hit. I can’t wait to obsess over their next song.

#33. “Work It,” NCT U

NCT has covered many different genres of music, but “Work It” was the first time they tried out a techno/EDM song. In all honesty, I was prepared to hate it because I just never really liked techno/EDM. But I’m pleased to say that “Work It” changed my mind. I think it’s because there’s a lot of variety that keeps the song from being just a collection of dance beats, which was my general complaint about the genre way back when. (I was that snob at high school dances who would shout, “It’s not music! It’s just noise!” while everyone else was raving under the strobe lights.) Johnny, Jaemin, and Hendery provide some catchy rapping for us to jam along to, while Jungwoo, Ten, and Yuta serenade us with their clean and voices. I’m not quite sure about Jisung since his injury kept him from fully participating, but it seems to me like he would have been the balance between both sides. (Side note: I really appreciate how SM kept him involved even if he couldn’t dance). In short, “Work It” is just plain fun and it makes me want to get up and dance. NCT is always really hilarious in their videos, so it’s nice to have a song where they can just be their goofy fun-loving selves. The great thing about NCT U is that we get lots of combinations of different members, and these are definitely the ones I want to have a dance party with.

#32. “The Stealer,” The Boyz

The Boyz reached a whole new level of popularity after appearing on Road to Kingdom, and their latest comeback is heavily inspired by their time on the show. Much like “Checkmate,” the song they performed on the finale, “The Stealer” has a very smooth and sophisticated feel with just a hint of danger in the air. And the cool factor is dialed up to 100. I’m really impressed at how it’s upbeat and energetic but also manages to impart a sense of restrained tension. And in keeping with their new reputation as masters of performance, they throw a bunch of lowkey acrobatic moves into a choreography filled with tight formations and impossibly synchronized dancing. I only really got into The Boyz this year, so I can’t compare this to what they were doing before. (Though from what I remember, this is almost a complete 180 from their earlier music.) But I’m certainly impressed with their undeniable talent, and I’m glad that many others are also finally seeing their potential. A comeback like “The Stealer” shows that there’s no limit to the creative heights that The Boyz can reach.

#31. “Ice Cream,” BLACKPINK and Selena Gomez

I actually did not expect to like “Ice Cream” as much as I did. While I was excited for BLACKPINK’s change in musical style, I initially found the instrumental effects to be really distracting and the lyrics nonsensical. Yes, I know they’re supposed to be innuendos, but I still don’t know WHAT THEY ACTUALLY MEAN. (Maybe I’m just old and I don’t know slang.) I also found it kind of weird that BLACKPINK either didn’t know they were singing some pretty sexual lyrics or they just acted like they didn’t. The sweet and cutesy vibes were fine, but I think it was a missed opportunity for them to be a little cheeky. That all being said, I recently discovered that “Ice Cream” is like #6 on my most listened to songs on Apple Music, so I guess I got over all these hang ups. I still think it’s the kind of song you have to listen to a bunch of times… but once you get hooked, you’ll be hooked FOREVER. It’s fun to see a cuter and more girly side to BLACKPINK, and Selena Gomez fits in with them so well that it sounds like they’ve been making music together for years. And we all know that I love pink things, so I find the colorful music video to be a visual treat. (Side note: where can I buy that sparkly lipstick Lisa is rocking during her rap break?) “Ice Cream” was ultimately my least favorite of BLACKPINK’s 2020 songs, but it’s still a bop. Very suitable for the rising princesses of pop.


SOURCES: YouTube, Cre.ker Entertainment (The Boyz), DSP Media (KARD), FNC Entertainment (Cherry Bullet), SM Entertainment (Super Junior D&E, EXO-SC, NCT U, and aespa), WM Entertainment (Oh My Girl), YG Entertainment (BLACKPINK), and Yuehua Entertainment (EVERGLOW)
“Nonstop” music video distributed by 1theK.
“DUN DUN” distributed by Stone Music Entertainment.

Idols in the cover image are:
*Yuta / NCT / SM Entertainment (pictured as a member of NCT U here)
*Lisa / BLACKPINK / YG Entertainment
*Sehun / EXO and EXO-SC / SM Entertainment (pictured as a member of EXO-SC here)
*Giselle / aespa / SM Entertainment
*Hyunjae / The Boyz / Cre.ker Entertainment
*YooA / Oh My Girl / WM Entertainment

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