Even though I just did my whole 2019 list in one post, that was a bit of a rush job/last-minute decision. So, I’m going to go back to my tradition of breaking my Top 50 into five different pages. I can go into more detail, and it’s easier than making a post where you have to endlessly scroll or keep clicking on sub-pages. This first set of ten is all guy groups, which I find very interesting. Normally, the attention I pay to male and female artists is split pretty evenly. But this year, I have 29 boy group songs and 20 girl group songs (and one co-ed song). I think it’s because of NCT and its various subunits, but we’ll see as we go along. Speaking of NCT, there are a lot of SM artists in this portion of the list. If you know me at all, that should be no surprise.
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.
#50. “2YA2YAO,” Super Junior
(Oh my god, this comeback feels like it was AGES ago. It happened *right* before COVID-19 got serious in Korea, so part of me doesn’t even associate it with 2020 at all since was off having fun on winter vacation.) It would have been really easy for a group of thirty somethings like to Super Junior to look really awkward doing a hip hop song for the first time, especially given how ageist K-pop can be. But “2YA2YAO” is pretty chill and groovy, and it has an old school vibe that’s really suitable for our generation. (I say “our” because I’m like two years younger than Kyuhyun.) Zico, the song’s producer, did a really good job making a song that would suit Super Junior but let them try out something new. Though “2YA2YAO” was sadly the only full Super Junior comeback we got this year, I really enjoyed it. But as much as I love them, I spent the majority of the time stuck on the outfits – particularly for my bias Donghae.
WHY DID THEY COVER HALF HIS FACE WITH THAT GIANT BUCKET HAT I will never get over it I know out-there outfits are often a quintessential part of K-pop, but I really could not get past these ones. I have the feeling that “2YA2YAO” will probably go the way of Super Junior’s latin pop singles – it was a fun concept to try, but they’ll probably shelve it and rarely bring it up again. But I’ll still look back on it fondly, and maybe one day I’ll even change my mind about those outfits.
#49. “Daisy,” Pentagon
Pentagon has always been a talented group, and “Daisy” has many elements that they consistently deliver on: beautifully penned lyrics, excellent vocals, clean and crisp dancing, and a visually powerful musical video. It’s very mellow compared to the music I normally like, and it actually reminds me of the pop rock songs that were popular when I was a teen. But there’s an earnest sincerity to it that helps it stand out from other K-pop breakup songs. Pentagon has gone through some stuff, and they’ve recently started to creatively channel that into their work. Their 2020 music has been significantly more serious and sobering compared to the bright happy times of “Shine” (their most famous song) a couple of years ago. While I always get a little teary thinking about what they’ve been through, I think the one good thing about the whole ordeal is that their music changed for the better. Their music was great from the start, but that raw and genuine emotion they’re bringing from their personal experiences really takes things to another level. K-pop is not really a genre where songs get real – and that’s okay – but it’s always a nice bonus when they do. So I’m beyond happy that “Daisy” FINALLY earned Pentagon a well-deserved music show win. They should have gotten one years ago, but I’m glad they finally have that validation.
#48. “One (Monster + Infinity),” SuperM
I still have no clue what exactly SM is doing with SuperM, but I appreciate that the group is nothing but ambitious – as evidenced by their decision to mix two songs together for their latest comeback. As its title indicates, “One” is a blend of two tracks off the Super One album: the dark and brooding “Monster” and the soaring and smooth “Infinity.” In my opinion, I don’t think it *quite* achieves mashup status. It sounds like two distinct songs to me, especially since I’m familiar with the original versions. However, I also think there’s a really nice juxtaposition between the gritty verses of “Monster” and the polished choruses of “Infinity.”
It’s probably because all three songs have a similar structure in terms of pacing and intensity, which allows for some easy and convenient rearranging. And “One” does eventually start to sound like one cohesive song the more you listen to it. SM tends to give SuperM fast-paced aggressive songs like “Jopping” and “100” as lead singles, which I still find a little too extreme for your average American pop consumer. While “One” retains some of those experimental qualities that SM is known for, it’s a slightly softer approach that strikes a better balance between SuperM’s vocalists and rappers in the groups. (I was living for Ten ACTUALLY GETTING LINES belting out those high notes with Baekhyun in the bridge.) And “One” also shows potential new fans that the members have a lot of range. I still don’t think it’s the song SuperM should have promoted to try and break into the American market (more on that in a later post), but it was a solid choice.
#47. “Last Piece,” GOT7
I entered 2020 completely infatuated with GOT7. I got to see their concert in 2019, and “Eclipse” and “You Calling My Name” quickly became some of my favorite songs of theirs. I was just so incredibly proud of them, and I was at an all-time high as a GOT7 fan. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up being as enamored with this year’s releases. To be clear: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either “Not By the Moon” or “Last Piece.” I think they’re both very beautiful and poetic songs. It’s just that they’re not quite my style, and they happened to come after two songs that I think the world of. (I also listened to “Not By the Moon” way too many times and ended up getting bored, so that was 100% my bad.) But even if I wasn’t as into “Last Piece,” I still think it’s an incredible comeback. A lot of the songs that JB writes have a very special and unique quality – I find it hard to describe, but I think that those are the comebacks that best make use of the members’ various talents. In other words, I think “Last Piece” is a song that uniquely GOT7; it really can’t be sung or performed by anyone else. The song itself and the music video are bit mellow for my tastes, but I think the intricately detailed choreography adds a bit of energy. And all of those images of the members being linked together are not lost on me. I’m not going to pretend to be unconcerned about contract renewals, because I’m very anxious about it. But if this DOES end up being the last GOT7 comeback or last one before an extended hiatus, I think it’s a wonderful note to end on.
#46. “Punch,” NCT 127
There’s a surprisingly emotional undercurrent to “Punch” that isn’t present in some of NCT 127’s other music. On one hand, it has a kind of a gritty quality to it that represents both the tough times people go through and their determined resolve. On the other hand, the powerful and earnest vocals also push a more hopeful and inspiring tone. NCT 127 doubled down on the “fighter” concept this year with “Kick It” and “Punch,” and both songs have an ambitious and persistent energy. But “Punch” in particular showed that “fighter” wasn’t just an aesthetic for them. They certainly have it easier than loads of other groups, but their path to the top has not been as easy or quick as most other SM stars. While NCT 127 (and NCT in general) had their most successful year yet, “Punch” is an earnest acknowledgement of the times when they were the underdog. The song got a little lost in the shuffle by the time the year ended – especially after all of the excitement around the NCT 2020 project – but it’s an important track that shouldn’t be forgotten.
#45. “Life Goes On,” BTS
I’ve talked about this at length before, but I’ve had a major disconnect with BTS ever since I moved to Korea. It’s partially because I prefer Wings and Love Yourself era music, but it’s mostly because they’re so popular that it’s impossible to take a break from them – something that I need to do with ALL groups I like. So while I remain proud of BTS and everything they’ve achieved, my current interest level is somewhere between “casual listener” and “completely ambivalent” depending on the song. That being said… when I first listened to “Life Goes On,” I felt a spark of the fondness that I used to have for them. After “Dynamite,” a song where I barely recognized the BTS I started following years ago, I find “Life Goes On” to be the most genuine and authentic they’ve been in a couple of years. Yes, I know that a song about life in the face of COVID-19 is going to be relatable to pretty much everyone on the planet. (That scene where RM wipes dust off his unused bike makes me tear up, AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE BIKING). But there’s such a beautiful sincerity to this song, and it clearly expresses the love BTS has for each other, their jobs, and their fans. To be honest, it’s a really nice contrast to the “trendy and popular superstar” version of them that I see walking around Korea every day. And it’s an important reminder of why they became so beloved in the first place. I’m still waiting for the day when I’ll be over the moon about a BTS song again, but right now I’ll settle for “Life Goes On.”
#44. “Turn Back Time,” WayV
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.
2020 was the year I started to be a good NCTzen and made sure to check out WayV. (Since I was trying to learn more Korean, I put off consuming media in other Asian languages so I wouldn’t get confused.) Now, I’m so mad at myself for barely paying them any attention for a WHOLE YEAR. “Turn Back Time” is such an excellent song that has a little bit of everything – charismatic rapping, soaring vocals (Xiao Jun is emoting hard here), a cool X-Men style music video, and impossibly tight synchronized choreography. The idea of turning back time isn’t just the song title; it’s a theme that runs through the entire comeback. The song is punctuated by the ticking of a stopwatch, and the perfect key point of the dance is similar to winding a clock. It’s a really well-balanced comeback, and I’m very impressed with how incredibly balanced a team WayV is in general. As much as I love the NCT units, I can’t really pretend that the distribution is always fair. WayV’s music, however, allows them to make use of each and every one of their members. I’m glad that SM officially acknowledged WayV as part of NCT this year, but I’m also proud that they’re establishing their own separate stellar reputation. If they keep releasing music like “Turn Back Time,” they’re going to do really well for themselves.
#43. “Boy,” TREASURE
Even though I forgot literally everything about YG Treasure Box, I still had high expectations for TREASURE’s debut. But I was also a little worried because I’ve never been too keen on YG as a company (their management SUCKS), and the events of 2019 obviously made everything worse. So I think there was a lot of pressure for TREASURE, especially given the current status of the agency’s other boy groups. Thankfully, they had a fantastic debut that put all those fears to rest. “Boy” was not was I was expecting at all – in a good way. It completely forgoes YG’s strong preference for hip hop, choosing a brighter and more upbeat sound heavily influenced by synth. YG also tends to give their groups a cool and unapproachable image, so I like how TREASURE’s current energy is very fresh and down to earth. It’s much more relatable, to me and especially to the teen audience they’re probably aiming for. Every year, I become more and more adamant about not picking up rookie groups. This year I actually followed through on that, but TREASURE ended up being one of my few exceptions. In fact, “Boy” is only one of three debut songs in my Top 50 – so that should tell you how highly I think of it.
#42. “Criminal,” Taemin
I was extremely frustrated that Taemin was forced to squeeze this comeback between all his SuperM activities, because “Criminal” is a masterpiece that deserved to be promoted in all its glory. (I know the timing was partially because he was injured, but STILL.) This song is not super high on my list because I’m more of a casual fan of Taemin compared to other SM artists, so the stan factor didn’t really come into play here. BUT I am incredibly appreciative of him as an artist and musician, and “Criminal” is a classic example of everything that he is famous and beloved for – particularly his stellar vocals and his intricate and iconic choreography that only a top idol dancer could pull off. Not to mention that the music video is a beautiful work of art. And gosh darn it, “Criminal” is so addictive! I normally just listen to songs for a little bit and then move on to something else, but it just kept popping up on shuffle and I just kept replaying it. It seems like 2020 was a bit of a renaissance year for Taemin, seeing as he was left to his own devices while the rest of SHINee was in the military. Plus he gained a bunch of new fans from SuperM. So, I’m very glad that to hear that there are younger newer K-pop fans who appreciate his artistic genius.
#41. “Fantasia,” Monsta X
I feel a little bad about putting “Fantasia” in this spot. It totally could have made it to at least the thirties in my ranking if I hadn’t gone overboard on listening to it. That being said, I overdid it because “Fantasia” clearly has everything I like in a Monsta X comeback. They gift us with a classic dance jam at least once a year, and 2020’s version was as awesome as I expected. Head banger that’s fit for the club? Check. Fun dance moves? Check. Lots of great parts for Hyungwon? Check. Fancy and luxurious gold aesthetic? Check. Monsta X is five years into their career, which means that they’re now industry veterans, and that experience is starting to show. They’ve always had a strong manly image, but now there’s an ease and assured confidence to “Fantasia” that makes it stand out from other energetic go-hard boy group songs. I went into this year unsure how I would feel about Monsta X because of all the Wonho stuff. But I had nothing to worry – they didn’t take a huge (and unfair) popularity hit, and their music is as good as ever. I still maintain that Wonho shouldn’t have been forced to leave – and I probably always will – but “Fantasia” helped me accept that we’re all going to be okay.
SOURCES: YouTube, Big Hit Entertainment (BTS), Cube Entertainment (Pentagon), JYP Entertainment (GOT7), SM Entertainment (Super Junior, Taemin, NCT 127, WayV, SuperM), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X), and YG Entertainment (TREASURE)
The idols in the cover image are:
*Baekhyun / EXO and SuperM / SM Entertainment (pictured as a SuperM member here)
*Jungkook / BTS / Big Hit Entertainment
*Taemin / SHINee and SuperM / SM Entertainment (pictured as a soloist here)
*Mark / GOT7 / JYP Entertainment
*Xiao Jun / NCT and WayV / SM Entertainment (pictured as a WayV member here)
*Yeo One / Pentagon / Cube Entertainment