Back in June or July, I made a list with a bunch of K-pop songs that I liked from the first half of 2020. With two exceptions, all of the songs in this post were originally high up on that list. Originally, I was drawn to them because I thought they were really creative and innovative (and probably pretty underrated). But although these comebacks have slid more towards the middle of my final rankings, that’s really just because of my overall interest level. I don’t know why, but it’s pretty typical for me to be more absorbed by the summer and fall releases of any year than by the earlier ones. Maybe it’s because I live in the moment, and the later songs still seem somewhat new and exciting by year’s end. But I still have a lot of fondness for the releases in this section of the list, and I revisit them often. They’re still definitely worth checking out (if you haven’t already).
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.
#30. “Monster,” Red Velvet Irene & Seulgi
Red Velvet has been my favorite girl group for a while, and I consistently look forward to their music every year. So, it was really jarring to not have any full group releases in 2020. It’s 100% understandable because Wendy needed to recover from her accident (I will always be mad at SBS for that), but it was still a shame. However, we did get this amazing subunit to tide us over. The girls have proved themselves capable of pulling off different concepts many times over, but “Monster” took a deliciously darker turn. An addictive song that speaks about the monster/darkness within, it sounds a little twisted yet alluring and entrancing – and all of the visual elements enhance that to great effect. The choreography is glamorous and sultry, but also just a touch creepy (like the spider formations they make at the beginning and the end). And the music video is aesthetically stunning, but also has a delightfully unsettling feel. I’m sure it was influenced by several different horror films, but I couldn’t really tell you which ones because I can’t watch scary movies. The vibrant color scheme did give me some Suspiria vibes, though. (Which I have seen because I was forced to in film school… TWICE.) Irene and Seulgi make a great team, and everything about this subunit was executed perfectly.
#29. “Dr. BeBe,” Pentagon
Everything about “Dr. BeBe” is amazing, especially the intense choreography and unnerving music video. There’s also an highly emotional aspect to it that can be clearly heard by the vocalists. One of Pentagon’s greatest strengths is their lineup of talented and diverse singers, and each one has his own unique vocal color. They used that to great effect in “Dr. BeBe,” contrasting the main vocalists’ emotive power belting with the lead vocalists’ smooth and more even tones. Pentagon’s commitment to the dark concept is so complete that it has a very chilling effect, especially given that it was completely new territory for them. Before 2020, they spent most of their time producing colorful, bright, and borderline quirky music. So, their shift to a darker and more serious image initially seemed very dramatic to me. But personally, I found this change to be very welcome. Like I said when I was talking about “Daisy,” Pentagon has had some hard times. “Dr. BeBe” was the first comeback where they started exploring those more complicated feelings in their music. As someone who’s keenly aware of their history, I felt I could sense the pain and the emotion of those past experiences throughout “Dr. BeBe” – and it really got to me. This comeback unfortunately didn’t get the attention it deserved; but thankfully, it turned out to be just the start of a good year for Pentagon.
#28. “Scream,” Dreamcatcher
I always use these lists to hype up the endless talents of Dreamcatcher. They were one of the first groups that I wrote about on this blog – and were possibly my first debut review – and they’ve kept impressing me every year since. What I really like about them is that they’re so consistent with their persona, but they’re still creative and keep their concept fresh and exciting. Many K-pop artists have a discography filled with songs from different genres and concepts, but Dreamcatcher has really committed their entire career so far to building this whole world and aesthetic. “Scream” is an excellent example of how they’re constantly setting their sights higher and higher, keeping a concept they clearly rock but always adding to it and improving on it. Their music has always had a certain level of intensity, which is natural considering its rock influences and overall dark and edgy vibe. However, this time they really kicked things up a notch. Everything about “Scream” is honestly “epic” – from the thrilling music to the gorgeous high-concept music video to the beautifully choreographed performance. In short, it’s Dreamcatcher at their best – and I consider it a masterpiece.
#27. “Wannabe,” ITZY
“Wannabe” is another song whose ranking suffered a bit from overexposure. Around when it was released, I was working in my office alone every day
because I wasn’t allowed to work from home like the Korean teachers. And I spent a lot of that time listening to “Wannabe” and IT’Z ME over and over – which is how I learned there is such a thing as too much replay for me. But putting that aside, this song is a certified hit. It’s sassy, fun, and catchy as hell. The sharp angles in the choreography are highly satisfying, and there are so many iconic moments like that attitude-filled shoulder shrug and the fierce dance break. (Gosh, I just love ITZY’s dance breaks.) But most importantly, this comeback strongly promotes the themes of confidence and self-acceptance. Some of the members’ storylines in the MV are easier to suss out than others – like Yuna’s decision to forgo uncomfortable heels and rock the runway barefoot – but all of them have a satisfying ending that emphasizes their choice to be free and do what they want. I’m really happy that ITZY is making music like this because they are quite trendy at the moment, and I think it’s important for trendy groups to impart positive messages to their young and impressionable fans. I don’t know the exact demographics of their fandom, but I DO know that a bunch of my 6th grade students love them. And this message something I definitely want those young girls to pick up on. Heck, I’m a decade older than most of ITZY, and I still want to be cool and confident like them.
#26. “Dazzle Dazzle,” Weki Meki
Weki Meki branched out from their “teen crush” concept and tried out several different styles this year. Each one was excellent in its own way, and I put all of them on my Top 100 list. However, the bright and jazzy “Dazzle Dazzle” is by far my favorite. And no, it’s not just because it has a pretty pink aesthetic. (Though that definitely helped, of course.) If you’ve read my lists of the past, you might have noticed that I’m really not that big on bright and fresh songs. They probably would have been more appealing to me when I was younger, but current me finds them a little over the top. Girl group songs especially tend to pile on more cuteness than I need. “Dazzle Dazzle,” however, is the perfect amount of pep. It strikes just the right balance between being bubbly and being sweet. And the entertaining choreography capitalizes on that infectious energy – it’s so fun and bouncy. Plus I like how the song is about a girl who wants to be dazzled by her love interest with something special and out of the ordinary. I’m a huge romantic at heart
and I’ve been single for a hot minute, so I can definitely relate. I’ve always been more of a casual listener when it comes to Weki Meki, but “Dazzle Dazzle” drew me in a bit more. This song is all about them wanting to be charmed, but they actually ended up charming me.
#25. “MMM,” TREASURE
I really liked all three of TREASURE’s releases this year, and I think they showed a lot of the group’s potential and variety. For me, “MMM” is definitely the one that best fits my style and personal music tastes. There are two kinds of songs that I tend to prefer: the straight up dance jams, and the smoother tracks with subtly sexy undertones. “MMM” is a little bit of both, so it makes sense that I would find it appealing. (Please note that when I say “MMM” is sexy, I’m personally talking about how the song sounds and NOT about TREASURE themselves. I can see they’re going for that vibe – especially in the dance – and I’m sure they’re sexy to people their own age… but I’m significantly older, so they go in the same category as NCT Dream.) Dance jams that go hard are my absolute favorites, but I always find there’s something cool about the songs with a more even tempo and flow. They may seem more restrained, but they still impart a huge sense of energy because it feels like there’s something percolating underneath. And “MMM” lets loose just enough at the end so that the conclusion is satisfying. I was also really impressed by the advanced level of the choreography, especially since YG tends to focus on simpler key moves. “MMM” isn’t the kind of comeback that shows off the TREASURE members individually, but it does present them as a united group with amazing teamwork. And comebacks like this make it easy to see why their popularity is quickly rising.
#24. “Butterfly,” Cosmic Girls
Several songs in this post are underrated bops that I feel deserved more attention, but I would argue that this is especially true for “Butterfly.” And that’s because it has all the makings of a classic girl group song. It’s upbeat and positive without getting too happy go lucky, and the melody is very catchy. The message of figuring yourself out as you grow is really relatable, too – even to someone one like me who technically should be done with growing and maturing. The choreography is fun and trendy with several memorable key points – my favorite is the sassy shoulder bounce. And I love how the movements are very dynamic but still remind me of a gentle and delicate butterfly. As for the stunning music video, it looks like something out of a fairy tale and Cosmic Girls look beautiful and elegant as always. Given all this, I thought that “Butterfly” would really appeal to the Korean general public – perhaps more than any of their other recent songs – so I was very surprised it wasn’t a breakout hit. (I know they won one or two music show trophies, but I still expected a little more). I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer for them to reach another level of popularity; but if they keep making excellent songs like “Butterfly,” I think that time will be soon.
#23. “How You Like That,” BLACKPINK
Hitting hard with a thudding bass and fierce proclamations, the powerful and energetic “How You Like That” proved BLACKPINK was K-pop royalty. With a gorgeous high-budget music video and instantly iconic choreography covered the world over, it was unsurprisingly one of the biggest hits of the year. But as much as “How You Like That” is a good song in its own right, it suffers from being the third in a series of very similar sounding tracks. We normally see so little of BLACKPINK thanks to YG’s annoying marketing strategy, and it’s frustrating to wait an entire year for new music and then get a different version of the same formula. So while “How You Like That” really appeals to my personal tastes, I couldn’t love it as much when it came out because I was just so desperate for BLACKPINK to have more creative freedom. That being said, I’ll admit I had two totally different opinions this comeback. For the first week or so, I was like, “This song is great, but why is THIS the one breaking all the records? Let them try something else, YG!” And then after that, I was doing the dance and shouting “Bada bing bada boom boom boom” and “Look at you now look at me” every opportunity I got. So in the end, I still bopped along all year. If “How You Like That” had been the first BLACKPINK song I’d ever encountered, it would be Top 10 material for sure. But given the circumstances, I think my personal ranking of it is pretty fair.
#22. “Ridin'” NCT Dream
Technically, “Ridin'” was sort of the end of an era for NCT Dream. SM announced that Mark would rejoin the unit (yay OT7!), so this was the last comeback we got with the other six members – and it was possibly the last one before NCT Dream becomes a rotational unit. (If we’re going by what SM said.) I have no idea what the future looks like for them, but “Ridin'” was a great note to end on. In my opinion, it was one of their best comebacks… and no, I’m not just saying that because because it was significantly less youth-oriented than their earlier music. It’s catchy, it has high energy, and it hits hard – all things I appreciate. And the synchronized dancing is top notch as always. But I don’t just like “Ridin'” because of the song itself; I also like it because it shows NCT Dream’s growth. They’ve always been exceptionally talented, especially given their young debut age. But if you look at what they’ve done from the beginning until now, you can see how far they’ve come. The fresh-faced babies bopping to “Chewing Gum” are definitely no more. Instead, “Ridin'” shows us a group of young men ready for the next stage in their careers. I think are a lot of people are excited to see what NCT Dream will be like in 2021, and “Ridin'” helped build that anticipation.
#21. “Good Guy,” SF9
It’s rare for me to like a January comeback so much that I keep returning to throughout the year, but I found “Good Guy” so irresistible. It’s very toned down compared to SF9’s normal fare, but it has a smooth classic quality that makes it remarkable to me and my short-term memory even months later. I said earlier that I like sexy and sophisticated comebacks, and “Good Guy” is a classic example with its romantic and charming vibe. The lyrics are all about SF9 convincing their love interest that they’re the perfect guy for them, and they come across as so confident that I’m pretty convinced. The charisma carries over into the choreography, which is my personal highlight. SF9’s dancing is their greatest strength, and I love how sharp and clean everything looks. The movements are so simple, and the way they draw out each and every small detail is so enticing. Actually, the same can be said of the whole comeback – everything about it is so simple and minimalistic, yet so expertly executed. SF9 has shown signs of maturing their music for a while, but the gentleman look of “Good Guy” seemed like a very definitive – and successful – step.
SOURCES: YouTube, Cube Entertainment (Pentagon), Fantagio Entertainment (Weki Meki), FNC Entertainment (SF9), Happy Face Entertainment (Dreamcatcher), JYP Entertainment (ITZY), SM Entertainment (Red Velvet Irene & Seulgi and NCT Dream), Starship Entertainment (Cosmic Girls), and YG Entertainment (BLACKPINK and TREASURE)
The idols in the cover image are as follows:
*Yoojung / Weki Meki / Fantagio Entertainment
*Hwiyoung / SF9 / FNC Entertainment
*Yeonjung / Cosmic Girls (WJSN) / Starship Entertainment
*Jaemin / NCT and NCT Dream / SM Entertainment (pictured here as a member of NCT Dream)
* Dami / Dreamcatcher / Happy Face Entertainment
*Mashiho / TREASURE / YG Entertainment