Katherine’s Top K-Pop Releases of 2020: #11-20

The closer we get to the top of this list, the easier it is to see how much my personal preferences come into play. Many of the groups here are my long time favorites, and have appeared in similar rankings on previous lists. A lot of the songs also share similar traits, either in the concept or the music itself. These were the comebacks that I really enjoyed and happily listened to on repeat for weeks, perhaps even months. Which, as we’ve established, is not all that common for me.

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.

#20. “La Di Da,” EVERGLOW

Autumn 2020 brought the rise of synthwave, and EVERGLOW was one of the first groups to take on the trend. Their latest anthem “La Di Da” sounds like it came straight out of the 80’s, and it was clearly inspired by some of the most classic songs of the period. I will freely confess that I was never really into 80’s music, but I constantly find myself singing along to “La Di Da” because it’s THAT addictive. The choreography, powerful as ever, is also one of my favorites of the year. I love how it’s a very fast-paced song, but the dance slows down some of the most important moves and draws them out for a really dramatic effect. And of course, the intricate hand movements are nothing but amazing. For a while, it looked like EVERGLOW was going to capitalize on the fierce girl crush style and build their brand around that. While all of their songs have their own distinct flair, doing the same concept all the time does run the risk of eventually becoming formulaic. So, I think moving into this synthwave retro sound was an excellent creative choice for EVERGLOW. It’s different enough that it stands out, but its intensity allows them to keep some consistency with their badass aesthetic. (Those black leather outfits are everything.) I’ve been into EVERGLOW since the beginning, and I’m completely won over by their ability to make anything fierce and fabulous.

#19. “No Love,” Super Junior D&E

Last year, D&E completely captured my heart with the dark bad boy vibes of “Danger.” This year, they ensnared me again by appealing to my penchant for sexy songs. “No Love” is a tantalizing track that describes the chemistry being of instantly attracted to someone, with electronic dance beats fit for the club and a choreography that screams “smooth operator.” While the references are fairly indirect (because it’s K-pop), the lyrics heavily imply something like a one night stand or a fling. A nice advantage to being older idols is that Donghae and Eunhyuk have the freedom to explore more mature topics, so they can get away with singing scandalous lines like, “kissing [and] touching on your skin ’til you [get] a heart attack.” (Ugh, that one really got to me.) Despite my love for dance jams, I’ve never been one for the party scene… but “No Love” makes it so easy to envision dancing my heart out at a club and feeling that thrilling jolt when I lock eyes with one of them from across the room. (Okay, you probably know which one of them I’m imagining, but I’m trying to be fair to the other one too.) I’m also not really a fan of the “player” or “ladies’ man” image because guys like that are extremely frustrating in real life, and yet “No Love” makes it so easy to fall for D&E’s charms. So basically, this comeback was very dangerous for me… but I obviously didn’t mind.

#18. “Reveal,” The Boyz

“Reveal” is a little bit of a special case for me: it’s the only highly-ranked comeback from the first half of 2020 that wasn’t on my “halfway point” list I wrote in July. In fact, I never heard it or knew about it until I watched The Boyz on Road to Kingdom over the summer. (I still curse myself for being so late in discovering them.) Their performance of “Reveal” on that show was absolutely stunning, so I decided to check out the original and quickly became obsessed. I love how the melody is so catchy and memorable – as any pop song should be – but it also has a brooding quality with just a touch of tension. The lyrics seem to reference some kind of forbidden love or love that cannot be, and it’s all just delightfully angsty. I find the wolf metaphor that runs throughout really interesting – I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be embodying the “lone wolf” stereotype, a werewolf, or just a regular wolf, but any of those is a highly creative choice. And the lyrics are really poetic with their descriptions of the difference between night and day. I also love how the choreography is based on the movements of a wolf, with the members shaping their hands like claws and slashing through the air in satisfyingly straight lines. (It sounds a little silly writing it out, but I promise it’s done in a really artistic way.) Even though I was late to the party, I was just utterly captivated by everything about “Reveal.” If I had checked it out in February or had been more aware of The Boyz, it might have ultimately made my Top 10.

#17. “DUMDi DUMDi,” (G)I-DLE

I’m not always super into bright and upbeat music, but I just can’t resist it during the summer. The sun is shining, the weather is warm, and I’m on vacation for two weeks and having fun. “DUMDi DUMDi” perfectly embodies all of that. Every time I hear it, I can automatically envision stereotypical summer things like playing in the water or cooling off from the heat with ice cream. I heard that Soyeon was inspired by Zootopia while composing this song, which I think contributes to its fun and feel-good vibes. And the addictive tropical beats make me want to get up and dance along. My personal highlight is the music video, where the the six girls meet each other at a motel in the middle of the desert and become fast friends. It’s such a cute and heartwarming little story, and it’s like a YA novel waiting to happen! (G)I-DLE has always advertised themselves as a group capable of many images, so I appreciate how they still maintain their own distinct personalities no matter what kind of song they do. Their discography tends towards being chic and mysterious, so I would never have imagined them delivering such a fresh and energetic bop. Now that they have, I couldn’t be more pleased. “DUMDi DUMDi” was without a doubt my song of the summer.

#16. “90’s Love,” NCT U

I must admit, I was initially a little apprehensive of “90’s Love.” Since I’m an actual 90’s kid, I always feel kind of weird when idols decide use the era of my childhood as an aesthetic. I know it’s mostly insecurity about my age – I can’t believe the 90’s are old enough to be considered retro! – but those feelings are a little hard to shake. Also, I was also a little bemused that none of the ACTUAL 90’s kids in NCT were part of this comeback except for Ten. (Everyone else involved was either a toddler, a baby, or not even born yet.) But while the members themselves weren’t necessarily 90’s kids, it’s clear that some people from their creative team were. The nostalgia factor is no joke, and everything is a strong reminder of the music from my childhood – not just the song itself, but also the B-boy influenced choreography, the aesthetic of the music video, and the historically accurate outfits. (Still a little curious about where the hockey look came from, but it fits in well.) Retro concepts can sometimes feel like people playing dress-up, but NCT U executed this one flawlessly. I was expecting another yet reminder of how old I’m becoming, but instead I got to take a fun trip down memory lane.

#15. “I’m in Trouble,” NU’EST

To absolutely no one’s surprise, another sophisticated sexy song appears high on my list. The fact that it’s from NU’EST, one of my favorite groups, makes it all the more excellent. “I’m in Trouble” is filled with subtle yet appealing elements, like the strumming guitar (or is it bass?) and the occasional attention-grabbing finger snaps. And while it sounds incredibly smooth, it also imparts a little bit of intrigue and tension. I love how the sense of trouble and danger is heavily built on in the music video, with the members appearing to play some kind of mafia game with real life consequences. It adds a nice layer of suspense to the song. One thing I love about NU’EST is that they’re high creative, and they put a lot of effort into making top-quality comebacks. They pay equal attention to all aspects of their releases – music and visual elements – and not a single part is ever lacking. While “I’m in Trouble” is not as aesthetically elaborate as some of their other recent releases (like “Bet Bet”), there are so many small details in the choreography and music video to unpack. You find something new every time you watch, and it’s like putting together a puzzle. I’m sad that “I’m in Trouble” was the only NU’EST song we got this year, but at least we got an amazing one.

#14. “Not Shy,” ITZY

ITZY’s only been around for two years, but I think it’s safe to say that anything they do is instantly iconic. Every song they’ve delivered so far has been an absolute bop. While “Not Shy” isn’t a complete concept change for them, it switches things up and helps keeps their music fresh. ITZY’s songs are always charismatic and packed with attitude, but the much jazzier arrangement of “Not Shy” pushes much more of their sassy side. While their choreography is still pretty dynamic, it adds a few softer movements like body rolls, waves, and grooving hip bounces to give it a different touch. And the daringly funky outfits are definitely their most memorable so far. While all of these elements show that ITZY has done an excellent job building this “fierce yet fun” persona, this idea is perhaps best reflected in their highly entertaining music video. At first, they appear to be fearless bandits pulling off an elaborate heist. But what are they stealing? Cake and pastries. This twist is hilarious, and I love it so much. All in all, “Not Shy” clearly shows why ITZY is appealing to so many people. And I’m obviously one of them, so you can bet I was hollering “ITZYYYYYY” during the chorus every single time.

#13. “Left & Right,” SEVENTEEN

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like “Left & Right” didn’t get the attention it deserved. I know SEVENTEEN is already an incredibly popular group, but I was expecting this to be a breakout hit that I would hear everywhere in South Korea, and that just didn’t happen. Which is a shame, because it totally should have been a contender for “Song of the Year.” (Speaking in terms of music, not sales or streams or fandom size or whatever.) It just has everything you need for an instant trendy classic – addictive melody, fun and easy to follow dance moves, and infectious energy. One reason I’m so drawn to “Left & Right” in particular is because SEVENTEEN just makes it so entertaining. They have a reputation as top-tier performers, and I always look forward to seeing what incredible dances they come up with. The choreography for “Left & Right” is significantly easier than all their other ones, but that simplicity allows you to realize that their technique is impeccable. More importantly, you can tell that they’re having the time of their lives onstage – which makes you want to join in the fun. Personally, I’ve never considered myself more than a casual follower of SEVENTEEN. Their songs are so good and they almost always make my end of the year lists, but I never found that one that drew me in and made me want to listen forever. Well, “Left & Right” was a total game changer. Consider me a fan.

#12. “I Can’t Stop Me,” TWICE

Now that TWICE is entering their veteran girl group stage, they have the creative freedom to try out different concepts. They’ve been testing the waters by slightly maturing their music over the past two years; when those songs were met with success, they tackled a dramatic retro song with zero cuteness in sight. And they killed it. “I Can’t Stop Me” talks about an internal conflict and fighting impulses to do something you shouldn’t, and it’s as much of a guilty pleasure as the name and lyrics imply. The epic quality of the synthwave really gives the chorus a frantic feel, like rushing headlong into something and not being able to hold back. And as always, everything visual about this comeback is highly satisfying – especially in the choreography. The hip bounces! The dramatic leg drop! I loved every second of it. Once upon a time, way back when TWICE was at peak cuteness and bubblegum pop, I worried that they would be stuck doing that forever and they’d never have the chance to grow. Now when I see them slay songs like “I Can’t Stop Me,” I can’t help but be incredibly proud of them. This one just missed my Top 10 because I liked TWICE’s other 2020 song more, but I still consider it a highlight of the year.

#11. “Love Killa,” Monsta X

I’ve spent this whole list talking about how much I love sexy and sophisticated songs. This section in particular is filled with them. But in my opinion, “Love Killa” is one of the best examples of them all. Monsta X’s image is so strong and manly, and they’re known for their aggressive go hard dance jams. So, it was such a pleasant surprise to see them completely change tacks. Everything about it is just so effortlessly smooth – especially the choreography – and I find that incredibly seductive. And I love how the music video has some classic film villain references. I picked up on The Dark Knight, Fight Club, American Psycho, and possibly Silence of the Lambs? It really drives the home idea that these men look like gentlemen, but you might be in danger if you fall for their charms. And you know who best embodies this concept? Hyungwon. That’s right: my beloved meme prince FINALLY GETS THE SPOTLIGHT. It’s like this song was tailor made for him – his slightly husky whispering voice is so appealing in the chorus, and he basically body rolls his way through the whole choreography. Practically impossible for me to resist. “Love Killa” was *this* close to making it into my Top 10, but it missed the cut because it was the most recent of the songs I was considering (aka I spent less time spent over it). But I know it’s a song I’ll still be addicted to long after 2020 is over.

SOURCES: YouTube, Cre.ker Entertainment (The Boyz), Cube Entertainment ((G)I-DLE), JYP Entertainment (ITZY and TWICE), Pledis Entertainment (NU’EST and SEVENTEEN), SM Entertainment (Super Junior D&E and NCT U), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X), and Yuehua Entertainment (EVERGLOW).
“La Di Da” music video distributed by Stone Music Entertainment.
NOTE: Big Hit Entertainment acquired Pledis Entertainment between NU’EST and SEVENTEEN’s comebacks. So while “Left & Right” is distributed by Big Hit Labels, “I’m in Trouble” is not.

Idols featured in the cover image are:
*Yuqi / (G)I-DLE / Cube Entertainment
*Jeno / NCT and NCT Dream / SM Entertainment (pictured here as a member of NCT U)
*Yuna / ITZY / JYP Entertainment
*Donghae / Super Junior / SM Entertainment (pictured here as a member of Super Junior D&E)
*Yiren / EVERGLOW / Yuehua Entertainment
*Hyungwon / Monsta X / Starship Entertainment

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