2018’s Top 5 K-pop songs

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Top 5 lists are pretty fun all around. For writers and reviewers, it’s always fun to talk about the things you love. For readers, it’s fun to find new gems and new things to disagree with.

I have one big scruple. I love to listen to and cover a lot of genres of music and it’s never felt right to compare all of them in the same breath. Comparing a metal album to a jazz album doesn’t feel fair to either genre. So I’m narrowing things down to the top 5 songs of one of my most-reviewed and listened to genres: k-pop.

I’m taking the Top 5 songs instead of albums because k-pop has an awkward relationship with albums. Artists often prefer mini-albums (EPs) and put re-releases and different language versions in their full albums, making albums trickier to rate. K-pop is one of the most commercialized genres in the world, meaning most artists focus on singles.

This Top 5 doesn’t reflect objective quality, it reflects what I look for out of K-pop: fun. These are all songs I’ve had a lot of fun listening to and think have clear merits, whether it’s clean composition, great vocals, a killer beat, or anything else. A lot of good songs won’t make the list. It’s been a big year for K-pop, definitely too big of a year to fit into a top 5 list. Let’s go!

1. First Sight by Heize

“First Sight” is a pure delight with a lot of depth. It starts off with a very delicate tone, a simple bass drum, a snap, a slow, high-pitched piano rhythm, and Heize’s smooth vocals. Then, the bass drum speeds up, the bass line comes in, the hook hits and the song unfolds into something really special.

Synthesizers, guitars, and dreamy vocal layering fade in and add a depth to the song without losing any of its smoothness. Not only does the song gear up, but it also changes rhythm, at one point leaping out into a jazzy duel between the bass and the piano that is a gorgeous blend of high-and low-pitched sounds. Then, before you know it, it’s over and you want more.

2. Into the Rhythm by Taemin

If you’re talking about pure fun, there’s no leaving Taemin out of the discussion. Taemin’s new self-titled album is a blast most of the way through and “Into the Rhythm” had me dancing more than any other k-pop song. “Into the Rhythm” is also one of k-pop’s best-composed songs.

The bridge, the hooks, the chorus, all blend together seamlessly and take advantage of Taemin’s smooth vocal style. A lot of the instrumental elements are simple but super fun and effective, full of snaps, claps, whoops, a twangy guitar, and a rumbling bass line. It uses gradual vocal layering and EDM builds and drops to make for a great build throughout the song and one of my favorite hooks this year.

3. Instagram by DEAN

DEAN is K-pop’s foremost mercenary. Acts all across Korea’s music scene hire this man when they need his soulful R&B vocals to bump up their track. DEAN can be seen featured on tons of songs as a singer and producer, but he can do just fine on his own. This year, he did better than fine.

Instagram” is simple, sad, and effective. It’s a no-frills song in a genre that often has way too many frills. The instrumentation is crisp and interesting, the samples are fun, and the vocals and lyrics are fantastic.

4. Daydream by j-hope

J-hope’s “Daydream” has a lot in common with “First Sight” and it’s a big part of why I like it. It has a great blend of highs and lows – light tambourine jingles over heavy bass grooves, plus synths to fill every gap in between. It has a lot going on inside the track without doing too much. J-hope’s vocals and rapping are smooth and proficient, made all the better by vocal layering and echo effects. This is one of the crispest songs in k-pop while also being one of the best-rapped and dreamiest songs in k-pop.

5. Dally by HYOLYN

Dally” is one of the sexiest break-up songs out there. It’s also one of the most realistic and healthy break-up songs out there. The lyrics focus on growing apart and recognizing the need to move on because the relationship can’t realistically be sustained. Given how sexy the song and video is, this would be easy to miss.

Even if you miss the message, “Dally” is still dynamite. The vocals are rich and unique because HYOLYN’s voice is thicker than most k-pop singers’ and she likes to let it waver over notes. The beat is super snappy and has a really nice drop into a low rhythm during the chorus. GRAY adds a lot as a guest rapper and everything comes together so well. The song has no weaknesses and a lot of strengths.

Honorable mentions:

POP/STARS” by K/DA
Hobgoblin” by CLC
DDU-DU DD-DU” by BLACKPINK
ONE SHOT TWO SHOT” by BoA
Lower” by Amber and Luna
Egotistic” by MAMAMOO
Lo Siento” by SUPER JUNIOR
Idol” by BTS

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