My Real Top 10 K-pop songs of 2018
I did a podcast where I made a list of my top 10 K-pop songs released in 2018. Due to the limits of what we were doing (covering a couple of top 100 lists and just those songs), I never really got to dig into the songs that weren't more popular or just had bad timing.
A couple notes before I get started:
- I'm limiting my Top 10 to one song per group - no such limitation for the honorable mentions
- The song must have been released in 2018, though it doesn't necessarily mean that I listened to it then
- You may notice a lack of boy groups on my list - there are a lot of good ones, but I tend to listen to girl groups much more.
- If your only comment for my list/honorable mentions is "I can't believe you didn't mention ____", then I have no interest in hearing it. There's only so much. I like and so much I can remember. It's these differences in opinions that make people interesting - I don't want homogeneity in opinions.
So, here is time to dig in and do my real Top 10 list:
Surprise surprise, Chungha is really good. You know exactly what the song is about without understanding any of the lyrics (except for "Roller Coaster", and then the rest falls into place).
But especially strong is the video. Sure, dancing in front of a rear-projection of an actual roller coaster is a little on the nose, but almost every shot in this video feels big and memorable. It would be so easy for the neon on dark backgrounds look to just not come out right, but they make it work for the whole video. I love listening to the song, but the video really sells it.
This is one of my favorite types of songs in K-pop: throw a bunch of genres in a blender and see what comes out. It's far from the best of those and not nearly as ambitious as some, but I couldn't stop listening to it over and over. It grows on you that way. Mimi's rap breaks are also more integrated into the song than you'll find in many - helps keep the energy up throughout the song.
Also, favorite shot of the video is what I call "the derpiest astronaut". It's wonderful.
I never felt like the "Velvet" side of Red Velvet quite clicked until this song. They managed it; they found the way to be smooth without being too slow or (dare I say) boring, which I found tended to be the case with their other velvety songs.
Before this video, I always kind of laughed when I saw people saying that Seulgi should be a solo artist. I didn't quite see it before, but this video alone made me flip completely. Between her charisma and the way she's filmed (that shot of her pointing the gun in particular), she's the star of this video.
Plus, if you like English versions of K-pop songs, here you go.
TWICE sure loves their movie reference videos, don't they? I love the video more than the song, but it's still a pretty solid song underneath. TWICE has a particular style, and if you like it, then you're going to like this, but I don't think it does a lot to appeal to anyone who doesn't already like them.
Also, for the record:
- Nayeon: The Princess Diaries
- Jeongyeon: Ghost
- Sana: Pulp Fiction
- Momo: La La Land
- Jihyo: Love Letter (also referenced in Cheer Up)
- Mina: La Boum
- Dahyun: What the hell, let's just make a commercial
- Chaeyoung: Leon/The Professional (also referenced in AOA's video for Get Out)
- Tzuyu: Romeo and Juliet
Sure, Latata is more fun and I'll talk more about it later, but this is (G)I-DLE (side note, this is the worst group name in K-pop, which is really saying something) putting a stake down that they're not just playing the typical pop music game. It's a little more balanced than Latata, giving everyone a chance to shine (though, as always, Soyeon gets and mostly deserves being central in it).
More than anything, this feels like this is the song they wanted to make. Latata is the song you do to make a splash - this is the one you make because you want to make it, and they pull off both while making it look easy.
So, your choreography includes a vampire attack, an attempted strangling, and a couple magic tricks? The video has some satanic rituals, a general horror/haunted house feel with some weird supernatural portals thrown in? And you have a hard rock/heavy metal sound to the song, too?
Yeah, Dreamcatcher is basically made to appeal straight to me specifically. I'm even willing to forgive the spider imagery in the video, and that's a more positive statement than anything else I've said about this song.
All this and it's not #1? Yeah, there was a lot of good in 2018.
Despite the unwieldy sub-unit name, this is basically what's left of Girls' Generation. Turns out, they're still some of the best in the business and have been around for more than a decade for a reason. Just try listening to this and seeing if you can keep this song from sticking in your head.
Also, they were so confident about this song (and no one wanted to have to do so) that they did none of the usual performances or promotion for this song, and yet it was still a bigger hit than Holiday/All Night from last year. When they're good, they're really good.
Yes, Pristin and Pristin V are gone now, but let's not focus on that. Looking at the group, I always had the feeling that you could basically cut the group into two different sounding halves, and this is almost exactly who I would've put into one of those groups, the dark one.
And it works. More than any other song on this list, I can't tell you why it works - sure, a sign of how much I have to learn about how to talk about music, but also something that I have to commend it for. It gets in my head, and every time I go back to it, I keep feeling like a fool for not giving this song all the praise it deserves (and then some).
I know most people prefer Bboom Bboom, and I hesitated with this song at first. Yes, they're basically the same song - there's little arguing on that point.
Baam feels like the more refined version of that song. They actually improved the dancing - as crazy complex and difficult as ever (if you don't believe me, pay close attention to that shuffle at the start), but still looks effortless. I could probably swap them back and forth just about forever, but give it to Baam by a nose.
I know that all a lot of people needed to know is that Solji is back after a nearly two-year hiatus. But that's far from all this song has going for it. The video is great in concept and execution - they had a bit too much of a wild night, and are trying to edit it all down to not remember the stupider things that they did. It's a great idea, and pulled off just about perfectly.
Then there's the song itself. I've had "Love you like la la la la la la la la la la la la love you" popping up in my head for months, a catchy chorus if I've heard one. Add in LE's always great rapping, some great uses of autotune, and as much energy as the crazy cheesy songs manage. This song takes #1 for a reason - it's just that good.
Sure, maybe it's hip-hop more than pop music, but it's still great. Not to mention Jay Park and Hoody, and all of a sudden I'm interested in a lot of different artists I wasn't familiar with before. Every time I think I might be overrating this song, I just listen to it again and realize no, I'm right to love it.
[Time for the Moon Night by Gfriend](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XyBa8QsVQU ￼)
Every now and then, Gfriend hits onto something that I love. I dismissed this song completely when it came out, but I'm glad I came back to it later.
Save Me, Save You by WJSN (Cosmic Girls)
What does it say that my favorite WJSN songs are when they're missing 3 members? Either way, they're pretty much getting that ethereal sound down that I almost never click with.
Loona didn't have their best year in 2018, even though that's when they finally debuted. Egoist was my favorite from 2018, with a perfect matchup of a weird, ethereal music video and a synth-heavy song that didn't rub me the wrong way like so many do.
It looks pretty clear that this was a testing ground for Cherry Bullet, but I love it anyway. The video game theme is a real winner, after all. Also, I see what you did with giving Yuna short blonde hair. We're not going to forget about Choa leaving, but you gave it a good try.
I don't think Mamamoo had that strong of a year last year, but this song was great, just barely missing my Top 10 list. They pretty perfectly fused together K-pop and Latin music, a great combination if you can get it to work.
They're popular for a reason. The song is great, the video is bizarre, and they act like a bunch of goofy idiots who don't take themselves too seriously. What's not to like?
This is Sunmi at her strangest. She's not a great dancer, but leans so far into her weird way of moving that I can't help but be really compelled by it. I mean, just watch this: it tells the whole story.
It was close between this and You and I, and that one gets the edge slightly. This one is heavier and thankfully lacks the spiders, but I gave it to You and I for the more memorable video and stronger rap break by Dami. They're still both great songs, and I wouldn't fault anyone who ranked this ahead of You and I.
Why is this a cheesy 80s infomercial? Who cares - it works. Does this rap break fit at all? Nope, but it works anyway. Is this song built around a meme the group rode to fame? Absolutely. This (and Baam) make it by Rule of Fun - you don't care about those things if you're too busy having fun with it.
This is just about the perfect debut song. Not as solid overall as Hann and maybe leaning a bit too much on Soyeon, but it's still an incredible debut.
This hits pretty much the same spot in my brain as Red Flavor. It's great, possibly has too much energy, but sometimes that's what you need. And possibly the best opening shot of any of these videos, plugging an audio cable into a pineapple because why not?
The lyrical choices are... bizarre, but this is TWICE being TWICE. I feel like there may have been a different song in here once, but they're doing what they do best, so I won't stop them.
IU is very hit and miss for me, but this is a strong hit. Gives me a similar feeling to Twenty-three, even if they're not really that similar, though that is still the better song.
With a Russian Roulette-ish video, a wall of bass drums, and extremely high energy chorus, why did it take me months to appreciate how good this song really is? Plus, Fromis_9 is the best bad name of just about any K-pop group - it's so stupid I have to love it.
Apparently, the Korean title of this song translates as roughly "Being pretty is a sin", and yet the lyrics are all about how pretty they are. This song is ridiculous in the best of ways.
[Side note: this, Love Bomb, and BBIBBI all came out on the same day. Why did I miss how awesome October was?]
What can I say? It's EXO, they're really damn good. Releasing this and Love Shot close to each other at the end of the year may not have been the best move, but I won't complain about a strategy that gets this song out of it.
The finger dancing. The song is incredibly catchy, but I can't stop watching because the finger dancing they do is great. I want to see more of that, please.