The more you get engrossed in K-Pop, the easier it is to forget that everything comes and goes quickly and such is for the same reason – everything indeed comes and goes quickly within this industry.
It is pretty tricky to find the right way to describe how this year went. At one point, 2016 felt like it picked up from the pace of its preceding year by being consistent. A lot of them were good (and great) yes, but nothing in particular shook the surface the way the genre did during its peak years.
On the other hand, K-Pop in 2016 can be on par with how messy 2014 went, especially for girl groups. We saw them falling one by one almost every damn time we refresh our feeds. Despite how surprising and unexpected these disbandment announcements are, we still go back to the notion that everything comes and goes quickly for K-Pop, no matter how prominent they could be.
But we’re not here to dwell over the many forms of demise that took place in that year. So here are 40 of great things that the ever-evolving K-Pop world gave us in 2016.
Similar to last year, most of these are title tracks as B-sides deserve their own shine.
40. Tiffany – I Just Wanna Dance
Promo drama aside, Tiffany’s first attempt to a solo career isn’t that bad at all. The retro-tinged urban pop number (which is clearly patterned from Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION, btw) is something that you would expect from this Cali girl and she handled the song with the right amount of personality so it deserves merit whether you like her or not.
39. Taeyeon – Why
This may not be the best cut on Taeyeon’s excellent second EP (the honor definitely belongs to B-side Hands on Me) but Why is the perfect way to show that the songstress is not just boxed on dramatic ballads. Why feels like of an expansion more than anything and this is necessary considering Taeyeon’s potential as a solo star post-SNSD.
38. WINNER – Baby, Baby
The best thing about Winner is they did not end up being a reductive version of Big Bang (unlike their counterpart) and this is manifested in Baby, Baby. The track sounds organic and raw to a point that you wouldn’t deem it as something that would come from YG.
More WINNER: Sentimental
37. LOOΠΔ | Haseul – Let Me In
LOOΠΔ is still set to debut but they’re already making waves with this solo track from member Haseul. The mystical vibe of “Let Me In” makes it a perfect accompanying track for anything that Studio Ghibli will be releasing in the future. If that ain’t good, I don’t know what is.
More LOONA: ViViD
36. Baek Ah Yeon – So-So
Among the tracks in this list, what makes So-So remarkable it its endearing relatability. Indulging on our innate self-doubt tendencies, So-So is a perfect anthem for hopeless romantics on the verge of giving up (don’t!).
35. Sandeul (B1A4) – Stay As You Are
Similar to So-So, Sandeul’s first solo effort also relies on its sincerity. From the singer’s first gasp as the song opens, his heartfelt and bittersweet plead to a lover that he has to let go radiates on top of the song’s serene and simple arrangement.
More B1A4: A Lie
34. G.Soul x San-E – Smooth Operator
Covering this Sade classic is an extremely tough challenge but for some reason, G.Soul makes it work to his advantage with his smooth and sultry delivery along with its deep house mix. San-E also delivers with his non-intrusive verses, adding a more K-Pop flair to the classic track.
More G.Soul: Where Do We Go From Here?
33. Dorothy – Purple Lips
Nugu group Dorothy almost fell off everybody’s radar because of the little to no promotion they got which is pretty unfortunate considering how strong their debut track is. Purple Lips feels like something Stellar and Nine Muses would do if they worked with Sweetune. That alone is a pretty great feat as anything that Sweetune works with becomes a instant classic.
32. GOT7 – Home Run
Of everything that GOT7 released this year, it is Home Run that stood above from the pack. GOT7 always had the capability mixing a saccharine tinge to their tracks without overdoing and “Home Run” proves it. It’s just sad to see them descend to something as atrocious as Hard Carry rather than taking advantage of their strengths (something that Seventeen has perfected to a T by now) to stay relevant but hey at least we still have Home Run.
More GOT7: Fly
31. Heize (featuring DΞΔN) – Shut Up and Groove
A huge chunk of this year’s music leaned towards groovy RnB ditties and this one is a perfect example of collaboration that meshed too well that it’s too good to pass on. Heize and featured artist Dean never overpower each other in Shut Up and Groove and this balance makes the song a delight.
THE TOP 30
30. Junggigo – Nocturne
The best thing about Junggigo’s return to the music scene is how he tips his hat off to the style of music that he’s been known for prior to his mainstream success. “Nocturne” is that Junggigo track that he’d release along with classics “Blind” and “Waterfalls”. It’s perfect for a night drive – slow, sensual, but never derivative.
More Junggigo: Hey Bae
29. Chocolate – Yoon Jong Shin ft. Seventeen (Vocal Unit)
This sweet 90s style ballad can easily fit in to any of the “Reply” drama installments and it’s that kind of nostalgic and earnest vibe (along with Seventeen’s youthful charms) that makes Chocolate really shine.
More Yoon Jong Shin: Empty City
28. Sunny Hill – On The Way Home
Sunny Hill’s latest effort is an addition to their recent songs which sheds light on the lives of young, working adults. “On The Way Home” reminds us that it is okay to take a step back when the world seems a little too fast-paced and retreat to a place where everything just seems to fall into place – our homes. Just disregard that scene in the MV where they look back at their careers, nobody’s buying that Sunny Hill!
27. Victon – I’m Fine
Rookie group Victon made the right choice to debut with “I’m Fine” because it sets them apart from the mold of boy group music that is usually gritty and aggressive. This song can easily be given to labelmates A Pink but a male version of K-Pop’s original guardian angels isn’t that bad either.
26. I.O.I – Very, Very, Very
JYP has a knack for making straightforward and irresistibly catchy pop tunes (early Wonder Girls, duh) and this one drives that point home. Unlike “Pick Me” wherein you have to get past the “WTF IS THIS” phase to appreciate its sheer magnificence, “Very, Very, Very” hooks you in as soon as the first swab of synth comes in.
More I.O.I: Whatta Man (Good Man)
25. VIXX – Dynamite
Of all the tracks VIXX released this year, “Dynamite” takes the lead due to its explosive funk and groove. Though it is reminiscent of Exo’s pop-funk gems “Love Me Right” and “Lucky One”, this song doesn’t feel reductive thanks to that sudden tempo change mid-song.
24. Zico – I am You, You are Me
Zico exploring newer territories in his discography is always a welcome change and he did a pretty great job with this quiet storm track. Without relying on another vocalist, he delivers the vocal chops needed in “I am You, You are Me” seamlessly while making sure he’d spit some good ol’ Zico rhymes. Guy can do it all.
23. Monsta X – All In
This song may have easily descended into your typical boy band swagfest but “All In” is redeemed with its interesting production particularly during the chorus. “All In” signals a new direction for the rookie group which might finally help them land a sound that they can call their own. Let’s just hope they don’t do another “Hero”.
22. Bada – Flower
The “Pretty Age (25)” for women idols 35 and up, Bada’s “Flower” is as refreshing and blooming as the title suggests. The EDM formula used in this song comfortably confines within K-Pop’s standards and that is by builds up twice before the songstress unfurls herself with loving proclamations of being her special someone’s “flower” – whatever that means.
More Bada: Amazing
21. BTS – Blood, Sweat, and Tears
2016 was an extremely great year for BTS and that level of success was magnified in “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” – a track that perfectly complements with how the then-struggling idol group stands in the industry now. The song is a perfect mix of everything that BTS has to offer which is further amplified by a puzzling and trippy music video. Indeed, all of these boy scouts’ blood, sweat, and tears finally paid off.
20. Brave Girls – Deepened
Deepened is one of those moments where Brave Brothers stepped out of the box and when they usually do, it yields excellent results just like this one. The song which sees the girls begging for their guy to love them harder is set over melancholic trap beats and a rap section that aims to impress.
More Brave Girls: High Heels
19. Sistar – I Like That
Sistar has developed a formula for snagging hits as seen in their run of successful single over the years. This time, they take every important bit from those songs and mashed them up which resulted to what is “I Like That” now. It has the playfulness of “Touch My Body”, the vivacity of “Shake It”, the melancholy of “Alone”, and the aggressiveness of “Give It To Me” which is also a quiet but effective way of showing doubters that the group is not just all booty-shaking summer smashes.
More Sistar – Love Like This (Hyorin)
18. WJSN/Cosmic Girls – Secret
I may have been one of the few who enjoyed WJSN’s debut tracks but I also agree with everyone who thinks that Secret is a great step for the group in terms of finding an identity that will set them apart from their contemporaries. “Secret” is as funky as a Nine Muses or Stellar track, as innocent and pure as a G-Friend or A Pink hit, and as cheeky as an Oh My Girl or Red Velvet song. Crossing those lines without sounding like an off-brand version of those other groups is what this song is trying to prove and the band did a pretty good job.
17. Snuper – Platonic Love
Sweetune quickly disappeared from the scene which baffled a lot of K-Pop stans (me) knowing that they are the source of some of the hits which define the genre. That is why it is good to know that a Sweetune production still exists within the confines of industry and one those rarities is nugu group Snuper’s “Platonic Love”. All the essentials are here – the hard-hitting drums, the 80s synths, the funky guitars, down to the insane layering. Sweetune lives!
More Snuper: You=Heaven
16. Unicorn – Blink Blink
The best way to describe Unicorn’s trippy “Blink Blink” is that it can be a fantastic b-side from a “Red” Red Velvet album that nobody knew existed. Other than that, there’s nothing to talk about this song, it’s a bop and a K-Pop treasure as it is and we’ll leave it at that. Oh, make sure to watch the video while listening to the song for a more pleasurable experience. You’re welcome.
More Unicorn: Sun Shower
15. Dalshabet – Someone Like U
A Brave Brothers production takes a fresh turn whenever they tap into two genres – the hip-hop/RnB route (aka Brave Girls’ Deepened) and when they go all-out 80s like this one. Someone Like U has the right amount of sass and groove to make it a perfect song about clapping back to a man that did them dirty.
More Dalshabet: Fri Sat Sun
14. NU’EST – Overcome
After being an “urban electro” pop band since their debut (whatever that means), NU’EST finally found a path wherein they can be mature and still retain that identity associated with them. This song’s strength lies in a highly innovative and dreamy RnB production featuring dubstep wubs and trap trills courtesy of producer Kye Bumzu. The song may seem a little busy on paper but with Overcome’s execution, every piece of melody is given the right time to shine.
More NU’EST: Love Paint (Every Afternoon)
13. Rainbow – Whoo!
Rainbow’s final bow may not be as strong as their all-time best “A” but they made sure that “Whoo” will follow the legacy left behind by their iconic hit. Whoo is basically A’s cheesy little sister who’s into chick flicks and bonding with girlfriends – it has the right combination of being saccharine and a little naughty at times, just like this great group. Rainbow will truly be missed.
More Rainbow: Click
12. SHINee – 1 of 1
Since its release, I have officially lauded SHINee’s “1 of 1” as the “I Feel You” of 2016. This is with regards to how committed is the song to the genre that it is trying to revive. The new jack swing in 1 of 1 is exactly how new jack swing is back in the 90s that you could even imagine it being added in MTV or VH1’s playlist roster in 1993. Just like I Feel You, there was no attempt to make it accessible to the modern audience which is a little risky sales-wise but still an attempt that should be lauded.
More SHINee: Tell Me What To Do
11. Seventeen – Pretty U
This song is a testament to how immersive the K-Pop experience is. As a song, “Pretty U” falls into familiar Seventeen territory with its lethal combination of funky pop and boyish charms. However, the song elevates further when you watch it being performed live. The synergy among the thirteen-member boy band as they stomp their feet, carry each other, read a book, and play with the goddamn magic sofa in a span of three minutes is extremely infectious. That ish is priceless.
10. Luna – Free Somebody
Luna’s solo debut was something that a huge lot of the K-Pop fandom wanted and thankfully, it is what we deserved. “Free Somebody” perfectly displays Luna’s strengths as a powerful singer and a fantastic dancer. In addition to that, the singer’s performance in this EDM track makes you feel her thirst and drive for this rare opportunity and that connection between the audience and the performer makes “Free Somebody” a far more enjoyable experience than what it is.
More Luna: Keep On Doin’
9. Akdong Musician – How People Move
This song may be a derivation from the pop/folk sound that AKMU has become popular with but it does not make it an inferior effort from the delightful sibling-duo. “How People Move” combines the right amount of funk and quirk which is a perfect backdrop for an introspective track on understanding and appreciating human vigor. With this, AKMU still remains to be the most interesting act to come from YG.
More AKMU: Re-Bye
8. Oh My Girl – Liar Liar
What’s great about “Liar Liar” is that it masks the underlying eerie performance of the group through the song’s upbeat and bouncy mood. Oh My Girl singing in an almost chanting high pitch makes the song’s theme a little more playful and a little left of field and what is Oh My Girl without a little quirk?
More Oh My Girl: Aing! (Listen to My Word)
7. Exo – Monster
This one hell of a song was released at the right time as the super group is almost about to hit a plateau, music-wise. At this point in Exo’s career where they keep on breaking records (most of those that they have personally set), they need something over-the-top and monstrous to keep the interest in them high and that is what Monster has exactly brought in. The song’s frenetic and intense production builds up perfectly and explodes at the right moments, allowing it to creep into your system just the way they wanted it.
6. Twice – TT
It is pretty established by now that the most infectious K-Pop confections this year came from Twice. Whether you are #teamCheerUp or #teamTT, all the songs that this rapidly growing group has released never fell off your radar and made you go “sha sha sha” or “I’m like TT, just like TT” whenever or wherever you are. Such inescapable hooks are reminiscent of the genre’s golden years and this is what makes Twice as one of modern K-Pop’s quintessential groups.
“TT”, however, takes a special mention because it cements the group’s signature sound that is built on the combination of older K-Pop’s appeal and the trends that dominate the genre currently. Who would’ve though that with “TT”, JYP has finally fulfilled the grand idea of a “YG SNSD” that YG actually planned out back then?
More Twice: Cheer Up
5. Red Velvet – Russian Roulette/One of These Nights
In this blog, Red Velvet has been set in a standard that is congruent with their concept. Any song from the quintet won’t make this list if the “Red” and the “Velvet” songs that they come out with are not equally awesome. Well, Red Velvet always delivers so it is no surprise that they snagged a pretty high rank here.
“Russian Roulette” is arguably their best “Red” single to date, blowing out last year’s bombastic singles “Dumb Dumb” and “Ice Cream Cake” out of the water. The fact that they have almost touched Perfume (and Nakata’s) level of electropop goodness in this song is reason enough to consider why Russian Roulette slays.
On the other hand, “One of These Nights” came out as a surprising “Velvet” release from the girls as this was not in line with their previous songs. The sheer bravery of releasing a slow burn of a ballad like OOTN is enough proof that Red Velvet is a group who is committed to their concept regardless of how public would react to it. Such is the making of some of K-Pop’s greatest K-pop groups.
4. Stellar – Sting
Sting is a triumph for everyone involved in this underappreciated hit. For producers Monotree, working with Stellar allowed them to find and develop a sound that breaks them free from Sweetune. It’s like a faction of Sweetune exploring and diving into more current music trends and that change is worth appreciating
As for the infamous quartet, Sting continues their narrative of surviving in this harsh industry. This is actually a good thing because no K-pop group can get more meta than Stellar and that’s what makes them unique. In this song, Stellar is seen reflecting as to whether everything that they have done over the past two years to become a household name is all worth it. They even reach to a point where they apologize to themselves as they may gone deep down the drain just to make it in this harsh industry. As to whether this is intentional or not, the raw emotion and struggle delivered in Sting makes it one of the best things to grace K-Pop this year.
More Stellar: Crying
3. Ga-In – Carnival (The Last Day)
The walls of pop music does not usually dwell on death at all but in K-Pop’s landscape, it is faced head on and with big band music and explosive fireworks to boot while we’re at it. This is the premise of Ga-In’s “Carnival (The Last Day) and by that alone, we can say how essential Ga-In has become in terms of pushing K-Pop from its limits.
More Ga-In: The Forest of the Fireflies
2. Oh My Girl – Windy Day
Windy Day is a statement from Oh My Girl. But it was one that was uttered with too much subtext that it can be deceiving at first spin. Windy Day opens up to a stereotype but lures you to a progression (that comes in three waves) to gracefully show you that this is not just some cookie-cutter pop song and Oh My Girl is not just some by-the-books girl group. If for anything, the best thing about Windy Day is looking forward to what song this group could release that will finally blow Windy Day away from the pedestal it is standing from now.
More Oh My Girl: One Step, Two Steps
1. Ladies’ Code – Galaxy
Considering the personal lives of Ladies’ Code is something that is inevitable when talking about Galaxy because it is highly embedded to their narrative, whichever angle you look at it from. Aside from that, it is from this story where Galaxy draws out its strengths.
The song is a masterclass in terms of transition and this not because they had to break away from the music that they made as five. Instead, it focuses more on finding a new strength through a different kind of melody which is something the group needed anyway. This is achieved through Monotree’s inventive production in Galaxy that features elements of RnB, dream pop, and even a slight nod back to their old, jazzy hits. The trio’s interpretation of star-crossed lovers longing for each other in the great unknown is also a great allusion to their situation. Tackling something as sensitive as Rise’s and Eun-B’s untimely demise is something that needs to be traversed carefully and this was considered well in Galaxy’s overall production.
Much like last year’s “4 Walls”, the overarching theme of resilience in Galaxy is something that is deliberately brought out as it is a story that needs to be told. It is such because Ladies’ Code’s journey in the industry is something that cannot be hyped by press tricks – it is raw, real, and inspirational and it came out the way it should be.
More Ladies’ Code: The Rain
That’s it! Lists like these are pretty subjective but this went through as much scrutiny as some other blogs would claim so trust me! Kidding aside, would love to hear your thoughts on this list and cheers to a better 2017 for K-Pop!