2019 is a pretty special year for me as a K-Pop fan. Much like the iconic bops that have turned 10 this year, it’s been a decade since I started listening to this pop music I barely understand. I’m from the Philippines, so our gateway to K-Pop is Nobody by the Wonder Girls. Then Dara (the artist formerly known as Sandara Park) and 2NE1 happened; Girls’ Generation blessed us with Tell Me Your Wish; Super Junior kept saying Sorry, Sorry and so on.
Fast forward to 2019 and I’m still here – up to date with groups that come and go and enjoying all the jams that come my way. It has been a fun ride and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. Heck, with the exception of a few, mainstream pop from elsewhere but Asia is reductive to me at this point.
But that’s just how I see and consume the genre. The K-Pop industry experienced a different level of turbulence in 2019, at least from what I have witnessed from the last ten years. This could be because K-Pop is constantly gaining worldwide attention that its peculiarities are being zoomed in and discussed more frequently. I would argue that in the greater scheme of things, K-Pop is no different from other music industries around the globe aka under the rule of a bigger capitalist narrative, but I digress. What a mess 2019 was, wtf?
One thing is clear for me though: based on all the hullabaloo this year, there is little to limited to no progress in the improvement of the working conditions for artists. The repercussions of such have spilled over to older acts and moving forward, I hope we don’t see the same effect impacting current and upcoming idol groups in the industry.
It sounds idealistic but the change in the K-Pop world must come from within and that resistance is not easy to pull off and farfetched as of now, honestly. The most we can do as fans and spectators is provide positive encouragement in whatever they put out as much as possible. For my part, I’ve compiled 40 tracks from 2019 to help us focus in celebrating their hardwork rather than pinning them down based on trivial circumstances.
40. WJSN | Boogie Up – The K-Pop world is devoid of a representative summer group ever since Sistar called it quits. While Red Velvet may have done a pretty okay job in filling the gap with their great summer singles, Sistar’s former labelmates may give them a run for their money with the fresh and bouncy Boogie Up.
More WJSN: As You Wish, La La Love
39. ONEUS | Lit – ONEUS continues to prove that they are one of the newer groups to watch out for with this rad fusion of oriental music and good ol’ K-Pop charm. Plus, the modernized hanboks they donned in the MV are everything!
More ONEUS: Valkyrie, Twilight
38. N.Flying | Rooftop – A standard pop-rock song written with tons of heart and sincerity, this song deserved to reach the top and give the long overdue shine for N.Flying.
More N.Flying: It’s Fine
37. Stray Kids | Side Effects – This hypnotic and bratty single from JYP’s newer acts finally gives them an edge from their contemporaries. You don’t hear a group talking about natural human activity (migraine) ever since Lovelyz glamorously sneezed in Ah-Choo so that’s a plus.
More Stray Kids: Miroh, Double Knot
36. Woosung | Face – Male soloists are not as prominent recently so to see acts like Woosung and Lim Jimin are refreshing because Taemin can’t do it alone. It’s also satisfying to see the lead of The Rose steer away from the sound of his group and have his Gwen Stefani moment with this sleek bop about delicious faces, mhmm.
More Woosung: Beautiful Girl
35. Dreamcatcher | And there was no one left – Ever since transitioning into Dreamcatcher, the group has created a sound no other group has dared which is actually perfect. However, seeing them dial down here in this track displayed some versatility which they don’t actually need but will always come in handy.
34. Lim Jimin | Loveholic – While the likes of Woosung and Taemin go towards the sensual, gender-fluid realness in their solos, we have Lim Jimin entering the scene with an ideal boy-next-door charm that is mature enough to be not dismissed as an attempt for pure saccharine (which isn’t a bad thing, btw). His next single isn’t in the similar vibe as Loveholic but I hope he comes back with a more vibrant style.
More Lim Jimin: Who, You?
33. DJ HYO | Badster – Hyoyeon continues her amazing streak of singles as her alter-ego with this rave-ready bop. Who needs to get high when you can be a Badster??
32. Chen (EXO) | Beautiful Goodbye – Chen debuting as a ballad singer is as predictable as IU killing the charts. What’s less predictable is Beautiful Goodbye which takes a more stripped down, unplugged approach to lamenting over a breakup rather than an OST-sounding torch song. The result? Korean men crying on Chen’s shoulder and breakups being moved to April for full effect.
More Chen: Shall We?
31. JUS2 | Focus on Me – Sparse and dreamy, GOT7 should consider this kind of sound for their succeeding comebacks because in all honesty (no tea, no shade), this sub-unit effort is more memorable that the main group’s singles this year.
More GOT7: Eclipse, Call Me By Your Name
THE TOP 30
30. GWSN | Pinky Star (RUN) – GWSN continues their brand of whimsical deep house jams with Pinky Star (RUN) which is a more grating versionof their debut. I’m not complaining though.
More GWSN: Red Sun (021)
29. Jo Jung Min | Ready Q – One of my best discoveries this year is the diva Jo Jung Min and her telenovela pop-inspired album “Drama”. Ready Q is a master class in kitsch and a reminder of how newer K-Pop songs and groups should not hold back on being campy and fun. Y’all so serious now, kids!!
28. BTS x Halsey | Boy with Luv – It’s commendable how BTS remains to be a straight up idol group even though they are on a more global scale now. This started with IDOL last year and is now followed by Boy with Luv which is gushing with adorable boy band charm that would’ve been dismissed years back, lbr.
More BTS: Make It Right
27. EXO | Obsession – Another supergroup remaining faithful to their brand is EXO. Obsession reminds us that this group is not shy in experimenting with their sound and image, despite the team being literally cut in half.
More EXO: What a Life
26. Pentagon | Humph! – It’s really unfortunate how Pentagon was not able to fully take off after Shine because of some events (not blaming any of the parties involved though) but with Humph!, they have shown once again how much of a potential they really have. Perhaps, a little more push and rebranding from Cube or a second wind via a rigged reality show?
More Pentagon: Sha La La
25. Sulli† | Goblin – This track sees one of the bravest personalities in K-Pop baring all of her in a song with a nod to her former group’s left-of-field edge. Sulli fought until the end and now she will be soaring without any prejudice that she didn’t deserve to begin with. Much love to you, Choi Jinri.
24. DALsoobin | Katchup – The true landmark of a solo act in K-Pop is being able to carve a sound that is distinguishable from their main group. Soobin has repeatedly proven this with her singles and continues to do so with the clever and obscure Katchup.
23. Hwa Sa | TWIT – Of all the attempts of Mamamoo to be on trend since they hit daebak, it’s clear that they did it right with this solo effort member sassy member Hwa Sa. What can I do, I prefer the “Ahh Oop” kind of Mamamoo than the “gogobebe” one.
More Mamamoo: HIP
22. Hyomin | Allure – Hyomin is another gone-solo idol with an interesting repertoire. From the man-bashing and beacon of pun excellence ManGO, she returned to the scene with the quirky Allure which is basically about flexing her alluring mouth corners. Queen of smirking!!!
More Hyomin: U Um U Um
21. ITZY | Dalla Dalla – A strong group debut from JYP, what makes ITZY and Dalla Dalla work is their clear distinction with their labelmates which is reminiscent of how SM’s Girls’ Generation and f(x) were able to coexist and still be successful in their respective way. This kind of sound can get unsustainable though, so I hope ITZY finds more variety later on.
More ITZY: Icy
20. Chung Ha | Snapping – The only act from IOI with authentic success (oops) may have found her breakthrough in Gotta Go but it is with Snapping where she fully established herself as one of formidable solo acts from the newer generation. With a little dash of inspiration from BoA, this girl has indeed snapped.
More Chungha: Gotta Go
19. Bada | Off the Record – Bada easily blends in with the modern K-Pop crowd with this RnB joint and effortlessly shows the kids how it’s really done.
18. DAY6 | Time of Our Life – DAY6 continues their series of celebrating young blood with this power pop track that captures how beautiful and exciting it is to be young and why it should be important to live in the now.
More DAY6: Sweet Chaos
17. Red Velvet | Psycho – Tipping its hat off the successful “Bad Boy”, Red Velvet closes this year and in a way that only they could pull off. However, doing things in standard RV fashion means they should push the envelope further and this era just sees them holding on tight to what they do best. Here’s to a more exciting 2020 for Red Velvet – like 2017 exciting yes.
16. CAMILA | Take Me Home – Camila may have been gone by the midnight too soon but at least they left us with Take Me Home with its sultriness and class reminiscent of the greats that never made it.
15. VERIVERY | Ring Ring Ring – With this group finding their sound this early in their career, VeriVery is indeed one of the standout debuts to grace the industry this year.
More VERIVERY: From Now, Tag Tag Tag
14. DIA | Woowa – As more K-Pop acts target a global sound, it is refreshing to see acts like DiA still rally behind the brand of camp that makes K-Pop an enjoyable experience. And this was released after they ripped off Tinashe, so y’all gotta give props to their dedication.
13. KNK | Sunset – This year’s pulsating and sensual boy group bop is courtesy of KNK and I bet they will drop this in favor of a more standard BG comeback until another group picks it up (hello, SF9!). Boy groups should not be allergic and be more committed to this concept, it’s a great way to stand out!
12. Weki Meki | Picky Picky –WekiMeki is one of those newer groups that needed to find a concept they can call their own and this track may be the middle ground they are looking for. It has the right amount of cute, feisty, and quirky that they used to dial way up all together when they started.
More Weki Meki: Tiki Taka (99%)
11. IZ*ONE | Violeta – While this one is a little more pumped than last year’s gorgeous La Vie En Rose, Violeta is still right up IZ*ONE’s alley of delicate and divine. Kudos to their management for building a distinctive image – the only post-Produce group to do so, really. Now let’s get that new comeback!
10. TXT | Crown – To be in the same agency as the biggest K-Pop act of this era is a lot of pressure but TXT has managed to break free with their debut. While Crown feels like a more polished BTS sound, it still brims with fresh energy which can set them apart for a good amount of time. A little more steering I their direction from BH and TXT can definitely carve their own path minus the comparisons.
More TXT: Blue Orangeade, Run Away
9. Taeyeon | Four Seasons – The ever-versatile kid leader takes another form with Four Seasons, a harrowing and beautifully written song on a love that is pure but fleeting, much like the seasons.
More Taeyeon: Spark
8. NCT 127 | Superhuman – Brimming with big SHINee energy, Superhuman is a departure from the trap-heavy sound of the 127 unit and basically all the NCT units. A welcome and necessary change of course, as the songs from this group tend to be interchangeable with their other variations.
More NCT: Boom
7. NATURE | I’m So Pretty – NATURE may be like other struggling groups who hop from one concept to another for a hit but if they plan to stage another comeback, they should consider coming back to what they did with I’m So Pretty. It’s fusion of salsa, jazz, and classic K-Pop is a great takeoff to last year’s Some (You’ll Be Mine). This is it – stick to this one, girlies!
More NATURE: Oopsie, My Bad
6. (G)I-DLE | Senorita – A little more subdued compared to their other releases, it is for the same reason why Senorita works especially if you look at where this group is now in their career. It gives the variation that will favor them in the long run as it is proof that they can pull off tracks that do not necessarily rely on what’s hot right now.
More (G)I-DLE: Uh Oh
5. Taemin | Want – There is no doubt that Taemin has perfected and owned this kind of sound and concept. Want is a big statement to this – it’s his and while others can try, it will not look good. An invisible K-Pop copyright of some sorts and that is a rare feat to achieve. He might as well apply for the real thing to save everyone else from embarrassment.
4. Yukika | Neon – If the Plastic Love sample is not enough, then picture this: It’s a Korean song performed by a Japanese artist in a genre that originated from where she was born. Of all the genres that K-Pop has been inspired with, it’s about time its gaze turned towards city pop and it’s nice to have someone like Yukika lead this revolution.
More Yukika: Cherry Jubiles
3. CLC | No – I hate throwing the term “girl crush” because it has the tendency to be reductive but if you are talking about empowered ladies doing pop, then this is probably how it should be. It sounds current but is still a little left-of-field and most importantly, is not afraid to take that risk. Plus, it is penned by women if you wanna be more progressive.
More CLC: Me, Devil
2. Apink | %% (Eung Eung) – In retrospect, this transitory phase from APink since last year is interesting because it is sort of…strategic? They’ve held on to a concept that worked for so long and milked the hell out of it until they can. However, it has reached its breaking point and the need to take the next step is urgent (especially that they are seven years into their career). What makes the last two Apink singles impressive is despite the obvious change, the essence of what made the group popular and beloved is still intact. It’s really still Apink at the end of the day – they just matured and the glow up was good, girl!
1. TWICE | Fancy – Twice this year has quite the similar situation to Apink but a little trickier. The former doesn’t have that much luxury of holding on to a concept until its last drop probably because the game is way too saturated now. Thus, Twice swerving lanes came sooner than possible and they have pulled off this critical point with careful precision through Fancy. The song stands at the fine line between the classic and more grown-up image of the group. It doesn’t take a side, rather it embraces both. As a result, Fancy doesn’t come off as forced and is a solid turning point for the group as they explore becoming more versatile without the risk of alienating their core audience. SNSD executed this well a few years back with The Boys and since the comparisons are already there, Twice may be able to pull the same thing too because of Fancy.
And here’s the complete playlist (Youtube Music is everything) for your perusal and enjoyment, and whatnot. May 2020 be a great year for K-Pop!
Do you agree with the list? Let me know what other tracks you think should have made this list down in the comments, I’m willing to argue LOL.