the k-pop top 40 of 2020

K-Pop’s contribution to South Korea’s soft power became more apparent this year. In a time when almost everyone is stuck to their screens, it’s impossible to miss out on anything Hallyu. This is especially true for K-Pop whose presence is mainly driven by social media and its fandoms – to a point where a viral tweet would not be complete without, say, a Loona fancam.

For a world that is currently held back by an invisible enemy, K-Pop is indeed thriving whether we like it or not. It’s astounding for me personally to see people in my social circles vibin’ to what I’ve been listening for more than a decade now. About time, ha!

I guess that’s enough paragraphs to get us going, so here’s 40 of my favorite tracks from what I would like to call the “Britta” of years (s/o to those who get the reference).

Oh wait, this list covers title tracks mostly from idol groups and solo acts like how it has been for years now. Just for context, yknow.

BUBBLING UNDER

40. Good Guy | SF9 – After an extremely “meh” 2019, the boys of SF9 finally retreated to the style that fits them best – chic and suave.
More SF9: Summer Breeze

39. 1 Billion Views (feat. MOON) | EXO-SC – This sub-unit seems to be the current remnants of the EXOplanet so it’s nice to see them still inject EXO’s signature RnB sound to match with what’s “trendy” in pop music nowadays.
More EXO: Let’s Love (Suho), Candy (Baekhyun), Mmmh (Kai)

38. Wanna Be Myself | Mamamoo – This is probably one of the few recent releases from Mamamoo that OP thoroughly enjoyed as it brings back the group from 2014 that had this mature, sophisticated vibe. Maybe it’s time to hand over what they’re pulling off now to the maknae and go back to basics? 
More Mamamoo: Dingga, Aya

37. The Girls Running on the Sanmagiyet-gil | Weki Meki – How random is it that a promotional song for a literal hiking trail turns out to be one of their finest singles? This Weki Meki-meets-Perfume sound is something they should definitely explore moving forward as this could be the one that would set them apart from the rest.
More Weki Meki: Oopsy, Cool

36. Bon Voyage | YooA (Oh My Girl) – It’s quite sad to see Oh My Girl drop their left-of-field releases to a more mainstream one but as a Miracle, it’s nice to see them gain success nonstop (get it?). That’s why it’s a relief to see their first solo act to tap into this kind of concept. While it’s not what you would expect from a YooA release, this worldbeat meets K-Pop moment reminds us of the scope of music the group can pull off and experiment with.
More Oh My Girl: Nonstop, Dolphin

35. Feel Good (Secret Code) | fromis_9 – Fine, fresh, fierce – the girls of fromis_9 got it all on lock. What’s there to complain about a straightforward summer bop that works?

34. Tag Me (@Me) | Weeekly – Finally, a group that can continue the consistency that APink kept for so long! Here’s hoping that Play M does the same strategy for Weeekly as it would definitely benefit them in the future.
More Weeekly: Zig Zag

33. We Ride | Brave Girls – The ever-resilient Brave Girls joins pop’s recent obsession with newtro through a citypop track ala Brave Brothers style. If this is their curtain call (which kinda looks like it), at least they ended on a high note. 

32. ASSA | Cignature – Thanks to an insanely catchy guitar riff and a satisfying beat drop, this second half of Cignature’s debut gave a twist to the saturated “girl crush” (hate this word) concept they’re going for. It would be nice to find a distinguishing sound though because this style tends to get old fast.
More Cignature: Nun Nu Nan Na, Arisong

31. Life Sucks | HA:TFELT – One of the most harrowing songs released in K-Pop solely because of how real and deep it goes. The former Wonder Girl really flipped off fun and games there and aired some dirty, nasty laundry.
More HA:TFELT: La Luna

THE TOP 30

30. Villain | Stella Jang – It’s a shame that OP just hopped on the Stella Jang train recently when she has been serving bops for years now. This existentialist, anti-hero theme is a prime example of the quirky, off-beat that I’m/we’re all sleeping on.

29. Make a Wish (Birthday Song) | NCT U – While nothing revolutionary when compared to the previous tracks of this supergroup and its clusters, Make A Wish gets credit for being the sultriest and trippiest birthday song ever…at the same time.
More NCT: 90s Love, Work It, Deja Vu, From Home

28. Love Me Harder | Woodz – There’s not a lot of male solo acts in K-Pop in recent memory so acts like Woodz (from the brilliant UNIQ) taking up some space is always welcome. What’s even better is he brought with him some a solid tune like Love Me Harder so we are definitely not complaining. I guess the ladies just really bring it but that’s for a different time.
More WOODZ: Bump Bump

27. Left and Right | Seventeen – This mega group is at their best when they mix their military-like precision with the boy-next-door charm that they started with. Left and Right is one of their tracks that meets this balance.
More Seventeen: Home;Run

26. Retro Love | BOYHOOD – Riding the newtro trend this year, BOYHOOD offers a little a-ha meets After Hours moment with the infectious Retro Love. Again, another male solo act worth checking out!  

25. angel | OnlyOneOf – A summer-ready jam, angel tips its hat off to one of K-Pop’s finest moments with deep house which is SHINee’s View. 
More OnlyOneOf: A sOng Of ice & fire

24. Teddy Bear | Natty – She’s just getting started but Natty’s already a cut above her contemporaries with tracks like Teddy Bear which combines quirkiness and commercial appeal seamlessly. Props to the solid Tracy Chapman sample!
More Natty: Nineteen

23. pporappippam | Sunmi – Sunmi returns to form with one her strongest singles since Heroine. This could work as a track from a repackage of Reboot which tells you of the level that she’s treading on this one.

22. Stay Tonight | Chungha – Serving face, body, and vogue, Chungha gets tens across the board with Stay Tonight. Her transformation to a full-fledged K-Pop diva from the newer generation is almost there
More Chungha: Play

21. Naughty | Red Velvet Irene and Seulgi – If there’s one thing to say about Naughty, it is that it should’ve been the foundation of this sub-unit’s debut. It’s unfortunate that this track has been relegated to a follow-up single when the strongest performers from Red Velvet are pushing their limits here. Sis deserved that promo!
More Red Velvet I&S: Monster

20. Hop In (feat. Hwasa and DPR Live) | Uhm Jung Hwa – This K-Pop legend really knows how to shake up the game right when it is about to come to a close. Combining industrial and new jack swing with sultry jazz, Uhm Jung Hwa once again shows the kids how it’s done.

19. Maria | Hwasa – At this point, Hwasa has already perfected by herself what her main group is trying to pull off recently. That’s not to put down their efforts though, it’s just that this kind of vibe and sound really fits her to a T.

18. No Mercy | CSVC – If you are going for a concept that throws it back to the good ol’ days, why not do one that’s closer to home? CSVC really went in deep with the retro by channeling first gen K-Pop from the song, the choreo, the MV right down to the delivery. Now that’s how you pay tribute to those who definitively “paved the way”.

17. Soul Lady | Yukika – One of her most personal records, Soul Lady tells the story of Yukika finding her confidence to pursue her dreams in a foreign land in a way that also pays tribute to where she’s from. The citypop goddess may have part ways with the agency that started the whole Soul Lady movement, but her impact as the frontrunner of citypop in K-Pop will be engraved in our collective memory.
More Yukika: Yesterday

16. Hands Up | Cherry Bullet – This relatively new group really struck gold with this one thanks to that tight Beethoven sample. Hands Up is indeed one of the coolest things that have come out of K-Pop that for some reason, everybody seemed to forget. I can’t wait till they come up with a song that samples The Flight of the Bumblebee!

15. So Bad | STAYC – Leave it to Black Eyed Pilseung to come up with a track that knows how to keep up with the times while carving a signature sound that still makes them stand out from the pack. STAYC is definitely one of the newer acts to look forward to and with a debut like So Bad which is so good, they’re off to a great start. A great, great start.

14. Zombie | Day6 – If this isn’t the anthem of every single one of us trying to make it through despite the uncertainties. This song is a reminder of recognizing of one’s struggles in your own terms while offering a reassurance that better days are ahead.
More Day6: Even of Day

13. God’s Menu | Stray Kids – On surface, God’s Menu may seem like your run-of-the-mill boygroup fare – blaring sirens, heavy trap beats, the insatiable need to sound intense…and nobody’s denying that. What makes this song a little more special though lies in its great amount of camp. From the whole Cooking Master Boy theme, comparing themselves to special sauces, or five-star Michelin restaurants, it’s the most irreverent way to flex. And when K-pop dials up its camp, it’s at its optimal capacity.
More Stray Kids: Back Door

12. Criminal | Taemin – Another year, another chance to display why Taemin reigns supreme. It’s basically pointless at this point to contest why he’s the one to beat.
More Taemin: Idea

11. Wannabe | ITZY – There’s always an apprehension from the folks here (aka me) when it comes to ITZY’s music and concept because it’s the kind that gets stretched out easily, imo. With that being said, Wannabe offers a different take to their signature sound by injecting some good ol’ pop rock here and there. Now we wait for their next move.
More ITZY: Not Shy

10. The Answer | AB6IX – This one takes the “you can’t bring a good song down” crown for 2020. And that’s the answer.

09. The Stealer | The Boyz – The strong influence of Exo’s Tempo in the Stealer is a steer in the right direction for this rising group as they try to explore a more mature sound. Here’s to hoping for more left-of-field releases from them. Also, yes, Tempo is a K-Pop classic.
More The Boyz: Reveal

08. eight (feat. Suga) | IU – Everything IU touches becomes gold and this is no exception. What makes it even more special is how this serves a love letter to her friends who deserved better. Eight, in a way, is also a reminder to be more considerate and supportive of the people we view from our screens because they are also humans as we are. A lesson that needs to be reiterated in this industry driven by “fans” or for the lack of a better term – idol worship.

07. Apple | GFriend – Honestly, GFriend switching up their sound again is a surprise because we all saw how they hurriedly reverted to their trademark style after Fingertip (despite being iconic). But with a change as amazing as this one, a more mature (and perhaps sultrier) GFriend is definitely most welcome. The overall production with its subdued sensuality makes Apple one of their most enchanting releases yet.
More GFriend: MAGO

06. Boca | Dreamcatcher – If there’s a K-Pop group that is a master class on how to update their sound without totally “selling out”, it’s Dreamcatcher. A LOT of groups can learn from them because Boca, at the end of the day, is a hundred percent Dreamcatcher to the core. Plus points to its message which clocks them bocas that can’t shut it when need be.
More Dreamcatcher: Scream

05. LA DI DA | Everglow – The amount of shock and jaws that dropped when Everglow dropped this one hell of a banger. This is indeed the biggest glow up for a K-Pop group this year and that says a lot – especially for this group!! Especially Everglow!!!! That’s about it, a round of applause, congratulations, and good fckn job!
More Everglow: Dun Dun

04. LALALILALA | April – 2018’s Oh My Mistake may have set up a bar way too high to reach but the intergalactic magnificence and euphoria brought about by the gorgeous LALALILALA makes it a worthy follow-up…despite the two-year delay. What could’ve become of April if this was released a little earlier???
More April:  Now or Never

03. Dumhdurum | Apink – Nothing to see here, just APink continuing with their musical evolution while still allowing the old APink to come to the phone once in a while. It’s the way that the group still manages to stand out despite the saturated competition for me. 
More APink: Bird (Namjoo), Away (Eunji)

02. Oh My God | (G)I-DLE – There’s a bit of almost every (G)-IDLE single in this song. You hear Senorita in the verses, LATATA in the build up, Uh-Oh in the rap break, the whole song’s mood is clearly inspired by HANN, and the production shares the fierce sparseness of Lion. If anything, this is a display of their scope as a group while still providing allowance for experimentation…and it works.
More (G)-IDLE: DumDaDi

01. Fiesta | IZ*ONE – Much like any other group that came out of the totally fair and just Produce series, IZ*ONE’s biggest enemy is not chart positions, not album sales, heck it’s not even their other contemporaries. They are up against time. This is especially true for IZ*ONE who was fortunate enough to bounce back despite the backlash caused by the pag that was pulled!

IZ*ONE is by far the most consistent in terms of music out of all the Produce groups, bar none. The way they tread the thin line between saccharine and adrenaline is incredible. You can see it in their MVs, their choreography (the way the always go hard but still look so delicate and graceful is a sight to behold), and most especially their songs.

What Fiesta does is it seals that duplicity that they have started with La Vie En Rose and Violeta and made it their own. It’s IZ*ONE’s from now on. It’s how they roll. And for a group with barely two years to operate, that is a huge, huge feat which makes Fiesta a roaring success and this blog’s song of the year!! 
More IZ*ONE: Secret Story of the Swan, Panorama

And that’s on periodt, bitches! Here’s a Spotify playlist where you can follow the entries in descending order for your listening pleasure:

Lemme know your thoughts by dropping a comment. Remember these are personal picks so don’t be salty if your faves didn’t make the cut as this is a scope of what I’ve listened this year. We don’t need that kind of stans here, Twitter exists for a reason!

Featured image: Screengrab from When IZ your BLOOMing moment? (Youtube)

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