It’s time to countdown my top 100 songs of 2020! 10 songs, everyday, for the next 10 days. The rules for the countdown are as follows:
- To be eligible for this list, the song must have been released between the 1st of January 2020 and 15th December 2020.
- Song must be paired with a full music video and be promoted to some extent.
- Performance video’s (Gfriend’s Labyrinth and ONF’s New World) will unfortunately not be considered for the singles list and will make their appearance in the Top 100 B-sides of the year list.
- Songs must be by a Korean artist and be in either Korean or English (Japanese / Chinese singles will get their own seperate countdown)
- And finally, this is all just my opinion. There is much bias to be found and if you’re unhappy with any of the placements, just remember that this is not meant to be a purely objective list.
For your viewing pleasure:
10. DRIPPIN – Nostalgia (review)
A momentous debut effort from Woolim entertainment’s Drippin, Nostalgia harkens back to the exhilarating dance pop of ages past to create a stunning first impression. Driven by a healthy dose of slap bass and some really riveting synth and percussion work, Nostalgia knows how to play to its strengths. It creates a near fantastical soundscape, elevating an already strong melodic base with some really fantastic production flourishes and vocal harmonies for days. It’s a sound reminiscent of many a great pop group and lives up to its name with a surging two part chorus that feels nostalgic in the best way possible. It is this sense of familiarity that actually allows the tracks more youthful and modern elements to really shine, namely the truly invigorating dance break. If you want to make a great first impression, this is how you do it.
9. Golden Child – One (Lucid Dream) (review)
After two strong attempts at a darker soundscape, Golden Child and BLSSD finally perfected their formula with the uniquely structured and texturally satisfying One (Lucid Dream). When it comes to a great dark concept, it has to either have a monster chorus or really standout production wise. And while One does have a very strong hook, I think the latter is where the track really shines. It’s a track just bursting with ideas (including a brilliant daft punk inspired breakdown), knowing exactly how to space out each segment to fully maximise its impact and squeeze out every last drop of talent from its performers. And this really comes through in the final product. Golden Child sound absolutely immaculate here, imbuing every moment of One with incredible pathos. The pre-chorus is a great example of this, allowing members Y and Joochan to show of their vocal expertise during a moment more reminiscent of a euphoric fever dream than modern pop song.
8. Dreamcatcher – Scream (review)
Fitting their already potent rock based sound over a more operatic and demonic background, the dramatic Scream was the opening salvo for a brilliant year for Dreamcatcher. It’s Dreamcatcher at their explosive best, combing the more electronic elements of incredible b-sides like Silent Night and Sleepwalking with the groups signature rock sound to create one of the years most theatrical singles. The operatic chanting vocals combined with the satanic phrasing of “devil, eyes, come” nail the atmosphere the track is aiming for, lending the already grandiose track a centrepiece that just radiates confidence, character and climactic contour. The unique soundscape and delivery was a breathe of fresh air upon release and remains just as thrilling 10 months on.
7. ATEEZ – Answer (review)
When concluding one of the most thrilling musical series of the past few years, you need a track that would encapsulate almost every aspect of the groups sound into one big, bombastic package. And Answer did exactly that and then some. ATEEZ had a decent year but they truely started the year off with a bang with this monster of a track. Answer provides the kind of larger than life fervour and drama that only a group like ATEEZ can pull off, opening with one of the years most chilling and goosebump inducing refrains. The boys and their producers know how to create a stunning hook and Answer‘s primary refrain remains one of the years most potent, complete with dynamic synth work and a swirling vocal arrangement that matches the sheer audacity of the instrumental. But it’s the tracks chill inducing climactic shift in melody that really transforms Answer into the kind of life affirming anthem fit to end the Treasure series.
6. TXT – Blue Hour (review)
The grower to end all growers, Blue Hour‘s light funk laced charms quickly went onto win me over in a big BIG way. This a track that’s hard to appreciate on the first listen, something that I was guilty of in my initial review. Blue Hour isn’t the kind of track that hits you right off the bat, rather unveiling its incredibly joyous melody and irresistible disco funk over a number of listens. It’s a track that embraces the more upbeat aspect of the retro trend whilst still feeling right at home in TXT’s more hazy, dreamlike soundscape. And this is where TXT come in. Although only consisting of 5 members, the groups unique vocal tones allow them to transform each track into a real treat and Blue Hour is a perfect example of this. It’s heavily elevated by the many diverse vocal tones, a characteristic that I attribute greatly to my unconditional love for the opening verse and chorus. Also, I’m basing this ranking off the “dance-break edit” because that’s easily the best part of the track and I will forever hate Bighit for leaving it off the studio version.
5. Everglow – La Di Da (review)
Sometimes the best things come from the most unexpected of places and with the retro trend in full swing, few would have expected a towering synthpop anthem to come from, all groups, Everglow! But the girls proved they were up to the challenge, giving us the absolutely incredible La Di Da. While the group were already gaining steam, this is the track that personally got me aboard the Everglow hype train. And with its aggressive synth assisted verses and magnificent chorus, it’s hard not to see why so many immediately fell in love with this pure pop moment. Its instrumental is just pure synth majesty, recalling the glory days of Sweetune whilst still incorporating touches that feel modern without the sense that it’s being forced.
Few tracks this year have been so instantly iconic and for a group so young, it’s honestly astonishing that they not only lived up to the bombastic production, but matched it, providing a performance that felt aggressive yet effortless enough to covey just the right amount of sass. I’ve long wanted the return of “Kara-pop” and with La Di Da, Everglow achieved just that. It’s the strongest “Fuck You” to haters single ever and I don’t see it getting topped any time soon.
4. Apink – Dumhdurum (review)
9 years is a very long time in the Korean Idol industry and is a milestone very few groups ever manage to reach. And if and when they do, the strength of their music usually experiences some form of decline. Apink on the other hand seem to being going from strength to strength, delivering arguably their strongest single yet with the sophisticated, synth kissed Dumhdurum. Teaming up once again with iron tight production duo Black Eyed Pilseung, the girls have been maturing their sound ever since 2018’s I’m So Sick, a transformation that has peaked with this bright, instantly catchy piece of retro dance pop. It’s a track that feels like the perfect culmination of the groups past two singles, overlaying a robust melody over an instrumental that stretches itself in more and more interesting directions the longer the track goes.
Speaking of which, the instrumental here is just brilliant. The immortal synth riff that anchors much of the track is one of the years most addictive musical moments, lending an already potent track with a real stunning production flourish. It’s a real moment from the group and solidifies their place as elder statesmen of an industry usually dominated by those much younger. You go girls!
3. Taemin – Criminal (review)
I’ve always considered Taemin to be Korea’s parallel to Michael Jackson and while all of his singles so for have had some semblance of similarity to the king of pop, the dark, sultry synth wave majesty of Criminal is the kind of track befitting of a modern day MJ. Few tracks have an impact as instant as listeners received upon the release of Criminal. It’s honestly hard to recall a track that’s received such unanimous critical acclaim upon release and while this might have turned many off due to the rabid fan base antics of the K-pop fandom, this was a sentiment that I for once full agreed with.
To put it simply, Criminal is an absolute stunner. Built upon beds of percolating synths that contribute to an atmosphere that feels both dangerous and sultry, the throbbing synth line heavily contributes to a sense constant unease. Something that I never thought I needed as badly as I have now realised I did. The melody follows a similar trajectory, weaving its fingers around the listener as Taemin continues his restrained yet thirst heavy vocal delivery to provide a truely immersive listening experience.
But Criminal‘s appeal truely comes from its stunner of a chorus, which only grows more and more pronounced as the track rears its head. It’s a brilliant melody, spiralling from a hushed opening to an instantly bewitching refrain that remains quotable yet never boring. Taemin and his producers know this, elevating its intensity throughout the course of the track to the point where it completely bursts during its stirring finale. Taemin absolutely attacks the climactic hook, straining every last drop of emotion out of his performance to create a legendary moment of catharsis that will leave you stunned long after you finish listening.
2. A.C.E – Goblin (Favorite Boys) (review)
Taking inspiration from Korean folk lore, A.C.E upgraded their already potent and widely loved rock based sound into an absolute showstopper of a pop moment with the commanding and unabashedly grandiose Goblin (Favorite Boys). It’s a natural successor to 2019’s Under Cover, blasting forward with an idiosyncratic mix of crunchy rock guitars, rapid fire hip hop and pounding synth work. It’s the complete opposite of restraint, pounding the listener with layers upon layers of production and vocal flourishes from its opening bars, acting as more a statement of intent than just another simple pop song.
The entire package is just immense and the boys are up to the task. A.C.E and its members have consistently proved that they abide by the go hard or go home rule and with a track as immense as Goblin, I don’t doubt that for a minute. Rapper Byeongkwan is truly a star and I’ve come to appreciate his talents more and more over the course of this groups young career. And he truely shines here, supplying Goblin with some of the years most immaculately structured and expertly performed rap verses which only assist in building up for the immense towering chorus at Goblin‘s core.
And in terms of payoff, Goblin is home to one of the years most rousing chorus’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way. After an aggressive, snarled incantation? we’re launched into a breathtaking instrumental which holds absolutely nothing back. The first time I heard it I genuinely sat back on my seat in awe. This is the kind of over the top drama I thrive on and the fact that the track maintains this momentum all the way through is even more refreshing.
1. Sunmi – Pporappippam (review)
Despite her rather scarce output, it’s fair to say that Sunmi spent most of 2019 and early 2020 experimenting. But in June, she finally returned to the sound she does best, 80’s dance pop. And in turn, we got this absolute masterpiece of a pop song.
Few artists are able to exert the kind of effortless charisma and magnetism Sunmi can, transforming the already brilliant Pporappippam into a true fever dream of pop goodness. This extends to the fact that the real star of the track is Sunmi herself. Pporappippam is structurally very strong, with a melody that swirls with pure emotional bliss but few artists would be able to elevate it into the kind of once in a lifetime dance pop masterpiece that we have here. Her instantly evocative tone opens the track, underlined initially by a glorious retro thump that maintains a high enough level of energy to draw the listener in. It’s a production that remains relatively straightforward throughout, forgoing the tendency to delve into the multiple musical breakdowns favoured by many a song in 2020.
However, Pporappippam truly ascends into greatness during its brilliant chorus, which feels all at once melancholic, nostalgic and uplifting. The melody rises and crests in all the right spots, underlined by an instrumental that knows exactly how to convey a more emotive backdrop through its city pop inspired lens. The more retrained delivery manages to appeal to the more summery, beach vibes that were expected during its release and really showcases the importance of a brilliant groove. The presence of flute and rhythm guitar all add to the incredibly immersive production that is Pporappippam and come together in glorious fashion during the electric guitar led bridge and climactic chorus that send this love song out on the highest of highs. In the end, Sunmi’s longing tone and ability to stretch her voice in such interesting directions truly allow Pporappippam to assert itself as 2020’s masterwork.