When it comes down to K-pop and music in general, the best songs usually aren’t the ones getting promoted. And because of this, their quality is most of the time never unearthed or just completely overlooked by the majority of listeners. I want to change that and that’s why I’m going to be counting down my 100 favourite K-pop album tracks of the year!
And in a year where more and more often we saw album tracks far stronger than their title track counterparts, this list was a near necessity. The songs down here are some of the strongest of the year and most of the time were far better than many would ever have expected. I’ve also included some b-sides by Japanese acts that I really enjoyed this year so if you fancy some extra j-pop, have a look! So come along as we look at some of the years best hidden gems.
But before we get into the list, let’s look at the rules for the list!
- Must be released between 1st January and 31st December
- Released by a group of Korean origin or managed by a Korean company
- As such doesn’t have to be in Korean (Yay Wayv!)
- Must not have received a good, promoted music video.
25. GFRIEND – Room of Mirrors (review)
A gorgeous string and guitar driven mid-tempo, Room of Mirrors succeeds thanks to its majestic arrangement and haunting melody.
24. TXT – Everlasting Shine (review)
A rousing pop anthem fit to soundtrack a shounen anime, Everlasting Shine fit TXT’s gorgeous vocal blend to an equally grandiose and cinematic melody.
23. ONEUS – Airplane
The best ONEUS song of the year took heavy influence from guitar driven pop by incorporating some grungy guitar samples in a chorus that remains one of the years most satisfying. Those electric guitar riffs that are interspersed between the verses and chorus are fantastic.
22. Dreamcatcher – Jazz Bar (review)
An incredibly relaxing, yet groovy song, Jazz Bar is one of the groups strongest vocal performances yet. It actually sounds alot like a long lost city pop track, all the way down to that addictive all english hook.
21. Stray Kids – Haven
Stray Kids know how to release anthems and the EDM-synth flair of Haven remans one of their strongest efforts yet. When you’ve got a chorus this massive, there’s no point resisting.
20. WJSN – Pantomime (review)
As inventive as it is catchy, Pantomime expanded the cosmic girls sound in exhilarating fashion all whilst still maintaining the groups trademark spacey sound. It’s a track in constant flux, held together by the simple and wonderfully charismatic hook that cements Pantomime as one of the years best songs.
19. TOO – Step By Step
A wonderful old school funk throwback, Step by Step is a true treasure trove of pop hooks that help cement it as the strongest male fronted summer track of 2020. That brass kissed chorus is one of the most catchy and buoyant melodies of the year.
18. Astro – Somebody Like
The kind of bouncy pop track that Astro have all but mastered, Somebody Like brought back a sense of optimism at a time where such emotions were far and few. But it’s that fantastic instrumental which conveys an unparalleled sense of nostalgia over the more bright melody that really makes Somebody Like a true standout.
17. IMFACT – LALIDA
One thing that was sorely missed in the first half 2020 were songs that had fun for the sake of having fun. And that’s exactly why Imfact’s incredibly fun Lalida was so freaking great. It just exudes goofy energy, harkening back to the days where kpop didn’t take itself so seriously.
16. JBJ95 – Tell Me
Every year since their debut JBJ95 have a song that I just fall head over heels for. In 2018 it was Home. In 2019 it was Hey, Summer. And this year it was the Sucker inspired rock n’ roll fun of Tell Me. The two part chorus is catchy as hell.
15. Drippin – Light
A massive synth driven track for rookies Drippin, Light is a perfect showcase for both vocals and production, sound just as exhilarating as a pure vocal performance and a lone instrumental.
14. WayV – After Midnight
Dark, moody synth driven tracks are some of my favourites and no track accomplished that very specific sound better than WayV’s After Midnight. It’s one of the most atmospheric songs of the year.
13. OH MY GIRL – Lemonade (review)
The best Oh My Girl song of the year was one few outside the fanbase ever heard and that’s truly a shame. Lemonade is the perfect summer track, bursting out of the gate with a bubbly instrumental and soaring, roller rink ready chorus.
12. Lucy – Flare
A gorgeous near symphonic moment, Flare is more an experience than just another song. It traverses so much area through its 6 minute run time, shifting between inspiring string driven moments of greatness and buoyant guitar driven fun with ease. This is a track for the ages.
11. The Midnight Romance – IMYT
The Midnight Romance blitzed us with a number of solid singles throughout 2020 but the emotive haze rock majesty of IMYT was a truly something special. It’s the perfect union between melody and instrumental, convey a rich sense of emotion through its 3 minute run time. It helps further prove why I’m such a sucker for atmosphere driven tracks.
10. Weki Meki – Moya Moya (review)
A song that was destined to rule the summer, Moya Moya recalls the best summertime girl group hits of the past to create one knockout track. There isn’t a single moment were Moya Moya feels like it’s lagging in momentum, bounding forward on an addictive bass heavy instrumental before its hyper melodic, feel good chorus rolls around to make this 2020’s definitive K-pop summer song.
9. Dreamcatcher – Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind (review)
Recalling a certain emotive edm sound that formed much of my formative musical years, Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind sees Dreamcatcher tackle the EDM genre with utter conviction and pitch perfect synth textures. The second half of the massive two part chorus remains some of the groups most rousing vocal work. Easily the best English-language k-pop song in recent memory.
8. GFRIEND – Eye of The Storm (review)
One of the rare songs that actually lives upto its rather ambitious title, the propulsive Eye Of the Storm feels like you’ve been thrown into the middle of swirling typhoon with an arrangement that refuses to let up. The combination of soaring electric guitar, pounding double time percussion and swirling strings come together to create pure musical greatness.
7. ONF – New World (review)
A Road to Kingdom song that was better than it had any right to be, New World combined its rapid fire verses with a suitably epic climax to craft one of the years most unique and explosive dance tracks. And while the original is brilliant, I’m a little more partial to the “Spin off” version which has more dynamic introduction.
6. Golden Child – OMG (review)
Bright electro funk is one of my biggest weaknesses and Golden Child’s incredible OMG is one of the very best examples of the genre. It’s upbeat pop music that doesn’t forget the importance of melodic heft, embracing the absolute best aspects of the years burgeoning retro trend before it even became cool. This is peak Golden Child and dare I say peak boy group pop.
5. GFRIEND – Labyrinth (review)
A b-side that just begged to be promoted as a single, Labyrinth was a big return to form for Gfriend. While the production and rapid-fire hooks are incredibly enjoyable, it’s that godly synth riff that really makes Labyrinth transcendent. Songs like this is why I continue to advocate for the girls to release more aggressive dance pop oriented singles.
4. TXT – Wishlist
A buoyant explosion of guitar based pop, Wishlist was further proof that bright TXT is the absolute best TXT. This is pop with a capital “P” bounding forward on an arrangement designed to make each repetition of that massive chorus explode with even more power than the last.
3. Changbin (Stray Kids) – Streetlight (feat. Bang Chan)
Before this dropped, Changbin was already one of my favourite current Korean rappers but Streetlight shot him up to the very top of the list. This is an absolutely gorgeous song, highlight by a piano driven production that knows exactly when to come in and pull back for maximum emotional impact. The melody is also excellent, swirling at all the right places and evoking a real sense of longing that few tracks (other than another track down the list) have managed to illicit from me. Changbin gives a dynamic performance perfectly suited to the track and Bang Chan comes in for suitably fitting and comforting finale.
2. Drippin – Overdrive
A driving dance anthem from Drippin, Overdrive was absolute throw down the gauntlet moment for the rookie group. This is an absolute massive song, powered by an aggressive synth instrumental that crashes in during the exhilarating two part chorus which employs a melody that feels both impactful yet youthful. Despite only having 5 songs to their name, Drippin already have one of the industries most potent vocal blends and this is on full display during Overdrive. This is what I mean when I say bright upbeat dance anthem and I can’t wait to see how the boys continue to develop their sound in 2021.
1. TXT – Ghosting (review)
Probably the single most emotionally affecting song of the year, TXT’s hazy dream pop masterpiece Ghosting broke me. Sometimes you just come across a melody that’s so perfectly calibrated and performed that it manages to feel instantly timeless. And Ghosting‘s swirling central refrain is exactly that, acting as one of the years most stirring peaks, making the best possible use of TXT’s filtered vocal blend for a show stopping moment. It evokes an unparalleled sense of wistful nostalgia with a gorgeous melodic backbone that’s enough to reduce even a person like me to the brink of tears. It’s absolutely stunning and a deserving number one pick.