15 K-Pop Songs that Made My 2017

Twenty-seventeen is truly the year K-Pop rose to the top. The genre has its legions of fans but they’ve long been on the periphery of pop culture, and virtually unknown to the wider media and general population; however, thanks to factors that range from social media power to a new generational audience with a far more open-minded stance than their predecessors, these K-Pop artists seemed to be unstoppable. 2018 will be a pivotal year in K-Pop’s potential expansion.

Bearing in mind that I’ve decided to limit one song per artist as to not show any bias behavior towards a particular artist, as well as taking both song and MV into consideration, let’s fire up the light sticks and dive in.

15. VIXX — “SHANGRI-LA”

After consistently exploring dark corners of their flamboyant pop, VIXX step onto new turf, where future bass meets sweeps of Chinese zither, their visuals a Zen-like world of lush pastels and flowers. “Shangri-La” is a fusion of opposing forces and delicate balance; jagged beats versus opulent lyrics, minimal verses into heavy choruses, and VIXX’s big vocalists Leo and Ken tempering their showiest moments as Ravi injects his raspy style of rap with a certain tenderness. It’s graceful, stylish and — in true VIXX tradition — stands alone amongst its contemporaries, but that’s always been where they shine brightest.

14. TWICE — “LIKEY”

Twice is unquestionably one of the top girl-groups of K-Pop in the recent years. They rode the final loop of 2017 with an album that includes the single “Likey”, where the ominous opening gives way to a sophisticated mix that matches the group’s knack for repetition with an instrumental that has a darker edge offset by upbeat vocals. The MV also showcases the beautiful streets of Vancouver, and it’s literally impossible not to come away with the unexpected trap sound in Dahyun’s part and the “me likey, me likey likey likey” refrain hooked deep inside your head.

13. NU’EST W — “WHERE YOU AT”

The low-key vibe of “Where You At” brought out Nu’est W’s name to the top. The vocalists’ light touch housed melancholia, counterbalanced by the rapper’s slightly aggressive flow — a pattern also found in the instrumental, with tinkles of piano above slow, chunky bass and EDM flourishes. Although “Where You At” wasn’t a ballad, it was dangerously effective at triggering the waterworks.

12. SUPER JUNIOR — “BLACK SUIT”

The legendary SuJu rally as seven for their eighth album in 12 years. “Black Suit” strikes a remarkable balance between its showmanship, which hustles hard with whistles and toots of brass, and keeping a steady direction using bass lines from a 90s landscape of post-New Edition splinter acts. Its MV is as flashy and effective as it is nonsensical and entertaining, but perfectly caps this long-awaited revival of Super Junior’s charismatic pop royalty.

11. TAEMIN — “MOVE”

SHINee’s youngest member’s solos are marked by sensual vocals and dramatic flair, but on “MOVE” the latter is scaled back to tense 80s synthwave that circles without pouncing. Its reticence is given clarity through the MV; song and video complete, and exist for, each other as a twin performance in which empty streets, expressionless dancers and beautifully fluid choreography demand attention, but command distance through cold colourations, CCTV and fuzzy VHS frames, and camera angles which film like a secret onlooker. For those who find fascination and frisson in the aloof, however, the icy beats, teasing builds and the arresting pull of Taemin’s physical prowess makes for a captivating release.

10. LOCO FEAT. DEAN — ”TOO MUCH”

As the first season winner of the popular hip-hop TV show, “Show Me the Money”, Loco has released several hit tracks alongside widely-known K-Hip Hop artists, such as Gray and Crush; however unlike his previous singles,“Too Much” finds enviable sophistication with Loco’s rap, whose light-hearted delivery snaps alongside the funk bass. His beckoning verses and sweet, crystalised tone is counteracted by Dean’s vocal who draw starry melodic lines at the hook, rounding out a completely addictive update to a classic funk-fused, hip-hop sound.

9. RED VELVET — “RED FLAVOR”

Red Velvet’s singles frequently strike gold and the slightly delirious “Red Flavor”, which opens with the mighty punch of its chorus, completely won the summer. The members kindle warmth on wave-like verses alongside the sprinting and slowing of the instrumental, where frenetic high hats and a dizzying array of clicks, claps, chimes and knocks somehow meld by a dynamic feat of arrangement. The eccentricity lent by the mangled chant wobbling behind the vocals is mirrored by a Skittles-bright MV that flips between sassy choreography and the girls interviewing giant pieces of fruit, but “Red Flavor” shouldn’t be seen as merely a quirky fix. It’s complex and intimidating and that it feels so immediate and identifiable on the surface is just emblematic of its greatness.

8. SEVENTEEN — “CHANGE UP”

In November, the rocket fuel mix of pop and funk of a song called “Clap” became a successful step in broadening Seventeen’s repertoire, but the team’s leaders song is no doubt a game changer. “Change Up” irresistibly corrals a steady toots of brass with a classic EDM built up before the drop. The music video is also so incredibly detailed it requires repeat viewings. It too packages up their past by stuffing it with visual references to previous MVs, making “Change Up” a celebration of their achievements but also a succinct departure gate into their future, as represented by the straight-forward lyrics.

7. BLACKPINK — “AS IF IT’S YOUR LAST”

Debuting in 2016, BLACKPINK were widely debated to be a tribute act for labelmates 2NE1 — but by stripping the track to basics, “As If It’s Your Last” was a step towards their own identity. One ultra-simple hook and the vocals carried the entire track, something that couldn’t have worked without those four incredibly distinctive tones. Should their label continue to play to their unique abilities, rather than shoehorn them into a now defunct mold, BLACKPINK could easily unseat the new generation girl group hierarchy and it makes you yearn to join the gang — in other words, it’s, like, totally bitchin’.

6. SUNMI — “GASHINA”

It’s easy to see Sia’s influence, as well as references to Frida Kahlo, Lolita, and Thelma & Louise, on Sunmi’s video as she dances, contemporary style, through rooms, moods and outfits, but the deconstruction of the humiliation and heartbreak that comes with being dumped is entirely her own. Ex-Wonder Girl Sunmi’s hypnotic naturalism adds compelling layers to “Gashina”s already candid unraveling of the experience as she asks ‘why are you leaving me behind’ before rediscovering an almost brutal confidence. These bared lyrics are sonically stripped as well — a panpipe-like synth, simple percussion and bass the only accompaniment on the verses — leaving Sunmi to reel you in with her vocals, which she does so effortlessly and in seconds, like an invisible harpoon being fired right through you.

5. EXO — “KO KO BOP”

As one of K-Pop’s biggest groups, a theory for everything and by everyone jostles behind each EXO release, and this comeback is no different. But when unhampered by interpretations, “Ko Ko Bop” gains in presence, capable far more of a physical reaction than an emotional one. Verses are syrupy with reggae-inspired beats, infused with a languorous heat by Xiumin, Suho and Baekhyun, in particular, that’s tangible enough to feel across your skin, but the post-chorus, however, smacks like a lead glove, a skittering metallic instrumental emphasised by high-strung choreography on a blacked out soundstage. While it’s rare that EXO plays with such an extreme push and pull, from sensual to uneasy and back again, the visceral experience created here is what makes “Ko Ko Bop” hard to forget.

4. GOT7 — “TEENAGER”

GOT7’s penchant for cool-kids concept has always yielded fascinating, though at times muddled, results, but with “Teenager”, the video’s conceit is simple, which for me is it’s intriguing and alluring as you can see how they pull off such cool-yet-easy dance moves (and also their ability to be 100% in sync). While their earlier release of the year “Never Ever” was rigid, opaque electronica, “Teenager” collars you with the clean crispness of future bass and the smirk of a brilliant hook, allowing their individual signatures (like Jackson’s raspy rap) to be highlighted with palpable ease on one of their most coherent and confident singles to date.

3. BTS — “SPRING DAY”

Like 2016’s “Blood Sweat & Tears”, “Spring Day” uses external devices (Snowpiercer, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas) to illustrate certain points, but the most devastatingly evocative moments in this slow motion, cinematic landscape of memories and wishes are quietly simple, like V listening to the train rails or Jimin holding left behind shoes on an empty beach. It deliberately avoids cliché pomp and drama, perversely compressing into thick bass and piano with a whining electronic flourish and mechanical, hissing percussion, all which act like an enveloping airlock. Within that, BTS are a clear and magnetic presence; providing the song’s harmonic thread is J-Hope, with fellow rappers Suga and RM acting as yin and yang pillars around which the vocalists wind raw, beautiful lines and a questioning, resigned chorus.

2. SIK-K FEAT. CRUSH — “PARTY(SHUT DOWN)”

Sik-K has proved his spot as one of the top Korean rappers ever since his first EP release back in July, 2016. Joined by Crush, “Party(Shut Down)” undoubtedly loved by everyone. It bounces with irresistible funk-lite rhythms and stretchy disco-inspired bass, the ad-libs, and the loose falsetto whoops give it a freshness that outlasts his other releases in 2017. The nimble, playful song generally marries a sense of spontaneity to the minutely crafted, and both Sik-K and Crush deliver it in such a breezy, understated and genuine way that you can’t help but be caught up in the overriding jubilance.

1. WANNA ONE — “ENERGETIC”

For the winners of group survival show Produce 101 there is a contractually short shelf life, so Wanna One wasted no time in releasing the fan voted debut single, “Energetic”. With a mind to pleasing millions while still showcasing the talents of 11 members, “Energetic” takes a familiar route — a slow burn piano opener that elevates into a classy club thumper with a driving groove which never wastes a single beat. Rappers Daniel and Woojin propel the track’s middle forward with impressive force, leaving Jaehwan’s high ad libs to bring it victoriously over the finishing line.

Other notable songs include:

  • Millic feat. Fanxy Child — “Paradise”
  • Zico — “Artist”
  • Crush — “Beautiful”
  • Dean feat. Yerin Baek — “Come Over”
  • CLC — “Hobgoblin”
  • Suran feat. Dean — “1+1=0”
  • Highlight — “Plz Don’t Be Sad”
  • JJ Project — “Tomorrow, Today”
  • Weki Meki — “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend”
  • NCT 127 — “Limitless”
  • KARD — “Oh Nana”
  • Eric Nam feat. Timbaland — “Body”
  • IKON — “BLING BLING”
  • PRISTIN — “WEE WOO”
  • Chungha — “Why Don’t You Know”
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