2016 is not over until the world floods the internet with their best-of lists, and of course I’m here to add to the fun.
This year I’m keeping things simple. No crazy rules, no strict guidelines. The only rule I followed in compiling this list is that each song had to have been released between December 1, 2015 and December 1, 2016. That’s pretty much it. Another thing to keep in mind is that some artists appear once on this list while others appear multiple times. It’s a diverse list, yet also very clearly my personal taste (if IATFB worked on this he’d find a way to have all 100 be Crayon Pop songs). From K-pop to folk, R&B to punk, I listened to a ton of music over the course of 2016 and I did my best to make sure this list reflected that.
Also, I ranked these for the sake of ranking them, but don’t take it too seriously. The point is that all of these songs are great, and no matter where they landed on the final list they all left an impression on me and I’m sure a ton of you, too. So please enjoy my list of what I think are the best Korean songs of the year!
100 Eric Nam – “Can’t Help Myself (Feat. LOCO)”
Eric Nam‘s airy falsetto and breezy style of singing bring “Can’t Help Myself” to life. It’s hard not to fall for Nam’s charming personality, and this song captures that quality surprisingly well.
99 Cheeze – “어떻게 생각해 (How Do You Think)”
Cheeze‘s “How Do You Think” is the kind of bubbly single — this one held together by a lovely piano riff and singer Dalchong‘s quivering vocals — that I needed to get me through those tougher mornings this year.
98 Kim Hee Chul & Kim Jung Mo – “울산바위 (Ulsanbawi)”
Give it up to Kim Hee Chul and Kim Jung Mo for providing the only trot song on the list. Hee Chul’s gutsy vocals punch through this rock song with an adequate amount of emotion. While his singing doesn’t shine as bright as some of the other members in Super Junior, here he is deep in his element.
97 Samuel Seo – “B L U E”
R&B singer Samuel Seo lowkey killed the game this year with his comeback single “B L U E,” a smooth, laid-back jam that features a groovy bassline and a whole lot of attitude.
96 Yoon Mi Rae – “잠깐만 Baby (JamComeOn Baby)”
This year, Yoon Mi Rae delivered a slick rap track in “JamComeOn Baby.” Filled with reverberating electronic undertones, this dreamy landscape was a welcomed breath of fresh air for the Hip-Hop Queen Of Korea.
95 Roy Kim – “북두칠성 (The Great Dipper)”
Roy Kim‘s “The Great Dipper” is a soothing lullaby that might have arrived late in 2015, but it sure spent its fair share of time rotating through my library.
94 CL – “Lifted”
If there was anything that CL‘s “Lifted” lacked more than anything it was a bit of refinement. Because everything else — from layers of ‘tude to a bulletproof hook — was checked off the list and executed without fail. Eh ehhh.
93 Ailee – “If You”
Although Ailee is known for her showstopping energy, this year the powerhouse singer took her finger off the trigger of ferocity for a split second to release “If You,” a heartwarming R&B ballad that brought the singer back to her roots.
92 SILICA GEL – “9”
The fuzziness of SILICA GEL‘s “9” (and of the rest of the self-titled album they released this year) adds a degree of warmth to the band’s psychedelic sound that both captivates and transports as the song unfolds.
91 Lim Chang Jung (임창정) – “내가 저지른 사랑 (The Love That I Committed)”
Release Date: 9/6/16
Power ballads were a force to be reckoned with this year and Lim Chang Jung‘s “내가 저지른 사랑” was one of them. With an engrossing chorus and Lim’s full-chested singing, it’s no surprise why this single struck a chord with Korean audiences.
90 I.O.I – “너무너무너무 (Very Very Very)”
They say a word will lose its meaning the more times you repeat it. Well, JYP and I.O.I didn’t get the memo. Luckily, “Very Very Very” defies the laws of the universe by not only succeeding in its repetitiveness but capturing my heart in the process.
89 GOT7 – “Fly”
Release Date: 3/21/16
There’s a vague familiarity woven into the DNA of GOT7‘s “Fly” that is nicely contrasted by rhythmic verses that keep it fresh. As always, GOT7 bring their unique vocal tones to the booth that continue to set them apart.
88 Love X Stereo – “Dead Beat Generation”
Release Date: 4/29/16
Annie Ko sounds absolutely mesmerizing on Love X Stereo‘s eerie “Dead Beat Generation.” In a year when R&B and hip-hop rose to full mainstream status, it was refreshing to hear sparks of electro-pop done right from this promising duo.
87 Sam Kim – “No 눈치 (No Sense) (Feat. Crush)”
“No Sense” may be simple by design but Sam Kim‘s spunk and slick guitar performance elevate this single to addicting heights. Having Crush swoop in for the lead-in to the breakdown is the icing on the cake.
86 FTISLAND – “Take Me Now”
This year, FTISLAND continued their journey out of the stagnating pop-rock sound they’ve been stuck in for years and toward a style more true to the genre. The aggression in “Take Me Now” was not only shocking to hear but surprisingly well executed.
85 Sun Woo Jung Ah & Jung Yonghwa – “불꽃놀이 (Fireworks)”
At first, Sun Woo Jung Ah and CNBLUE‘s Jung Yonghwa were an unexpected pairing, but the moment “Fireworks” flickered on, time nearly stood still as these two singers flew me through a world of delicate electronica.
84 Sandeul – “그렇게 있어 줘 (Stay As You Are)”
A lot of new fans to K-pop are possibly unaware that B1A4 houses one of the scene’s strongest vocalists: Sandeul. One listen to his heartfelt and emotional solo single “Stay As You Are” should change that fairly quickly.
83 NCT 127 – “Another World”
Release Date: 7/10/16
Genre: Dance, Electronica
NCT 127‘s “Another World” is a groovy trap b-side with electronic inclinations that leaves me wanting more songs like it to devour. If Taeil and Jaehyun continue to improve as singers, and Taeyong and Mark as rappers, this unit could become a formidable force under SM Entertainment.
82 O.WHEN – “Call Me Now”
Release Date: 10/11/16
There’s something very Beatles about newcomer O.WHEN‘s “Call Me Now.” Be it its stripped down arrangement or dreamy melodies, O.WHEN succeeds in delivering this emotional song directly to the heart.
81 VIXX – “Fantasy”
VIXX reign supreme when it comes to dark concepts in idoldom, yet somehow they outdid themselves again this year with their sensational single, “Fantasy.” Describing this as simply ‘epic’ would be a severe understatement.
80 Monsta X – “Fighter”
The sheer scope of Monsta X‘s “Fighter” is an impressive feat on its own. The instrumental succeeds in setting an energizing tone while the guys come all the way through in this epic hype track.
79 OH MY GIRL – “LIAR LIAR”
OH MY GIRL‘s “Liar Liar” is interesting in that it blurs the lines between verses, hooks, and transitions. It’s one continuous run of infectious melodies and bubbly vocals that is admittedly very hard to put down.
78 Lee Hi – “MY STAR”
In 2016, Lee Hi introduced us back to the soulful style that garnered her so much popularity early in her career — this time, with her upbeat comeback single “My Star.” It’s the Lee Hi I remember loving and that I hope to hear a lot more of in the near future.
77 EXO-CBX – “Hey Mama!”
While EXO‘s music has a tendency to be aggressive, subunit CBX opted for a far more laid back route with their debut single, “Hey Mama!“. This energetic and funky number is performed to perfection by some of K-pop’s leading voices.
76 DAY6 – “놓아 놓아 놓아 (Letting Go)”
Release Date: 3/30/16
Genre: Rock, Dance
“Letting Go” follows in the footsteps of 2015’s “Congratulations” as it feeds glowing electric guitar nuances into a beautiful arrangement and allows the group’s unique vocal tones to shine.
Stay tuned for the rest!