At this point in the Top 100 Korean Songs Of 2018, ranking the songs really started to get difficult as I basically enjoyed all of them a lot.
Any song released by a Korean artist in 2018 is eligible to be included on this list.
#40 – SEVENTEEN – “Thanks”
SEVENTEEN say “Thanks” to their fans, and fortunately it’s with a driving EDM track instead of some kind of tear-jerking ballad. While SEVENTEEN have leaned in heavily to Western trends, they’re also proof that if you do it well enough then just about anything can work. The synth-heavy effort is something that can get bogged down in been-there, done-that feel, but the off-kilter synth sound helps differentiate it and even makes an instrumental drop chorus fun.
I don’t think I’ve said this before in this feature, but the star of this song is the management of the tempo. There’s build and tension throughout the verses, then it fakes the listener out with like a fake drop before seguing into something softer, then gears up again and explodes for the chorus. The push-pull it plays with the listener helps “Thanks” avoid getting stale, and the drawn-out “go-mab-da” hook is actually rather memorable.
#39 – CLC – “Black Dress”
“Black Dress” didn’t immediately appeal to me, and I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it was the sheer amount of shit going on, but upon closer scrutiny it’s actually surprisingly cohesive despite the busyness of the instrumental. The warbly synths and the thumping bass set an appropriate stage for what is an incredibly aggressive sound, and CLC themselves deliver it with appropriate attitude.
The chorus serves an impactful exclamation at the center of it, though I’d argue that most of the best melodic work is done away from that, primarily in the build. That said, I kinda felt like “Black Dress” wouldn’t hold up over time as a lot of noisier songs tend to age like milk, but this was one that I actually liked more and more due to the amount of twists and turns it takes while somehow remaining rather grounded.
#38 – NU’EST W – “Dejavu”
Based on the plucked guitar and flamenco claps, it certainly seemed like “Dejavu” was going into generic Latin-pop territory. But NU’EST W only end up borrowing elements of that sound, incorporating it into an EDM core, and that definitely ended up being the right move.
I love how this completely subverted my expectations. No loud, poppy drop and no swelling, epic melody, rather it gears down during the chorus, relying on a wonderful bass riff and subdued delivery that ends with a “dejavu” refrain. Despite that lack of explosiveness, I think you’d be surprised at how danceable and addictive the combination is. Ultimately it’s a release dependent on how much one buys into the atmosphere created, and it absolutely enveloped me, with the bass elevating it far beyond standard fare.
#37 – (G)I-DLE – “MAZE”
(G)I-DLE had about as ideal of a debut year as possible from a popularity standpoint, but surprisingly they were just as impressive for me in terms of music. As impressed as everybody was with their title tracks, album track “MAZE” was every bit as deserving of recognition.
The listener is hit with everything right away, from finger snaps to heavy synths, yet the verses contrast by being stripped down to guitar strums and a repeated drum pattern. The versatility of the girls themselves are showcased when “MAZE” transitions from a gentle vocal to edgier rapping after a “maybe it’s a maze” vocal burst that foreshadows the choral refrain to come. The pre-chorus sees snare drums introduced to build the tension, which gets released through a catchy synth drop that powers a dynamic chorus with the memorable refrain of “maybe I’m in your maze” (though I lovde the reversal at the end). Honestly, “MAZE” sounds like something that would’ve fit better with 2017’s trends. But while it may be a bit dated on the trendiness front, quality execution never loses its luster.
#36 – BTS’s J-Hope, RM, Suga – “DDAENG”
“DDAENG” is essentially a diss song, but the most significant burn is not any specific lyric, but rather in just comparing the tone of this to previous efforts of theirs in the same vein. BTS aren’t angry or in your face here, it’s more of a snarky, arrogant dismissal of haters, which I loved because it matches up perfectly with their current place in the pop world.
While the focus on the clever and biting lyrics is well deserved, I felt that sorta undersells “DDAENG” as a fun and catchy listen with a lot of replay value. The meshing of modern trap trends with traditional Asian instrumentation provides just an outstanding backdrop for the rappers to operate over, and that’s what sold me on the song before anything. Furthermore, the chorus includes the catchy onomatopoeia “ddaeng” repetition, and with the booming bass and the almost chanting type of rhythm, “DDAENG” is just a complete effort from start to finish.
#35 – Red Velvet – “Bad Boy”
“Bad Boy” was the biggest grower in this year-end ranking, as I was initially not all that enamored with it and didn’t even have it on my preliminary list. However, when I went back to it, I found that I quickly picked the instrumental and chorus back up because they were both indeed memorable and left an impression.
While “Bad Boy” is definitely a mood-setting type of effort, raindrop synths and intermittent bass thumps serve as a solid foundation that never let it get overly bogged down. Of course, it’s still a slow-burn r&b venture, which can tend to lack impact and may explain my resistance, but the melody of the chorus is undeniably addictive when given a proper chance. Perhaps most impressive are Red Velvet themselves, who tackle the r&b genre without blinking and sell it successfully.
#34 – Sunmi – “Siren”
“Siren” has a great throwback 80s vibe surrounding it, coming with a hint of modern touches. While I did take issue with the mood-killing and unnecessary trap-influenced bridge, there wasn’t much else not to like. The consistent beat is immediately engaging, which helps power the verses, and the chorus excels as a piece of jubilant expression thanks to the everything being amplified by throbbing retro synths. The “get away out of my face” refrain is also excellent with its punchy delivery, and while the “lalala” hook is borderline repetitive, it thankfully fell just short of reaching that territory for me.
While criticized for her vocals at times, Sunmi is a great recording artist, and she proves as much here with an assured and confident performance. Despite one misstep, “Siren” ends up as an impressive standout effort.
#33 – INFINITE – “Pray”
A fascinating and beautiful release, “Pray” starts as an orchestral piece seemingly made for a ballroom dance scene in a movie. That theatrical sound thankfully underpins the instrumental, and it later only amps up the drama as the strings and guitar swell and crash together to create an intense and turbulent spectacle.
INFINITE‘s performance over this backdrop is equally important, as they match the swells and crashes blow for blow with their vocals. At times it’s almost a desperate performance, which is an impressive nuance to find in something that otherwise requires so much force and aggression, and that only serves to elevate it further. “Pray” is almost a comically dramatic and extra track, which means I absolutely love it, and in an odd way it’s sort of an amazing hype song.
#32 – GIRLS ON TOP – “HOLA”
“HOLA” is rooted in funk, but has a touch of lightness to the arrangement due to the piano’s inclusion. The underlying beat keeps things moving and hints at bigger things to come, and boy does it ever arrive. The song truly shines with its multi-faceted chorus that kicks things up a notch or 10, doing so not just with volume but in a way that creates multiple memorable sections. Many songs would just fall back on the singing of a vocal group like GIRLS ON TOP, but thankfully the production keeps things fresh and even includes a hook-y “hola hola baby” refrain.
I love it when these intense songs build to something epic and then cut the listener off suddenly to end it, because it always makes me want to go back for more and serves as a reminder that the minutes absolutely flew by. “HOLA” was definitely one of those songs for me, and just like how it performed on Melon, the replayability was off the charts.
#31 – SOYA – “Artist”
SOYA‘s claim to fame has always been that she’s the singer who’s the niece of Kim Jong Kook, but at least to me, she can now be the singer who dropped a gem in “Artist“. It’s an upbeat song from the start and is given a gentle touch with an acoustic guitar, but it quickly transitions into this soaring, booming instrumental that’s only further amplified by an impressive showing from SOYA herself.
Of particular note is the unexpected electric guitar solo, which contributed a level of impact that was hard to forget. Meanwhile, the chorus is an uplifting and epic delight, as SOYA powers through it impressively before “Artist” settles down with repetitions of the declarative “I am an artist” refrain. Hard to argue now.