Hello and welcome to Asian Junkie‘s Top 100 Korean Songs Of 2018.
We’ve already been through this last year, and I love-hated doing it so much that I decided to make it an annual thing.
The ranking is still the culmination of a year-long project where I listen to as much music by Korean artists as possible. It’s something I definitely recommend trying if you have the time, as you not only discover a lot of quality music you wouldn’t have given the time of day otherwise, but also end up reflecting on and questioning your preferences (or at least I did).
Please look at this list less from the viewpoint that one stupid blogger’s taste in music must directly align with yours, and more to think about songs you’ve already heard before in a different way or to discover songs you may have never heard before.
Ease the asshole, basically.
Honorable Mentions are songs that either just missed out on the Top 100 or that I found noteworthy for one reason or another. The songs are not ranked and are just listed in alphabetical order.
Any song released by a Korean artist in 2018 is eligible to be included on this list.
Boni – “2:30 AM”
“2:30 AM” is one of those songs that realistically wasn’t all that close to making the Top 100, but it was noteworthy to me because for a certain mood it absolutely fits like a glove.
Boni creates a seductive atmosphere for boning (I’ll be here all week … literally), and while “2:30 AM” lacks a quality melody for most of it, the minimalism of the instrumental works thanks to her pleasant vocals echoing throughout the track.
Steve Aoki Featuring BTS – “Waste It On Me”
When “Waste It On Me” was initially released, I primarily focused on all the cameos in the music video and mentioned that the song followed a rather basic but pleasant formula. Nothing about that evaluation has necessarily changed with time, but hearing the song on the radio recently made me realize it’s surprisingly engaging.
While the sound Steve Aoki created is definitely shit we’ve heard before, it’s also sleek as hell and excellently executed by BTS. The timing of the brassy synths that kick in for the chorus is perfect, the “waste it on me” choral refrain is nice, and even the lyrics to the rest of chorus fits the atmosphere well.
It’s one of those songs that I wouldn’t necessarily seek out but would also never skip past when it comes on, and hell, I may even end up hitting the replay button a couple times before moving on.
Dreamcatcher – “July 7th”
“July 7th” is one of those songs that I like to describe as ’eminently listenable’, where there’s nothing fancy going on, but the track takes a known sound and the artist executes the hell out of it.
Dreamcatcher definitely do this with the downbeat reggae core — a plus for me in itself — which doesn’t do much other than add literal whistles, but does provide opportunity for the girls to spread their performance wings a bit. The result is a dreamy groove that’s not attention-getting but is something you unconsciously find yourself being drawn into as it plays in the background. It’s quite nice, basically.
EXID – “LADY”
“LADY” literally feels like a cover of a New Jack Swing song from the 90s. EXID imitated the sound enough that my nostalgia was triggered and that lured me in, but over time I did come to the realization that it kind of makes the end product a bit generic in a way.
Still, it’s done well and features the funky rhythm that one wants, and the inclusion of a horns was just cheating in terms of pandering to my tastes. LE stars as her flow and unique delivery is particularly compatible with this sound. The chorus is also an important strength, as it’s relaxed and bouncy, managing to find the correct vibe. Definitely a lot of fun, imitation or not.
iamnot – “Burn It Up”
“Burn It Up” features a vocal performance that fits the song perfectly and an infectious energy that constantly pushes things forward, making it insanely replayable.
That said, the main reason it works so well is the central guitar riff, and I’m not sure how much credit to actually give iamnot when it’s
definitely probably a ‘homage’ to Jet‘s “Are You Gonna be My Girl“. But hey, even that song was accused of being a mashup of sounds from Iggy Pop and The White Stripes, so credit to iamnot for picking out a quality one.
Lee Byoung Hyeon – “EMBER”
Obviously the music video for “Ember” is the thing that immediately draws everybody’s attention, but in a way it kinda detracts from what a subtly catchy song Lee Byoung Hyeon has crafted.
“Ember” has a brisk tempo to it and the Korean folk song underpinnings gives it a quirky foundation that her traditional vocal style plays excellently over. That said, I do wish it did a bit more towards the end instead of sticking with rather safe repetition.
PRISTIN V – “Get It”
“Get It” is definitely one of those stereotypical girl power songs that gets a bunch of annoying people who still say “yasss queen” unironically all hyped up.
While I recognize that, the central synth-heavy melody the song is built around ensures that it ends up as a win regardless, and PRISTIN V themselves transition to sultry quite smoothly and end up turning in quality performances. There’s a surprising attitude and bite to their showing here that helps “Get It” overcome its inherent basic-ness.
Reddy Featuring Paloalto & Huckleberry P – “Thanksgiving”
“Thanksgiving” uses a rather minimalist sound, with heavy bass hits generously spaced and echoing drops of sound going up the scale featuring just as prominently. The collaboration between Reddy, Huckleberry P, and Paloalto hits the listener with three unique tones and flows, and the song relies on the ability of the rappers to work properly, so thankfully they all played their parts.
Overall it has this chill vibe to it that’s easy for the listener to digest, and the effortlessness of the trio sell that atmosphere well, but it definitely contrasts with rather biting lyrics. That duality is another way the track ended up appealing to me despite a chorus that can grate over time. Plus, for an offering that doesn’t make any effort to be a mainstream hit, I’ve found it to have a surprising amount of replayability.
UZA – “Focus”
“Focus” sounds like it would fit snugly somewhere on a soundtrack, and while I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily impactful, the electro-pop track by UZA definitely has a certain timeless quality to it with delightful instrumentation and an understated vocal.
It definitely could be heard as rather monotonous, but I get the feeling that years from now “Focus” will have held up better than other songs that did make the Top 100 and I’ll wonder why I didn’t include it.
WJSN – “Dreams Come True”
The spacey sound to match their name has become WJSN‘s signature, but there’s a definite assertiveness to “Dreams Come True” underneath the dreamy synths. The “trust in me” refrain is where the bouncy melody settles, but rather than being powered by an earworm of a hook, it’s the quality of the verses that keeps the listener engaged.
“Dreams Come True” does end up lacking a certain peak that would contribute to the song’s quality considerably, as barring a final run it stays well within its own comfort zone throughout. But thankfully, that zone isn’t exactly the worst place to be.