Top 100 Korean Songs Of 2018 is starting to get serious now, folks.
Any song released by a Korean artist in 2018 is eligible to be included on this list.
#70 – Lovelyz – “That Day”
“That Day” would’ve vaulted into the special category of pop offerings had the verses done much of anything. Instead, Lovelyz pensively and gently recite lines over a rather nondescript instrumental that doesn’t do much to keep or generate any momentum.
That’s a shame because the chorus is an absolute joy, melding classic synth-pop with a bit of disco flair to create a fleshed-out and layered pop melody that’s just as intriguing as it is addictive. It’s a true standout offering, making the rest of it tolerable to me even if it’s just so I can get the eventual payoff, keeping me coming back for more like the chorus is my drug of choice and the verses are withdrawal or something.
#69 – LABOUM – “Between Us”
Like many other groups, LABOUM‘s best songs have always leaned more on excellent production than exceptional execution, and that’s generally worked out well for them. But “Between Us” asked them to play a bigger role in the song’s success because it was rather simple in terms of production, and the girls ended up delivering the necessary sensual appeal.
Usually tracks like this have verses that absolutely bore me to tears, but things were kept interesting due to an underlying beat that reminded me of Girl’s Day‘s “Something“, which is a quality comp to build on. The pre-chorus gradually cultivates tension, and the chorus starts slow but quickly picks up and helps to develop the song’s surprisingly foot-tapping quality that’s easy to latch on to. “Between Us” has its fair share of immediate appeals as is, but it definitely grows on you over time and I’ve never found it to be a disappointing listen.
#68 – N.Tic – “Do You Know Who I Am”
If the group N.Tic rings a bell, then it’s likely because of the odd visual of one member of the group, and I was convinced that would be the only thing noteworthy about them until they gradually faded from memory. But while the group’s future may indeed be up in the air, at least they gave us all at least one shockingly catchy song in the appropriately titled “Do You Know Who I Am“.
While the tropical energy and synth beat may be rather trendy, the overall feel of the song is retro K-pop in the sense it’s a bit campy, and I appreciated that trip. The verses command attention and the pre-chorus just ramps that engagement with the listener up to 10, and the repetitive choral refrain just drives home the success of what is an utterly addictive ride. Almost as a bonus, the electric guitar just drops in at the end and shreds a bit for good measure. For as much is going on in this sound, the execution by the boys and the cohesiveness was just shocking, and it left quite the impression and had me reaching for the replay button.
#67 – TWICE – “HO”
TWICE goes swing-pop with the upbeat and infectious “HO“. The verses are uncomplicated and generally felt like they were missing a bit of something, but that’s basically where my complaints end.
The pre-chorus utilizes silence to emphasize the standout chorus to come. With its arrival the song absolutely takes off with surprising vocal runs and interplay between the members that carry most of it, as the backing brass in particular becomes more and more prominent. The chorus avoids a rough segue by having the rapid-fire delivery of the refrain give way to a nice “ho ho hooo” closing. Even the bridge excels by having the instrumental temporarily drop out to give the listener a bit of a reprieve before it launches back into the chorus.
“HO” is just a lot of retro fun, and it ends up as one of their most enjoyable songs in a while. It reminded of like a TWICE version of SECRET‘s “Shy Boy“, which I loved when it was released and still do to this day.
#66 – GFRIEND – “TIK TIK”
Considering I was thinking of skipping past the song about 40 seconds into my initial listen, my seemingly ever-growing appreciation for “TIK TIK” is quite remarkable. It sure as hell seemed like it was going to be a throwaway cutesy track for a bit, but when I got a hint of a build coming I figured there was something more.
Indeed, the chorus goes off in a completely different direction, giving it a somewhat off-beat, funky rhythm, and those brief highlights of bass guitar are just delicious. Add in GFRIEND‘s bright and expressive vocals, and things come together nicely for surprising earworm. The refrain is absolutely addicting, and the decision to emphasize “ara” and “molla” was just the cherry on top.
The successful chorus elevates the entire song, because the sense of anticipation is amped up and the infectious energy spreads, thus the result is a effort that has only continued to grow on me with repeated listens.
#65 – BTS – “Fake Love (Remix)”
“Fake Love” didn’t hold up like I thought it would, as the repetition and instrumental eventually wore on me. Thankfully then, the rock remix exists, because it delivered exactly the kind of kick in the dick that the original lacked.
The injection of the band sound leads to an improved arrangement and provides an interesting edge that keeps the sound fresh from start to finish. BTS themselves are rarely a problem on any of their songs, and they continue to acquit themselves well here, but it’s definitely the production that’s the star of the remix.
#64 – SNSD’s Taeyeon – “Something New”
Grounded in groovy r&b that hearkens back to a decades-old sound, SNSD‘s Taeyeon has the pipes and versatility to make it work. Notably, she is not found belting throughout “Something New“, instead using her talent to give a restrained and moody performance that was just as excellent as any technical wank fest.
Taeyeon does get help from the instrumental, most notably an ever-present bass guitar riff that could quite frankly sell me on the song in itself. Meanwhile, the chorus is easy to get acclimated to and follow along with, creating a memorable and incredibly sleek end product that managed to power right through my personal genre preferences. Songs like this have the potential to be awfully boring and repetitive, but “Something New” is definitely neither.
#63 – (G)I-DLE – “LATATA”
Personally surprised that “LATATA” ended up ranked here compared to where I thought it would be when I started this. So put up against that backdrop, I guess it’s a bit disappointing. However, even with the chorus wearing me down, for a group’s debut to land at this spot shows how impressive the elements of the song are.
(G)I-DLE‘s execution of a well-worn template is top notch, with an almost creeping instrumental and delivery starring tropical interjections to ensure the verses don’t get boring. That all builds to a shouted exclamation prior to the drop into the chorus with a “latata” hook that definitely has its charms, even if it’s a bit overused and got repetitive after a while. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy “LATATA” but I’ve just found it better in sporadic doses.
#62 – N.Flying – “Hot Potato”
“Hot Potato” is a nicely executed bit of rock-rap fusion. The instrumental relentlessly pushes the pace forward and makes it so the verses are never uninteresting. The energy eventually builds until it explodes during the chorus, and while all the sounds could’ve been overwhelming, thankfully it was expertly arranged. There’s a ton of variety between hardest rap and softest vocals even if the underlying beat remains, and that helps mitigate the constant assault of sound.
N.Flying‘s rap-rock hybrid is surprisingly unique in Korea, as I haven’t seen many others consistently utilize that fusion, and songs like “Hot Potato” have helped them to stand out from the crowd and dominate the niche. Given how early in 2018 this was released, it had an awful lot of time to get old for me, and that it never did was rather telling.
#61 – UNB – “Black Heart”
If nothing else “Black Heart” certainly stood out from the crowd, fusing jazz and EDM to create a thrilling and refreshing bit of dance-pop. Even if it ended up going a bit overboard with the gimmick, I still probably would’ve liked it, but the track manages to stay in the present and it balances the retro and modern elements surprisingly well.
UNB themselves play a role in the song’s appeal, as the fact that they’re a union of a bunch of different backgrounds seems to help because the song ends up having a ton of variety in it. Thus, it never gets tired and always surges forward, even through the addictive, theatrically-performed chorus.
After sorting through so many songs to create this year’s list, “Black Heart” truly does jump at you. It’s a breath of fresh air from a retread collective that we’ll unfortunately never hear from again.