We’re closing in on the finish line of the Top 100 Korean Songs Of 2018 now, and from here on in I wouldn’t quibble too much over the rankings because I feel great about the final 30 songs.
#100 – #91
#90 – #81
#80 – #71
#70 – #61
#60 – #51
#50 – #41
#40 – #31
Any song released by a Korean artist in 2018 is eligible to be included on this list.
#30 – APRIL – “Oh My Mistake”
As I’m writing this, I honestly still don’t know exactly how much I like “Oh My Mistake“. It’s not what I expected at all, so it remains extremely fresh even as this process has droned on, and what it does well is excellent but there is some downside.
The underlying synth beat is actually rather cold, which contrasts nicely with everything else having a lively bounce, including APRIL themselves. The song seems to crest during the build (especially the second time around), as the percussion really factors in, and then the wave hits during the chorus in the form of going all out on the 80s retro that impossible to not sway your shoulders to.
On those merits “Oh My Mistake” could definitely make a case for being one of the better songs of the year, but I could’ve down without the two unavoidable breakdowns following the chorus, especially the second. They’re unfortunately significant, so it kinda jades my overall reception to the track, but it’s such a fresh and alluring song that I loved it in the end anyway.
#29 – Eric Nam – “Float”
I never know where to rank these types of songs. Basically, if you wanted to argue that “Float” is generic pop and doesn’t in any way deserve to be here based on technical merit … well, I wouldn’t have much of a counter.
Yet at the end of the day (or year in this case), I absolutely have not been able to stop listening to this fucking song since it was released. It is undeniably catchy despite being inherently simplistic, with a breezy vibe generated by bouncy percussion, an amazing synth that sorta sounds like cowbell, and subtle touches of rock as well. Oh yeah, Eric Nam executes chill and restrained vocals that match the song perfectly.
I don’t know what to say, man. I have absolutely worn this song the fuck out while driving in my car on sunny days and I still love hearing it. Yeah, it doesn’t have complexity and originality or whatever of others on this list, but there’s a ton of value in being my most eminently listenable song of the year.
#28 – Sunmi – “Black Pearl”
Sunmi goes for former group member Yubin‘s jugular by jacking her city-pop vibe and doing it better on “Black Pearl“. Admittedly this is not something you’d usually see me lauding, but the jazzy instrumental is surprisingly active, with synths and bass providing a solid foundation. When the chorus rolls around, the saxophone comes in and everything just melds together so damn well.
The lyrics about the front stage/back stage behavioral aspect of her life as a celebrity and coming into her own also factored heavily into the enjoyment of the song, especially since they were penned herself. While it doesn’t have the elements that typically fit my tastes, “Black Pearl” is just as appealing as any other song nevertheless.
#27 – SHINee – “Our Page”
“Our Page” is a personal song for obvious reasons, with lyrics penned by SHINee themselves. It’s emotional and touching on that front alone, and it would’ve been both understandable and easy to have gone with a generic, boring ol’ tear-jerking ballad. But it’s SHINee, so even when tackling subject matter like this, they dodged anything perfunctory and decided to make it awesome instead.
It starts with piano and percussion giving it some life, but it really springs forth during the chorus thanks partially to an instrumental with a bit more thump but primarily due to SHINee themselves. The boys give a stellar vocal performance, between softer emotive notes and soaring expressive ones, they were immense from start to finish. Timeless is the best way I can describe this sound, as it has an expansiveness to it and “Our Page” absolutely revels in it.
#26 – A Pink – “I’m So Sick”
While I understand why A Pink didn’t want to mature their sound seemingly for eons, once “I’m So Sick” arrived, it was hard not to wonder how much better their discography would be musically if they had done so sooner.
There’s so much to like here, from the driving synths to bizarre distorted background vocals to idiosyncratic instrumentation scattered around, but perhaps the most surprising is that it all works in conjunction with one another. The uniting force seems to be the chorus, which takes the baton from the momentum-building verses and kicks it up a gear, yet for a foot-tapping dance tracks, there’s a sense of melancholy emotion underpinning it all that heightens the intrigue.
“I’m So Sick” is actually uniquely appealing by the end, and at that point I found myself thinking that A Pink hiding this side of themselves was a crime.
#25 – BoA – “Recollection”
“Recollection” has an ethereal atmosphere set from the start, but it doesn’t really pick up until the beat kicks in and is joined by the bass and retro elements. BoA herself especially comes into play during the sparse pre-chorus, which ends up creating a sense of anticipation without the instrumental itself having to build. When the chorus of “Recollection” hits, featuring a funk-powered instrumental, it hooked me immediately, and the driving refrain helps everything come together. Of particular note is the music cutting out for the “ahhhs” before being clapped back in, which created an odd peak but one that worked brilliantly.
The entire effort felt breezy and simple but still possessed an underlying feeling of epicness thanks to the evolving instrumental. Much like memories, “Recollection” works best as a cohesive whole rather than being parted out, and there’s a groove and flow to the song that’s undeniable and has kept me reaching for the replay button. It’s just all so … easy. Add on points for BoA herself writing and composing this, and everything that’s going on here is worth loving.
#24 – CHERRY ON TOP – “HI FIVE”
Well how about this, huh? Not only are CHERRY ON TOP nugu as fuck but this is their goddamn debut and they’re right smack dab in the middle of the big boys and girls. There are times where you can hear a bit of a lack of refinement they would probably have if they hailed from a bigger, established company, but given recent trends in the industry said company also probably wouldn’t let them have a song this fun to start their careers.
“HI FIVE” begins stripped down with the members creating their own rhythm over pulses of electronic sounds, and things quickly get promising when the beat kicks in as there’s a nice groove to it all. The star of the show is easily the outstanding chorus, which has a central refrain that’s punctuated by “hi five” and is nicely fleshed out and catchy enough to make this list as it is. However, it adds on even further with the “you and I, we together, you and I, we go together” section before launching back into the central refrain, which was a perfect inclusion that keeps it from getting repetitive. Brilliant.
Shockingly, “HI FIVE” is one of the most infectiously fun releases of the year. Remember fun in K-pop? Yeah, well stuff like this is representative of those times, and CHERRY ON TOP picked a hell of a way to start their careers.
#23 – IU – “BBIBBI”
I’ve read complaints that other publications are only ranking “BBIBBI” so highly on year-end lists because IU is IU and she’s respected as an artist in Korea and she gets an automatic boost based on her reputation and all that. Looking at the selections on some of them, I do see where people are coming from and I’m sure the charge is at least somewhat true. “Well, at least those people will get the unburdened-by-company-connections opinions from MY list,” I thought to myself.
Heh, but a funny thing happened to me on the way to expecting IU to tank, because “BBIBBI” kept rising and rising instead. Like sure, she’s proven that her clever lyricism is relevant, and she absolutely deserves marks for the casual and sassy way of calling out haters and telling people not to cross the line. But most importantly, “BBIBBI” is just legitimately catchy.
The verses have this memorable quirky bounce to them that’s amplified by a coy delivery where you can practically hear her rolling her eyes and scoffing. Then of course there’s “yellow C-A-R-D” and “hello STU-P-I-D” in the chorus, which I’ve found disturbingly difficult to get out of my head, especially since it pops into my brain out of nowhere every time a yellow card is issued in a football match. Ironically then, in that sense IU is basically Professor X with this shit, constantly entering my brain without my consent.
#22 – BTS – “The Truth Untold”
People got irrationally upset at me last year for not liking “Spring Day” as much as I was required to, so that means I’m allowed to yell at everybody for not blowing up “The Truth Untold” to that same level or something. That’s the rules. A simple piano serenade at its core, the song is just pure emotion and hones vulnerability, starring BTS lamenting about not being able to give your true self or show your true self to the ones you love.
I always see people arguing on social media about the vocal talent in BTS, so I assume the lack of technically impressive vocal wank blunts the appeal of “The Truth Untold” to people who jerk it to ballads. But thank god they didn’t turn it into some exceptionally “perfect” performance, as the haunting humanness that permeates this song is what helps it work so well. The slight warbles and tangible exasperation hit me right in the kokoro, and this was a rare ballad with this type of minimalist composition that appealed to me from the get-go.
#21 – Drunken Tiger – “YET”
The Drunken Tiger name may be retiring, but Tiger JK isn’t going to let it die without a blaze of glory. On “YET“, he takes the listener through his trials and tribulations of his career while featuring standout lyrics that don’t only effectively tell a story, but do so in a creative and clever way.
“If you say I’m old, I’m old. If you say I’m over, then I’m an exclamation mark, punching down a punctuation mark.“
The music is equally interesting, with the inclusion of instrumentation from taepyeongso and rather aggressive-sounding strings making this immediately intriguing. The constant thumping beat itself is simple, but everything that surrounds it makes the song a bit eccentric, which works perfectly for Drunken Tiger’s flow, which I’ve always loved for the reggae-inspired delivery as it’s not only immediately recognizable but is incredibly versatile as well.
“YET” keeps the general sound that fans of Drunken Tiger from years past will recognize, but it also pushes that sound to evolve with modern tastes. It serves as a perfect example of the fusion of the past and present, and that’s a rather poetic bookend to the name.