The home stretch of the Top 100 Korean Songs Of 2018 approaches, as there’s just 20 songs remaining. I love them all.
Any song released by a Korean artist in 2018 is eligible to be included on this list.
#20 – TWICE – “What Is Love”
“What Is Love” is definitely a song that’s inoffensive and clean, so I didn’t expect it to win out over more outwardly expressive and creative offerings when I did these rankings. However, despite sticking to a well-worn template, the execution of the elements that end up being used was top notch.
So yeah it’s straightforward, but everything works, from the upbeat synth-centric instrumental to the the percussion build of the pre-chorus to the scaled-back vocal-centric bridge to the “I wanna know know know know what is love” hook, it’s all light and fun and addicting, which is something TWICE seem to excel at accomplishing. While I enjoy getting surprised by music as much as anybody else, I’ve also never seen anything wrong with a mindlessly enjoyable song that’s endlessly replayable.
#19 – LOONA YYXY – “Love4eva”
LOONA was all over this list last year, but in an amusing twist, I wasn’t as enamored with their group efforts as their generally stellar solo work. That said, the LOONA YYXY unit and its disturbingly catchy “Love4eva” did leave quite the impression. The song utilizes an excellent upbeat and bouncy sound as its foundation, which keeps the effort fresh and lively throughout, powering it through the verses to the standout chorus.
While “Love4eva” is definitely derivative of past girl group hits, what I enjoyed the most was it avoided being just a hook song. Instead, the chorus is nicely fleshed out with a definitive rhythm of its own, but it also still has that earworm refrain in the bright “love forever” to punctuate it. So despite sticking to a formula that’s more typically K-pop than what their best work had previously used, LOONA YYXY puts enough of their own spin on a classic template to create a memorable standout in “Love4eva”.
#18 – HALO – “OMG”
Who the hell is HALO? I didn’t know back when I first listened to this and I honestly still don’t know now. What I do know is that with “OMG” they’ve struck pop gold with a track that stars a smooth and funky instrumental. While most of these songs excel due to the chorus, this was a nice change of pace in that the verses were a strength as well. Of note in particular are the sections where the synths kick in, reminding me a bit of Rockwell‘s “Somebody’s Watching Me” during the “whoa oh oh” refrain.
HALO play their part as well, providing powerful vocal runs at appropriate moments to sort of take the top off the track. While the chorus doesn’t have a true hook quality, it has an inherently catchy melody that grows on the listener due to its interesting and polished construction. “OMG” just has this irresistible foot-tapping quality over the duration of it, and doesn’t ever bog down by being overly reliant on any one element, instead succeeding as a joining of quality segments.
#17 – SHINee – “Chemistry”
“Chemistry” is bouncy and trendy, utilizing a dancehall core to create a pleasant song with a nice rhythm and flow to it. Things could stop there and be good enough to make this list, but SHINee themselves help “Chemistry” separate from the pack thanks to their vocals that power an exhilarating chorus, crafting an addictive and eminently danceable effort.
If instead of a lazy instrumental breakdown, every song of this type had a similarly impactful burst with a fleshed-out refrain as its center, I doubt we’d see as many complaints about the genre. It’s honestly almost disgusting how consistently SHINee manage to take a known template and transform it into something much more with an elite-level chorus that soars the song to new heights like they do here. Feels like there’s some kind of conspiracy at play or something (#StayWoke).
#16 – SATURDAY – “Mmook Jji Bba”
“Mmook Jji Bba” kind of freaked me out in a way, because it’s like the distilled essence of Crayon Pop and Orange Caramel in song form. For the most part, the result is as glorious as that combination should be, serving up pop bliss with multiple earworm sections and an adequate amount of quirk that make it uniquely appealing.
The upbeat and driving pacing is absolutely relentless and constantly pushes the song forward, and the addition of the saxophone riffs work thanks to my love for brass. Meanwhile, SATURDAY‘s background vocal interjections were eerily similar to those used by Crayon Pop, and the “ttae ttae ttae ttae ttae ttae ttae” stutter in the chorus serves as a great hook that Orange Caramel might utilize. It’s so on the nose in terms of influence, but also so glorious that I don’t really care.
“Mmook Jji Bba” is the type of song that appeals to me so viscerally that it could easily be a candidate for song of the year … but there’s that fucking breakdown after the chorus where they work in gwiyomi, and while I get how it fits the song, it also needlessly messes up the glorious momentum the instrumental works so hard to generate. Still, literally everything else the song does works, and this is the type of weird energy that I’ve felt K-pop has been sorely missing since the two groups SATURDAY used as an inspiration exited the scene.
#15 – (G)I-DLE – “HANN”
“HANN” isn’t as in-your-face bombastic or obviously catchy as other songs on this list, but the darker atmosphere it operates within is beautifully understated and provides a timelessly alluring sound. Nothing makes that clearer than the chorus, which is centered around an airy repetition of the “oooh” sound more than anything vocally. But it’s such a fluid and impactful arrangement that it works flawlessly nevertheless, and it results in a subtly addictive hook.
(G)I-DLE themselves deserve a lot of credit for providing the necessary punch to make the simplicity of the instrumental viable, with the attitude conveyed during the rapping and the haunting vocal of the pre-chorus particularly deserving of note. Rather than trend-riding, (G)I-DLE went with a bit of a different direction and were rewarded for it with a memorable standout in “HANN”.
#14 – PENTAGON – “Shine”
“Shine” catches your attention from the get-go with a surprisingly prominent piano line, and by the time the pre-chorus rolls around, it’s already successfully established itself as a bouncy and fun effort that’s painfully endearing. The instrumental is spacious and sparse at points, but what I think made it viable is that there’s always a sense of movement conveyed through the vocal or instrumental. From the booming bass entering out of nowhere in the pre-chorus to the last gasp “nanana na nana” at the back-end of the chorus, it keeps you on your toes more than you’d expect.
The playful sing-songy delivery by PENTAGON themselves matches well with “Shine” thematically, and there’s a certain rawness and happy-go-lucky attitude to their performance that helps enhance things further. While it’s a very thin line for me between quirky and sparse and something that’s just plain boring, PENTAGON walk that line brilliantly here.
#13 – 015B & Youra – “My Hair Is Green”
015B‘s instrumental sets “My Hair Is Green” up for success, as the melodies are constantly changing and the same goes for the tempo. Those switches were surprisingly implemented in a way that felt seamless, and it helped keep me thoroughly engaged throughout and gave the song excellent replay value. Just as important is that it provides this sinister edge to everything with a sound that’s oddly both creepy as well as catchy.
015B also seem to know when to allow space for that dark atmosphere to fester, allowing Youra‘s detached, echoing vocal to shine and contribute excellently to the sense of foreboding. Melodically, the chorus is rather uncomplicated, but it’s also undeniably foot-tapping in its simplicity. That’s further complimented by Youra’s excellent and unique delivery of the catchy refrains, which helps make the whole effort rather unforgettable.
#12 – Dreamcatcher – “Mayday”
Despite my well-known affinity for Dreamcatcher‘s rock-influenced sound, I was still surprised at exactly how much I ended up loving “Mayday“, an upbeat rock-pop song with a harder edge thanks to heavy metal guitars and energetic drums to keep pushing things forward constantly. However, after repeat listens what really elevated it was the inclusion of the piano for the softer moments, which complimented the rest of the song perfectly by serving as a beautiful foil of sorts.
Additionally, the chorus was stellar with its “mayday mayday” refrain delivered impressively and taking the song to a satisfyingly energetic peak. Thankfully, they just didn’t leave it as a hook song and it’s a rich chorus that goes at a breakneck pace. “Mayday” has an amusingly uplifting mood about it, with a soaring quality being what stands out the most, and while it’s plainly catchy there’s also enough twists and turns that it avoids becoming repetitive.
#11 – Oh My Girl – “Twilight”
“Twilight” was a pleasant shock as an absolute synth-pop anthem with a club feel to it that seems to never lets up on providing signature moments for the listener to key on. It’s the kind of song that just makes you want to get up and dance, and honestly there’s a laundry list of embarrassing shit I’ve probably attempted to the tune of this song while listening to it around the house.
While the repetitions of “twilight” and “spotlight” will always stand out, the chorus is multi-faceted. The vocals going up and down the scale in rhythm is perfectly done, and the interjections of “oh eh oh eh oh” are timed up nicely. The vocals from low to high literally and figuratively hit the note, yet give off this nice, casual feel to it that a head-nodder like “Twilight” needed. One of my favorite choruses of the year, and I could never trust anybody who can’t at least bounce to this.