Welcome to My Top Korean Songs of 2015, Part 1! If you need a little bit of info about the structure and background of this list, please take a moment to read my previous post here.
If you’re good, then kick back, dim the lights, and let your ears have fun.
“Artificial Flower,” by Eddy Kim
If you love sweeping string sections like I do, then prepare thy loins. “Artificial Flower” builds quite dramatically without warning. Somewhere in the second verse, the song takes a moment to ask itself: “hm, should we kick things up a notch?”, answers with a “hell yeah, dude,” then proceeds to catapult itself into a realm of awesome, where drums are a bangin’; electric guitars are a screechin’; and regal choir articulations emerge for pure shits and giggles. This song’s full-fledged instrumental is so grand, that I can’t imagine Eddy Kim not performing it without a wind machine blowing at full force in his face and a scary amount of pyrotechnics flaring out from the ground around him. Can someone make that happen? – Arnold
“How About Me? (Feat. Young Ji),” by Gu Hara
With those high beats bringing in the hard production, I couldn’t believe Gu Hara, KARA’s baby member, came out this hard! With EJ Show and E.One on the production side, Gu Hara shed KARA so hard I couldn’t turn my head fast enough. With Gu Hara’s small voice riding the beat and Young Ji’s self-assured rap style, “How About Me?” was the bubble-gum pop version of trying too hard and getting away with it. Sure, the rest of the EP falls flat, with an especially lame metaphor for sex in “Choco Chip Cookie,” but I had to applaud Gu Hara and Young Ji’s sheer audacity on “How About Me?” and for pulling it off. – Drowningn00b
“Love Song,” by Miss A
Following other songs in their catalog, like “Mr Johnny,” “Time’s Up,” and notably “Lips,” miss A keeps going down a path of negative sound space, where the beats drops into a nether realm that isn’t all bass nor is it all high notes. As a group who’s music I like, but sometimes fail to admire, miss A tries and tries to do new stuff, and they finally hit that spot of pop and newness on “Love Song.” Sure, trap in pop music was not new when the song came out on miss A’s “Colors” EP, but the use of the violin loop is genius, full stop. As a romantic pop ballad, this track could easily have fallen through the grates of the k-pop sewer system, but with the girls’ high voices and a killer track by Daniel Kim, miss A finally became the emotional idols they wanted to be so long ago. – Drowningn00b
“Ice Ice (Feat. Yuk Ji Dam),” by HyunA
Another year, another Hyuna release. This time, the idol sex bomb went all Unpretty Rapstar and released one of the better tracks the show wished it could come up with. On the bombastic “얼음 땡 (Ice Ice),” Hyuna spit game about money, greed and what a real star looks like. With a rapid-fire handclap loop, hard hitting bass and the fantastic Yuk Ji Dam to help beat away the haters, “Ice Ice” was 2015’s reason why Hyuna solo comebacks are a thing we all need. – Drowningn00b
“Bad,” by INFINITE
As a long-time fan and silent cheerleader, it’s always an event to watch INFINITE come back. This year, the fierce seven dropped the anthemic “Bad” off their fifth studio album, “Reality”. The single landed in an interesting spot for the group. “Bad” echoed the intensity and careful approach as most of INFINITE’s past singles, but it also sounded like a step in a different direction, stylistically. The glittery synths and intricate strings that populated a lot of INFINITE’s older hits were substituted with sharper vocal phrasing and less ambient filling in the verses. At times it’s almost too bare for comfort, but perhaps that’s all part of the dark tone the song tries to establish. Accompanied by a badass 360 cam MV that nearly sent me to my grave, “Bad” did it’s job in quenching my INFINITE thirst (so real, the thirst), while making me step back a moment to question whether we’re entering that odd transition period every K-Pop boy band faces as they do that whole growing up thing. We’ll just have to wait and see. – Arnold
“Fire (Feat. Jinsil),” by Mad Clown
I’m pretty green when it comes to distinguishing between good rapping and bad rapping, so I don’t know exactly where Mad Clown falls on the list of K-Rappers and their merits. I do know that he has a unique timbre that I really like. It’s sorta nasally and higher pitched than I would expect a rapper’s to be. Anyway, he sounds good in this song. “Fire” is a brassy and soulful tune that has an eerie resemblance to Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” which isn’t a bad thing. Jinsil moans her way through the chorus like a good jazz singer should, which is one of the finer details in this, delivering a smooth vocal performance that ends up complimenting Mad Clown’s crisp rap lines nicely. – Arnold
“Hallelujah,” by Jonghyun
SHINee’s Jonghyun is quite the sensuous singer, and nowhere is he more seductive and titillating than on the not-so-holy anthem, “Hallelujah.” R&B fits Jonghyun like a glove, we know this now. His whisper-singing in this particular tune synchronizes with the beat beautifully, and the choir effect in the background adds to the sacramental imagery. It’s a bit interesting that Jonghyun imbued the listening experience with a conflicting set of emotions; on one end he’s thankful to God for this girl, and on the other deeply thankful to her for the arousal that lead him to this song. It’s the most provocative thing ever, and I like it. – Arnold
“Daydream,” by VIVIS
Artist To Watch: Electronic music is all about dancing, ridiculously so. Not every time I pop in my earbuds do I want to get up and shake it (sorry, SISTAR), so I was ecstatic when I heard VIVIS’ “공상,” a soft electronic ballad from this new indie duo. Indie singers Sol Bi and Kyung In joined forces to create VIVIS, a multimedia project that included not just their EP, “Trace,” but an art exhibition by Sol Bi, which is the basis for the “공상” music video. With bits of trance, R&B and indie synth-rock flair, “공상” is one hell of a chill out song. – Drowningn00b
“Ugly Girl’s Waltz,” by Jung Yun Yung
Composers and instrumentalists have always held a fascination for me and continue to do so, especially because of their ability to convey a story without lyrics of any kind. Prime example: on Jung Yun Sung’s marvelous ballad, “Ugly Girl’s Waltz,” you get the tale of a girl inside her head, with hopes and desires, love even, someone who lives in her head, hoping to reach a different place in life. Life rudely gets in the way, and once again she’s forced to contend with the cards she’s dealt and how to get to a better end. Going from sprightly and joyful, to calm and mellow, to harsh and overwrought, and finally mellow and scarred, “Ugly Girl’s Waltz” is beautiful and harsh, with a message to give you in a less than direct way, like a fairytale. – Drowningn00b
“Me, Today (Feat. San E),” by ESNA
Artist To Watch: I love me a stripped down R&B tear-jerker, and ESNA sure comes through with “Me, Today”. In true Adele fashion, ESNA makes sure the focus of this song is first and foremost her voice, with a simple piano riff and light trilling strings added beneath her as the groundwork on which she can work her magic. ESNA taps into some deep emotions, as well. By verse two, she’s soaring in emotional belts so powerful, they give me chills. I just wish San E’s rap didn’t interrupt the flow. I mean, the song builds so well, but then this dude comes in and nearly ruins everything. Next time, let’s do without the gratuitous rap verse, shall we? – Arnold
“Colors,” by Day6
Artist To Watch: I said it in my Honorable Mentions, and I’ll say it again: 2015 has been a fantastic year in music for JYP. But if I had to put my finger on the smartest move I think JYP made this year, I would have to say it was debuting the six-member pop-rock band, Day6. I hate to say it, but CNBlue and FT Island, both pop-rock bands that cropped up in K-Pop’s Golden Era and both pretty decent groups in their own right, have kinda sorta lived out their shelf life. So when JYP stepped in to introduce a pop-rock band for today’s K-Pop audience, I had to give the company a slow clap for hopping on the opportunity to fill the void. “Colors”, a song off Day6’s debut EP “The Day”, and also my favorite song they’ve released thus far, reminds me a whole lot of Switchfoot’s “Dare You To Move”. I effing love that song. In fact, I think Day6 overall has very Switchfoot qualities about them, but with a K-Pop flair to keep them fresh. FRESH! Yes, I think that’s the best way to describe Day6. They’re tackling K-Pop from a different angle; not a new one exactly, but certainly different, and I appreciate that. Keep it up, JYP. – Arnold
“Call Me Baby,” by EXO
Dude, that EXO reign just won’t let up, will it? It’s like you’re expecting them to release a flop, but then they hit you with some out-of-left field banger, and suddenly you’re foaming at the mouth begging for more. Or at least that was the case for me this year. It goes without saying that EXO know how to deliver a good up-tempo, and they did just that with “Call Me Baby”. For a group as large as EXO, their producers really know how to funnel the group’s voices in such a way that their songs never once fall apart. Each member enters and exits seamlessly from one section to the next, and I think “Call Me Baby” sees this happen the clearest. I love the way Baekhyun, Suho, and Xiumin ping-pong their lines back and forth at the beginning of the first verse. It’s playful and alluring to listen to, and they do it several times throughout the song. Like at the break down, where Baekhyun, Chen, and D.O. layer their voices in harmony for one of the nicest climaxes in a K-Pop song this year. Not only is it done beautifully, but showcases the group’s technical skills as singers. And these dudes can SANG. Shall we detour into my vault of Chen clips of him killin the game to prove it? No, no let me not. We’d be here all day. Also, that may or may not be a thing I have. – Arnold
“완전한 사육,” by Asian Chairshot
A fan of these guys since the beginning, Asian Chairshot will never cease to amaze me. Since the beginning of the over-the-top guitar riff that begins “Girl” properly, and the stage presence they command, Asian Chairshot is one of those rock bands that gets better with each release, and their latest EP, “소나기,” is a blast of power that doesn’t let up. It all begins with the distorted guitar riff by Heenam Son on “완전한 사육.” A fast pace, hard hitting drums from Kyewan Park and a relentless bassline from Youngwon Hwang, the song is a giant garble of rock noise that’s a chokehold for most of its 4 minute run time, until the dying electric guitar note at the end. With their current run on “Top Band,” Asian Chairshot can only go up from here. – Drowningn00b
“Check,” by SNSD
After Jessica’s abrupt dismissal from Girls’ Generation last year, I was worried about the new vocal dynamic within the group. Tiffany was gaining more of the spotlight with her work on TaeTiSeo, but “Lion Heart” quelled those fears with the rise of Sunny and the as-yet-inexplicable-but-oh-so-fascinating gains made by Hyeoyeon. In the end, though, none of that mattered because what SM Entertainment can do well is buy produce some effortless pop tunes, and “Check” is the song we all wanted when “Mr.Mr.” tried to do the 90’s pop sound last year. Dramatic as fuck and screechy all over the place, “Check” toned all of it down to a pleasant mid-tempo bubblegum pop of yesteryear. Recalling so many of the hits of my MTV generation, SNSD hit it out of the park with this blast from the past. – Drowningn00b
“No Sky Is The Limit,” by beWhy
For me, the hip-hop news that threw me for a loop was not the ridiculous media attention Keith Ape received for doing nothing special, but the fact that C-Jamm signed with Just Music. As a huge fan of $exy $treet, I had no idea what the future of the group would look like without its resident camera-ready rapper. Then, like he read my mind, the brains behind the group, BewhY, released “Time Travel,” a fantastic rap record. A great lyricist and producer, BewhY straight killed on this record, and “No Sky Is The Limit” was one among many examples of that talent on full display. Equally gritty and inspiring, the track has an awesome progression, a killer hook, and delivery for days from BewhY and VMC’s Don Mills. Impossible is not a fact, indeed. – Drowningn00b
“Flying Walls,” by From The Airport
Artist To Watch: When I first heard From The Airport in the lead up to their debut record, I thought they were fine, another rock-synth group among many. After seeing them live for Seoulsonic 2014, and finally listening to the full “You Could Imagine,” it all clicked. On top of effortless production that’s easy to move to, whether full on dance or stomping the floor hard, the lyrics are some of the best I’ve heard in a while. On “Flying Walls,” how can you not love the imagery of the following?
“Emptiness raining on me
Shrieking at me
Fading colors from my body
What can I do or devise
In order to break these walls in this ruthless maze,”
From The Airport’s music is urgent at times, but leaves enough space for you to notice the details, a balance “Flying Walls” does beautifully. – Drowningn00b
From The Airport’s “Flying Walls” does a fantastic job of feeling timeless and incredibly fresh at the same time. In fact, all of From The Airport’s releases thus far have given me a sense of nostalgia with a twist of modern crispness. The synth work in this song builds on top of itself in elegant fashion. It’s so well done, that you don’t notice it until it blows up out of nowhere as it collides with the band’s rock-ier kicks. It’s one of my favorite songs to blast in my car, if not for its awesome production, than at least for how cool I feel driving to it. – Arnold
“Ah Yeah,” by EXID
While this number wasn’t as perfect as “Up & Down” – an attempted replica if anything – I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of “Ah Yeah.” EXID are one of the few girl groups out there that I vibe to on a regular basis and I was absolutely thrilled when this thing first hit my ears. It’s trendy, with its sax loops and brassy finish, and the way the verses shift in and out from singing to rap is an interesting editing move. It’s a bit abrupt, sure, but plays to the “hip-hop” aspects of the song. Solji slays in the belting department, while Hani carries most of the weight of the verses on her own, which I’m totally okay with. All in all, it’s another clear win for EXID with this one. – Arnold
“Just,” by Zion. T & Crush
Man, Zion. T was all over the place this year. His recent feature on PSY’s 7th studio album is yet another example of the magic in his singing that Korea (or those listening on repeat, i.e. me) can’t quite get over. And I hope no one does, because he’s one of my favorite singers in the game right now. In the super chill, jazzy single “Just”, with Crush, Zion. T is shoulder deep in his element. Zion. T doesn’t need to over-sing to pull at the right heart strings in his music, because the soulfulness that runs in his veins leaves its mark across everything he touches. Like, I didn’t think I would care much for this song, because it started off pretty slow, but the dude has such a way of keeping his music fresh and engaging, that even a timid jazzy number as this one became a hypnotizing classic in my music library, thanks to him. – Arnold
“Closer,” by Oh My Girl
Artist To Watch: I’m not one to listen to very many girl groups, but I was pleasantly surprised when I came across Oh My Girl’s “Closer”. It’s such a beautiful song, and so elegantly executed, that I fell in love with it on first listen. I like that Oh My Girl’s producers incorporated a rap section in here. You’d think that a rap break wouldn’t work in a song this fragile in production, but as soon as it spills into the web of reverb and airy vocals that the girls built beforehand, it’s like it was meant to reside there all along. The fact that it’s so easy to listen to, too, may or may not be turning me into a fanboy of this ensemble. Okay, fine. I’m a fan. There. – Arnold
“Twenty-Three,” by IU
All controversies aside, I think IU came back with some of her best work this year. “Twenty-Three” is just bouncy enough to echo her older, more juvenile releases, but the production is far more sophisticated than you’d think, and that’s what really wins me over about this song. The way the strings have a carved out melody of their own behind IU’s lead is a very beautiful detail that I love listening out for. And dare I say that this song is sorta edgy? At least when it comes to IU’s music it is. The break down goes pretty damn hard for an otherwise retro-pop number. Let’s just hope IU keeps experimenting with her next comeback, because lord knows shit hit the fan for her this year. – Arnold
“Crazy,” by 4Minute
Oh 4flops. You’ve had your haters throughout the years (Arnold’s note: *slowly raises hand*), and as much as I defended you at every instance, playing your hits at full blast, it never felt complete. But you didn’t let me down this year! Fuck, this is the shit!! With Hyuna and Sohyun being straight ridiculous, and Jihyun finally getting the break that suits her voice, you ladies began 2015 so hard with “Crazy.” A beat so sick and multiple ways to say that damn title, it was a great year to be a 4Minute fan. Thanks, ladies! – Drowningn00b
I have already word-vomited how much I liked this song, so I’ll just drop the link to that post right here for you to read. If I had to add anything, though, it’d probably be a paragraph or two of YAAASS’s. Which I’m pretty sure none of you want to see. – Arnold
“First One,” by Jin Kim
Artist To Watch: As a listener of jazz, and music in general, I love when a new talent hits the scene and blows it out of the water. After studying for ages, Jin Kim’s trumpet is on fire on the hard bop of “The Unit,” along with the other members of his quintet. On the opening cut, aptly named “First One,” you hear the chemistry between all of them and how amazingly talented each of the guys is on his respective instrument. Frenetic in its energy, lively as all get out and just fun from beginning to end, the Jin Kim Quintet is a rising star on the Korean jazz scene with the release of “The Unit.” For an added treat, watch the chemistry when the quintet performed as part of the Onstage Naver online series. – Drowningn00b
“Kiss My Lips,” by BoA
I still don’t like “Only One.” As much as I thought I was wrong in my initial review way back when, time only made it clearer how much I didn’t like that period of BoA’s career. With “Kiss My Lips,” the mood leavened and the music got more upbeat, while still remaining grounded in R&B. With a killer bass line and a funk-pop beat, “Kiss My Lips” was such a treat, a sleek pop song with a glossy production and seductive tones from the k-pop queen. Along with a visually striking video, BoA’s “Kiss My Lips” brought me back to why I love her. – Drowningn00b
“Beautiful Liar,” by VIXX LR
Man, have I been sleeping on VIXX. It wasn’t til this year that I finally warmed up to them, and boy was I not ready. And of course as I’m vibing to their old music, two members decide to pull one over and drop a sub-unit tear-jerker to fuck with me. “Beautiful Liar,” a song so unexpectedly powerful, left me speechless when I first heard it. It was probably the intense MV that did it, but even on its own, VIXX LR’s debut single holds its own as one of the most emotional releases in K-Pop this year. Leo’s voice glides smoothly over the simple piano lines, while Ravi brings the contrast the song demands with his harsher, and eerily deep rap verses. It’s such a beautiful blend of the two that I have yet to grow tired of it, while also continuing to find details about it that I love. That’s when you know you have a true keeper on your hands. – Arnold
“Young, Wild & Free,” by B.A.P
Can we take a moment to thank the K-Pop gods for the triumphant return of B.A.P? Because they deserve so much praise for the shit they’ve been through to be back here. And man, does it feel good. “Young, Wild & Free,” B.A.P’s first major release in hell knows how long, sees the boys return to form in glorious fashion. “Young, Wild & Free” takes all of the B.A.P kinks and whistles that I, admittedly, grew to despise, and refines them to perfection. It was only a couple years ago that I remember growing tired of B.A.P’s style (I know, shame on me). But dude, I didn’t how much I missed it until I realized it wasn’t there. As soon as B.A.P dropped this anthem, it was love at first sight all over again. The modern-rock influences; the soaring chorus; the explosiveness! It’s all there and executed so, so well. Way to go, guys. *sobs uncontrollably* – Arnold
And that’s it for now!
As always, stay safe and in touch on Twitter and the ITHYK Facebook Page!
What were some of your top K-Pop songs of 2015? Were yours totally different from the ones I showcased in my list? Share all of the things and all of the feels in the comments section below, and don’t forget to check back in for Part 2 of My Top Korean Songs of 2015 very soon!
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I don’t know how I’ve been sleeping on exo and infinite since their respective debuts. I’ve spent most of this year catching up on their whole discographies, so I haven’t checked out many new things other than my usual faves. so your list is very helpful. I’ve been looping most of the songs on this list since you uploaded them. I have to say I expected the WG’s one black night to make it somewhere on your list!
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Nice! And yeah, a few people have been asking where is the WG love, and what I told someone is that I never quite fell in love with any of the songs on Reboot. I really like them as a whole collection, the album is actually spectacular and I want to touch on it if I finish “My Top Korean Albums of 2015” (IF lol), but I made the difficult decision to cut WG out of the Top 50 in place of some other jams I connected with better.
I did show “John Doe” some love on my Honorable Mentions :D http://isthishowyoukpop.com/2015/11/29/best-of-2015-my-honorable-mentions-of-the-year/
I do agree the album as a whole is good One black night and Loved are my favs, but it’s no match to Wonder World! I look forward to that list/ if it happens/, meanwhile I still have to get through the second part of your list.the first part was so good, I’ve downloaded most of those single’s albums!
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