DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a definitive list, and in fact many, many, many older kpop fans are appalled by the number of iconic K-pop songs missing from the list. Please take this list with a grain of salt. Aside from 2ne1 being on the list, the fact that the authors made the list 21 instead of 20 in “loving tribute” to 2NE1 made this a ABSOLUTE must post article.
From lapsed ’90s metalheads to the glossiest Girls of today’s Generation, the best of the sublimely shiny sound that’s sweeping the world.
Twenty years after its birth, Korean pop music has made its way from Seoul to Singapore to San Antonio to São Paulo and back again, “outbubbling” — as SPIN’s Chuck Eddy phrased it last year — its Western counterpart by tweaking and perfecting the formula on which both have long been based. It’s music that demands to be mainlined (hooks come sharper, choruses larger, visuals brighter), its gloss equaled only by the aggressiveness with which it’s been delivered to the international marketplace in recent years.
By now, K-pop’s catalog of classics is deep enough to warrant a best-of list of its own, one we’ve assembled with our ears pointed to both past and present: The 21 Greatest K-Pop Songs of All Time, a singles wrecking crew whose final, odd-numbered tally is a loving tribute to one of the current moment’s most beloved girl groups, 2NE1.
21. SoolJ feat. Suh Ga Young – “Waiting 4 U” (2011)
20. Shinee – “Lucifer” (2010)
19. TVXQ – “Doshite Kimi o Suki ni Natte Shimattandaro” (2008)
18. Wonder Girls – “Be My Baby” (2011)
17. IU – “Boo” (2009)
16. T-Ara – “Roly Poly” (2011)
15. Super Junior – “Sorry Sorry” (2009)
14. Kara – “Step” (2011)
13. Big Bang – “Bad Boy” (2012)
12. f(x) – “Nu Abo” (2010)
11. Girls Generation – “Run Devil Run” (2010)
10. E.via – “Pick Up! U!” (2010)
9. 2NE1 – “Ugly” (2011)
Though “Ugly” scans like aggressive homage (or a rip, if you’d like) to TLC’s 1996 body-image breakdown “Unpretty,” its impact is more akin to the world-beating bubble-grunge of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Loud and brash, tender yet heroic, it encapsulates just about everything that’s so immediate about the 2NE1 crew. And on the strength of CL’s volcanic vocals, the four unleash here what’s arguably the most ferocious chorus in K-pop history. D.B.
8. Norazo – “Curry” (2010)
7. GD&TOP – “High High” (2010)
6. BoA – “Eat You Up” (2008)
5. SNSD – “Gee” (2009)
4. Seo Taiji & Boys – “Nan Arayo (I Know)” (1992)
3. 2NE1 – “I Am the Best” (2011)
“I Am the Best” might’ve been the best single released on the planet in 2011, even if not for its apocalyptic/futuristic video that kicks off on a catwalk and escalates into straightjackets, train-track break-dancing, ice cream cone rabbit-ear hats, and devil-horned hairstyles well before the aluminum bats and machine guns come out so 2NE1 can smash and shoot up the place. The stomping title hook sounds like “Neh-guh-ché Challa-GAH”; other big nonsense hook is the machine-gunned “bum-ratta-TATTA ta-tatta tah-tah.” Then there’s the froggie-reggae dancehall (“hot-hot-hot-hot FI-ya”) and Alice Cooper (“billion dollar baby”) references. Lyric plot: Hitting the city, taking no shit. World-class throat: CL. C.E.
2. HyunA – “Bubble Pop!” (2011)
1. H.O.T. – “Candy” (1996)
That loopy, light-headed intro melody; that bouncy, boomeranging chorus; reggae-informed, Smash Mouth-indebted, 8-bit-encrusted everything. Seo Taiji may have laid K-pop’s foundation a few years earlier, but it was H.O.T., a boy band engineered in part by SM kingpin Lee Soo-Man, that ushered in the “idol” cult that’s propelled Korean pop cultural product as far and wide as it’s come in the past ten years. Without relying heavily on visuals (the theme park romance of its video is a gas, though) like every idol group it’s spawned since, they delivered a Platonic ideal that made good on its title. D.B.
Similar to Rolling Stones Magazine, Spin Magazine is a music oriented magazine published in America, but with international distribution. In its early years, the magazine was noted for its broad music coverage with an emphasis on college-oriented rock music and on the ongoing emergence of hip-hop. It also was one of the first mainstream magazines to put black artists and women artists on the cover which at the time was considered a risk, potentially damaging newsstand sales. Now it has a bit more mainstream tilt, but its still a pretty edgy magazine.
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