The 20 Best Okay-pop Albums of 2018: Critics' Picks


It’s laborious to overstate the breakthrough Okay-pop albums have had on American charts this yr, the place the presence of Korean artists on the Billboard charts has been at an all-time excessive.

The Billboard 200 was graced by 10 albums from Okay-pop artists in 2018, greater than tripling appearances on the chart in 2017. BTS alone confirmed up thrice -- twice with albums that hit No. 1. Other appearances included BLACKPINK, EXO, J-Hope, Jonghyun, Lay, NCT 127 and RM.

But past the numbers, there have been loads of career-defining information from acts with names huge and small. Our checklist contains sturdy debuts, information marking a disbandment and albums the place each track stands by itself. While some acts launched multiple album in 2018, we determined to restrict everybody to 1 eligible album to seize the breadth of so many nice releases. Here are our 20 favorites from 2018. 

20. BLACKPINK, Square Up

Few Okay-pop albums have been as extremely anticipated in recent times as BLACKPINK’s first EP Square Up. Coming two years after they exploded onto the scene in 2016, the quartet launched their four-track album as a testomony to their dedication to rambunctious, hip-hop infused dance music. Exuding confidence, sass and an overwhelming sense of stylish, the album is fronted by their group's Hot 100 -harting single “DDU-DU DDU-DU.” It went on to turn into the all-time highest-charting album from a Okay-pop woman group to hit the States, debuting at No. 40 on the Billboard 200. -- TAMAR HERMAN

19. Cosmic Girls - WJ Please?

If their identify is any indication, Cosmic Girls know tips on how to make dreamy pop concoctions. “Save Me, Save You” leads this 2018 EP with glitchy synth-pop set atop pounding percussion. The intricate textures stuffed with twinkling particulars makes this monitor really feel magical. But the deep cuts maintain their very own: “You, You, You” appears like an ‘80s exercise tape in area. “I-Yah” has the melodrama of an INFINITE track. Then they go for baroque on “Masquerade.” WJ Please? is a kind of uncommon mini-albums the place each track is out of this world. -- CAITLIN KELLEY

18. GOT7, Eyes on You

A compact assortment of R&B-tinged tracks, Eyes on You sees GOT7 doing what GOT7 does greatest: matching shapeshifting manufacturing with a mix of tender and highly effective vocal moments. "Look" marked one of many yr's most bold and pleasant singles, setting the stage for cuts just like the mix of sentimental and hard-hitting home on "Hesitate" and leaping from snappy entice manufacturing to the uplifting anthem on the fan-dedicated "Thank You." With the septet having a powerful hand of their set's writing and manufacturing course of, eyes ought to proceed keep on the GOT7 guys within the years to return. -- JEFF BENJAMIN

17. Loona, [+ +]

Loona is lastly complete, after over a yr of pre-debut promotions. The 12-member woman group already proved their versatility -- and knack for sparking fan theories. But their debut mini album met (hello) excessive expectations: Lead single “Hi High” is so energetic that it appears like an engineer pressed fast-forward on it. This yr, woman teams took on darker ideas than ever earlier than, however Loona’s future is wanting brilliant. -- C.Okay.

16. Seungri, The Great Seungri

When you’re one of many largest personalities in Okay-pop, you want an album to match your extra-ness. “1, 2, three!” delivers on the decision for grandiosity with an anthemic “whoa oh oh” refrain over swirling synths. It was inevitable that Seungri would peacock on a monitor about attracting a lover. Meanwhile, “Where R U From” has the playful perspective of a Psy banger, and the music video goes fittingly OTT at a U.N. assembly, with caricatures of world leaders. Then there’s “Mollado,” a Latin membership banger that builds and breaks in all the best locations. The BIGBANG maknae has clearly cast a sonic path of his personal. -- C.Okay.

15. NCT 127, Regular-Irregular

Every good Okay-pop album has a powerful idea, and with Regular-Irregular, NCT 127 delivered a high-brow imaginative and prescient for his or her debut full-length that arguably exemplifies Korea's pop-music scene. Utilizing the title's dueling motifs, the primary half of the album presents what might be referred to as a "common" Okay-pop album, with the statement-making single "Regular," and varied dips into varied genres from EDM-pop to '90s-R&B and a quintessential ballad. The "Irregular" aspect sees the blokes delivering laborious hip-hop, electro-funk and even an English-language monitor -- the mix of the 2 making for certainly one of Okay-pop's most bold tasks of 2018. -- J.B.

14. iKON, Return

While iKON have been recognized for a cool picture, Return revealed the septet's inside insecurities over beds of easy hip-hop and R&B. The guys crave connection on the deceivingly upbeat "Love Me," inform their woman they know she loves one other man on the mournful "Just Go" and humbly attempt to recognize a failed love on the piano-led "Love Scenario" -- which grew to become one of many yr's largest hits. iKON's B.I wrote and produced on every monitor, however his solo track "One and Only" is the LP's most uncooked second, the place the group's chief discusses blazing his personal path over making protected, chart-friendly music. -- J.B.

13. Monsta X, Take.1 Are You There?

If you performed a phrase affiliation sport with Monsta X, you’d probably assume, “vicious, energetic, hard-hitting.” You wouldn’t be flawed, as they convey a brand new sophistication to the menacing aspect of their discography. They burst in on “Shoot Out” with a rumbling wall of noise that launched a million memes. (The requisite gunshot sound results later make an look on “Oh My.”) But the album’s standout monitor veers on the softer aspect of the spectrum: “Myself” is a dreamy incantation that builds as much as a hovering digital refrain. Clearly, this hip-hop boy band is aware of tips on how to quiet down after the adrenaline rush. -- C.Okay.

12. VIXX, Eau de VIXX

The always-conceptual, aesthetic-focused VIXX flex at their most artistic for his or her third studio album. With the boy band's members having a heavy hand within the lyrics and manufacturing, they discover completely different genres with every track, showcasing varied sides of the group. The lush synth work in lead single "Scentist" and R&B-tinged "Circle," clubby cuts "Trigger" and "My Valentine," seamlessly aligned with the acoustic, jazz-leaning "Resemble" and funky "Good Day" show that the Eau de VIXX is as diverse in its flavors as it's pleasant. -- J.B.

11. (G)I-DLE, I Am

(G)I-DLE arrived in May with the discharge of I Am, they usually have quickly gone on to turn into one of the crucial standard new Okay-pop rookie teams of 2018. Fronted by their hit single “Latata,” this six-track EP explored a vivacious soundscape stuffed with R&B and hip-hop-infused electro-pop, introducing the brand new act in a fierce, refreshing approach earlier than closing out with ballad “Hear Me.” Fiercely candy, I Am raises anticipation for what the brand new woman group has to supply in coming years. -- T.H.

10. Drunken Tiger, Drunken Tiger X: Rebirth of Tiger JK

Since 1999, hip-hop crew Drunken Tiger has helped to convey the style to the forefront of the South Korean music business. But with Rebirth, its frontman Tiger JK -- who's now synonymous with the Drunken Tiger identify -- places the moniker to relaxation. The album contains 30 tracks over two albums and options over 20 collaborators, nearly as if presenting a modern-day Drunken Tiger crew (which incorporates a big selection of artists, like Yoonmirae and BTS’s RM). The album is aware of the place it comes from and the weightiness it deserves as a send-off for Drunken Tiger. It flits between sonic kinds and feelings, typically bombastic, sometimes flippant, and all of sudden an epic requiem for one of many business's most iconic acts. -- T.H.

9. SHINee, The Story of Light: Epilogue

One of essentially the most progressive acts within the Okay-pop world, SHINee returned this yr with their 10th anniversary Story of Light EP album sequence, concluding it with this compilation LP. Full of punchy, retro-leaning electro-pop and atmospheric R&B tracks, there’s a way of nostalgia served up by the group’s impassioned vocals because the members lean into the kind of expressive pop they’ve led over the previous decade. A superb listening expertise in its personal proper, The Story of Light: Epilogue is much more impactful for being a poignant show of the staff’s functionality to maintain shining following the passing of Kim Jonghyun final December. -- T.H.

eight. Nu'est W, Wake,N

The finale of their run as Nu’Est W, a unit that includes 4 of the 5 Nu’Est members, Wake,N ended 2018 with six brilliantly composed tracks. Opening with haunting, impactful performances within the type of gradual burn “L.I.E” and anxious synth-pop single “Help Me,” the EP then shifts gears and turns into extra intimate, turning towards solo tracks from every of the members: Aron revels in laidback minimalism with “Wi-Fi.” Ren’s vocals soar on rock energy ballad “You & I.” JR explores darkish, electrifying bitterness in “I Hate You.” Then the album concludes with Baekho serving up all of the “Feels” in his groovy, impactful dance monitor. Though it could be referred to as Wake,N, Nu’est W’s newest EP is one dream of a listening expertise. -- T.H.

7. Pentagon, Thumbs Up!

Pentagon had their breakout second with their quirky spring smash "Shine," and that progressive spirit transferred to their whole Thumbs Up! EP. From mashing a sing-song-y type with layered R&B harmonies on lead single "Naughty Boy" to mixing acoustic and stadium-sized guitar licks via anthemic choruses on "Just Do It Yo!!" -- this makes for one of the crucial satisfying boy band releases this yr. -- J.B.

6. RM, mono.

BTS is mainly simply competing with themselves at this level. RM unseated bandmate J-Hope because the highest-charting Korean soloist on the Billboard 200 with out a lot promotional effort. The chief has all the time been a connoisseur of contradiction -- his first mixtape, RM, reveled in his multifaceted nature, whereas right here, he compresses opposing concepts into homonyms on “seoul”:  “I’m leavin’ you/ I’m livin’ you.” Travel is his mode of existence as a touring celebrity, however he’s nonetheless attempting to catch as much as his real self. mono. is the abbretion of inside worlds that aren’t certain by one which means. -- C.Okay.

5. EXO, Don't Mess Up My Tempo

EXO’s Don’t Mess Up My Tempo solely arrived firstly of December, but it surely was actually well worth the anticipate the vivid music it needed to provide. Fronted by the funky a cappella-pop hybrid “Tempo,” which was launched in each Korean and Chinese variations, the album options 9 different new, expertly crafted EXO songs. The group put forth sounds each outdated and new, as a number of tracks revisited melodies and kinds they’ve explored on albums prior to now, like “Gravity” revisiting the melody of final yr’s “Power.” Tempo genre-hops with ease as EXO incorporate components of synth-pop, hip-hop, EDM, alt-R&B and Latin pop all through, serving up one of many sleekest pop albums we’ve seen this yr. -- T.H.

four. Heize, Wish & Wind

Heize is Korea’s patron saint of uneasy listening. Melding hip hop with jazz, her relaxed tunes mine painful experiences with specificity. This gorgeously textured EP is jam-packed with intricate particulars that take her songs to a different stage. The prolonged metaphor of “Jenga” varieties the constructing blocks of lyrics a few tempestuous relationship. The fluidity of the swap between her rapping and singing is seamless on “however, are you?” On “Sorry,” her voice begins skipping when she sings “I’m only a machine who can’t be emotional / A machine who sings.” No marvel so many are braving the weather of her overcast moodscapes. -- C.Okay.

three. Sunmi, Warning

Sunmi opens her second solo EP with “ADDICT” by confronting us with the rhetorical query, “Who’s operating the present?” Then the tip cuts out to her chilling reply: “Me.” This declaration of management will not be with out warrant: Warning is the primary solo album the place her identify is everywhere in the songwriting credit. Lead single “Siren” brings all the representations of energy to a head. “Get away out of my face” is the barbed hook that anchors this eccentric spin on power-pop anthems, whereas the title of the monitor is a play on the double meanings of the mythological seductress and the hazard sign.

The Okay-pop veteran’s album is filled with challenges to exterior views of her: “The lovely me of your fantasies doesn’t exist,” she scolds on “Siren,” solely to chip away at her defiance on the velvety easy “Black Pearl.” Warning is a fantastically fragmented manifesto on self-perception that proves vulnerability and aggression might be two sides of the identical coin. -- C.Okay.

2. Jonghyun, Poet / Artist

Before Jonghyun left us too quickly in late 2017, the celebrity recorded what can be his remaining full-length album -- in a surprising, albeit bittersweet reminder of the beloved singer, songwriter and producer's unbelievable skills. Poet / Artist explores the star's capability to take his Elvis Presley­­–like croons and apply it to something from glittery disco-pop, experimental electronica and jazz ballads. In certainly one of Okay-pop's most poignant and haunting musical moments this yr, album nearer "Before Our Spring" sees Jonghyun describing the powerful occasions he's going via now as a chilly winter, earlier than making an attempt to consolation the listener, and insisting the metaphorical spring can be coming quickly.

While it could be a troublesome pay attention for followers, the album is an exquisite, telling snapshot of the artist and poet Jonghyun was, and can proceed to be for therefore many world wide. We miss him, however we'll all the time have the music. -- J.B.

1. BTS, Love Yourself: Answer

Over the previous two years, BTS has risen to the highest of the worldwide music business, promoting out concert events world wide and making historical past time and time once more  In the center of all of it, they launched their Love Yourself album sequence, via which the group weaved a thematic discovery of self-love. It culminated with the August launch of Love Yourself: Answer, which adopted second entry Love Yourself: Tear to turn into the group's second Billboard 200 chart topper, debuting at No. 1 upon its launch. Divided into two discs that codify the songs of the Love Yourself period, Answer is a testomony to BTS’ artistry and dedication to a artistic narrative.

The first disc takes listeners via a multi-tiered perusal of the feelings that lead one to discovering self-love as a motivator for happiness and exterior love -- whereas the second options different songs, after which some further variants, such because the Nicki Minaj that includes model of single “IDOL.” The major essence of Answer’s grandeur lies in its first 16 tracks, that are cut up into three segments in parallel to the album sequence itself, every closing out with the respective track: “Tear,” “Her,” and “Answer: Love Myself.” With every third, BTS current a big selection of music, shifting seamlessly between the likes of easy alt R&B, candy synthpop and angst-imbued hip-hop via each joint and solo tracks. They lyrically vacillate between representing essentially the most intimate sides of the self and expressing common feelings relating to like and identification.

Things culminate on an emotional, philosophical excessive with the closing 4 songs, as Jin’s “Epiphany” leads into the uplifting drum and bass of “I’m Fine,” a foil to the group’s 2016 single “Save Me." It is in flip adopted by the declarative anthem “IDOL,” which includes conventional Korean musical components, whereas the whole lot is introduced neatly to a detailed with the sweeping optimism of “Answer: Love Myself.” Though some could really feel it’s so much to ask of pop music to have substance in addition to type, BTS’ Love Yourself: Answer lacks in neither regard. -- T.H.