The 20 Best Okay-pop Songs of 2018: Critics&#zero39; Picks


In 2018, Korean artists pushed the boundaries of what Okay-pop can do on the world stage. BTS led the cost, sweeping awards, chart victories and data at a continuing charge.

Outside of record-breaking victories, 2018 was filled with boundary-pushing releases from throughout the board. Elements of disparate genres -- starting from jazz to enviornment rock to ‘80s synth-pop -- snuck their approach into our high songs listing. While Okay-pop has all the time been sonically amorphous, we noticed loads of Korean acts increase their sound whereas attaining business success.

We have a tendency to stay with singles on year-end lists at Billboard, until there’s a standout deeper minimize that we like extra -- although we determined to permit two BTS entries on the listing this 12 months as a result of, frankly, it was onerous to decide on between our two nominated songs. This high 20 listing is a compilation of the best Okay-pop songs from a 12 months marked by loss, new beginnings and stratospheric accomplishments. 

20. Seventeen, "Oh My!" (You Make My Day)

The 12 months 2017 might have been their namesake 12 months, however 2018 was additionally undeniably good to Seventeen. From the emotional EDM of "Thanks" to the bouncy soundtrack minimize "A-Teen," the 13-member boy band delivered their ordinary vary of genre-spanning singles -- the shiniest gem of the bunch coming with their summer time launch "Oh My!" Incorporating surprising components of Eight-bit, synth-funk and acappella music, the fellows proved their musical creativity is as modern as ever. -- JEFF BENJAMIN

19. NCT U, "Baby Don't Stop" (NCT 2018 Empathy)

After its opening moments, with a thumping bass line and squelching synths, “Baby Don’t Stop” rapidly turns right into a sultry pop duet that’s a bit gritty and a bit groovy. Featuring NCT powerhouses Ten and Taeyong, the music thrives on the latter’s taunting, gruff whisper raps, that are littered all through the pair’s easy, sensuous verses. Released as a part of the amalgamate NCT 2018 Empathy album beneath the auspices of transformative NCT workforce NCT U, “Baby Don’t Stop” serves as a primary instance of how SM Entertainment’s newest boy b(r)and is pushing the boundaries of what Okay-pop means in 2018. -- TAMAR HERMAN

18. EXO, “Tempo" (Don’t Mess Up My Tempo)

Cars aren’t the one factor EXO can have racing. The music's meandering tempo cheekily contradicts its “don’t mess up my tempo” hook. This bit-sized odyssey places the pedal to the medal on the refrain earlier than stomping the brakes on the bridge. Then there are the unconventional sounds, which embrace mattress squeaks, pitch-shifted vocals and a cool bassline. EXO additionally occurs to have one of many strongest vocal traces in Okay-pop -- it’s onerous to think about another group launching into an a cappella breakdown like this. There are so many twists and U-turns within the music construction that “Tempo” won't ever swerve off our playlist. -- CAITLIN KELLEY

17. fromis_9, “Love Bomb” (From.9)

Not all cute ideas are created equal. They may be full-on saccharine or embrace a dose of creepy -- however “Love Bomb” simply occurs to go onerous. A wall of synth bass traces the refrain, which is equal elements highly effective and retro, prefer it was air dropped out of a bubblegum smash from the ‘80s. With a killer aptitude of modulation on the finish, it goes out with a bang. Although the music by no means made it to Korea’s Gaon charts, it turned a cult hit amongst worldwide followers who realized to like the “Love Bomb.” -- C.Okay.

16. Loco & Hwasa, "Don't" (The Hyena on the Keyboard, Pt. four)

A wealthy and moody R&B duet between the MAMAMOO songstress and AOMG rapper, the 2 spend the whole music holding off on ingesting collectively in concern of their primal instincts popping out. Not solely do the duo lyrically teeter on the verge of giving in to seduction, however their complete supply seems like they're edging into extra vicious vocal and rap sections. They maintain off simply lengthy sufficient to make it to the tip of the four-minute monitor. -- J.B.

15. BTS, “134340” (Love Yourself: Tear)

Tear proved that BTS has not reached the ultimate frontier of their sonic growth. Flanked on the monitor listing by emo rap and Latin pop, “134340” is a hip-hop approximation of jazz. But the lyricism dwarfs each different facet of the music -- the former planet Pluto is an prolonged metaphor for on-and-off relationships. The gravitational push-and-pull of a soured romance turns overlapping orbits right into a disintegration loop. In this galaxy, love is way, far-off. -- C.Okay.

14. CLC, "Black Dress" (Black Dress)

A flexible lady group from Cube Entertainment, CLC grew into their very own with this single’s hypnotic, shimmying synth melody and dynamic beats, and quickly turned a fan favourite. Throughout, the members swap off between deadpan, aggressive raps and taunting, chant-overlaid verses. Chic and confrontational, “Black Dress” is an earworm like few others we heard this 12 months, and it'll make any listener run for the primary LBD they will discover. -- T.H.

13. Dean - “Instagram” (no album)

Amid a seemingly countless cycle of songs about Instagram, Dean threw out the algorithm to reveal the inside life behind his aesthetic profile. Samples of background noises, like a cassette participant closing, manufacture a lived-in ambiance. It’s nearly like a filter, the best way these results shellac a classic sheen onto the music -- and in reality, within the music video, the filters bleed collectively whereas closing in on him. “Instagram” is about feeling disconnected from a world the place everyone seems to be manicuring their lives -- whereas remaining far too linked to the app itself. -- C.Okay.

12. MAMAMOO, "Egotistic" (Red Moon)

Continuing to embrace the globally fashionable, Latin-influenced sound as initially explored of their "Starry Night" single, the lady group's signature grit is on full show with this highly effective punch of a monitor. The ladies inform off a self-centered lover over slick Spanish guitar. Their harmonies sound notably fierce and poignant on a monitor that not solely reveals their maturity however persevering with musical progress as a quartet. -- J.B.

11. Super Junior, Leslie Grace & Play-N-Skillz, "Lo Siento" (Replay)

The first of what would develop into a number of Latin pop-leaning songs this 12 months from legacy Okay-pop boy band Super Junior, “Lo Siento” made the group the primary artist to seem on a Billboard Latin chart, debuting on the Latin Digital Song Sales Chart at No. 13. Leslie Grace and producers Play-N-Skillz take part on the jam, supported by rhythmic strings and assured dembow beats. This trilingual monitor -- that includes Korean, Spanish and English -- isn’t only a collaboration in title, however a real illustration of the varied music industries the entire artists concerned come from. As Okay-pop strikes extra actively into world music industries, "Lo Siento" units the bar excessive for such inventive partnerships. -- T.H.

10. Sunmi, "Heroine" (Warning)

The second of Sunmi’s three Warning singles, “Heroine” epitomizes the singer's penchant for concurrently evoking ardour and (often tense) intimacy. As if emulating the chaotic feelings that accompany a relationship’s finish, “Heroine” surges with power earlier than pulling again. In the meantime, the music switches between atmospheric synths, tapping beats, and delicate piano melodies, in its lead-up to the refrain’ explosive chirping electro beats and brassy percussion. Though some plagiarism concerns marred its launch, “Heroine” is an unapologetic anthem for anybody who has ever come out of heartbreak extra assured after placing themselves forward of their fallen “hero.” -- T.H.

9. IZ*ONE, "La Vie en Rose" (Color*Iz)

This Produce 48 lady group struck (rose) gold on first strive with this gorgeous debut single. From ambient synth work to reverb-heavy strings, "La Vie en Rose" delivered a uncommon second for a brand new Okay-pop act to make a significant affect with a mid-tempo music, versus the everyday high-energy banger. The outcomes landed the group successful single in Korea and Japan, whereas making them one of many few Okay-pop lady teams to ship their debut music and album to Billboard's world-genre charts. -- J.B.

Eight. Apink, "I'm So Sick" (One & Six)

Since their begin in 2011, Apink turned synonymous within the Okay-pop world with an harmless fashion of bubblegum pop. But when their July single started with Naeun confessing she’s “so sick of mendacity,” it felt a bit meta -- because the six-member lady group swapped out their girlish picture for one thing way more compelling. The stylistic swerve served them effectively, revealing potential for a brand new aspect of Apink’s profession, with its ethereal, tropical home beats, dramatic guitar riffs, and seismic wails making a platform for the members’ highly effective vocals. -- T.H.

7. iKON, "Love Scenario" (Return)

We all deserved the relaxed vibes of iKON’s deceptively easy hit “Love Scenario" in 2018. After 2017 noticed the boy band launch a pair of bombastic singles -- “Bling Bling” and “B-Day” -- their first music of the 12 months blew into January like a contemporary, laid-back breeze. With a easy melody guided by playful piano chords and clacking cowbells, there’s a way of ease all through the monitor because the members mirror on the reminiscences of a failed romance. -- T.H.

6. Heize feat. Gaeko, “Jenga” (Wish & Wind)

In a 12 months marked by anxiousness and uncertainty, Heize’s peculiar spin on melancholy feels well timed. Picking up the place “You, Clouds, Rain” left off, this jazz-trap concoction constructs a moody soundscape with the drizzle of rain within the background. Her idiosyncratic vocal colour has the flexibility to pack intense emotion into a couple of syllables. The falling lilt of her voice as she sings “anyone assist” is stuffed with the utter despair of helplessness. Heize is a grasp at formulating new methods of crying within the jazz membership. -- C.Okay.

5. SHINee, “Our Page” (The Story of Light EP. three)

When Jonghyun handed away final December, vigils popped up all around the world. New Yorkers gathered across the lights of the Christmas tree at Madison Square Park, and damaged voices joined collectively to sing SHINee’s beloved debut music “Replay,” making an attempt to carry onto him somewhat longer via music.

Rather than mourn from a darkish place, the 4 remaining members penned a hopeful anthem that carries on the legacy of an irreplaceable artist. The swell of their united voices packs an emotional intestine punch. “Our voices are flying,” they sing. “We understand it’ll attain you wherever you might be.” There are not any goodbyes right here -- Onew’s softly spoken “you probably did effectively” is a postscript marked for supply. -- C.Okay.

four. IU, "BBIBBI" (no album)

In what could possibly be perceived as one among IU's most private songs up to now -- firing a warning shot to haters and critics with this deceptively candy and bouncy R&B minimize -- the chart-topping singer-songwriter additionally creates a common empowerment anthem. "BBIBBI" sees her emphasizing and acknowledging one's value and private rights, giving a "yellow C-A-R-D" to those that disrespect and infringe on others' privateness. -- J.B.

three. BTS, "Fake Love" (Love Yourself: Tear)

The centerpiece of BTS's game-changing Love Yourself: Tear album, lead single "Fake Love" brings a shapeshifting manufacturing to discover the relatable second of realizing a misconstrued, misunderstood love. In a fancy manufacturing fashion, the monitor opens with a dissonantly darkish chord for wishing what a love could possibly be, earlier than being juxtaposed with heat melodies to explain the private ache and id crises that may come from a relationship. No shock why most of the people was instantly captivated by "Fake Love," which made its stay debut on the 2018 Billboard Music Awards and earned the septet their first high 10 hit on the Hot 100. -- J.B.

2. Pentagon, “Shine” (Positive)

Pentagon have thrown numerous ideas on the wall since 2016. They’ve gone from the hard-hitting “Gorilla” to the modernized rockabilly of “Critical Beauty” and the moody synth-pop of “Like This.” But their songs all didn't make a dent on the charts -- till they landed on this breakout hit.

"Shine" is a quirky-lite anthem that manages to really feel sparse (for Okay-pop requirements!) whereas encompassing numerous transferring elements. The idiosyncrasies of the 10 members’ voices is putting, as they swap from nasal to gruff to classically educated. But the patchwork of character is the principle attraction. “Shine” does have a bittersweet aftertaste -- it turned E’Dawn’s final promoted single after he was booted from Cube Entertainment for a dating scandal. But if the equally light-hearted follow-up single “Naughty Boy” is any indication, it appears Pentagon have discovered their sound. -- C.Okay.

1. Red Velvet, "Bad Boy" (The Perfect Red Velvet)

From the beginning of their profession, Okay-pop lady group Red Velvet has performed with the dichotomy of their title, releasing "purple"-infused dance-pop singles in addition to sleeker "velvet" ones, and carving out a large following for themselves and their chameleonic nature. But it wasn't till the discharge of "Bad Boy" in January that the act actually took possession of their smoother facet after veering away for almost all of their singles. This standout monitor fleshed out the second half of the act's id via its lush soundscape and vivid accompanying music video, which positioned the quintet as assured femme fatales.

The brainchild of Grammy winners The Stereotypes, Maxx Song, Whitney Phillips and Okay-pop behemoth songwriter Yoo Young Jin, the alt R&B smoothness of “Bad Boy” undeniably proved to be the group’s -- and one of many 12 months’s -- most pristine manufacturing up to now. Following the opening question of, "Who dat, who dat boy?" the music grooves alongside because it opens as much as its titillating lure beats, coyish hums and echoing “ooh”s as they envelope Red Velvet’s layered, harmonious vocals. After the music’s launch, it quickly turned a fan favourite, and was ultimately remade into an English model. The group has since turned again to their brighter orientation with the summer time hit “Power Up” and November’s shriek-fest within the type of sequel “RBB (Really Bad Boy),” however the 12 months undeniably belongs to the sultry perfection of “Bad Boy.”  

Only in 2018 may a “Bad Boy” be so good. -- T.H.