Even though 2020 has been a perpetual shitshow, K-Pop has been a beacon of the competence and kindness that we lack in America. Since South Korea handled its COVID-19 crisis with the help of experts and were willing to make small personal sacrifices to combat the disease, its music industry has been able to flourish. I wanted to reflect on the previous year in the sacred tradition of an end-of-the-year list! And also because I’m not American unless I rank my interests with arbitrary rules. And speaking of…
First are foremost, this is my list and I need to be true to myself. Regardless of a song’s popularity, I have to choose songs that I enjoyed and felt a connection with. My list might not look like another’s list — and that’s great! This is a celebration of the songs I love, and your list is a celebration of the songs you love. It’s all positivity in this space.
Also, I had to choose the songs that appealed to me. Sure, many of the songs I have chosen have the same vibe, but, again, this list is personal. I can’t go by what I think I should choose or what I think would look good on a list.
Secondly, I only wanted one song per group and that includes subunits. Otherwise, this whole list would be the Top 10 List of One Group’s Songs. I like variety in my lists, and if the entries are not going to vary in subject matter, they’re going to vary in groups. Instead, I’ve accounted for situations wherein a group released many songs I enjoyed.
Finally, I wanted songs released in only 2020. We’ll get to it, but there’s an amazing song that could easily be number one if it weren’t released on YouTube on December 6, 2019. So even if the album released on February 14, 2020, the song released earlier. I’m not ranking albums. I’m ranking songs.
With that out of the way let’s get to my list, starting with a song from a group I recently discovered.
10. “Delight” by Rolling Quartz
Unfortunately, rock is uncommon in K-Pop. Sure, there are a few groups that play instruments (we’ll get to them), but the time between songs featuring guitar solos is too far.
Like many groups who have yet to debut, the girl group Rolling Quartz mostly performs covers, including an excellent cover of K-Pop royalty BTS’s recent hit “Dynamite.” However, there is a demo of their song “Delight,” and the song lives up to the title. The lead singer has a deep, husky voice and she is accompanied by a talented set of musicians.
I hope we get to see more original content from the group, but right now, I’m happy with their covers.
9. “BAZOOKA!” by GWSN
Many of the songs on my list reflect the gamut of emotions that have consumed my 2020. I’m sure I’m not alone when I confess that each day brought a brand new sensation I haven’t felt since puberty. GWSN’s “BAZOOKA!” reflects the absurdity of the year.
With each piece of news, you think this year couldn't get even more ridiculous. During the beginning of lockdown in America, I gasped when Gavin Newsom implied that the next school year might be delayed. Monkeys rioted in a Thai city. Terrible middle-aged white men and women who insist they could live in a bunker couldn’t put on a mask for fifteen minutes. Rudy Giuliani, a man who melted on-screen, held a press conference at a landscaping business. Joe Biden has won the election at least a hundred times and a subset of the country still refuses to accept the results.
What are we going to do?
Laugh, listen to a catchy song, and blow up the year with a “Big BAZOOKA!”
8. “Eclipse” by Moon Byul
If GWSN’s “BAZOOKA!” reflects the absurdity of 2020, then Moon Byul’s “Eclipse” is the anger.
I’ve felt a lot of anger this year. Anger at our government for not helping the American people. The American people for not doing the bare minimum to help each other like wearing a mask. Anger at no one in particular for destroying my traveling plans. Anger at COVID-19 for exposing the rotten societal net we’re trapped in — unable to untangle ourselves out of it yet it’s flimsy and full of holes. And it fucking stinks.
The Mamamoo rapper’s solo endeavor is a dark anthem oozing with power. She comes with attitude and her focus is one entity (maybe a virus) destroying her life. She does not fuck around. This song is relentless and Moon Byul has the swagger to pull it off. 2020 took something from her and she’s going to get it back.
7. “Lie” by Imfact
I’d like to step away from 2020 emotions for a moment.
I am a sucker for a sad song with a memorable chorus. “Someone Like You” by Adele or “Brick” by Ben Folds Five come to mind. Imfact’s “Lie” is a song I loved immediately and I haven’t stopped listening to it.
There’s something about this song that has stuck with me. Taeho’s unique voice wails with the right about of sadness and desperation. The beat drop at the beginning of the chorus right before the words “You say a lie” crushes me. Ungjae’s repeating of the word “lie” cuts through the song.
It’s a great song that I with got more traction. Luckily, it’s my list and I can sing its praises.
6. “End of Spring (Rock Version)” by Onewe
Don’t get me wrong: I like Onewe. Their guitarist, Kanghyun, is one of the most talented musicians I have ever heard, and every time he has a solo, it’s my favorite part of the song.
However, their songs tend to be melancholic. I’m not knocking them. I love those songs. “A book in Memory” and “Parting” were serious contenders for this list. In any other year, their songs about loss and self-reflection would be right up my alley, but this year, I needed a more levity than usual. The rock version of “End of Spring” is a jaunty tune with a driving guitar riff. And they sound great with a jaunt. Here’s to more upbeat Onewe songs with extensive guitar solos in 2021.
5. “My My” by Seventeen
If there’s one subgenre of song that pairs perfectly with a hobby of mine, it’s the traveling song. Songs that are about traveling and seeing the world. Songs that just sound better in a car. Songs that play in your head while staring out of the window on a moving train. Songs that meld with the trees that are zipping by and distant cities that seem just out of reach.
And this year, with the prospect of travel being stolen from me, one of my favorite K-Pop songs of the year is a wistful song about going from place to place and feely living the journey of life on your own terms.
Seventeen had another great song this year with “Left & Right,” and that song is probably the more obvious choice for a Best Of List. And I contemplated adding it to this list instead of “My My.” But it’s my list, dammit, and I’m including the traveling song that I live vicariously through.
4. “Knock” by Astro
It’s time for a pure love song. Not a breakup song. Not a bittersweet love song. Just some adorable boys singing about how much they love you, girl, and you’re like a guiding star who brings them out of the darkness. Given my affinity for stars and the night, the song ranks high.
However, the band didn’t put out too many songs this year. Astro is a reliably enjoyable band — even their subunit with Moonbin and Sanha had a great song this year in “Bad Idea.” I’m not saying they should constantly produce music — we’ve seen great groups implode due to a relentless schedule. But, as I stated before, some groups got higher on this list because they put out a bunch of songs I love.
But “Knock” is such a sweet song, it deserves to be this high on the list.
3. “Can’t You See Me” by Tomorrow X Together
Tomorrow X Together, or TXT, has consistently put out bangers since their debut. In 2020, they have been oddly prescient.
“Can’t You See Me” is a heartbreaking song about isolation and the inability to connect with even your closest friends. Combined with the interesting way the song uses technology with a catchy chorus, this song stuck with me for weeks after I first heard it. And I always like a song with a prominent, driving high-hat.
They also put out the song “We Lost the Summer” with a music video featuring Zoom-like sequences. Again, the group is tapping into the current sociological climate.
They also had a few fun songs I liked in “Puma” and “Blue Hour.” Even though there are a few questionable fashion choices in “Blue Hour” (mullets and cowboy hats), the songs are fun and, as I’ve said before, I needed fun this year.
2. “Daisy” by Pentagon
This year was fantastic to Pentagon and to the Universe (the name for Pentagon’s fans). Pentagon has always been reliable when it comes to putting out music, but this year was exceptional. Not only did they put out a full-length album full of great songs, they finally got their first music show win with their latest release “Daisy,” a song that also marked the return of band member Yanan after a long absence from the band.
It’s a great song about bitterness about the end of a relationship. At the beginning of the song, the translated lyrics “I just want you to be unhappy” resonates with anyone who has been spurned by a loved one. However, instead of the song being spiteful and ugly, by the end, the person realizes that they should be content that they were able to love someone. “You should be happy in the end…don’t hate me.”
But Pentagon didn’t just put out one great song. They wrote “Basquiat” for a Korean reality show, and their first full-length album had a bunch of bangers on it. The first release, “Dr. Bebe,” is a dark, moody song, “Shower of Rain” is a strangely optimistic break-up song, and my favorite song on the album is entitled “Asteroid.”
I hope for a long future for Pentagon andreceiving the recognition they deserve.
This is the song I struggled with. It was obsessed with this song, and I’m still obsessed with it. A clear number one. However, if I had been doing this list for years, this song would be number one for 2019. Why? Because the YouTube video dropped on December 6, meaning that would be the day I listened to it. Even though Monsta X’s album All About Luv released on February 14th, I couldn’t put it on this list in good faith. This list is for songs released in 2020!
But I still wanted to include the song on this list. So, the Most Honorable of Honorable Mentions goes to this Monsta X song about sex in a Motel 6. That’s how you know it’s dirty and secret, and therefore sexier.
There are a few more Honorable Mentions I’d like to mention. If this were a Top 20 list, these are the songs that would be on it.
“Bomb (Rock Version)” by AleXa — I discovered this song this year, but this version came out last year.
“Inception” by ATEEZ — I like ATEEZ and I want to like this song more than I do, but there’s something about referencing an old movie that was overhyped annoys me.
“Dynamite” by BTS — There’s a reason it’s popular.
“Helicopter” by CLC — I don’t know if the line “Then I make hella noise on the take-off” should be condemned or lauded.
“Zombie” by DAY6 — This song resonates with the general miasma of 2020.
“Red Moon” by KARD — This was a hard one to cut. KARD consistently makes fun party jams and this song is no exception.
“A Song Written Easily” by ONEUS — I dig this song’s whistling.
“Criminal” by Taemin — What kind of Shawol would I be if I didn’t at least mention this song?
“I Can’t Stop Me” by TWICE — It’s a fun song.
“Winter Flower” by Younha featuring RM — It’s a very pretty song.
1. “Scream” by Dreamcatcher
This list could only end with Dreamcatcher.
It was between “Scream” and “Boca.” Both of the songs are perfect. “Boca” is about telling people to stop saying stupid shit, a topic that never ceases to be relevant. “Scream” is about a witch hunt and she takes control of her power, getting revenge on those around her. In the end, I can’t resist a song about a witch. I blame Willow Rosenberg and Stevie Nicks.
But Dreamcatcher couldn’t stop at one song. Like Pentagon, they put out their first full-length album this year. Dystopia: The Tree of Language, an album title engineered to appeal to me, featured the song “Scream.” It also had several songs I couldn’t stop listening to: “Black or White,” “Jazz Bar,” “Red Sun,” “SAHARA,” and the Insomnia fan song, “Full Moon” (although “Full Moon” dropped two years ago, this album had the song, so I’m including it).
I’m talking about The Tree of Language a lot, but their mini-album Dystopia: Love Myself is also amazing. Not only does it have “Boca,” its three other tracks — the hard rock song “Break the Wall,” the ballad “Dear,” and the beautifully upbeat “Can’t get you outta my mind” — are all different songs each with their own identities and aspects to enjoy (although, I’m not a fan of ballads).
Putting out a mini-album and full-length album weren’t the only things Dreamcatcher did this year. They also put out a song with AleXa (from the Honorable Mentions) and IN2IT where they encouraged good hygiene and mask usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s called “Be the Future” and, honestly, it’s a bop.
Oh! And they did two live online concerts — one of which I attended.
Dreamcatcher released a bevy of great music, two concerts, and, on a personal note, my sister got me their full-length album for my birthday. So yeah, this Insomnia is happy and I’m happy to put them at number one.
So, raise a glass to more K-Pop in 2021, our collective health, and optimism for the future!