Along with other lists, Billboard has just released their top 20 picks for the “Best K-Pop Songs of 2020”. They explain that during a year full of uncertainty and stress due to the pandemic and other difficulties in life, the K-Pop industry continued to produce great music and content despite being limited by lockdowns and quarantines.
“While it’s easy to think of K-pop stars as mere entertainers, there’s something to be said for how vital their songs felt in a time when hope was stymied, when anhedonia was just around the corner,” the Billboard staff write. “Consider this an introduction to the many K-pop singles that dazzled us, impressed us, and moved us throughout the past 12 months.”
Here are what they believe were the 20 best K-Pop songs of this year.
20. “I LOVE YOU” by TREASURE
This second single release from YG Entertainment‘s newest rookie group, TREASURE, was complimented for both its energy and affectionate vibes. It’s the title track off of their sophomore single album, The First Step: Chapter Two, which has already sold an impressive nearly 240k units. Billboard’s staff had high praise for this bop:
TREASURE’s greatest strength is that they (correctly) understand flirting as both playful and serious, something summarized in the most evocative point dance this year: all 12 members staring straight-faced at the camera, bobbing their heads as they hold up finger hearts. No other 2020 rookie group felt so confident.
– Joshua Minsoo Kim
19. “I’m Good At Goodbyes” by BIBI
This is the fifth digital single from soloist BIBI, released on July 10. She made her solo debut last year after competing on the show The Fan, which she made up to the final episode though she lost to Car, the Garden. Here’s what Billboard staff has to say about this release:
The rising soloist had a fantastic year releasing music that’s entrenched between dreamy bedroom pop and R&B, but “I’m good at goodbyes” was particularly emblematic of 2020’s general mood; the soft vocals on “I’m good at goodbyes” mirrored the loneliness we were all feeling as a lost spring transitioned into a lonely summer
18. “Bedlam” by Lee Jinhyuk
Originally a member of UP10TION, Jinhyuk earned greater popularity by placing 11th on Produce X 101. He didn’t place high enough to get into X1, but he debuted as a solo artist in November of 2019, and “Bedlam” is the title track off of his sophomore solo album, Splash!, released on June 30 this year. Here’s what Billboard enjoyed about the song:
From the punky chants on the chorus to the softhearted melodic pre-chorus — plus an unexpected wolf howl on the second verse — “Bedlam” serves just what its title promises, with Jin Hyuk’s energetic delivery navigating a hodgepodge of hip-hop styles.
— Jeff Benjamin
17. “LALALILALA” by APRIL
“LALALILALA” is the title track off of APRIL’s seventh EP, Da Capo, which was released on April 22 this year. It made the highest amount of first-day sales for the six-member girl group, and “LALALILALA” was also their highest-charting song on South Korea’s music charts such as Bugs and Genie. This hit didn’t go unnoticed by Billboard either:
Their story about a fateful connection written in the stars unreels in literal terms as they liken each other to celestial bodies, measuring their love in galactic proportions. If the chorus seems like the most grandiose thing the group has ever done, it’s only because they’re trying to match the larger-than-life scale of their overflowing feelings.
— Ryo Miyauchi
16. “Can’t You See Me?” by TXT
“Can’t You See Me” is the title track off of TXT’s second EP, The Dream Chapter: Eternity, which was released on May 18 this year. It became their highest-selling album at the time with over 350k sales, though it has since been beaten by their latest album, Minisode1: Blue Hour. “Can’t You See Me” itself charted at #2 on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart. Here’s what their staff have to say about the song:
Alternating between distorted tremolo vocals, hushed whisper-raps, and delicate verses wisping like curls of smoke, the members’ voices lurch between dulcet and disorienting as they reveal the cracks in a friendship.
— Monique Melendez
15. “WANNABE” by ITZY
ITZY is still a very young group, as are other artists on this list, and “WANNABE” quickly became their most popular hit to date. It has over 250 million views on YouTube, and it’s the title song off of IT’z ME, their second EP, which has made over 150k sales.
‘I don’t wanna be nobody, I wanna be me,’ they shout in the chorus. Later, they opt for collective unity: ‘If you feel me, turn this beat up.’ They know the dancefloor is an oasis for enlivening self-expression, and they’ll drag you there by hand if they need to.
14. “pporappippam” by Sunmi
Sunmi has released several non-album singles in the last couple of years, among them “Noir”, “Lalalay”, and most recently, this hit. It was released June 29 this year, and was written and co-produced by Sunmi herself. It also had the best debut on Spotify for the soloist, and became Sunmi’s sixth song to break the top 5 on the Billboard World Songs Chart, making her the only South Korean female artist to reach this achievement. Here’s their take on the song:
Peppered with pangs of melancholy to root it in the grim reality of 2020, the track has feel-good guitar riffs and romantic lyrics of a ‘purple-hued night’ to create the dreamy sonic getaway we all need even if we’re quarantined at home.
13. “Jogging” by LUCY
This four-member boy band debuted this year on May 8, and named themselves after a dog they used to play with during their trainee days. The song “Jogging” is the title track off of their first mini-album, Panorama, released on August 13 this year. Billboard thinks highly of this freshly debuted group and song:
Underneath the sunny music lies serious introspection: ‘If you lose yourself/ Can you really call yourself happy?’ the band begins to question as more dizzying thoughts fill their minds. Reality inevitably cuts into their daydreams, but the music of “Jogging” suggests LUCY will bounce back in no time.
12. “Criminal” by Taemin
Taemin originally debuted as the maknae of SM Entertainment group SHINee, and released his first EP as a solo artist, Ace, in August 2014. Since then, he has released many successful hits, of which “Criminal” is one of the latest and serves as the title track of Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 1, which has sold over 150k units.
What makes “Criminal” even more compelling is how Taemin controls the chaos in the song. His music always uses visual imagery as an extension, working in tandem with the music — and as he looks around dazed and deranged, or beckons the danger closer, you get the feeling that he’s also appealing to the alter-ego inside of you. By the time it ends, you honestly wonder whether giving in would be so bad.
11. “Good Guy” by SF9
“Good Guy” serves as the title track for SF9’s January 7, 2020 release, First Collection, which was their first full-length album. This nine-member boy group had their best comeback yet with the album and song, ranking high on music charts and selling over 100k copies of the album. Billboard thought the title song deserved recognition as well:
The song pays homage to house music through visuals and sounds alike, with black-and-white clips reminiscent of ‘90s dance music video aesthetics, classic house percussion and piano offsetting their breathy, come-hither vocals, and a ‘Good/ Good/ Good/ Good’ refrain that mimics the genre’s four-on-the-floor structure.
10. “Back Door” by Stray Kids
Stray Kids undeniably rose in popularity to new heights this year, and it was very well-deserved! “Back Door” served as the single to the repackaged album In Life, which was released after Go Live, the album that has their most popular title track to date, “God’s Menu”. On its own, In Life sold around 430k units, which is huge for a still-young group like Stray Kids!
Co-produced by members Bang Chan, Changbin and Han, “Back Door” welcomes you in with [The Funky Baseline] and ensnares you with its cheeky on-the-nose door creaks, its cooly confident vocal performances, and a stomping, floor-filling EDM finale. On “Back Door,” Stray Kids tighten their production without eschewing any exuberance, transforming their signature bombastic EDM into something more sophisticated.
9. “Tag Me (@Me)” by Weeekly
Weeekly was one of the most successful girl groups to debut in 2020. This song served as their debut hit off of the album We Are, released on June 30. It made over 20k sales, which is great for a brand new girl group that’s not from a well-known company! Their talent didn’t go unnoticed by Billboard:
They capture how addictive [social media] is with childlike glee: the titular action is treated like a schoolyard game, handclaps and shouted chants provide constant pep, and a ‘neener neener’-like melody in the chorus drives home how obnoxious they might sound to everyone else. But they assure you it’s OK: that in the obsessiveness and oversharing is an unflinching self-love. The bridge, with its crystalline synths and swooping bass swells, is an unanticipated moment of composed cool — they can share their many sides on the Internet, but they’re always gonna be themselves.
8. “Black Swan” by BTS
A K-Pop list wouldn’t be complete without a BTS song, would it? There were many hits of theirs to choose from that came out this year, and “Black Swan” was one of the title tracks off of their best-selling album, Map of the Soul: 7, released in February this year. BTS has been breaking records left and right this year in the music industry, and Billboard hasn’t ignored their success and talent:
Dreamy, gloomy hip-hop soundscapes lay the backdrop for the chart-toppers to open up about their darkest fears: that they may one day fall out of love with music. Using the title as a metaphor — to represent both the one-of-a-kind phenomenon they are and the 2010 movie where a ballerina makes the ultimate sacrifice for her art — the superstar septet investigates their underlying anxieties until declaring they won’t let fear win over passion in the end.
7. “I Can’t Stop Me” by TWICE
TWICE definitely had a big year as well, releasing some of their best-selling albums to date. “I Can’t Stop Me” is the title track off of their latest album, Eyes Wide Open, released on October 26. To date, it has sold nearly 500k units, which is huge for a girl group! “I Can’t Stop Me” was a great success on its own, which Billboard discusses:
The song calls for a grand celebration, but they’re too distracted trying not to indulge in their own treacherous desires: ‘I just can’t go back anymore/ Out of control,’ Chaeyoung sings before the rest of the group fully surrender to temptation. Twice fight to keep cool, though it’s hard to notice when they nail such a spotless performance.
6. “BUMP BUMP” by WOODZ
WOODZ is a solo artist that really leaped up in popularity this year, after being a (still current) member of UNIQ and a member of X1 while it lasted. “BUMP BUMP” is the title track on his latest album, Woops!, released on November 17 and nearing 100k sales.
In our own whirlpools of flirting and call backs, IG-reels and missed messages, “BUMP BUMP” was comfortingly straightforward — with WOODZ relaying what he wants, exactly how he wants it. It was the wrong year to be young and in love in 2020, but at least we had WOODZ to keep us company.
5. “Cool” by Weki Meki
“Cool” is the title track off of Weki Meki’s latest album, NEW RULES, which also includes their first all-English song and made about 12k unit sales. Though this talented girl group has had a hard time really breaking into greater popularity, it’s great to see that Billboard recognizes their talent, and hopefully helps them to get more well-deserved recognition!
If “Cool” sounds standoffish, then the song succeeds at what it sets out to do. Weki Meki don’t aspire to be a role model for attainable, girl-crush cool but instead point out the gap between you and them. “Cool” is a conceited celebration of self, though sometimes it just feels satisfying to flaunt what you got.
4. “MAGO” by GFRIEND
GFRIEND was another group that seemed to see a noticeable increase in popularity this year. “MAGO” was the title track off of their latest album, 回:Walpurgis Night, the last album in their successful 回 series. The album made over 60k sales, and “MAGO” won GFRIEND two music show awards. Here’s what Billboard thinks about the hit:
Instead of believing in fairy tales and waiting for a Prince Charming, their only love are the images of themselves smiling in the mirror. It’s a cheeky way to poke fun at how society perceives self-assured women, since the title itself translates to ‘wizard.’ In celebrating their limitless ambition, “MAGO” casts a spell that keeps you coming back for more.
3. “Left & Right” by SEVENTEEN
There may not be a K-Pop group that saw a bigger increase in their success than SEVENTEEN, who saw record album sales this year and broke many of their own past records. “Left & Right” is the title track off of their incredibly successful Heng:garae album, which as sold over 1.4 million copies and is by far their best-selling album to date.
SEVENTEEN act as leaders and hypemen here, but the role they fill best is that of life coaches: despite their talk of races and finish lines, they exclaim that ‘not running is an answer too / who cares what we do.’ They grant permission to simply be: a reminder that surviving every day is enough right now… They understand something that should be taught in schools around the world: busting your ass should be supplemented with time spent shaking it.
2. “Dumhdurum” by Apink
Apink proved a point this year that girl groups can certainly last longer than the stereotypical 7 years, since they debuted in 2011 and had over a year break since their last comeback. “Dumhdurum” is the title track from their latest album, Look, which was released on April 13 and made nearly 50k sales.
This mature message successfully connected with a large audience, and “Dumhdurum” became a knockout success in both Korea (topping all local music charts) and the Billboard charts (tying for their longest-running hit on World Digital Song Sales). Nine years into their career, Apink are still more than equipped to bring their A-Game, and that deserves larger recognition all in itself for the industry to pay equal attention to both its senior and developing artists.
1. “LA DI DA” by EVERGLOW
And finally, Billboard’s top pick of 2020 is rookie group EVERGLOW’s “LA DI DA”, the title track off of their latest album, -77.82X-78.29, released on September 21 and at nearly 50k sales. The album broke their record for first-week sales, and the music video for “LA DI DA” is already at nearly 75 million views.
A successful pastiche of the ’80s that’s crafted by producer Ollipop, “LA DI DA” blends myriad influences: the layered cheerleader chants of Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” the spunky girl power of Cyndi Lauper and the Go-Go’s, the na-na-nas of Bananarama, and above all, the shimmering synth-pop sound that permeated the top half of that decade. “LA DI DA” melds these all together, with K-pop twists: a killing part punctuated by handclaps, a tempo-shifting rap section carried by leader E:U, and an earworm of a melody evocative of early ’10s K-pop — a time when choruses were packed with hooky vocal melodies instead of hollow drops.