Never mind being halfway through the year, we are now 50 percent done with this decade! Shouldn’t we all be flying around in anti-gravity cars and jetpacks by now?
Regardless, this decade in music has been anything but slow when it comes to K-Pop matters. Legions of new acts have debuted, thousands of albums have been released and G-Dragon has changed his hair color so many times, we’ve lost count!
But now that we have hit the halfway point in the 2010s, what better time than now to take stock of some of the best songs to have hit the charts in the decade so far?
Beginning with the boys, join us now on a two-part musical odyssey through the last five years in K-Pop.
Check out my pick of the best boyband tracks of the 2010s, vote in the poll, tell us your favorites and look out for the girl group edition – coming soon, only on Soompi!
INFINITE is a boyband to introduce to people who claim to not like boybands. Even the most red-blooded girl group-loving fanboys out there cannot deny the raw musical quality of this act, and a few listens is all it takes to become hooked to this group’s audio output. From the outstanding “Come Back Again,” a firm statement of musical intent, INFINITE has been knocking the hits out of the park.
Even non-title tracks just crackle with pure pop brilliance – perfectly produced and impeccably performed – it is hard to pick just one Infinite track for this list. “Last Romeo” has a driving rock beat and a soaring vocals, the guitar on “Come Back Again” is infectious, and even lesser-known tracks like “Inception” have been exceptional.
But my inner music nerd instincts guide me towards “The Chaser,” if only for the track’s infectious keyboard sounds, the funk guitar, and nods to 1980s’ synthpop classics like New Order’s “Regret.” Possibly the most complete pop song to have hit the charts for years.
If you are fan of moody bass synths, dark 130bpm beats and nonsensical song names, “Smoky Girl” has it all for you. Not really the kind of thing most people would expect from MBLAQ, this song has a weirdly captivating atmosphere that leaves you unsure of what you have just listened to.
The design for the artwork was among the best MBLAQ has come up with, a festival of neon colors that fits quite well with the late 2000’s dance scene vibe that the music draws so heavily from.
Combining deep and future house elements with a bassline that sounds like it is being played backwards is quite an inventive step in K-Pop. But those who follow MBLAQ know this is a group that likes to push the envelope, as last year’s outstanding “Be a Man” evinced quite decisively.
I will admit to being completely lost when it comes to attempting to define VIXX’s “sound”, if such a thing exists. One day they are making creepy stuff that would not be out of place in a vampire slasher movie.
The next they are doing midtempo numbers like “Girls, Why.” And the next they are doing cover versions of bubblegum pop classics like R.ef’s “Love Equation” (sorry Starlights, call me old school, but nobody can ever do this track justice but R.ef in my book)
But “G.R.8.U” was a rare venture into dance territory for VIXX, and ended up being a lovely mess of synths and distorted guitars. Coupled with a strong beat, this was one of the outstanding releases of 2013, and went to musical territory that many would like to see VIXX revisit sooner rather than later.
When Jackie Chan’s talent agency launches a boy band, you are surely expecting said act to debut with some high-octane material as a debut song (maybe with a few moves like this thrown in for good measure).
Oh, and an army of robot clones or whatnot.
(Robot clones that can dance, mind.)
Musically, you are expecting something that is infused with the K-Pop boyband sound, but has a slightly harder edge and a higher tempo. Something like this, in fact.
In fact, it would represent a very brave or foolhardy move to do anything otherwise. But that is exactly how JJCC came into being – with a track that is more atmospheric RnB than straightforward pop. Its running time, a good few seconds shy of three minutes is also quite riskily short for your first ever song.
In fact, rather than taking its cues from established boyband artists like BIGBANG and Super Junior, the act took the bold step of enlisting the help of veteran hitmaker Choi Jun Young, writer-producer of hits for the likes of ALi, Son Dam Bi and Shinhwa, to pen “At First.”
Choi Jun Young is best-known for his work on Lee Jung Hyun’s groundbreaking proto-K-Pop hit, “Come,” and there is certainly a very 90s Korean RnB feel to “At First,” with much of the instrumentation (the keyboards and the beat, in particular) reminiscent of Uhm Jung Hwa’s timeless “Invitation.”
Just like “Invitation,” “At First” is a surprisingly sexy tune, with moody yet ethereal vocals, lyrics that go deeper than the average pop song, as well as a few pretty sublime rap breakdowns. Perfectly arranged, instantly memorable.
You cannot just casually name a group BEAST and be done with it – it is probably the most aggressive-sounding moniker in K-Pop (maybe until MONSTA X, that is). But to get the best out of the BEAST boys, you need to team them up with a tiger – Shinsadong Tiger, that is. Perhaps no boy band is quite as well-suited to the Shinsadong Tiger sound as this six-piece. In this decade alone, the pairing has produced some of male K-Pop’s most essential tracks, the likes of “Shock” and “Midnight.”
But to truly appreciate this song, you need to listen to it in the context of the entire “Fiction and Fact,” album, where sister track “The Fact” leads into this, making for just over six minutes of audio brilliance.
And if the original mix of “Fiction” isn’t doing it for you, this version should be enough to sway you:
The challenge for a multinational group with member numbers in the double figures is to go beyond being a mere novelty group – even if you have been assembled by the juggernaut that is SM Entertainment.
However, say what you like about EXO, the group’s musical output has been almost faultless so far. “MAMA” was a powerful debut with all that faux-Gregorian monk chanting business. “Growl” was memorable and the amazing “Wolf” concept is almost as good as the song itself.
(Have you ever noticed it says “Raised by Wolves” on Kai’s chest in this video? Grr!)
Even some of the group’s less-promoted tracks are keepers, like “Black Pearl”
and the lushly orchestrated “Playboy.”
The recent “Love Me Right” is arguably more musically complex than all of the above. But the track that really defines EXO is probably “Overdose,” the closest the boys have come so far to crafting a flagship song.
Quite a tune, and a music video that is better than many movies I have seen. Self-composed and self-written, with a little assistance from accomplished singer-songwriter Kye Bum Ju, this song catapulted Block B to superstardom, and sounds just as fresh in 2015 as it did three years ago. Plus there was this Zico hairdo and odd contact lens combo.
As well as his air-trombone dance move.
The last word in cool.
Trying to choose between this and “1004 (Angel)” is almost impossible, but listening to both of them will get you gritting your teeth and just wishing that B.A.P and agency TS Entertainment would get out of the courtroom and back into the recording studio.
While “1004” is heavy with the breathless rock-dance element that B.A.P is so good at turning into hits, “One Shot” is something of a modern epic, with choral backing vocals, that beat, and tons of violins. The whole thing goes by at a furious pace, ending much faster than you want it to.
ove ‘em or hate ‘em, the TS crew make use of some phenomenal production and songwriting talent. Contributors to the “One Shot” album included Marco (the mastermind behind Sonamoo’s outstanding debut track “Déjà Vu”), Kang Ji Won (writer of Secret’s “Magic”) and frequent Secret and 2AM collaborator Kim Ki Beum, with rap sections penned by the group’s own Bang Yong Guk.
Another group that could sway all the boyband haters out there, BTS can sing, rap, and dance probably as well as any other act out there. And if you are a fan of dancier tracks with big beats and fat basslines, a BTS release rarely disappoints.
The boys set the bar pretty high for themselves with 2013’s “No More Dream,” but it did not take long for them to top that with the following year’s “Danger,” a carnival of crunching, distorted guitars, high-speed rapping, inspired sampling, and some well-placed random traffic noises.
But this year’s effort has eclipsed even that. “I Need U” has shown the world a hitherto completely unknown side to BTS, who penned not only the lyrics but also the music of this quite incredible post-dubstep pop masterpiece.
The runaway leader on the song-of-the-year poll over at this page, this is the track of this summer, and – almost certainly – 2015. An essential on any boyband playlist, no matter what timescale you are talking about.
Songs like this are the reason why some people have been disappointed by recent BIGBANG releases. As good as “BAE BAE,” “Loser” and “We Like 2 Party” are, music fans instinctively judge acts on the basis of their previous works. And when you are talking about BIGBANG, you have to remember you are talking about an act that has put out songs as good as “Lies,” “Haru Haru,” and of course this:
Drawing some of the best elements from house music of the past decade or so, “Tonight” manages to be at once a banging club tune and a deeply introspective number, making quite haunting use of autotune in the chorus, despite the fact that it is essentially a love song.
Effortlessly sophisticated and still a go-to tune after all these years, you have to hope the “D” and “E” parts of the “MADE” album will have a song of this caliber included somewhere.
Best Random Peter Pan Reference:
Best Random Roman Mythology Reference:
Best Wait-Aren’t-They-A-Rock-Group Track:
Royal Pirates’ “Love Toxic”
Best Sappy Love Song:
WINNER’s “Color Ring”
And in the arbitrary “Should Have Been Title Tracks” section:
...and GOT7’s “Good Tonight.”
So now you have read our list, it’s over to you, Soompiers! Vote in the poll, tell us your thoughts and talk about your top 10 boyband tracks of the 2010s so far.
Playlist for this list:
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electronica and a hankering for hip-hop. When he isn’t writing for Soompi, he is remixing your favorite K-Pop tracks – with sometimes astounding (but often catastrophic) results.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not represent Soompi as a whole.