The 10 Best K-Pop Girl Group Hits From the First Half of the Decade
Well, Soompiers, we are now into July, and officially into the second half of 2015…and also the decade! Seeing as how much fun we had bringing you our list of unforgettable boyband hits from the first half of the 2010s last week, it is now time to let the girls in on the act.
This decade has seen swarms of new girl groups appear on the K-Pop scene, and the comebacks have come thick and fast. So before we speed into the second half of the decade, let’s take a look back at some of the best tracks the decade has had to offer so far.
Take a look at our list, vote in the poll and tell us what your favorite all-female tracks are in the comments!
“SISTAR and Brave Sound / the illest collaboration” – that is how this ditty starts. And despite this quite braggadocious Brave Brothers-penned opening, it isn’t wrong. Well, not in the case of this song anyway.
Gyms in Korea were playing this for years after it dropped because its relentless beat is not only catchy, it is actually relatively fast. At approximately 130bpm, it is even quicker than American dance hits like Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World” and Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” If you are making a running playlist, basically, you will want “So Cool” to start playing at the point when you are kicking for the finish line.
Fitting in with the exercise theme, the music video was (loosely) inspired by the Daegu-hosted IAAF World Championships in 2011, which explains all the spangly batons, hurdling, and this sort of thing:
And not forgetting this technically perfect-looking Fosbury Flop from Bora in the high jump. A gold medal for that lady, please.
The video also features DJ DOC, which is like a statement of intent – DJ DOC simply does not do slow and sultry.
SISTAR has gone on to dominate the charts with post-“So Cool” releases, but you could argue that from a purely musical standpoint, the girls have yet to top this.
It probably took a leap of faith from JYP Entertainment head honcho Park Jin Young to hand over songwriting duties to another producer for this song.
Consider that prior to “Hush,” JYP himself had personally produced and composed miss A’s lead tracks – from “Bad Girl, Good Girl” to “I Don’t Need a Man.” To surrender creative control in the case of a group you have put together, written music and lyrics for, and spent hours in the studio with cannot be an easy thing.
But this brave decision paid off in spades. In came writing-production team E-Tribe, the masterminds who put together Dal Shabet and produced tracks like Girls’ Generation’s “Gee” and T-ara’s super-catchy “Yayaya.”
The result was a mature yet very fun song, with a distinctive guitar line, and a memorable chorus. The choreography was also very tight, and involved the girls (or their managers) lugging a metal frame from music show to music show during the promotions of this song. Was it a shower curtain rail? Was it lifted from a subway car?
Well, whatever it was, it got the job done.
Secret has been responsible for some of the best upbeat Korean songs of the past five years, despite making a fairly low-key start in 2009 with “I Want You Back.” A duo of high-tempo dance hits firmly established the group’s status as a dance act in 2010 in the form of the hard pop number “Magic” and the festival of brass and beats that was “Madonna.”
At the heart of the Secret sound for many of the group’s hits has been the songwriting team of Kang Ji Won and Kim Ki Bum, who also worked their magic on a whole host of B.A.P songs.
But for this track, Kang Ji Won, Kim Ki Bum, Secret, and TS Entertainment really stepped up their game. In fact, as pop songs go, this is almost faultless, and you know it from the second you hear the brass intro. Brass sounds worked wonders on “Madonna” and they work even better on this song. The two Hana (or was she still Zinger at this stage?) rap sections at 02:01 and 03:22 are a masterclass in both production and execution.
And instead of all the unconvincing cutesy concepts used in conjunction with many of Secret’s other efforts, the theme that Secret and TS matched used for this song was also spot on. Based on American film noir anti-heroines of the 1940s and 1950s, the costumes involved pinstripe suits, veils, and silk gloves. The result was a truly unique look and a perfect fit for these girls.
Sounds as fresh today as it did in 2012 and is by far Secret’s best release to date.
Unlike many other girl groups who have started slow and improved their musical output over time, SM Entertainment’s flagship girl group dropped some pretty fierce tracks very early on in their career. “Gee” was the song that put the girls on the map, and “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)” cemented the act’s place as the de facto number one girl group in Korea.
I may get some hate for saying this, but after that, I felt the group lost its way musically. Songs like “Oh!” and “I Got a Boy” are passable, yes. But they are just not on the same level as “Genie,” with its inspirational synth bassline and watertight production values, especially on the vocals.
(click here if you want to skip the rather lengthy car sounds intro)
Put together by sometime Mary J. Blige, Oliva, Babyface, and Lionel Richie collaborators The Underdogs, this is a musical tour de force, a return to the form of “Gee.”
Whereas many K-Pop songs tend to pull the tired old trick of shifting the song’s key up by half an octave for the final chorus, “Mr.Mr.” actually does this twice, meaning that the song actually ends a full octave higher than where it started at. It makes for a very nice audio twist at the back end of the track.
The visual concept SM and Girls Generation went for with this was also a winner.
A sophisticated and mature take on the women-in-menswear look. Sharp.
KARA had come so close to putting out a great song before, but something was always just slightly amiss until “Step.” This is where it all came together, though. It is not worth pointing out all the good elements that constitute the track, because every single aspect of it works. Even the troublesome “middle eight” bars are beautifully transitioned into, beautifully sung by Gyuri in particular and beautifully transitioned out of again.
Although the big (and sometimes fake) retro microphone thing has been done to death in recent years…
…this has arguably been the most memorable use of the prop in question.
The group came close to pulling off a part two of “Step” with “Mamma Mia” last year, another outstanding dance-pop number, but the 2011 classic has an almost timeless quality about it.
It is hard not to fall for 4MINUTE (unless you hate dance music and sexy girls, that is). Despite the group’s obvious charms, their music is, with the exception of “Cold Rain,” relentless up-tempo stuff that takes its direct cues from the world of electronica.
Few acts would have done justice to a song like “Crazy” as 4Minute did, and even early hits like “Muzik” have impressed.
But “Volume Up” is 4MINUTE’s most complete song to date. Sophisticated and expertly orchestrated by Shinsadong Tiger and RaDo (who also worked on the excellent Troublemaker debut), this one stays with you; and is more multi-dimensional than some of the group’s more straightforward dance hits.
Rainbow and Sweetune. Oh for a return to those good old days.
This and “Mach” – nothing short of perfect.
Certainly not one of Crayon Pop’s bigger hits, but easily one of their most popular. At the showcase event for the group’s latest release, “FM,” held in Seoul’s busy Dongdaemun area in March this year, the group asked the crowd which song they would like to hear as an encore. The fans may have been unprepared for the question, but answered instantly. Their choice was unanimous. “Bing Bing,” they cried.
The girls were down for performing the track, although sadly the organizers had not thought to bring the “Bing Bing” backing track along, so the crowd had to settle for watching them perform “FM” again.
Although it started out life essentially as a B-side to the group’s debut track “Saturday Night,” “Bing Bing” is more than just a filler track. The group has performed it at music shows and most of its concerts, and it was the track that gave the act both its formative sound and image. This was effectively the debut of the matching tracksuits, the girls’ most defining look.
In musical terms, it was also a move away from the harder dance sound of “Saturday Night” and further towards the pure pop sound that better befits the act’s name and concept. Plus there was this ultra-cool shoulder-shuffle dance move.
No, it does not have the novelty value of “Bar Bar Bar.” Nor does it have the polish of “FM.”
But “Bing Bing” trumps both by just being a fantastic all-round pop song.
Possibly the best performance of the track is this live version, which morphs into a mash-up of Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger” and then back into “Bing Bing,” incorporating some pretty nifty dance moves to boot. If you weren’t already besotted with Crayon Pop, you will be after watching this.
This is another case of big name producers allowing rival hitmakers the chance to work with a pet project.
In this instance, E-Tribe, the duo who put Dal Shabet together, decided to make way for possibly the biggest name in K-Pop music-making, Shinsadong Tiger.
The results were utterly astounding, and probably had a lot of first-time listeners checking their mp3 players. Was this really Dal Shabet? As in “Pink Rocket” Dal Shabet?
For many people, Dal Shabet ranks as a fairly middling act. However, anyone who follows the group will tell you that in recent years the girls have really upped their musical game, particularly with songs like “Have, Don’t Have.”
Seriously, that video is “Gangnam Style” levels of fun, especially this part:
However, few girl group songs this decade have sounded as mature and sophisticated as “B.B.B.” In fact, this song barely sounds like a K-Pop track at all, more like a fast-paced modern remix of an eighties synthpop number. The keyboard track sounds like they have come straight out of this kind of era:
While the synthesizer tracks ooze this kind of thing:
Yet there is a much more upbeat theme going on in “B.B.B,” something that gives the song the feel of an old-school classic roller-disco hit.
If you are not feeling this version, the “Shinsadong Tiger Remix,” included on the album, has a harder bassline and beat and disposes with the synthpop elements in favor of a more typical K-Pop sound.
However, kudos to Happy Face Entertainment for having the courage of their convictions and choosing to promote the original mix, rather than going with the remix.
Even if you are not a fan of 2NE1, you have to admire the fact that YG Entertainment’s flagship female act has an identifiable sound, which is not something you can say about the vast majority of girl groups out there. Possibly the main reason for this is the fact that 2NE1 has worked pretty extensively with Teddy (aka Teddy Park), YG’s biggest name in-house producer.
Working mostly with a single producer has a lot of advantages. It is worth considering that many acts that have largely worked with one producer have succeeded together in crafting some pretty unique works.
Examples include George Martin, who worked on every single Beatles album, or long-time TLC producer Dallas Austin.
Perhaps the only K-Pop girl group other than 2NE1 to achieve musical consistency in recent years has been Nine Muses, who have worked fairly consistently with Sweetune over the years. In fact, the Sweetune-Nine Muses relationship has yielded some pretty outstanding songs, “Wild” in particular.
Having already struck gold first time round with 2NE1’s outstanding debut, “Fire” (still by far the act’s best song in my book), Teddy again teamed up with co-composer Kush for “Clap Your Hands.” Following the same formula, playing to the group’s already-established strengths, the result was a song that was at once catchy, trendy and memorable, with its fuzzy-heavy, distorted bassline and multiple, deep house-inspired keyboard sounds.
Honestly, this song is better than half of the songs on the list above. But it is impossible to just listen to it for pure enjoyment now, bearing in mind the unspeakably tragic fate that befell RiSe and EunB last year. In 2015, instead of making you want to dance, listening to this now will more likely just make you want to cry.
That takes nothing away from the track, however, which deserves to rank up there as an all-time K-Pop classic.
So much for our list, Soompiers, now it’s over to you! Vote in the poll, tell us your thoughts on our selections and let us know what your top 10 girl group tracks of the 2010s are.
Here is the playlist for “The 10 Best K-Pop Girl Group Hits From the First Half of the Decade”:
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.