Many great tracks came out this year, some from established names, others from rookie groups and small companies. It was difficult to narrow down my expansive running list, but this should give you an idea of what excited me in K-pop in 2015 and what I’d like to see more of in the coming year.
“유리구슬 Glass Bead” – GFriend
GFriend (or Girlfriend) immediately danced their way into my heart with this lively debut. The song isn’t all that different from the now-standard young/cute girl group fare, but the choreography combined with X-factor and an earnestness reminiscent of early Girls’ Generation has made GFriend stand out.
“Paradise Lost” – Gain
Gain didn’t just give the world a mini album, but a story of biblical proportions. Paradise Lost is the jewel in its crown, an epic track accompanied by stunning visuals and rife with symbolism. It’s bold, artistic, and truly captivating.
“Call Me Baby” – EXO
“EXO, really?” I know, how predictable. But I would be lying if I denied how much I loved this song, even with the unexpected bleating. It’s an *NSYNC-esque jam with choreography that highlights and combines the various members’ personal dance styles.
“Excuse Me – BESTie”
BESTie is one of those groups that hasn’t had its watershed moment but has the talent and material to get there. “Excuse Me” continues K-pop mishmash trend, but in a way that doesn’t feel too disjointed.
“Kiss My Lips” – Boa
Boa is a star. Having been in this business for so long, she’s arguably the star. Considering her place in K-pop’s and how sophisticated and catchy this song is, it’s been criminally underrated. Maybe people don’t appreciate subtlety anymore.
Less idol and more R&B, Zion.T regularly puts out quality tracks. “Eat” is calm in its musical tone and frustratingly short in length, but it shows that Zion.T can successfully tug at your heartstrings in under three minutes.
“아낀다 (Adore U)” – Seventeen
The best debut song from this year, hands down, no questions asked. Frankly, it’s better than many of the singles released by a lot of veteran acts. In a sea of young, heavily hip-hop influenced male groups, Seventeen arrived in a pastel explosion of pop and performance. The track is multidimensional and fun, and even more impressive when you realize that the song and dance were created by the members themselves.
“다쳐 Hurt Locker” - Nine Muses
Nine Muses put out not one, not two, but three solid title tracks in 2015. One of the hardest parts of compiling this list was choosing which to include, but the difficulty only underscores how consistently fantastic they were throughout the year. I entered 2015 vaguely aware of who they were, but I’m leaving this year as a big fan.
“Bad” – Infinite
Infinite didn’t invent the 360-degree video, but they brought it to K-pop and gave audiences another way to burn through hours of self-amusement experimenting with all of the viewing angles. Just as importantly, they used it to feature a song that departs from their trademark ’80s and dance influences and shows how versatile they can be.
“My Number” – Cheetah
Just when saxobeats were starting to feel overdone, the Unpretty Rapstar champion gave them much-needed freshness. Cleverly assertive and unapologetic, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears that further confirms how awesome Cheetah is and my desire to hear much, much more from her.
“I Feel You” – Wonder Girls
“We’re baaack!” I didn’t expect them to ever return following the most recent member departures, but the Wonder Girls came back on the scene playing instruments and fully dedicated to an ’80s concept. It takes you back to a time when music videos were watched on TV, not YouTube.
“니가 하면 (If You Do)” – GOT7
GOT7 has some great songs. The only problem is that they’re usually buried on their albums rather than showcased as singles. “If You Do” changes that, and it’s their most mature single to date. For their sake and ours, let’s hope they put out more title tracks of this caliber.
“Brave New World” – Brown Eyed Girls
Yes, Gain’s here again, but this time with the other members of the veteran girl group. Elements of the song hearken back to past single “Sixth Sense,” amplifying what made that track great and adding danceability.
“Demonstrate” – RANIA
Isolating “Demonstrate” from its surrounding circumstances, it’s a strong, brassy track overflowing with confidence. But it’s impossible not to mention how important this song is for two reasons. First, it’s brought RANIA back into the spotlight after a failed American debut. Second, and most notably, this comeback has introduced Alex, the first non-Korean African-American K-pop group member. Visa issues prevented her full incorporation into the music video and live performances, but she’s already turned heads and garnered fans.
“DDODDO” – MyB
MyB has made enough progress to land on the weekly music show circuit, but not much is said about them apart from comments on their hair color. It’s a shame since they released two enjoyable tracks this year, including this one. It’s sweet but not cavity-inducing, reminding us that it’s possible to have a cute concept without donning a school uniform.