Welcome to Kpopalypse’s 2018 favourites list – it’s time for Kpopalypse to count down his favourite k-pop songs of 2018!
I get criticised for negativity a lot in my reviews, but only by stupid people – readers with functioning brains who were actually paying attention in 2018 noticed that I actually liked a great deal of 2018’s music. It occurred to me when making the shortlist for this post just how many good songs there were over the year, so it’s now my extreme pleasure to bring you what I consider to be the best of these songs!
The usual rules and disclaimers follow, not that anybody ever reads them:
- Songs are eligible if they were released between 1st January 2018 and 31st December 2018 (with one exception for a song that came out so late in 2017 that it may as well have come out in 2018). This list was published on 31st December 2018 but may appear earlier for some readers due to timezones.
- Songs for OSTs are not eligible, not that they had any chance of getting in this list anyway as they’re all boring.
- Christmas songs are not eligible (they have their own list) and songs for sporting events are best ignored for the continual moral integrity and mental health of humankind.
- These are my personal opinions of song quality only, these are 100% subjective. They do not factor in elements such as popularity, chart performance, cultural relevance, etc. These opinions are also not worth any more (or less) than the opinion of anyone else. (Don’t listen to Yua.)
- I am an offensive cunt sometimes, that’s why my website has a disclaimer on the sidebar, so if you’re the easily-offended type consider fucking off to a better site with a more friendly top 30 list, there’ll be plenty to choose from, I’m sure. However if you’re obsessively hate-reading this list because you secretly enjoy being upset by what I have to say, I’d just like to mention that I hope you find even more things to really annoy and offend you, and also that I’m really enjoying living inside your head and making myself comfortable. Please continue to be obsessed about me and talk about what a bad person I supposedly am on your social media of choice. Since you’re technically a fan of my writing as far as I’m concerned, you may also wish to consider giving me money. (Actually people who like my writing could consider this too, but haters definitely should.)
- On the other hand if this post was too sunny, bright and positive for you, you may wish to consider reading my worst k-pop songs of 2018 list instead to get your yearly dose of bitterness, disdain, sarcasm and shit music.
Without further ado, let’s get the list started!
KPOPALYPSE’S 30 FAVOURITE K-POP SONGS OF 2018
30. Chuu – Heart Attack
I’m counting “Heart Attack” as a 2018 song even though it was released in the dying days of 2017 because it was too late for all the roundups and clearing house posts and also just because I wanted to talk about it more because it’s a great piece of music that is so fucking queer-friendly and that makes me a happy man. Kpopalypse is and always has been pro-faggotry as fuck, because I could always relate to the struggle of gays – most people in my school thought I was queer (when in fact I was just ugly, weird and stupid) so I was getting fag-bashed just as much as the actual gays were. After all, you don’t have to be gay to be gay-bashed, especially in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s, you just need to make other people think you might be gay, just like Yves and Chuu do here. No wonder all the LGBTIQXYZABCs latched onto this great uplifting song, and really who wouldn’t be gay for Yves, it’s perfectly understandable, but take that aspect away from “Heart Attack” and it still holds up just as a great song. To be honest I didn’t like it that much when I first heard it despite the excellent package, in fact I thought it was a boring bunch of R&B twaddle and far overshadowed by Yves’ “New“, and even now I still don’t think the first minute of “Heart Attack” is all that great beyond that Tarantino-esque introduction. However it gets better as it goes along – when the bassline starts hitting harder in the second verse that’s very welcome, and from 2:10 we get one of the best bridge sections that k-pop has ever produced – a cleverly harmonically-connected passage that is as good as the bridge for Lovelyz’ “Ah-Choo” which is as high a praise that I can think of. From there onto the end it’s pretty much musical perfection not to mention a perfect song to match Chuu’s hyperactive demeanour, and who knows how constructed that is, but then who understands anything about Chuu anyway, she’s like a vortex of time and logic where rational thoughts vaporise and are turned into heart signs and cake. Anyway I love this song, and if you can’t handle this review being here, remember that if you’d stanned Loona more, maybe this top 30 placement wouldn’t have happened (but actually it still would have).
29. Sha Sha – What The Heck
Okay so here’s our first ultra-nugu of the favourites picks, although perhaps they’re not that nugu to my regular readers who all seemed pretty well aware of Sha Sha when I solicited guesses for what was going to be on this list. It didn’t take much sophisticated guesswork to know that “What The Heck” was going to make this list however, it’s a pretty obvious quality musical choice as it rocks along with an appealing 60’s pop style clean guitar sound but with the harmony firmly rooted in more recent “four chords” trends (that’s I-V-vi-IV in this case). The song isn’t perfect – it’s just a little too shrill, and the blonde-haired girl who gatecrashes the tune every few bars to say annoying stuff is, well, annoying and maybe a bridge too far in terms of cheese but then the chorus rolls in and it’s awesome and makes you forget about the song’s minor weaknesses. It’s a pretty good package and even comes with a quite well-presented video, and while I have no idea if Sha Sha are wasting their own time trying to break into k-pop, they’re certainly not wasting mine.
28. Seenroot – Paradise
Seenroot are one of those groups that I’ve been aware of for ages but have consistently failed to do anything good to the extent that I’d admittedly written them off and placed them in the “why even bother listening to their shit at all” pile. However it’s always good to be wrong about something like this, so here Seenroot are, collecting the award for “best song from a group you’ve probably never heard of even though they’ve released a ton of stuff and their biggest song has 25 million YouTube hits“. “Paradise” has a great little vocal riff in the chorus plus harmony that is immediately catchy and while there’s not really a lot to it, what’s there is great and the song mercifully doesn’t try to do too much or get too fancy with any of it, keeping the music-box charm of it all intact. Hopefully they get to have some more success like the similar BOL4 have been able to achieve, but if not it doesn’t really matter as far as I’m concerned because popularity has nothing to do with my music taste, I just like what I like, and I like “Paradise” a lot. “Paradise” also has a cat in the video that is very similar to my own cat, so even if the song was shit I’d probably have to stan it anyway or my cat-loving girlfriend might find out that I didn’t put this song in this list and dump me.
27. Blackpink – Forever Young
Apparently one of the latest hot takes on Kpopalypse from my usual mob of synaptically-challenged social media haters is that I’m a “contrarian” who only likes unpopular groups. That’s actually a very easily disproved claim, when you do the math of how many very popular vs unpopular groups there are in Korea (a dozen max vs literally over a thousand) and then do the math on these lists through the years and gauge the popularity of each group or artist that ended up with a placing – you’ll see that popular groups actually are massively favoured and have a huge advantage. This isn’t coincidence or even bias – it’s a deliberate effect of larger agencies with the capital to float popular groups having more access to funds and thus more access to good songwriting and production teams, and I’d say that from a pure engineering perspective none are better than YG’s right now. The best recent evidence of this that I can think of, is that YG Entertainment have had some of the only songwriters who have been able to integrate the tropical shithouse sound into their k-pop creations in a sensible fashion, which is no small feat given how badly everyone else has been fucking it up. They manage it here by making sure that there’s some verse melody that’s actually a lot catchier than the tropical riff itself, in fact I recognise the exact melodic contour from a western 1980s pop song but I can’t remember which one it is – mind you it’s good anyway so that’s not a criticism. Also the tone of the song is a lot darker than the usual tropical fare, with deep synth drones and a harder-than-usual beat for this type of material adding some much-needed grit that stops everything from floating off into marimbaville. The song kind of loses its way right towards the end when it jumps the shark into sloganeering dipshit territory for the home stretch (an odd songwriting quirk that affects a lot of YG productions, most notably BigBang’s otherwise excellent “Fantastic Baby“) but by then it doesn’t matter as it’s already successfully sold itself to the listener. “Forever Young” is now the best Blackpink song and a few more good songs like this might allow them to finally shake that “2NE2” label… but probably not.
26. Fromis_9 – Love Bomb
This song is actually really annoying, just like the pointless underscore in the group’s name. I mean for fucks sake shut up, girls, that constant “lo-lo-love-bomb, lo-lo-love bomb” plus all the surrounding stuff that goes on in the chorus is just way too much for anybody’s ears. This song has got such a great backing track but it’s given barely any space to be heard at all, there’s not a single part in the song where the instrumental gets to break through to any worthwhile extent and it’s a real shame. Fortunately, that instrumental is still surprisingly abrasive, edging towards Severed Heads territory, so it’s enough to compete with everything else around it to some limited degree which means that the song doesn’t end up turning into the total wash that it easily could have been. On top of that the backing track also has some really appealing melody happening, not that you can hear most of it, but don’t take my word for it, here’s an instrumental mix that you can check out which is sadly slightly filtered by necessity but it gives you the general idea. This is all not to say that the vocal lines are bad or anything, in fact most of them are great, there’s just a few too many of them. If the songwriters had exercised just a little bit of melodic restraint here were could have song of the year, unfortunately it wasn’t to be so this song just scrapes onto the tail end of the top 30 instead. Maybe next time.
25. Twice – What Is Love
I told you this list was going to be fucking gay as fuck. For my money, the gayness depicted in Twice’s “What Is Love” doesn’t really ascend to the convincing heights of Chuu’s “Heart Attack” just because Twice’s version is more casual like movie cosplaying around and less like women actually wanting to lick the vag, but it’s still good fun and the visuals meet required standards across the board. Ignoring the token lesbianism JYP has pretty obviously lifted the music video ideas straight from AOA’s “Get Out” and why not, after all that was a great video which was the true birth of AOA’s “sexy concept” and one that mystifyingly didn’t get more attention at the time. The music however is just four-chords Twice-by-numbers and sounds exactly like an amalgamation of their last half-a-dozen prior comebacks, but that’s certainly nothing for anyone to be upset over because Twice have been sailing pretty well on the song-quality front lately so there’s really no need for anyone to drastically change their direction. If anything, k-pop fans worldwide regardless of which group is their fave should be thankful to JYP for floating a commercially successful girl group with constant upbeat songs and keeping the “bops” in k-pop at a time when nearly every other agency are insistent on handing their underpaid worked-to-starvation employees ill-fitting too-cool-for-school posey flaccid trap or syrupy R&B shit. Twice are saving k-pop right now with their against-the-grain fast-paced material by making sure that quick and fun k-pop still trends, and whether you love, hate or just don’t care about Twice’s particular brand of music, there’s no denying the power of their positive influence at a time when that influence is more needed than ever. Bow to the east and thank JYP every day for the fact that we still have a k-pop worth reading about.
24. EXID – I Love You
Another group that works strictly by formula these days, EXID have been milking exactly the same template for almost all their songs since “Up & Down” went viral, and it’s probably just as well, because whenever they stray from their well-trodden path things don’t tend to work out so good for them, so it’s little wonder they keep coming back to it. “I Love You” is easily the best iteration of their sound yet, just because the choice of backings has been refined. Some great sub-bass propels the song along initially, and the verse is driven more by this and the sampled vocal lines than whatever the girls are actually singing in between them. It’s a bit of a pity that some of the subs are so deep that they seem to vanish right at the start of the chorus on anything less than a club PA, but that’s a minor flaw as the lead vocal has taken over carrying the song by that point anyway. Overall it’s the best EXID package since “I Feel Good“, with the added bonus that all the girls are slightly older and more attractive and so I can actually tell them all apart now.
23. Sandy – Teen Swag
To be honest I’m not all that sold on Sandy’s beat choice for her “Sandy Got The Beach” mixtape that this track is lifted off. It’s just a little too weak and nu-school for my taste, although I will admit that the sub-bass heavy sections are pretty tasty and I definitely like those parts. What really makes this song work well is the rapping itself, Sandy’s “I don’t give a fuck about it” line is a serious earworm, and her nasal non-Autotuned (thank fuck) monotone is the right kind of delivery to add the necessary harshness to this material. The icing on the cake of course is the visuals – Sandy’s voice sounds like V.Nasty quit the drugs and went to Korean exchange class but she’s rocking the most conservative and non-rebellious schoolgirl attire that it’s actually possible to have (i.e a real-deal school uniform straight from mum’s clothes basket, not the dog-whistle fetish-versions that k-pop girl groups usually wear). The contrast is hilarious, or it would be if this wasn’t such fucking fire. I’m sure one day Sandy will get a bit more well known doing this shit, and then she’ll be forced into all the boring R&B collaborations and stupid ballads that everybody other rapper in Korea has to do ad nauseam, so let’s enjoy her music while we still can.
22. N.Tic – Once Again
Okay so let’s just get the elephant in the room out right fucking now – holy fucking shitballs does that guy with the purple hair look weird as fuck, gee golly gosh he has certainly had a lot of plastic surgery done hasn’t he, why yes he has, oh my. Okay, great – now that’s over with, let’s talk about something far more interesting, like how this song is actually a really fucking cool, cruisy mid-tempo piece of pop with a very singable chorus and… hey, wait. Just wait a second. I can tell that you’re distracted by something. You’re still thinking about the guy with the purple hair, aren’t you. Okay so let’s talk about him some more, his name is Jion and I’m not sure what the big fuss is here. Japanese Visual Kei groups always have that one guy or girl in the group who pulls off the androgynous look so successfully that he gives you uncanny valley feelings, and having someone like that there is a great way to get people talking about the group, I’m convinced that Visual Kei groups all make a concerted effort to have one person deep in the androgynous zone (we can probably all thank X Japan’s hide for that). It’s clearly worked for N.Tic as well because you’re going to remember this guy maybe not for the rest of your life but certainly for a hell of a lot longer than it takes to watch this video, and that’s going to draw you back to it for just one more look at his admittedly fascinating face and before you know it that fucking chorus and the super-catchy “I just wanna looooove, tonight” line is in your head again. That’s certainly how it got in mine, and it’s genius really, what a fucking great song. Now stop thinking about the purple hair guy. You can do it.
21. Drunken Tiger – Yet
Hey now here’s a great song by Drunken Tiger, listen to this slamming ass-kicking beat and the great raps, and especially notice how Drunken Tiger is an old cunt like Kpopalypse with no surgery whatsoever until certain other people who I won’t mention because the time to think about them is over. Like, we have to move on now, really, or I’ll never get this list done. The peak era of rap music beat-writing was definitely around the mid-90s when rap music worked out how to have slow tempos so the rappers could fit more of those words things in the bars but still have beats that went hard as fuck, and almost every single new rap record at that time (that wasn’t pisssweak R&B or its cousin, the limp US west-coast P-funk influenced sound) was just absolute fire. Wu-Tang had a lot of influence here, that group’s various multitude of very popular solo projects and side projects all had harsh yet minimal beats that really cemented this kind of style, but they weren’t the only ones. Anyway this style of beat writing is pretty much a dying art in today’s landscape of stupid trap garbage, funeral-paced mumble rap and various other nonsense, but Drunken Tiger is an old fuck like me so he remembers when rap actually used to rock, and this song reflects that.
20. Holland – I’m Not Afraid
More incredible gayness is here to entertain me and annoy others, and I think Holland’s extended man-on-man pash scenes in this video are fuckin’ ace, because if I were gay that’s exactly what I’d do, I’d be out and proud with no apologies or fucks given (not to say that I don’t understand the reasoning behind being in the closet, but it’s just not my style). Having said all that, identity politics is always the least interesting thing about a person – I’m not all that impressed by who people are (which is beyond their control and pretty much just luck of the draw), I’m impressed by what they do (because that’s much more directly in their control as it’s determined by their choices and therefore denotes strength of character). If you’re an amputee lesbian dwarf, that’s great and you have my full support (no pun intended), but I’m more impressed if you do something cool than if you just say “hello I’m short girl who likes girls and I have a stump” on your social networking profile. Therefore, Holland’s gayness doesn’t impress me at all, but his choice to flaunt that gayness in the face of South Korea’s very queer-hostile environment and make great music at the same time certainly is very impressive. After an absolutely mind-bogglingly pathetic debut (see the worst-of list for more details!) Holland completely 100% redeemed himself this year and just started making shit-hot music all of a sudden. Underneath the hype “I’m Not Afraid” is just a basic three-chord synth pop song with a fairly simple melody, but basic doesn’t equal bad, especially in pop music where direct simplicity is often preferable to beating around the bush, and this makes it a much better song musically than the one from Troye Sivan that it’s probably inspired by. Holland clearly isn’t a beating-around-the-bush type in any sense of the word, and the plaintive 80s style synthesiser treatments work well to enhance a song that isn’t self-consciously retro or self-consciously anything else at all, for that matter. Most importantly, you can hear everything that’s happening in the song – so many songs came out in 2018 that had great synthesiser work but you couldn’t hear any of it because it was completely swallowed up by horrible mixing with massively-present front-and-center vocals and everything else just a vague shadow behind them. It’s just fucking great quality music all round and I hope Holland spearheads a whole movement of faggots entering k-pop if they all have songs this good.
19. Twice – Dance The Night Away
Anybody of my advanced vintage will instantly recognise the slightly modified melodic line of Nena’s “99 Luftballons” that’s happening all throughout “Dance The Night Away”. It’s basically the same song sung by more attractive people, with better sonic production, a light modern dance beat instead of a clunky 80’s style gated reverb rock beat, and without the stupid slow flow-breaking sections that the original had, meaning that it’s an unambiguously better version of the same type of thing in pretty much every aspect. Even better than this however is that the song is not tropical shithouse – that hackneyed toot-toot squirt-squirt bullshit sound that infected the first half of 2018 like a pustulent herpes sore is absolutely nowhere to be heard here. Think how tempting it would have been for the songwriters to just follow the lazy summer tropical trend to match the music video concept, and I have no doubt in my mind that they at least thought about it, so either there must have been someone within the creative process vetoing the trop-slop sound HARD to make sure that this didn’t happen in the final product, or maybe the songwriters just had a mad attack of great music taste and decided that CSS did it better than every k-pop artist back in 2011 and there wasn’t any point going down that road. Either way I’m incredibly thankful for the result, and the song is great enough for me to be able to tolerate all the cringe-inducing mugging at the camera that these girls can dish out (which is a lot, by the way).
18. CLC – Distance
Like a lot of songs on this list, CLC’s “Distance” is a fairly derivative piece of music, but that doesn’t hurt it at all, because everything that “Distance” copies is pure gold. The song most heavily borrows elements of Ladies Code’s best track “Hate You“, which is most noticeable on some of the chord and vocal phrasings, adds some of the textures from Fiestar’s best track “Mirror” and then tops the formula off with a few T-ara ballad style quirks. The combination really works well, and above all makes me wonder why it took Cube Entertainment 93 comebacks over 38 years to get a feature track this good for CLC. I was beginning to think that Sorn was going to be a grandmother before I finally got to hear her in a decent song, so I’m glad that her agency finally came through for her. In fact, the entire “Black Dress” mini-album is full of really good songs (even the worst track, the slowed-down quasi-bossanova filler “Seventh“, isn’t too disgustingly intolerable) and those of you who annoyingly spam me for album recommendations even though you already know very well that I don’t give a solitary fuck about reviewing k-pop albums can take this as an endorsement, I suppose. Now we’ve just got to see if Cube can finally sack up do the same for (G)I-dle before their 27th comeback – they gave them that stupid name, they owe them some decent songs as compensation if nothing else.
17. Favorite – It’s Mine
Favourite are a group that have taken a few tries to get it right, and on “It’s Mine” they finally make it over the line. The stars of the show here are those insanely frenetic keyboards and drums which clap along at a fantastic pace, everything else here hinges on them. There are machine guns in active service today that shoot slower than the hi-hats hit in the chorus of this song, and if the sound of each one represented a sasaeng dying, Korea’s idol stalking problems would be solved by Favorite with just one Show Champion performance. The quick tempo of “It’s Mine” is a massive breath of fresh air in a genre that has in recent years been weighed down by constant slow-as-shit ballads, turgid R&B slop for mental children and rap beats that go at about 5 BPM so the dumb-as-fuck rappers have enough time to remember their next supposedly “freestyled” (but not really, wink nudge) line. The melody over the top of it all could have maybe been slightly better, but to be honest with a backing track this amazing it barely even matters what the girls are doing over the top as long as it’s in time to the beat, and this song gets the “someone should do a 100% fill-accurate drum cover of this but nobody will because they’re too soft and weak” award for this year. (Last year’s winner was Oh My Girl’s “Coloring Book” and to this date no drum covers exist that I know of, I’m still waiting cunts.)
16. Yoona & Lee Sang Soon – To You
And now here’s a song that fucking proves me wrong about everything I just said. When Yoona blew my lame cynical irrelevant ass right the fuck away last year with (of all things) the subtle and beautiful ballad “When The Wind Blows“, I really thought to myself “how the fuck can someone who looks this boring make music this good, I mean this song is fantastic and I’ll readily admit it, but surely it has to be a once-off and she’ll be back to some insipid bullshit soon”. Not only was I wrong about that, but “To You” is an even slower and more subtle ballad and it’s also an even better song. This of course makes absolutely no sense, so allow me to fail to explain it to the best of my ability. Of course, Yoona isn’t actually a very good singer at all, and that’s what makes “To You” work so well for me – it’s such a great song precisely because Yoona can’t actually sing at all and so has to move through this tune as carefully and with as little vocal wank as possible, giving the excellent instrumental lots of breathing room, which is something most instrumentals in k-pop songs don’t get anywhere near enough of. This also means that all the usual hackneyed overused ballad tricks that we’re all thoroughly subconsciously sick of can’t be exploited here, like vocal noodling timed with orchestral swells and gaps for extended vocal runs that contribute fuck-all to the song’s structure. Yoona is given a simple melody and has to play it straight down the line from start to finish because that’s all she’s capable of, and as it happens that’s all that the song needed. Almost every producer in Korea could learn something from this song and why it’s here.
15. Choi Sam – Kkot-baem
Rap song of the year is by Choi Sam, who has had plenty of songs come to my attention before but I haven’t been that impressed until now as she seems to have had mostly terrible beat choice for some reason (you know, like every rapper, ever). Suddenly for some reason she just started fucking getting it oh so right, picking some amazing mixtape tracks to back up her rapping, and the selection for “Kkot-baem” is a fantastically moody piece which conveys an amazing atmosphere and represents the culmination of everything that I had hoped Choi Sam would do. The video director capitalises on her “girl from The Ring meets Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club” vibe as well as the song’s fantastic beat which is at once poundingly stark and chillingly ambient, and amps up the black–metal aesthetic and horror imagery to the point where you’ll be putting up a glare filter in front of your computer monitor to hold her back just in case she tries to walk through it. I’ll let you look into the lyrics yourselves, but given the topic here, imagine the scathing diss that she could throw at someone like San E if only she could be fucked and didn’t have 100 better things to do with her time, the guy’s balls would wither and drop right the fuck off (and then Orange Caramel’s Raina would probably send her money). Since that’s not going to happen, we’ll just have to settle for her kicking the ass of every other rapper in Korea instead, over this incredible track which needs to be loud to be appreciated and which is Kpopalypse’s “big speakers” recommendation for 2018.
14. Apink – I’m So Sick
Although a lot of fuss was made about Apink’s change in direction, all that really changed is their image, with the girls adopting a theme similar to IU’s “Twenty-three“, and with a correspondingly similar message that makes it abundantly clear exactly what Apink are sick of. Remove the visuals however and the music isn’t actually wildly different from anything that they’ve gone with before, and there is in fact no reason why the video director couldn’t have gone with the kind of swanning-around-in-white-dresses concept that Apink has always tended to get around 50% of the time. However what the music certainly is, is better than any other song Apink have ever touched, not because of the darker theme but because of some great harmony plus an unusually sparse vocal arrangement. The song latches onto a lot of k-pop’s current trends, like the occasional tropical shithouse textures plus those echo-chamber harmonica squeals and whoops that are in everything now, but none of them take over the song completely, and the chorus ends up being driven by the backing vocals, with the girls in the frontline singing almost nothing at all. That’s the way more k-pop should be, k-pop is too overloaded with vocals as a general rule, and (again) there’s some fantastic backing tracks out there lurking behind so much of that wall-of-noise singing – yes I realise I’ve been harping on about overcrowded sonics in this year’s list but that’s only because it’s such a fucking issue, so many songs are living and dying on this aspect right now and I’l probably talk about it another half a dozen times before this list is over. Anyway, Apink and their fans may or may not realise this or care, but the difference between “I’m So Sick” and everything else Apink have done is that Apink are finally getting to practice some vocal restraint in an upbeat song. The change in style hits me like a brick – just not for the reasons that everyone might assume.
13. Saturday – Mmook Jji Bba
Saturday boldly try a sax-riff-driven pop song in 2018, and I’m sure it didn’t work out for them commercially because why the fuck would it – this is a sound from three years ago that almost everyone has left behind for commercial reasons except the ultra-nugus too dopey to know what definitely isn’t trending right now. However, they make it work for me anyway just because everything else is so great that the sax-blurting ends up just being a sideshow. The song has a driving rhythm which never pauses and serious Crayon Pop vibes – I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the same people were involved (although I have no idea in reality who did this), and the void left by their absence now feels like it has gotten a little smaller thanks to Saturday. I don’t expect Saturday to ever have the same levels of “Crayon Punk” ethos or underworld connections as Crayon Pop, that would be asking a little too much of anybody, I’m happy to settle for this great song which comes off like a much improved version of “Doo Doom Chit” but with the creative energy shoved into making the song as great as possible instead of into trying to find ways to self-consciously recreate the virality of “Bar Bar Bar“. Trying to force a viral hit always fails, just ask anyone who had to work on a PSY song after 2012, but hopefully Saturday manage to stick around long enough to do some more cool stuff like this, even though there’s a high probability that they’re doomed.
12. Loona – Hi High
When Loona’s esoterically-named-to-fuck-with-Loona-theorists “yyxy” subunit released “Love4Eva“, it was a fairly obvious retread of Girls’ Generation’s “Gee“, and the song suffered a little bit as a result for no other reason than that “Gee” came first (also see – Momoland’s “Baam” being less popular even though it was essentially a superior remix of “Bboom Bboom” – fight me, cunts). However what a lot of people didn’t pick up on was that “Hi High” was also a retread of “Gee” – both songs have very similar tempo, chords and structural elements in the vocal. What disguises listeners from noticing this similarity quite as immediately as they did with “Love4eva” is that “Hi High” also has a much more muscular beat and bassline, plus it’s added more harmony and swapped out the unfortunate 1990s P-funk synth textures of “Gee” for something more akin to Lovelyz (or Loona 1/3rd’s “Love & Live” for that matter) that fits with the bright music and lyrical theme much better. The result is definitely the best song in the “Gee” genre or whatever you want to call it, a piece of music that truly fucking rocks in a way that “Gee” itself never quite managed. That windmill-air-guitar dance move at 3:07 is probably not a coincidence because it would never have occurred to the choreographer to put that in there if the song wasn’t rocketing along like one of Pete Townshend’s guitars being thrown across the stage at that point. I realise that Loona’s fans can occasionally be annoying and overanalytical in their continual jumping for the stars and hitting the treetops, and that this ruins the experience of the group for some, but even under these conditions hating a group with such a consistent track record of quality songs is harder than college entrance exams.
11. ONF – Complete
Despite the occasional lame and provably wrong criticisms leveled at myself by people with low English comprehension skills that I’m “only in it for the teenage girls” (as if Eat Your
Kimchi’s Sushi’s Martina never happened), there’s always a place for male groups in Kpopalypse lists, because Kpopalypse is at the end of the day about one thing only – appreciating k-pop for your subjective experience of the music while also having a laugh and a good time, and not buying into all the other bullshit that people hang off it, like charts, awards, popularity, sucking the industry’s dick or even losing your shit over the appearances of the performers (although objectification is no crime). That message is the key theme that runs through each and every Kpopalypse post of any length, even the ones that are ostensibly about something else, and if you’re a long-time reader and you still haven’t gotten that message yet, sorry but you’re honestly a bit ignorant and you need to read certain key posts again. However if re-reading my bullshit postings is going to take too much of your time (and let’s face it we’re all time-poor in this fast-paced Internet-savvy age), perhaps instead just think for a while about why this group of guys who I’ve never even fucking heard of just beat out Loona on my favourites list for fuck’s sake. Some songs for me are “growers” and take a while for me to fall in love with, but “Complete” isn’t like that at all, it’s one of those songs where the positive qualities of the song are immediately evident from the very first bar. There’s nothing all that innovative about how it’s put together and the song follows a lot of k-pop’s current and recent-past trends like the hackneyed sax riffs, that stupid whooping noise, etc but it just does it so well that it’s impossible not to enjoy. Most importantly the song never takes any drastic wild turns away from what makes it work – those opening six chords, which continually underpin everything and allow the song to have breakdowns and tempo changes etc without ever completely falling off the rails. If you still just can’t get into this song because you have a deep-seated hatred for boy groups, just try to imagine your favourite girl group singing it or something, perhaps that’ll work for you.
10. Sunmi – Siren
Wow, it’s surely a roller-coaster ride listening to “Siren”. The song is easily the best solo song from Sunmi or in fact any ex-Wonder Girls member ever for that matter, it rocks with a seriously slapping rhythm section, a cool chorus worthy of Pet Shop Boys at their finest and to top it all off, the surreal video even references (of all things) Suicidal Tendencies’ excellent “Trip At The Brain“. However the cracks start showing at 1:43 where the song cuts tempo just for a second and teases an upcoming trap breakdown. No, don’t do it, Sunmi! Think of the children! Sadly, tragedy at this point is inevitable and the worst fears of pop music fans are then realised at 2:38 where the song basically shits in its own underwear for the next 20 seconds. Fortunately the recovery is swift and soon we’re back on track, but it really is such a shame that songwriters feel the need to wet the bed like this. Ironically, the horrid sub-trap breakdown of “Siren” contrasts not only with the brilliance of the rest of the song, but also with Sunmi’s second best solo track, the fantastic “24 Hours“, where the breakdown was actually the song’s stunning highlight. Perhaps a future Kpopalypse post is needed that details different types of breakdowns in k-pop and why sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s on the list, despite the fact that I’m sure nobody will give enough of a fuck about what I think to actually change anything, I mean it’s the cusp of 2019 and people are still making MR removed videos as if they weren’t debunked five years ago, and still hardly anyone in Korea knows which part of a Shure Super 55 to sing into. I’m not mainstream enough to be able to change the world, folks – the best I can do is give my small corner of the k-pop community a few laughs and maybe some entertainment or education, plus point you in the direction of a few more good songs like this one.
9. Twice – BDZ
The quality of Twice’s songs in Korea has steadily been rising since their less-than-impressive debut, and they’ve definitely been in good form lately. However the same can’t really be said of their Japanese releases, which have been universally
absolute gobsmacking fucking shit less than competently realised. I guess JYP noticed this and decided to rescue the low quality of Twice’s Japanese output by writing a song for them himself instead of farming it out to the usual suspects that he uses for production in that market. Whoever he even uses I don’t fuckin’ know, nor do I care, because the songs were dogshit, for all I know it was all JYP himself on an off-form day. The only reason why I know who writes any songs at all is not because I care, but because readers constantly tell me because they assume I give a fuck. Anyway, not that it matters – whatever he did worked, and “BDZ” is not only the best Japanese Twice song by a ridiculous margin, but one of the best songs that any k-pop group has released exclusively for the Japanese market. That’s probably got a lot to do with it not sounding very “j-pop” at all, unlike most Japanese-only releases by k-pop groups which are usually some twee pandering-to-cutesiness bullshit. If anything “BDZ” is simply a reworked version of miss A’s “Good Bye Baby” with the vocal engineering and the beats stepped up a bit, and since those were the only two aspects of “Good Bye Baby” that had anything seriously wrong with them, this makes “BDZ” the superior song. The reggae-lite breakdown is a bit of a low point but it’s brief enough for me to not care, and the rest of the song is good solid foot-stomping singalong fun of the type that is very rarely seen these days in pop music anywhere because it’s hard to be this brilliant. Also the JYP watermark is back – we missed you, all is forgiven!
8. Dreamcatcher – You And I
Dreamcatcher aren’t enough like a metal band for my liking – in any aspect. The guitars are always too far back in the mix, they’re not rude enough in interviews, they don’t do anywhere near as much drugs as they should and worst of all they actually tolerated being in a room with Asian Junkie and 100 other Dreamcatcher fans for an hour and were really nice to everyone. I wanted Asian Junkie’s report on the Dreamcatcher fanmeet to detail how the attendees were nearly used as Satanic sacrifices for Siyeon to bathe in the blood of to preserve her youth until everyone escaped out of a carelessly unlatched window, but these girls probably don’t even do regular rituals to the goat lord or even own a single black candle or ouija board at home. It’s fucking pathetic if you ask me, it might meet the standards of some easily-impressed baseball journalist who barely knows what metal is, but it doesn’t meet mine. Anyway, I’ll begrudgingly admit that if you take away the fact that Dreamcatcher completely fail on every level to represent anything that (good) metal stands for, and just take them as a pop group, they’re a pretty kick-ass pop group with a very consistent track record and “You And I” is one of their best songs, which refines all the elements that made previous songs such as “Fly High” and “Good Night” work, into a newer, brighter and only slightly smoother version of itself. Sure, they just do the same shit all the time, but then so does Iron Maiden, and who doesn’t like Iron Maiden? Dumb bitches, that’s who. Consistency is important in metal and it’s also important in metal-veneered pop music like this.
7. Holland – I’m So Afraid
While “I’m Not Afraid” was a great song and exactly the sort of track that I had hoped that Holland would do after the dreadful “Neverland” in a hypothetical best-case scenario, his companion song “I’m So Afraid” is a different beast entirely which exceeded any possible expectations I could have had. The first 50 seconds is actually quite lame when taken out-of-context (just like my jokes, amirite haters) and just sounds like every ballad intro ever, but then the song explodes into some absolutely rocking sample-driven electro pop that you definitely won’t see coming on first listen (unless you read this before listening ahem) and that just keeps on getting better and better the more you hear it. Holland’s singing is actually the least interesting element of the song, and Holland cleverly realises his own weakness here and doesn’t do anything as silly as try to carry the chorus line with his vocals. Holland instead lets sampled repeated loops of his voice (or maybe someone else’s) do all the talking on his behalf, giving the magnificent soaring instrumental full space to roam, ironically making this one of 2018’s least vocalfaggy songs as well as a stark and beautiful anomaly in k-pop in general. “I’m So Afraid” is also a very high-dynamic range song (at least by pop music standards), and as such it needs to be blasted as loud as possible to get the full effect so make sure you do exactly that or I’ll call you a fucking faggot bitch and a homophobe all at once for being too scared to embrace your inner gay and appreciate Holland at his best (and rest assured that in this case I definitely do mean it in a musical sense). Sure, liking Holland’s songs might be gay, but not liking Holland’s songs is even more gay.
6. Seven O’clock – Searchlight
Forget the big names in idol boy-pop, the best song that a male idol group managed this year is from these poor guys who got shat on by YG in his silly Mixnine reality TV show that nobody liked, not even the people who like those shows in general. Come to think of it, YG told Loona and Dreamcatcher to get fucked on that show too, so I think there’s some kind of spiritual force at work here where groups that YG says he doesn’t like suddenly become imbued with awesomeness. Disregarding all that, “Searchlight” is just a great song on face value, a neat four-chord track with a clever descending melody and no stupid sections to break the flow. I have no idea why the video is shot so terribly, I can only assume that the blurry parts (which is most of them) are some kind of misguided artistic choice because it’s hard to imagine someone fucking up the look of a music video this badly by accident. The effect is further compounded by the fact that nobody in the group is wearing anything sensible at any stage, it’s like YG himself did the costume design in a final effort to sink these boys’ chances of a career. Anyway I hope they end up doing okay and getting some crazy squealing girl fans to fall madly in love with them and buy 1000 copies of their song each, or at least failing that I hope they one day have another song as good as this one. You’re still thinking about the purple-haired guy from N.Tic aren’t you.
5. April – Oh! My Mistake
If there’s one pattern that April’s songwriters have consistently adhered to over all their material, it’s that they never do things by halves, which is always a double-edged sword in k-pop, but they usually manage to not cut themselves too much and “Oh! My Mistake” is by far their best attempt yet just because the good bits are so damn good. The song starts off fantastically and for a couple minutes I thought it was going to be the song of the year, it was a really popular pick for readers doing the survey to guess what song I’d like the most (I haven’t properly tallied that up at the time of writing this, but a cursory glance shows that shitloads of people picked this track) and from listening to it it’s easy to hear why. The song is bouncy and bright, the 80s pop sensibilities are off the chart, and the cute breakdown from 1:29 even surprises by going for brisk raps and arpeggios that keep the existing tempo instead of flow-wrecking trap bullshit (Sunmi and Momoland take note). However “Oh! My Mistake” would have been a much better song if it actually stopped dead and finished at 2:34 – the second, more cliched breakdown wasn’t needed at all and the final repetitions of the chorus have some annoying vocal overdubs which really weren’t necessary, meaning that it just becomes a little bit too much layered vocal by the end of it all. These are minor complaints though and “Oh! My Mistake” still managed to outclass nearly everything else this year just because the main building blocks of the song have been fit so well together.
4. Aseul – Always With You
Although independent electro k-pop goddess and Kpopalypse interviewee UZA didn’t make the list this year, I have to thank her from the bottom of my heart for introducing me to Aseul. “Always With You” floats along like a Julee Cruise song with the smooth lounge element replaced with Kavinsky’s smooth electro sound and the entire package both sounds and looks far more 1980s than the 1980s actually were. Back in the actual 1980s we didn’t all hang out in dimly-lit vaguely-unkempt but still architecturally interesting neon cityscapes while staring enigmatically and looking stylish, nor did we all have 197 cathode ray tube TVs flickering in the darkness because that shit was actually expensive back then, and our music taste wasn’t this good either. In reality we were all mullet-headed losers in too-tight blue denim singing along to Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69” which we thought was the best song in the world ever because what the fuck did we know about music really, and we spent most of our time at the house of the one friend in our peer group who had a father that was rich enough to own a video cassette player eating soggy chips with too much vinegar and trying to play INXS songs on guitar and failing. If only we were one tenth as cool as Aseul we might’ve gotten laid before we hit our early 20s, or at least failing that we might’ve listened to a song this good – oh wait, there were actually no songs this good back then, or at least none that penetrated our outer-suburban wasteland, the coolest thing we ever had was that one time a brown snake turned up in our playground and the school shut down for the day. Fuck, my childhood was shit. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it, with cool shit like Aseul just a click away. Anyway I’m okay with it and this song makes me want to put it on endless loop while I play Neon Struct from the start again, which I highly recommend if you like the idea of Thief or the first Deus Ex broken down to its core gameplay elements and played entirely on maps built in five minutes each by Aseul’s set designer. You’ll thank me, nerds.
3. Fanatics-Flavor – Milkshake
“Milkshake” reminds me a few things but none more so than Salt N’ Pepa’s finest moment, “Push It“. While it was a great track, “Push It” had a few problems, the main ones being that for a supposed “rap song” the rap section itself was miniscule and that while the keyboard riffs were great, the song as a whole seriously lacked variety and harmony – it was just a little too minimal across the board for its own good. Fanatics-Flavor’s “Milkshake” fixes all of those problems, by keeping the type of DX-7 sounds and riffs that made “Push It” work but adding more melody, more harmony and more rapping, lending the track the kind of pure pop sensibility that any 80s rap group would struggle with but that k-pop (at its best) excels at. K-pop’s penchant for sonic overload has been a weakness of a lot of tracks this year, but actually does this song a favour, because the instrumental is tough enough to compete with the usually high-aural-excited girl vocals. What’s even more surprising is how dark the tone of the instrumental is. The visual style of “Milkshake” may recall the better Orange Caramel songs, but the music itself certainly does not – despite the song’s lyrics and general theme the music is much more maudlin than initially expected and in fact an Aseul-style visual presentation plus an accompanying lyrical shift would have worked wonders to make this more obvious. However this is k-pop and that’s generally not what k-pop wants to do, so of course we have a song about milkshakes, a bright video with lots of aegyo and a cow, and that’s fine – if this is how k-pop as a whole needs to present itself to fool people that they’re listening to a bright, cheery pop song, then I’m cool with it.
2. Oh My Girl – Secret Garden
Oh My Girl’s “Closer” was a fantastic song, only slightly ruined by some needless vocal improvised wank in the second half and just a bit too much western-pop style simplicity for the material. “Secret Garden” is basically the same idea reworked into something far more robust, with more complicated harmony and melody but also less reliance on the kind of vocal showing-off that kneecapped “Closer” right when it should have been taking off into the clouds. That’s not to say that “Secret Garden” doesn’t also have overdubbed quasi-impro-vocal but it’s kept on more of a leash and actually serves the song by coming in at the right time and not doing too much to draw away attention from the song itself. The result is a song that has the emotive feel of a (good) k-pop ballad, but without 99.9% of k-pop ballads’ plodding snoozeworthy pace, predictable arrangements and incessant vocal showing-off. It also doesn’t lay the 1980s electro sounds on too thick, which personally I wouldn’t mind anyway, but it’s notable that the song is cleverly-composed enough to succeed on a musical level without having to reach for anything extra out of the trick-bag on a sound design level. The weird lyrics about being the biggest creepy introvert in the fucking universe or whatever seem like an odd choice (picture a guy singing this and see if it doesn’t sound like “nice guy syndrome“) but it’s such a masterful package that it’s hard not to buy into the song’s bullshit, it really is that good.
However, masterful as it undoubtedly was, “Secret Garden” is not the #1 song for Kpopalypse for this year, although it is the #1 song that has an official music video. So, what song made it to the top spot? Drum roll please, Youkyung:
1. CLC – To The Sky
So here’s a song from CLC called “To The Sky” and it’s my favourite song of the year. I have to show you this relay dance video version because there is no actual official video for this song and therefore this video here is the best studio audio quality I can get. “But Kpopalypse, I thought you only did feature tracks, what is an album track with no music video doing as your favourite song?” I hear you ask. That’s a very good question, and I have a very good answer – “To The Sky” was actually not an album track at all, it was the lead single for CLC’s “Black Dress” album, and was released as a feature song a week before the rest of the album even came out, and it was also promoted heavily on music shows. So these facts confirm the song’s eligibility for this list.
I was fully expecting Cube Entertainment to make an official music video for “To The Sky”, but for some reason they didn’t see fit to do this. Of course Cube are the k-pop agency who thought that firing Hyuna and E’Dawn for having a relationship (and fucking their own share price in the process) was a good idea, so expecting sensible decisions from them is probably being a little optimistic. Of course that doesn’t make the life of anyone under contract with them any easier, but there’s not much any of us can do about that (although I suppose you could try starting a relationship with a Cube artist if you were in a position to do so, that seems to be a quick and easy route to contract termination). I definitely feel for sidebar-girl Sorn being trapped with them, fortunately Cube are also too clueless to veto her excellent YouTube activity where she subtly hints at how hopeless her label are while cleverly keeping just within the bounds of broadcast acceptability. She’s a smart girl with a potentially big future who should definitely not fuck it all up for herself by doing a Kpopalypse Interview, at least not until she decides to move on from k-pop completely.
So enough about Cube being esoteric in the worst way possible – why is “To The Sky” so great? Well, part of the secret is in the line distribution. Now, I’m not one to usually give any fucks about line distribution, I mean who with a life actually gives a shit about who in what group gets how many lines, as if it’s some kind of bullshit competition. It’s sad enough that the performers of k-pop groups have to essentially compete with each other, there’s no reason for stupid fans to also buy into the crap culture that’s forced down their throats of their favourite idols. But have a watch of the following video, and just see if you notice anything:
So who actually had the most lines in the group? Well, Sorn I suppose, but to notice this is to miss the best aspect of the vocal arrangement, which is that if you counted up all the time in the video where none of the seven bars are moving at all, you’d actually have a much bigger block of time than Sorn’s. In fact every line distribution video that has ever come out, or ever will come out, should always have one extra bar that increases whenever everyone in the group shuts the fuck up. It’d be a real eye-opener, and it might also encourage some better k-pop songwriting arrangement practices where the music gets to do more of the talking.
Of course, letting the music breathe is only a good thing if the song rocks, so it’s just as well that “To The Sky” rocks like Van Fucking Halen! I’m not even exaggerating or being facetious, the song actually has a lot in common with Van Halen’s best material – stomping rhythms, chunky guitar, great keyboard riffs that carry the chorus on their shoulders and will remain glued in your head for decades after you hear them, simple and effective harmony, great melodic writing, a lyrical message which is all about positivity and a big-time infectious fun vibe. Van Halen had a heavy metal image but were just a loud pop group at heart, and CLC in “To The Sky” perfectly embody a k-pop version of that same kind of infectious raw energy, with a song that uses exactly the same kind of hooks to draw the listener in and keep them there. Even the girls themselves, no doubt sick of practising the song endlessly over and over for hours each day until it’s ingrained in their muscle-memory, can’t help but let some of that energy show through in their filmed training performances.
I mean, obviously they’ve been coached to do exactly that for the camera (your reminder – nothing in k-pop is real), but most k-pop groups when asked to put a bit extra into the choreo just wind up adding some extra aegyo or in a best-case scenario doing a JooE, whereas CLC are actually all rocking along with the track in the same spirit that a listener in the crowd ideally would. For all you people who routinely fill out my surveys and talk about how miserable you are, I prescribe you listening to this song once per day, every day, preferably at the start of the day before you actually have to do anything. Actually set your alarm clock three minutes earlier so you have to time listen to this. It won’t magically make the situations in your life change, but it’ll make you feel better internally, which is the first step towards taking control of your mental health. Or maybe it won’t, how the fuck should I know, I’m not a psychologist, I’m just some asshole blogger who thinks that this song is great. Maybe you will, too. Or maybe you won’t. Who cares? Do what you want to do – that’s what Sorn would want.
As usual, elite caonima YouTuber isaymyeolchigr has prepared a video version of the Kpopalypse favourites list, check it out below!
That’s all for this post! Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this list, and if so leave a comment either below, or on your social network of choice! Kpopalypse will return in 2019 with even more blog posts, see you then!