The 100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s according to Kpopalypse

Welcome to Kpopalypse’s 100 greatest songs of the 2010s!  Read on to find out Kpopalypse’s favourite songs from the last ten years!

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Ever since Billboard published their own 100 greatest songs of the 2010s staff list, there’s been a lot of demand for Kpopalypse to produce a similar list.  While I didn’t mind reading the Billboard list as it certainly was entertaining, I thought that it had the same issues as most other main media publication’s best-of lists tend to do.

  • While I obviously disagreed with the musical picks, which is to be expected from anyone when reading any personally compiled list by anybody, I found that much of the list wasn’t really even about music at all – cultural factors seemed to determine placings more than music in many cases (popularity, impact on the industry, what went viral, etc)
  • Certain picks seemed to be included simply because they knew they wouldn’t be forgiven if they left them out
  • Nugus were completely ignored, proof that the list isn’t just about music, because it makes no sense just from a pure mathematical level that none would be there

Clearly there is need for a Kpopalypse list.  So here is one.

I initially thought this list would be a bit pointless, as readers will mostly know that Kpopalypse already has very popular yearly lists, but since my opinion of certain songs has changed over time, some songs may appear in higher places that you are not expecting, and other songs may have fallen out of favour and not appear in this list at all!  So any questions about this list along the lines of “where is song x…” and “but you said in 2014…” – yeah I changed my mind, cunt.  Also, regular readers are always asking me questions to compare different songs from different years, trying to build their own definitive list in their heads or on paper, so now I’ve saved all the OCD nerds the trouble of all that, but those people should also remember that this list doesn’t cover songs released before 2010 even if they do appear on other Kpopalypse lists.

The write-ups for these will be short as I’ve written about all of these songs before, but I’ll provide a link to the longer write-up in the release year in cases where those write-ups exist.

Oh and the usual disclaimers:

  • It’s just my opinion blah blah
  • Nobody reads these anyway, or at least nobody who should
  • Eat shit
  • I don’t give a fuck about likes, clout, reputation, clicks or anything else apart from good music and enjoying k-pop – if you don’t like this list, it’s your problem and you’re welcome to calmly accept the differences in opinion or fuck right off, go whine on Reddit/kpop and see if anyone over there gives a fuck, I sure don’t

Let’s get it started!


The 100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s

by Kpopalypse

 

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#100 – 912 Crew – Roller Skate

Originally released: 2014

What?  You think I wasn’t going to start off list with 912 Crew’s iconic “Roller Skate”?  Are you out of your fucking mind?  This actually should be #1 as it’s really the best song in k-pop just from the point of view of nugu ambition and I want to compensate for Billboard ignoring cool shit like this completely, but this IS a list about music quality primarily so I’ve got to grudgingly admit that while this cute rap song made on a shoestring is a pretty great achievement, all the other songs in this list are still better than it.  Sigh.  Okay, that’s the end of my pro-nugu self-indulgence, let’s move on.

#99 – Nu’est – Face

Originally released: 2012

Nu’est’s first song was also their best, following the long tradition of k-pop songs about bullying, unfortunately it also bullies the listener with a stupid dubstep break that completely doesn’t fit with anything else about the song.  However ignore that and it’s still one of the most catchy and iconic songs to ever tackle the topic.

#98 – Gangkiz – Mama

Originally released: 2012

A song that I should have rated much higher when it first appeared, “Mama” sounds like a mid-tempo T-ara song and would have been a huge hit had T-ara made it instead, but MBK passed it off to their new “adult k-pop group” Gangkiz to try and build their brand or whatever I suppose.  The experiment of debuting a group of all older girls was a complete failure with Gangkiz completely bombing commercially and fading into obscurity almost as soon as they appeared, but this great song and outrageously expensive music video (nearly $1m) stands as testament to what could have been if k-pop wasn’t so creepily obsessed with youth.

#97 – Loona – Hi High

Originally released: 2018

Fast tempo, chattering synths and muscular drums propel “Hi High” to greatness, working the peak Girls’ Generation era sound into uncharted territory.

#96 – Spica – Russian Roulette

Originally released: 2012

The rightful holders of the throne that Mamamoo currently sit at, Spica were never anything approaching commercially successful, but fear not as a few members did find their niche – I know for a fact that Jiwon in particular has cut ghost vocals on a shitload of songs.  At least they gave us “Russian Roulette” to enjoy while they were around, proof that “vocal group” doesn’t have to mean “vocal masturbation” (for once).

#95 – LC9 feat. Gain – MaMa Beat

Originally released: 2013

Hard-swinging synthesiser plus a cool harmonised chorus give this song the rocking goodness that it needs.  Ignore Gain’s “feature”, she sadly adds nothing either musically or visually, this is all LC9 at the helm and it’s a pity that this group didn’t last to do something else as cool as this.

#94 – 4minute – Heart To Heart

Originally released: 2011

When I first heard this song I wasn’t that thrilled with it, but what changed my mind was seeing 4minute do it live.  It was by far the best song of their live set, and it’s one of k-pop’s greatest singalongs, in a genre that doesn’t actually have all that much singalong-friendly stuff.  The cool synth line doing a weird counterpoint all through the song adds another layer of melodic charm to an already catchy as fuck song.

#93 – 100% – Bad Boy

Originally released: 2012

I should have rated this a lot higher when it came out, but I didn’t because I probably took it a bit more for granted back when it first came out.  Time has been kind to this song – boy group comebacks simply don’t rip along at a cracking speed like this all that much anymore.  I really miss this style and it needs to come back in this next decade, here’s hoping.

#92 – Momoland – Wonderful Love

Originally released: 2017

Momoland haven’t topped this song yet and likely won’t ever, given that their members are disappearing at an alarming rate like that one 2000AD comic I had as a kid where some guy had a weird disease where random geometrically square parts of his body would vanish for no reason until all of him was gone.  The chorus is a thing of beauty and I’m really digging the Metallica-style crash cymbal on beat two instead of one – keep doing that k-pop songwriters, you know the kids love it.

#91 – ONF – Complete

Originally released: 2018

It’s rare that a song will hook me immediately but “Complete” is just such a song.  Several other k-pop tracks have used this same type of theme and harmonic movement both before and since, but ONF really nailed it better than anyone else.

#90 – Lovelyz – Candy Jelly Love

Originally released: 2014

I was going to put “Destiny” here but I think looking back Lovelyz’ debut is a better song, so “Candy Jelly Love” can have its spot instead.  The musical parallels to New Order are fairly obvious with those sharp synth oscillations over the machine-driven beat, and the video even mimics some of the random surrealism that was also in New Order’s material.  More of this influence in k-pop would be cool but I’ll probably have to wait another decade for it probably.

#89 – Orange Caramel – Shanghai Romance

Originally released: 2011

There’s probably something problematic about this song and video but it’s all so catchy that I find it hard to give any fucks.

#88 – Teen Top – Love Is

Originally released: 2017

If you told me in 2012 that Teen Top was going to get on a Kpopalypse best of the decade list I would have probably told you to get fucked, but here we are so I guess I’m a moron.  It’s the offbeat synth line in the chorus paired against those vocal lines that make the song work.

#87 – N.Flying – Awesome

Originally released: 2015

N.Flying’s debut is easily their best song so far.  The thing that makes “Awesome” live up to its name isn’t the rock guitar or the rapping (although neither of these are bad) but the constantly ascending harmony which keeps the feeling of building excitement going as the song progresses.

#86 – Sunmi – Siren

Originally released: 2018

The Pet Shop Boys crash a k-pop recording session and write a song for Sunmi, then the video director turns out to be the guy who does videos for Suicidal Tendencies.  The results are as great as they sound.

#85 – Minx – Why Did You Come To My Home?

Originally released: 2014

Okay so some of it is a bit silly, but when that chorus kicks in nothing else really matters, it’s so great that any flaws in the rest of it are easy to forgive.  Also this song marks literally the only time ever I’ve actually enjoyed listening to someone sing in the whistle register, k-pop or otherwise.  Sure, it’s impressive that she can do that, but what’s far more impressive is that she isn’t being totally Mariah-Carey-annoying about it, but actually fitting it into the song in a way that complements the material.

#84 – Primary ft. Choa, Iron – Don’t Be Shy

Originally released: 2015

An absolutely fucking perfect recreation of dub reggae right down to literally every detail about that style of reggae production, this is the song that made me know for sure that Primary knows exactly what the fuck he’s doing behind a desk, as it’s no accident – he’s never done anything like this before or since.  Dude literally sat down and said “right, I’m going to learn authentic-sounding Jamaican dub reggae production and then do it to Choa and Iron just because I think it would be cool” like he was learning long division or something.  Choa and Iron’s contributions are cool but honestly even if they weren’t, the backing track is so good that it would barely matter.

#83 – Shannon Williams – Hello

Originally released: 2017

Shannon’s voice is great of course, but it’s the writing of the bass guitar that makes this work.  Somebody in bass guitar land was thinking outside the root note for a change, and just as well.

#82 – Rania – Beep Beep Beep

Originally released: 2017

Absolute rubbish verses lead to a great ABBA-style close harmony chorus.  The YouTube comments that are complaining are mainly upset because ex-member Alex isn’t there to do the horrible rap section, but then if I were her I’d probably be happy I’m not in this because she probably would have been made to sit out the dancing and fuck being visible in any part of this song apart from that chorus.

#81 – Twice – Fancy

Originally released: 2019

Whatever sorcery JYP figured out with Twice in terms of how he’s doled out resources for songwriters and production has certainly paid off, as the girls routinely have been hitting gold through the more recent stages of their career.  It takes a few listens but “Fancy” is genuinely catchy and harks back to the glory days of Wonder Girls, but in a smoother, sharper package that has learned from experience.

#80 – Gfriend – Fingertip

Originally released: 2017

Gfriend’s try at something punchier than “Rough” was such a commercial failure that their label have been too scared to try anything that kicks this much ass ever since, and more’s the pity as I really like Gfriend as a funk/hard rock hybrid.  The funk bass and constantly dive-bombing electric guitars sure are a rare treat to listen to in this style, so enjoy this outlier from Gfriend while you can before the label pussies out completely and wipes all trace of it from YouTube.

#79 – Sunny Hill – Pray

Originally released: 2011

A genuine ballad, cooked to near-perfection, with not a shade of stupidity in the mix, not to mention accompanied by a gobsmackingly audacious video which layers the song with an extra level of meaning by taking aim at the hypocrisy of organised religion.  It’s hard to hate anything about this entire package, and people who haven’t seen this video yet should stop everything they’re doing and watch it right now.

#78 – Dreamcatcher – You And I

Originally released: 2018

Dreamcatcher don’t really have any bad songs, or at least no bad songs with primary feature track status, as their k-pop/metal hybrid is generally quality and hard to fuck up wildly.  Having said that they’re not as good as they should be either – in theory if a k-pop metal group exists and they have ten songs in a decade, then that should be my #1 to #10 on this list filled.  The fact that they didn’t make it there shows that there’s work to be done yet, but in the meantime it’s still better to have some ambition than none at all.

#77 – Twice – BDZ

Originally released: 2018

“BDZ” is just a reinvented version of miss A’s “Good Bye Baby” as if nobody was going to notice JYP recycling his own ideas, and if he thought that he would get away with it he was certainly right because mostly nobody noticed or cared.  He improved on the miss A version a great deal anyway, adding heavier beats and better sounds into the mix as well as rewriting the vocal melody into something cooler and more fun.  Hey if you’re going to rip someone off it might as well be yourself.

#76 – CLC – No

Originally released: 2019

Feminism as a convenient pose to get people to care about music has worked in k-pop ever since 2NE1 started a “Fire” and we all know it’s bullshitting kids for money but it’s still great fun to listen to when it works.  It sure works in CLC’s “No”, which has silky deep bass and a beautifully dark feel to go along with CLC’s insistence that they don’t want you to buy them the latest handbags and shoes (like shit they don’t).

#75 – Girls’ Generation – Oh!

Originally released: 2010

Everybody lost their shit over “Gee” back in the day, which isn’t eligible for this list as it was released in the decade prior, but even if it was a 2010 song it still wouldn’t have gotten on – “Oh!” is by far the better song out of the two.  Basically “Oh!” took the positive elements of “Gee” like the cool filtered synths and general peppiness but toned down the dated p-funk style leads to acceptable levels.

#74 – LaBoum – Sugar Sugar

Originally released: 2015

1960’s bubblegum pop done correctly, “Sugar Sugar” is clearly heavily inspired by The Archies’ namesake as well as other songs from that general era, and features many of the same melodic and harmonic conventions, just wrapped up in a shinier package (so shiny that it’s actually hard to focus on at times, those pajamas sure are a colour clash).  I probably overrated it just a little when it came out, but I don’t regret it because everyone else hated it so it had to get some love from somewhere.

#73 – Bewhy – Gottasadae

Originally released: 2019

Imagine if Kanye West actually had some form of talent beyond complaining about stuff and yelping occasionally and you have Bewhy.

#72 – Tren-D – Affection (Jung)

Originally released: 2015

Actually an old song by 90s co-ed k-pop group Young Turks Club, what’s the most interesting about Tren-D’s version is how little has been changed.  It’s mainly just a sonic update to push the Salt ‘N’ Pepa “Push It” rhythm textures to the foreground, and that’s not such a bad thing.  Anyway it was a good song then and it’s a good song now.  It’ll probably still be a good song next decade.

#71 – AOA – Heart Attack

Originally released: 2015

While I always preferred AOA as a band concept just due to the appeal of the concept itself, there’s no denying that after several attempts they finally hit a song with Bravesound that was better than anything their earlier incarnation ever managed.  Everything about “Heart Attack” is simple, uncomplicated and fun, except for the video which has a lot of some weird fucking sport in it so I’ve substituted that video for a pure performance one, a vast improvement.

#70 – Holland – I’m So Afraid

Originally released: 2018

“I’m So Afraid” actually starts off quite awful and whenever I listen to this song I actually skip the first minute because I don’t give any fucks about the stupid ballad buildup, once you’ve heard it once you won’t want to hear it again.  The real meat of the song starts about a minute in, when the mix opens up a Pandora’s box of electro goodness and the entire track completely transforms into one of the weirdest and best sample-driven tracks in k-pop.  That’s the real contribution of Holland to the k-pop world, not anything else.

#69 – Seven O’clock – Searchlight

Originally released: 2018

Isn’t it interesting how the boy groups that do well on Kpopalypse lists are often not the ones that everybody has heard of.  I wonder why this is.  Maybe really big groups can rest on their laurels a bit because they’ll have fans anyway no matter what they do… but then I’m sure nobody is trying to be average, so I don’t know.  What I do know is that “Searchlight” is just a good melodic pop song with a clever arrangement, some neat ideas in the backings and a horrible grainy-ass video for seemingly no reason.  Two out of three ain’t bad.

#68 – Shannon Williams – Why Why

Originally released: 2015

I’m so sorry, Shannon – I know you can’t stand this fucking song.  Don’t worry, if I ever get to interview you one day I won’t make you feel bad about it or ask you to sing it or anything.  Just let it be known that every single Twice song prior to “Knock Knock” just sounds to me like a poor man’s ripoff of “Why Why”, which just goes to show how instrumental the actual company is in making a k-pop artist successful, if poor Shannon wasn’t stuck with MBK all that time maybe she would be at Twice’s popularity level now.  Then again, she may not enjoy that if it meant she had to sing this song a bunch more times.

#67 – SHINee – Lucifer

Originally released: 2010

The entire appeal of “Lucifer” is in the vocalising in the chorus as well as that cool jagged descending synth riff where they do that ridiculously impressive-looking dance.  The verses on the other hand are a complete waste of space, fortunately the songwriters realised this and the song spends as little time with them as possible, making sure they just serve as segues into the parts of the song that you actually give a shit about.  SHINee never topped this song in the 2010s or even came close to it ever again, but let’s not be too harsh on them – there are other way more popular groups out there right now that have never written a song capable of getting on this list at all.

#66 – IU – Above The Time

Originally released: 2019

The closest a pure k-pop artist has ever come to the ambience of Sigur Ros (admittedly not very close, but…), “Above The Time” is a conceptual oddity with some very out-of-the-box sonic choices especially for a ballad.  It literally sounds like no other ballad in k-pop or anywhere else, especially when it hits 32nd notes in the choruses or breaks into an Irish folk dance section for no reason.  However it works as a package because even though it’s orchestrated up the ass it’s all thematically consistent and IU’s minimalist, plaintive vocal passages hang it all together.

#65 – Dreamcatcher –  Good Night

Originally released: 2017

Happyface Entertainment have slowly backed away from Minx’s conceptual transformation into Dreamcatcher ever since it happened, with newer songs from the group embracing weaker musical styles and pushing the guitars further into the background as if management are afraid of the girls rocking out too much and having too much fun.  As a result, the best Dreamcatcher material is the early stuff, like “Good Night”, which is fast, furious and isn’t afraid to show some balls.  Hopefully in the coming decade they can find this form again.

#64 – Minx – Love Shake

Originally released: 2015

Speaking of which, Dreamcatcher try as they might have still never topped “Love Shake”.  Originally an album track for their old labelmates Dal Shabet, “Love Shake” was reincarnated for some reason and just as well because it actually rocks.  The cheesy forced aegyo seems even more odd than it usually does in light of the group’s name and image change, but in a way that just makes it more special – fakeness is best when it’s completely honest.

#63 – Tahiti – Oppa, You’re Mine

Originally released: 2014

Tahiti’s company gives so few fucks about their international profile that they don’t even bother with English translated song titles on YouTube.  Not that it matters to me that much personally, but it’s a shame that so few people got to hear “Oppa, You’re Mine”, one of the great catchy nugu classics of k-pop.

#62 – Nine Muses – Gun

Originally released: 2013

I just remembered that there’s a very culturally relevant and important nine-member girl group that were active a lot during the first half of the 2010s that have a bunch of songs that are largely missing from this list.  Of course I’m talking about Nine Muses, who at their peak were one of the leaders of k-pop song quality despite their struggles on a more practical level.  The tasty guitar licks and brass riffing of “Gun” pushed it to heights that none of their other material reached.

#61 – T-ara – Number Nine

Originally released: 2013

T-ara embraced magic rituals in the “Number Nine” video in order to destroy the power of netizens and it appears to have worked – the group lasted several more years and made serious bank long after haters hopefully wrote them off as “over”.  Even better is that their newfound satanism was married to an incredibly catchy song with one of the best syncopated synth riffs in all of k-pop.

#60 – SPEED – It’s Over

Originally released: 2013

Probably the most slept-on boy group in k-pop relative to the overall quality of their songs, SPEED had several worthy songs but never topped the greatness of “It’s Over”, a song that kept its feet on the ground and delivered cool riffs and a catchy chorus with no bullshit right when everyone else was pissfarting around in dubstep-land.  Sadly this didn’t bring success, which just goes to show that we don’t deserve groups this good.

#59 – Oh My Girl – Coloring Book

Originally released: 2017

Loud and boisterous beyond all reason, Oh My Girl did the impossible by having a song screechier than the majority of k-pop fans themselves.  The song was smartly fitted against a big brass arrangement instead of the usual synth fare, perfectly supporting the chanting and pushing the cacophony to heights that would have been otherwise unreachable, making “Coloring Book” the only k-pop song to go all-in on “wall of noise” and actually come out with a positive result.  Of course people complained, but only because looking in the mirror hurts people with no reflection.

#58 – Sistar – I Like That

Originally released: 2016

Sistar were one of the consistently most awful k-pop groups of the 2010s, not by any fault of their own, but more thanks to being obliged to churn out cringeworthy “summer comebacks” because that somehow became their brand and people in the Korean armed forces wanted to see more of Hyolyn’s underboob every year.  However occasionally their managers were I guess drugged and the girls snuck off into another studio to make actual good music, this is the only what that I can explain how “I Like That” could have come about.  The fast pace and powerful musical choices are so unlike everything else Sistar did both before and since that it’s mystifying both how this happened, and why it wasn’t allowed to happen more often.

#57 – Tren-D – Candy Boy

Originally released: 2013

God knows what happened to Tren-D, their videos are really hard to find now so I assume they’ve given up trying to be a k-pop and are back in university or whatever.  At least they left us this one great original song, “Candy Boy” is cheesy, silly, stupid and a whole lot of fun.

#56 – Apink – %% (Eung Eung)

Originally released: 2019

Texturally completely unusual, Apink was definitely a heavy retro 80s throwback, but not in that obvious neon-encrusted way where everybody drives around in crappy 1980s sportscars at night and pretends they’re making a new genre or something.  Apink instead used the textures of the 1980s and married them to modern production style and various other sounds from the last 20 years that nobody would have anticipated seeing together in one song, to create something that sounds a little bit like a lot of things, but exactly like nothing else except itself, a rare example of k-pop moving forward by going backward.

#55 – Gfriend – Rough

Originally released: 2016

Early Gfriend was pretty much like like early Girls’ Generation a decade prior, and that’s not a bad thing, but their first couple of songs were just a bit too close to “Into The New World” to really be memorable.  However in “Rough” Gfriend’s songwriters managed to find a way to break the pattern and give Gfriend their own sound by moving them to a slightly more maudlin direction, but still with a healthy nod to those who “paved the way”.  The inclusion of distorted guitar and strings is inspired and the guitar solo startles when it appears, there’s a lesson there folks.

#54 – IU – The Red Shoes

Originally released: 2013

This was the best song ever written for IU by that guy who also wrote “Good Day” which will not appear in this list by the way ahem.  The “jazz” element of it or whatever is actually kept to a dull roar and besides some unfortunate scat vocal interludes (they call it scat for a reason) it’s really just any other pop song with a bit more brass.  That’s not a bad thing as her “Modern Times” album was loaded with plenty examples of “more jazzy” early jazz, and the genre barely matters when there’s that “summertime” hook which you’ll want to hear again and again.

#53 – April – Oh! My Mistake

Originally released: 2018

April get a synthpop workout that pushes them texturally into retro “new 80s” territory and the results are great.  The sonics definitely don’t fit the visuals, but who cares because both are effective independently of each other.

#52 – T-ara & The Seeya & F-ve Dolls & SPEED – Painkiller

Originally released: 2013

Another song for the list of k-pop ballads that are actually worth a damn, the constantly changing harmony and general briskness of “Painkiller” means that it’s more in “mid-paced ballad” territory which isn’t a bad place to be, especially when mid-2010’s MBK trot-infused ballad songwriting is deployed as effectively as it is here.

#51 – T-ara – Day By Day

Originally released: 2012

Coming packaged with easily the most ambitious k-pop drama music video ever created, the song itself was somewhat less ambitious, basically being a copy of Britney Spears’ “Criminal“.  However it was a very fucking good copy which makes the original song sound relatively amateur, so that’s okay.

#50 – TVXQ – Hot Hot Hot

Originally released: 2019

TVXQ should be embarrassed with themselves that they took until 2019 to even have a song worthy of putting in one of my lists.  However I forgive them because this is so rocking.  It’s the driving bassline married with that repetitive chorus that really makes it work, that bass guitar string flapping away in the sea breeze might seem a little out of place at first listen but it’s an inspired choice that gives the song the momentum it needs.

#49 – S.I.S – I’ve Got A Feeling

Originally released: 2017

Mellow verse with understated vocals, big loud rocking chorus with huge melodies – this is basically Nirvana or The Pixies if they were a k-pop.  It’s cliche but it works, and this is k-pop so I’m not here for innovation anyway.  Sure, something different is nice if I can get it, but a good song will do.

#48 – Fiestar – Mirror

Originally released: 2016

Fiestar’s crack at the miss A “Touch” template was a pretty damn good attempt, with the whole song being driven by that great, simple, three-note riff that underpins everything in one form or another.

#47 – Orange Caramel – Lipstick

Originally released: 2012

Much loved and copied many times since, the combination of trot and k-pop present in “Lipstick” was the basic template for Orange Caramel and like-minded groups from 2012 onward.  There’s not much to it, but with backings this cool, there doesn’t really have to be.  Some people have reported odd behaviour with some of the instrumental sections depending on what speaker system they’re listening to it on, which is either stereo-phase trickery or you gradually losing consciousness from amazement at how great Orange Caramel are.

#46 – EvoL – Get Up

Originally released: 2013

As compelling and punchy as it was short, “Get Up” was definitely the best track by very short-lived group EvoL who should have been a lot bigger than they were.  The implied dick-slicing scene is a special moment in k-pop visuals that all male fans should remember and hold close to their hearts.  I still think about Australian member Hayana and what she’s doing now, and if she reads this blog because I bet she would have some stories worth telling.

#45 – Jun Hyo Seong (Hyosung) ft. D. Action – Find Me

Originally released: 2016

Hyosung looks attractive beyond belief in this video, but she’s still outdone by that sexy tremolo guitar sound that cuts in every so often during “Find Me” to completely steal the show from everything around it. “Find Me” came at a welcome time in k-pop history as almost nobody was doing fast-paced pop like this in 2016.

#44 – 015B & Jang Jane – Camellia Flower

Originally released: 2019

A rollicking early 1970s psychedelic jam from start to finish, I’m not exactly sure what forces willed this song into existence, nor do I care.  What really surprised me about the song though is that I actually like it so much, because honestly I think so much of the original era of this music is total bullshit, but it’s Jane’s emphatic delivery and the clever (and unusually brisk, for the genre) writing that set it apart.

#43 – Park Bom – You & I

Originally released: 2010

It’s hard to be objective about this song when I watch the video, for reasons that regular readers of my writing will probably know.  However take that away and the song is still amazing and one of the only truly good ballads in all of k-pop, partly due to the backings not being boring mush, and partly due to Bom herself.  Bom is the perfect singer for this material because she’s actually objectively quite bad at ballad singing, which means she can’t ruin the song with the usual nonsense that ballad singers tend to do.

#42 – Jimin ft. Iron – Puss

Originally released: 2015

Nobody really took AOA’s Jimin seriously as a rapper, and probably nobody does now either, but “Puss” is still great anyway, brimming with attitude, enthusiasm and Jimin pretending to be badass or whatever.  The combination of Jimin’s nasal voice and that beat really works, it certainly works a lot better than when Iron jumps in for the second verse.  Iron isn’t in this cut-down version of the video but if you want the full song you can check out a live version for the Unpretty Rapstar show that this was created for here.

#41 – Bonusbaby – If I Become An Adult

Originally released: 2017

Bonusbaby aren’t the only k-pop group very obviously modeled on Japan’s AKB48, or even the only one in this list, but they certainly had far better songs with much better writing than most of them (which wouldn’t be hard mind you, given how pathetic AKB48’s original material is, there’s lots of scope for improvement).  It’s just a shame that actually being in the group was apparently such a shitty experience for the girls, but then that probably goes for the majority of groups in this list, sadly.  Apologies to the girls if they’re reading this and their song being in here gives them PTSD.

#40 – Puer Kim – Manyo Maash

Originally released: 2014

Speaking of cynicism about the k-pop business, Puer Kim wasn’t afraid to tell it exactly how it is in “Manyo Maash”, with both the song and video taking not-very-hidden potshots at k-pop’s biggest corporate machines.  Puer Kim’s husky vocals are matched by a 1970s style instrumental groove which is unusual for k-pop and more typical of a Tarantino film soundtrack choice, and where is he in relation to Korean pop by the way.  Stop fucking around and cast Eunjung in a film already, you loser.

#39 – T-ara – I’m Really Hurt/I’m In Pain

Originally released: 2010

“I’m Really Hurt” is a  ridiculously catchy stomping pop song that was added to the repackaged “Absolute First Album” also known as “the greatest k-pop album ever to exist”, along with the somewhat inferior (but still good) Britney clone “I Go Crazy Because Of You“.  In fact T-ara’s songwriters drew a lot of their early inspiration from Britney Spears, with most of their reworkings being an improvement, but I have no idea what they were copying with “I’m Really Hurt”, only that the results were clearly worth it.  In other news did you know that T-ara’s Eunjung invented suits?

#38 – 2NE1 – Hate You

Originally released: 2011

YG got his songs for 2NE1 wrong a lot of the time, but occasionally he still hit gold, and “Hate You” was their finest hour.  It’s a song with no bullshit, no silly rap sections, no segues into trendy nonsense, just a simple drum machine beat, simple effective keys and great melody after great melody.

#37 – Tae Jin-Ah – I Love You Darling

Originally released: 2014

Kpopalypse covers trot because so many great songs come from there, and trot still influences songwriting style in k-pop today.  Tae Jin Ah is one of the best, and “I Love You Darling” is the heroic trot anthem that you didn’t know you needed until you listen to it.  The song works so well because of the instrumental choices – that brass intro, the backing vocals plus the cool octave bassline really help drive home a song that probably wouldn’t work that well in any other context.

#36 – f(x) – Red Light

Originally released: 2014

A song inspired by the Sewol Ferry incident (a fact which was kept under wraps at the time of release probably to prevent backlash), “Red Light” was f(x) at their most experimental and daring.  All of the appeal of the song is rhythmic, with the abrasive syncopated groove ripped straight from heavy metal but in a very non-obvious way.  Perhaps it wasn’t even obvious to the songwriters themselves that this was going on, because it’s possible to absorb influences subconsciously, but the results are clear enough, and the song remains one of k-pop’s most compellingly dark moments.

#35 – f(x) – Hot Summer

Originally released: 2011

While f(x)’s experiments were cool and extremely welcome in k-pop’s conservative landscape, the group were still a pop group at heart.  Their bright, perky and lyrically sanitized revamp of Monrose’s “Hot Summer” had just enough of SM’s production sheen to make it their own.

#34 – T-ara – Sexy Love

Originally released: 2012

Every k-pop website when they mention T-ara can’t help but also mention the (fake) bullying scandal that supposedly destroyed their careers.  Don’t believe it for a second – they might have lost the meaningless look-good show-pony stuff like award show status, but “Sexy Love” was a monster hit right at the peak of the supposed “T-ara hate”.  While everyone bitched like little babies about a situation they knew nothing of, they also secretly had this on repeat because they just couldn’t resist this high-octane only-slightly-dubstep-infused disco-stomping fun.

#33 – F-ve Dolls – Can You Love Me?

Originally released: 2013

Featuring an easy-listening arrangement, a lush string section and gratuitous use of suspended chords, “Can You Love Me?” remains the best feature track from F-ve Dolls/5Dolls.  I’m not sure what Kim Dani is doing now or if she’ll ever be allowed to see the sunshine in k-pop again but she sure fit in perfectly here, with her fast pseudo-rap vocals giving this very old-school track a modern touch.

#32 – G-reyish – Candy

Originally released: 2019

It’s good to see that people remember Orange Caramel at their peak, and G-reyish’s recasting of many of their ideas works beautifully because it’s actually musically superior to most of what they did, with more of everything of what made that group’s songs so good crammed into as much of this song as possible.  It’s a pity that probably only three people noticed.

#31 – Aseul – Always With You

Originally released: 2018

Surreal and beautiful, with a neon-tinted visual accompaniment that couldn’t be any more appropriate, “Always With You” is the song that rightfully should have propelled Aseul into super-stardom.  Of course that hasn’t happened so I think people need to watch and share this some more.  I’d say that the Julee Cruise tier vocals, smooth synth backings and incredible deep ambience recalls the best of 1980s pop but that would be a lie – the 1980s were never this good.

#30 – miss A – Touch

Originally released: 2012

By far the best miss A track ever created but one which oddly rarely comes up in any discussions about the group these days, “Touch” is sexy, sultry and smooth as shit from a duck’s ass.  While there were many supposedly “sexy concepts” in k-pop when it comes to visuals, none of them ever sounded sexy to me, except “Touch” which is probably the only k-pop song to date that I’d actually suggest someone plays through their bedroom sound system to enhance their lives.

#29 – Glam – In Front Of The Mirror

Originally released: 2013

BigHit would rather you forget this, but they once had a girl group on their label who were so poorly treated that they were all saddled with six-figure debts by only two songs after debut, and one of them eventually resorted to criminal extortion to try and get back in the black.  Knowing this only makes the possibly-not-entirely-fictional struggles of the girls in the music video seem even more relatable, and the trot-influenced groove and beautifully crafted backings of the song feels like the perfect true-crime storytelling background music.

#28 – BigBang – Monster

Originally released: 2012

Speaking of immoral activity, the claims in the lyrics here have been proven false, but “Monster” remains an entirely beautiful song, with arguably even more power to fascinate in the wake of Burning Sun.  There’s something about seeing people lie so openly which has car-crash levels of ability to demand attention.  The fact that the song’s melody and arrangement still pulls the heartstrings anyway despite it all just demonstrates the formidable power of YG’s songwriting and production.

#27 – Fanatics-Flavor – Milkshake

Originally released: 2018

Fanatics-Favor, a subunit of Fanatics, have a smooth 80s synthpop gem in “Milkshake” which sounds like a more maudlin version of Orange Caramel.  If you’re mainly listening to the vocals, you’re not listening correctly – the real meat of the song is in the keyboard parts, not what anyone is doing with their voices.

#26 – T-ara – Sugar Free

Originally released: 2014

The final word on bass-heavy k-pop club bangers, frequent T-ara hitmaker and occasional idol BangBus rider Shinsadong Tiger employed lots of sub-bass and lots of LE from EXID’s ghost vocals to smash out yet another success for T-ara.  The hyperactive retina-shredding music video is for once the perfect accompaniment.

#25 – IU & Fiestar – Sea Of Moonlight

Originally released: 2012

Not the best blatant ripoff of a-Ha’s “Take On Me” that k-pop has come up with (see further down) but possibly the sunniest, if Snuper are too boyish and sullen for you then IU’s sparkly pathos-free version of the same general idea might be more your speed.  Both are superior to the original for similar reasons.

#24 – Berry Good – Love Letter

Originally released: 2014

A new version of an old Click B song with the same basic building blocks but given a desperately needed sonic update, it’s not really a “cover” in the true sense as the same songwriter Joo Tae Young actually wrote and produced both versions.  Whichever version you prefer there’s no denying it’s one of the catchiest songs from the pre-Hallyu days of k-pop.

#23 – Sugardonut – Imagine, Close Your Eyes

Originally released: 2016

This anthemic blast of rocking synthpop has somewhat uninteresting verses but they’re just a buildup to a killer keyboard riff and one of the best choruses k-pop has ever heard.  The song was criminally underrated by everybody at the time, including me, so it gets nice and high on this list in the hope that the group notice and stay together long enough to do something this amazing again in the 2020s.  Bonus points for a simple but beautiful music video.

#22 – Secret – Shy Boy

Originally released: 2011

“Shy Boy” sadly remains k-pop’s only truly successful flirting with the textures of 1950’s doo-wop music, an obvious genre for k-pop to explore especially given that genre’s focus on same-sex vocal groupings, but which hardly anyone else has really bothered with.  Sure, The Barberettes tried many times, but they’re more rooted in R&B territory and yet to create something with this much pure hyperactive pop energy.

#21 – Rainbow – Black Swan

Originally released: 2015

The outstanding TR-808-driven sparseness, deadpan vocal lines and stripped-back mix of “Black Swan” are without peer in k-pop, a genre that usually thrives on “more is more” and doesn’t understand the effect of subtlety and low-level detail.  Listen closer and there’s a lot to discover in this song, one of k-pop’s only rewarding “headphones listening” experiences.

#20 – Eyedi – & New

Originally released: 2019

I don’t really know what this girl’s story is or why she’s not as popular as IU because she looks and sounds similar and has as good a song here as almost any of hers.  The satisfying guitar textures, roomy mix and warped cassette-melting-on-the-car-dashboard aesthetic help propel Eyedi’s laid-back vocalising to success.

#19 – Snuper – Platonic Love

Originally released: 2016

To date still the most popular Snuper song with their fandom and with good reason, this blatant reimagining of a-Ha’s “Take On Me” (right down to the “girl transported to another world” music video) surpassed the original by keeping the harmony and instrumental textures intact while chopping out all the structural fat.

#18 – T-ara – Wae Ireoni (Why Are You Being Like This?/What’s Wrong?)

Originally released: 2010

I’m not sure which name this song is supposed to go by, but it remains k-pop’s most convincing shot at ABBA/early Britney Spears catchiness and with similar levels of vocal hyper-layering, but without the former’s dated instrumental production style or the latter’s weak-as-piss sonic choices.

#17 – Oh My Girl – Secret Garden

Originally released: 2018

Oh My Girl’s ideological comfort zone appears to be ethereal otherwordly cosplay as they initially hinted at with “Closer“, but on “Secret Gadren” they finally had music that was dynamic and well-crafted enough to match the concept.

#16 – Berry Good – Angel

Originally released: 2016

The last feature track that renowned k-pop composer Joo Tae Young (also see “Love Letter” above) was involved with before he passed away from leukemia, “Angel” is an emotional journey both visually and musically which reads as an obvious tribute to his life.  However if you want a musical reason to like the song, try the compelling call-and-response melodic structure, imaginative arrangement, and vocal histrionics that actually fit the flavour of the music (for once).

#15 – To-day – Secret

Originally released: 2016

Formerly known as OH!nle, then renamed as To-day, but seeing basically zero meaningful success in either incarnation, this girl is probably working in retail now but at least she left us the gorgeous “Secret”, a real grower of a song with dreamy ambience and smooth instrumental riffs that truly encapsulates the “relaxing” vibe that so many k-pop indie groups strive for and consistently bomb out with, usually by over-writing the vocals and under-writing everything else.

#14 – Crayon Pop – FM

Originally released: 2015

Bar Bar Bar” might have got them memeworthy fame, but everybody who followed the group knew that Crayon Pop had far better songs than that.  This includes Crayon Pop themselves, who spent the rest of their careers begging people to let them take off their headwear.  The rock-infused “FM” probably didn’t help their cause just because it didn’t make much of a splash commercially, the group’s viral day in the sun being long gone by that point, but songwriter Shinsadong Tiger’s cyber-rock reinvention of T-ara’s back catalogue was still a firm winner at Kpopalypse HQ.

#13 – Rania – Style

Originally released: 2012

Actually a little-known outsourced YG production, Rania’s “Style” bears many of the hallmarks of the best songs that YG had to offer during the 2010s, featuring super-slick sonics equal or greater than anything in western pop at the time.  However the real winner here is the arrangement, with a cleverly-building backing track, neat synth counterpoint and vocals that don’t do too much too soon.  By the way don’t bother looking for any of the same girls in this video that you saw in “Beep Beep Beep” above, the lineup of Rania rotates faster than a KFC drive-through.

#12 – CLC – To The Sky

Originally released: 2018

With no official music video because CUBE Entertainment are complete idiots with no fucking clue about anything, “To The Sky” was a big-time rocking fun explosion like so much of the best k-pop throughout the 2010s.  Apparently this is a song that was written to motivate students to get ready for the new school year, which is an evil little bait-and-switch for those poor kids inspired by “To The Sky” who then started their first day of term and got handed far too much work for any sane person to do plus got the shit bullied out of them.

#11 – Orange Caramel – Magic Girl

Originally released: 2010

One of the few genuine Korean pop household names during k-pop’s golden age, After School subunit Orange Caramel captured the hearts of many by combining modern k-pop sheen with trot, but their biggest musical success was their debut which heavily ripped off the late-80s Stock Aitken Waterman sound right down to the Rick Astley drumroll.  Pledis never really knew how to promote this group (or any group) and the fact that this brisk reimagining of Kylie Minogue’s early UK hits was actually widely noticed when it came out remains somewhat of a miracle.

#10 – IU – Love Of B

Originally released: 2013

Not a song that ever received feature track status, “Love Of B” missed out on list inclusion back when it was released, because that was before I changed the rules to allow songs that appeared on music shows as eligible.  Anyway it’s in this one now, so now you have to deal with it, and it’s also a better example of 1930s Django Rinehardt style acoustic guitar-shredding swing jazz than most of the stuff that Django himself actually made in the 1930s.

#9 – Year 7 Class 1 – Oppa Virus

Originally released: 2014

Taking obvious heavy inspiration from j-pop, Year 7 Class 1’s “Oppa Virus” is basically any AKB48 song if it wasn’t written by a pack of fuckwitted idiots with no idea about music.  Where j-pop is twee and sloppy, Year 7 Class 1 is punchy and precise, where AKB48 coats children’s TV theme song-tier melodies in layers of vocal processing and mushy reverb, “Oppa Virus” rocks like a national anthem with four on the floor drums, assertive vocal writing and instruments that know their place in the mix.  The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bullying references are further proof that this group would beat your j-pop faves in an after-school music fight.

#8 – SoReal – My Heart Says

Originally released: 2014

Guess what – the best boy group song in all of k-pop is by a ballad group who you probably haven’t even heard of who only ever made one mini-album.  The typical k-pop balladisms are helped along hugely by a snappy mid-tempo beat, cool synth bass and beautifully written Michael Jackson/Queen style vocal harmonies that breathe tons of life into the mix.  While career-wise they were hamstrung by being tied to virtuosos of commercial failure Star Empire, in terms of music quality for boy groups, SoReal paved the way.

#7 – Rockit Girl – Little Cat

Originally released: 2019

A model with Seohyun-tier visuals and refugee from horrid mid-2010’s nugu k-pop group Baby Boo, Leeseul teamed up with singer Della and produced a pure pop song that also rocks far harder than just about anything else on this list but without compromising one iota of catchiness or pop appeal.  The musical arrangement here is so perfectly aligned to the needs of the song that when the girls re-recorded it as a heavy metal version, it wasn’t even as good.  Also it’s about cats, so if you don’t like this song you should probably be killed.

#6 – Crayon Pop – 1,2,3,4

Originally released: 2013

The highest Japanese-language k-pop song to make it on this list (although they did also release a Korean version later), “1,2,3,4” is so good that it almost physically hurts to listen to.  In fact listening to it did physically hurt a few people who couldn’t handle the non-Autotuned vocals (an extreme rarity in pop music in the 2010s across the board, no wonder k-pop listeners aren’t used to it) but those with good taste appreciated the lush keyboards, smart arrangement and joyous nostalgic vibe of this great song that delivered on Crayon Pop’s promise of good clean k-pop loving fun times and definitely no organised crime whatsoever.

#5 – After School Blue – Wonder Boy

Originally released: 2011

After School never really ascended to the A-list as firmly as they should have even at their peak of popularity, and even with Nu’est’s visual help as the backing dancers, “Wonder Boy” remains one of k-pop’s forgotten gems from the golden age, an anthemic disco track with big orchestration that should be as popular in Australia as John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air” but somehow isn’t.  Maybe it’s the girls’ fault for being so cute – the ageyo overload in the music video is so extreme that it took me a little while to see past the cringe reflex and realise how brilliant this song actually was.

#4 – Twice – Knock Knock

Originally released: 2017

After a few false starts, JYP supergroup Twice finally hit their musical stride with the unbelievably adorable “Knock Knock”, a song that no group on the label has ever matched.  The tune is packed with melody and charm, and the arrangement of the song in the music video benefits hugely from an extended instrumental section (2:15) that for some reason is absent from the single/album version, I guess they wanted to cut down the length to make it 3:30 like everything else these days – idiots.  Chalk that up to “boneheaded final cut” decisions along with removing the strings from Red Velvet’s “Psycho” to make it more “streamer-friendly“.

#3 – Yves – New

Originally released: 2017

I get that the hype around Loona generated by the dickhead-end of their fandom is annoying, but it’s really hard not to spam “Stan Loona” everywhere when their members have songs this good.  “New” dares to be different with the soaring and uplifting vocal melody matched by a simplistic and bleak but still forceful instrumental that doesn’t really have any obvious parallel in k-pop.  I’d put some joke here about how if you’d stanned Loona more then this list placement might not have happened, but actually it totally still would have.

#2 – Lovelyz – Ah-Choo

Originally released: 2015

By cleverly tying the vocal meter to those thick keyboard chords, composer OnePiece keeps a tight leash on the melody of “Ah-Choo” which allows the song to take in far more harmonic and instrumental complexity than it otherwise would have.  Also check out the best breakdown in the history of k-pop (2:31).  Typical k-pop songwriting conventions don’t get any more disciplined or convincing than this.

#1 – T-ara – Roly Poly

Originally released: 2011

Written by Shinsadong Tiger in about as much time as it takes to listen to, “Roly Poly” was a monster hit that eschews k-pop songwriting’s typical harmonic complexity in favour of a minor-key “four-chords” progression (that’s i-VI-III-VII), a scooped-out dance beat and a super-addictive melody that won’t leave your head for at least the next 12 months after you hear it just once.  Even one of the worst rap breaks in the history of k-pop (2:50) can’t ruin it or dislodge it from the #1 spot here, and if anything just gives your brain another reason to remember the most catchy, danceable and iconic k-pop song ever written.


That’s all for this list, hopefully you enjoyed it and maybe you’ve found something cool that you previously hadn’t listened to, or that you hadn’t listened to in a long time!  Kpopalypse will return with more posts!

21 thoughts on “The 100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s according to Kpopalypse

  1. There is a part in Face that I swear I heard before in a 1980s song and it drives me crazy that I can’t identify that song.

  2. It’s a shame that this list only includes featured tracks as two of my favourite T-ara songs (One and One / Tic Tic Toc) are not here.

  3. Between this and his Golden Age lists, I’ve come to the conclusion that these are Kpopalypse’s top 10 T-ara feature tracks:

    1. Roly Poly
    2. Like the First Time
    3. Wae Ireoni / Why Are You Being Like This? / What’s Wrong?
    4. Sugar Free
    5. Sexy Love
    6. I’m Really Hurt
    7. Day by Day
    8. Number Nine
    9. Bo Peep Bo Peep
    10. Apple Is A

    Sadly, the Aussie blogger doesn’t seem to like “Do You Know Me?” as much as he did back in 2013.

  4. Pleasantly surprised to see Ah Choo at number 2 and Love Of B finally getting the love it deserves! I personally have the song as my 3rd fave of the last decade.

    And this is why I really gravitate towards your lists, we have quite similar tastes in kpop kek

    • To add, I just counted, and we had 70 songs in common in our lists, and very top-centric too, most of the songs at the upper half of yours also appeared in mine, and I liked the other 30 songs too, just not enough to put in my own. It’s a good feeling to know there are people who share similar music tastes lol

    • I totally agree. Love of B is such a weird and great song to emerge out of the k-pop genre. I do understand why it wasn’t the title track tho, it honestly would have never succeeded, even from an established act as IU.

      Red Shoes is still an banger at least lmao.

  5. Love it that Knock Knock is placed so high
    it’s my favourite Twice song but so underrated by the fandom

    1,2,3,4 is seriously good and the problem with FM is the lyrics its really garbage that’s why the song flopped despite the top tier music, concept and choreo

    love new and Ah Choo as well, best songs from the respective groups

    I’m Really Hurt/I’m In Pain is my favourite T-ara song but Roly Poly being first don’t get any arguments from me

    i’d expected more songs from Stellar though

  6. I read this blog all the time, so this list was pretty predictable. What surprised me was the comparison between Day By Day and Criminal, although after reading that they seem very similar. I’m a big fan of Britney Spears and T-ara, but I never would have made that connection. Maybe it’s because I’ve always hated Criminal and liked Day By Day. Most of the songs on this list are great, but I still think TVXQ’s Hot Hot Hot is trash.

  7. It took a long time to get through the entire list, but it was worth every minute. So much goodness throughout, from Number Nine to Secret Garden. Tae Jin-ah shows the rappers that you don’t need empty bravado when you are a real boss. The instrumental in Knock Knock is still my favourite of all-time… and of course the song of the decade could ONLY be Roly Poly.

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