I’m the type who likes to listen to every major K-pop album at least once. Maybe that’s a bit obsessive, but it guarantees that no buried treasures slip through my fingers. And although much emphasis is put on title tracks, more and more the best K-pop songs are relegated to b-sides.
This countdown encompasses any track that didn’t receive a full music video. This includes album tracks, as well as songs that may have been performed but never actively promoted. Just like the Top 50 Singles list, all songs here were released between December 1st, 2019 and November 30th, 2020.
PART ONE: Songs 40-21
20. COSMIC GIRLS (WJSN) – PANTOMIME
A percolating dance track that takes WJSN’s spacey sound to otherworldly places as it pulses over an ornate instrumental that kicks into stuttering gear for the standout chorus. (full review)
19. VERIVERY – PHOTO
An example of how well the “dark” iteration of VERIVERY can work if given a dynamic instrumental and taut, menacing chorus. (full review)
18. WEKI MEKI – MOYA MOYA
A sprightly, feel-good pop track. We all missed a major opportunity by not making Moya Moya 2020’s definitive, Sistar-esque summer hit. (full review)
17. TXT – WISHLIST
A bounding exclamation point of a track, Wishlist has unbridled energy to spare — making it a perfect match for TXT.
16. GHOST9 – IT’S GONNA BE HOT
A rollicking pop/rock track, It’s Gonna Be Hot proved that GHOST9 weren’t all just sci-fi bluster. They could also throw caution to the wind and have a good time. (full review)
15. GOLDEN CHILD – I LOVE U CRAZY!
As pure and cheesy a love declaration as you’re likely to hear, Golden Child make it all flourish thanks to a powerful set of vocals and utter conviction to the material. (full review)
14. TXT – DRAMA
A b-side so great that it was made a Japanese single, I prefer the original Korean version and will always consider it the K-pop summer single that never was. (full review)
13. YUKIKA – YESTERDAY
A pre-release that was in consideration for my main countdown, Yesterday deserves praise either way. Its bold pre-chorus is one of 2020’s undisputed highlights. (full review)
12. OH MY GIRL – DOLPHIN
An album track that had a trajectory closer to chart-conquering single, Dolphin‘s addictive hook is instantly memorable and should have been promoted with just as much spirit.
11. GHOST9 – REBORN
A gritty EDM track that best encapsulated GHOST9’s exciting, cinematic sound. Despite drawing from some familiar elements, it feels like nothing else in K-pop this year. (full review)
10. YOOA – DIVER
An old-school synth funk workout, YooA draws upon her skill as a dancer for this rhythmic showcase. It captures a certain mid-80’s sound perfectly with flair and attitude to spare. (full review)
9. TOO – STEP BY STEP
A vibrant, brass-kissed summer track with one of the year’s most infectious choruses. Step By Step is what funk pop dreams are made of. (full review)
8. GOLDEN CHILD – LEAN ON ME
7. STRAY KIDS – HAVEN
An anthemic surge of pulsing synths and call-to-arms refrains. Stray Kids stretched their usual hip-hop sound into something far more immense and cinematic, and the result is absolutely thrilling. (full review)
6. DRIPPIN – OVERDRIVE
A rollicking dance anthem from the year’s most promising rookies. Overdrive is everything you could want in an upbeat boy group track, full of refreshing energy and powered by a megawatt chorus. (full review)
5. TXT – GHOSTING
A culmination of TXT’s dreampop leanings, Ghosting wafts by on a gorgeous melody and wistful atmosphere. It may just be the definitive example of this specific Big Hit-produced sound. (full review)
4. ONF – NEW WORLD
A bombastic dance track that hits with near-operatic fury, New World brought ONF’s music to new, experimental heights. It’s proof of how great an idol group can sound if willing to tear expectations wide open and surrender to their own adventurous spirit. (full review)
3. GOLDEN CHILD – OMG
A number one selection in its own right, given that it’s my most played b-side of the year. But bias aside, OMG tackles the year’s retro sound better than almost any other track. It’s the perfect mood-lifter, bounding with great energy and addictive synth grooves. (full review)
2. GFRIEND – LABYRINTH
An example of how brilliant GFriend can sound when given a sharp synth backdrop. The girls were always meant to be dance pop warriors, and Labyrinth drapes them in full battle gear with utter panache. (full review)
1. LUCY – FLARE
An ambitious, multi-part epic, Flare is an experience not to be missed. It draws upon all of Lucy’s strengths, building toward a rollicking centerpiece before culminating in a series of stirring peaks. It’s an incredibly affirming work, performed with a warmth and spirit that brings real heart to the ambitious song structure. Lucy may not have celebrated their first debut anniversary yet, but they’ve already delivered their first masterpiece.