Let it be known that this list is not strictly for the pop genre. While some of my choices here lean more into R&B, hip-hop, and so on, I'm using K-Pop as a blanket term for any popular songs from Korea, regardless of genre. So, open your mind and ears, grab some headphones, and let's get to it.
5. Hi Suhyun - "I'm Different"
Our first song is collaboration between Lee Hi and Lee SuHyun, two talented young singers with unique vocal styles that turned out to be a perfect match. There is a music video for the single, but I decided to post the song alone because the video was made almost as an afterthought when the song became popular, and I feel like its presentation will distract from the song.
The song has a sweet groove to it and there is an uncanny 60's sound to this catchy beat. It doesn't feel overproduced, and the vocals really shine. If you enjoy the vintage sound, you may soon find this on a loop in your playlist.
4. Dynamic Duo - "Summer Time"
Comprised of Choiza and Gaeko, this hip-hop duo has been making sick music for over a decade. When I stumbled upon Dynamic Duo it was a goldmine of incredible songs and collaborations with a wide array of talented artists. "Summer Time" is a good example of their often playful style.
I love the neon hues of the music video and that it looks like some cartoonish detective show where the two members are playing every character. I couldn't say what story they're trying to tell or why it appears to be an endorsement of Dunkin Donuts besides the fact that they share initials. The song is compelling nonetheless. If you find yourself rocking to this beat, you should immediately check out tracks like "Hot Wings" and "Baaam" from their album last year titled Lucky Numbers.
3. SISTAR - "Touch My Body"
Speaking of summer, in July this excellent 4 member girl group released an infectious single that became an instant hit, dominating the #1 spot on all music charts in Korea. I love everything about this song and video, from the inexplicable sax playing Korean Elvis, to the unusual trying-to-remove-underwear-wedged-in-ass-crack-without-using-hands dance move. More than any other K-Pop song I listened to this year, "Touch My Body" sounds catchy and mainstream enough to be a hit on the American music charts. It sounds like pure unfiltered joy, and let's be honest these girls are easy on the eyes.
SISTAR has been around since 2010 and are known for their signature sexy style, but here they are presenting themselves in a more playful, flirty manner. It's just a goofy summer party that had me grinning from ear to ear. After the second listen I welcomed this earworm to lay eggs in my brain, and if this song doesn't win you over I'll gladly eat my watermelon shorts.
2. Seo In Young - "Thinking of You (feat Zion T.)"
Not only is this a relaxing and sweet song, it's easily one of the most beautiful music videos of the year. Seo In Young - aka "Elly" - is a former member of the longest running Korean girl group, Jewelry, and she sounds amazing paired with the soulful voice of newcomer, Zion T. I'm secure enough in my masculinity to say that I often swoon over his songs.
"Thinking of You" is a mellow, yet emotional song about different perspectives of a breakup. You may not understand the lyrics, but the feelings are apparent, and the vibe bittersweet. Combined with the psychedelic and sexy visuals this song captures the perfect mood, and it feels refreshing. I could jam to this all day.
1. Mamamoo - "Piano Man"
I honestly can't get enough of this song or this group. Mamamoo debuted at the beginning of 2014 and I've adored everything they've put out and collaborated on this year. The group is a vocal powerhouse with a wonderful old school but modern style. And yes, a weird name.
"Piano Man" is their most recent single and it has a bit of everything. There are little hints of jazz, swing, ragtime, and big band throughout the song. The more I listen, the more I appreciate the instrumentation and cool piano licks that dance around the vocals. There's a sick rap break from Moonbyul and the harmonies of Solar, Hwasa, and Whee-in give me chills. The music video is packed with energy and it's the perfect example of why I'm finding so much enjoyment in K-Pop. It's lively, creative, and a flat-out wonderful performance.
More than any other Korean group or artist I'm excited to see where Mamamoo goes next. Considering that they're still a "rookie" group, they are truly killing it with each new single and live performance. "Piano Man" is a song that brings the heat and keeps impressing upon repeated listens.
Moving forward I hope to make this an annual list if the hits keep coming. While it's hard to find music that can appeal to a majority of people, I hope that you've found something in this list that put a smile on your face. Happy New Year!