Other singles I liked this year that I didn’t have anything to say about, didn’t feel like writing about again, or that didn’t qualify:
2NE1, “Hate You” (not title song)
2PM, “I’m Your Man” (J-pop)
Clover, “La Vida Loca”
GD&TOP, “집에 가지마” (Don’t Go Home) (banned)
Girls’ Generation, “Bad Girl” (J-pop)
Rainbow, “To Me”
Rania, “Dr. Feel Good”
Teen Top, “Supa Luv”
UV, “Itaewon Freedom”
Wonder Girls, “Be My Baby”
6. Seungri, “어쩌라고” (What Can I Do). Earlier, unfortunately ethnocentric praise aside, this song is technically perfect, and I mean that in the gymnastics sense. The beat is controlled but not rigid, knowing when to pull back into a wash of synth strings and when to storm the floor. Technical excellence often implies coldness, but the vulnerability of Seungri’s voice (after watching live performances, I’m convinced he’s singing out of his range) gives the song a heart - the way it wavers when he sings “ireokke babo cheoreom”, intentional or not, is sublime.
5. After School, “Shampoo”. Just as “0330” is a broken-hearted song that sounds full of hope for the future, “Shampoo” is a song about infatuation that sounds like saying goodbye forever. All of the sounds in this song, and there is a cascade of them, are heartbreakingly gorgeous - even the rave-synth chords, even the rapped lines, even Kahi’s chant-singing that makes this song the inverse of “Bang!”, and especially the group singalong just before the beat comes back in that sounds like all of the girls giving you a big hug before you leave.
4. MBLAQ, “모나리자” (Mona Lisa). This is exactly how an unspecifically Latin-sounding song about sexual frustration by a South Korean boy band should sound.
3. 2NE1, “내가 제일 잘 나가” (I Am The Best). This was the year that 2NE1 was all things to all people. They were girls everywhere flipping you the bird for equating being beautiful with being worthwhile; they were Jeremy Scott-wearing ambassadors of K-pop to the New World; they were lonely, lonely, lonely crooners; and they were South Korea’s answer to Nicki Minaj, twice. Through it all, “I Am The Best” was their calling card, and so it’s entirely logical that it’s formed like Voltron of their prior singles: the schoolyard taunt non-chorus of “Try To Follow Me” inserted into the structure of their debut single “Fire”, pentatonic strings and all, with the crackling rookie energy replaced by the self-assured imperiousness of “Can’t Nobody”. The result is a statement of their intent to both run the world and make you sweat.
2. Hyuna, “Bubble Pop!”. After spending the latter half of my summer in love with this song, I realize now that its appeal is how it successfully translates the feeling of anticipation into music. Just as on the last day of school you can’t wait for the bell to ring and send you flying outside, you can’t wait for the beat introduced in those hypnotizing first 20 seconds to send you flying into the chorus; just as you can’t wait to get to the beach and dive into the water, you can’t wait for the moment the dubstep break bursts back into the melody, and the moment the melody explodes into the confetti shower of the final chorus; and as the song ends with the beat it began with, you can’t wait to go back and listen to it all over again.
1. BEAST, “Fiction”. When I think of why this song works and why I like it, I have less to say about how it sounds (the depth of the production; the soaring, understated vocals) and more about how it makes me feel. When I listen to “Fiction”, I hear my feelings of isolation, helplessness, nostalgia, and hope. I hear my anxiety about the future and I hear something encouraging me to make it better. I’m used to K-pop songs amusing me, exciting me, or making me smile, but not filling my chest with emotion as the line “nan haengbokhan geol” (“I’m happy”) does, and so I can’t help but think of “Fiction” as the best single of the year.