4th 5th (this took longer to write than I first anticipated) so I’m still allowed to make one of these without it being illegal, this won’t be what I think the absolute best releases of 2016 are because honestly, some of the songs in this list aren’t that great, they’re just songs that listened to way too often during the year of 2016. Although 2016 wasn’t a great year for k-pop there were a few great releases that caught my interest, but also some pretty awful songs too which I won’t go into.
A Very Short Criteria List:
- Released by a K-pop artist, regardless of language
- Released between January 1st and December 31st
These releases will be in alphabetical order as I’m way too indecisive to number them,
I also have no idea how many there actually will be, there’s 35 for your FYI, 30 in alphabetical order and I managed to muster up the courage to be decisive for once and actually rank my top 5 which goes off my iTunes of which songs I listened to the most.
If you’re illiterate, don’t feel like reading, or just want to get this over and done with quickly I also made a Spotify playlist of all the songs in this list, excluding the ones that weren’t available on Spotify for well… obvious reasons!
Ailee – Home (ft Yoon Mi Rae)
One of my favourite released from Ailee, she finally ditched the cheesy diva wannabe concepts and really came into her own with this R&B influenced song, toning down the unnecessary constant high notes gives the song clear climaxes that were missed in her previous releases. Also getting Yoon Mirae to be the rap feature was a great bonus. I hope this song can break the “Korean Beyoncé” image Ailee seems to have been stuck with.
BTS – Save Me
When BTS first came back with Fire it was like they went into the studio with the sole intention of trolling ARMY’s and releasing one of the worst songs of the year, it was a loud shouting mess which should have been let nowhere near having a title track status, but they luckily redeemed themselves by releasing Save Me immediately after. This Justin Bieber influenced medium-tempo track really suits the members voices well, aside from some uncomfortable ad-libs that the song could’ve done with-out. Paired with a simplistic but melancholy choreography MV it’s a style I’d like to see more of from this group.
Cha Ji Yeon – My Show
Out of the many SM Station songs this one of the few that is actually really good. I feel like this song could’ve easily been an overhyped stan Twitter song if it were released by a more well-known idol as opposed to an actress, but unfortunately overlooked which is a shame as I think it’s one of the strongest LDN Noise song’s SM has bought, aside from maybe SHINee’s View.
Davichi – Beside Me
I know I previously said that ballads bore me to death but this track actually has some life to it after the slow and steady beginning it builds up to the dramatic climax which is worth the wait. It’s also accompanied by a beautifully shot music video, I especially love the lighting and mystic effect at the beginning when Haeri and Minkyung are walking through the forest but I’ll save that for another day as my analysis would probably send you all to sleep and this is a music thread so onwards and upwards we go!
EXO – Artificial Love
This song shows a more experimental side to EXO I wish this deep electronic style would be something they’d follow for a title track but seeing how far SM is stuck way up LDN Noise’s, EDM and electro-pop’s ass they’re to introduce it into Korea (even though it’s already been done) I don’t see it happening anytime soon. I enjoyed the Chinese version of this album over the Korean version, maybe it’s because it sounds better, or that Xiumin, the only EXO member I’d consider stanning, is one of the three remaining EXO-M musketeers.
EXO & Yoo Jae Suk – Dancing King
This is one of the more lacklustre songs that I mentioned in the introduction, but it’s just so fun that I couldn’t not like it. Also Yoo Jae Suk does pretty amazing with the choreography so I’m including this song here just for him, a dancing legend.
Far East Movement – Don’t Speak (ft Tiffany & King Chain)
This song may be technically cheating as Far East Movement aren’t K-pop at all but Tiffany sings the whole song and it’s my list so I’ll proceed. Trollany returns after becoming the most hated woman in Korea and continues to prove that she just wants to dance by emulating her audition video and showing just show much she’s improved, or hasn’t in some people’s eyes.
Hyomin – Sketch
Speaking of the most hated people in Korea, Hyomin made a solo comeback with Sketch which exceeded my expectations. This song inspired many successful artists bringing them from the gutters to painting stardom such as Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh. Charity Queen Hyomin went full Hyuna with this comeback and did it well, the concept is literally sex. She improved herself as a solo artist building up from Make Up and also somehow scammed MBK into putting 5 songs onto Sketch instead of the recent trend of just 3. Hyomin’s feminine voice works well with this song the only thing that’s lacking is if there were more ad-libs or just something more happening in the backing track during the dance break, which is typically where the rapper would feature in these types of R&B influenced songs, to break the song up slightly which is only included in the live version.
Hyomin – Gold
A song that is appropriately titled, it’s rumoured that before this existed Jesus only received offerings of Frankincense and Myrrh.
Hyosung – Find Me (ft D.Action)
This was one of the more overlooked comebacks of 2016 which is unfortunate as this is was a great high energy release. Featuring a catchy hook and, I don’t think Hyosung’s soft vocals always work amazingly well with all aspects of this song as some parts sound quite screechy but it fits with the overall, frantic sound the song possesses.
Jeon Jiyoon – Magnet
Jiyoon finally gets her time in the spotlight after releasing her first solo since 4Minute’s disbandment, I was initially disappointed when Jiyoon released the clone of Taeyeon’s I that was I Do, Magnet seems to be more of a style that suits Jiyoon and it shows she showcase’s her singing, rapping and dancing ability that wasn’t really prevalent during her 4M days, as Hyuna’s presence was just too large to not overshadow the other members, in this awkwardly framed MV with the top of her head missing in-between all the shots of her legs and midriff.
Jonghyun – She Is
Jonghyun tell’s us he likes this bridge with his first full album as a solo artist, returning with playful flirtatiousness, She Is shows Jonghyun’s love of falsetto and proves it’s self to be an earworm with the catchy ‘oh she’s’ (contrary to popular belief it is not ‘oh shiz’). The biggest disappointment was Jonghyun’s comeback was unfortunately scheduled when SM was going through a phase of having every comeback styled like the one that came before it so the MV doesn’t really make sense I’m sure there is a story in there somewhere but I can’t see it behind all the random ‘aesthetic’ shots and obscenely high contrast.
Jiyoung – I’m Just Not Into You
This one may also be technically cheating seeing as Jiyoung promotes in Japan now but I guess these things just happen. Jiyoung shocked us all releasing an all English EP, I’m Just Into being a B-side to Radio seeing as the MV is just behind the scene’s but it was inevitably the star of the show.
Ladies Code – Galaxy
Ladies Code returned for the first time as a trio this year with the well suited melancholy song Galaxy. I was anticipating this comeback quite a lot when it was first announced and I wasn’t disappointed. The girl’s experience is heavily reflected in this song with the mournful vocals during the chorus and the slow pace throughout. I really hope Ladies Code achieve great success in Korea but I think they’ll have to slowly evolve from this style of music to do so.
Luna – Free Somebody
Luna made her solo debut this year, looking and sounding great while doing so. Although this album didn’t do so well that certainly isn’t a reflection of the music, but at least it made enough to buy her a new vlog camera. The strong piano carried the song through the verses adding a toe-tapping beat to the song. This also had the same recycled styling Jonghyun’s had due to coming out at almost the same time, but Luna also got a taste of SM’s 30-day Illustrator trail, for better or for worse.
Mad Clown – Lie (ft Haeri)
This is a song I’ve unashamedly had on repeat for a whole. Haeri’s soft breathy vocals and Mad Clown’s powerful rap compliment each other well, if I wasn’t so horribly indecisive and numbered all of these I would most certainly place this in the top 10. The MV also portrays the story of the lyrics showing the saltier sides to a relationship with beautiful cinematography, the grainy contrast works well with this music video changing the lighting in accordance to the lyrics, Haeri’s portraying the feelings of the female protagonist and Mad Clown the male. I’d like to see more entirely story dedicated music videos that are uninterrupted with useless choreography shots such as T-ara’s Cry Cry and Brown Eyed Girls Cleansing Cream but I don’t think it’s going to become a trend anytime soon.
Nu’est – Love Paint (every afternoon)
Pledis remembered that Seventeen isn’t the only group they manage and forked out some pennies to give Nu’est a comeback. Serving one stronger electronic R&B songs of this year it’s unfortunate that it went relatively unnoticed. Being carried by powerful vocals during the chorus it shows itself as the highlight of the song, the hidden orchestral elements reinforce the chorus causing it to be a catchy toe-tapper.
Ryeowook – Foxy Girl (ft DinDin)
Although the title is kind of cringy, Foxy Girl is definitely a standout song on The Little Prince it’s another R&B song (which seems to be a popular trend this year) with slight 70’s funk influences. Featuring rapper DinDin does a great job in giving the song a distinctly modern sound. I think Ryeowook played this album relatively safe so I hope he’s able to branch out more if he gets another solo opportunity.
SHINee – Prism
I was honestly underwhelmed when SHINee released 1of1, although they nailed the 90’s concept the song inevitably felt outdated as it contained no modern influences to bring the song into 2016. The fast-paced energetic instrumental is far from the sound of 1of1, laced with well-placed ad-libs and synthetic vocals caused Prism to be my favourite song on this album by a long shot. I wish it had been the title track of its own album or a repackage, I think it proves itself to be a strong enough song that fit’s into the aesthetic many songs have been following in 2016.
Sistar – I like That
It took me a very long time to get into this song but I was eventually sold after watching the amazing choreography in the dance practice video. It is one of Sistar’s weaker title tracks, it sounds like a weird Give it To Me and Touch My Body crossbreed, and the British voice at the beginning is quite frankly hideous, as a British person myself I’m allowed to say that because British accents are just really embarrassing why anyone would willingly want one is beyond me. But the chorus gradually started to grow on me after each listen proving to be more catchy as opposed to being relatively unforgettable as I first thought.
Stellar – Sting
Pioneers of the underrated Stellar returned with soft bubblegum visuals, the MV is riddled with hidden deeper meanings which could be easily overlooked and tied to just being ‘aesthetics’ as the music video is very visually pleasing. The song’s instrumental is strong in itself it almost sounds like it could be a soundtrack. The upbeat energy of this song certainly doesn’t disappoint, it draws you in and doesn’t let you lose focus keeping you entertained all the way through matching with Stellar’s voices well.
Taemin – Drip Drop
Drip Drop was Taemin’s opportunity to prove himself as a true performer, which he certainly did. The sharp conceptual dance moves show themselves as the main focal point without overshadowing the songs unique production. The sound of the water droplets embedded into different elements of the song, the layering of the vocals, composition and smooth progression quickly made this song a firm favourite.
Taeyeon – Rain
The first SM Station song that was released, and one of the higher budget and quality Station’s, not being strong enough to be an official title track but too good to keep as a forgotten B-side it was a great choice and a great kick of to the Station series, this medium tempo jazz track really suits Taeyeon’s light vocals well, making it a song to enjoy on rainy days.
Taeyeon – Fashion
After Taeyeon went down the generic summer song route for Why I was anticipating the album’s b-sides as I knew they wouldn’t contribute to the name Taeyawn. And I was correct, the whole album has a heavy EDM R&B influence which works pleasantly well for this track, it’s a firm favourite from Why. The heavy beat in the intro that continues throughout acts as a steady anchor for the overlaying 80’s electro-pop beat, the hooks stop you from losing interest with help of Taeyeon’s vocals, it makes for a really solid track. But as much as I do like this genre of music the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’ needs to be told to Lee Soo Man, it needs to end SM, there are other genre’s of music that exists please utilise them. I am tired.
Tiffany – I Just Wanna Dance
Who knew Jessica would be the one to release the Disney OST and Tiffany to drop the American electro-pop? Certainly not I. Tiffany kick starts her
trolling solo debut singing about how much she wants to dance the night away, which is ironic (also slightly iconic) giving her dancing track record. Tiffany certainly exceeded my expectations and I suspect the expectations of many other as well with this album going with a concept and genre that suits her to a T, giving off a similar 80’s retro element to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion. Not deserving all the negative backlash that she received, Tiffany didn’t just produce a solid song but also a solid album I hope we’re able to see more from the most hated woman in Korea.
Uhm Jung Hwa – Watch Me Move
Although this song came out only days before 2016’s end it still made enough of a lasting impression to be added to this list. I recently did an in-depth review Uhm Jung Hwa’s blessing of a comeback here so I feel like repeating everything would be a waste of everyone’s time so I’ll just do a short summary. This electronic dance track perfectly captures everything Uhm Jung Hwa is and brings her right up to date with a modern sound and a sprinkle of Eurovision. Despite the fact she looks like she would bite you at any given moment if you met her wearing this attire, she still looks great with a pictorial high-fashion inspired styling matching the otherworldly feeling this song possesses.
Yoon Mirae – JamCome On Baby
As on edge as the lack of spaces in the title puts me, this another great slow R&B release from Yoon Mirae with a somewhat spacey feel. Injecting her rap verses between her airy and distorted vocals at the intro vocals really helps break up the song and add pace in just the right places.
Yuri & Seohyun – Secret
I only use Pantene now
2PM – Promise (I’ll be)
2PM continue to shred their beast image into something more mature with this surprisingly strong comeback. The tones of the synth under the stressed calls of “Baby I’ll be” give the track a strong hook. The light piano underneath the drops, snares and synth incorporates the sense of maturity that 2PM are trying to portray.
9Muses A – Lip 2 Lip
This song slightly reminds me of Stellar’s Sting if it had a more upbeat twin, with the quirky background noises and video game soundtrack essences both songs possess. Playing with the volume control during the rap verses gives an interestingly unique element also making for a great listen as it isn’t something you hear very often in K-pop which keeps the listener from losing interest it’s a notable technique that’d I’d like to hear more of.
And now, for the top 5, if you made it this far, I sincerely applaud you.
I’m honestly surprised I made it this far, we’re in this together now.
#5 Hyolyn – Go Away
Swooping in at number 5 is Go Away by Hyolyn, despite the slightly embarrassing Beyoncé try-hard title track, Paradise Starship forced upon her, the B-sides of her mini album show the type of artist she really wants to be. Participating in the writing for all tracks and composing for Slow. Go Away really shows what the focus of the album should’ve been, her voice. The slow but strong beat gives way for her vocals making the track all about her, no flashy forced diva cheesiness, instead delivering a fierce force from Hyolyn.
#4 T-ara – Farewell Movie
When T-ara broke their 16-month break with Tiamo I was honestly disappointed, it wasn’t a bad song but it didn’t have the usual ‘T-ara’ stamp their previous comebacks possess, normally delivering strong dance tracks Tiamo was a medium-tempo fan song that sounded more suited to a rookie debut. But T-ara luckily delivered with the Remember b-side Farewell Movie which brought back my faith. Showcasing an amazing instrumental created by the synth beat and piano melody makes for an addictive song and the T-ara stamp is finally returned with the presence of cliché but catchy ad-libs. Soyeon’s desperate tones and Hyomin’s breathy vocals extremely well in this song, I would low-key like to see how the song would sound if it was performed as a duet between the two. Although I don’t think this song would’ve been strong enough to hold its own as a title track but it would’ve been a better effort than Tiamo.
#3 Bada – Flower (ft Kanto)
This is another song that I thought could’ve been a stan twitter hype anthem but unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Returning with a 20th anniversary album, which is a great achievement for the fast paced Korean industry, after a 2 year break Bada really brought herself into 2016 with a unique arrangement that draws you in maintaining a similar nimble beat throughout that supports Bada’s nasily high vocals which is a vocal style that appeals to me a lot . Flower was a song I was addicted to this summer, probably hitting replay one too many times, it really deserved more listeners.
# 2 Tiffany – What Do I Do
After enthusing about how much she wants to dance Trollany wants to know what she should do next (SPOILER: it’s becoming one of the most hated people in Korea via a Snapchat filter) in this self-written and composed heavily American influenced track. The synthy whine gives a defining advantage against the other songs being played throughout it also gives it the chance of being perceived as irritating. Keeping within her range is another bonus point to this album as it’s something she’s become rather infamous for, trying to go above her range giving the impression that she isn’t a good singer which really isn’t the case, it shows she isn’t the smartest of singers but still a talented one nonetheless.
#1 Hyomin – Road Trip
Hyomin’s spree of charitable efforts continues, after giving the 3rd wise man his present for the newly born baby Jesus with Gold, and inspiring some of the world’s leading artists with Sketch, Hyomin gives the ancient Roman’s the idea to start paving over England’s former dirt paths and giving us modern-day roads so we, at citizens, can fully absorb the full effects of this song letting us have road trip’s of our own. Thanks, Hyomin.