K-Pop is a single-song-and video-driven universe and most albums are more E.P. length (or mini-album) than L.P. length. And usually, almost invariably, they offer the lead track (often mistakenly called a "title" track) or single, with one, two or three additional tracks thrown in to show a little of the artist's range, the obligatory ending ballad, and often an instrumental version of the lead track. And just like any genre, often your favorite track, the most compelling track is not the single.
Okay, we're finally back. And to kick off 2019, we'll take a look back at ten of the coolest (or dopest to use a more fleetingly trendy vernacular) KPop songs of 2018, performed by female artists or girl groups. Now, these aren't necessarily the "best" songs, or even necessarily our ten favorites. Huh? Well, some of them are but no, they're ten KPop tracks and their corresponding videos that someone who's never experienced KPop or thinks they don't like KPop might really enjoy. Even if they won't ever admit it. Something your music nerd friends would like. Maybe. Or... ten songs that could be squeezed into a nice party mix, let's say, and nobody's going to get off the dance floor and say, "What the fuck is this?" Then again, there's always those people, but you can always shame their "xenophobia." A great song is a great song but if someone can't handle it because it's not sung in English, well, tell them to go build a wall or something. Fuck'm. Got it now? Let's begin.
10. "One Shot, Two Shot" - BoA
We'll begin with the Queen of Korean Pop, Kwon Bo-ah, better known as BoA. A star performer in East Asia since 2000, BoA's seen a real resurgence in the past two years with some of the best pop tracks you'll hear anywhere, including one of our favorite Japanese LP's of 2018, Watashi Kono Mama de Ii no Kana. Like almost anything in KPop, the visual and the presentation is almost if not as important, and BoA's dance moves are world-class. She even often outdances her dancers. One Shot, Two Shot was a solid EP release for BoA and its title track with its slowly building intro and snappy, infectious rhythm kicks off this list. A true global star, It's hard to find a performer anywhere with the charisma, confidence, and relentless talent of Kwon Bo Ah.
9. "Egotistic" - Mamamoo
There are few vocal groups that can belt out a tune like Mamamoo: leader Kim Yong-sun (Solar), Jung Whee-in, Ahn Hye-jin (Hwasa), and rapper Moon Byul-yi. Arguably KPop's strongest group in terms of vocal prowess, Mamamoo continues blaze a musical path since their auspicious debut in 2014 that incorporates a myriad of classic musical genres such as jazz, blues, old school R&B, folk and others, all packed into a KPop formula that is uniquely their own. In 2018, they turned up the heat with a searing latino-flavored single from their Red Sun EP, "Egotistic" or "너나 해." The song highlights their fierce vocal assault and bristles with intensity and power, with piquant and provocative video to go with it. Bicho Malo!
8. "Not That Type" - gu9udan
Gu9udan debuted in 2016 and since then they've been firing off snappy, hooky dance-pop anthems and gaining in confidence and charisma along the way. And in their 2018 release, "Not That Type" from the EP Act. 5 New Action, they're officially badass. Strong vocals, particularly the powerful rapid-fire prechorus riffs and ad libs from main vocalist Kim Se-jeong and lead vocalist Kim Nayoung and some no-bullshit choreography led by Kang Mina and Chinese lead dancer Liu Xie Ning (Sally) make this thing pop. This is one of those songs that characterizes everything that's so addictive and unique about KPop. It slaps hard.
7. "Really Bad Boy" - Red Velvet
When their company, SM Entertainment, tweeted that the next Red Velvet song would be called "Really Bad Boy," more than a few of us had a chuckle, since Red Velvet last huge megahit was, well, "Bad Boy." But things like that happen in K-Pop where there doesn't seem (from faraway) to be the same unfalteringly incessant desideratum to be clever and à la mode that perpetually drives Western genres. Basically, "Hey, they liked 'Bad Boy' so let's do 'REALLY Bad Boy." Or at least I'm convinced that sentence occured in some swank SME boardroom at some point. And the song itself? It's not the sultry, slick, girl-crush anthem that was "Bad Boy." Instead, RV delivered a fiery, noisy mess of an thing, heading in different directions at once. Red Velvet is known for thier air-tight harmonies, a virtual vocal kaliedescope, and "Really Bad Boy" features their most arrestingly aggressive vocal arrangement to date, perfectly allocating each member's strength to its perfect use. Somehow, it works. Like a lot of Red Velvet's disruptive pure pop singles, this one may take a while to sink in, but when it does, if nothing else, you have to admire their willingness to push that envelope.
6. "Caffiene" - Eyedi
One of the most intreguing music scenes anywhere is the burgeoning independent scene in Seoul. Away from the posh music factories of the major companies in the Gangnam district, dozens, if not hundreds, of musicians, songwriters, and vocalists are crafting great tracks under the radar. One of the best and most recent of this gems is "Caffiene," a single from Nam YooJin, otherwise known as Eyedi. Eyedi's taken a different track than many female artists. Early on, having drop-dead good looks and resembling the legendary IU, she was pushed toward K-Pop and was even a trainee for a time, but after a few tense encounters with YG Entertainment's reigning boss Yang HyunSuk on the somewhat ill-fated MIXNINE program, she quit and decided to focus on becoming a musician, songwriter and vocalist on her own. Still flying under the radar, she released the slick, R&B track "Caffiene" which is as addictive as its namesake.
5. "Travel" - Bolbbalgan4
Another act that doesn't fit the K-Pop mold are Woo Ji-yoon and Ahn Ji-young, collectively known as Bolbbalgan4 or Bolbbalgan Puberty or nowadays just BOL4. Anchored by Ahn Ji-young's distinctive vocals, Bolbbalgan4's sound borrows more from folkrock than anything, featuring both emotional ballads and hooky guitar-driven upbear tracks with often endearingly honest and often humorous lyrics. Their latest EP Red Diary Page.2 netted them their second number one track in South Korea, and we're adding it here, mostly due to its addictive chorus and boundless charm.
4. "April Fools (0401)" - Jimin Park
Jimin Park, also known as Jamie Park, born as Park Ji-min, and half of JYP's precocious duo 15&, has long wowwed this column with a soulful and sultry vocal delivery that belies her youth (she's 21 as this is being written). Our girl Jamie, as calls herself as the host of the Arirang network's "Afterschool Club" program, isn't your typical KPop idol. She's not a dancer, doesn't have that perfectly sculpted face and tiny hips that seems to be the requirement for success in that milleu. But she is one of KPop's absolute best young female vocalists, blessed with an unusual mix of power and subtlety. Her EP, jiminxjamie, is one of the best little collections of R&B to come out of South Korea in 2018 and features a diverse mix of guest vocalist and rappers. The single, "April Fools (0401)" features a simmering midtempo languidity that barely disguises the anger boiling underneath. Jamie can dish it like few singers her age, and she seems to know all about what she's dishing out.
3. "What" - Dreamcatcher
Easily one of the most comsummate of the new generation of Korean groups, this dazzling septet also adheres to a concept that is a jarring departure from K-Pop standard fare of renovated new jack swing. Dreamcatcher hits hard, with a heavy, electric-guitar sound that might remind one of any of the kawaii metal groups of Japan, anime soundtracks, or even, yes, Pat Benatar. It might not be the sound you're looking for when you delve into K-Pop, but the their remarkable delivery, charisma, and stunning chorography can't help but impress you. With their latest EP, Alone In The City, they extend their nightmare-obsessed string of singles, which ripped a gaping hole in the KPop scene in 2017 with their hard-driving "Chase Me." Led by an avowed BabyMetal fan Kim Min-ji (known as JiU), Dreamcatcher's fierce vocal assault is buoyed by lead dancer Kim Bo Ra (SuA) and main vocalist Kim Yoo-hyeon, and driven hard by lead singer Lee Si-yeon. This group could and has mastered any genre they wanted to, but in 2018, they were still rocking hard with "What."
2. "Hann (Alone)" - (G)I-dle
The "monster rookies" of 2018 were an international sextet lead by a 19-year-old rapper and songwriter, Jeon So-yeon, who didn't make the final cut in two South Korean musical survival shows but had the last laugh at the helm of one of the most impressive girl group debuts since Mamamoo. The unfortunately named (G)I-dle debuted with an almost perfect EP I Am, in which most of the songs were co-written by So-yeon. It's unusual for a K-Pop group to draw so much of their songwriting from one of its members, but almost unheard of for a group as young as (G)I-dle, whose Korean name (여자)아이들, means essentially "young girls." The rest of (G)I-dle is the Korean Cho Mi-yeon, who with So-yeon lend their voices to the animated group K/DA; the Thai Minnie Nicha Yontararak; Korean Seo Su-jin (Soojin); the Chinese lead singer Song Yu Qi; and the Taiwanese Yeh Shuhua. After their impressive I Am and its addictive single "Latata," (G)I-dle knocked another one out of the park with the pensive and haunting single, "Hann (Alone)."
1. "Lady" - EXID
Rounding out the ten coolest girl group singles is the coolest girl group, of course, none other than EXID, who, like (G)I-dle, feature an adept songsmith among their members, the rapper Ahn Hyo Jin, better known as LE. LE co-wrote (along with V!VE and frequent EXID collaborator Shinsadong Tiger) this irresistable burst of Neo New Jack Swing, "Lady." "Lady" harkens back to the heyday of the American girl group TLC, including the '90's garb featured in the video, which admittedly overdoes the retro feels. The brassy horn samples and thrumming bassline fit like your favorite pair of worn-out jeans and 2018 would have sucked just a tiny little bit more without this retro bop.