The 250 Greatest Idol Group Songs of All Time (2020 Edition)
100. TVXQ – Love in the Ice
From Mirotic (2008)
Written by Max Chagmin (TVXQ)
Composed by Daisuke Suzuki
Arranged by Daisuke Suzuki, Yuya Saito
“Love In The Ice” thrived off of the same famous harmony that no other idol group has recreated, applied to perhaps the most overtly sentimental composition of TVXQ’s career. The song deserved the herculean individual performances it got – Xia soaring for the finish – and gorgeous lyrics penned by Changmin for the Korean edition. It was wistful, memorable, and an appropriate finale to what became TVXQ’s last album as five members.
99. VIXX – 향 (Scentist)
From Eau de Vixx (2018)
Written by Kim Mi-jin, Ravi (Vixx)
Composed/arranged by Jake K (Full8loom), Andreas Öberg, Drew Ryan Scott, Nick Kaelar
Links: music video, audio, stage
VIXX’s career can be roughly split into two parts: the electric and hyperactive sound that built up to “Chained Up”, and the more reserved but pervasive tension that defined the Greek mythology trilogy and everything thereafter. “Scentist” was a particularly refined example of the latter kind, its synths diffusing into thick atmosphere and its ominous melody hypnotizing the listener. The lyrics were an intuitive yet sharply written metaphor, describing an experimentalist whose work is “the quantification of fantasy”: the distillation and infusion of “scents” between lovers. And so this title was also one of the rare translations that improved on the original, which just reads “Scent”.
98. GFriend – 너 그리고 나 (Navillera)
After turning the idol scene upside down with their “power innocence” concept, I can’t imagine it must have been easy for Source and GFriend to build the group’s first full album. “Navillera” didn’t reinvent the wheel, but simply took the style to its logical extreme. There was palpable urgency in the breakneck pace and whistling synths. The lyrics were earnest and passionate, with lines like “Let’s start fresh, you and me / I yearn for love, take good care of me” made even a little surreal given the backdrop. Looking back, it was the perfect way to close out the first act of GFriend’s career before heading to new waters.
97. Momoland – 뿜뿜 (Bboom Bboom)
In a musical sense, I don’t think Momoland is a one-hit wonder – “Freeze” showed up earlier on this list, after all – but it’s hard to deny that the seismic success of “Bboom Bboom” shaped the entire trajectory of the group’s sound, to mixed results. The flip side of that is, of course, that “Bboom Bboom” was a banger. The track was a mish-mash of everything from disco bass to trap breakdown to wily sax loops interspersed with random dabbing, but its center of gravity was that addictive, stuttering chorus. It’s hard to overstate the importance of nailing the chorus vocals in a song like this, and Nancy and JooE did it with a demure delivery that stuck out against the song’s brazenness. Nobody hears this song just once.
96. Big Bang – 에라 모르겠다 (Fxxk It)
A fiercely distinctive song from a fiercely distinctive group, “Fxxk It” was a dazzling introduction to one of the more eclectic albums in K-pop. The big wobbles and bold melody line were all great, but the song really put the onus on the members to make sense of its whiplash-inducing shifts and wide-open choruses. Of course, Big Bang responded with comical ease – Daesung’s casual handling of the second chorus being emblematic of the group’s prowess by this point – and infectious mirth. Seungri’s ignominious exit has faded the sheen, but “Fxxk It” still exudes inimitable class.
95. Nine Muses – 다쳐 (Hurt Locker)
The beat crackled with each stroke and shook with each kick. Nine Muses seized upon that tension right from Kyungri’s electric opening note, and ratcheted up the drama in a rapidly escalating prechorus. The cascade synths may have been a little dated, but that was okay: the delicious urgency in the melody, the vocals soaring with abandon, and the oddly lightweight yet addictive lyrics made them sound like much, much more. A massively underrated piece from a chronically underrated group.
94. Fin.K.L. – Now
That reserved harmonization in the chorus was the key to “Now”‘s sleekness: strength in numbers trumping even what Ok Joo-hyun’s power could have wrought on its own. (This group knew how to deliver a chorus like nobody else.) The relentless beat and the groovy melody embellished with brass hits were deviously addictive, and made Fin.K.L’s edgy about-face successful. Oh, the wonderfully silly stealth-movie music video helped.
93. Mamamoo – 데칼코마니 (Décalcomanie)
From Memory (2016)
Written by Kim Do-hoon, Solar (Mamamoo), Moonbyul (Mamamoo), Hwasa (Mamamoo)
Composed by Kim Do-hoon
Arranged by Kim Do-hoon, MGR, Park Woo-sang
Links: music video, audio, stage
Mamamoo’s early work was a serious commitment to jazz and big-band sound, even more polished and persistent than what the lineage of groups with superlative vocals – Brown Eyed Girls to Sunny Hill, CSJH to Spica – had attempted. “Décalcomanie” was a particularly explosive product, its delicate blend of acoustics and electronica keeping pace with the tangle of melisma and glorious falsetto. The sudden and triumphant chorus provided a cathartic re-affirmation that a vocals-first group could make it with vocals-first music.
92. Apink – %% (응응) (Eung Eung)
The oscillating pulse and grunting affirmations would have made for a “what the hell is that” beat coming from anyone, but it was particularly striking from Apink at a time when we were still getting used to the group’s retro-mature transformation. That arpeggio practically told a story all on its own, as intriguing as it was immediately addictive, and the rich instrumentation embraced a whole range of emotion from Chorong’s precipitous chicness to Eunji’s self-assured imperatives. As of 2020 Apink seems like one of our best chances for a long-running girl group, and it’s a hearty sign that they are putting out classics well into their second contract.
91. SHINee – Dream Girl
Airy, spacious, expansive – “Dream Girl” lent itself to spatial adjectives. All of SHINee’s third album was a forceful display of electronic mastery, but the seamless instrumental integration and controlled tempo in this song really stood out and allowed the top-line melody to emerge and soar as dazzlingly as it did. It’s probably the song that signaled the completion of SHINee’s musical identity.
90. 1TYM – Hot 뜨거 (Hot)
Beyond the inanity of “Nasty”, but before the overbearing weightiness of “Do You Know Me”: this sly mischievousness here was peak 1TYM. Each member put in solid bars, with even the group’s more toned-down voices in Taebin and Oh Jinhwan making their presence known like never before. The song didn’t lose focus even with the four constantly switching in and out, and credit for that should go to the immediately addictive and endlessly quotable hook. For a brief moment, this group had all the potential in the world.
89. Fromis_9 – Love Bomb
“Love Bomb” was loud and unapologetic, with an explosive chorus that soundly redeemed both its mood and its title. To this day I’m not sure what’s more satisfying, the stuttered simplicity of its refrain or the rushing sensation created by those dazzling sustained synths. The burgeoning, nearly unbearable resonance of the bridge also magnified the wistfully sweet chorus, and Fromis_9’s breathless delivery cemented the vastly underrated track.
88. Cleo – Ready for Love
The melody had a bit of that uplifting 90s Korean ballad feel – like Star In My Heart stuff. The techno-rock accompaniment (itself a bit of a novelty) soon washed that away, but the charged beat kept “Ready for Love” impossibly cheery in a very different sense; the vocal line’s prominence also let the members (and Chae Eun-jung especially) showcase their earnest charms. Maybe Cleo never really got out from the shadow of contemporaries, but this one moment was fully their own.
87. F(x) – 피노키오 (Pinocchio – Danger)
We knew F(x) was weird, but “Pinocchio” showed us that their weirdness could have direction. The group’s utter disregard for narrative structure and sense continued from before, but in a package that was more accessible than “NU ABO” and against much stronger musical backdrop. The lyrics could be interpreted to be unassuming, chilling or preferably both; individual performances, like Luna‘s childlike delight, brought the unlikely theme to life. This song was the first true payoff of F(x)’s illustrious concept-building.
86. BTS – On
From Map of the Soul: 7 (2020)
Big Hit Entertainment
Written/composed by Pdogg, RM (BTS), August Rigo, Melanie Joy Fontana, Michel ‘Lindgren’ Schulz, Suga (BTS), J-Hope (BTS), Antonina Armato, Krysta Youngs, Julia Ross
Links: music video, audio, stage
BTS’s Map of the Soul-era sound has been decidedly globally oriented, which has sometimes led to watered-down results. But that approach went so, so right in “On”. A gospel choir and marching-band cadence crafted a rousing beat that sounded much more Western than Korean, while the strings and brass carved out massive scale and BTS led an anthemic performance through the banners and fire. Perfect for the ride-or-die message, culminating in a narrative of completion through struggle.
85. Zaza – 버스 안에서 (On the Bus)
It was one of those songs where the verses are catchier than the chorus. Jo Won-sang and Kwon Yong-joo’s raspy and melodic rapping was reminiscent of CLON’s work and arguably just as iconic (certainly just as addictive) as any of their greatest hits. Yoo Young‘s smooth bridge and finish complemented that rawness – an early example of synergy in idol groups – and the storytelling, impossibly innocent in stark contrast to this delivery, still works even today.
84. Lovelyz – Ah-Choo
Lovelyz’s greatest hit was also the group’s most straightforward, featuring an easygoing melody driven by broad bright synths. Intricacies were there if you listened – the lush piano rolling along way before it broke out into the melancholy bridge, the gentle brass helping to expand the chorus – and they crucially undergirded the song. But on first impression, “Ah-Choo” was charming precisely because of its old-school wholesomeness, as if it was plucked right out of a vague undated past when everything was more innocent. A masterful stroke of songwriting from Yoon Sang, drawing richly from his venerable career.
83. 4Minute – 미쳐 (Crazy)
From Crazy (2015)
Written by Seo Jae-woo (Tenten), Big Sancho (Yummy Tone), Son Young-jin (MosPick), HyunA (4Minute)
Composed/arranged by by Seo Jae-woo, Big Sancho, Son Young-jin
Links: music video, audio, stage
The best compliment I can pay “Crazy” is that it was, indeed, balls-to-the-wall insane. HyunA and Jiyoon slurred and belted their verses, the chorus was shrill with the double-tracked interjections drawing attention, the exotic trap beat was relentless, and the bass drop in the chorus gave you some breathing room to consider how ridiculous all this is. 4Minute’s charisma and fierceness finally met a worthy track here, and the result was incredible.
82. Wonder Girls – Nobody
Motown, meet JYP soul. “Nobody” was the finale to Wonder Girls’ retro series, and the team traveled even further back in time from “So Hot” to find these glitter dresses and standup mic stages. The relatively lighthearted, even chiptuney sound design helped sweeten the members’ plaintive croons, setting a gold standard for minor key retro in K-pop. JYP also completed the experiment of infusing his indispensable groove into electronics in this song, crafting something unique in the process.
81. Baby V.O.X – 우연 (Coincidence)
Even coming from a group that didn’t particularly lack for hits, “Coincidence” was a sensation. The Spanish intro was instantly iconic, and the Latin-infused house beat was certainly catchier, if not as experimental, than the 1996 original by Kola (“Sad Coincidence”). In Baby V.O.X’s voices the song was reborn as a dance number both smooth and feisty (those rap inserts were flavorful), and made BV the top girl group in all the land for a season.
80. NU’EST- Bet Bet
Sleek and elegant polish, a finely chopped beat riding on staccato synths and soul-shaking drums, a melody soaring sky-high. “Bet Bet” not only faithfully recalled the best elements of “Overcome” and “Where You At”, it fulfilled all of their promise. Familiar ideas from past Pledis discographies were elevated by a visceral and fatally attractive chorus, one of the best ever written by Bumzu, where NU’EST professed love with a gambler’s confidence and sang with daredevil glitz and glamour.
79. EXO – 으르렁 (Growl)
From The 1st Album ‘XOXO (Kiss & Hug)’ Repackage (2013)
Written by Seo Ji-eum
Composed by Shin Hyuk, DK, Jordan Kyle, John Major, Jarah Lafayette Gibson
Arranged by Shin Hyuk, Jordan Kyle, John Major
Links: music video, audio, stage
EXO’s got a lot of voices to fill space with, and they did it with abundant harmony throughout “Growl”. Together the members gave volume to a minimalist arrangement as masterful pacing kept the song engaging even on repeat listens, and that addictiveness helped it skyrocket to immediate smash hit and enduring earworm status. There really isn’t a whole lot to be said about this one; it was just a simple idea executed flawlessly.
78. SHINee – View
Abrasive textures out, mellow ones in. Ambient synths and chic future-house bass permeated “View”, and the now-mature vocalists of SHINee eschewed shrill highs in favor of a softer, more sensual approach. Shedding instrumental weight allowed the song to move more freely and SHINee to play around more: a challenge they readily rose to, crafting irresistible groove. It was the right track at the right time in this group’s career.
77. Oh My Girl – 다섯 번째 계절 (The Fifth Season – SSFWL)
Emboldened by the blueprint of “Secret Garden” in particular, WM and Oh My Girl channeled the fantastical to brand the group’s first full-length album. This magical piece was charged with urgency, its two-part chorus offering orchestral catharsis to a dramatic confession. In the whirling strings you could almost hear the winds of the “fifth season” blow; in Seo Ji-eum’s earnest and naturalistic language you could see its terrain defined. Making it all work was Oh My Girl’s nuanced portrayal of the song’s complex emotions, delivering us from hesitation to assurance to mystery again in the space of 4 minutes. It was the perfect song for this group.
76. S.E.S. – Dreams Come True
The arrangement was a thing of beauty, the composers’ heart and soul poured into an airy, mysterious flute melody and hip-hop beat. It was the perfect representation of S.E.S.’s tender dreamscape, cradling an ethereal melody driven by Bada at her most sugary-sanguine, and so achingly ephemeral as to conjure nostalgia out of thin air. “Dreams Come True” was maybe not as technically ahead of its time as later S.E.S. work, but its distinctive flavor has never been replicated properly.