The 250 Greatest Idol Group Songs of All Time (2020 Edition)
200. Exo – Love Me Right
From Love Me Right (2015)
Written by Oh Yoo-won, Kim Dong-hyun
Composed/arranged by Denzil “DR” Remedios, Nermin Harambasic, Courtney Woolsey, Peter Tambakis, Ryan S. Jhun, Jarah Lafayette Gibson
Links: music video, audio, stage
The irresistibly festive atmosphere came alive in the chorus, a potpourri of funky guitars and brass. The writers’ sheer brazenness in rhyming “runway” with “Milky Way” there could have just been a fun gimmick, but then Exo launched into a second verse that committed to the space metaphors, and you realized this was about to become a lot more vivid. “Thrilling cosmic ride, our night flight” indeed.
199. GFriend – Fingertip
GFriend’s first major musical pivot took them into the land of stark Sweetune-like brass synths and power snares. “Fingertip” was retro like that, but with joyfully intricate instrumentation and trendy melody that firmly placed it in this decade. The chorus carried the same burgeoning power the group was known for, concentrated and erupted through the instantly memorable “bang-bang-bang”. Though it was one of GFriend’s less successful outings commercially, it’s exemplary as a song that both preserved and evolved a group’s sound.
198. Monsta X – Hero (Broadcasting Ver.)
“Hero”‘s massive horn riff was straight out of a Flo Rida track and easily became Rush‘s main attraction. And while it was somewhat odd of Starship to repackage an album without adding any wholly new song, this remix did sweeten the deal. The way the dubstep lightly masked the horns before giving way, adding even more drama to this charged composition, was sublime.
197. Got7 – 너 하나만 (One and Only You) (Feat. Hyolyn)
From Eyes on You (2018)
Written by JB (Got7)
Composed by Shim Eun-ji, Albin Nordqvist, Louise Frick Sveen, Fredrik Figge Bostrom
Arranged by Albin Nordqvist
Links: music video (special clip), audio
“One and Only You” was the kind of sharp song that always seems to stay one step ahead. From the opening rap verse to the sudden vocal harmony in the prechorus to the dizzying brouhaha that follows, the track was constantly unpredictable without losing pace. And that pace is important: any stumble would have wrecked the playful back-and-forth between Got7 and Hyolyn, coy yet amused, a parallel to the relaxed dynamic in the lyrics. I know of few better arguments for more cross-agency idol collaboration than this song.
196. Shinhwa – T.O.P. (Twinkling of Paradise)
One of the all-time great adaptations of a minor theme in K-pop, “T.O.P.” drank deeply from the well of “Swan Lake” and allowed it to nourish everything from the G-funk synth to the chilly main melody. The nearly five-minute epic benefited from the iconic motif giving it a strong center, as it branched out into experimental interludes and rap sections. (Eric and Andy’s breakdown before the bridge still sounds pretty decent, over 20 years later.) They probably should have cut back on the ridiculous acronyms for everything in the lyrics, but it worked in its time.
195. Crayon Pop – 빠빠빠 (Bar Bar Bar)
In an era of ever more expensive and complex productions, Crayon Pop opted for the kitschiest and most straightforward path. The easy singalong melody, aggressively addictive arrangement, and disarming charm of “Bar Bar Bar” made for a distinctive single, the group’s first #1 hit and perhaps the unlikeliest Korean Music Awards nomination of all time (for Song of the Year, no less).
194. GWSN – Growing ~ For Groo
From 밤의 공원 (The Park in the Night) Part Two (2019)
Kiwi Media Group
Written by Cho Ah-young (153/Joombas)
Composed by Royal Dive and Ashley Alisha (153/Joombas)
Arranged by Royal Dive
Links: music video, audio
From our own review: “A rousing chorus seamlessly converts booming synth hits into a trickling melody; that drama complements the progression in these gorgeous lyrics, where a humble seed grows into a lush, radiant haven that reflects the group’s namesake park.” It was a clever design that weaved GWSN’s identity naturally into the narrative, and as drab as fan tributes can be to non-fans, this one really had something for everybody.
193. Take – 나비무덤 (Butterfly Grave)
The definition of a one-hit wonder (though a retooled Take briefly came back in 2015). Maybe the group wasn’t so special; the mid-2000s was a time when good-sounding male harmonies were everywhere, and teams like Air Rise, M.Street, The Story and more gave us similar offerings. But none of them had a “Butterfly Grave” – this combination of an instantly memorable melody with real, fleshed-out drama in its short running time – and so Take is whom we remember.
192. Block B – Shall We Dance
Plenty of groups could rap and sing and dance, but few could pull it all together into the kind of visceral energy Block B had at its best. “Shall We Dance” was bold in its sparse beat, melting a noir-sounding riff into viscous guitar and brass; the members filled the gaps with charismatic and infectiously hedonistic performances, culminating in P.O’s roaring bridge. It was raw swagger.
191. 2PM – Promise (I’ll Be)
No. 5 kick-started a kind of phase two in 2PM’s career (which has been unfortunately short thus far with the military service hiatuses), where the group shifted its sound forward by about 10 years and started dealing with more mature themes. “Promise” carried that spirit into 2PM’s most recent album. Not only was it a luxurious piece of future bass with scandalous brass highlights, it was also an intrepid release that showcased how a veteran group could keep reinventing itself in a new and unfamiliar landscape.
190. Dal Shabet – 있기 없기 (Have, Don’t Have)
From 있기 없기 (Have, Don’t Have) (2012)
Happy Face Entertainment
Written by Kim Do-hoon, Seo Jae-woo (Tenten), Min Yeon-jae
Composed by Kim Do-hoon, Seo Jae-woo
Arranged by Seo Jae-woo
Links: music video, audio, stage
Dal Shabet didn’t have as clear a team color as many of the other groups in our list, but the kitsch retro revival of the early 2010s wasn’t a bad diversion. The disco rhythm and booming bass of “Have, Don’t Have” were auspicious, and the immediately addictive chorus melody was destined for ringtones and singalongs. It used to take a little work to cull out the good retro pop from the mountains of bad, but with something as arresting and nicely packaged as this, the job was a little easier.
189. Oh My Girl – Closer
I’m hard-pressed to think of a group today that commits harder to, and gets more out of, exotic concepts than Oh My Girl does; “Closer” was our first look at that immense potential. The barely-debuted group dove right into hazy atmosphere and phantasmagoric, shifting textures, telling a story of longing written in the stars. From the echoing and cascading vocal composition to the extended outro that maximizes aftertaste, “Closer” did everything a little differently and to convincing effect.
188. Wonder Girls – Me, In
“Me, In” was an ideal remake: the original “Beauty” is recognizable in the timeless riff and catchphrase, but the track also laid down a sleek modern arrangement while adding new lyrics to flip the song’s context upside down. I love what the team did with the pulsating synths and melodic flairs – Yeeun’s work on the arrangement was phenomenal, as her later work as Ha:tfelt would be.
187. F(x) – 아이스크림 (Ice Cream)
From NU 예삐오 (NU ABO) (2010)
Written by Kim Bu-min
Composed/arranged by Hitchhiker
Behind the impenetrable sheen of “NU ABO” awaited this hidden gem. The food theme that F(x) has exploited a lot (see “Pinocchio”, “Sweet Witches”, “Milk”) started here, used as a predictable but effective vehicle to express sweetness. Hitchhiker’s tasteful textures added a little tart, and the bubbling, fizzy performances completed the concoction. “Ice Cream” was also perhaps the first (but far from the last) song to realize the hook-making potential in Sulli’s neat and nuanced tone, another reminder of the person and talent we lost too soon.
186. Stray Kids – I Am You
From I Am You (2018)
Written by Bang Chan (3racha/Stray Kids), Changbin (3racha/Stray Kids), Han (3racha/Stray Kids)
Composed by Bang Chan, Changbin, Han, Collapsedone, Justin Reinstein, KZ, Zene the Zilla
Arranged by Collapsedone, Justin Reinstein
Links: music video, audio, stage
It may not have been the most polished thing, but “I Am You” was potent lyricism from a rookie group at the time. Stray Kids dipped into abstraction with startling boldness, mixing and matching across imagined spaces and fuzzy metaphors. It all became convincing in the lights of emotionally charged delivery (the rap line, Changbin especially, brought great energy) and a compelling chorus.
185. Super Junior – 너라고 (It’s You)
The impossibly catchy chorus was a characteristic E-Tribe special, but “It’s You” also cradled compelling sentimentality. It was also a truly great arrangement job: though its elements could easily have been overbearing, from the clap-and-heartbeat rhythm (2009 was basically the year of heartbeats) to the iconic three-note highlights to the subtle choir shouts in the background, each are controlled with perfectly complementary restraint. Super Junior would change after this – the music more boisterous, the membership inconsistent – but “It’s You” was a pretty good way to close out an era.
184. Girls’ Generation-TTS – Twinkle
Oftentimes, spinoff sub-units are formed to do something that the full group can’t or won’t pull off. And even though I can easily imagine “Hoot”-era SNSD doing something like “Twinkle”, pulling out some of the group’s strongest vocalists for this unit let SM do a slower title track that focuses much more heavily on vocals. It’s an especially fun listen in 2020: the eventual solo works of both Tiffany and Seohyun ended up exhibiting some of this confident, Broadway-chic flavor, and Taeyeon, the most successful soloist of them all, exuded pure charisma in the explosive home stretch.
183. EXID – 데려다줄래 (Don’t Want a Drive)
“Don’t Want a Drive” was a low-key opening track, refreshingly austere and unburdened, just a girl asking her lover to walk her home. There’s a lot packed in that, from unfettered acceptance (“Whether you’re carless or the owner of a 3B, I don’t care”) to doting commitment, and EXID gently and patiently laid it all out in hypnotically smooth melody. It was a showcase of both songwriting and rapping skill from LE, who would go on to recall this approach (melodically and perhaps lyrically too) in “Velvet” a year later.
182. Twice – Don’t Call Me Again
From More & More (2020)
Written by Park Yi-su
Composed by Markus Sepehrmanesh, Emanuel Abrahamsson, Imani Williams, Iman Conta Hulten
Arranged by Markus Sepehrmanesh, Emanuel Abrahamsson
In an EP that took a decidedly Western-targeted turn, “Don’t Call Me Again” channeled Twice’s swagger like never before. The brass got aggressive, the cymbals were raw, and the attitude was contagious. This is admittedly one of the more off-kilter selections on the list – especially over “More & More” or “Oxygen” from the same album, both of which were considered – but this high placement partly reflects a wish to see more of this underused style among girl groups, perhaps from some of the hip-hop oriented ones.
181. Lovelyz – Candy Jelly Love
Lovelyz’ debut song captured every important detail about the group’s brand: wholesome atmosphere, cutesy yet thoughtful writing, bubblegum electronica with instrumental sharpness. For “Candy Jelly Love” that sharpness was in the thumping bass and the pointed synth pulses that made the track a much more interesting listen than its contemporaries. Last but not least, the track left the melody space open for Lovelyz’s distribution of vocal prowess to shine. Babysoul and Yoo Jiae had prior solo singles but this was the world’s introduction to the other six members; each showed off depth and smoothness, establishing the group early on as a vocal powerhouse.
180. Jewelry – 니가 참 좋아 (I Really Like You)
If BoA‘s “Atlantis Princess” was the flashy and expensive headliner of summer 2003, Jewelry’s “I Really Like You” was the safe and low-key counter – and it more than held its own. As leisurely as the arrangement was, don’t take the song lightly: it featured a convincing tropical atmosphere and very strong performances from all four members, particularly Seo In-young. The lyrics were earnest and sweet, the melody pleasant, and sometimes that’s all it takes.
179. Infinite – 내꺼하자 (Be Mine)
From Over The Top (2011)
Written by Song Soo-yun (Sweetune)
Composed by Han Jae-ho (Sweetune), Kim Seung-soo (Sweetune)
Arranged by Han Jae-ho, Kim Seung-soo, Hong Seung-hyeon (Sweetune)
Links: music video, audio, stage
Infinite was squarely in that high-intensity SS501-like phase by Over The Top, but while achieving quite a bit more in the end product. Sweetune presented a charismatic yet accessible beat with bold synth lines and pointed chorus. The crystal-clear harmony and sharp choreography – another Infinite staple – did the rest.
178. TVXQ – The Way U Are
TVXQ was still an open question at this early stage, barely half a year into the group’s career. What would it look like to produce for a group this vocally talented, in a way that wouldn’t kill its originality or marketability? Would it be sustainable to bill one as an “a capella boy band” and actually follow through on each release? And “The Way U Are”, mixing snappy and tough first-gen charms with gorgeous harmonization, began to show us the answers to those questions, becoming the first of many bold strokes in this crucial chapter of K-pop’s history.
177. Shinhwa – Wild Eyes
From Hey, Come On! (2001)
Written by Peter Rafelson, Jeff Vincent, Shin Hye-sung (Shinhwa), Eric (Shinhwa)
Composed/arranged by Peter Rafelson, Jeff Vincent
Links: music video, audio, stage
The temporarily Andy-less Shinhwa didn’t slow down in 2001, returning with an edgy and masculine release (a side track, no less) in much the same vein they would follow for the next three years. Speedy chorus and all-or-nothing harmony gave the song its power, and signaled a group entering its extended prime.
176. N.Flying – 옥탑방 (Rooftop)
The striking melody with its little “Counting Stars” flair first caught our ears. But I think what gave “Rooftop” its enduring popularity and “reverse charting” phenomenon was Lee Seung-hyub’s writing. With the converted rooftop residence being a symbol of poverty, these lyrics – opening with a nigh-iconic “You wanted to see the stars so you pulled me close / And all at once, you poured moonlight in my eyes” – brimmed with radiant passion and youthful lumps, embedding into our nostalgia for a rooftop we never actually knew.