The 250 Greatest Idol Group Songs of All Time (2020 Edition)
75. god – 촛불 하나 (One Candle)
“One Candle”‘s bossa nova and gospel elements made for a wintry and cozy backdrop, and god members were fish in water in that free atmosphere. The rap line’s rugged verses popped off of the beat, while Kim Tae-woo’s choruses dripped with groove. The encouraging lyrics, blurring the lines between autobiography and expansive metaphor, aimed to speak to the struggling young but resonated with the old as well. As good as JYP and Hitman Bang’s songwriting was, the track was only completed by the group’s uniquely wholesome energy and accessible image.
74. Super Junior – 쏘리 쏘리 (Sorry, Sorry)
It’s one of the most enduring, popular songs in K-pop history, particularly considering international listeners. “Sorry, Sorry” took Super Junior, then still an awkward team with “U” as its greatest hit, right into the scene’s center stage, and launched the quirky style of SM dance that the group would refine over the years. And after all this time, the sterile synths, irreverent attitude, and stupidly addictive chorus actually sound better than before.
73. Big Bang – Bae Bae
The climbing and blooming piano loop and constant micro-bursts of drum and guitar were downright psychedelic, and GD and T.O.P doubled down with stream-of-consciousness lyrics and choppy, flippant delivery that’d sound fitting in trap and drill. The choruses laid bare a tender underside, the beseeching insecurity (“Don’t you wither, for this selfish me”) either a moment of sobriety or just another mood swing. Enacted over intoxicating atmosphere, boldly written with the confidence of veteran creators: it was the strangest, most indelible, most persuasive of odes.
72. Kara – 미스터 (Mr.)
Kara’s career took a couple years to really get going, but by “Pretty Girl” the group had finally gained some traction, and “Mr.” sealed the deal. A powerful refrain and engaging synthetic brass, both future Sweetune staples, respectively gave the song gravity and energy. The vocal intro was instantly iconic, and left a remarkable aftertaste once it was supercharged by the modulation to close out the track. It’s telling when a song that wasn’t even supposed to be promoted becomes dual-title before eventually becoming one of the year’s biggest hits.
71. H.O.T. – 아이야! (I Yah!)
For many early Korean boy bands social commentary was just another phase, but for H.O.T. it was central to the group’s identity. And “I Yah!” did it with a commitment that I’m not sure has ever been matched. The apocalyptic arrangement sampling Mozart and Beethoven and the scathing lyrics were appropriate for the national landscape of 1999, as Jang Woo-hyuk exploded with growling rapping onto the screeching guitars (the same went for companion track “Spirit”). The song was also notable for being catalyzed by a specific event (the Sealand fire disaster), and whenever idols speak truth to power today – from The Ark daring to explore the sorrows of Sewol to BTS lashing out against a public official’s elitism scandal – we see a little tinge of its legacy.
70. TVXQ – Rising Sun
The lyrics still make no sense. There are more mood and act changes than you’d care to count. We don’t know why the screams and various flairs were necessary. None of this makes sense, but that was the power of TVXQ and Yoo Young-jin’s SMP in their heyday: they were convincing all the same. “Rising Sun” didn’t need to be coherent to be good. A rousing chorus (appearing only twice) with vocal acrobatics, insane kinetic energy, and thrilling instrumentation were enough.
69. Jewelry – Super Star
The undisputed heyday of Jewelry’s second lineup (and thus of all Jewelry lineups), the Super Star EP brought fierceness to the group’s image and probably helped kick off Seo In-young‘s subsequent successful solo career. The lead single was kind of an odd track: it had the makings of pop-rock with its punctuated guitar riffs, snare hits and belts, but the arrangement felt a bit floaty and light. Yet despite that, “Super Star” was powerful. Park Jung-ah put in the best vocal performance of her Jewelry career, and the team’s harmonization as the instruments raced to a breathless finish was nothing short of thrilling.
68. Dreamcatcher – Piri
I think “Piri” had Dreamcatcher’s best accompaniment to date. It began as an oppressive concoction of crackling guitar, brooding piano, and haunting whistles; following a moment of tense sparsity, we were treated to an anthemic chorus where the titular piri flute led the melody as the guitar and bass (especially bass) exploded into an avalanche of rhythm. Siyeon and Sua, tasked with supplementing the melodic deficit, sang their hearts out in the chorus’s second leg. This breathtaking passion and stifling ostinato was a fitting end to the nightmare series and a shining statement of Dreamcatcher’s purpose.
67. Girls’ Generation – 소원을 말해봐 (Genie)
It’s hard to follow up something like “Gee”, but “Genie” made for as effective a one-two punch as you could have asked for. The melody and arrangement were just as aggressive as the choreography, but the uplifting brightness of that chorus was a ray of sunlight breaking through the foliage of searing synths and frazzled urgency, and ultimately what made the song such a fun listen. The SNSD staple of encouraging cheer-you-up lyrics (more like multivitamins than a genie, really) also had the track feeling like a logical extension of what we had seen from the group. “Genie” was a perfect example of group image driving musical synergy.
66. Ladies’ Code – Galaxy
It was probably the classiest release in all of idol pop that year. “Galaxy” twinkled with tantalizing chimes and xylophone, and the gradually increasing cast of accompaniments – a pluck of guitar here, a rich contrabass there – enlivened the track without ever being overbearing. The powerful yet restrained main melody, perfect for Sojung’s crisp dryness, stood out for its confidently slow, punctuated groove in an idol scene eager for instant gratification. And so “Galaxy” was intrepid in multiple ways, as Ladies’ Code rose again after the loss of RiSe and EunB, carried on in the greatest grief that a group can suffer, and looked towards the future.
65. BTS – 피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)
Out of the disorienting beat and overall hazy atmosphere arose a stark chorus, piercing the shroud with lithe, forlorn voices and shrill synths. The subversive lyrics, using the titular phrase to represent an offering of devotion instead of its usual meaning, deepened the fatalistic flair with each exhortation to “take it all” – blood, sweat, tears, dance, breath, body, spirit, soul. It was a dramatic, sonically stunning overture to a landmark album.
64. 2NE1 – 내가 제일 잘 나가 (I Am the Best)
2NE1’s best-known song had attitude and swagger in droves. It was a song practically tailor-made for CL, though Minzy made herself known: the iconic chant was driven by CL’s brash low-tone, as were the song’s interjections and most impactful parts. The arrangement was an exercise in decadence, the synth sequence positively booming on the low end while sparkling embellishments and abrasive textures lit up the track. As if there wasn’t enough headiness and trance in the song proper, the outro also featured an exotic and enrapturing string backup. Few songs ever managed to capture and hold attention like this one, as evidenced by its iconic status.
63. Wonder Girls – I Feel You
In the ninth year of their career, the Wonder Girls took up instruments, formed a band, and dove headfirst into 80s electronica. This unexpected turn – coming after the critically acclaimed Wonder World – was a risk, but at the end of the day “I Feel You” proved JYP’s direction right. The sparkling “freestyle” beat was jubilant, the discotheque atmosphere shining in technicolor. Meanwhile the track also allowed the members to draw from their wealth of experience in retro music, as they put in a mesmerizing performance of moist whispers and mesmerizing hooks. (The chorus served as a rediscovery of Sunmi, in particular.) A rich payoff for a group that never stopped reinventing itself.
62. SHINee – Sherlock
The two-songs-in-one concept was a little gimmicky, and it’s never been tried again. But if you heard “Sherlock” without knowing about the backstory, as simply being one song from conception, you’d appreciate it all the same. The intrigue of the buildup – bubbling brass line, inquisitive glitch synths – flowed naturally into an audacious chorus, while Jo Yoon-kyung’s observant, absorbing language had us trapped in that “sealed room” together with the detective as he closed in on an enigmatic crush. It was an imaginative setup done justice by suspenseful and satisfying execution.
61. Monsta X – Jealousy
From The Connect: Dejavu (2018)
Written by Seo Ji-eum, Joohoney (Monsta X), I.M (Monsta X)
Composed by Harry Somerdahl, Shane Simmons, Hayden Bell
Arranged by Harry Somerdahl, Shane Simmons, Hayden Bell, Stereo 14
Links: music video, audio, stage
That one stutter rhythm was the alpha and omega of “Jealousy”, with everything from the introductory vocalizations to the backing behind the rap break to the future-bassy accompaniment all following the same cadence. In a simple but electric formula, that synth line freed up Monsta X’s vocals to erupt into a satisfying release, while pinning a sense of restraint on the explosion. It tracked perfectly with the tension of the lyrics: the way it was “A little jealousy” rather than emotional fury, and the way the narrator responded with boldness, implicitly confident that he would prevail over the other guy. The pieces fit together into clever yet visceral clockwork.
60. Red Velvet – Dumb Dumb
It was fairly clear early on what the “Velvet” side of Red Velvet was going to look like, but what exactly was the “Red”? The group’s eponymous first full-length took some pains to answer that, with “Dumb Dumb” being its triumphant resolution.
A sumptuous beat drawing from jazz, soul, and hip-hop not only blew the lid off of the mood, it also provided space for theatrically dramatic vocal work as well as satisfying harmonies, most memorably in the iconic “dumb-dumb-dumb” post-chorus and interlude. Those elements became meaningful differentiators that consistently elevated Red Velvet’s often hearty and dramatic work. Even the stuff that didn’t become a staple, like the saucy rap-writing by Kim Ximya (a surprising connection to think about even today), worked perfectly in the context of this immaculately polished track.
59. Oh My Girl – Windy Day
“Windy Day” is, of course, known for one of the all-time great twists in idol pop. The zesty breeze of the chorus suddenly giving way to the Middle Eastern-inspired gust of the post-chorus made the song’s point forcefully. (A bit too forcefully, for the tastes of many.) But even beyond that, “Windy Day” simply worked as an exuberant, uplifting confession. Seo Ji-eum’s inventive writing imparted the excitement of nascent love for a surprisingly faintly defined other (as in, the song is really not about that person at all), and the disembodied phenomena of its narrative – “The trees swaying when I think of you, the pinwheel spinning when I see you” – had a surreal, magical charm. Oh My Girl’s delicate harmony delivered this message in airy and irresistible elegance.
58. S.E.S. – Just a Feeling
S.E.S.’s career should be held up as exemplary for a lot of reasons, but a big one in particular is the way in which the three members and SM Entertainment took advantage of their stature to try new music without fear of failure. “Be Natural” was like that, and “Just a Feeling” was too. A hip-hop-influenced beat and underplayed piano rhythm didn’t guarantee a hit in any state of the K-pop world, let alone when used in a song without a killer hook. Yet these things now make for a song that doesn’t feel that outdated in 2020, so attractive the pieces remain. A fitting end to a phenomenal discography.
57. Wanna One – 켜줘 (Light)
The mystery and potency of the opening sequence soon opened into brilliant energy, delivered on a defiant melody and an electric dance break. The song’s deliberate rhythm was key: the beat punched away dutifully under all the dazzling instruments and emotive vocals up top, and this unhurried pace had “Light” sounding effortlessly cool. Meanwhile the diffusive synths seemed to provide gentle illumination with each note, the “light up” that the lyrics asked for. Musically if not commercially, Wanna One shined most brightly in “Light”, the peak of the group’s short time together.
56. Loona Odd Eye Circle – Loonatic
The poetic cosmology that characterizes much of Loona’s best work found a fitting home in subunit track “Loonatic”, a hazy yet bold piece of dream pop that defied idol pop conventions. It was a song mainly powered by relentless drums and bass, while Odd Eye Circle’s vocals had their mass lightened to an extreme level, leaving only an echoing and ethereal hull. The resulting melody was airy yet propulsive, with tinges of steel in both delivery and lyrics (“I’m not insane”) rewarding attentive listening. Awash in this intoxicating composition, the surreal lyrics shined more as imagery than narrative, a moment held in moonlit song, spilling light, endless time.
55. Red Velvet – Russian Roulette
There was a kinetic, visceral joy (and Joy) in “Russian Roulette”‘s vocals. It was a combination of breakneck cadence and rollercoaster pitches, as well as clever lyricism that contorted sentences into spaces not meant for them while stubbornly keeping them grammatically complete to impart that breathless sensation. Those vocals fit seamlessly into a intricate and lush arrangement, brazenly laying harmless chiptune atop soul-shaking bass and drums, resulting in one of the most satisfying tracks you’ll ever hear.
54. NCT 127 – Cherry Bomb
From Cherry Bomb (2017)
Written by Deepflow, Mark (NCT), Taeyong (NCT), Oh Min-ju, Im Jung-hyo
Composed by Kevin White, Jennifer Decilveo, MZMC, Andrew Bazzi, Michael Woods, Jakob “Jay” Mihoubi, Dwayne Abernathy Jr., Deez, Rudi “Rudy” Daouk
Arranged by Dem Jointz, Yoo Young-jin, Deez
Links: music video, audio, stage
There was a grungy feel to the whole joint, fed by the thumping bass and the industrial mix of synths taking turns echoing into space and revving up the beat. The scandalously floaty, almost flippant chorus played more of an instrumental role than a vocal one in that clinical soundscape, and still sounds fine as a trappy hook: just one example of the song’s inspired use of NCT 127’s rapping strengths. The song took advantage of its style – more specifically, the lack of preconceived notions about how something like this should be structured – to knit together an unpredictable progression. There was no more fitting title for it than “Cherry Bomb”.
53. T-ara – Roly-Poly
“Roly-Poly” was squarely within the 70s-80s retro trend of 2011 – the days of Sunny, polka prints, disco beats – but boy, was it good. Shinsadong Horangi grafted a devilishly addictive hook onto an easy and simple beat, but one with enough volume to feel substantial and densely textured. T-ara’s performance was arguably even better, as the members found playful voices that mirrored the saccharine quaintness and intensity of the beat, with such consistency that it’s still tough to name just one or two best performers. It became iconic almost immediately, and its kitschy appeal would go on to inspire a series of iterations by Dal Shabet, Crayon Pop, and more.
52. BTS – 봄날 (Spring Day)
The Most Beautiful Moment in Life had already expanded BTS’s expressive range massively, but a boy group’s discography necessarily tends to focus on the perspective of youth and boyhood. “Spring Day” was different: a tender lament and hopeful missive posted to an old friend, it sang of longing in a pure form that anyone might relate to, across generation and demographic. Suga and RM wrote in language as pristine as the daunting winter they described, while the evocative melody and striking synth textures beckoned us to look towards a better spring.
51. WJSN – 꿈꾸는 마음으로 (Dreams Come True)
While “Dreams Come True” was no less magical-sounding than WJSN’s other work, the rainy strings and urgent atmosphere gave this one more of a realist, nocturnal grounding than the intentionally fantastical “Save Me, Save You” or “La La Love” that would follow. Similarly, the lyrics were written around “trust” as a unifying concept – trust in yourself, trust in endurance, the kind of trust that redeems dreams – which made for a non-obvious yet powerful story. This tempered approach was brought to life in beautiful, sentimental melody and lovely writing, its defiant radiance opening a new era for the group and new possibilities for the genre.