The Top 50 K-Pop Songs of 2023 (Day Five: 10-1)

The end of the year countdowns are finally here! As always, we’ll kick off with the big one: The Bias List’s top 50 songs of the year! Each day this week, I’ll be counting down ten of the year’s best, until number one is revealed on Friday. 

To be eligible for this top 50 list, songs must have had a Korean release as a title track, follow-up or promotional video between Dec. 1st, 2022 and Nov. 30th, 2023.

Curious about past countdowns? Check out the masterpost here!

Honorable Mentions
SONGS 50-41
SONGS 40-31
SONGS 30-21
SONGS 20-11

10. TAN – Heartbeat

There’s a style of crunchy electro dance that peaked in the early 2010’s when SHINee (and by extension, SM Entertainment) were lodged in their bombastic complextro era. Since then, we hear it every once and awhile – mostly through the work of producers 1Take and TAK. This year, TAN became the unlikely wielders of this mighty synth crunch, throwing down an intense workout with Heartbeat. Initially, the song leaves you thinking it may fizzle into a wordless drop chorus, but the guys counterattack with a vocal punch every bit as strong as the surging electronics underfoot. (full review)

9. Key – Killer

While K-pop idol groups are often at the behest of agency-led sounds and concepts, soloists seem to be afforded more creative control – especially if that soloist is someone as lauded as SHINee’s Key. He knows his strengths and his musical taste, which gives songs like Killer a welcome dose of personality. It may be the umpteenth synthwave track we’ve heard recently in K-pop, but Key transforms it into a psychodrama all his own. By the time we careen into Killer’s soaring bridge, he’s got us exactly where he wants us. (full review)

8. The Boyz – Lip Gloss

Sunny, summertime fare often gets dismissed as little more than pop fluff – easy, singalong melodies without any weight behind them. But as K-pop has proven time and time again, it can be much harder honing your bubblegum hooks to a fine sheen than simply stomping around, puffing your chest and declaring your own prowess. Lip Gloss knows its own silliness, inviting listeners into a dayglo party where the chintziness is a feature, not a bug. It takes a ton of personality to sell this concept, but The Boyz careen through the track with an effortless smile on their faces. (full review)

7. U-KISS – The Wonderful Escape

Of all the second-gen acts making a long-awaited comeback this summer, I would not have expected U-KISS to be the one shooting all the way to the top of my list. They did so by embracing a sound listeners love from them, belting sky-high melodies with the panache of veteran performers. The Wonderful Escape is one of the biggest-sounding songs of the year – as if the producers took a listen to various instrumental loops and thought it better to simply shove every single one into the mix. This brute force could easily overpower, but it’s a testament to U-KISS that their performance cuts through, leading the charge with a triumphant note of resilience. (full review)

6. The Wind – Summer Vacation

The summer season ended up being a boon for this year in K-pop. Many of my favorite tracks were tied to these months, and none feels more inextricable than The Wind’s Summer Vacation. The song takes their GFriend-esque sound to its natural peak, placing robust melodies on top of resounding percussion. Each time the soaring chorus emerges, it’s as if the clouds have parted to reveal a beam of brilliant sunlight. That sense of expansiveness has always been one of pop music’s greatest joys, and the boys take it even further during the track’s double power-note climax. A group this young has no right being this good!

Sadly, Summer Vacation may also act as a denouement to this sound, as main vocal Jaewon has left the group this month. Why can’t we have nice things, K-pop?? (full review)

5. SHINee – The Feeling

I may not have been very taken with SHINee’s 2023 comeback overall, but they led off with their strongest material. The Feeling is a natural successor to View and Good Evening (both top five entries during their respective years), delivering euphoric summer vibes while showcasing the members’ individual tones and natural proclivity toward a dramatic vocal flourish. The skittery percussion during the chorus is the trendiest element you’ll find in my top ten, but The Feeling’s fireworks display of a climax (complete with muted brass accents and belt-it-out refrains) is utterly timeless. (full review)

4. Golden Child – Feel Me

Last year’s chart-topping group only had one chance to land on this year’s list, but sometimes all it takes is that single shot. With Feel Me, Golden Child continue their run of melodic, emotionally resonant pop. This time, their sound is given a rock makeover well-suited to the group’s roster of strong vocalists, cresting in a cathartic chorus that stands as one of the most satisfying moments in this year of K-pop. There’s nothing better than great payoff in a pop song, and Feel Me cements its appeal by building its entire existence around a refrain you want to revisit again and again. (full review)

3. RIIZE – Get A Guitar

You can cast the term “earworm” in a positive or negative light. At its worst, it becomes that treacly commercial jingle lodged in your brain when you’re trying to fall asleep. But at its most potent, an earworm results in a song like RIIZE’s Get A Guitar – a piece of music that only grows more addictive and lovable with time. Beyond the sheer novelty of a new K-pop group debuting with something this effervescent, Guitar’s taut frame feels laser-focused on wringing every ounce of charm from each strum of its guitar. Buoyed by joyful harmonies and playful phrasing, this track never failed to put a smile on my face. It already feels like a classic – infinitely hummable but never cloying. (full review)

2. IVE – I Am

I Am feels like a prizefighter among songs, coming at you with everything it has. It fulfills the incredible promise showcased during IVE’s debut year, scaling new heights with an ever-expanding sense of urgency.

While many of their peers opted for sing-talk attitude or hazy, understated grace, IVE strapped on their boxing gloves and tackled this behemoth of a pop song. I Am segues from one melodic highlight to the next, feinting and attacking with utter confidence. From the damn-near dolphin pitch of its pre-chorus to the harmonic wallop that divides verse two, the melodic range feels as limitless as the members’ charisma.

But it’s not until we reach I Am’s final chorus that this song truly earns its spot in K-pop’s hall of fame. It’s the payoff of all payoffs – a knockout blow bolstered by guitar and delivered with a knowing strut. It makes listeners feel as if they can leap over skyscrapers and break through brick walls, and that sense of genuine empowerment will never go out of style. (full review)

1. NINE.i – Turn It Off

Apart from a number nine slot on last year’s rookie list, NINE.i have never appeared on any countdown before. But by teaming up with the always-excellent producers Sweetune, they delivered the year’s biggest jolt of pop euphoria.

I spent much of the year complaining about K-pop’s lack of melodic range. We’ve been mired in flat sing-talk for so long that you could easily forget how riveting a killer melody can be. Turn It Off won’t let you forget, unveiling one kaleidoscopic hook after another. The curve of this melody doesn’t always land where you’d expect it to, which is part of the thrill. Ideas bounce off ideas, colliding in explosions of musical pixie dust. Very little of Turn If Off sounds like anything else in 2023, and these idiosyncrasies give it musical perspective you just can’t get from song camps or corporate think tanks.

NINE.i supply much of the song’s character, utilizing their distinct tones to accentuate its colorful appeal. And when their performance meets the surging swell of Sweetune’s funhouse production, we get a series of choruses that feel like mana from pop heaven. Turn It Off’s high points sweep you off your feet with a sense of transcendent release, doling out mini climaxes across its entire running time. These moments didn’t come too often in K-pop this year, but they were all the sweeter when they did. (full review)

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