2016 will go down in K-Pop history as the year of monster rookies, up-and-coming groups, and international stars. For many, this was the year where the K-Pop Star-Power Mantle got passed to groups like TWICE, I.O.I, BLACKPINK, GFRIEND, Mamamoo, and BTS among others who made their voices heard in 2016. The year presented fans with strong, viral hits that showed K-Pop still has global staying power. While the year was a strong showing for some groups, 2016 also showed that the K-Pop market may be drying up a bit with some mediocre songs by long-established groups and many debuts from groups with some already forgotten. Despite the noise from groups who surged in popularity, 2016 marks one of the weakest years in recent K-Pop history.
Of course, not all is lost! In-between weak songs and mega-hits like “Rough,” “T.T,” “Cheer Up,” “Save Me,” “Very Very Very,” “Boombaya,” and “Whistle,” there are songs that didn’t get enough credit or attention. Grab your headphones: Here is a list of songs you need to hear!
021 “Show Me”
021’s debut single “Show Me” shows that sloppy composition can sometimes work in your favor; they along with D.Holic and Matilda show that if you have the talent, bad music arrangements can be successful. The song has a good beat with a strong chorus and nice vocals. The bridge is pleasant to hear and the dance break isn’t bad either. Some of the vocals are pitchy, but 021 have potential.
4Ten are a group with a forever-changing name. When they debuted, they were 4Ten before changing to Poten then back to 4Ten. With each change came the addition and subtraction of members. The current lineup is the magic formula as “Severely” was one of the bops of spring with fans domestically and internationally praising it. The dance track features solid vocals and arrangement to make it memorable while highlighting how 4Ten have poten[tial] in the industry if given a chance.
“Chu” isn’t among A-Daily’s strongest releases. To be honest, the song suits Crayon Pop more, but that’s neither here nor there. A-Daily are a talented group with a strong discography, but they go unnoticed due to poor and lacking promotions. “Chu” is a cute return for A-Daily that is catchy and fun. The song’s beat has “club” written all over it, so listeners are guaranteed a fun dance track that can keep them motivated.
B.A.P “That’s My Jam”
The EDM track wasn’t promoted on music shows, which is a shame because it is a quintessential summer track. The MV has themes that show Zelo and Jongup are of age, but it’s lighthearted and playful and even pokes fun at past B.A.P MVs. The song has a high replay quality due to its addictive chorus and smooth vocal performances. “That’s My Jam” shows another facet of B.A.P’s range.
B.I.G often catch a lot of flak because of their group name and debut song “Hello.” Since their debut, they’ve strung together better music and singing abilities. “Aphrodite” should have earned them more attention because it has everything going for it: Amazing bass, strong vocals, and superb arrangement. The only issue is that “Aphrodite” came out a few years too late. If the song came out between 2007-2010, it would have been a standout hit because it fits the sound during this era. In 2016, not so much due to the market being over-saturated. “Aphrodite” ended up lost in the fray and forgotten.
Beenzino and BoA “No Matter What”
Released as one of SM Entertainment’s station songs, “No Matter What” is a nice electronica song that makes fans nostalgic for BoA’s magic and capabilities. Beenzino’s role in the song adds a unique flavor to add some depth to the cheery song. We hope for more Beenzino/BoA collabs in the future, but hopefully with an MV that’s less frightening.
Berry Good “Don’t Believe”
Berry Good made a comeback in October with a more mature sound that suits them well. “Don’t Believe” is one of the better releases in all K-Pop this year due to it’s strong, catchy beat, bright sound, and richer vocals. The song’s arrangement highlights Berry Good’s improved vocals. With the familiar theme of heart ache and saying goodbye, the song is as much relatable as it is a certified bop. The MV, too, has strong imagery and what some perceive as LGBTQ-friendly theming. When combined with the song, it’s an all-encompassing treat.
Billion “I Have You”
It’s surprising that Billion have held on this long because they are the definition of a nugu group. However, they’ve had nice songs even though they’re not strongly on the memorable scale. “I Have You” is a fine example of this. The song is catchy but far from memorable, but it earns a nod on this list due to improved vocals and control.
Brave Girls “Deepened”
While the lineup isn’t the same, many were surprised when Brave Girls made a comeback. “Deepened” features an R&B sound that’s pleasing to the ear and presents a throwback feel to the 1990s and early 2000s. The rap parts caught the attention of YouTube viewers for good reason as the rap performance is solid and pleasant to hear. However, the chorus stands out as the best part with its mix of low and high tones. Brave Girls earned some new fans with the song, but many others let this gem go by unnoticed.
Bulldok “How’s This?/Why Not?”
KCONIC Entertainment’s Bulldok are full of familiar faces as all the members appeared on Produce 101; rapper Kimi is also a former member of the now-defunct group Scarlet. The song features a strong concept with a fierce beat and well-produced sound. Following the debut, Bulldok were among the top trends on Naver thanks to their fierce visuals and impressive song. While they were one of the rookies many watched out for, the song didn’t get as much love as it needed. However, future releases always fare better for impressive up-and-comers.
Cosmic Girl (Jooyi- formerly of RaNia) “So Then What Are You Going to Do?”
A lot of K-Pop fans may have missed this release because Jooyi’s current name is similar to the girl group Cosmic Girls, which is a shame because it’s a nice return to the K-Pop scene for Jooyi. The R&B song highlights her voice beautifully as she exhibits an ability to hit high and low notes well. R&B in the K-Pop scene is often overlooked, so it’s nice to hear a song that exhibits why people should take note.
Cross Gene “Noona, You”
“Noona, You” should have been the song that earned Cross Gene the much-needed attention they deserve. The song was heading in that direction as it earned praised from international fans for its fun spirit and enjoyable sound. Casper’s rap portion stood out and caused some listeners to take notice. The MV, too, showed Cross Gene’s youthful, fun side in a humorous light. “Noona, You” had everything going for it to make it a hit, but it fell short on the charts and music shows.
D.Holic “Color Me Rad”
Please stop sleeping on D.Holic! Seriously. They’ve been consistently good and have had songs that show their many colors. “Color Me Rad” has a messy arrangement, but it works since it’s edgy and different, making it stand out from many songs this year.
Davichi “Beside Me”
When people think of Davichi, they usually consider them one of the top vocal duos in K-Pop. This thought is for good reason as they have a solid string of hits to back them. This is why it’s odd “Beside Me” didn’t get a lot of attention or music show wins because the song is glorious! The arrangement suits Davichi’s vocals beautifully, and their voices lend emotion to the story. The chorus reaches out and grabs the heart with moving delicacy to make “Beside Me” one of Davichi’s best and one of the year’s best.
Fiestar are a girl group that defines “underrated.” “Mirror” is one of the strongest songs to date due to lovely vocals and mature sexiness. The song fit Fiestar well to highlight their capabilities better than previous songs. The song came close to winning on The Show several times, so fans also viewed “Mirror” as one of Fiestar’s best.
Heize ft. Dean “Shut Up and Groove”
Heize has an unusual voice as it simultaneously high-pitched and almost whiny depending on what she sings. For “Shut Up and Groove,” the sound and tone work to create a nice summer jam. Dean’s vocals even out Heize’s pitch because he has a nice, even tone. The song is fun and enjoyable from beginning to end.
ICIA “Time Bomb”
Formerly known as SIDA, ICIA got a name and member change and released “Time Bomb.” It’s low-budget and not a standout song, but it’s their best effort since their debut. It’s catchy with plenty of pep to help ICIA gain some recognition, especially since vocals are much better than from their debut.
Jessi “Excessive Love”
Confession: Jessi is better vocalist than she is a rapper. Of course, this is opinion, but her deep vocals have strong emotional depth that have an ability to carry a story about sadness and heartache. While “Excessive Love” has hints of Adele’s “Skyfall” in arrangement, the song is pleasant and heartrending and rich with haunting beauty. We hope to see this side of Jessi more often.
Jinsil and MC Mong “Aftereffect”
MC Mong is still and enigma in South Korea due to his military service scandal, but it shouldn’t take away from his music quality. When he pairs with Jinsil (Mad Soul Child), magic happens thanks to their complementary tones and vocals. Both tend to be on the dryer side of the vocal landscape that make for interesting music. “Aftereffect” has a dreamlike quality to it that makes it a soothing tune.
Jung Joon Young “Sympathy” ft. Suh Young Eun
“Sympathy” gets the prize for being one of the year’s most masterful. The song comes complete with a symphony, emotional singing, and artful storytelling. Jung Joon Young’s voice just draws the listener in and makes him or her feel the story. Suh Young Eun’s vocals are a perfect, emotional reply to Jung’s as a couple that tries to decide how the relationship went wrong and how they drifted apart. Quietly, “Sympathy” became one of 2016’s best songs even though it had a short promotion period and not a lot of buzz. Who said you had to perform well on the charts to be dominant?
La Baie “The Bay”
As far as MVs are concerned, “The Bay’s” inclusion into the list is probably the oddest selection because the MV is trippy and psychedelic. Don’t let the MV deter you from an incredible New Age /Chic-Pop song that’s full of mystery, fantasy, and beauty. The singer sounds a lot like BoA, so there are listeners who may find the song comforting and familiar. “The Bay” takes listeners on a relaxing journey that makes the song worth its weight in gold.
Lucky J “No Love”
“No Love” features strong rap and vocals to make it engaging song. Jessi’s vocals during the chorus have the right amount of distortion to make it pleasing and enjoyable, while J-Yo carries the song emotionally. One of the highlights is the use of traditional instrumentals to make the song well-grounded and haunting. Unfortunately, Lucky J went their separate ways following the release, but hopefully they’ll reconsider.
“Emptiness” sounds like a mashup of songs from B2st and WINNER, but it works for Madtown. It’s a light song that has a pleasant sound. The rap part could have been more refined, but it doesn’t detract from the song too much. “Emptiness” is a nice return for Madtown and worth a shot for potential new fans.
Matilda “You Bad! Don’t Make Me Cry”
Arrangement-wise, this song is a hot mess. It has hints of early 2NE1 combined with a dance track and reggae sound. Combined, it sounds like it doesn’t work, but listeners may find themselves warming up to this song quickly as it is catchy and groove-heavy.
Oh My Girl “Windy Day”
Oh My Girl are one of 2015’s strongest rookies, but they aren’t as popular as fellow girl group GFriend. This is a shame because OMG has more range and quirkiness. “Windy Day” is more J-Pop than K-Pop with its rock elements and cuteness, and it has a memorable fun chorus. The song is one of K-Pop’s most recognizable because it has a different sound than others released throughout the year.
Stellar are a group that can’t seem to make anyone happy. Since “Marionette,” they’ve struggled to find a path where no one hates them. Sexy image aside, they release great music, but no one cares. “Sting” is a return to sexy Stellar, but it’s sexy concept lite as there is more focus on breathy vocals and singing skill. “Sting” has a great beat and is arranged well to show off Stellar’s range. The chipper chorus invites listeners to groove while its mellow dance track keeps the song refreshing. “Sting” is another great hit in Stellar’s discography… if only people would listen to them!
Many K-Pop fans waited for Two-X to return, but when they did, support for the group that was once called a group to watch in 2013 was non-existent. “Over” sports retro sound and more mature, more refined vocals that show Two-X’s growth over their hiatus. The song isn’t high on power vocals, but it’s catchy nonetheless.
Younha “Get It” ft. Ha:tfelt and Cheetah
“Get It” is a surprising release from Younha as it’s edgier than other songs in her discography. Ha:tfelt and Cheetah add interesting elements to the song that seems like different aspects of oneself coming together to exact revenge. The vocals match well throughout the song and pair nicely with the song’s beat.
Do you agree? Tell us what you think!