With the last decade now behind us, it’s time to look back at the K-Pop songs that helped shape it. With so many great songs released between 2010-2019, it’s hard to narrow down which ones made the most impact. Here are the Kcrush staff’s choices for iconic songs that shaped the decade.
“24 Hours” – Sunmi (2013)
“24 Hours” was Sunmi’s solo debut, and it was such a solid debut that it cemented her as one the decade’s top solo artists. Her strong vocals were backed by a solid track that combined a strong dance track with tango, and if you listen closely, there’s 8-bit beats mixed in. Even in 2020, “24 Hours” is a track that many K-Pop fans recommend to others being introduced to the genre.
“A Guys” – N.O.M (Nature of Man) (2013)
Outside the hardcore K-Pop fandom, N.O.M’s “A Guys” is one of K-Pop’s best-kept secrets. “A Guys” embraced gender fluidity, but it also gives us an MV that had a lot of people WTFing for a while. The meme-heavy song, MV, and group even made it onto the once-popular K-Pop channel Eat Your Kimchi for special appearances. The song definitely isn’t the best on this list, but it’s iconic for making people feel uncomfortable. It’s also iconic for acknowledging the “third sex.”
“A.D.T.O.Y” – 2PM (2013)
The early 2000s were 2PM’s best years, and “A.D.T.O.Y” was no exception to the rule. The song showcased 2PM’s sexier side and even gave us the gloriously misheard “booty, ya” lyric that became a popular joke with K-Pop fans and K-Pop bloggers alike.
“Alone” – Sistar (2012)
Sistar, who were mostly known for their perennial summer hits, gained most of their popularity from “Alone” when it came out in April 2012. The track stayed on the Gaon Charts for six consecutive weeks and began a trend where each single since “Alone’s” release appeared within the top 20 on US music charts.
“Bad Girl, Good Girl” – miss A (2010)
miss A’s debut track proved to be golden when it was released. “Bad Girl, Good Girl” peaked at number one on Korea’s music charts and picked up a bonsang and “Song of the Year” awards at the Seoul Music Awards and Mnet Asian Music Awards, respectively. This song and the group’s subsequent tracks were the reason miss A were one of the top girl groups in the early decade.
“Bad Girl” – Ladies’ Code (2013)
When Ladies’ Code debuted, many pegged them as one of the power girl groups of the future. Unfortunately, unfathomable tragedy and being from a smaller company did not work in their favor. However, “Bad Girl” is a constant reminder that power vocals will catch enough people’s attention to create a stir and that being from a smaller company should never matter when talent should.
“Badman” – B.A.P (2013)
“Badman” helped land B.A.P a spot in Social Justice Song Walk of Fame… if, of course, such an honor existed. “Badman” touched on several social issues regarding race relations, governmental control, loss of innocence, and issues of a police state within the MV. Back in 2013, the MV seemed edgy, but now it’s more relevant that ever given the state of several affairs, especially in the United States. It’s safe to say that “Badman” grew more relevant over time.
“Bang Bang Bang” – BIGBANG (2015)
BIGBANG earned the crown as being one of the biggest influences of decade, and songs like “Bang Bang Bang” showed their staying power and immense global popularity. “Bang Bang Bang” was a popular track globally, earning the win for “Song of the Year” during the Mnet Music Awards. It, along with a few others on this list, even earned US radio play in some markets. In Japan, “Bang Bang Bang” also won “Asian Song of the Year” at the Japan Gold Disc Awards in 2016 and 2017. The song sold over 5 million copies making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.
“Bang!” – After School (2010)
After School’s third release is one of the group’s most memorable. The percussion and shouted chorus are iconic in their own rights, but many remember the MV and the band-inspired costumes. Unfortunately, the dance for “Bang!” didn’t come without controversy as German dancer and choreographer Camillo Lauricella claimed portions of the dance were hers and that Pledis didn’t credit her. Despite the controversy, “Bang!” stayed on the Korean music charts for several weeks.
“Bar Bar Bar” – Crayon Pop (2013)
Crayon Pop’s “Bar Bar Bar” was one of the decade’s most well-known songs thanks to its bubbly, repetitive chorus, infamous helmets, and “piston dance” that gained viral popularity and international fame. For two months, it was in the running for music show wins before taking home its first win in August (it often competed against EXO’s “Growl”). The song peaked at number one on several music charts, and it helped the group win awards at the year-end award shows. The MV sparked several dance covers and parodies that added to the fun of one of the year’s surprise hits. It, along with “Gangnam Style” and “I Got a Boy” are considered responsible for 2013’s Hallyu Wave power.
“Bboom Bboom” – Momoland (2018)
The track is considered a “sleeper hit” as it didn’t peak at number two on the music charts until two months after its initial release. For twelve weeks straight, it was nominated for the number one spot on Inkigayo, and it was the first girl group track to be certified platinum from the Gaon Music Chart.
“Bboom Bboom” proved to be a divisive song as K-Pop fans either loved it or hated it. Regardless, it was one of the biggest singles of 2018 and helped Momoland become one of the most talked about groups of the year.
“Be My Baby” – Wonder Girls (2011)
“Be My Baby” peaked at number one on the Korean music charts and even earned US airplay thanks to the English version featured on Wonder Girls’ American TV movie, The Wonder Girls, that aired on Nickelodeon. “Be My Baby’s” MV featured choreography by Jonte’ Moaning, the choreographer behind Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” The MV is reminiscent of Beyonce’s video thanks to the dance and black and white cinematography, but Wonder Girls managed to make the concepts their own.
“Black Swan” – Rainbow (2015)
“Black Song” was considered a flop in Korea, but it’s unclear as to why it flopped. The strong, memorable chorus made the song a standout, and the MV was a masterpiece all its own. The MV played on concepts from the film Black Swan all while touching on concepts of mental illness. “Black Swan” will always be an underappreciated art piece.
“Bloom” – Gain (2012)
Gain is a queen at pushing boundaries, and “Bloom” is one of the many instances where she crossed a line with the conservative crowd. Gain decided to go with an R-rated theme for the MV after being slammed with R-ratings with previous MVs.
“I felt that some of our previous MVs had received R-ratings for no apparently good reason. So for my recent MV, I decided to give them one,” Gain said in 2012. She added that her own mother suggested adding more explicit content to the MV, but we bet her mom wasn’t expecting scenes depicting sex and female masturbation, a first for a K-Pop MV! The track itself alludes to female sexuality and the female orgasm, so blessed be “Bloom” for going places others didn’t want to explore just yet in the K-Pop world and embracing female sexuality.
“Bonamana” – Super Junior (2010)
“Bonamana” marked Super Junior’s fastest rise to the top of the Music Bank charts when it was released, and it quickly became a top track in 2010. The funk-electronica/hip-hop track provided a different style for Super Junior, and the repetitive Afro-tom inspired beat caught many ears. Paired with highly stylized MV that featured strong lighting shifts and a dance inspired by moves made by speedskaters, “Bonamana” is one of Super Junior’s most recognizable tracks.
“Boombayah” – BLACKPINK (2016)
BLACKPINK’s debut song was a strong performer domestically and abroad. “Boombayah” performed well on the Korean charts, but it made an impact on the US music charts more as it peaked at number one on Billboard’s World Digital Chart. The highly anticipated debut single continues to earn views on YouTube and recognition for being one of the strongest girl group debuts in the debut.
“Boy with Luv” – BTS ft. Halsey (2019)
2019 was the year of BTS, and K-Pop fans and non-fans couldn’t escape “Boy with Luv” as it was literally everywhere. US radio stations had the song in heavy rotation, and sporting arenas blasted it as well. When you’re waiting in the pharmacy and the song comes on, it’s clear that BTS cemented themselves in music history, not just K-Pop history.
“Breath” – SM the Ballad (2014)
“Breath” is a unique song as it was released in three languages within a three-day period (February 10-12). The Korean version is performed by SNSD’s Taeyeon and the late Jonghyun (SHINee), while Chen (EXO) and Zhang Liyin perform the Chinese version, and Max Changmin (TVXQ) and Krystal (f(x)) perform the Japanese version. The Korean version charted in the top ten on the Korean music charts in February 2014.
“Breathe” – Lee Hi (2016)
When it was released in 2016, “Breathe” performed well on the Korean music charts, but it wasn’t until 2017 when Lee Hi’s hit song gained meaning following the passing of SHINee’s Jonghyun, the song’s writer. “Breathe” became synonymous with tributes that poured in for Jonghyun, making the track Lee Hi’s most meaningful one.
“Bubble Pop” – HyunA (2011)
Rich in innuendo, “Bubble Pop” was banned for being “sexually suggestive.” The fun, summery track is unassuming in its sexual tones, but when paired with the dance and MV, the innuendo slaps listeners in the face. It was one of the tracks that earned HyunA the title of queen of the sexy concept while still remaining a fun, lighthearted free spirit.
“Catch Me” – TVXQ (2012)
The chorus for “Catch Me” remains one of the most remember choruses in TVXQ’s discography. For some fans, the way the song’s chorus’ arranged, they have a hard time believing it’s just the remaining two members of the group performing it! The dance breaks and overall arrangement of the song keeps it exciting from beginning to end while maintaining that distinct SM Entertainment sound.
“Cheer Up” – Hong Jin Young (2014)
In 2014, “Cheer Up” became one of the most well-known Trot songs of the year and quite possibly the decade. The song’s hopeful message helped it become a well-known track for international audiences.
“Cheer Up” – TWICE (2016)
TWICE quickly became one of the “it” groups of the latter half of the decade, and songs like “Cheer Up” are the reason why. “Cheer Up,” which captures the flustered feelings of love, topped K-Pop charts and snagged music show wins. The MV also brought a lot of meme-worthy moments, especially with Sana’s “shy, shy, shy.”
“Cherry Blossom Ending” – Busker Busker (2012)
“Cherry Blossom Ending” was a surprise hit for Busker Busker. The track’s bouncy beat and folksy appeal resonated with many as the ideal song to usher in spring. Since 2012, the now-disbanded group’s song consistently appears on the Korean music charts as a perennial springtime hit that appeals to the masses.
“Crayon” – G-Dragon (2012)
The song, which is a play on “cray on” (crazy on) was another hit that crossed over into the international markets. The song included a lot of pop cultural references including Heath Ledger’s “why so serious?” line from The Dark Knight. Spin named “Crayon” the best K-Pop song of 2012, and it remained in the top ten on the Gaon Chart for two months.
“Crazy” – 4Minute (2015)
“Crazy” made quite the splash when it was released! The single reached number one on the Billboard World Album chart, and it peaked in the top five on Korean music charts. In 2017, “Crazy” reached 100 million YouTube views making 4Minute only the sixth Korean girl group to reach this milestone and the first girl group from a non-Big Three company to do so.
“Danger” – BTS (2014)
Back before their global group status, BTS were a bunch of fresh-faced kids serving up bops that didn’t have the pop cultural status they have now. “Danger” is one of those tracks that performed moderately well on the Korean charts, but it was one of three BTS tracks to appear on the US music charts. Looking back, “Danger” is just one of the few tracks that helped get BTS Fever started.
“Don’t Cry” – Park Bom (2011)
During her 2NE1 years, Park Bom was also on top of the world. She was a featured artist on many singles, but her second solo single, “Don’t Cry,” was a track that struck the right chord with many. “Don’t Cry” achieved a perfect-all kill in Korea. Domestically, it sold over 2.5 million copies. It was also her first track to sell in the US with over 10,000 copies sold.
“Don’t Hate Me” – EPIKHIGH (2012)
“Don’t Hate Me” was EPIKHIGH’s first release after joining YG Entertainment, and their first release following a three-year hiatus while Mithra and DJ Tukutz completed their required military service. “Don’t Hate Me” was the second release from the group’s 99 album following “It’s Cold,” which featured Lee Hi. However, “Don’t Hate Me” was the standout track as it polarized EPIKHIGH fans due to many liking the new sound and others hating the turn the group took toward what many felt was a more pop direction. Tablo stated the songs on the album were reflective of the music the group listened to growing up in the 1990s, so it was supposed to have an old-school feel. With that old-school feel, “Don’t Hate Me” had a solid chorus, but the MV is what enhanced the song’s iconic nature. Rich in pop culture references, the MV features adorable children creating havoc while dressing like Lady Gaga, G-Dragon, and Jigsaw among others.
“Dope” – BTS (2015)
While it didn’t perform as well as “I Need U” and “Run” in Korea, “Dope” experienced success in the US market. Even today, the instrumentals for “Dope” appear in television show promos and commercials in the United States, showing that a good beat will sell anything.
“Dr. Feel Good” – RaNia (2013)
Prior to the group being the hot-mess it is now thanks to DR Music’s horrible mismanagement, RaNia made waves as Korea’s “sexy” girl group thanks to the banned track “Dr. Feel Good.” Baby V.O.X’s third generation pushed the envelope with their leather-clad ensemble and provocative lyrics that struck a chord with some audiences suggesting that it was okay to be sexy. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into a conservative society.
“Eyes, Nose, Lips” – Taeyang (2014)
Taeyang’s song was a viral hit in 2014. The song was covered by several Korean artists with perhaps Tablo putting the best spin on his cover release. Taeyang’s song was the second-best performing song of 2014 and was critically acclaimed not only domestically but abroad as well. The song sold 2.5 million copies and won several awards and music shows in 2014, and it remains as Taeyang’s top-selling track to date.
“Face” – Nu’est (2012)
“Face” was a strong debut for Nu’est, and it was named as one of 2012’s top songs. The lyrics resonated with many fans as it dealt with the topic of bullying and societal pressures, making it a rare topical song. The track remains as one of Nu’est’s most popular singles and a powerful song thanks to its timeless theme.
“Fake Love” – BTS (2018)
“Fake Love” was BTS’ first top-ten track on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart. It’s also the second-highest charting song by a Korean group in the US. “Fake Love” made its world television debut during 2018 Billboard Music Awards, making them the first Korean group to debut a new single performance on a US-based awards show. “Fake Love” was also the first introduction to BTS to many music fans who were unaware of BTS and K-Pop, so it’s marked as one of defining moments in BTS’ storied career.
“Fantastic Baby” – BIGBANG (2012)
If “Fantastic Baby” isn’t the first thing to come to mind after someone says “wow,” then you’re either lying or not a K-Pop fan. 2012 was, by far, BIGBANG’s biggest and most iconic year. Between “Blue,” “Monster,” and “Bad Boy” all being massive hits for the group, “Fantastic Baby” is the hit that defined their year. “Fantastic Baby” caused Rolling Stone to call BIGBANG one of the best groups of all time, and the song became one of the best-selling tracks all time in Asia, not just South Korea. The song spent over 100 weeks on Billboard’s World Digital Singles chart, and it was certified platinum in 2013. The track’s universal appeal remains today.
“Female President” – Girl’s Day (2013)
When it was released, “Female President” became a polarizing song for Girl’s Day. While it was praised for being “empowering” and even snagging the group their first music show wins, others felt the track didn’t live up to the “empowerment” hype and instead helped solidify that Korea is still a misogynist society due to the MV’s stylization that seemed to entice the male gaze. The lyrics call for women to go get what they want, but the MV does tend to confuse the meaning. To this day, “Female President” remains one of Girl’s Day’s most popular—and most talked about—songs.
“Fiction” – Beast (2011)
In 2011, “Fiction” was one of the biggest tracks of the year. The song is one of the reasons Beast snagged “Artist of the Year” at the Gaon Chart K-Pop Awards and “Song of the Year” at the KBS Music Festival and “Best Male Dance Performance” at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. The dance for “Fiction” is considered one of K-Pop’s most known and popular dances.
“Gangnam Style” – PSY (2013)
“Gangnam Style” is undeniably the top recognized track of the decade. With well over a billion views on YouTube, PSY’s hit song is the dictionary image of “Korean Wave” as it’s the song the crashed upon the world’s shores. What was meant as a fun summer song was the viral hit of the decade, and it was heard everywhere from baseball stadiums to the radio to several parodies online and on TV. The MV’s “horse dance” also became a viral act within itself. Thanks to PSY and “Gangnam Style,” the Korean Wave that began with 2NE1, BIGBANG, SNSD, and the Wonder Girls picked up steam to help it become the global phenomena it is today!
“Good Day” – IU (2010)
If you know IU, chances are you are familiar with “Good Day,” which is one of her biggest tracks to date. From 2010 to 2012, “Good Day” took home several awards for “Song of the Year,” “Record of the Year,” and “Best Female Solo.” To win awards two years after its release says a lot about the track that features IU’s strong vocals and an orchestra to separate it from other pop songs released that year.
“Hands Up” – 2PM (2011)
2PM’s “Hands Up” is a track that can be considered a party anthem for many. The upbeat music and memorable, simple chorus defined 2011 for 2PM. The song peaked at number one on the Gaon Charts.
“High High” GD & T.O.P (2010)
Peaking at number three on the Korean music charts, “High High” earned more praise from US fans and critics than it did in Korea. Rich in innuendo, “High High” is a Pop-Rap/Electropop song that samples from Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di.” In the US, Spin, Stereogum, and Billboard consider the track one of the greatest K-Pop songs of all time.
“I Am the Best” – 2NE1 (2011)
“I Am the Best” is one of those rare songs that got more popular as it got older. At the time of its release, the song peaked at number one on both the Gaon Chart and the Billboard US World Digital Songs chart. However, in the late 2010s, its appearance in mainstream US media enhanced the song’s cultural impact as Microsoft used it for their Surface Pro 3 ads and featured in So You Think You Can Dance when it was performed by Jenna Johnson and Mark Kanemura, and in the “Board Games” episode of South Park. CL also helped close out the PyeongChang Olympics by performing the song in front of a global audience.
“I Got a Boy” – Girls’ Generation (2013)
“I Got a Boy” is as iconic as it is infamous given it’s tempo and sound changes throughout the song and the lyrics that have also been mocked for the many misheard moments (“I got a boy on my chin, I got a boy chicken”). The song’s composition was considered a game-changer at the time and even drew comparisons to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for its various structural changes. In the US, it was the fourth best-selling song of 2013 behind PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and “Gentleman” and BIGBANG’s “Fantastic Baby.”
“Kill This Love” – BLACKPINK (2019)
“Kill This Love” appeared on 27 music charts globally showing that “Kill This Love” had immense popularity when it was release. The song broke YouTube’s record for the most views in a 24-period when it was released, and it became the best-charting song by a South Korean girl group in the United States at the time. The track was identified as one of the year’s best breakup anthems as well.
“Psycho” – Red Velvet (2019)
Red Velvet wrapped up the decade with a bang with “Psycho.” With its release, Red Velvet became the only girl group in history to peak at number one three times on US album charts, surpassing Destiny’s Child and The Pussycat Dolls in doing so. The song also marked the first time in 2019 that a girl group received a Perfect All-Kill on Korean music charts, and it became SM Entertainment’s fastest track to 50 million views on YouTube, doing so in 19 days, 15 hours, and 32 minutes. In January 2020, rumors also began circulating that the song will also be featured in the film Birds of Prey. “Psycho” earns praise for reigning in two decades.
“Last Romeo” – Infinite (2014)
This retro Synth-Rock track marked a strong comeback for Infinite back in 2014. “Last Romeo” presented the group in a more mature light and gave them a more mature sound while remaining uniquely Infinite. Infinite songs are always recognizable thanks to the use of synth, and “Last Romeo” is one of their essential tracks.
“Like Ooh Ahh” – TWICE (2015)
TWICE came roaring into the K-Pop scene when “Like Ooh Ahh” dropped October 2015. The track not only shot up the charts and peaked at number ten on the Korean side, it peaked at number six on Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart in the US. The MV provided insights into the group’s personality and quirkiness in a fun, humorous, and colorful way. It’s one of three TWICE songs to earn well over 100 million views on YouTube, and it’s the song that kicked off TWICE’s already successful career.
“Loser” – BIGBANG (2015)
“Loser” was the Gaon Chart’s second-best performing song of the year in 2015. The song showcased a more mature sound for BIGBANG and covered themes of fear, self-doubt, and unhappiness. The track is one that resonates with many fans due to its theming, which is why it was named one of the best songs of the year by Fuse. Thanks to “Loser,” BIGBANG became the group with the most triple crown wins on Inkigayo, a record previously held by g.o.d. It also won “Song of the Year” at the Golden Disk Awards.
“Love is Energy” – Chi Chi (2012)
Unfortunately, Chi Chi was one of those girl groups that have a few bops (*cough* “Longer” *cough*) in their discography, but they disbanded quietly without getting much of a chance. However, “Love is Energy” was one of their gifts to the K-Pop world as it is the song and MV that gave birth to the iconic “hand blender” dance that appears in K-Pop dances still to this day. Tzuyu does it in TWICE’s “Heart Shaker” MV!
“Love Scenario” – iKON (2018)
B.I said “Love Scenario” was inspired by the last ten minutes of the film La La Land” in an interview. The song became one of 2018’s biggest hits, scoring several awards during awards season. The catchy, simplistic tune was also popular with young children, so much so that some Korean elementary schools banned the song due to inappropriate lyrics and children’s addiction to it. In 2018, it was also one of the top karaoke songs in Korea.
“Love Song” – RAIN (2010)
For “Love Song,” it’s difficult to tell which is more iconic: The song or the intense use of body rolls throughout the MV. The song itself oozed sexuality, but the MV quenched a lot of people’s thirsts. But then there’s that weird moment of trying to catch some sleep while someone sings over you and dry-humping the air that makes things a little awkward…
“Loveya” – SS501 (2010)
“Loveya” was SS501’s last song before their contracts expired with DSP Entertainment. The song was promoted a short period due to the contract expirations, but it performed well and took home a Music Bank win. The memorable chorus, use of violins, and overall arrangement makes “Loveya” one of K-Pop’s timeless classics. Even today, the song stands strong as a track that should be essential on any K-Pop lover’s music list because it hasn’t aged. “Loveya” is a throwback to one of K-Pop’s best eras.
“Lovey Dovey” T-ara (2012)
T-ara were the retro queens in the early 2010s. Inspired by the US and European club scenes, “Lovey Dovey” provides a late-era disco sound. “Lovey Dovey” was T-ara’s third consecutive number one track and became one of the year’s best-selling songs with over 3.7 million copies sold. The song also had a popular dance that became a viral sensation that inspired several YouTube covers. SPEED also their own version of the song called “Lovey-Dovey Plus.”
“Lucifer” – SHINee (2010)
The Lucifer mini album was the sixth best-selling album of 2010. The song itself was also a chart-topper and spent 57 weeks on the US Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales chart. The song, which was written by Bebe Rexha and Yoo Young-Jin, took home four music show wins during its run. “Lucifer” is one of SHINee’s essential classics, and even in the late 2010s, it remained a pop cultural icon. In 2018, the song was even featured in the American TV show Lucifer in 2018!
“Madly” – FTIsland (2013)
“Madly” became a radio hit when it was released. The song’s haunting melodies and chorus helped the song become one that was popular with international FTIsland fans. For months after its release, it played in heavy rotation on Arirang Radio.
“Mama” – EXO (2012)
“Mama” was hailed as one of the most memorable debuts for a group. The opening set the tone well, even though it is often mocked for some of the awkward English moments, but it helped to build excitement for EXO’s concept. The MV’s powerful dance sequences and the song’s overall arrangement set the tone for EXO’s eventual success.
“Mamma Mia” – KARA (2014)
Promoted simultaneously in Korea and Japan, “Mamma Mia” was KARA’s eleventh single. The single marked the first time Youngji performed with the group following Nicole and Jiyoung’s departure. “Mamma Mia” showcased KARA’s unique vibe while showing how they grew as a group.
“Marionette” – Stellar (2014)
“Marionette” was a controversial release for Stellar, but it helped them garner attention. The MV featured heavy sexual innuendo, and as it turns out, the girls didn’t expect to be present. Gayoung said the group was pressured into their sexy concept starting with this track’s MV, and it marked one of the many times in recent years that artists spoke out against the dark side of the K-Pop industry. While controversial, “Marrionette” was Stellar’s best-selling single and shed light on manipulation and emotional abuse.
“Mr. Mr.” – Girls’ Generation (2014)
Billboard named “Mr. Mr.” one of the best tracks of 2014, and even Time Magazine recognized it as one of the best songs of the year. “Mr. Mr.” features a retro electropop sound that was praised by critics and K-Pop fans alike. The song also caused controversy with male K-Pop group Mr. Mr. as they blamed it for why they weren’t showing on search engines. The group also released a “Mr. Mr.” diss track, and it was confirmed by the agency that the song was a diss song, but it was an intended diss toward SM Entertainment. When you release a song that receives hate from another group, you definitely reached icon status.
“Mr. Simple” – Super Junior (2011)
In Japan, “Mr. Simple” was the 85th best selling single of 2011 and was certified gold by RIAJ, thus showing off the track’s international popularity. “Mr. Simple” was one of top tracks of 2011 when it took home several music show wins and swept the award shows for which it was nominated.
“Nu Abo” – f(x) (2010)
f(x) released the catchy “Nu Abo” May 4, 2010. The song showed off f(x)’s unique style, sound, and color and quickly shot up the charts to peak at number one on the Gaon chart. The song sold over 2.2 million copies and kicked off f(x)’s best selling era that occurred between 2010 to 2012.
“One of a Kind” – G-Dragon (2012)
Considered one of the most influential Hop-Hop tracks of 2012, G-Dragon’s “One of a Kind” earned a strong amount of praise. Billboard named it one of the best K-Pop songs of 2012, while Daum named it one of the top five singles of the year. “One of a Kind” earned G-Dragon plenty of international buzz and was hailed as one of the top songs and MVs by Fuse. However, the MV did come with some controversy as some suggested that it had racist tones by featuring children of color in t-shirts that looked like chains.
“One Shot” – B.A.P (2013)
“One Shot” was one of B.A.P’s most popular tracks along with its B-side “Rain Sound.” The track peak at number one on the Billboard World Music Chart and peaked at number one on Hip-Hop charts in New Zealand, the US, and Canada. “One Shot” sold nearly 30 million copies when it was released. It’s one of B.A.P’s essential tracks.
“Pandora” – KARA (2012)
Upon its release, “Pandora” peaked at number two on the Gaon charts, and this was despite KBS leaking the song prior to its release. “Pandora” showed a more mature side to KARA due to enhanced vocals and a stronger sound. The song didn’t come without controversy as KBS deemed the choreography as “suggestive,” so changes needed to be made in order to make it “public-friendly.”
“Party (XXO) – GLAM (2013)
While “Party (XXO)” is not a well-known track in the K-Pop World as a whole, the LGBTQA+ community adopted it as an iconic song due to the girls singing to a girl (“Can I kiss you, baby girl?”) and the video’s theme of universal love. The track was hailed as being “gay-friendly,” and Fuse named it as one of the “Top 20 Proud Moments of 2013.”
“Red Flavor” – Red Velvet (2017)
Billboard named “Red Flavor” as the number two K-Pop song of the 2010s, and its easy to hear why. “Red Flavor” is an effervescent summer track that embodies everything pop music is about served up in a colorful, quirky package. The song is Red Velvet’s fifth multi-million seller, and it was their first song to chart on multiple global music charts indicating its massive appeal and popularity.
“Roly Poly” – T-ara (2011)
In 2011, “Roly Poly” was the top-grossing track ($2 million USD) of the year, and it was also the most-downloaded song (over 4 million downloads) of the year despite failing to reach number one on the music charts! The disco sound was made fresh by T-ara’s unique vocals and personalities, and it’s marked as one of the songs that started the trend of K-Pop music borrowing sounds from other decades to create fresh music.
“Severely” FTIsland (2012)
The Triple-Crown winning “Severely” earned plenty of praise from critics and fans alike. With 2.2 million downloads, it was the 24th most downloaded song in Korea in 2012. The most memorable part of the song is the MV that features Hongki receiving a chance to save his dead girlfriend. The MV played out like a K-drama which helped it become a much-loved video in 2012.
“Shadow” – Beast (2013)
“Shadow” is an art piece when the song and MV are combined. The track is well put-together, but the MV is the icing on the cake and an example of a dark concept done right. It didn’t need gore to sell itself, but the artistic nuances, cinematography, and dystopian feel enhances every part of the song beautifully. “Shadow” is one of the many indicators that 2013 was the “fine wine” of the K-Pop decade.
“Sixth Sense” – Brown Eyed Girls (2011)
In 2011, Brown Eyed Girls proved they were still the queens of the sexy concept while maintaining their empowering voices. The song was a rallying cry for freedom of expression, and it became a controversial track as it was felt the group was promoting anarchy!
“Something” – Girl’s Day (2014)
Next to “Expect,” “Something” is arguably one of Girl’s Day’s biggest hits. Not only did it rank ninth at the year-end charts, it snagged awards for best dance at the year-end awards and brought home five music show wins. The song marked a turning point for the group as they had a string of hits following its release. The dance also spawned several dance covers by idols and fans alike, and it still remains a popular track to this day.
“Step” – KARA (2011)
“Step” is one of the reasons many fell in love with KARA, and it remains one of their essential tracks. Listening to the song triggers a lot of good memories of the early decade as it was one of the defining songs. Spin identifies “Step” as the 14th greatest K-Pop song of all-time.
“The Boys” – Girls’ Generation (2011)
In 2011, “The Boys” charmed audiences globally. With “The Boys,” SNSD made their American television debut on The David Letterman Show and Live with Kelly and Michael. The song is one of the tracks that is noted as being one that helped start the Hallyu Wave prior to “Gangnam Style” Fever, and it’s still considered one of the best K-Pop releases of all-time by music critics. “The Boys” also scored SNSD their first M! Countdown win since 2008, which is surprising considering SNSD’s popularity.
“The Chaser” – Infinite (2012)
“The Chaser” is one Infinite’s 1980s throwback tracks that attracted a diverse audience and really cemented their position amongst some of K-Pop’s top groups of the early decade. The song featured their signature dance precision, and it was one that helped set Infinite apart from other male groups at the time due to its retro styling. Billboard named “The Chaser” the number one K-Pop song of 2012.
“Touch My Body” – Sistar (2014)
The Queens of Summer had another summer hit with “Touch My Body.” The song and corresponding EP, Touch N Move, performed well on the charts, but the viral “butt dance” (not to be confused with KARA’s butt dance from “Mister”) is what garnered the most attention. The song was also featured on Family Guy in season 14.
“Trouble Maker” – Trouble Maker (2011)
Troublemaker, which was a duo consisting of HyunA and Hyunseong, made quite the splash in 2011! Censors in Korea had a field day with this song as the dance and lyrics were considered too controversial, and several modifications had to be made in order to make the song mildly passable for broadcast. During the Mnet Music Awards in 2011 and 2012, the performance was heavily criticized for its sexual dance moves that involved Hyunseong grabbing HyunA’s backside and HyunA rubbing and grinding Hyunseong’s crotch in 2012, which didn’t seem to go over well according to the faces of unamused fellow idols, and in 2011, the kiss was a whole other world of controversy (Cube Entertainment stated it was a kiss on the cheek, not the lips). It’s safe to say “Trouble Maker” lives in infamy.
“Up & Down” – EXID (2014)
“Up & Down” was EXID’s sleeper hit thanks to Hani’s viral fancam video. The song initially wasn’t a hit, but then it gained traction in January 2015—three months after its release— when it hit number one on the Korean music charts. The song’s proof that success can happen even if its later than expected.
“Venus” – Shinhwa (2012)
“Venus” marked Shinhwa’s return to the music industry after a four-year hiatus. The electro-pop song debuted at number one when it was released on several real-time music charts. The MV for “Venus” cost over $170 thousand USD to produce and featured six sets. The track is iconic because it proved that first generation idols can still hang with the new generation. “Venus” took home a music show win on M! Countdown.
“Voodoo Doll” – VIXX (2013)
VIXX have been dubbed the kings of the dark concept, and “Voodoo Doll” is one of their darkest tracks and MVs. The gory MV had to be tweaked a little in order to air, but even with the changes, it’s still a gruesome horror MV that still may push the boundaries of decency for some fans. However, “Voodoo Doll” is one of the tracks that set VIXX apart from the crowd.
“Wake Me Up” – B.A.P (2018)
B.A.P were never afraid to address social issues, and “Wake Me Up” took on mental illness and race and cultural stereotypes head-on with a beautifully shot MV and timely lyrics that many connected with when the track was released. While it didn’t have the commercial success it should have had, “Wake Me Up” is the cult hit that came out during a time when issues with societal and cultural relations and mental health awareness were coming to head.
“Warrior” – B.A.P (2012)
“Warrior” has often been identified as one of the best K-Pop debuts of all time, and it was a debut that caught the ears and eyes of many as the then-blonde sextuplet shook the world with their power. B.A.P debuted at the same time as EXO, and they were worthy competitors on the K-Pop scene despite being from a smaller company. “Warrior” and B.A.P quickly gained fans and popularity, and each of B.A.P’s subsequent releases helped the group gain more traction. Then the 2014 lawsuit occurred and B.A.P’s popularity waned in part of the long hiatus and the allure of new groups in a similar style. While fans are left wondering about what could have been, “Warrior” will always remain a song that resonates with many.
“Without You” – Lee Michelle (2014)
Lee Michelle’s debut single is iconic due to its coverage of bullying and being from a mixed-race background. It’s the first MV of its kind to show the hurt someone experiences from being “different” in a homogenous society. Today, however, where race relations are fractured at best, “Without You” serves as the “look at me” anthem that hopes to welcome love and acceptance toward those who are marginalized.
“Wolf” – EXO (2013)
As another track that fans either loved or hated, “Wolf” is a symbol of how a group’s popularity and appeal can turn a track with odd lyrics into a hit. The MV features the now iconic “tree of life” pose and powerful dancing, but to this day, the lyrics are questionable. The song was a hit, though, but it’s one of those that’s still talked about for its weirdness and is lowkey a song most people like but won’t dare admit it.
“You are My Spring” – Sung Sikyung (2010)
From the K-drama Secret Garden, “You are My Spring” is a warm ballad that captures the emotions of the show. The soundtrack from the show captured a lot of fans’ hearts, and “You are My Spring” is one that still brings listeners in years later.
What songs would you identify as the most important or iconic? Let us know in the comments and on Facebook!