The 21 Greatest K-Pop Songs of All Time
From lapsed '90s metalheads to the glossiest Girls of today's Generation, the best of the sublimely shiny sound that's sweeping the world
16. T-Ara – “Roly Poly” (2011)
T-Ara are a girl group seemingly lacking major talents, and it’s difficult to remember whether they have five or six members at any given moment. But their singles are hard to resist. There’s the robotic “Bo Peep Bo Peep” (pronounced “boppy boppy”), which is not about sheep; there’s the stuttering “Yayaya,” with its bizarre desert-island video full of ill-advised Native American stereotypes. And there’s “Roly Poly,” which anxiously liquifies Latin counter-rhythms and handclap breaks and disco toot-beeps à la ’80s Italo duo Fun Fun, but with Far Asian-evoking Yellow Magic Orchestra-style synth parts. The video, at full mini-movie length, lasts 12 minutes. C.E.
15. Super Junior – “Sorry Sorry” (2009)
At the time that Super Junior unleashed this, their best-selling single to date, the boy band behemoth sported 11 members. That’s more than the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync combined. “Sorry Sorry” is a spartan slab of hiccuping, high-wire Euro-pop (as is the SM way) that makes wonderful use of Auto-Tune and the word “shawty.” D.B.
14. Kara – “Step” (2011)
Though their “butt dance” would make their “Mister” clip web-famous, the dizzying central hook behind “Step” is Kara’s best asset. It shape-shifts between Euro-pop and ’80s soft rock, Korean songwriting duo “Sweetune” going so far as to steal swatches from the Edge’s introductory guitar salvo on “Where the Streets Have No Name” for the bridge. Shameless, streamlined fun. D.B.
13. Big Bang – “Bad Boy” (2012)
After an unfortunate marijuana scandal sidelined group leader G-Dragon for the better part of 2011, Big Bang made a triumphant return: onstage at talent agency YG’s Family Concert in December and on-record with “Bad Boy,” a piano-based R&Breeze that, like the rest of their recently released Alive LP, was penned entirely by GD. And though some might point to “Love Song” or “Tonight” as the group’s finest hour, nothing they’ve has done as a unit up until now has approached the anti-gravity pop smarts to be heard in the Diplo-assisted GD&TOP collaboration “Knock Out.” “Bad Boy” recalls Boyz II Men and Justin Timberlake, but Big Bang’s five very distinct personalities combine here for a single more singular than any of their K-pop peers can lay claim. D.B.
12. f(x) – “Nu Abo” (2010)
The mark of a particularly potent K-pop song is one that can make you feel like you’re hearing 80 songs fit neatly into one — sometimes you recognize a hook with every passing measure, sometimes you hear them all at once. Written and produced by a team of Danish popsmiths that includes Cutfather and Thomas Troelsen (one of the minds that brought you Junior Senior’s forgotten 2003 smash, “Move Your Feet”), “Nu Abo” is a schoolyard-taunting, Britney-esque monster that sounds like dueling iPods and still allows for a thick layer of crowd noise. D.B.
11. Girls Generation – “Run Devil Run” (2010)
You’ll notice that, within the three-and-a-half-minute span of “Run Devil Run,” we’re only given a snippet of solo. It’s highly orchestrated, high-fructose vocal layering of the highest order: nine voices, nine tentacles, absolutely no seams. This is stone-cold sass that — though it cribs pop pin-up signifiers stretching back 50 years — echoes a more disciplined (and chaste) re-imagining of the Pussycat Dolls. D.B.