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
10. E.via – “Pick Up! U!” (2010)
The woman born Lee Ok Joo — who plays piano, writes her own songs, raps unbelievably fast but stays unbelievably cute doing it (check out her possibly Pitbull-inspired “Shake!”), and looks younger than her 1986 birth date suggests — put out four EPs between 2009 and 2010. Given that she didn’t emerge from Korea’s usual idol-making machinery, she might’ve had little chance at superstardom anyway, but her bedroom panting and alleged Japanese slang references to breasts in “Oppa! (Can I Do It)” sealed the non-deal. A shame, because the Pikachu tribute/Tom Tom Club imitation “Pick Up! U!” is as adorable as pop music gets. C.E.
9. 2NE1 – “Ugly” (2011)
Though “Ugly” scans like aggressive homage (or a rip, if you’d like) to TLC’s 1996 body-image breakdown “Unpretty,” its impact is more akin to the world-beating bubble-grunge of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Loud and brash, tender yet heroic, it encapsulates just about everything that’s so immediate about the 2NE1 crew. And on the strength of CL’s volcanic vocals, the four unleash here what’s arguably the most ferocious chorus in K-pop history. D.B.
8. Norazo – “Curry” (2010)
Norazo — pretty-boy singer/guitarist/straight man Lee Hyuk and goofier and older-looking singer/dancer Jobin — are as much a comedy as music duo, even if Hyuk actually has a perfectly lush and rangy rock voice, capable of metal operatics atop a Eurocheese-disco beat. Among their quirky singles are one where Superman brags about wearing red underwear over blue pants, a maritime number called “Mackerel” that lets them dress up as pirates, and “Best Salesman,” a celebration of customer service and waving arms ’til your pits sweat. “Curry,” given its Middle Eastern guitar line, picked-radish-incorporating recipe tips, and video chef hats, might be their pinnacle. C.E.
7. GD&TOP – “High High” (2010)
Hair-gelled boy-band cuties — low-top-faded G-Dragon and new romantically silver-white-pompadoured TOP, both from ubiquitous chart-toppers Big Bang — grow up, toughen up, sex it up (their logo risks Playboy infringement), and hit the night in expensive suits. “Like ninjas,” they say. Old-school ones: “Mistah G, in da club, in my B-boy staaance.” In the video, they raise glasses to a dance floor with way more Caucasian than Asian girls on it, and their music grows gruffer and faster as it buttaflies higher and higher, then suddenly explodes into a playground chant: “G-H-E-T-T-O! E-L-E-C-T-R-O!” This is how LMFAO and Far East Movement want to sound. C.E.