After getting hell from everybody for not doing my usual year-end list last year, I managed to get off my ass and do one for 2014.
Because of time constraints, on top of the fact that I just didn’t listen to nearly as much K-pop this year as I have in the past, I decided to only cover idol groups this time around. I’m not going to be one of those people that makes a ranked list without being 100% informed on the subject, so I’m sticking to what I know and have promised myself I’ll get my music mojo back in 2015.
Before you read this, let me just apologize in advance for not including Orange Caramel’s “Catallena.” I know that technically it deserves to be on here, and very high up too, but I just found myself so fatigued by OC fever this year that I couldn’t do it. I already regret my decision, but what’s done is done…
Other than that, everything on this list is absolutely factual and accurate, just like the Bible, so please enjoy and take it all as gospel.
25. 4L – Move
For a song about a bunch of desperate gangnam unnies banging the first guy they see, “Move’s” sparse tango production is surprisingly sensual and sophisticated. This is a great example of a song being much better than it really has the right to be.
24. Wa$$up – Shut Up U
K-pop’s first twerk-dols successfully ripped-off one of the best tracks from f(x)’s Red Light album and turned it into a snarling girl power anthem.
23. FIESTAR – One More
If there’s one thing that pop music desperately needed this year, it was for a Korean girl group to turn Jamelia’s eternally-catchy “Superstar” into an anthem about group sex.
22. Red Velvet – Happiness
Basketball beats, cheerleader chants, and unbridled enthusiasm; “Happiness” was the Pink Tape repackage single you always wanted.
21. Strawberry Milk – OK
I was one of the few people that loved “Uh-ee,” but I enjoyed seeing Crayon Pop remake old Japanese idol pop over Korean disco-trot. Maybe I’m just a sucker for otaku-friendly music videos?
20. 2NE1 – Happy
A lot of songs from Crush could’ve made this list, but on an album absolutely bursting with melancholy, it was the sad underbelly of the seemingly upbeat “Happy” that turned out to be Crush’s most affecting moment.
19. SISTAR – Touch My Body
K-pop’s most reliable girl group took HyunA’s “Bubble Pop!” and pumped it full of hormones and viagra to create yet another SISTAR summer classic.
18. LABOUM – What About You (Single Version)
I could’ve put either one of LABOUM’s two singles in this spot, but the wistful “What About You,” with its retro dance-pop flavour, felt more refreshing than the hyperactive production of “Pit-a-Pat.”
17. Dal Shabet – B.B.B (Big Baby Baby)
Dal Shabet sang about taking a big cock over a Eurythmics remix and paired it with a fabulous music video that looked like behind-the-scenes footage from a slick Nylon photo shoot. To put it simply, it was a gay man’s wet dream.
16. A.KOR – But Go
A.KOR did every form of non-sexual media play imaginable this year, but unfortunately it still wasn’t enough to turn this explosive mix of blistering Middle Eastern beats and tear-stained rage into a hit.
15. KARA – Mamma Mia
Korea’s second most resilient girl group (after T-ara, of course) returned to relevancy after spicing up their usual synth-pop sound with disco glamour, wind machines, and a human life jacket named Youngji.
14. SISTAR – I Swear
Having one seasonal hit this summer wasn’t enough for the mighty S-I-S-T-A-R; they had to have two. They also produced the sexiest music video of 2014, which is no small feat considering the influx of porno-pop clips this year.
13. 4minute – Only Gained Weight
Since getting into K-pop years ago I’ve heard Brave Brothers reuse the same beats and melodies over and over again, but somehow 4minute’s ‘Only Gained Weight’ –possibly his most simple and formulaic production this year– turned out to be his most poignant. Probably because there isn’t a person on the planet who can’t relate to getting fat, drunk, and miserable after being dumped.
12. LOVELYZ – Goodbye, Chapter 1
I could’ve put several tracks from LOVELYZ excellent Girls’ Invasion album here, from the vintage-KARA-reimagined-for-2014 “Candy Jelly Love” or the old f(x) b-side “Getaway.” But it’s the bottomless melancholy of “Goodbye, Chapter 1,” a jittery synth-pop song about a girl struggling with depression after dumping her first love, that really speaks the loudest.
11. SECRET – I’m In Love
Despite its poor chart performance, “I’m In Love” was a stellar comeback single for SECRET that evolved their signature Beyonce-lite sound with shades of dance-pop and dubstep without ever losing any of the group’s identity.
10. Rainbow Blaxx – Cha Cha
Like naughty showgirls from a bygone era dancing to a broken record, Rainbow Blaxx performed this weird (and deceptively catchy) ode to the men who ogle their bodies and buy their music.
09. T-ara – Sugar Free
After listening to K-pop artists endlessly rip-off the EDM music of the West for years, it was refreshing to see T-ara take a more legitimate stab at the genre with this ferocious club anthem.
The sad and sexy fusion has been done to death in K-pop, but Girl’s Day paired it with vintage Britney beats and a Christina Aguilera chorus to craft what has now become their signature single.
07. A Pink – Mr Chu
Not sure what to say about this song except that it brought pure sunshine and joy into my life this year and if you hate it then I hate you.
06. Girls’ Generation – Wait a Minute
I loved Girls’ Generation’s Mr.Mr. mini-album, but the b-side track “Wait a Minute” was the undeniable standout to me. It’s cute in a no-artificial-flavours-or-preservatives kinda way, with a homestretch that cascades down like gallons of Vita Coco. I loved it even more once I discovered that Sweetune’s B-team, Lee Joo Hyung and G-High, the same guys behind STELLAR’s new music, produced it.
05. f(x) – Red Light
It took me more than a minute to get into this demonic hit because I was scared that f(x)’s obvious cool factor would trick me into loving a lacklustre song, but eventually the snarling beast that is “Red Light” swallowed me whole and I never looked back.
04. 4minute – Whatcha Doin’ Today
I’ve loved watching 4minute go from club-hopping electro queens to sexy genre-bending hipsters at the hands of Brave Brothers, who has been giving the group his most innovative material since SISTAR flew the coop. The quickest way to describe “Whatcha Doin’ Today” is to say it’s John Waters’ A Dirty Shame condensed into a K-pop song, but simply calling it 4minute’s best song ever will also suffice.
03. STELLAR – Marionette
Everybody did the sexy concept this year (even the boy bands got in on the trend), but STELLAR was the first group who really went there with it. That alone made “Marionette” both the most memorable and controversial sexy concept single of the year, but STELLAR went one step further and added some much-needed complexity to the trend with a meta concept that simultaneously slammed oversexualized pop music whilst wallowing neck deep in it. Rainbow Blaxx did something slightly similar with “Cha Cha,” but they had fun playing the part of amorous showgirls for cash; “Marionette” is the opposite: it’s a song brimming with self-loathing and misery. It’s musical hate-sex so savage that it turns “Marionette” into an anti-sexy concept and cautionary tale about what the entertainment industry does to women.
Some might argue that Ga-In’s “Fxxk U” was the the year’s most thought-provoking K-pop single on women’s issues (it’s certainly the more obvious choice), but that honour really belongs to “Marionette”–you’ve just gotta dig a little deeper to see it.
02. STELLAR – Mask
After shocking everybody with “Marionette,” STELLAR went for the shock factor once again with their follow-up single “Mask,” but not for the reasons you’d expect–it was the pure elegance of the dreamy Sweetune production that was so surprising. STELLAR swapped the sleaze for sensuality, but retained their meta concept by using “Mask” to cautiously reveal the human beings behind the puppets. A stunningly beautiful bassline scored their confessional, with the occasional interjection from some alien synths that are nothing less than completely hypnotic.
K-pop as a genre often goes for the jugular, almost always favouring a more is more approach to making music, so to hear something as utterly graceful as “Mask” feels like a revelation.
01. AOA – Miniskirt
There wasn’t really a question about AOA’s “Miniskirt” making No. 1 on this list. Sure, 4minute’s music was more complex and original, and STELLAR’s was smart and subversive, but as far as good hooks and replay value goes, nobody even came close to AOA this year. And isn’t that the most important aspect of pop music? “Miniskirt” may be typical Brave in a year which saw him produce about twenty near-identical hits, but it overshadowed every similar-sounding song in its path and marked a career high for both Brave and AOA–one that I don’t think the latter will ever match, let alone surpass. Like KARA’s “Mr.” or half of the Wonder Girls’ singles, “Miniskirt” feels like one of those modern girl group classics that you’ll still be able to play for years to come without ever getting sick of it.