I’m not typically a huge listener of boy bands because I generally find their music to be more generic than their girl group counterparts, but when the boys get it right, they really get it right.
There were a lot of great boy band singles this year, some that I probably missed, and many that I was unable to fit onto this list. Although I don’t listen to boy bands as much as I’d like (something I’m going to change next year), these are the songs that really stood out to me the most in 2014.
13. U-Kiss – Quit Playing
“Quit Playing” is a hideously misogynistic song that tells women that they shouldn’t look sexy because it might make a man feel insecure, and then makes it worse with a music video that shows the female leads acting promiscuous and having threesomes, on top of using female backup dancers as mindless sexual props.
With that said, there’s still no denying that Duble Sidekick’s catchy acoustic production is refreshingly simple in a time when so many K-pop songs are overly ambitious or electro-heavy. And as distasteful as the lyrics are, it’s a fairly accurate depiction of how many men feel. Sad, but true.
12. AlphaBAT – Tantara
AlphaBAT is a low-budget nugu group made up of idols that were either too ugly, too plastic, or too old to be accepted by any relevant agencies, leaving them to sign with the label that created G.I., the forgotten tomboy girl group. On paper they should be terrible, and they kinda are (their concept is built around the alphabet for fuck’s sake), but they’re also amazing as a cheap guilty pleasure. Their single “Tantara” is strangely hypnotic, with thunderous beats and $2 trap snares against a gibberish chorus of easy-to-remember refrains like “lalalala” and “ay-yo!”
Also, that nightstick choreography is really somethin’.
11. Cross Gene – Amazing Bad Lady
Cross Gene joined the sexy trend this year with the saucy “Amazing Bad Lady,” which saw the boy band humping the air and touching themselves to a soundtrack of orgasmic dubstep explosions and cheeky synths. Sex factor aside, it’s a damn good song–just get a load of that speedy intro on the second verse. And even without the mouth-watering choreography, “Amazing Bad Lady” is still hot enough to get your pulse racing.
10. Toppdogg – Annie
Toppdogg, despite their ridiculous name, had a number of incredible singles this year, but none were better than “Annie”; a retro patchwork that borrows from the best that pop music has to offer, from Janet and Michael to Seo Taiji and Boys.
09. MBLAQ – Be a Man
MBLAQ essentially remade NSYNC’s “Gone” with this breathtaking ballad, but were dynamic enough to incorporate elements of modern R&B into the composition to prevent “Be a Man” from turning into yet another straight K-pop throwback single (not that there’s anything wrong with throwbacks!). A stunning, nuanced vocal performance and progressive production allowed “Be a Man” to surpass the American song that so obviously inspired it.
08. HISTORY – Psycho
LOEN’s underrated boy band returned this year with a truly psychotic synth-pop single about raping an ex-girlfriend, complete with a homoerotic music video that was modelled after Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but felt thematically closer to A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. It’s weird and wrong, and I’m still not entirely sure what it’s really about, but it hasn’t left me all year.
07. Boys’ Republic – Video Game
Ratchet hip-hop, neon synths, Tron-pop, and the best bits of every good VIXX song all rolled into one.
06. GOT7 – A
It was incredibly difficult to pick between “A” and the excellent “Stop Stop It” for this list, but I went with the former because it’s the best ’90s revivalist single the year, on top of being one of the best feel-good tunes too. J.Y. Park also proved that he’s still got the magic touch with the song’s arrangement, which subtly shifts and changes without being obvious about it–something not often heard in K-pop.
05. INFINITE – Back
Outside of B2ST and TVXQ, INFINITE was the best boy band in K-pop between 2011 and 2012, but they quickly went downhill after peaking with the still mind-blowing “The Chaser” (easily one of the best K-pop songs ever made). After a terrible 2013, the boys returned to form with “Last Romeo,” but it was the cataclysmic electro ballad “Back” that reminded me of just how incredible INFINITE can be.
04. Royal Pirates – Drawing The Line
The easiest way to describe Royal Pirates is to call them the non-shitty version of Maroon 5, but their sound is diverse enough to warrant more than that offhanded description. Their super catchy single “Drawing The Line” combines glossy pop-rock, strokes of blues, and disco; it’s both poignant and danceable at once, with affecting vocal melodies adding waves of emotion to a song that could sound like shallow radio fodder in the wrong hands.
03. TVXQ – Something
I was floored by “Something” when I first heard it, but it sounds even more impressive now that various forms of retro-pop are starting to infiltrate the Americans charts, from Meghan Trainor’s doo-doo doo-wop to horn-y hits like Jessie J’s “Bang Bang”–all of which sound utterly infantile and basic when stacked up against “Something”. The song’s composition is masterful, effortlessly jitterbuggin’ its way through swing, big band, and jazz, without ever breaking a sweat. It also possibly ripped-off the bassline from “Stray Cat Strut,” which certainly ain’t a bad thing.
02. TVXQ – Spellbound
“Spellbound” wasn’t as ambitious as “Something,” but it was the smoothest, most irresistibly romantic song of the year. A classic R&B bounce with flourishes of funk and jazz, paired with Yunho and Max’s always impressive vocals and a catchy K-pop-style chorus of “surisuri masuri” made “Spellbound” an undeniable tear-inducing masterpiece and the greatest TVXQ single since the group became a duo. And don’t even get me started on the live performances, which are among the best I’ve ever seen in the pop field.
01. Block B – HER
I didn’t listen to “Her” when it first came out because I’ve never liked anything Block B has done before, and I didn’t really hear it properly until it came on the radio one day when I was in the shower and unable to change the station. I guess you could say I was forced to listen to “HER,” but once I did, I was completely blown away. The way it takes the gaudy, in-your-face pop production favored by most Korean boy bands, then stuffs it full of blues, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, and Diplo-esque electronic hip-hop is awe-inspiring; it’s the stuff that only somebody truly gifted and versed in music could do. “HER” is so nuanced, with every squiggly riff and bassline carefully thought out: just listen to the way one of the deeper-voiced members unexpectedly steps in to sing second chorus, or the ham guitars on the outro. I feel like this song single-handedly made me fall in love with K-pop all over again by reminding me just what the genre is capable of. There just wasn’t a pop song anywhere in the world this year as brilliant as Block B’s “HER.”