Top Korean Songs of 2012

TKSo2012 single 01


2012_she'z_mywayThere were plenty of girl groups that twirled their way onto the grounds of K-Pop this year, but very few left an actual impression. She’z is the exception.

To quote Testamentvm here, “part of the appeal of “My Way” lies in its simplicity – it’s a real palette -cleanser, with half of K-pop these days trying to sound either disco/retro or Europop – not to mention the headache of having to deal with left-field dubstep breaks – it’s good to hear some nice, clean, and simple pop that can rock in the shower and on the radio.”

It’s precisely that, the simplicity of She’z’s debut single, that really resonates with me, as not only does the song do away with over-produced nonsense, but actually consolidates the experience to what matters: vocals, melodies, and a catchy beat. The fact that it lacks a rap section also appeases me greatly. – McRoth


2012_shinhwa_thereturnIf there’s anything to say about SHINHWA, it’s that they know how to run this game, and run it well. In celebration of 14 (that’s FOURTEEN) years in the music industry and as the longest running K-Pop boyband, these studs returned in all their glory with the trendy lead single, “Venus“.

On first listen, “Venus” came across rather ordinary, but over time it hit me that this pretty much fell in line with a lot of SHINHWA’s older jams and structures (and all things pre-2009, basically).

Gentle, bare, and formulaic, yet iconic, addictive, and really well executed. Even with Eric‘s lulzy rap sections, “Venus” carries a balanced sense of sophistication and listenability that today’s high-brow idols have forgotten existed and could learn from. With this single, SHINHWA proved that idols can still value traditional simplicity while not forgetting to hand-feed the herd their grub. – McRoth


Shin Yong Jae - 24Shin Yong Jae is one of my heroes in Korean music, so it’s a pleasure to finally talk about him here, because if there’s one vocalist that deserves a blurb written about him, it’s this guy.

A ballad bursting with emotion and intensity, “The Reason I Became a Singer” slips Shin Yong Jae in his most comfortable skin, and not only is it one of the best songs he’s ever sung, he effing wrote it. “The Reason I Became a Singer” is sincere, yet frighteningly loud in its execution. Gentle, yet brave and declarative. It’s a piece of work worth being proud of, and the sheer power in which Yong Jae explodes through every chorus, you are made well aware that he’s carving that pride in stone. You just hear it, and that’s what makes this song one of the most special moments on his debut mini-album, ’24′, as well as one of the most special moments in his career to date.

It’s immense and absolutely breathtaking, and hands down my favorite ballad on TKSo2012. – McRoth


2012_spica_russian rouletteIf I were to pick a Spica song, it would’ve been “Painkiller” by default, but you could actually make a case for any other song on that mini-album. It seriously was that good. Although its lead single status made this seem more like a convenience pick, “Russian Roulette” was ultimately chosen because it was the most polished piece that Spica had to offer. At first sight, the song is essentially an R&B ballad hidden under the veil of a fun instrumental and some playful whistling. The intro contains a lot of the typical cheesy rapping you find in K-Pop girl group songs, but every member carries a tune with a clear but resonant timbre – be it smooth, husky or otherwise. The singing itself sounds completely effortless.

For most of the song, the pacing stays more or less the same, save for a few guitar riffs and a good bang bang bang bang bang to lead the song into the well-harmonized chorus. The latter half of the song provided ample opportunity for members to alternate solos and do what they do best as individuals – some belting here, some dolphin register notes there, and some rapping elsewhere. The one drawback was ending the song with nothing more than the instrumental and generic whistling … but that’s just nitpicking. Because I was left wanting more. – Compliant


2012_sunnyhill_thegrasshoppersRiddled with an interesting beat, cold key, and vibrant melodies, Sunny Hill‘s “The Grasshopper Song” was destined to be a favorite this year, and it has yet to let go of that title.

Sunny Hill have been pushing the envelop when it comes to eccentricity and uniqueness in their music for a couple years now, but there hasn’t been as beautiful a display of that as this single. The pace alone is so urgent, that it gets my body racing when I listen to it – yet, it’s the hypnotizing hook and pitch shifting in the vocal-processing that truly rail me in and to this day won’t let me go. It’s like a drug, or something. – McRoth

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45 thoughts on “Top Korean Songs of 2012

  1. B.A.P! Warrior definitely set the trend for this year… after Warrior, rookie groups are going for the bad-ass dark concepts..
    the song is definitely memorable and i never get tired listening to it.. still my favorite B.A.P song. its almost a year and im still blasting this song in my car..hehe

    • i doubt ‘warrior’ was much of a trend-setter; that streak of dark concepts started before that in the last few months of 2011. Kpop trends are partly based on the seasons and u tend to get more uplifting tunes in the summer and dreary, somber ones in winter; there are exceptions to that but these general trends are nothing new really. I also suspect that a lot of these more mature concepts (not just dark or bad-assed ones specifically) are becoming more prevalent because the public are tired of the cutesy gimmick and companies are picking up on that change in demand.

      • I agree with you about warrior being conceptually ‘trend-setting’, as pop everything is perpetually repetitive. But as far as setting a level of production value and quality, BAP were definitely one of the first to execute K-Pop in a far more cleaner package than before. 2010 was a hotass mess compared to how things work now. Which is a great thing.

        The cutesy thing lasted foreverrrr.

  2. Yes yes yes yes and yes. I really agree with today’s songs. Every song on Epik High’s most recent mini has grown on me more and more with each listen except for “UP” (I just really can’t get down with Bom on the chorus. It’s too grating to my ears). “Don’t Hate Me” isn’t my top fave from the album, but definitely such a great song to watch them perform live. And then you bring in Ga-in!!!! HER MINI ALBUM SLAAAAYED.

  3. I found my way here after seeing a B1A4 fanbase retweeting a tweet regarding your top korean songs of 2012 tweet. Tbh, I was expecting you to do a title track review/response like any other site so I was quite surprised that you talked about this time is over. That song is one of my favourite B1A4 song and I agree that it did not get as much love as it should have so I appreciate it a lot that you wrote about it :) Thank you ~

  4. I like most of your choices. I agree 100% with what you wrote about BAP. I loved warrior and wish they’d just promoted it for 6 months rather than release any of their other recent tracks. Also BtoB Wow was one of my biggest jams of the year and made me fall in love with the group. Surprise to see Ailee’s new song here rather than ‘Heaven’. I’m a huge fan of the girl but find her newest song soo boring. Block B did great this year too.

    Other songs I’ve loved this year are Cross Gene La di da di, Exid Every night (my standout song of the year tbh, never tire of it), Vixx Superhero and Exo what is love (Exo M version).

  5. Just notice under More from EXO this year: “This is Love” Review. Shouldn’t it be “What is Love”?
    and how do you use ‘ and ” for song/album titles? At first I thought you used ‘ for albums and ” for singles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    • You’re right: it is “What is Love”. I’ll fix that.

      And if you’re confused by how reviews looked/look, it’s because I use ” for all album/single in the titles of reviews, whereas I use ‘ for album titles and ” for singles and track titles within the reviews themselves.

      Another thing that confuses is that, at one point, reviews were posted FIRST on Asian Junkie (we’re buds and have had a little agreement about my reviews being on his site), so he would edit them for his site and I would then post them once they were public. That stopped a few months ago, so now reviews follow the ‘ and ” rule that I prefer.

      He just ” ‘s everything … lol Sorry for the confusion.

  6. While I 100% agree that DJ Clazzi’s work with 2AM’s Seulong “How We Feel” is one of the under appreciated great songs out there, that song was released in mid 2011 :))
    Oh, and female vocalist Whale took part on that song too.

    • I’m well aware. Yet, as it belongs to an album that was released this year (Infant), its appearance still honors the free-standing rule (established last year) that songs are eligible to be on our TKSO list if they were released in one shape or form in 2012. Since Infant was officially released in January 2012, “How We Feel” and every track on the album qualifies. By this logic, Orange Caramel’s “Shanghai Romance” is also be eligible to land on this list :o

      I hope that clears things up a bit. Basically, any song qualifies to land on a 2012 best-of list if it was released as a single or as a part of an album within the span of a year.

      In this particular case, I wanted to feature ‘Infant’ and I felt this song was/is the strongest representation of the quality of that album :)

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  8. So many great songs off this list so far. K.Will definitely made a amazing album this year and Jo Kwon made himself stand out with his performances of “Animal.”
    Hmmm….creating a playlist of these songs doesn’t sound like a bad idea. :)

  9. ♫ ticket one way, ticket one way ♫ There’s a reason why this is my most-played song out of the ones I added this year.

    And PJY’s album is one of very few K-pop albums I could listen to the whole way through.

  10. “Eric’s lulzy rap in Venus”? how? then what’s Andy’s & Junjin’s rap parts then? lolz. That’s really the 1st I heard from various reviews (fan’s & non fan’s) for Venus or The Return ablum. Not being bias but aside from the poise & harmony from the main vocalists, Eric’s rap part in Venus is one of the highlights and it adds also edginess to the song (as well as Junjin’s part)

    • lol you’re so right! It’s not just Eric with a lulzy rap, but everyone else, too haha

      Just kidding. But really, I just gotta giggle when Eric says “E R I C” :P Anyway, the song itself is great and thanks for your commentary.

  11. Great list! Me and my BF (who I converted to Kpop this year) have been jamming out to this playlist for the past 2 weeks. It was great to relish favorites that I liked but never downloaded (how did I forget to add Run when I already added Supersonic and If We Changed??) and songs that I missed, ex. Seo In Guk and B1A4. Happy Holidays the whole team and here’s to another year’s worth of music v(^_^v)♪

    • That’s great to hear. I’m glad that the songs are worth sharing to fresh-converts and that it helped you find newer jams along the way.

      Cheers and happy holidays to you and your family, too!

  12. Love the list! The only songs that I would also include are something from EXID (I absolutely loved ‘I Feel Good’ and ‘Every Night’) as well as T-ara – putting their scandals aside, Day by Day and Sexy Love were very enjoyable songs.

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  14. If I tell the truth…I’ve never actually listened to these bands before although I have heard of a couple of the bands…I mostly listen to groups like BEAST, BigBang, EXO-K and Super Junior and occasionally 2PM

  15. I’m just now seeing this after half a year, but I feel the need to comment anyways. “Angel” as on of the best songs of the year? Whoooooa, I really have to disagree. It’s the only song on that album that I find really annoying. “Machine”, I think, is a much better song. It just absorbs you.

    I’m super glad that “Don’t Hate Me” is on this list! I LOVED that song so much over the year. I may not listen to it as much anymore, but I still rock out whenever it’s playing.

    John Park’s “Falling”. Just thinking about it makes me relaxed and happy. :)

    Oh, my gosh! “Rock Ur Body”! I loved that song more than “Don’t Hate Me”! For about five months straight, I played that song every day. It’s just super fun.

    The only song I think is missing from this list is “Stop Girl” by U-Kiss. Even if it wasn’t super well known, it was still groovy (in a good way). I enjoy it so much that I’ve trained my non k-pop friends to finish my sentence when I say “Stop Girl”.

    • Aw, I loooove “Angel”, especially the M version. It’s just so light and soft compared to the heavy-hitting mini-album. That said though, I also love “Machine”, too. I still rotate that song when I listen to K-Pop.

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