These 20 K-Pop songs represent a fantastic array of veteran artists, popular idols, ballad crooners and talented rookies.
2012 was the year that PSY, an unlikely K-pop veteran, surpassed his contemporaries with international stardom and an inescapable single ("Gangnam Style," of course). But that doesn't mean the rest of the K-pop world wasn't also delivering excellent tracks. BoA reminded us what made her a superstars in the first place, After School said they "missed you" and went back to their sexy roots, and indie acts like Busker Busker and The Koxx showed how you didn't need a major agency to make waves in the business.
It was a year of fantastic tracks, exciting comebacks and these 20 singles represent a fantastic array of veteran artists, popular idols, ballad crooners and talented rookies. Check out the Billboard.com and Billboard Korea staff's picks for the top 20 K-pop songs of 2012, and tell us your personal favorite tracks of the year in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
20. "Catch Me" - TVXQ!
The K-Pop kings came back this year with a major electronic track. With a thumping bass and emotional piano backing, the duo paired their ethereal vocals with hulking roars and further proved why they have lasted in this industry for over a decade.
19. "Love Dance" - The Koxx
While EDM acts like Calvin Harris and Kaskade saw bigtime crossover success this year, The Koxx could give them a run for their money with "Love Dance." The indie band got dance-y with sputtering synthesizers with the song's best moment coming when its chorus builds to a moment of rock euphoria.
18. "Touch" - miss A
The dark disco feel of miss A's "Touch" showed a true change of form from the foursome's previous cutesy single "Good-bye Baby." The track got about as sexy as miss A could legally get as member Suzy was still not an adult in Korea (the legal age is 19), but expect an even more mature evolution when she does turn 19 next year.
17. "One of a Kind" - G-Dragon
With a knocking hip-hop beat that today's biggest rappers would kill for, the BIGBANG leader showed off his impressive knack for flow and lyrics with his EP's opening track. The track put his talent at the forefront in comparison to silliness seen in single "Crayon."
16. "Without You" - Dynamic Duo
The hip-hop heavyweights Dynamic Duo proved they didn't miss a beat from their lengthy hiatus. The melodic rap ballad has an earworm of a chorus along with the duo’s talent for vivid lyricism and sharp flow over sophisticated beats made the song an instant heartbreak anthem.
15. "Painkiller" - SPICA
In the hyper-stylized world of K-pop, sometimes a track to truly show off your act’s talent is all it needs to make an impression. That's exactly what rookie group SPICA's “Painkiller” was -- a simple, R&B-inspired single that put the spotlight on their vocals making them one of the most impressive rookie groups of the year.
14. "Same Love, Same Farewell" Urban Zakapa
Co-ed band Urban Jakapa’s “Same Love, Same Farewell” is a dramatic ballad that immediately sucks the listeners into the painful world of heartbreak with its members’ powerhouse vocals. The song brings out vulnerability from toughest men and women alike with aching lyrics all identified with this year.
13. "Good Morning" Verbal Jint featuring Kwon Jung Yeol
“Good Morning” is a witty response to 90s Korean act Exhibition and their ballad “Confession Of The Drunk.” Verbal Jint’s gift for wordplay mashed with Kwon Jung Yeol’s addictive vocals over a groovy beat shifted the classic into a delightful, modern-day hit.
12. "I Wish" F.T. Island
K-pop is known for its ability to seamless cross genre lines to make accessible, delicious pop music for fans worldwide. With a Spanish-guitar inspired sound, “I Wish” sambas right into the listener’s ears before erupting into the catchy, rocky chorus.
11. "Every Night" EXID
Hitmaking producer Shinsa-dong Tiger was on a roll this year with 4minute’s “Volume Up” and T-ara’s “Lovey Dovey,” but he brought his magic to rookie group EXID for them to truly stand out from the plethora of new girl groups. The song’s infectious melody and direct lyrics (co-composed and penned by member LE) about an ex’s nightly booty call captured the masses making them another top rookie group.
Text by Jeff Benjamin and Jessica Oak.