October is spooky month, so of course it’s time for spooky K-pop. Luckily for the legions of K-pop stans out there who are also Halloween enthusiasts, there is plenty of dark K-pop to put us in a trick-or-treat kind of mood. Here are some of my personal favorites which will be on constant rotation on my playlists this October:
- Taemin, Guess Who. The first sounds you’ll hear when you turn on this song are footsteps over gravel and a rhythmic, insistent guitar riff. The horror movie theme takes off shortly after, and Taemin dives right in. The ominous refrain of “Guess who I am, guess my name” would be disturbing if not for Taemin’s irresistible performance, which turns the song into spooky-sexy jam that anyone can dance to.
- Taeyeon, I Got Love. While it’s an eternal K-pop truth that Taeyeon’s vocals can pull off any concept, I’ve always found her voice most suited this mood: relaxed, sensual, sophisticated and mysterious. Her raw tone in “I Got Love” takes on an almost ghostly quality in the prechorus, and the bare-bones refrain that follows is even more uncanny. While she is more widely known for her sweeter concepts, Taeyeon proves her versatility yet again with this chiller.
- BTS, Boy Meets Evil. This song introduces one of K-pop’s most elegantly eerie concepts of all time, which employs the motif of an encounter with the devil to express the real-life quandary of being faced with temptation. Accordingly, “Boy Meets Evil” is a track full of suspense. Its “Introduction” status and brevity allow it to dodge pop’s traditional verse-chorus structure, so you’re on the edge of your seat throughout, wondering what comes next. The result is immense drama in the moments where the beat changes, backed up by spectacular production and sustained to the end by rapper J-Hope’s passionate delivery. With all those thrills and a title like “Boy Meets Evil,” it’s a track that no Halloween K-pop playlist can pass on.
- HyunA, Freaky. Okay, maybe there’s nothing particularly Halloweeny about HyunA getting her weird on, but this song is way too underrated to leave out. HyunA is at her best here, topping a dark bassline with an ironically cutesy tone, kissy noises and a smattering of pouty “aigoo!”s. The oddness that ensues is as fun and catchy as it is bizarre.
- PRISTIN, Black Widow: “Black Widow,” the best song that PRISTIN has turned out in my opinion, brings its theme home with a simultaneously sinister and graceful trap beat. Written and composed by members Roa, Shannon and Rena, the song’s got some creepy lyrics (“I swallow you whole”) and a killer rap by Rena herself, who is probably the biggest reason I still have my eye on PRISTIN even after “Wee Woo” and “We Like.” PS: If you’re considering searching more livestages of this song, go for it—the choreo is fierce and genuinely spiderish—but skip the “Vampire” version. The only thing scary about it is the mediocrity of the remix.
- SHINee, Odd Eye. Don’t mistake this slow-burner for a slow jam of the romantic variety, because it’s anything but. “Odd Eye” is almost intolerably smooth and at the same time severely unsettling (it opens with Key chuckling in English, “My eyes were looking for you, so I found you. Well, I know you’re there.”), with a chorus of honey vocals and a body-rollable beat. SHINee has any number of dark songs that could have appeared on this list, but “Odd Eye” has always stood out to me for its liquid-silver melody. Not to mention the fact that the livestages are stuff of legends.
- SF9, K.O. I still wish that “K.O.” had been SF9’s debut song instead of “Fanfare”—the latter is just bland compared to this track, whose bassy beat is so aggressively mechanical that it almost sounds more like robots communicating than like music. With so much personality, this is the song that stuck with me longer than most of SF9’s other releases. Be sure to check out the dance practice of this one—SF9 has some certified talents that won’t disappoint, and the opening choreo is a treat.
- IU, Cruel Fairy Tale: This 2011 song commits to its concept with theatrical flourish, complete with a dramatic orchestra and background choir. Its waltzy Russian folktale vibes truly make you feel as if you’re walking through a haunted forest at night. Like just about everything IU, it’s splendid, and it’s also probably the most genuinely Halloweeny song on this list.
- NCT 127, Limitless. If I go to a haunted house or a costume party this Halloween, you can bet I’ll be taking a shot to this song beforehand. “Limitless” combines chords straight out a horror movie soundtrack with NCT 127’s characteristically creative brand of trap-pop and an obscenely catchy chorus (“HO! HO! Wake me uuuuUP!”) with a fantastic end result. Plus there’s that vocal fry Taeyong incorporates into his rap verses—you all say it sounds like The Grudge, but get with it, folks, it’s one of the most lit parts of the track.
- Jonghyun, Let Me Out. If it seems like the members of SHINee appear a lot on this list, it’s because SHINee has always done dark concepts right. With a smack-you-upside-the-head-heavy chorus and eerily frenetic production, “Let Me Out” is an uncanny R&B masterpiece. This song will give you chills in more ways than one.
- Kim Jae Joong, Mine. Been missing those old-school rock vibes in recent K-pop? Of course you have, and “Mine” is exactly what you need this October. The gorgeous melody in the verses and exuberant electric guitar in the chorus comprise the perfect backdrop for Kim Jae Joong’s incandescent vocals. If you like VIXX’s older music videos then you’ll also love this MV, which features dark and moody vampire KJJ complete with pale contacts and black nail polish.
- VIXX, Spider. Let’s be honest here—VIXX owns Halloween. If I were truly putting together an unbiased list of the most Halloweeny K-pop songs, it would be a playlist of 13 VIXX tracks. Since I’m sure all the Halloween lovers reading this have already heard VIXX’s classic title tracks like “Voodoo Doll,” “Fantasy,” “Hyde” and “Chained Up,” I thought I’d recommend a B-side that’s lesser-known. Here VIXX brings an upbeat energy to the creepy lyrics “She’s a poison spider,” with a beguiling result.
- EXO, Wolf (Stage Version) [Studio Version]. You thought I was going to say “Monster,” didn’t you? Well so did I. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but choose “Wolf” instead, mostly so I could talk about its epic evolution over years of EXO concerts. If the 2013 single is 90s ramen-hair Justin Timberlake during his NSYNC days, then this 2014 EXOLOGY version, the only official stage remix as far as I know, is grown-up, “Sexy Back,” “What Goes Around” Justin. The version I’ve left below, however, is “Wolf” in its present-day “20/20”-Justin form, the 2016 EXO’rDIUM performance. It includes a new dance break (with lots of cool stage effects) as well as a fantastic vocal breakdown. Even if you’re not an EXO fan, I guarantee that these high notes will make you feel things. Besides, the concept is about as spooky as K-pop gets in, uh, lots of ways.
Happy Halloween, all!
Listen to this playlist on YouTube here.