Now that we’ve all turned back our clocks an hour, we need some dusky K-pop to keep us company when the evening creeps up on us in the middle of the afternoon. Here are a few of the K-pop songs that make me want to take a walk after dark to crunch the dead leaves under my boots.
- BTOB, Pray (I’ll Be Your Man): First, let’s get the most autumn-nights K-pop song in history out of the way. “Pray (I’ll Be Your Man),” composed by lead vocalist Hyunsik as is much of BTOB’s recent work, mixes elements of trap and rock ballad to generate a wildly emotional ride through a landscape of dynamic ups and downs. With explosive vocal and rap moments throughout, “Pray” is a perfectly crafted dramatic production whose longevity most K-pop could only dream of. Don’t miss the music video, which has a great twist at the end.
2. O!Gon, I Like You the Most In This World (feat. J.Mee of the Lush): To be honest, I don’t think that this song qualifies as K-pop, but regardless it’s one of the best things that happened to the Korean music industry this year (in fact, it’s shaping up to place pretty high on my Top 17 of 2017 list at the end of the year). Few mid-tempo songs hit home as hard as this one—you usually expect to get attached to the emotional ballads or the exciting dance songs, but “I Like You the Most” has an irresistible softness, driven by the breezy (and masterful) composition as well as the gentle vocals, which demands to be replayed over and over.
3. Suran, Yeah Ah (feat. Yankie): Ah, Suran, my underrated queen. It’s gratifying to see her friendship with BTS’s Suga garnering her some attention, because the woman is truly brilliant. “Yeah Ah” pairs a strikingly dark, spare piano instrumental with Suran’s high-toned vocals, and it’s honestly a little eerie. At the same time, Suran’s unapologetically intense delivery has a heady effect, the kind that makes you want to go on a run to the top of the nearest mountain so you can look out from the top and pretend you’re the king of the world.
4. f(x), Rude Love: “Rude Love” is one of f(x)’s most underrated B-sides. It’s impossible not to jam out to this insistent beat or hum along to the vocal melody. Still, my favorite thing about “Rude Love” is its slick production—typically of SM, it’s perfectly balanced and glossy as hell. I still have my fingers crossed that we’ll hear something like “Rude Love” on f(x)’s next album, but unfortunately it’s also typical of SM to treat their artists like garbage, so who knows when the girls will get a comeback.
5. SEVENTEEN, Rock: Easily my favorite song from SEVENTEEN’s early days, “Rock” is a pure pop delight. The track mixes short rap sections with fragments of playful melody, especially in the verses, to an effect that feels like cool wind and warm sun passing over your face at the same time. The persistent bass and SEVENTEEN’s characteristically spirited performance give the track attitude that never gets old.
6. IU, Flower: This song has a dark magic to it. Led by a shower of guitar notes and fairytale violins, the instrumental governs the start of the song but eventually gives way to the power of IU’s vocals. Compositionally outstanding (naturally—it’s IU), “Flower” has a mysterious atmosphere of a kind you see very rarely in K-pop.
7. SHINee, Don’t Stop: Bearing the unique brand that is SHINee R&B, “Don’t Stop” features a lush chorus of watery harmonies and a sensual rhythm that gets under your skin. Its monochrome palette is oddly satisfying, avoiding really meaty chords and confining its melody to an airy, translucent space whose only goal is to set a mood. And set a mood it does—driven, of course, by SHINee’s legendary honey vocals.
8. BTS, Let Me Know: Though it’s admittedly known as a fan favorite, I’ve always considered this “Dark & Wild” B-side one of BTS’s most underrated songs. Structurally unique, it incorporates two different refrains into verses dominated by rap. The moody, abiding ache that is this song’s composition—the bittersweet chord progression, the urgency of a single note sung over and over, the sinking feeling as the melody falls down the scale—never fails to astonish me with its emotionality. 10/10, would pay big money to get Bangtan to put it back on their concert setlist.
9. ZICO, I Am You, You Are Me: One of my favorite K-pop songs of all time (I’m talking, like, top 5 or 7 maybe) and a certified K-pop fandom favorite, “IAYYAM” is another excellent R&B creation coming from an artist who usually sticks to pop and hip hop. The soft concept is a step outside of Block B leader and solo rapper ZICO’s habitual realm of operation, but he executes it better than your cute concept faves. Simultaneously dark and dreamy, “IAYYAM” utilizes a steady bassline and the occasional shower of sparkling chimes to construct a delicate atmosphere whose every component functions in equilibrium.
10. Chancellor, Murda (feat. Dok2): We really don’t give K-R&B artists enough credit. This streamlined production keeps the energy at a low burn with a gentle beat and a shadowy melody. Chancellor’s fluid vocals make the song, topped off by sinuous harmonies and backing “oh-oh-oh”s. The ending is especially interesting, with a tacked-on piano part where Chancellor sings a delicate, yearning melody until the sound dwindles out.
11. TWICE, Tuk Tok: I have no idea why this song isn’t more hyped by K-pop stans. Megagroup TWICE are the K-pop fandom’s darlings, but we spend so much time talking about their title tracks that their B-sides (which are almost always better) rarely get mentioned. “Tuk Tok” is a sweet, R&B-touched construction, with surprisingly creative production given that it’s JYP and a really solid showing from the girls, especially TWICE’s rappers. Smooth horns and jazzy vocals complete what I consider one of TWICE’s best tracks to date.
12. PENTAGON, When I Was In Love: I briefly raved about this song in my review of PENTAGON’s fourth mini-album a few weeks ago, but I can’t help but bring it up again. “When I Was In Love” really does have one of the most beautifully composed and structured choruses that rookies have come up with this year—hell, that any groups have come up with. PENTAGON’s vocalists are infallible, and the acrobatics here will have you doing flips.
13. NU’EST, Overcome: I’ve spent the last two weeks fuming at myself for never having found this song before NU’EST W’s most recent comeback. There’s nothing typical about “Overcome,” which combines two different and equally weird beats with even weirder success. The chorus is dazzling—so brilliantly phrased that it comes out as rhythmically satisfying as a rap, while retaining the emotional weight of vocals and melody. The verses provide complex melodic support for the refrain, and everything flows together seamlessly, which is honestly strange given the contrast of the sounds that you hear. “Overcome” is a feat that surprises the listener at every turn.
Happy November, everyone!
Listen to this playlist on YouTube here.