It’s finally December, and that means the holidays are just around the corner. From jazzy slow jams to peppermint-sweet pop, this playlist has all the K-pop you need to get in a holiday mood.
1. EXO, What I Want for Christmas: EXO has a whole archive of great holiday songs, and it’s not easy to pare them down to one recommendation. While 2013’s “Miracles in December” is arguably the boys’ best holiday song to date, I couldn’t help but recommend a slightly lesser known B-side track. The collision of creatively sweet composition with a classic-feeling waltzy rhythm makes “What I Want For Christmas” the perfect fireside slow jam. As they always do, EXO’s crisp vocal harmonies finish off the song with a flourish of warmth.
2. Oh My Girl, Closer: What may be Oh My Girl’s best song of all time doesn’t get half the attention that it should from the K-pop community. The sweet, atmospheric minors in the chord progression situate the song definitively in a winter mood, and the yearning melody echoes with dramatic pathos. With a cinematic music video that not only packs plenty of aesthetic but also tells a mysterious story, “Closer” is one of the most underrated girl group songs of its generation.
3. Eric Nam, Melt My Heart: Energetic holiday single “Melt My Heart” from soloist Eric Nam isn’t your average upbeat Christmas song. It’s compositionally unpredictable with a propulsive beat, and Nam’s usually relaxed vocals bring a new, driving energy to the track.
4. Red Velvet, Little Little: This track is a winter song if I ever heard one. The instrumental of “Little Little” is layered with sparkling bells and even a harp, and the ladies’ jazzy harmonies round out the mood.
5. f(x), When I’m Alone: If you’re looking for an explicitly Christmas-themed f(x) track, complete with sleigh bells and jazz-touched harmonies, better to look towards “Wish List” from 2015. However, “When I’m Alone” from the ladies’ fourth album puts me in a much more December-y mood. I think it’s got something to do with the light-to-dark-to-light chord progression and synthy production, which combined make for a colorful, Christmas-lights kind of atmosphere (or is that just me?). “When I’m Alone” is another incredibly solid B-side from one of 2015’s best albums.
6. TEEN TOP, Winter Song: This track has a lighter melody than many of the songs on this list and plenty of smooth rap, completing a jazzy feel-gooder that would function just as well on a rainy winter morning as on a snow-dusted Christmas Eve.
7. VIXX, Butterfly Effect: VIXX’s vocals shine on “Butterfly Effect,” a funk-tinged slow jam. The melody moves through several different colors and paces without ever falling into disparateness, and the result is a shimmering, iridescent atmosphere that keeps the listener on their toes.
8. B1A4, It’s Christmas Time: Brought to you by the compositional talents of none other than B1A4 leader Jinyoung, “It’s Christmas Time” is an irresistibly buoyant holiday track. It’s impossible not to sing along with the charming melody of the word “friend” in the recurring lyric “I just wanna be a good friend,” and the ever-reliable Jinyoung throws in an unexpected chord every so often to keep interest up. “It’s Christmas Time” is a rare upbeat Christmas track that maintains infectiousness without straying into the simplistic.
9. ASTRO, You & Me: A B-side from the rookie group’s winter single earlier this year, “You & Me” is on the jazzier side for ASTRO, but they fit the laid-back atmosphere just as well as their trademark buoyant pop sound.
10. Whee In, Da Ra Da (feat. Jeff Bernat & B.O.): This piano ballad, from MAMAMOO’s Whee In and two other collaborating artists, is one of the best of the year—smooth, mellow, sweet, buttery, you name it, featuring impeccable vocals as is expected from these singers. “Da Ra Da” is the song you’re humming along to while baking cookies the weekend before the holidays.
11. BTOB, Remember That: Again, I’m recommending a track that puts me in more of a holiday mood than the group’s actual Christmas release, but if you’re interested, BTOB also has a feel-good track called “A Winter’s Tale” whose music video is as adorable and hilarious as anything else the group has ever done. The honied softness of “Remember That” has always reminded me of snow, and BTOB’s superior vocals take the compelling melody above and beyond as usual.
12. SHINee, Romance: If I had to, I could listen only to SHINee between now and Christmas Day. The R&B, jazz, and funk influences that have always been present in their discography set a timeless mood that can easily be transferred into a holiday atmosphere. That’s exactly what happens on the energetic “Romance,” which goes all out with jazzy composition and plenty of “shoo-be-doo”s that are hard not to groove to.
13. Zion.T, Wishes (2015): This is a surpassingly tender track from the typically iconoclastic Zion.T, who breaks from his usual outside-the-lines space of operation to deliver a touching acoustic ballad. “Wishes (2015)” will make you think of home and want to spend quality time with your family this December.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Listen to this playlist on YouTube here.