[The K-Pop 100: Idol Group Songs]
40. F(x) – 피노키오 (Pinocchio – Danger)
We knew F(x) was weird, but “Pinocchio” showed us their weirdness could be coherent. The group’s utter disregard for narrative structure and sense continued here, but in a package that was more accessible than “NU ABO” and against much stronger musical backdrop. The lyrics could be interpreted to be unassuming, chilling or preferably both. Individual performances, like Luna‘s childish delight, brought the unlikely theme to life. This song was the first true glimpse at F(x)’s immense potential, and we haven’t been disappointed since.
39. 2NE1 – I Love You
Position-fluid 2NE1 can do things like putting Dara at melodic rap and Minzy and CL to share main vocal. Genre-fluid 2NE1 can do things like leaving hip-hop behind to do a groovy pop ballad that seems to borrow equally from trot and trance. “I Love You” is a pleasant composition with its bouncy, modulated synths and an accompaniment that scatters and grows hazy; just as much fun is listening to the members who sound as comfortable in their new digs as they ever did.
38. As One – 원하고 원망하죠 (Desire and Resent)
“Desire and Resent” made its name on that timeless melody, becoming a favorite for remakes and covers over the years. Of course, nobody quite did it like Min and Crystal, two of the most inimitable tones in K-pop, but the song lends itself to reinterpretation. It’s wistful, romantic, elegant, and sophisticated all in one, an all-time great ballad in its own right.
37. T-ara – Roly-Poly
The fact of the matter is that T-ara was never an industry leader; however, Core was very good at catching onto trends, and sometimes it led to real achievement. “Roly-Poly” was squarely within the retro trend of the day (the Sunny film and all), but boy, was it good: Shinsadong Horangi grafted a devilishly addictive hook onto an easy and simple beat, and the T-ara members put in a performance that was just the right amount of dry and old-fashioned. The whole business approach may have been unsustainable, but it did give us this.
36. FIN.K.L. – Now
The vocals don’t quite hold up, do they? Even Ok Joo-hyun is a little too overbearing. But the chorus sounds fine, thanks to that soft harmonization, and that’s what makes the song. The relentless beat and groove-riding melody, embellished with brass hits, were and remain deviously addictive, and made FIN.K.L’s image about-face successful. Oh, the wonderfully silly stealth-movie music video helped.
35. EXO – 으르렁 (Growl)
From The 1st Album ‘XOXO’ Repackage (2013)
Label: SM Entertainment
Composition/Arrangement: Shin Hyuk, Jordan Kyle, John Major; additional arrangement by DK and Jarah Gibson
Writing: Seo Ji-eum
Links: music video, audio, live
EXO’s got a lot of voices to fill space with, and they do with abundant harmony throughout “Growl”. Together the members give volume to a minimalist arrangement and melody, as masterful pacing keeps the song engaging even on repeat listens. There really isn’t a whole lot to be said about this one; it’s a simple idea executed flawlessly.
34. Jinusean – 말해줘 (Tell Me) (Featuring Uhm Jung-hwa)
I had some trouble deciding whether to include this one, but I think we can argue that Jinusean was indeed an idol duo at debut. “Tell Me” is a dance track from a hip-hop album: it’s headlined by Lee Hyun-do’s exotic beat and Uhm Jung-hwa’s bittersweet performance, but the real substance is in Jinu and Sean‘s verses. It was the first successful implementation of the hip-hop-in-the-mainstream mentality that became YG Entertainment’s trademark, and there’s immense value in that.
33. Wonder Girls – Sweet Dreams
From Wonder World (2011)
Label: JYP Entertainment
Composition/Arrangement: Shim Eun-ji, Thomas J. Heyerdahl, Jan Lindvaag, Billion Dollar Baby
Writing: Billion Dollar Baby, Noday, Yubin (Wonder Girls)
The Wonder Girls’ switch back to the 21st century in Wonder World allowed for such elegant works as “Sweet Dreams” to emerge. It benefits from the sleek production defining that album, with chic strings leading the charge, and the synergy of an appropriately dreamy mood with lyrics that sing of an ephemeral reunion is palpable.
32. Baby V.O.X. – Get Up
With the addition of Yun Eun-hye, Baby V.O.X finally completed lineup changes, and with the subsequent release of “Get Up”, the group finally found its identity. The adoption of an overtly sexy concept was new for a girl group; the ominous tone and catchy, rhythm-oriented chorus differentiated this lead single, and also justified the existence of a dedicated rapper in Kim E-Z. BV was no longer an S.E.S. or Fin.K.L. clone from this point on, forging their own path forward.
31. S.E.S. – (‘Cause) I’m Your Girl (Featuring Eric, Andy of Shinhwa)
The modern Korean girl group was born with “I’m Your Girl”. The song doesn’t quite share the remarkable and nearly prescient sophistication of S.E.S’s later work, but it was still a monumental piece of work: from the enrapturing opening moments to the hip-hop inspired beat to bubbly melody to the somewhat messy rap breakdown, “I’m Your Girl” is a collection of seemingly discordant parts that masterfully came together. Girl groups became a thing because of the success of this song, and it’s only right that the song that started it all is a classic in itself.