Releases may come and go, but there are some that persevere. Here are eight K-pop songs that sound as fresh as they did when they released.
There are songs, and then there are songs. Considering the mercurial pace with which K-pop moves, there are songs that get lost in the grander scheme of things. Some, however, stand the test of time, traverse the choppy waters of trends and come out victorious on the other side, sporting a badge of honor. And yeah, let’s tone down the hyperbole and put it into simple words: aging like fine wine.
So, here are some K-pop songs that sound as fresh as they did when they released.
SHINee pranced into our lives with the honey-tuned, preppy beats of ‘Replay’, the track where the five members extol the beauty and virtues of their noona (the Korean term for an older woman).
As the fresh-faced SHINee dance around their woman of affection, their lyrics embody the innocence and fervour with which young love burgeons. It reminds you of the times you had a crush on someone older and possibly unattainable, contrasting expressions of infatuation with the indifference of their noona. It’s for this universal sentiment that ‘Replay’ is still as affecting today as it was in 2008, because we all have that teeny-bopper feeling that we want to turn into something more.
‘The 7th Sense’: NCT U
Our introduction to NCT U was the sensual extravaganza of ‘The 7th Sense’, seeped in the passion of reds and blacks, and the titillating verses asking us to step into a world that we may not be brave enough to face.
Not only was ‘The 7th Sense’ a surprising and victorious feat from a fledgling act, but it’s refrained musicality also seeped under one’s skin, equating it with the timeless thrill of flirting with danger. We’ve had numerous exceptional releases from NCT U since then, but it’s the allure of ‘The 7th Sense’ that we always go back to.
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‘Limitless’ – NCT127
Okay, call this cheating, but I couldn’t care less. The second NCT unit to feature on this blew our minds with the mechanical whizzing and soaring highs of ‘Limitless.’ And what a ride it still is.
For an act that took after the culture of globalization, ‘Limitless’ was the perfect track. Brazen in its attempt, hard-hitting in intensity, with pockets of softness shining through the attempt of an act adamant on setting themselves apart — all setting the precedent for NCT’s future music. Even now, it’s pull stays strong in the expansive chorus and the sizzling whirring in the background.
‘Lonely’ – The Wonder Girls
It still pinches when we think about The Wonder Girls. In their short-lived run before the members went their separate (successful) ways, The Wonder Girls brought a nostalgia and reverence to retro music that remains unparalleled still.
Nothing, however, is more enchanting than their track ‘Lonely’. Borrowing from the idyllic charm of reggae and seeped in the color palettes of sparkling disco, ‘Lonely’ echoes the sentiment of internal warring we are all too familiar with. No matter how much we think we’re one step ahead in the game, love always leaves us at a crossroads, a feeling perfectly summed up in ‘Lonely’.
‘Spring Day’: BTS
Ah, the eternal track (seriously, with how long ‘Spring Day’ has been charting in South Korea, you’d say the same thing). It’s easy to see why ‘Spring Day’ remains a crowning jewel in BTS‘ venerated discography. In a year where they came in with strong, catchy releases, the slow refrains of ‘Spring Day’ painted a raw, vulnerable picture.
‘Spring Day’ is probably one of BTS’ most human releases, dealing with the very real grief of loss and moving on. To everyone who’s lost someone, the prospect of moving on is the hardest struggle. As a long winter transitions into spring days, you war with the idea of enjoying a new season without the ones you love. As BTS explain so emotively, goodbyes in the physical plane are never permanent: one day, you’ll have a spring of your own with the people you love.
In the landscape of K-pop, SISTAR will always have an iconic position. The girl group is counted among female acts that unabashedly spelled out what they wanted from relationships, bringing a candor to the game of love and sexuality that’s seldom witnessed in the genre.
Nothing embodies that more than SISTAR’s ‘Alone’, their song about pining after the typical aloof man, who’s left you grappling with your emotions and hating the monotony of everyday life. So, even as you listen to them lament about having to watch TV and getting drunk alone (when you’d rather have company), you know just what they’re talking about.
‘Modern Times’: IU
This is not to say that the entire Modern Times album isn’t a spectacular piece of art, but there is something about the jazzy recollections of Modern Times that perseveres through IU’s extensive discography and reaches out to the present still.
‘Modern Times’ is a song about pure fascination. It’s an ode to all the times you wanted curiosity to almost kill the cat. As IU describes her encounter with the grumpy and mysterious Mr. Chaplin, you find yourself substituting your object of affection in him, yearning for the moment when glances turn into introductions. IU had already been on a steady trajectory of hit-making even before Modern Times, but the jazz inspirations of ‘Modern Times,’ coupled with her expansive voice made this one an instant classic that could just as easily be enjoyed in 2021 as in 1921.
‘Call Me Baby’: EXO
Funny, one would think that if a counting were to be done of EXO songs that aged like fine wine, one would be more inclined to include their breakout hit ‘Growl.’ Don’t get me wrong, ‘Growl’ is a phenomenal track deserving of every bit of admiration it gets, but it’s the flirtatious vibe of ‘Call Me Baby’ that makes you tap your feet whenever it comes on.
‘Call Me Baby’ is set apart by how much fun it is: at its core, it’s music you expect out of a boy band, but EXO make it fun and reverent. The playful flirting, the devotion masked by nonchalance, the subliminal bad-boy vibes. It’s the kind of push and pull expected at the start of an adventurous ride. Then again, it makes sense, because EXO took us on a mystical journey that keeps on getting better and better.
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