If the only K-pop song you can name is Psy’s massive viral hit Gangnam Style, get ready to have an entire world of new music opened up in front of you. We’ve collected together the 50 best K-pop songs from the last 25 years or so to give you the perfect introduction to this wonderfully varied, vibrant, and exciting musical world.
If you’re an established fan, there should be plenty for you to enjoy too, whether it’s seeing your favorite featured, or being re-introduced to some older classics.
Every list proclaiming to countdown the best of anything is always going to be somewhat subjective, and this is no exception. It has mostly been compiled by one person but with considerable input from fans, colleagues, friends, and online sources, plus many hours of listening to hundreds of songs.
Your choices will always inevitably differ in some way, and my own personal preferences will have swayed some of the inclusions too, but there is a more serious problem that’s not always discussed. Any list like this faces the discography conundrum.
What do I mean? Almost all the groups on this list have made many excellent, iconic songs, with releases sometimes spread over many years. Some groups could even be considered to have an almost perfect discography, where the group nails its “sound” and then consistently puts out superb, unmissable music. Choosing one song from such strong back catalogs is an almost impossible task.
There is an upside to this, and it’s possibly the most important takeaway. If you like one of the songs on this list, it’s a really good idea to go on and listen to other songs from the same group. I almost guarantee you’ll find one you like just as much, or perhaps even more. Also remember this if your favorite song is missing, but your favorite group is still represented.
There are a few rules that help clarify what has made it onto the list. Only groups are featured, not single singers (apart from a couple of notable exceptions), solo projects, or collaborations, and it doesn’t include songs groups release specifically for Japan or other regions. This all helps keep the list manageable. For the most part, each group is only featured on the list once. This means that while I may personally think many groups deserve multiple slots, and that my own bias would see a lot of IZ*ONE songs feature, this doesn’t really do the massive variety and incredible talent in the industry any justice.
The final rule, which has been mostly followed, is to do with generations. This nebulous concept separates time periods in K-pop history and takes into consideration everything from musical and visual style to promotional activities, and the way songs are recorded and marketed. It’s widely accepted that the K-pop industry is in its fourth generation at the moment. Approximately 10 songs from each generation have been featured.
Taking the song count to 50 is a selection of key K-pop songs included due to their global influence, popularity, and familiarity to those who may not consider themselves to be K-pop “fans” as such. These are likely to have been the introduction to K-pop music for people outside South Korea. While they may not all be considered “the best,” they are incredibly important, and deserve to be recognized due to their cultural impact, and as the likely conduit into K-pop fandom for many outside Korea.
Right, that’s enough information, clarification, and caveats. Here is our list of the best K-pop songs of all time, and while we’ve included videos with each entry if you want to casually listen along, all 50 songs can be heard in our YouTube Music playlist here.
Gangnam Style, Psy
Even if you don’t know K-pop, you almost certainly know this song. An astonishing viral hit, the official video (which is still as crazy today as it was upon release in 2012) linked above has 4.7 billion views to date, and its addictive sound and catchy chorus likely introduced a lot of people outside Korea to K-pop. A true classic, which is why it’s one of only a couple of non-group songs allowed on our list.
Yes, we mean the League of Legends song. It’s performed by Miyeon and Soyeon, two members from the K-pop group (G)I-dle, along with Madison Beer and Jaira Burns, and sung in both English and Korean. It’ll be familiar to players of Beat Saber, and like Gangnam Style, will be many people’s first touchpoint for K-pop.
This won’t be the only mention of global K-pop sensation BTS on our list, but it’s a song many non-K-pop fans recognize. A wonderful summery song that was incredibly popular internationally, it’s also one of the best BTS songs in Beat Saber, and has been used by Samsung to advertise the Galaxy S20 FE, along with other promotional activities for the brand.
Kill This Love, Blackpink
Blackpink probably need little introduction, having found massive international success, performing everywhere from the Coachella festival to TV appearances including The Late Late Show, and collaborating with artists like Lady Gaga. Kill This Love is one the group’s best-known anthemic, hard-hitting songs.
Love Scenario, iKON
Mellow and tuneful, iKON’s Love Scenario was controversial in South Korea after its release, with parents concerned about kids being exposed to the addictive properties of the song, and lyrics some considered inappropriate for young ears. They could be right, as once you listen, you’ll definitely be humming it for a while afterward.
Pick Me, Produce 48
Pick Me‘s lyrics symbolize the connection between an idol and their fans, making it the ideal theme song to Korean music channel Mnet’s various “survival” shows, where prospective idols battle it out in a competition for a place in a new group. A different arrangement has been performed by the trainee members for each show, with this version for the Produce 48 series being the most iconic.
Like Blackpink, Twice have a massive, well-deserved international following, but an entirely different concept and sound. This is perfectly illustrated by the often impossibly cute and catchy TT, the title of which refers to the emoticon for crying, that represents a different side to K-pop girl groups’ music to, for example, Blackpink’s Kill This Love.
Candy, H.O.T. (1996)
Get Up, Baby V.O.X. (1997)
Dreams Come True, S.E.S. (1998) (see also, 2022’s Dreams Come True, Aespa)
Funky Tonight, Clon (1999)
Pure Love, Koyote (1999)
Coming of Age Ceremony, Park Ji Yoon (2000)
The second song not performed by a group on our list, but it’s too important not to feature. The controversial lyrics and subject matter couldn’t stop Coming of Age Ceremony from changing the industry, and it has gone on to be covered by multiple, major K-pop groups and artists since its release. Its history, and the effect it had on Park Ji Yoon professionally and personally, is a story you’d be wise to explore if you’re a newcomer.
Come Back Home, Seo Taiji & Boys (2000)
Like many boy groups in Korea at the time, Come Back Home‘s sound is obviously heavily influenced by the hip hop genre, but with the slick, synchronized choreography added in that would become a trademark of all K-pop groups going forward. Come Back Home is a classic song that has been covered multiple times by different groups, including BTS and TXT.
Eternal Love, Fin K.L. (2000)
Perfect Man, Shinhwa (2002)
No.1, BoA (2002)
Our final solo artist on the list, Kwon Boah is too much of a legend not to feature, having released multiple albums and found success singing in Korean, Japanese, and English long before other K-pop artists would do the same. A true icon, she continues to influence performers and shape the industry today.
Hot, 1tym (2003)
Into the New World, Girls’ Generation (2007)
Also known as SNSD, Girls’ Generation defines K-pop girl group success, from a superb group discography, to individual members having incredible solo careers, plus they still manage to release fantastic music as a group today. Into the New World was Girls’ Generation’s debut song, and they’ve become so influential, I simply couldn’t put just one of their songs on the list, so there’s another one coming soon.
Mirotic, TVXQ! (2008)
Even if no other songs on our list appeal, this one really needs to make it onto a playlist somewhere. TXVQ!’s take on Under My Skin is almost impossibly cool, and the choreography is practically impeccable. It’s worth listening to Sarah Connor’s version too, as there’s an interesting difference in tone.
Nobody, Wonder Girls (2008)
I’m not going to write anything specific about Nobody, just watch the music video (MV) and enjoy every last, silly minute of it.
Gee, Girls’ Generation (2009)
Sorry, Sorry, Super Junior (2009)
Bad Girl, Good Girl, Miss A (2010)
Never Let You Go, 2am (2010)
Fiction, Beast (2011)
Along with TXVQ!’s Mirotic, and one other song still to come, Beast’s Fiction is one of the defining K-pop boyband songs. Full of attitude with lyrics to match, it also has one of the best rap breaks in K-pop of this era. Beast later rebranded and became known as Highlight.
Roly Poly, T-ara (2011)
I am the Best, 2NE1 (2011)
Pinochio (Danger), f(x) (2011)
Sherlock, Shinee (2012)
The vocals, the harmonization, the choreography, and that chorus. Sherlock is Shinee’s masterpiece, in what is an amazing discography. For me, it joins Mirotic and Fiction as the K-pop boyband songs I’ll never tire of hearing.
The Chaser, Infinite (2012)
Watch the MV linked here for this excellent song, but if you like it, take a look at the dance MV too as the choreography is amazing, as is the group’s synchronization. One thing though, and it’s probably just me, there’s always a point during the intro that makes me think the song’s going to use the hook from New Order’s Blue Monday.
Fantastic Baby, BigBang (2012)
Growl, Exo (2013)
Luv, Apink (2014)
Apink and Luv was my introduction to K-pop, but not the Korean version. Apink also released a Japanese language version, something many K-pop groups do to gain traction in Japan, which I heard (and loved) first, before going on to explore the group’s other songs. To this day Apink continue to release great music, and the group is featured in our Honorable Mentions section too.
Mamma Mia, Kara (2014)
Closer, Oh My Girl (2015)
Crazy, 4Minute (2015)
Playing with Fire, Blackpink (2016)
DNA, BTS (2017)
Thanks, Seventeen (2018)
Love Bomb, Fromis_9 (2018)
Fromis_9 is the group formed from the survival reality show Idol School, and Love Bomb is probably their best known, and most popular song. It’s featured here because it’s a fantastic representation of why many love K-pop. Love Bomb is pure bubblegum fun, with a colorful and fun MV, and a memorable chorus you’ll suddenly find yourself singing despite not having heard the song for a while.
Bad Boy, Red Velvet (2018)
Superhuman, NCT 127 (2019)
Smooth and funky, Superhuman is all about faultless harmonies and that addictive, high-energy chorus. Taken on its own the title can sound arrogant, but when you look at the lyrics, it’s more about believing in yourself and the importance of confidence, which is a great message.
Helicopter, CLC (2020)
I dare you not to have the chorus to CLC’s fantastic power-pop song in your head after listening to it just once. CLC has not been active since 2022, but several members continue to perform, in particular, Yujin, who won a spot in Kep1er, the group formed at the close of the Girls Planet 999 reality show competition.
Mago, Gfriend (2020)
Panorama, IZ*ONE (2020)
I’m letting my bias show here, so you’ll have to indulge me for a moment. IZ*ONE will forever be my own personal favorite K-pop group, and Panorama (in fact, the entire One-reeler mini-album it headlines) is my favorite release. Some will prefer Fiesta, which is where IZ*ONE’s own unique style was firmly cemented, but Panorama saw everything that makes the group so special come together perfectly.
From the amazing, synchronized choreography and razor-sharp editing to the stunning costumes and faultless vocals, Panorama really showcases each member’s individual talents. But it’s the final 20 seconds that elevate it beyond Fiesta, from the way the camera soars over An Yujin and Kwon Eunbi, to Jang Wonyoung’s closing lyrics:
“Remember it forever, promise, don’t let me down, down, down.”
The group would go on to disband not that long after One-reeler‘s release, making it their last major mini-album and those lyrics especially poignant.
Thunderous, Stray Kids (2021)
Not just Stray Kids’ best song, but Thunderous also has one of the best K-pop MV’s you’ll see.
Eleven, Ive (2021)
From the ashes of IZ*ONE came two new groups, the first of which is Ive, featuring two former IZ*ONE members, An Yujin and Jang Wonyoung. I’ll always love the ethereal sound of Eleven, the varying tempo during the chorus, and the fact that despite it being short, it’s memorable and seriously addictive.
Fearless, Le Sserafim (2022)
Following in Ive’s footsteps is Le Sserafim, the second group to feature two former IZ*ONE members, this time Kim Chaewon and Miyawaki Sakura, a Japanese idol who previously performed with HKT48. Not only is Fearless a superb debut song, but it’s also joined by one of the best, most cohesively thought-out overall concepts. This gives Le Sserafim the group a real character and personality of its own, which continues to evolve as they release new music.
Attention, NewJeans (2022)
Girl groups ruled K-pop in 2021 and 2022, and NewJeans is a fantastic example of why. Attention, the five-member group’s debut single, is perfect pop that still manages to show off each member’s vocal talents. It’s mellow, catchy, and fun. The fact the group then quickly followed it up with the equally cool Hype Boy and OMG (with its iPhone-inspired intro to the MV), makes them one to watch in 2023.
It has taken some time to put this list together, and so many songs almost made it to the list, and several have been swapped in and out more than a few times. Honorable mentions include:
Touch my Body, Sistar
Le Voya9e, Kep1er
I’m So Sick, Apink
As You Wish, WJSN
Love so Sweet, Cherry Bullet
Mr. Simple, Super Junior
Bang bang bang, BigBang
Ddu, du, ddu du, Blackpink
Boom Bboom, Momoland
I Can’t Stop Me, Twice
Easy, WJSN The Black
The list of honorable mentions could go on and on, and there’s a risk this will turn into a top 100 rather than a top 50, so I’ll stop here. Hopefully, our list has either made you nod in agreement (but not shake your head in disbelief), introduced you to some new artists, promoted a conversation, or opened up the world of K-pop to you for the first time ever.
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