Monday, January 6, 2014

REPLY 2013: Top 30 Korean Songs of 2013

It is finally here: Sangha's top 30 Korean songs of 2013. These are the best songs of 2013 as decided by me. If you haven't seen my post for 2012, feel free to check that out here. I'm gonna go ahead and say this now, but I'm not too confident on the list this year. There were tons of decent songs, but it was really difficult to pick songs that really stood out for me. But! Still some good music in this post.

As for the rules, same rules from last year. This is a relatively subjective list, although I did consider extra-musical elements more this time around. This list encompasses songs released from December 1, 2012 to November 31, 2013. No same artist is listed more than once, unless they are featuring on a track. 8tracks playlist is at the bottom as well. It's been such a long time since I last reviewed or anything, this is probably gonna be awkward, but let's move forth!

Honourable Mention
Nell || "Ocean of Light"
from: Escaping Gravity
You might be thinking 'wait, Nell as honourable mention?!' but let me clarify: I love this song and I have a personal attachment to it that I don't have with majority of the songs on the list. The only reason I included this song as honourable mention is because I didn't want to put a number on it but also didn't think it was particularly number 1 worthy either. But hey, "Ocean of Light" is still a jam, let's not forget that. It's significantly different from their previous releases in its positive message, which I thought was really neat. Finally a happy song from Nell! Also this song is so much fun live, wow. I'm so glad I got to see them perform live in 2013. One of the many highlights of 2013 for me, for sure.

30 Ladies Code || "Hate You"
from: Hate You (Single) 
Rookie girl group of the year! Ladies Code immediately caught my attention because of Sojung who I remembered from Voice Korea. But wow, what a talented bunch. Their debut single "Bad Girl" was strong too, but my personal favourite from them this year was "Hate You". The line distribution in this song is fairly even and all the girls sound fantastic. Also - by far my favourite bridge of the year. I love the way the beat pulls back with Eunbi's vocals coming in at the right time. "Pretty Pretty" was a good comeback as well, so I have a lot of hope for this group.

29 한희정 (Han Hee Jung) || "흙"
from: 날마다 타인 
How delightfully experimental. This song is a breakthrough point for Han Hee Jung, who declared that she was tired of making songs that people will enjoy and decided to really pursue what she wanted to do. Both heavy and light at the same time, this song is strangely addicting, whether you really understand what's going on or not.

28 Infinite || "Destiny"
from: Destiny
Infinite does it again. They manage to impress me year after year with their songs. "Destiny" marks another landmark for them as it is still very consistent with their usual sounds we are familiar with from "The Chaser" and "Paradise" - but unlike their previous hits, this song isn't by Sweetune. Yet it's so Infinite! I also dig how tight everything sounds in this song - everything is so well orchestrated, from the little sound effects to the vocals to Dongwoo's rap.

27 김바다 (Kim Bada) || "베인 (Hurt)"
from: N. Surf Part 1
2013 was an awesome year for Kim Bada. He released a solid solo EP and his band The Ratios did well in the scene with a fantastic re-lease of their debut album. His other band Art of Parties released a promising single late in 2012 and I'm excited to see what he does with that band too. This song is your typical rock song but he sounds fantastic and the lyrics are really lovely as well.

26 심규선 (Lucia) || "그런 계절"
from: 꽃그늘
My lovely songstress of flowers. Lucia has one of my favourite voices in Korean music right now, and she does a standout job on this ballad track.  I'm so glad she decided to ditch the trumpets from Decalcomanie because that really wasn't doing anything for me. This song is abundant in its spring and flower imagery - in a truly tragic but beautiful way.

25 Dynamic Duo feat. Muzie of UV || "BAAAM"
Witty and smooth, Dynamic Duo's "BAAAM" is a real jam. After series of disappointing and mediocre mainstream hip-hop releases from other artists in 2013, it was good to see Dynamic Duo return with something that really got me moving.

24 Sistar || "Give It To Me"
from: Give It To Me 
Ah, I like it better this time around. "Alone" was a good song but I found that it got boring after a couple of listens. "Give It To Me" is similar in its sensuality (almost a trademark of Sistar by now) but with a stronger oomph.

23 Fromm || "좋아해"
from: Arrival
This song starts out as a typical feel good acoustic tune, but it develops into something significantly more fascinating as Fromm's voice starts to really shine through the interesting chord progressions. Brilliant debut effort from a promising singer-songwriter.

22 We Are The Night || "뜨거운 너는 내게 말했지"
from: We Are The Night
Exploding with sweetness, We Are The Night's "뜨거운 너는 내게 말했지" is the perfect synthpop tune for a memorable night out. Everything comes together so well in this song: the synth, the signature guitar riffs reminiscent of their previous efforts as Rocket Diary, and the vocals. This song (or the band's sound) isn't anything new - it's something we've all heard before, but it's just so damn catchy and trendy, and terrifically executed.

21 하동균 (Ha Dong Kyun) || "From Mark"
from: Mark
Ha Dong Kyun made a quiet comeback with his EP Mark in December of 2012 and it was definitely worth the wait. The title track from the EP, "From Mark" is a Korean ballad tune fused with obvious Brit rock influences, but one that really showcases Ha Dong Kyun's wonderful voice. And there's such sincerity in the lyrics and the delivery. I'm really looking forward to what he does next.

20 메이슨 더 소울 (Mayson The Soul) feat. Beenzino || "Holiday"
from: Jackasoul
Mayson the Soul popped out of nowhere for me because I don't usually keep up with the hip-hop and R&B side of Korean music, but his short EP was delightful, and his lead track "Holiday" is probably the best feel-good song of the year. Beenzino's rap is a cherry on top. Definitely look out for this guy, he's going places.

19 Nine Muses || "Wild"
from: Wild
I've been keeping an eye on Nine Muses since "News" and they really caught my attention in 2013 with a series of excellent tunes. In fact, all their releases in 2013 were so solid it was difficult to pick just one. I decided to go with "Wild" because it's a great song with a particularly awesome arrangement. Also don't forget the mesmirizing choreo and the kickass promo outfits.

18 Zion.T feat. Gaeko || "Babay"
from: Red Light
Will Zion.T ever release something bad? He helped Primary put "See-Through" high on the list in 2012, and he does it again for himself in 2013. Incredibly tight track from one of the best albums of the year.

17 이효리 (Lee Hyori) || "Miss Korea"
from: Monochrome
After a disastrous 4th album, Lee Hyori returned triumphant with a spectacular 5th album that felt much more comfortable than H-Logic. "Miss Korea" is a song with a nostalgic twang, and something that definitely feels extra special coming from Hyori. She's never been the best vocalist, but she sounds confident and fantastic on this song, and I am definitely loving the Lee Sang Soon  influence.

16 P-Type feat. Gray || "Love, Life, Rap"
from: RAP
P-Type, dubbed the 'rhyme king' of Korean hip-hop scene by some, shows what he's all about in this particularly memorable song called "Love, Life, Rap". This track has a sick beat and a tune, and Gray is excellent in the featuring.

15 Telefly || "메아리"
from: Avalokitesvara
Telefly's latest EP Avalokitesvara is a step up from their debut album Almost Psychedelic in its psychedelic and experimental sounds. The title track "메아리" is a perfect example of their development, with its exploding sounds, rough and bold. It's amazing how a song with such depth can come from a 3-piece band. A true power trio.

14 EXO || "으르렁 (Growl)"
from: XOXO (Repackage)
Ah, how can we forget? The most unexpected mega-hit of 2013, Exo's "Growl" sure surprised me when it literally exploded in Korea. Song that finally put Exo on the map, "Growl" really grew on me with each listen. Paired with the solid choreo and performances, this song was a timely reminder why boy groups are so much fun. Let's just hope that SM keeps doing what works.

13 수상한 커튼 (Mystery Curtain) || "바다"
from: 아름다운 날
This song really isn't anything spectacular or extraordinary, but it's one that lingers. Mystery Curtain's soothing vocals and the pretty melody work magically in "바다", beckoning you to grab a seat. Airy, soft, comforting, with a hint of nostalgia.

12 f(x) || "Airplane"
from: Pink Tape
Similar to last year, I had a damn hard time choosing which song to include because the entire Pink Tape album was pretty fantastic. In the end I chose "Airplane" because it's an extremely fun song and the one that immediately caught my attention when I first listened to the album. The developments are a delight, and everything is produced to perfection. Not just an amazing idol tune but an amazing electro track, "Airplane" shows that f(x) isn't just your ordinary girl group.

11 선우정아 (Sunwoo Jung-A) || "뱁새"
from: It's Okay, Dear
From one of the most capable vocalists in Korea, "뱁새" is a cheeky fun song that I could easily relate to ("I thought if I dressed like her I'd fly"). This song feels like a short play because Sunwoo Jung-A is great at the subtle emoting. A well put-together drama of a song.

10 IU feat. Gain || "누구나 비밀은 있다"
from: Modern Times
It was horribly difficult to pick a song from IU because her album was also really awesome. I decided on her collaboration with Gain because both are personal favourites in k-pop at the moment and lo and behold! This song is also composed by another personal favourite, Yoonsang (along with East4A) with lyrics from lyricist Kim Eana. And everyone did their job so wonderfully on this track. Both IU and Gain sound fantastic, with their voices sensually overlapping each other's. The Latin influenced sounds are perfect, and the suggestive subject matter is simply the best. Love the lyrics, love everyone involved, love this song.

9 강아솔 (Kang A Sol) || "엄마"
from: 정직한 마음 
One of the most touching song of the year, this humble and honest song works brilliantly in its simplicity. From the title of the song I thought it was just another song dedicated to one's mother, but it proved to be more profound than that, with some verses being sung in a mother's perspective. One of the few tunes to make me tear up in 2013, the last line of this track is one of my favourite lyrics of the year - "다 갚지도 못 할 빚만 쌓여가는구나 / Only debts I will never be able to repay are piling up".

8 Crayon Pop || "빠빠빠 (Bar Bar Bar)"
from: 빠빠빠
Who knew? Who knew that a barely-known 'nugu' girl group would cause the biggest phenomenon of 2013? It doesn't matter if you found the song terribly annoying, because it still managed to shake up Korea and Crayon Pop became a conversation starter at every dinner table. And the song is ridiculously, ridiculously addicting.

7 조용필 (Cho Yong Pil) || "Bounce"
from: Hello
The return of the king. And what a victorious return it is. "Bounce" was one of the biggest hits of 2013, with everyone making references to it at every occasion possible. And deservedly so, because it is such a fun, addicting pop tune. From a living legend of Korean popular music, "Bounce" proved that Cho Yong Pil's era is not yet over.

6 장필순 (Jang Pil Soon) || "너에게 하고 싶은 얘기"
from: Soony Seven
This song takes its time to build up to the exploding chorus, but every step in getting there is precious and a step worth taking. One of the most hopeful songs of the year ("you are more beautiful than anyone else in this world"), "너에게 하고 싶은 얘기" is so sincere and supportive, which I very much appreciate. It's not a pretty song - it's not perfectly sculpted, but it's perhaps more touching because of its rough edges.

5 아침 (Achime) || "Sweet Sixteen"
from: Swtsxtn
Oh boy, where do I begin with this song. Well, it's a catchy track, that's for sure. It's probably the catchiest song Achime has ever released. But the risque lyrics? Told from a sixteen year old girl(?)'s perspective, "Sweet Sixteen" is dangerously lolita-esque, and incredibly perverse. Raw pubescent desires are openly displayed in this song ("I don't want to go to school, I want to play / I want to get messed up, please help me") and it's up to you to interpret the song as an exploitation of adolescence or a self-deprecating exposé of human desires. It is undeniably perverse that a male vocal is singing in the girl's perspective, but didn't we all have similar carnal desires when we were 16? The song raises a bunch of interesting questions and is definitely something that could be further analyzed in its subject matter.

4 브로콜리 너마저 (Broccoli You Too) || "숨바꼭질"
from: 1/10
After the regrettable Golden Hits release, Broccoli You Too's 1/10, released in December of 2012, was a relief with its solid Broccoli tunes. "숨바꼭질" is a personal favourite from the EP and probably one of my favourite Broccoli You Too songs ever. Low-energy and slow in tempo, this song really tugs at your heartstrings with its sad puppy lyrics - "where is everyone going / where am I / if I knew, I'd be there waiting". 

3 씨 없는 수박 김대중 (Seedless Watermelon Kim Dae Joong) || "불효자는 놉니다"
from: 씨 없는 수박 
Blues was huge in Korean indie scene in 2013, with the emergence of various talented blues artists. Seedless Watermelon Kim Dae Joong was the best out of them all, with his dreadfully realistic and frank lyrics. A spoof, you could say, of a classic Korean song called "불효자는 웁니다" (Undutiful Son Cries), "불효자는 놉니다" (which translates to "Undutiful Son Does Nothing") sheepishly reflects the state of the current Korean society, where many of its young adults are without jobs. Telling a story of a jobless son who does nothing but drink, play his guitar, and come home late, this song is short but one strong jab of a social commentary. It may sound all fun and bright, but at its core it's tragic, a facade to hide the anxiety and stress of the directionless generation.

2 자우림 (Jaurim) || "스물다섯, 스물하나"
from: Goodbye, Grief.
Our days of the past I thought would last forever. They're nothing but memories now. This song is so perfect in its melancholic delivery, so wonderful in its nostalgia. The imagery of the song produces pictures that are too vivid for us to rest easily, as they are of times long gone, never to be relived. The "you" in the song isn't just the person that used to exist in our world; it's our youth, our golden times that will never be returned to us. A beautiful lamentation for one's happiest times - and also a reminder to live your life to the fullest at every waking moment.

1 Asian Chairshot || "소녀"
from: 탈 
I had the most difficulty picking what I thought was the best song of 2013 and I've doubted my choice over and over again. (I still kind of do.) But in the end, I kept coming back to this song, because this is the song that really shook me and this is the song that I kept coming back to, over and over again. I actually didn't even consider listening to them before I had the chance to see them live and was completely mesmerized by their sound. A lot is happening here, but everything works so well, with the band unafraid to take their time (the intro alone is over a minute long). Despite the length of the song almost nearing 6 minutes, it doesn't feel long at all - and you almost wished it'd go on longer, because the trio's sound is absolutely captivating. Son Hee Ham's work on the guitar is particularly exemplary. Distinctive and reminiscent of Korean traditional music in its themes and sounds, Asian Chairshot's "소녀" is truly unforgettable.

The 8tracks playlist is here. It's in order from number 1 to honourable mention.


  1. Great selections. I was REALLY behind on pop music this year, so I'll definitely have to check out your pop selections as well :)

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  3. Great list! Some of the songs I know, but most of them I do not. I'm excited to listen to them and check out the ones that I don't know. Thanks for making this into a 8tracks playlist!

    1. Thanks for checking it out! I hope you find some songs you also enjoy :)

  4. You have a delightful and mighty refined taste in music and I love how you explore in the Korean music industry, not just focusing on the Pop genre. I've learned so much from you, and I've come to know more groups and soloists by reading your reviews. Pink Tape and Modern Times are by far my fave albums from last year, including GD's Coup d'Etat. Please continue doing so! I am glad I've just bumped into this site :D

    1. wow thank you so much for dropping by! :)