Top 10 K-Pop Singles of the Year

Guest post by Cbruhs’ bestie, bandmate, and K-pop fanatic Reese Umbaugh


2011 has been a globally momentous year for the once-obscure and uniquely futuristic genre of Korean pop music. Dominating the Top 40 charts of Korea, China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, K-pop has infiltrated the Japanese music industry, the world’s second largest, with a string of number one singles and sold-out tours from Korean boy bands, girl groups, and solo acts. Several artists have begun touring internationally and promoting in countries like France, Germany, Britain, and the US, where a showcase of artists signed to SM Entertainment — South Korea’s largest talent agency — sold out Madison Square Garden in October.

My fascination with K-pop stems from the glossy, flawless, and polished product that is the hallmark of the industry. Every artist, in every group, has impeccable stage presence and etiquette. Every beat is sonically infectious. Every dance move is synchronized to perfection and every vocal performance is flawless. In 2011, K-pop conquered the world, and if the trend continues — as these songs (all released in 2011) would indicate —  2012 will be the year of the K-pop intergalactic takeover. Without further ado, these are the 10 singles that prove K-pop will engulf the universe. Resistance is futile:

10. “Shake Ur Body” by Swincle:

This was a recent discovery for me from this group that debuted in March. One of 27 K-pop girl groups that formed in 2011, their track “Shake Ur Body” stands out to me, mostly because of the non-stop boom, boom, boom that is sure to get lodged in your brain all day. The video is fairly simple, with the girls depicted preparing a party for a guy — while being especially creepy in the video’s intro and sometimes becoming miniature versions of themselves. Ooo-kay. Also: lots of shaking they bodies.

9. “So Cool” by Sistar:


If any group can dance around in the shortest dresses around and manage to not reveal their lady parts, it’s Sistar! Plus, after watching the video, I’m convinced that the Olympics should absolutely replace the baton used in running events with a diamond clutch. WERK!

8. “Loverboy” by Apeace:


Apeace automatically make this list simply by being a 21-member group. Let me say that again: A 21-MEMBER GROUP! Imagine them all in a recording studio! Or in the green room of a venue! Or anywhere else! 21 MEMBERS! This shit would only fly in K-pop, people!

7. “Mirror Mirror” by 4MINUTE:

While “Mirror Mirror” didn’t light the charts on fire, it did cause controversy for the group performing a “spread leg dance” that was deemed too provocative and overtly sexual for television. To the sadness of every single person in the world: the dance was later banned by Korean music shows. A single tear falls.

6. “Pop Pop Pop” by Rania:

I was hooked on “Pop Pop Pop” once I heard the plinking synth noises that accompany the track during the intro and chorus. So good! And they have light-up wands. Also good! Rania is another new group, gathering attention partly because producer Teddy Riley, who has produced hits for Michael Jackson, produced some of Rania’s debut.

5. “Be My Baby” by Wonder Girls:

Up until this year, Wonder Girls were probably the only K-pop group destined for an American crossover. They toured the US and Canada, including a stint opening for The Jonas Brothers(!) and Justin Bieber(!!), and performed live on So You Think You Can Dance. Their English-language single “Nobody” hit #76 on the Billboard Hot 100, making the Wonder Girls the first South Korean group to enter the chart. The girls made a Korean comeback this year and are setting their sights on US promotion in 2012.

4. “Mr. Simple” by Super Junior:

Super Junior rightfully deserves a spot here. Despite being plagued with various issues in 2011: Disputes with management! Scheduling conflicts! Line-up changes! Mandatory military service! Su Ju has become Korea’s supreme boy band and further propelled their international success with the release of their 3rd album Mr. Simple and the SuperShow4 tour, which was recently announced for an American leg in 2012. Plus, they are International Sex Symbols. Except for the chubby one with the weird haircut. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.

3. “I Am The Best” by 2NE1:

I appreciate 2NE1 for a lot of reasons. For one, “I Am The Best” is an absolutely killer track. Second, 2NE1 has an image that’s more “edgy” in K-pop, with baggy hip-hop pants and studded jewelry, while other Korean girl groups emphasize sex and mini-skirts. They describe themselves as “hip-hop warriors” — which is awesome —  and they want to portray themselves as strong women. Bottom line: These chicks will kill you.

2. “Roly Poly” by T-ara:

2011 was a great year for T-ara (sometimes stylized as T♔ARA, which instantly makes them my favorite band name ever). The group hit #1 on Japan’s Oricon weekly charts, the first for a foreign group and international female artist ever in history. All in all, T-ara released two Korean EP’s (and a re-packaged edition) and two Japanese singles, all commercially acclaimed, and also had time to release a few different videos for the song showcased here, “Roly Poly”. To all you Bay Area readers, T-ara will be headlining the K-Pop Power & Beauty Concert (best tour name ever) in San Francisco on January 13th. Best start learning the “Roly Poly” choreography!

1. “Mr. Taxi” by Girls’ Generation:

Alright, I know that this song is actually in Japanese, BUT the Korean version (which is their new single) of the video has not yet been released (but you can listen to it here). Anyway, what is there to say about Girls’ Generation, other than they are the best of the best in the K-pop universe. The girls released singles in Korean, Japanese, and English this year, headlined a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in New York, and broke too many records and had too many international chart debuts to even list. When the nine members are not recording, touring, and promoting, they are starring in Korean dramas and reality shows, endorsing brands and products (I’ve also attached their advertisement for Intel at the bottom of this post because it too is perfection), and donating their time and money to philanthropic causes. In short, they are global superstars who are the best bet in bringing the “Hallyu wave” (the spread of South Korean culture) to worldwide audiences. GG, thank you for the amazing pop music. Here’s to 2012!


Reese Umbaugh is the Licensing & Podcast Coordinator at KEXP 90.3FM radio in Seattle, as well as a contributor to the KEXP Blog. When he’s not obsessing over the latest in K-pop music news, he’s playing synths in electro-pop band Noddy, watching subtitled anime, and reading DC comics. In short, he’s a nerd.

Reese is also producing and DJing a J-pop and K-pop Dance Party on January 19th in Seattle (flyer below). Don’t miss it!


One thought on “Top 10 K-Pop Singles of the Year

  1. Pingback: Sakura-Con J-Pop Extravaganza! « BicoastalBitchin's Weblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s