The Top 10 K-Pop Tracks of the Decade

By David Yi

Korean Wave? Dinky. Try insatiable tsunami. With a whirlpool of talent making an international splash and forcing musical globalization, Korean pop seems to be quickly taking over the world. But what songs from this decade made the biggest impact? From a couple of wonder girls who created a national dance craze to a handful of lies that made it to the top of the charts, here are the Top 10 songs of the past ten years (and no, H.O.T. did not make the cut!)

Who made it to the top? Click to find out!

Agree with the list? Want to add a few tracks of your own? Sound off in our comments!

10. Big Bang’s “거짓말 (Guh Jit Mal)” (2007)
Teenage angst is no match for teenage heartbreak. Proof in this first breakout hit for YG’s Big Bang where a simple piano melody is mixed with wallowing percussion undertones. With added lyrics of a painful realization of lost love, the song strays from other saccharine cliches and overused synthesizers that are typical of other boy bands. Fluid, catchy and danceable—far from pretension—the song is as slick as the careers it jump-started like that of the budding fashion icon that G-Dragon has become.


9.  T’s “As Time Goes By (시간이 흐른뒤)” (2001)

When Korea found their “Queen of Soul” in American-born, bi-racial Tasha Reid, they quickly grasped and embraced her uniquely husky-voiced sound. Never before had a Korean female singer expressed a song with such unadulterated soul and R&B as did T in this ballad. With a touch of smokiness intertwined with a jagged-edged touch, it can be said that Korean soul was pioneered because of this gem of a song found in “As Time Goes By.”


8.   BoA’s “My Name” (2004)
BoA’s American debut wasn’t so triumphant, but there was a time where the Asian darling was indeed, a musical juggernaut. With safe singles like “No. 1” and “My Sweetie” hitting the top of the charts, this diva was the queen of squeaky clean. It wasn’t until 2004’s “My Name” that this “Pride of Asia” successfully sloughed that image through this sexy club banger. With synthesizers mixed with orchestral strings, a wicked beat infused between blatant sex appeal, the song is like eating Pop Rocks—sweet at first with a popping shock at the end. And with her intense gyrating (see video at: 2:30) BoA made it impossible for anyone to ever forget this single let alone her name.


7.   J’s “어제 처럼 (Like Yesterday)” (2000)
Former Washington, DC beauty queen-cum-pop star J’s (nee Jae Young Chung) first single off of her second album is probably the most heartfelt song of the past decade if not in Korean history. Though often criticized for having too meek and soft a voice, ironically, it’s this soothing voice that worked so perfectly for the song and sprinkled it with musical magic. With an unassuming melody enriched with poetic lyrics, the ballad is a definitely Korean classic and a strong work of bravado.


6.   KISS’s “여자이니까 (Because I Am Girl)” (2002)
Girlfriends at NRB unite! Possibly the most remade female song of the decade (in languages from Vietnamese to Chinese) this sleeper single from one-hit-wonder band, Kiss, is absolutely unforgettable. With a music video that epitomizes a sad Korean well, music video, the ballad speaks of the tenderness and frailty of a woman’s heart. Though the song didn’t chart well in Korea, it is forever known as that favorite song about that one dude who gave his eyes for that one chick in that one tragic video. And to us, a classic that will forever be known as that one music video that made us cry once or twice–okay, thrice.


5.  Kim Bum Soo’s “보고 싶다 (Bo Go Ship Da)” (2002)
Even without the success of Stairway To Heaven (Fun Fact: it’s huge in South America!), Kim Bum Soo’s haunting ballad would have done incredibly well on its own. With his strong soulful voice and a melody that is nothing short of genius, Kim translates the song’s emotions effortlessly. Every measure has a story, every beat has intention, every ad lib has pain hiding behind it–every minute absolutely captivating.


4.  Wheesung’s  “안되나요? (Ahn Dwae Na Yo; Can It Not Be?)” (2002)
When Wheesung first debuted with his corn rows and thuggish attire crooning to this ballad, we couldn’t help but burst out into laughter. The juxtaposition with the whole ghetto fab get-up mixed with a slow jam just didn’t work. I mean, who did this dude think he was, DeAngelo? But after scrutinizing the ballad further we realized that it was an instant classic, one that would eventually launch the singer’s career into super stardom. With a highly anticipated debut in the States next year, we can pinpoint his success to this one song, one about unrequited love about a man who simply asks, “can it not be?” DeAngelo he may not be, but a Shakesperian lyricist perhaps?


3.   Brown Eyes’ “벌써 일년(Already A Year)” (2001)
When this song first debuted Koreans were scratching their heads. Yes, the song was great, but just who were these Brown Eyes fellas? The two-member band made a conscientious decision to shield their faces from the general public to focus solely on the output of their music. The result was this 2001 surprising smash single about someone who realizes that a year had already passed. Naul leads the track with his smooth voice crooning in a perfect crescendo straying far from affectation and deep into sappy but oh-so-good love songs.


2.   Wonder Girls’ “Tell Me” (2007)
Back in 2007 there wasn’t one person in Korea who didn’t know how to point their finger to the right, swing their hips from side to side, and shimmy their legs up and down. It was an absolute craze that swept the entire country and a hit single that catapulted this this five-member group domestic group into worldwide stardom. The song’s campy and cutesy pink-and-sparkle melodies could have easily been ridiculous and just plain annoying. But with a slap-happy beat mixed with a catchy melody and subtle cheer, the track is easily one of the most famous, if not most recognized tune in South Korean history.


1.   g.o.d.’s “거짓말 (Lie)” (2000)
In the early 2000s, generic boy bands came and left with underwhelming performances and singles. g.o.d. could have easily been just another statistic if not for this single that quickly took them out of obscurity. About a man who pretends to have no qualms in sending off his lover, the single became one of the most listened to track in the country’s history, sold close to 2 million albums, and is our No. 1 song of the decade. With double entendres throughout the song and rapping that borderlines spoken word, the song is a perfect blend of what’s perfectly awesome about Korean music: the mix of cheese, spice, sweetness, with a lot of good ol’ Korean passive aggressive goodness. Now put that in your next holiday soup, umma!


Honorable Mentions:
2NE1’s “Fire”

2PM’s “Again and Again”

Drunken Tiger’s “엄지 손가락 (Thumb)”

TVXQ’s “Tonight”

Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra”

SG Wannabe’s “살다가 (Saldaga)”

Hyori’s “10 Minutes”

Rain’s “It’s Raining”

Fly To The Sky’s “남자 답게 (Like A Man)”

Shinhwa’s “Brand New”