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35 Songs That Helped Define K-Pop In 2020

Did your bias group make the list? 😱

Let's be honest: 2020 was not the year anyone expected it would be. However, no matter what the year threw our way, at least we had K-pop to make life a little sweeter.

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With traveling, concerts, and life in general put on hold, K-pop fans could still find joy and comfort through attending livestreamed concerts, watching music videos, and listening to new songs from their favorite artists.

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This year in particular saw the release of songs that pushed creative boundaries, broke streaming records, inspired dance covers from all over the world, and yanked on all of our heartstrings with their poignant lyrics.

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From disco to newtro, this year in K-pop had it all!

Although it was no easy feat, we selected 35 of the best K-pop songs that got us through this year.

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Ready to see who made the list? Let's go!

35. "Boy" by Treasure

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Debuting as a K-pop group in a year like 2020 is no easy feat, but Treasure effortlessly rose to the challenge with their debut single "Boy." The song carefully balances the group's powerful vocals with a dynamic, synth-heavy chorus, and its music video seals the deal by highlighting the group's indomitable stage presence and innovative choreography. After watching this video, you'll have no choice but to stan!

34. "Black Mamba" by Aespa

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Speaking of debuting in 2020, Aespa's high-octane debut single "Black Mamba" highlighted that they did not come to play either. From its first shout, the members are a force to be reckoned with, hitting outrageous high notes as they perform the song's iconic choreography. Both the song and music video highlight that there are darker sides to Aespa waiting just beneath the surface, and I can't wait to see where they go next.

33. "Star" by LOONA

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Take a trip through the galaxy with LOONA with their latest single "Star." Released in both Korean and English, the song is one that just naturally brings a smile to your face with its peppy tempo and sweet lyrics. I will never get over this music video either; whether the girls are sitting together in a room full of glittering lights or dancing in a shooting star-filled galaxy, there's a warmth and effortless beauty to it that works well with the song's uplifting lyrics.

32. "1 Billion Views (Feat. MOON)" by EXO-SC

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EXO-SC takes retrofuturism to new levels with their funky single "1 Billion Views." Set in a bustling cityscape, its music video blends classic 8-bit video game references with modern-day virtual reality and live-streaming. Plus, you can't leave out Chanyeol and Sehun's adorable phone choreography too! Much like its title, this is a song that you'll find yourself listening to over and over... maybe even 1 billion times?

31. "The Stealer" by The Boyz

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No matter what concept they take on, it's common knowledge that a song by The Boyz is going to pack a serious punch. That's no different in "The Stealer," their dramatic dance track that depicts the 12-membered group on a mission to steal someone's heart, only to have theirs stolen instead. The real challenge, though, is if they'll succeed in stealing your heart after hearing this song too!

30. "Monster" by Red Velvet - Irene & Seulgi

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No one can be both spooky and sultry quite like Red Velvet. Just listen to their sub-unit Irene & Seulgi's single "Monster" and you'll quickly understand why. The song's lyrics are delightfully scary as they detail possessing someone and toying with them as they struggle to break free from their hold. Add in a heavily distorted backbeat, distant alarm ringing, and sinister choreography and this song is a dream that you'll never want to wake up from.

29. "Goblin (Favorite Boys)" by A.C.E

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Our favorite boys are back! "Goblin (Favorite Boys)" is an explosive track that takes no prisoners with its hard rock edge and confident lyrics that see the group stand up to haters and swear to become the best of the best. From Wow and Kim Byeongkwan's fiery rapping to Jun, Chan, and Donghun's unbeatable vocals to the entire group's incredible dance performance, this song showcases all of A.C.E's talents perfectly. "Goblin (Favorite Boys)" is truly A.C.E at their best.

28. "Given-Taken" by ENHYPEN

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Enhypen's debut title track "Given-Taken" is an introspective take on their experience on the survival competition show I-Land that lead to their debut earlier this year. It explores the idea of whether they were given the opportunity to debut as a K-pop group, or if they saw they opportunity and took it for themselves. (Get it?) It's not often that a K-pop group is both candid and cognizant of their debut and its implications, and that's what makes "Given-Taken" such a unique and refreshing song.

27. "Wannabe" by ITZY

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Since their debut in 2019, it's been ITZY's mission to champion self-acceptance and love to their listeners. They continued to spread their message in 2020 with their single "WANNABE." "I don't have to be anything because I'm perfect when I'm myself," the members sing. "No matter if you love me or hate me, I wanna be, one and only me." It's that sentiment, combined with their iconic shoulder-shimmying choreography, that makes this song an instant hit.

26. "Make A Wish" by NCT U

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From its opening whistle and bouncing backbeat alone, there's a magical quality to NCT's single "Make A Wish." What takes it to the next level is the inclusion of NCT members from each of the group's different units performing together. Prior to the release of "Make A Wish," imagining a song that featured Jaehyun and Xiaojun riffing off one another or Lucas and Jaemin rapping together would've been a distant dream. Now, it's an addictive pop single that's better than anyone could've ever wished for.

25. "Dingga" by Mamamoo

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From riding scooters to rollerskating to dancing the night away, the music video for "Dingga" just makes me desperately want to attend a party thrown by MAMAMOO one day. You know they know how to have fun! This video is a perfect fit for its song, which features lyrics that describe feeling lonely and bored with life and encourages listeners to snap out of their negative mindsets by celebrating the good times, meeting with friends, eating ice cream, and drinking "like a fish."

24. "Home;run" by Seventeen

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Ocean's Thirteen? Sorry, I only know Pledis' Thirteen. Seventeen's funky heist music video for their single "Home;run" sees the group's members adopting disguises, playing poker, and traveling around the world as they try to steal a large diamond from one another. The song's blustering horns and new jack swing sound pairs well with its video's warm color scheme and classic Hollywood vibe, but it's the song's cool choreography and empowering lyrics that really steal the show.

23. "Dumhdurum" by Apink

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Apink took a traditional breakup song and turned it on its head with the release of "Dumhdurum." On one hand, it's a gorgeous dance anthem full of dreamy synthesizers and sizzling drums. But on the other, its lyrics describe the sheer agony of having to act like you're completely fine after a brutal breakup. When combined, the end result is an iconic dance track that both soothes a broken heart and makes you want to dance the night away.

22. "Breath" by GOT7

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GOT7's pre-release single "Breath" was the breath of fresh air this year. It is GOT7 at their finest: a little funky, shows off the group's creative talents (Youngjae helped write and compose the track!), and is filled with heart-warming lyrics. Also, because it needs to be said, the camerawork in the song's music video is next-level! Each transition from one member to the next is so smooth and effortless β€” a fantastic representation of the song's own groovy, laid-back sound.

21. "Stay Tonight" by Chung Ha

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"Stay Tonight" is the kind of song that just makes you want to dance. The song's pulsing club beat immediately draws you in, but it's Chung Ha's crystal-clear vocals and impeccable choreography that keep you mesmerized throughout the entire performance. Her high note in the song's bridge will always give me goosebumps, especially when juxtaposed with the chorus' beat drop!

20. "Love Killa" by Monsta X

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You bet we've ~got room for one more~ song on this list! Especially when its music video is an homage to some of the best crime films of all time. Monsta X's music video for their single "Love Killa" sees the group's channel classic villains like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, the Joker from The Dark Knight, and Tyler Durden from Fight Club as the song's lyrics paint a picture of a relationship that is as beautiful as it is destructive.

19. "One (Monster & Infinity)" by SuperM

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Spoiler alert: this song is actually the combination of two SuperM songs β€” "Monster" and "Infinity" β€” mixed together to become "One." The result is an out-of-this-world hit that is oozing with confidence and filled with unimaginable high notes, charismatic rapping, and choreography so complex and synchronized it'll leave you breathless. No games; SuperM delivers every time.

18. "Daechwita" by Agust D

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Min Yoongi is a man of many titles. While Suga from BTS might be his most commonly known, it's under the moniker Agust D that the world becomes his playground. The single from his surprise mixtape drop earlier this year, "Daechwita," gets its name from a genre of music from the Joseon dynasty that was used for royal processions. Blending traditional Korean instruments with heavy trap beats and spitfire rapping, "Daechwita" is definitely a homecoming anthem fit for a king like Min Yoongi.

17. "Oh my god" by (G)I-DLE

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Oh. My. God. From the first toll of bells to Minnie's soft, haunting vocals, (G)I-DLE's "Oh my god" will give you goosebumps. Arranged, written, and composed by leader Soyeon, the song describes finding one's self ensnared in a relationship that is "insanely beautiful yet seems like a devil." The beat drop in the chorus is so rich and satisfying, but fair warning: you'll likely find yourself singing "oh my god" for days after your first listen.

16. "Lovesick Girls" by Blackpink

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From its dreamy guitar intro to its explosive chorus, "Lovesick Girls" is the kind of song that you want to scream along to while driving with the windows down (kind of like the members do in the music video!). With Jennie and Lisa's fierce rapping perfectly balancing out Jisoo and RosΓ©'s sweet, lilting vocals, Blackpink's "Lovesick Girls" is a pop masterpiece.

15. "God's Menu" by Stray Kids

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Stray Kids' bombastic single "God's Menu" will satisfy all of your five senses. Written and composed by Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han (aka 3RACHA), the experimental hip-hop track describes their ambition to become a group that can accomplish anything by comparing themselves to five-star chefs. The song is heavily laden with food references, but the most iconic line by far is: "wonder what's our special ingredient? We don't use such a thing." Indeed, there are no special ingredients when it comes to Stray Kids' success β€” that all stems from the group's own creativity, ambition, and hard work.

14. "Inception" by ATEEZ

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With its punchy EDM sound, intense choreography, and jaw-dropping high notes, it can be easy to forget that at its heart ATEEZ's "Inception" is a love song. There's a poignancy to the members' vocals as they describe falling in love with someone but being unable to reach them. When they croon, "I'm in love" in the song's chorus, their pain feels visceral in your own chest. Blending that raw emotion with a powerful performance, "Inception" sees ATEEZ strike the perfect balance of both softness and intensity.

13. "Sacrifice" by Han Seung Woo

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We need to talk about Han Seung Woo. The 26-year-old singer, who is also a member of K-pop group Victon, made his solo debut earlier this year with the R&B track "Sacrifice" and I honestly believe it should be on everyone's playlist. Here's why. While the song's lyrics delve into the feeling of being so infatuated with someone you'd be ready to give up anything to be with them (hence the title), the real draw to this song is Seung Woo's crystal-clear vocals. His effortless runs in the chorus will give you goosebumps and have you pinching yourself for not listening to him sooner.

12. "Turn Back Time" by WayV

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While I know WayV is technically a C-pop group, I've decided that the Korean version of "Turn Back Time" is fair game for this list. Which is great, because "Turn Back Time" is a true rollercoaster of a song. It's a deceptively smooth track; one that lulls you into a sense of security with its slow-building rapping and vocals only to crescendo into a chorus that is so powerful it low-key makes me tear up. If you need a song to wake you up and get you in the right frame of mind, it's this one. "Turn Back Time" is so good it'll make you want to stop, rewind, and turn back time just to listen to it all over again.

11. "Blue Hour" by TOMORROW X TOGETHER

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What time is it, you might ask? Why it's blue hour! Aka the time of day when the sunset fades away and the night sky begins to darken. According to Tomorrow X Together it's the most magical time of day, so it makes sense that their single "Blue Hour" would also be the very definition of magical too. The song is the epitome of youthful exuberance β€” from its uplifting lyrics to its funky bassline, there's a sweet, innocent quality to the disco track that never fails to brighten my spirits.

10. "LA DI DA" by Everglow

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Everglow πŸ‘ forever πŸ‘ let's πŸ‘ go! πŸ‘ Since their debut in 2019, the six-member girl group from Yuehua Entertainment has been long-revered for their confident lyrics, clever choreography, and EDM sound (just listen to "Adios" and "Bon Bon Chocolat" if you'd like to find out more).

The group breaks new ground with 2020's iconic track "LA DI DA." Their first dip into the "newtro" genre (which combines both retro and futuristic sounds together), "LA DI DA" is dedicated to all of the "players and the haters" and is a not-so-secret middle finger to those who seek to bring them down. The combination of sleek synthesizers that feel straight out of the '80s with Everglow's badass lyrics is something I never knew I needed in my life. It's punchy, it's iconic, it's Everglow.

9. "Zombie" by Day6

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"Zombie" feels like the unofficial anthem of 2020. Written by members YoungK and Wonpil and composed by Jae, Day6's "Zombie" sees its members at their most vulnerable yet as they compare the cyclical tediousness of everyday life to becoming a zombie. It's such a gradual process that the members don't even notice they've become one until it's too late; though they try to change up their lifestyles and find joy, they still find themselves feeling hollow and alone. "Am I the only one struggling?" They ask. "Since when have I ended up like this? Why?"

This year has been difficult for everyone for countless reasons, but there's a sense of comfort in knowing that there's a band out there in the world who feels the same way you do. Day6 took those feelings and created a song that not only pierces your heart but mends it a bit too.

8. "Life Goes On" by BTS

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"Life Goes On" is the musical equivalent of a warm hug from a friend after a bad day. BTS's title track on their most recent album Be chronicles their experience during the coronavirus pandemic as Jungkook and Jimin both describe how "one day the world stopped without any warning," and suddenly the "streets were erased of footprints."

But rather than dwell on the hardships of this year, "Life Goes On" instead chooses to send a message of healing. "Like an echo in the forest, the day will come back around. As if nothing happened, yeah, life goes on," the members sing. And, if that didn't raise your spirits, J-Hope provides a ray of sunshine when he says that we've all: "stopped for now, but don't hide in the shadow. Once again daylight will glow."

7. "Maria" by Hwasa

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Since her debut in 2014 as a member of the K-pop group Mamamoo, Hwasa has time and time again endured cruel criticisms from haters. "Why is everyone doing this, making me sad?" She asks in her single "Maria." "Will knocking me down put food on your plate?" The comments have taken an undeniable toll on her personally, so to "change crisis to opportunity," Hwasa wrote and composed the single "Maria," a love letter to herself.

"Maria, I'm saying this for you. It's a shining night; don't torment yourself." She sings. "Why are you struggling? You're already beautiful." While song might have originally been written to provide strength and comfort to herself, "Maria" has become an unstoppable anthem that encourages fans all over the world who are going through similar struggles to never stop loving themselves.

6. "Open Mind" by Wonho

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When K-pop artist Wonho announced his solo debut earlier this year with the title track "Open Mind," I was curious. Then, when it was released, I was promptly bowled over by how incredible it was. The dreamy electronic song is not about any bold declarations of love or marriage. Instead, all Wonho's asking for is a chance. One night only. "Don't you want something different?" He asks. "You don't have to love me; we both want the same thing. Tell me your desires and I'll bring them all to life. For just one night, keep an open mind girl."

Few K-pop songs delve into the territory of romance without sweeping declarations of love included, but Wonho's "Open Mind" is revolutionary in that it bypasses that route entirely and instead tosses the ball into the listener's court. He might be asking for just one night, but one listen to "Open Mind" and you'll be a fan of Wonho forever.

5. "Black Swan" by BTS

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The meaning behind "Black Swan" is best summarized in its art film with a quote from Martha Graham: "A dancer dies twice β€” once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the most painful." The dreamy emo hip-hop song chronicles the inward struggle an artist feels when their "heart no longer races when hearing the music play." It poses a horrifying question to any creative person: what do you do when the thing that brought you the most joy in life suddenly doesn't? Who are you outside of your art?

It's this introspective thought process that has drawn fans across the globe to BTS and their music since their debut in 2013. The group has been unafraid to discuss topics that traditionally might be swept under the rug, like societal pressures, politics, and, with "Black Swan," experiencing burnout. The members' haunting chants of "do your thing with me now. What's my thing? Tell me now" will stick with you long after first listen.

4. "MAGO" by Gfriend

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It's been a great year to be a fan of Gfriend. The group released three (yes, three!) albums this year, but it's their third and final album, ε›ž Walpurgis Night, and its disco single "MAGO" that really steal the show.

Written and composed by members Eunha, Yuju, and Umji, "MAGO" is about the members transforming into confident witches who prioritize their own opinions of themselves over what other people have to say. "My heart is waiting for you, the girl smiling at me in the mirror," the members sing. "Go on and judge me, I'll never waver." The track is filled to the brim with retro synthesizers and a drum beat that makes you want to break out all of your disco dance moves. "MAGO" is so perfect it'll leave you spellbound.

3. "I CAN'T STOP ME" by TWICE

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TWICE is unstoppable. Plain and simple. After wowing the world with their earlier single "MORE&MORE," the nine-membered group came back in November with "I CAN'T STOP ME," a bold, synth-filled daydream that feels like it was lifted straight out of an epic '80s video game soundtrack.

The song's lyrics detail the experience of seeing the warning signs in a relationship, but not being able to stop yourself from falling in love regardless. "I'm warning to myself, 'you shouldn't be doing this,'" the members sing. "Every minute, every second, my heart goes ahead of me." Add in the group's incredible choreography (especially that leg drop move!) and TWICE's "I CAN'T STOP ME" is pure pop perfection that takes the group's musicality to brand new heights.

2. "MMMH" by Kai

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Fans of Kai, member of the K-pop groups EXO and SuperM, have long-awaited his solo debut. This year, he took his first steps as a soloist with the release of his first solo album. Its R&B title track, "MMMH," It's more than just a song β€” it's an experience that needs to be seen to be believed. The song highlights Kai's sultry side, and his soft-lilting vocals are the perfect fit for the song's sensual lyrics. When he sings: "'cause I'm too wicked, I want to take all of your heart," you can tell he means it.

However Kai's not just telling this song through its lyrics but through its choreography too. A true dancer at heart, his delicate steps are almost poetic as they seamlessly transform from body rolls into powerful lunges that make the song's lyrics stand out even stronger. The end result is a performance that is so clean, beguiling, and effortless it'll steal your breath away. Although it might've been a long time coming, Kai's solo debut was well worth the wait.

1. "Criminal" by Taemin

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No one in K-pop is doing it like Taemin. As a matter of fact, no one in any genre is doing it like Taemin. The soloist and member of K-pop groups SHINee and SuperM has had a jam-packed year filled with group promotions, yet still found the time to originate his own complex, poignant storyline of love, loss, and re-birth that would be the backbone for his third solo album Never Gonna Dance Again.

Split into two parts, the concept album allows Taemin to redefine his career as a solo artist on his own terms. Act 1's lead single, "Criminal," pulls you headfirst into Taemin's world of darkness and destruction. It is Taemin at his most vulnerable, controlled entirely by someone else and yet thriving off the negative attention. "So elegant, the criminal who destroys me," he sings. "Not okay. I try and shake my head, but I'm only getting dragged in more deeply." The slick newtro song offers no resolution to the end of his plight, but perfectly sets the tone for the first album and makes his redemption arc in Act 2 that much sweeter. Theatrical and hypnotic, "Criminal" is pure genius.

And here's a handy playlist of all the songs on the list too!

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And, if you'd like to keep walking down memory lane, you can check out our lists for the best K-pop songs and music videos of 2019 as well!