1. 21. “Waiting 4 U” - SoolJ featuring Suh Ga Young (2011)
(A) nervously lovely, inexorably propulsive, female-vocal-assisted, virtual-reality-video-themed single.
2. 20. “Lucifer” - SHINee (2010)
A quick-cutting Europop hybrid that breaks down late ‘N Sync single “Pop,” juices it, and builds it back up again.
3. 19. “Doshite Kimi o Suki ni Natte Shimattandaro” - TVXQ (2008)
The cheese levels here are high, but that harp melody is quiet fire. (Note: It’s a Japanese single sung by a Korean idol group.)
4. 18. “Be My Baby” - Wonder Girls (2011)
Hints of modern-day R&B melisma, rappish breakdown, no Spector-melody menace — but as long as it doesn’t portend K-pop being Americanized out of existence, you can live with all that.
5. 17. “Boo” - IU (2009)
Just some fits of clean guitar, a minimal but uptempo beat, and a vocal performance that’s playful throughout.
6. 16. “Roly Poly” - T-Ara (2011)
“Roly Poly”… anxiously liquifies Latin counter-rhythms and handclap breaks and disco toot-beeps à la ’80s Italo duo Fun Fun, but with Far Asian-evoking Yellow Magic Orchestra-style synth parts. (Note: Its official music video lasts 12 minutes.)
7. 15. “Sorry Sorry” - Super Junior (2009)
“Sorry Sorry” is a spartan slab of hiccuping, high-wire Euro-pop… that makes wonderful use of Auto-Tune and the word “shawty.”
8. 14. “Step” - Kara (2011)
The dizzying central hook behind “Step” is Kara’s best asset. It shape-shifts between Euro-pop and ’80s soft rock,
9. 13. “Bad Boy” - Big Bang (2012)
“Bad Boy” recalls Boyz II Men and Justin Timberlake, but Big Bang’s five very distinct personalities combine here for a single more singular than any of their K-pop peers can lay claim.
10. 12. “Nu ABO” - f(x) (2010)
“Nu ABO” is a schoolyard-taunting, Britney-esque monster that sounds like dueling iPods and still allows for a thick layer of crowd noise.
11. 11. “Run Devil Run” - Girls’ Generation (2010)
This is stone-cold sass that — though it cribs pop pin-up signifiers stretching back 50 years — echoes a more disciplined (and chaste) re-imagining of the Pussycat Dolls.
12. 10. “Pick Up! U!” - E.via (2010)
The Pikachu tribute/Tom Tom Club imitation “Pick Up! U!” is as adorable as pop music gets.
13. 9. “Ugly” - 2NE1 (2011)
Loud and brash, tender yet heroic, it encapsulates just about everything that’s so immediate about the 2NE1 crew.
14. 8. “Curry” - Norazo (2010)
“Curry,” given its Middle Eastern guitar line, picked-radish-incorporating recipe tips, and video chef hats, might be (Norazo’s) pinnacle. (Note: Its official music video contains a police drama, since the Korean word for “curry” sounds similar to “someone has been stabbed.”)
15. 7. “High High” - GD & TOP (2010)
Their music grows gruffer and faster as it buttaflies higher and higher, then suddenly explodes into a playground chant: “G-H-E-T-T-O! E-L-E-C-T-R-O!” This is how LMFAO and Far East Movement want to sound.
16. 6. “Eat You Up” - BoA (2008)
It’s hard to hear why a pop offering this muscular (it’s got a chorus like a Clydesdale) couldn’t put a dent on American charts right this second.
17. 5. “Gee” - Girls’ Generation (2009)
“Gee” — sung from the P.O.V. of a shy girl blinded by a handsome boy, with an impossibly light and carbonated chorus — went No. 1 in Korea for nine weeks.
18. 4. “Nan Arayo (I Know)” - Seo Taiji & Boys (1992)
The record seems to sample Milli Vanilli and Public Enemy, and the boy trio’s dance moves in the video are all-out Hammer/New Kids/Kid ‘N Play new jack, even if they’re wearing Crayola-colored outfits and the homemade-looking clip’s mostly set in a decidedly non-urban wheat field.
19. 3. “I Am The Best” - 2NE1 (2011)
“I Am the Best” might’ve been the best single released on the planet in 2011, even if not for its apocalyptic/futuristic video that kicks off on a catwalk and escalates into straightjackets, train-track break-dancing, ice cream cone rabbit-ear hats, and devil-horned hairstyles well before the aluminum bats and machine guns come out so 2NE1 can smash and shoot up the place.
20. 2. “Bubble Pop!” - HyunA (2011)
After opening with riffs out of Plastic Bertrand’s Belgian bazooka-punk classic “Ca Plane Pour Moi,” “Bubble Pop!” onomatopoeically fills its archetypal title’s promise — 4minute member/Wonder Girls alumnus HyunA’s flirty-coy “ooh-ooh oh-oh” breaths sound like bubbles popping, as do the beats until the insane and seemingly tacked-on electronic (“dubstep,” some say) breakdown in the middle.
21. 1. “Candy” - H.O.T. (1996)
That loopy, light-headed intro melody; that bouncy, boomeranging chorus; reggae-informed, Smash Mouth-indebted, 8-bit-encrusted everything.
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