Since the ‘90s, K-pop has been experimenting, inventing and innovating. From timeless R&B to edgy electronics, the scene has produced it all – and broken down global barriers in the process. Whether you’re an expert in all things K-pop or new to the world of idols, dive into our picks for the 45 best K-pop songs of all time.
45. Pentagon – ‘Shine’ (2018)
Boyband Pentagon led their ‘Positive’ EP with this track about awkward confessions of love, but there’s nothing gawky about the song itself. Instead, it’s a gleaming example of one of the things K-pop is so good at – bright, bursting earworms that live in your head rent-free for days.
44. Baby V.O.X. – ‘Killer’ (1999)
On hit single ‘Killer’, Dreamus’ five-piece girl group Baby V.O.X. moved on from a past lover, coolly erasing them from their lives to a soundtrack of upbeat R&B. It was already brilliant enough for the track’s first minutes, but the excitement was ramped up more in its final throes as a new sample cut in, introducing roaring guitars before one last whirl round.
43. PSY – ‘Gangnam Style’ (2012)
There’s no understating the importance ‘Gangnam Style’ had on K-pop’s international expansion – even if most listeners outside of Korea saw it as a novelty hit rather than the social commentary it contains. Garish and overstimulating, it poked fun at those in Seoul trying to live up to the luxurious lifestyle they associated with the Gangnam district of the city.
42. Block B – ‘HER’ (2014)
One thing Block B’s raft of albums is not short on is fun – something that is made obvious in the vibrant ‘HER’. Riding on surfy guitars and a blues-y bassline, the boyband made trying to woo a potential partner into a helter-skelter, giddy race that won’t fail to put a smile on your face.
41. MAMAMOO – ‘Hip’ (2019)
MAMAMOO encapsulate strength and confidence in their songs, as evidenced in the swing-infused ‘Hip’. “Attention, wherever you go / Reflection, you can shine,” rapper Hwasa declares in one verse. “There’s only one you in the world.”
40. ITZY – ‘Wannabe’ (2020)
Since their debut in 2019, ITZY have shared empowering messages of self-acceptance and the girl group’s 2020 single ‘Wannabe’ was no different. “There’s no need to be something / I’m the best when I’m myself,” they declared on the chorus, backed by an exhilarating mesh of hip-hop, EDM, house and more.
39. Tomorrow X Together – ‘Eternally’ (2020)
There are multiple TXT songs that could have made this list, but ‘Eternally’ takes the cake as one of the most interesting and addictive things the BIGHIT boyband have done so far. Soft, melancholy verses give way to prowling, glitchy, ominous segments and back again – aural whiplash in the best way.
38. Brave Girls – ‘Rollin’’ (2017)
Back in 2017, Brave Girls released ‘Rollin’’ to little fanfare. It was undeserved – the song is a slice of tropical pop perfection, with a Balearic chorus that transports you straight to the beach. Thankfully, an unexpected resurgence occurred in 2021 when a video of the girl group performing the song for soldiers went viral, sparking new interest in one of K-pop’s biggest bangers.
37. ZICO – ‘Any Song’ (2020)
‘Any Song’ dominated the airwaves, online and TikTok in 2020 thanks to its dancehall and hip-hop-steeped melodies and infectious chorus. As ZICO sang about listening to any song to boost your mood through the everyday trials of life, the track became a blues-busting source of energy for many.
36. Seo Taiji And Boys – ‘I Know’ (1992)
Seo Taiji And Boys are K-pop’s originators, the group that kickstarted the whole thing. ‘I Know’, from their 1992 self-titled debut album, brought together hip-hop, new jack swing, grinding guitars, and heartfelt vocal power – prefacing K-pop’s melting pot of sounds in a fresh and exciting way.
35. SHINee – ‘Lucifer’ (2010)
“Loverholic, robotronic,” SHINee chant in ‘Lucifer’’s post-chorus, a brief moment in the insistent electro-pop track but one that sums up its feeling perfectly. It’s futuristic, sci-fi pop driven by the very human affairs of the heart that will worm its way into your brain as if it’s saving itself onto your own memory card.
34. Shinhwa – ‘Perfect Man’ (2002)
The West might have had the likes of Backstreet Boys and NSYNC in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, but Korea had Shinhwa. The six-member group made plenty of tracks that could compete with their American counterparts, but ‘Perfect Man’ was their most sublime offering – full of rich boyband harmonies and love-lorn lyrics.
33. LE SSERAFIM – ‘Antifragile’ (2022)
For their first comeback, girl group LE SSERAFIM lit up 2022 with the Afro-Latin blaze of ‘Antifragile’. From their own Bop It-esque bridge (“Rock it, twist it, lock it baby”) to the soft-but-strong delivery of a chorus declaring the five-piece’s resilience, the track’s power refuses to be extinguished, burning brightly throughout.
32. T-ara – ‘Bo Peep Bo Peep’ (2009)
‘Bo Peep Bo Peep’ is dizzying, its high-pitched synth melody creating a swirling effect as the girl group chant the song’s title. In between, they take things down ever so slightly to less needling but equally infectious levels for a dynamic, lightly euphoric fist-pumper.
31. Miss A – ‘Bad Girl, Good Girl’ (2010)
The less said about JYP’s “introducing” opening lines the better but, for the most part, ‘Bad Girl, Good Girl’ is a strutting piece of pop that shuts down those who aren’t good enough for the quartet. “You don’t know me, you don’t know me,” they asserted early on, “So shut up boy, shut up boy.”
30. SEVENTEEN – ‘Pretty U’ (2016)
Taken from the 13-member boyband’s 2016 album ‘Love & Letter’, ‘Pretty U’ is one of SEVENTEEN’s most swoonsome songs. It’s a tour de force of romantic pop, bottling the tongue-tied feeling of fancying someone, whether that’s in Seungkwan’s velvet vocals or the hip-hop team’s questioning outro.
29. H.O.T. – ‘Candy’ (1996)
Considered to be K-pop’s first idol group, SM Entertainment’s H.O.T. shared this piece of bubblegum pop brilliance as part of their debut album ‘We Hate All Kinds Of Violence’. Very ’90s and very addictive, it’s one of the finest moments of K-pop’s first generation.
28. EXO – ‘Growl’ (2013)
While EXO’s vocals are the centre of attention on this 2013 single, ‘Growl’ and its depiction of an animal-like lust wouldn’t be complete without its central melody. Prowling and stalking, the cascading notes form the backbone of this iconic track, bringing its subject matter to life.
27. Stray Kids – ‘Miroh’ (2019)
“Stray Kids, woo!” The JYP Entertainment boyband cheer midway through ‘Mirror’, their pumping 2019 single. It’s a simple but infectious moment that cuts through the thumping track, accelerating the euphoric feeling that bursts through its skittering beats and takes you as high as the soaring post-chorus.
26. BLACKPINK – ‘DDU-DU DDU-DU’ (2019)
Few intros in K-pop are as instantly recognisable as the siren entrance of ‘DDU-DU DDU-DU’. The song just rockets from there, a perfect combination of rap braggadocio from Jennie and Lisa and powerhouse vocals from Rosé and Jisoo punctuated by joyful shouts of the group’s name. “When the bass drop, it’s another banger,” Jennie spits at one point – no lies detected there.
25. Red Velvet – ‘Red Flavor’ (2017)
Bold and bright, ‘Red Flavor’ is one of the SM Entertainment girl group’s biggest sugar rushes. A low, sampled voice underpins the track as the five-piece’s sunny, diva vocals take it to stratospheric new heights that it’s impossible not to get swept along with.
24. S.E.S – ‘(‘Cause) I’m Your Girl’ (1997)
Although this 1997 R&B groove is opened with a rap verse from Shinhwa’s Eric and Andy (then in their pre-debut period), the spotlight belongs fully to S.E.S. here. The trio deliver smooth, emotional vocals through the classic, their power refusing to be derailed even when the track devolves into an experimental mid-section.
23. iKON – ‘Love Scenario’ (2018)
A staccato, jaunty melody revolves through iKON’s ‘Love Scenario’, a constant and deceptively upbeat hook to rely on as the members of the YG boyband spool out tales of a crumbling relationship. It’s simple, timeless and full of poetic melancholy.
22. Sunmi – ‘Gashina’ (2017)
Former Wonder Girls star Sunmi stepped into the spotlight on her own with her debut solo track ‘Gashina’ in 2017. It instantly made an impression, converging dancehall elements with sounds of East Asia and the singer succinctly declaring: “You have withered, I have bloomed.” Too right.
21. Super Junior – ‘Sorry, Sorry’ (2009)
The fuzzy synth-pop of ‘Sorry, Sorry’ is incredibly of its time but, even over a decade later, it’s an irresistible part of Super Junior’s story. It’s a classic for a reason, propelled by the addictively staccato vocal delivery – some of which was fed through robotic vocal processors.
20. BTS – ‘Mic Drop’ (2017)
“My bag’s filled with trophies,” BTS boasted on ‘Mic Drop’ back in 2017, a claim that has only become increasingly more accurate in the intervening years. It’s no wonder when the group have produced tracks like this – a swaggering piece of ice-cool hip-hop that lays waste to the haters while showing off their supreme skills.
19. Loona – ‘Hi High’ (2018)
It’s hard to keep pace with ‘Hi High’, the second single Loona released as a 12-member group, and that’s what makes it so exciting. Throughout, the bubbly, bright song speeds up, slows down and generally feels like it goes on a glittering ride through the most vibrant video game you could imagine.
18. SISTAR – ‘Touch My Body’ (2014)
‘Touch My Body’ opens deceptively, swathes of elegant strings lulling you into the sense that a ballad is about to unfold. Then, things rewind and the real song comes in – an infectious, empowering piece of girl group excellence. If SISTAR’s honeyed voices weren’t enough, the insistent siren that pops between lines adds more excitement to the cheerful song and somehow manages not to be grating.
17. Brown Eyed Girls – ‘Abracadabra’ (2009)
Led by huge slabs of synths, ‘Abracadabra’ might be over a decade old but it still sounds fresh and relevant long after its original release. As well as being absolutely massive, the 2009 track is also hugely fun, from the cries of “Do you love me, do you love me?” to the way, in places, the synths feel as if they’re moving in a haze, creating a disorientating effect.
16. BLACKPINK – ‘Boombayah’ (2016)
Back in 2016, ‘Boombayah’ signalled the arrival of the next great K-pop girl group with four simple, memorable words: “BLACKPINK in your area.” That slogan has since become as iconic as the four-piece and this track – a powerful, hype-filled banger that oozed confidence and charisma by the bucketload.
15. EXO – ‘Love Shot’ (2018)
Ever since its release in 2018, EXO’s ‘Love Shot’ has been nothing short of addictive. Its “na, na-na-na, na-na-na-na” chorus is largely the reason, but a chantable chorus can’t make a song iconic alone. Instead, it was boosted by gleaming dance-pop instrumentals and passionate lyrics co-written by members Chen and Chanyeol.
14. TWICE – ‘Fancy’ (2019)
After making their name on cutesy pop bops, in 2019, TWICE returned with a new sound – more mature, more refined, but still with the same infectious brightness. ‘Fancy’ was the first song of this new era and found the nine-member girl group making confessing a crush sound like a technicolour burst of fun.
13. Wonder Girls – ‘Nobody’ (2008)
Retro and catchy to its core, ‘Nobody’ helped Wonder Girls make history. An English version of the single became the first song by a Korean artist to make it into the Billboard Hot 100, charting in 2009. It’s the Korean version that’s made it onto our list, though – a beguiling declaration of devotion that will have you singing “I want nobody, nobody but you” in seconds.
12. Rain – ‘Rainism’ (2008)
Upon its release in 2008, ‘Rainism’ marked a new beginning for superstar soloist Rain as the title track from his first album since leaving JYP Entertainment. “I’m gonna be a bad boy / I gotta be a ba-bad boy,” the star purred over chiming R&B and a revving, whirring electronic undercurrent, which melded into something mysterious and intoxicating.
11. SHINee – ‘Replay’ (2008)
The lead single from SHINee’s debut EP, also titled ‘Replay’, this song introduced the boyband as R&B heart-melters, the five-piece paying compliments to an older woman via vocal acrobatics and classic harmonies. “I keep dreaming ‘bout you, pretty,” they sing in the song’s final seconds – a fitting sentiment given ‘Replay’ is a debut song of dreams.
10. TVXQ! – ‘Mirotic’ (2008)
Something was in the water at SM Entertainment in the late ‘00s. Not only did they have SHINee, but also the established greats TVXQ!. ‘Mirotic’, taken from their self-titled fourth album, centres around squelching electronics and commanding synths, while the boyband murmur seductively: “I got you under my skin.”
9. 2NE1 – ‘Ugly’ (2011)
YG girl group 2NE1 might have opened their second mini-album with their supremely confident signature song ‘I Am The Best’, but its successor showed another side to the four-piece. Set to chugging pop-punk riffs, ‘Ugly’ details insecurities around appearances and refusing to believe those around them telling them they’re far from the song’s title. Relatable and a bop.
8. BIGBANG – ‘Bad Boy’ (2012)
‘Fantastic Baby’ and ‘Bang Bang Bang’ might be the BIGBANG songs that have been going viral on TikTok of late, but dig deeper into BIGBANG’s catalogue and you’ll find more soulful cuts. ‘Bad Boy’ is one such song, the group depicting a tempestuous relationship in the verses before the pre-chorus drops an apology, of sorts: “Every day and night I’m so mean / ‘Cause I’m so real, I’m sorry (but I can’t change).”
7. NewJeans – ‘Hype Boy’ (2022)
‘Hype Boy’ might have only arrived in 2022, but it’s already more than made its mark on the scene – and the general public. Part of one of the most refreshing and exciting debuts in years, the track set NewJeans out as the group to watch by throwing things back to ‘90s R&B with modern production. Bonus: no matter how many times you listen to it, it never gets old.
6. f(x) – ‘Rum Pum Pum Pum’ (2013)
For the lead single from their second album ‘Pink Tape’, f(x) headed straight to the dancefloor for a surreal but catchy samba-sampling epic. On it, the five-piece compared themselves to wisdom teeth pushing their way into a lover’s heart – mixed metaphors, for sure, but when they’re delivered this flawlessly it’s hard to complain.
5. Red Velvet – ‘Psycho’ (2019)
For their 2019 comeback, Red Velvet produced their best song so far – the elegant, gothic-tinged pop of ‘Psycho’. From the plucked strings that drive forward the verses to the whirr of electronics that ripples in the background and the women’s perfectly executed falsettos, it’s not just one of K-pop’s best songs but a contender for one of the best pop songs of all time.
4. Girls’ Generation – ‘Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)’ (2009)
On the follow-up to their iconic single ‘Gee’, Girls’ Generation levelled up again. ‘Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)’ arrived as a lush, immersive piece of electro-pop that brought in influences from Euro-pop and trance, while the nine-piece infectiously sang about granting wishes to a partner.
3. IU – ‘Palette’ (2017)
One of IU’s biggest strengths – aside from her stunning voice and incisive songwriting – is being able to capture a specific point of her life in relatable and beautiful detail. ‘Palette’ is one such track, finding the singer at 25, coming into her own and becoming the person she wants to be.
2. BTS – ‘Spring Day’ (2017)
The BTS catalogue is bursting at the seams with world-beating songs, but ‘Spring Day’ is still the jewel in the group’s crown. Nostalgic and yearning, it’s a glacial ballad that pours over with emotion and the seven-piece’s trademark poetic way of looking at the world; an absolute stunner.
1. BoA – ‘Atlantis Princess’ (2003)
They don’t call BoA the queen of K-pop for nothing. Over an illustrious career, soloist BoA has written, produced and recorded multiple songs that could fight for the position of K-pop’s best ever. ‘Atlantis Princess’, though, is her best – warm, creative and fun, spreading a positive message through the concept of the lost continent of Atlantis, and showing off her impeccable voice in the process.
Did we miss your favourite song? Let us know in the comments below.