K-Pop

The 250 Greatest Idol Group Songs of All Time: Introduction and Hub Post

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The 250 Greatest Idol Group Songs of All Time (2020 Edition)

Introductory post
#250-#226
#225-#201
#200-#176
#175-#151
#150-#126
#125-#101
#100-#76
#75-#51
#50-#26
#25-#1

Korean music is much bigger than what we typically call K-pop, and K-pop is bigger than idol pop. But for over two decades now, it has been impossible to exclude idol pop in any discussion of K-pop, and increasingly difficult to ignore its influence even in the nation’s music writ large. As the music and people and culture of idol pop have grown into the core of Korea’s entertainment ecosystem, and with its product being exported globally at unprecedented scale, this is a meaningful moment to recount the history of the genre.

In this series, we’ll aim to do that by discussing the best songs that Korean idol pop has put out in its two-plus-decade history: the 250 greatest idol group songs of all time. This differs from the narrative approaches that have been taken in many Korean-language retrospectives (for one recent example, the revamped “Generational Theory of Idol Pop” by Idology this summer) and non-Korean counterparts (e.g. “How K-pop Became a Global Sensation” by Vox in 2018), and is a less organized but perhaps more detailed, moment-by-moment look into the beats that have collectively formed the story of K-pop. (Ours is certainly not the first effort of this kind, either; Billboard, for instance, published a list of the 100 greatest K-pop songs of the 2010s just last year.)

What makes for “greatest”? As these things always are, it’s a convex combination of a bunch of things. Some of these 250 tracks were selected for their artistic and sonic merits alone, while others had some kind of significant influence on the industry, and others achieved immense popularity (which usually comes with some kind of takeaway for the rest of us). The focus in each entry will be on the song itself – attempting to articulate its particular merits – but sometimes we’ll necessarily discuss the scene more broadly.

The series will feature some of your favorite songs and artists, but not all; some of the greatest hits, but not all. Some entries will be consensus classics and others will probably never be found in another list like this one. I hope it will be at least interesting to skim through for you – be it a trip down memory lane or a session of discovery – and that it’ll only be the beginning of the discussion.

One 25-song chunk of the series will be updated each day, in separate posts. Below: a quick rundown of the criteria to be an “idol group song”, and the full list of 250 for those wanting to see everything at a glance. (That section will be updated daily as the posts go up.) We also have the series in Spotify and YouTube Music playlists for your listening convenience.


Inclusion Criteria: What Is an Idol Group Song?

We need some constraints to make this manageable, and to ensure that we are comparing apples to apples. Here are the restrictions used to include or exclude songs from our list.

  • This is a list of idol group songs. So anything by solo artists, even soloists who debuted in an idol group, is not eligible for inclusion.
  • The definition of “idol” is complex. Loosely speaking, an idol is a musical act backed by systematized, commercial production and management.
    • There are more common characteristics. Typically, the person and the team’s personality and dynamics are as much the product being marketed as the music is. Often but not always, idols go through the formal trainee process at K-pop labels. Idols are promoted in a certain way, and there is a particular culture around them: organized and loyal fandoms (often with formal membership, merchandise, and thematic associations like a fanclub color), distinctive interactive outlets such as fansigns and (nowadays) V Live, and a great deal of overlap with TV and other forms of media. And much more.
    • Despite the complexities, I think it’s fairly clear nowadays whether a given act is an idol or not.
  • Can groups shift between being idol and non-idol? Yes.
    • Fly to the Sky and Koyote are two examples: both were pretty obviously idol groups at debut, but as they got older, changed agencies, and changed the way they do music, they phased out of what most would consider to be idol status. The agency change is usually the best indicator of when the transition happens. I consider only their “idol-era” songs to be eligible for this list: FTTS’s “Missing You” and Koyote’s “King of Disco”, for example, are all out.
    • There are also groups that stick around forever while remaining idols, retaining the same fandom and keeping the team dynamics alive. Shinhwa is the canonical example and their whole discography is eligible.
    • Conversely and very rarely, some groups start out as non-idols but transition into being idols. Brown Eyed Girls, for instance, began as a “faceless” R&B quartet whose appearances were not even revealed publicly. That group’s first full album – including the excellent debut single “Came to Me” – is therefore ineligible.
  • There is some debate over whom we should consider the first idol group.
    • I follow the conventional wisdom here and consider H.O.T.’s debut in September 1996 as the start of the modern idol era. (This is the position taken by many commentators – including the Idology piece above, the crowdsourced Namu.wiki article on Korean idol history, and numerous journalistic pieces such as this DongA series.) If you try to identify the earliest group that resembles the ones we see today, H.O.T.’s combination of systemic training and production make them the most reasonable pick in my mind.
    • This is not to minimize alternative views. Seo Taiji and the Boys (1992) is perhaps the second most common pick, and the revolutionary changes they wrought to Korean music (and extramusical things, like the concept of “comebacks” and de-aging of the industry) certainly make them the start of a new era. Other suggestions have included Sobangcha (1987) and even Pearl Sisters (1968), though these are more fringe.
    • The upshot is that anything released by a group that debuted prior to H.O.T. (even if the release itself was after 1996) is ineligible. This rules out many prominent proto-idols that share some idol characteristics, including Deux, Solid, Zam (all 1993), Roo’Ra, Cool (both 1994), Turbo (1995), Clon, and Young Turks Club (both 1996).
  • Since the early 2010s, the concept of the “subunit” – a smaller subset of a group releasing and promoting music – has become more popular in K-pop. All subunit songs are eligible to be included, as they still have group dynamics by definition.
    • Similarly, works by project groups that mix and match members of different groups (e.g. Trouble Maker, SuperM, all the Produce series and similar groups) are eligible. If a project group contains both idols and non-idols, then there must be at least two idols. That means S is eligible by having both Kangta and Shin Hye-sung, while Heechul & Jungmo is not.
  • There’s no particular restriction on the genre of music. Songs by “idol bands” like FT Island, CNBlue, and Day6 are all eligible, and likewise with vocal-oriented Air Rise and 2AM and hip-hop groups 1TYM and Block B. (These are just examples; not all these groups actually show up.)
  • The mid-2000s was a weird era for idol music and generated some interesting cases. Though you could call them idol-adjacent, the likes of SG Wannabe, Buzz, Turtles, Wanted, and Davichi are excluded, as they don’t jointly pass the “systematized production and management” and the “fandom culture” tests in the way that traditional idol groups do.
    • Company affiliation is not a perfect predictor, as SeeYa (Core Contents Media) and Noel (JYP Entertainment) would be real stretches to call idols. Applies today to teams like AkMu (YG Entertainment) as well.
  • The cutoff date is June 30, 2020. Any song released before that is eligible.
  • Songs that were primarily released for foreign markets (e.g. Japan and USA) are ineligible. While these works are still (usually) K-pop and have made a meaningful contribution to idol pop, they are promoted in very different ways and are often entirely written in different languages, which limits my ability to properly assess them.
    • If the song was later re-released for the domestic market (e.g. TVXQ’s “Love in the Ice” and GFriend’s “Memoria”), that version becomes eligible.

The Series

250~226

(View post here)

250. NCT 127 – 無限的我 (무한적아;Limitless) (2017)
249. Monsta X – Dramarama (2017)
248. god – 애수 (Sorrow) (1999)
247. Wanna One – 에너제틱 (Energetic) (2017)
246. T-ara – 처음처럼 (Like the First Time) (2009)
245. Super Junior – U (2006)
244. Itzy – 달라달라 (Dalla Dalla) (2019)
243. Amber & Luna – Heartbeat (2016)
242. Pentagon – Like This (2017)
241. Romeo – Target (2015)
240. Favorite – Fancy (2019)
239. Miss A – Bad Girl Good Girl (2010)
238. Apink – Luv (2014)
237. Trouble Maker – Trouble Maker (2011)
236. Winner – Really Really (2017)
235. H.O.T. – 빛 (Hope) (1998)
234. BTS – Whalien 52 (2015)
233. Everglow – 봉봉쇼콜라 (Bon Bon Chocolat) (2019)
232. Click-B – 백전무패 (Undefeatable) (2001)
231. TXT – 어느날 머리에서 뿔이 자랐다 (Crown) (2019)
230. Loona – Curiosity (2019)
229. Wonder Girls – Like This (2012)
228. Pristin – We Like (2017)
227. B1A4 – Rollin’ (2017)
226. SHINee – Lucifer (2010)

225~201

(View post here)

225. AOA – 사뿐사뿐 (Like a Cat) (2014)
224. Kara – Wanna (2009)
223. CLC – Show (2019)
222. April – 따끔 (Lovesick) (2017)
221. Diva – 왜불러 (Why Do You Call) (1998)
220. MBLAQ – Cry (2011)
219. NCT U – Without You (2016)
218. Trax – Scorpio (2004)
217. Ateez – 안개 (Mist) (2017)
216. Beast – Shock (2010)
215. Girl’s Day – 링마벨 (Ring My Bell) (2015)
214. 2PM – Heartbeat (2009)
213. Luv – Orange Girl (2002)
212. Seventeen – 아주 Nice (Very Nice) (2016)
211. Taesaja – Time (1997)
210. Twice – Sunset (2018)
209. SS501 – Unlock (2006)
208. After School – 너 때문에 (Because of You) (2009)
207. BtoB – 너 없인 안 된다 (Only One for Me) (2018)
206. (G)I-dle – Maybe (2020)
205. Miss A – Hush (2013)
204. Girls’ Generation – Run Devil Run (2010)
203. Infinite – She’s Back (2010)
202. Sugar – Secret (2004)
201. Momoland – 꼼짝마 (Freeze) (2017)

200~176

(View post here)

200. Exo – Love Me Right (2015)
199. GFriend – Fingertip (2017)
198. Monsta X – Hero (Broadcasting Ver.) (2015)
197. Got7 – 너 하나만 (One and Only You) (Feat. Hyolyn) (2018)
196. Shinhwa – T.O.P. (Twinkling of Paradise) (1999)
195. Crayon Pop – 빠빠빠 (Bar Bar Bar) (2013)
194. GWSN – Growing ~ For Groo (2019)
193. Take – 나비무덤 (Butterfly Grave) (2005)
192. Block B – Shall We Dance (2017)
191. 2PM – Promise (I’ll Be) (2016)
190. Dal Shabet – 있기 없기 (Have, Don’t Have) (2012)
189. Oh My Girl – Closer (2015)
188. Wonder Girls – Me, In (2011)
187. F(x) – 아이스크림 (Ice Cream) (2010)
186. Stray Kids – I Am You (2018)
185. Super Junior – 너라고 (It’s You) (2009)
184. Girls’ Generation-TTS – Twinkle (2012)
183. EXID – 데려다줄래 (Don’t Want a Drive) (2016)
182. Twice – Don’t Call Me Again (2020)
181. Lovelyz – Candy Jelly Love (2014)
180. Jewelry – 니가 참 좋아 (I Really Like You) (2003)
179. Infinite – 내꺼하자 (Be Mine) (2011)
178. TVXQ – The Way U Are (2004)
177. Shinhwa – Wild Eyes (2001)
176. N.Flying – 옥탑방 (Rooftop) (2019)

175~151

(View post here)

175. SS501 – Love Ya (2010)
174. Nu’est – 여왕의 기사 (Overcome) (2016)
173. Seventeen – Highlight (2016)
172. Kard – Oh NaNa (Feat. Heo Young-ji) (2016)
171. Super Junior-M – 태완미 (Perfection) (2011)
170. Fin.K.L. – 영원 (Forever) (2002)
169. Loona – Stylish (2018)
168. Spica – 러시안 룰렛 (Russian Roulette) (2012)
167. B.A.P – Badman (2013)
166. Girls’ Generation-TTS – Stay (2014)
165. The Grace (CSJH) – The Club (Feat. Rain) (2006)
164. Big Bang – 마지막 인사 (Last Farewell) (2007)
163. I.O.I – 너무너무너무 (Very Very Very) (2016)
162. SHINee – Up & Down (2010)
161. WJSN – Butterfly (2020)
160. 2NE1 – Fire (2009)
159. April – 예쁜게 죄 (Oh! My Mistake) (2018)
158. S.E.S. – Twilight Zone (Feat. Shim Jae-won) (1999)
157. Nu’est W – Where You At (2017)
156. Shinhwa – 열병 (Crazy) (2004)
155. Baby V.O.X – Game Over (2001)
154. Winner – 공허해 (Empty) (2014)
153. Girls’ Generation – Trick (2011)
152. Red Velvet – Kingdom Come (2017)
151. GFriend – 유리구슬 (Glass Bead) (2015)

150~126

(View post here)

150. SHINee – Everybody (2013)
149. Soyeon ((G)I-dle), Miyeon ((G)I-dle), Madison Beer, and Jaira Burns as K/DA – Pop/Stars (2018)
148. NRG – Hit Song (2003)
147. Blackpink – 불장난 (Playing with Fire) (2016)
146. Day6 – 아 왜 (I Wait) (2017)
145. IZ*ONE – 비올레타 (Violeta) (2019)
144. Seventeen – 아낀다 (Adore U) (2015)
143. Sistar19 – Ma Boy (2011)
142. Wonder Girls – One Black Night (2015)
141. Beast – 숨 (Breath) (2010)
140. NCT Dream – Ridin’ (2020)
139. The Grace (CSJH) – 한번 더, OK? (One More Time, OK?) (2007)
138. Laboum – Hwi Hwi (2017)
137. Vixx – 사슬 (Chained Up) (2015)
136. Dreamcatcher – What (2018)
135. Sharp – Sweety (2001)
134. WJSN – 이루리 (As You Wish) (2019)
133. GFriend – 휘리휘리 (Flower Garden) (2018)
132. Red Velvet – Bad Boy (2018)
131. FT Island – Pray (2015)
130. F(x) – Beautiful Stranger (2012)
129. Oh My Girl – Cupid (2015)
128. April – 팅커벨 (Tinker Bell) (2016)
127. WJSN – 바램 (Where You Are) (2020)
126. 2NE1 – I Love You (2012)

125~101

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125. EXID – 위 아래 (Up & Down) (2014)
124. GD & TOP – 뻑이가요 (Knock Out) (2010)
123. Nine Muses – 휘가로 (Figaro) (2011)
122. Got7 – Eclipse (2019)
121. god – 보통날 (An Ordinary Day) (2004)
120. Wonder Girls – Sweet Dreams (2011)
119. Chakra – 끝 (End) (2001)
118. Brown Eyed Girls – Hold the Line (Feat. Cho PD) (2006)
117. Secret – Magic (2010)
116. Twice – Yes or Yes (2018)
115. AOA – 10 Seconds (2016)
114. Diva – Up & Down (2000)
113. Sistar – 나혼자 (Alone) (2012)
112. Red Velvet – I Just (2017)
111. Girls’ Generation – Mr. Taxi (2011)
110. Rainbow – A (2010)
109. SHINee – 데리러 가 (Good Evening) (2018)
108. Mamamoo – 너나 해 (Egotistic) (2018)
107. iKon – 사랑을 했다 (Love Scenario) (2018)
106. Pentagon – 빛나리 (Shine) (2018)
105. BTS – I Need U (2015)
104. Exo – 전야 (The Eve) (2017)
103. B.A.P – Skydive (2016)
102. CLC – Me (2019)
101. F(x) – Rum Pum Pum Pum (2013)

100~76

(View post here)

100. TVXQ – Love in the Ice (2008)
99. Vixx – 향 (Scentist) (2018)
98. GFriend – 너 그리고 나 (Navillera) (2016)
97. Momoland – 뿜뿜 (Bboom Bboom) (2018)
96. Big Bang – 에라 모르겠다 (Fxxk It) (2016)
95. Nine Muses – 다쳐 (Hurt Locker) (2015)
94. Fin.K.L. – Now (2000)
93. Mamamoo – 데칼코마니 (Décalcomanie) (2016)
92. Apink – %% (응응) (Eung Eung) (2019)
91. SHINee – Dream Girl (2013)
90. 1TYM – Hot 뜨거 (Hot) (2003)
89. Fromis_9 – Love Bomb (2018)
88. Cleo – Ready for Love (2000)
87. F(x) – 피노키오 (Pinocchio – Danger) (2011)
86. BTS – On (2020)
85. Zaza – 버스 안에서 (On the Bus) (1996)
84. Lovelyz – Ah-Choo (2015)
83. 4Minute – 미쳐 (Crazy) (2015)
82. Wonder Girls – Nobody (2008)
81. Baby V.O.X – 우연 (Coincidence) (2002)
80. Nu’est – Bet Bet (2019)
79. Exo – 으르렁 (Growl) (2013)
78. SHINee – View (2015)
77. Oh My Girl – 다섯 번째 계절 (The Fifth Season – SSFWL) (2019)
76. S.E.S. – Dreams Come True (1998)

75~51

(View post here)

75. god – 촛불 하나 (One Candle) (2000)
74. Super Junior – 쏘리 쏘리 (Sorry, Sorry) (2009)
73. Big Bang – Bae Bae (2015)
72. Kara – 미스터 (Mr.) (2009)
71. H.O.T. – 아이야! (I Yah!) (1999)
70. TVXQ – Rising Sun (2005)
69. Jewelry – Super Star (2005)
68. Dreamcatcher – 피리 (Piri) (2019)
67. Girls’ Generation – 소원을 말해봐 (Genie) (2009)
66. Ladies’ Code – Galaxy (2016)
65. BTS – 피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears) (2016)
64. 2NE1 – 내가 제일 잘 나가 (I Am the Best) (2011)
63. Wonder Girls – I Feel You (2015)
62. SHINee – Sherlock (2012)
61. Monsta X – Jealousy (2018)
60. Red Velvet – Dumb Dumb (2015)
59. Oh My Girl – Windy Day (2016)
58. S.E.S. – Just a Feeling (2002)
57. Wanna One – 켜줘 (Light) (2018)
56. Loona Odd Eye Circle – Loonatic (2017)
55. Red Velvet – Russian Roulette (2016)
54. NCT 127 – Cherry Bomb (2017)
53. T-ara – Roly-Poly (2011)
52. BTS – 봄날 (Spring Day) (2017)
51. WJSN – 꿈꾸는 마음으로 (Dreams Come True) (2018)

50~26

(View post here)

50. Brown Eyed Girls – L.O.V.E. (2008)
49. Shinhwa – Perfect Man (2002)
48. Lovelyz – 지금, 우리 (Now, We) (2017)
47. Baby V.O.X – Get Up (1999)
46. Loona Odd Eye Circle – Sweet Crazy Love (2017)
45. Exo – Monster (2016)
44. (G)I-dle – Latata (2018)
43. ONF – 사랑하게 될 거야 (We Must Love) (2019)
42. Girls’ Generation – 소녀시대 (Girls’ Generation) (2007)
41. S.E.S. – I’m Your Girl (1997)
40. god – 길 (Road) (2001)
39. Blackpink – 뚜두뚜두 (Ddu-du Ddu-du) (2018)
38. Vixx – Hyde (2013)
37. Sechs Kies – 사나이 가는 길: 폼생폼사 (The Way This Guy Lives) (1997)
36. SHINee – 1분만 (One Minute Back) (2013)
35. Wonder Girls – Why So Lonely (2016)
34. TVXQ – Tonight (2005)
33. Twice – TT (2016)
32. Seventeen – 고맙다 (Thanks) (2018)
31. 2NE1 – Ugly (2011)
30. Rainbow – Mach (2010)
29. Red Velvet – Ice Cream Cake (2015)
28. Fly to the Sky – Sea of Love (2002)
27. F(x) – 제트별 (Jet) (2012)
26. Girls’ Generation – 다시 만난 세계 (Into the New World) (2007)

25~1

(View post here)

25. Red Velvet – Psycho (2019)
24. Vixx – 도원경 (Shangri-La) (2017)
23. F(x) – 4 Walls (2015)
22. TVXQ – Mirotic (2008)
21. April – Lalalilala (2020)
20. Koyote – 순정 (Pure Love) (1999)
19. Big Bang – 거짓말 (Lies) (2007)
18. (G)I-dle – Lion (2019)
17. Kara – Step (2011)
16. GFriend – 시간을 달려서 (Rough) (2016)
15. Oh My Girl – 비밀정원 (Secret Garden) (2018)
14. Loona – Butterfly (2019)
13. Fin.K.L. – 영원한 사랑 (Eternal Love) (1998)
12. H.O.T. – Candy (1996)
11. S.E.S. – Be Natural (2000)
10. Infinite – 추격자 (The Chaser) (2012)
9. F(x) – Airplane (2013)
8. BTS – DNA (2017)
7. god – 거짓말 (Lie) (2000)
6. Girls’ Generation – Gee (2009)
5. Red Velvet – 빨간 맛 (Red Flavor) (2017)
4. Brown Eyed Girls – Abracadabra (2009)
3. Shinhwa – Brand New (2004)
2. Wonder Girls – Tell Me (2007)
1. F(x) – Electric Shock (2012)


YouTube Music playlist of our series (recommended – more complete):

https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLs8AQy0oF_mDeo54kbgCJePmwCIQLdhbv

Spotify playlist of our series (less complete):