2019 In Review: Day 8 – Pop and Ballad

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2019 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

The pop and ballad scene is vast each year just from its very nature, but there’s a particular trend in our 2019 picks: sweeping and ambient pop sounds are much more heavily represented this year than any in recent memory.

Of course, these works – coming from artists as diverse as Ravie Nuage to Kim Yoon-ju, Corduroy to Kimhwol – each brought something special to that basic mix.

At the other extreme, check out the massive-scale and explosive ballads that also shined in 2019, starting with the duet at the top of our songs list.


  • Both Lulileela – 물고기 (Goldfish) and AkMu – 어떻게 이별까지 사랑하겠어, 널 사랑하는 거지 (How Can I Love the Heartbreak, You’re the One I Love) are not included below, as they were respectively the Song of the Year and the runner-up as featured on Day 2.
  • The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.
  • The 2019 Pop and Ballad Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Pop and Ballad Album 2019

Dawn - no caption version

Ravie Nuage – 새벽녘 (Dawn)

The rolling melody of “Dawn” seems to tread upon “Meadow of Memories” (2012), while “Blue” and “Why” represent the two ends – one gently melancholy, one torrential – of Youth’s (2015) rock ballads. While not new, these (and more) hues from Ravie Nuage of years past compiled like this made for a richly satisfying listen.

But Dawn was also a more seasoned work: the steely moods and chilly stories in the album’s middle act hit new emotional depths, and the beautifully serene “To You” was one of the year’s highlights. And it all came to life in some of the most picturesque yet incisive writing that Pomme and Jeon Jin-hee have ever penned.

The Runner-up

Sailing - no caption version

AkMu – 항해 (Sailing)

I’ve already said “How Can I Love the Heartbreak, You’re the One I Love” was 2019’s best ballad on Day 2, but the scope of AkMu’s third album didn’t end there. Sailing’s palette spanned country to rockabilly to strum-driven pop, and Lee Chan-hyuk’s penchant for compelling melody proved to transcend all those distinctions.

His writing also found new territory: while Lee was always a fantastic lyricist, it’s hard to imagine the allegorical, stoic wisdom of “Fish in the Water” in the AkMu of even three or five years ago.

Armed with Lee Soo-hyun’s resonant vocals and a rich band arrangement of renowned session members, Sailing was a breakthrough triumph and signaled the arrival of AkMu as complete musicians.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

Jung Joonil – Love You I Do

Kimhwol – 초심 (Beginner’s Mind)

Kim Hyun-chul – 돛 (Sail)

Lee Sang-eun – fLoW

Lee Seung-hwan – Fall to Fly 後 (Pt. 2)

Lucia – 환상소곡집 (Fantasy Collection) Op. 2: Aria

Moonkock – Bloom

Park Sae-byul – Ballades Op. 3

Taeyeon – Purpose

Yuha – Eternity


Best Pop and Ballad Song 2019

Yoon Jong-shin – 이별하긴 하겠지 (Unstable) (Feat. Kim Feel, Cheon Dan-bi)
Written by Yoon Jong-shin; composed by Yoon Jong-shin and Kang Hwa-sung; arranged by Kang Hwa-sung

The Korean title is a compact way to put the resigned exhaustion from which this song begins and ends. “I guess we could part after all”, sing the narrators in the titular chorus, “but could we erase it all?” The offhand delivery that continues – “I guess it’ll erode little by little / And we’ll go our separate ways” – is a conflicted mixture of pragmatic realization and dying passion, an ember that still longs to burn.

A soaring, tumultuous melody line and beautiful harmonization between Kim Feel and Cheon Dan-bi (with some exquisite solo splits in the chorus) brought that ember to explosive life.

Backed by a decadent arrangement, with Yoon Jong-shin indulging in the glory of 1990s ballads with crooning saxophone, crystalline electric piano, and power snares, these lovers’ last light burned brighter than anything else for a fleeting moment.

The Runner-up

Yoon Ji-young – 우우우린 (Wwwe)
Written and composed by Yoon Ji-young; arranged by Yoon Ji-young, Gila, Soda

It’s a drawn-out pronunciation of “we”, and it was perfect. Yoon Ji-young’s soundscape is soothingly intimate, enacted over a leisurely rhythm of pads and ringing guitar; her words too radiate warm comfort as she reassures the listener (and herself, maybe) of a love that holds true in every state of the world.

And so, in that beautifully plain and later anthemic chorus, we had all the time we would ever need, all was right in the world of a lullaby, as Yoon sang “W-w-w-e are just so alike / So we love that little part that’s different between us…”

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

Choiyeguen – 고릴라 (Gorilla)

Han Hee-jung – 비유 (Metaphor) (Feat. Kim Sawol)

Jung In – 사랑 그 깊은 곳 (Deep Love)

Kimhwol – 1

Kim Yoon-ju – 꿈처럼 남아 (Remained Like Dreams)

Lee Seung-hwan – 나는 다 너야 (I’m Always You)

Lucia – 화조도 (Hwa-Jo-Do: A Painting of Birds and Flowers)

Ravie Nuage – 너에게 (To You)

Sunwoojunga – 수퍼히어로 (Superhero) [read our review]

Wisue – 영원토록 빛나는 끝 (Forever Shining)

Honorable Mentions


Bolbbalgan4 – 사춘기집 I 꽃기운 (Puberty Book I Bom)
Chen – 사월, 그리고 꽃 (April, and a Flower)
Choiyeguen – 너만 알아볼 수 있는 의미를 담아서 (Message Dedicated to You Alone)
Eric Nam – Before We Begin
Han Gi-ran – Me
Hello Gayoung – 특별히 대단할 것 (Something Special)
Hong Dae-kwang – Inside Wants
Hwang Chi-yeul – The Four Seasons
IU – Love Poem
J Rabbit – Dialogue on the Road
Jeon Jin-hee – 우리의 사랑은 여름이었지 (Our Love Was Summer)
Jungkey – Retro
Jung Seung-hwan – 안녕, 나의 우주 (Dear, My Universe) [read our review]
Kang Asol, Mystery Curtain, Earip – 우리의 만춘 (Our Manchun)
Kim Marie – Forest
Kwon Jin-ah – 나의 모양 (Shape of Me)
Lee Changsub – Mark
Lee Seol-ah – 못다한 말들 (Unsaid), Part 1
Lena Park – The Wonder
Okdal – Day / Night
Oyeol – 단잠 (Danzam)
Parc Jae-jung – 노랫말 (A Song for You)
Ronny Chu – GMT+9
Solah – 나는 왜 한국에서 태어났나 (Why Was I Born in Korea)
Shinyoume – So Addicted to You
Son A-reum – My 0.5
Song Hee-ran – 이 모든게 봄 (All of This Is Spring)
Sung Hae-bin – 너의 마음 (Your Heart)
Sunwoojunga – Stand [read our review]
Sunwoojunga – Stunning
Wisue – 영원의 순간 (Eternal Moment)


015B & Hongbi – 과거의 오늘 (#tb)
608 – 안개 (The Fog) (Feat. Ha Hyun-woo)
Bolbbalgan4 – Seattle Alone
Boy Kim – Fate
Chen – 널 그리다 (Portrait of You)
Choiyeguen – 춘래불사춘 (Spring Is Not Like Spring)
Corduroy – Telling the Truth in Love
Corduroy – 갈래 (Galets)
Echae Kang – Smoky Mocha Coffee
Fromm – 반딧불이 (Firefly)
Fromm – 너란 빛으로 (In Your Light)
GoGang – Too Good for Me
Han Hee-jung – 걱정 (Worry) (Feat. Earip)
Heju – 어른이 되버리면 (When I Grow Up)
Hello Gayoung – 밤하늘의 별들은 (Stars in the Night Sky)
Hello Gayoung – 꿈 속 (In a Dream) (Feat. Mind U)
Hwang Chi-yeul – 포옹 (Hug)
Hynn – Let Me Out
IU – Blueming
Jeong Sewoon – 비가 온대 그날처럼 (When It Rains)
Jeon Jin-hee – 물결 (The Flow) (Feat. Kimhwol)
Jinahin – 반칙 (Violation)
J Rabbit – 밤의 동화 (A Fairy Tale of Night)
Jung Joonil – 그래 아니까 (I Know But)
Jung Seung-hwan – 네가 온다 (You’re Coming)
Jung Seung-hwan – 우주선 (Voyager)
Kang Asol – 잠든 너의 모습을 보며 (While You Were Sleeping)
Kim Dong-ryul – 동화 (Fairytale) (Feat. IU)
Kim Gerji – 싸구려 폭죽 (Cheap Firework)
Kimhwol – Down
Kim Hyun-chul – 감촉 (Feeling) (Feat. So!YoON!)
Kim Marie – 나의 바다 (Dive to You)
Lee Ji-hye – 오늘의 기억 (The Memory of Today)
Lee X Lee – 사랑을 믿고 싶어요 (I Believe in Love)
Lee Sang-eun – Relax
Lee Seol-ah – 말 (Words)
Lee Seung-hwan – 백야 (White Night)
Lena Park – 같이 (With You)
Lim Hyunsik – Dear Love
Lucia – 도미노 (Domino)
Lucia – 폭풍의 언덕 (Wuthering Heights)
Lulileela – 소나기 (Flashback)
Mad Clown & Stella Jang – No Question
Minhyun – Universe (별의 언어)
Moonkock – Whitenight
Moonkock – 들려줄게 (Tell You)
Nine9 – 그녀, 둘 (Her) (Feat. Han Hee-jung) [read our review]
Okdal – 청춘길일 (靑春吉日) (The Best Days)
Oyeol – 새벽 첫 차 (First Train at Dawn)
Paul Kim – 마음 (Big Heart)
Park Hyo-shin – Goodbye
Park Ki-young – Magic
Park Ji-yoon – 잊어요 (Forget You)
Park Sae-byul – Silent Cry
Park Sae-byul – 그랬으면 해요 (I Wish)
People and People – 악마 (Devil)
Ravie Nuage – 새벽녘 (Dawn)
Ronny Chu – 그렇게 우린 (Typical Ending)
Ryu Su-a – H!
Soulstar – 그 날 (Homesick)
Son A-reum – 놓아주자 (Let You Go)
Son A-reum – 빈둥빈둥 (Lazy)
Song Hee-ran – 너는 봄 (You Are Spring)
Stella Jang – YOLO
Sulli – 도로시 (Dorothy)
Sunwashere – 춤 (Dance)
Sunwoojunga – To Zero
Suzanne – You Can’t Have Me
Taeyeon – Blue
Taeyeon – Gravity
Taeyeon – Here I Am
Wisue – 아무 의미 (Mean Nothing)
Yesung – 평행선 (Parallel Lines)
Yoon Ji-young – 언젠가 너와 나 (A Will) (Feat. Car, the Garden)
Younha – 비가 내리는 날에는 (On a Rainy Day)
Yuha – 마음속에 (In My Mind)

Lyric translations by author. Artist profile and album cover images from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review