I don’t like K-pop. There, I said it. Despite being Korean by blood, I’ve never quite bought into any Korean pop culture. Growing up, I avoided anything and everything Korean at all cost, and to this day I have an irrational dislike for Korean traditions and culture.
I have no idea how K-Pop exploded into a global phenomenon. But I’m not here to rant.
I will admit that there’s one area of K-pop that I secretly enjoy: bubblegum K-pop (a play on “bubblegum pop” which describes upbeat music marketed toward preteens).
These songs are often about innocent romance or silly subject matters, and are easier to listen to than the hyper-sexualized brand of K-pop that I don’t particularly like (but I understand why it’s popular). They’re super catchy as well.
Need a pick-me-up? Here are some of the best cutesy and upbeat K-pop songs that’ll put a smile on your face, even if you don’t know what they’re saying.
1. “Shy Boy” by Secret
There’s a reason why “swing music” has its name—you can’t listen to it without wanting to bounce. This song is a fusion of K-pop with swing dance, producing one of the catchiest songs I’ve been privileged to hear. Not only is the music bright, the music video has a perfectly matching theme that’s just plain fun to watch.
2. “Darling” by Girl’s Day
Another song inspired by a past era, “Darling” fuses K-pop with a shuffle rhythm and results in a sound that’s as bubbly as the girl group who sings it. Cute, fun, and watching this music video will make you long for summer all year round. It really doesn’t get more iconic than this when you think “bubblegum K-pop”!
3. “Kung Dari Sha Bah Rah” by Live High
Don’t ask me what “kung dari sha bah rah” means, because I haven’t a clue. I’m almost certain that it’s gibberish. But don’t fault Live High—this is actually a remake/cover of a song from the 90s by Clon.
Of course, this one’s more fun to listen to, and the tropical backdrop of the music video is perfect for the sunny joy that shines from this track. A real pick-me-up, if I’ve ever heard one!
4. “Marshmallow” by IU
Here we have the love song of a lovestruck teen girl. That’s par for the course, if not for the catchy beat and unique chorus of “marshmallow, marshmallow” that’s sure to get stuck in your ears. I don’t have much else to say for this one. Moving on!
5. “Ping Pong Game” by Real Girls Project
Is this song literally about ping pong? I’ve listened to this a hundred times and I still haven’t a clue. The music video seems to suggest it is, but you never know these days—not like it matters! The bright colors and silly animations will string you through the entire song and it’ll be over before you know it.
6. “Whoo” by Rainbow
I’d still count this as “bubblegum K-pop,” but I love the influence of rock on this song. The guitar riff is groovy and off the wall, the bridge hooks with its “whoo!” and “clap, clap,” and the driving beat is energizing. There are a lot of musical change-ups in this song, but they’re all upbeat and keep you dancing.
7. “Coming Soon” by NC.A
I don’t know how big NC.A is in Korea or elsewhere, but with songs like this, I’m surprised she isn’t a household name. “Coming Soon” reminds me of the bright songs of early Taylor Swift, and given how popular she’s become, I can only assume she has a future ahead of her that’s as bright as this song.
8. “BUBIBU” by Apink
I think BUBIBU means “kiss,” which would make sense in this cute and poppin’ love song. It could also just be a term of endearment for whoever is being sung to. If it wasn’t clear by now, I’m terrible at this K-pop stuff.
9. “Girl Crush” by Mamamoo
Filmed in vertical? Oof. Well, get over it, because “Girl Crush” is fun. What I love most about this video is that you can tell Mamamoo has a lot of chemistry together and they don’t take themselves too seriously. This music video is super silly, and that’s pretty much the charm of it. You’ll smile, I promise!
10. “Heartbeat” by Suran
This one’s a tad different from the rest of this list, mainly that it’s a more relaxed kind of pop without all the dancing and flashiness. Yeah, it’s still cute, and yeah, it’s still a love song, but it feels more mature and it feels more like a warm hug than it does teenage infatuation. Perfect.
If you don’t like K-pop, I don’t blame you. Despite its global popularity, it isn’t to everyone’s tastes. But you should know there’s a wide variety of K-pop music! Check it out…