Songs can span many genres within the realm of K-pop, from pop to rap, hip-hop, dance and more. With so much diversity in its sound, K-pop also brings many opportunities for songs to evoke certain vibes.
For example, we’ve noticed some K-pop songs sound like they were formulated for a Disney Channel Original Movie that would’ve aired between reruns of Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana. These K-pop songs about happiness, reflection, crushes and growing up capture our collective nostalgia for our youth.
Below, check out our picks for the most nostalgic coming-of-age K-pop songs — and see if you can feel the butterflies in your stomach of days past.
It’s the song that inspired this list: “Hello Future” is one of the best examples of that hard-to-capture, nostalgic wistfulness. The song is all about building your future with beautiful memories, because it’s only up from here. With encouragement like that from NCT Dream, maybe we can finally believe in ourselves. “Can you believe it’s only the beginning…?”
A classic motivational message paired with fun choreography and cute girls? We’re all over it! CLC encourages listeners to tighten their shoelaces and run as fast as they can on “To the sky,” a special single released around the time of the 2018 Winter Olympics. With lively instrumentation and lyrics that anyone can relate to, the single easily could have served as a theme song for the Games.
“Only you can make me breathe / Only you can make me feel this way,” The Boyz sing on “Only ONE.” With heartwarming lyrics about a first and only love, the dreamy track tugs at listeners’ heartstrings. The Boyz’ members’ charming vocals only add to its earnestness.
“Like This” is an emo-adjacent banger that fits right in with the group’s genre-bending discography. The songwriting and composing talents of PENTAGON leader Hui and maknae Wooseok take center stage on this angsty track.
The only group with two entries on this list, Red Velvet are the queens of the nostalgic vibe. They constantly reinvent themselves and their sound while maintaining their music’s signature, comforting atmosphere. On that note, “Umpah Umpah” is all about doing what you want, at your own pace, even when it’s frightening.
One of IU’s many songs about getting older and reminiscing about the past, the upbeat “Eight” featuring Suga of BTS peels back the layers on the feeling of grief we experience growing up. While we may want to look back and “meet at the memory that was once beautiful,” IU reminds us that we can always make new happy memories.
“COME TO ME” is a classic cheese-fest about young love and doing everything you can to protect that feeling. The bubbly synth instrumentation fused with TREASURE’s sweet vocals make for a relaxing bop that will make you think back to your first crush.
As referenced earlier, Red Velvet have a way about them that is comforting and inviting. “You Better Know” encompasses that warmth through not only its lyrics — “Will you listen to this song that will cozily embrace you? / …You better know, there is a world that is waiting for you” — but also its lush, ambient production.
Performed by Jungkook, “Euphoria” was first released via a 9-minute video featuring BTS’ lore. “You are the sunlight that rose again in my life / A reincarnation of my childhood dreams” is just one lyric that encapsulates the nostalgic energy on his magnificently heartwarming song.
The cinematic instrumentation of Sunmi’s “Heroine” lends itself to feelings of looking back. Although the song’s lyrics are about overcoming a bad relationship, “Heroine” has been transformed into a self-confidence anthem through performances by both Sunmi and other K-pop stars. Members of The Boyz and Oneus even performed a cover of the track on Korean reality TV program Road to Kingdom, transmuting the song’s original message into a narrative about their journeys and difficulties as idols.
One of the newest releases on this list, “BUT YOU” invokes those “driving at 2 AM with your best friends” feels we’re always longing for. Screaming “I need you baby!” at the top of your lungs with your BFFs conjures an emotion that can never be matched, even though iKON captures it so perfectly.
Featuring chiptune-pop production that sounds straight out of a Game Boy, the bubbly 8-bit synths and sweet vocals of Girls’ Generation’s ode to a crush, “Oh!,” will likely remain lodged between your ears for years to come.
Seventeen are no strangers to putting their listeners in their feels. “Kidult” is all about the adult struggles that often fling us back into feeling like little kids again — and how it’s okay to feel that way. Listening to Seventeen’s heavenly vocals will either bring you to tears or put a smile on your face.