“Simping” is a pop culture phenomenon where the individual mulls over sad or sentimental things in life. Step up your simping game with the soulful and emotion-inducing bops of the K-pop genre. Here are the best K-pop songs to listen to when you’re in your own simpy mood.

11:11 (Kim Taeyeon)

Musicality: Hailed as one of South Korea’s top female vocalists, Taeyeon’s single 11:11 is a sad but soothing acoustic ballad for the recovering heart. Her reputation for being able to convey the emotional subtleties shines through in this mid-tempo and acoustically backed instrumental.

Part of what makes Taeyeon a great vocalist is that she changes her vocal colors to suit the feel of the song. Since the instrumental utilizes plucking rather than strumming for the acoustic guitar, Taeyeon’s voice takes on a chesty but airy tone that mellows out the staccato of the guitar line. The balance between the accented instrumental and the smooth vocals makes for a soothing and reassuring bop.

Lyrics: Playing on the “11:11 make a wish” trend in pop culture, this song is about wanting to move on from a love that once consumed your life. Even if the end of a relationship feels like time has stopped, the lyrics emphasize that time will resume its regular flow and that this experience will come to pass like all the others.

All of My Life (Park Won)

Musicality: If it starts out with a piano line, you know it’s simp time. The way that the piano accompaniment fills in the moments where Park Won doesn’t sing leaves the listener wanting more of his voice. The music also intensifies alongside the vocal line especially when the line “you are all of my life” is repeated.

The fullness of the piano together with the string instruments and Park Won’s voice really helps to emphasize the meaning of the lyrics and the bittersweet sentiment. Known for his ballads, Park Won’s full and slightly raspy tone really suits the mood of “All of My Life.”

Lyrics: If you are missing someone special in your life, this song will be the anthem of your simp time. This ballad, in particular, is simultaneously appreciative and disheartened. It talks about the important people who come into your life and inspire you to be more than yourself.

It also has a sense of self-awareness about how people may be so attuned to their own struggles that they may not be able to appreciate the presence of important people in their lives. So, if you already know someone who has supported you all your life, simp to this and let the stroll down memory lane begin.

Lonely (Kim Jonghyun)

Musicality: “Lonely” is a duet sung by two of the most respected vocalists in the K-pop industry: Jonghyun and Taeyeon. The irony of “Lonely” is that it is, in fact, a duet and that both these friends were very close to one another. With a deceptively cheerful piano introduction and a sparkling sprinkle of wind chimes, Jonghyun breaks into the song with a mellow, whispery voice that at times dips into a rich fullness in the middle of his phrases.

Joining him in an octave above with a distinctly youthful and apprehensive tone, is Taeyeon, his close labelmate and friend. As opposed to harmonizing often, the pair switches off from verse to verse, occasionally singing together in unison or in octaves which heightens the feeling of seemingly one-sided loneliness.

In the chorus, Jonghyun takes on a brighter and even childlike quality that eventually transitions back into a grounded and whispery tone. The way that he plays with his intonation and the way that he emphasizes certain keywords like “sorry” and “thank you” conveys a wide range of highs and lows in his simping roller coaster.

Lyrics: While Jonghyun is well loved and respected by many in the industry, this song highlights how being surrounded by people could be the loneliest state to exist in. Jonghyun committed suicide at age 27, a few months after the release of this song. What he leaves behind is an excruciatingly resonant message of not wanting to tell others her personal emotions despite the healing effects it could have for the person.

Breathe (Lee Hi)

Musicality: Under one of the biggest and most well-respected K-pop agencies, Lee Hi is most known for her smoky but clear voice as well as for her naturally lower range. As a result, the way that she sings “Breathe” will get you delving into your own emotions. Again, this song is another simp song that begins with a piano intro.

Lee Hi straightforwardly sings into the light piano instrumental like someone who has been accidentally holding their breath. The genius of her phrasing is that it mimics someone who is short of breath, who is striving and straining in their endeavor to simply breathe.

As a mezzo-soprano, she is most comfortable in a range that isn’t too low or high, so when she tackles the chorus, the listener is automatically drawn into a voice that sings the higher notes clearly, but only with great effort. This almost straining of her voice leaves the listener hankering for more fullness, and you might find yourself holding your breath, waiting for her to nail more of those high notes. And of course, she delivers.

Lyrics: Released in 2016, this well-received song was nominated for several awards in Korea as well as for the World Music Award for “World’s Best Song.” This song was written and composed by Kim Jonghyun, who recently passed away. This song is so powerful because the subject matter is so resonant to a generation of people riddled with anxiety.

It speaks to people who sometimes feel like they don’t even have time to breathe or time to fail or falter — and to tell them that it is okay and that even the smallest thing like taking in a good deep breath, or hearing someone else breathe, can make living a little easier.

Awake (BTS)

Musicality: Although he is one of the vocalists in BTS, not many people recognized Jin for his voice until his solo song came out. Starting with dramatic strings, the listener is further drawn in by his straightforward singing. Jin’s voice isn’t flowery, nor is it overly emotional — it’s just Jin, singing this song for himself.

As the song transitions to the chorus, the bass drums start thumping as Jin begins to sing higher and higher. One of the best things about this song is that the melody captures the self-reflective quality of this song. Most of the song sounds very grounded as if he is rationalizing his insecurities and sadness, but the higher parts express a sense of hope and even desperation.

The beautiful bridge where he sings “wide awake” and “don’t cry” helps the buildup to his high adlibs at the end of the songs. The clean halt at the end of the song is a clean and resolute way to wrap up a song, it’s almost as if he is waking up.

Lyrics: Lyric writing is never easy, this song was rejected 7 times before the producers allowed him to use these lyrics, and his efforts really show even through translation. Featured as his solo song on BTS’s album WINGS, “Awake” was instantly adored and praised by fans who’d never gotten to hear Jin sing for the entirety of a song.

As a song about desperately wanting to succeed in the face of rejection, criticism and even depression, Jin gives his listeners the hope and the realization that nothing is over until they give up. His lyrics also reach out to his fellow group members, who, to him, deserve to fly and achieve their wildest dreams.

Knee (IU)

Musicality: Opening with a gentle guitar intro, IU and her signature sweet and childish voice soothes the soul. Both the tender plucking of the guitar and her gentle voice come together into an expressive lullaby. In the second verse, IU takes on a bit of a resigned tone that conveys the lyrics of that section perfectly.

She sings like a grown-up child, a child who has been through hardship but has still retained a childlike hopefulness. As a part of her “Chat shire” album, “Knee” is considered one of the most personal songs that she has personally composed.

Lyrics: Dedicated to the grandmother who raised her, this song is meant for simping about a beloved parental figure. The title “Knee” is a reference to the time she was a child and felt protected or at ease under the wing of a loving guardian. IU started her rocky singing career at 15, but fortunately became more recognized for her girlish charm and her distinctly sweet timbre.

In this album, she explores the more serious, personal, and even catty side of herself that the K-pop industry never acknowledged before. This song uncovers a level of emotional depth and love that she was previously unable to showcase before.

Honorable Mentions

There are so many great and sad songs in the K-pop genre to simp to, and if time and word count permitted, I would go ham on describing all of them. But oh well.

Narcissus (Heechul x Jungho x Wheein): This is so dramatic and so much fun to listen to. It is one of those “typical” breakup songs, but sometimes you need that overwrought violin intro to be a little over dramatic and extra.

If You (Big Bang): I first came across this song when BTS’s Jungkook sang it in a singing competition (King of Masked Singer). It’s a great breakup song and would give you so many things to think about. And maybe even cry over a little. Just a little though.

Missing You (BTOB): This is such a wholesome song to simp to. The group has a music video in which a sign language interpreter stands next to them and signs the entire song. Real good stuff.

ITNW (SNSD): From the legendary queens of second wave K-pop, hardcore Girl’s Generation fans would simp to this any time of the day. Since the group no longer has all its original nine members, this song remains in the mind of the SONEs as an iconic and nostalgic song

Butterfly (BTS): Oh BTS, what can they not do? “Butterfly” is honestly a beautiful song that really highlights all their strengths as singers, rappers, and performers.

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Christine Fang

University of California San Diego

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