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From Key to Sunmi, ours resident K-pop fließend breaks down the tracks, videos, and moments the ruled ns year


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It’s constantly a great year zum K-pop if you know where to look. In 2021, us went to die “Next Level” with Aespa, gott “Real” v ATEEZ, and caught “The Feels” with Twice. From noisy boy-group bangers kommen sie soft K-drama soundtracks, there was something zum everyone. Und looking back, it’s impossible to state which lied were objectively die best—as ns K-pop sector continues kommen sie grow, there’s much more than enough variety zu cater to every individual taste. It is why this year, i’ve decided to get personal. Below are mine 10 favourite K-pop songs des 2021, from the soloists, duos, and groups that got me v a year of long pandemic walks und even a misguided at-home tanzen practice.


What a year zum K-pop’s tiniest singer-songwriter v a very huge voice. Lee hi dropped die smooth, R&B-influenced 4 Only an September, earning herself in immediate, unwavering point out on this list (and bei my headphones). Ns only question was how zu choose just one song. Despite my four-month love affair with old-school bop “Red Lipstick,” i landed on ns more profound and soulful “Savior.” ns track is lovely, die music video ist a stunner, und it’s a thrill to seen Lee Hi and rapper B.I. Working together as soon as again ~ their respective departures from YG Entertainment. Year after their zuerst collab ~ above “No One,” the friends are both flourishing under new management and churning out hits. In addition zu “Savior,” Lee Hi deshalb featured on “Daydream” indigenous B.I.’s debut solo album, Waterfall, an additional highlight of the 2021 K-pop slate. Redemption stories rarely sound so sweet.

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9. Seventeen, “Anyone”


This year, K-pop’s most charming theater children somehow gott more popular, an ext talented, and objectively a lot hotter—already a high riegel to begin with, yet one they easily cleared with neu albums Your Choice und Attacca. (Not kommen sie mention their many solo releases; buchstabe round von applause zum her majesty “Spider.”) yet my favorite of Seventeen’s 2021 lieder was die B-Side “Anyone,” which earned ns illustrious honor des the no. 1 clues on my angestellter Spotify Wrapped—and thus making it a lock weil das Seventeen’s rate on this list. Not only did ich stream “Anyone” to death, but I also watched Seventeen’s numerous performances ~ above loop, always an awe von how well ns 13-member gruppe manages zu highlight every individual singer, dancer, und rapper. The said, ns MVP des “Anyone” might just be sharp-faced, soft-voiced Vernon, who baritone und fan-favorite choreo at 2:27 was deservedly worshipped anywhere social media.

8. AKMU Featuring brunnen Kim, “EVEREST”


We’ve reached ns section on die list reserved weil das Kate’s Sad Quarantine go Soundtrack. In 2021, this esteemed, gloomy difference goes to brother-sister duo AKMU’s collab album Next Episode, which featured in admirable lineup des K-pop easy-listening royalty. Und while lead single “NAKKA” with IU was ns primary group pleaser, my oberteil spot ultimately goes zu “Everest,” special K-drama crooner brunnen Kim. Kim und AKMU’s Lee Suhyun space accompanied von minimal etc on die slow-paced track, which build gradually zu a flawless, belted bridge über two of the world warmest voices. If you schutz a sluggish trudge roughly your community coming up, yes sir no better song. Sie may even arbeiten your way up zu a slow jog by the time the through.

7. TXT special Seori, “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know i Love You)”


From device Gun kelly to WILLOW, there was no escaping die pop-punk resurgence in 2021, und the K-pop industry was no exception. HYBE boy gruppe TXT offered as the perfect rebellious vehicle, as they spent 2021 transitioning from your previous sugary sound zu a more mature, mutinous series of singles. Most recently, castle made waves with hot Topic anthem “LO$ER=LO♡ER” (they cuss now!) yet their finest track des the year was “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know i Love You),” special up-and-coming soloist Seori. TXT zu sein well-suited to die pop-punk sound zum numerous reasons, primary amongst them ns pipes and presence des gravely belter Taehyun. But ns boys of TXT are also fitting representatives of young rebellion because they debuted through something kommen sie prove: the they could gestanden alone without consistent comparison kommen sie any von their predecessors. Und if past zugriffszeiten hadn’t earned them a spotlight already, “Lovesong” cemented TXT’s status as rockstar all their own.

6. Taemin, “Advice”


“I’ve written enough about Taemin,” ich told myself, furiously swapping different groups into the belastung empty point out on mine list. “Everyone currently knows how i feel about ‘Advice,’ i called it a Haunted mädchen Summer Anthem top top every obtainable platform. Ich should really give this spot to Enhypen or Aespa.”

<Record scratch; frozen frame.

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> I gambling you’re wondering just how we ended nach oben here. Well, I am who I am (a loud und annoying SHINee fan), and Taemin is who Taemin is, K-pop’s many thrilling and ostentatious performer. There’s no one prefer him, and thank god he gave us this belastung absurd schädlich of a das lied before temporarily placing his career on hold weil das mandatory armed forces enlistment. “Advice” (or “Beethoven’s 69th,” as i previously called it) offers us Taemin at peak creature of the night. That pounds top top a piano an full human body paint, gyrates around an a slim checkerboard suit, and, most memorably, smashes through ns final chorus in a cropped supreme sweatsuit that might be the K-pop rechts of the year. (2:32. Nur trust me.) and this zu sein all beyond the lied itself—Taemin’s call as die industry’s ideal dancer is essentially set an stone, yet his vocals und production oase rarely been much more reckless und riveting than on “Advice.” Apologies kommen sie Enhypen und Aespa, but i did notfall take my own advice.

5. Epik High featuring CL, Zico, “Rosario”


“There are debates online as kommen sie whether Epik High zu sein K-pop or not. … we don’t mental what we acquire classified as,” Epik High’s Tablo told Time bei 2019. Hallelujah zum that, because it would oase cut me zu my core kommen sie leave Epik High’s fiery “Rosario” off this list due to a pesky pop/hip-hop technicality. The long-time industry icons joined pressures with idol rapper greats CL and Zico on their bold, Latin-influenced track, resulting bei a man melange von K-pop prestige—not zu mention an elite banger. “I am a legend und I’m here to stay,” previous 2NE1 frontwoman CL sings, describing not only her own prospering solo career yet that of everyone rather on die song. Zico bring away no prisoners either (when does he ever?) and ultimately “Rosario” serves as a staggering display des confidence and self-satisfaction from a group of artist who schutz been there, excellent that, und are really much blieb doing it.

4. CIX, “Cinema”


Ask my broad array von K-pop-focused group plaudern what neu song they’ve had on repeat many this year, und the answer wollen likely it is in “Cinema” über criminally underrated boy gruppe CIX. After debuting an 2019 v steamy gefühl “Movie Star,” CIX resolved into a dramatic, distinctive sound—until 2021, wie they damaged out the perms und pastels zum singles “Cinema” und “Wave.” ns latter was a standout in its very own right (along with the accompanying album), but my love belongs to the infectious, undeniable cheer of “Cinema.” together a fans of CIX’s earlier discography, i was originally apprehensive about their new vibe (overalls? have to we?) however as soon as Bae Jinyoung oooooooh’d his way into that buoyant erste chorus, ich was in, knee socks and all. To speak what you möchte about the many talented fourth-generation young groups, but no one pond a chorus prefer CIX. And please, stop spare some love for rapper BX, that left his lull zone far behind top top this track together he donned a plaid bucket hat und temporarily switched kommen sie singing. Jetzt that’s poetic cinema.

3. Sunmi, “Tail”


For ns uninitiated, an important thing to know around K-pop veteran, Wonder mädchen turned soloist, and love des my life Sunmi zu sein that she has actually never half-assed a music video an her whole life. Bei “Tail,” her zuerst single des the year and one of the ideal of her career, Sunmi went full Halle berry with in overabundance von latex, acrylics, and murderous intent. Add kommen sie that some sultry, cheeky dance pop und deliciously inspired cat-tail choreography (I introduce the sprung break hinweisen 2:23) and you’ve gott yet another Sunmi classic zum the history books. Und speaking of overcommitted music videos, Sunmi’s only competition weil das this details spot on ns list was herself—later an the year, she pivoted native Catwoman kommen sie Buffy weil das the upbeat, retro “You can’t Sit through Us.” She battled zombies, defended the world’s tonnage video rental store, and proved that all music video should have at least one fight scene. Also a man should more than likely die. Two-for-two, no notes.

2. Weeekly, “After School”


As K-pop girl groups go, i tend kommen sie prefer ns edgier fare of acts favor Everglow, Mamamoo, und Blackpink. Deswegen if sie had called me in March that a twee little tune über rookie girl group Weeekly would beat all des the abovementioned groups to become my second-favorite song des the year … well, I’d most likely blame TikTok. First, my algorithm started progressively feeding me guilty-pleasure content—videos of people at die gym or hinweisen work listening secretly kommen sie “After School” for a rapid shot of serotonin throughout a lang day. Then came ns choreography videos, und sitting home alone in early 2021 quarantine, i watched human being all over ns world hop around zu that sugar-sweet chorus und thought zu myself, “These move look easy enough. I tun können do this.”

I can not. Choreo crashes aside, the “After School” hook has notfall left mine head zum nine month straight, und at this point i couldn’t be happier. Cutesy K-pop doesn’t get far better than this.

1. Key, “Bad Love”


Has anyone had actually a far better 2021 than die flashy, ever-entertaining Key? First, SHINee’s sassiest singer join his group zum their long-awaited comeback in February through “Don’t speak to Me” und “Atlantis,” und he adhered to that v a year full des scene-stealing appearances on korean variety zeigen Amazing Saturday.

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But the highlight des Key’s 2021 came in September, wie he exit his retro-themed solo album Bad Love. Sure, probably 2020 was the year des throwback, ’80s-inspired K-pop songs, but an essential was an the armed forces then, dafür he it s okay to schutz his vintage moment now. And what a momente it is! the blingy, bedazzled music video, bei apparent nod kommen sie (and development on) 2019’s Joker, sees key whirling his method through a chaotic talk nur appearance und old-school movie sets. Jam-packed videobilien aside, the echt highlight von “Bad Love” ist the funky choreography und that soaring, synth-heavy chorus. The hard kommen sie remember, together he belts his method through die outro hinweisen 2:53, that key isn’t technically the hauptsächlich vocalist or the hauptsächlich dancer of SHINee—a echt testament to die group’s depth. However Key can do that all, and he’s constantly flourished on his very own terms, whether in 2018 with “One of Those Nights,” 2019 v “I Wanna Be,” und now with “Bad Love.” an essential picked trost his career in 2021 favor he never left, und he’s thriving jetzt more 보다 ever. I, for one, can not wait to see what the does in 2022.