Kim Sung Kyu – Hush
Me forgetting to review this track was an absolute crime back in March and it is even more so now. But I’ve finally forced myself get up and talk about this absolute gem of track. Sung Kyu has always been one of my favourite voices in K-pop and while it can elevate almost every track, it becomes almost transcendent when paired with electronic rock pieces such as Hush. Layered over a gorgeous instrumental, Hush takes its time to build from nothing more than Sung Kyu’s delicate vocals to a soaring climax that feels like a sequel to his stunning 60sec. This is absolutely gorgeous.
Super Junior – House Party
While House Party was not the kind of track many expected for Super Junior’s 15 year anniversary album, ‘The Rennaisance’ , the tracks upbeat sound and charismatic performance result in a truly fun experience. Even the completely out of place trap breakdown feels enjoyable after a few listens. Will it ever be considered with the best of the groups discography? Of course not. But is it a great time? Absolutely!
2Z – O@SIS / Stupid
While I did have my eyes on 2Z before these two singles (thanks to last years great 25) but they really outdid themselves with these two tracks right here. O@SIS is a great standard rocker with a one hell of a hook and stupid is home to one of the years greatest instrumental riffs. They’re both fantastic but I think I like Stupid just a little more. The aforementioned riff combined with that instantly addictive sing along hook are a match made in heaven. It’s just a such a feel good track and one that’s been in heavy rotation ever since its release. Never has calling myself stupid felt so good.
Wendy – Like Water
I can always get around a great rock ballad and Wendy’s Like Water is a great example of the genre. Acting as her return to the music scene after a terrible accident in late 2019, the track allows Wendy to fully showcase her gorgeous vocals with a song that is expertly crafted to appeal to ballad lovers and detractors alike. The performance here is just magnificent, drawing the listener in from the very first verse and keeping that attention through the entire track. Alongside Sung Kyu’s Hush, this is easily one of the years strongest ballads.
D-CRUNCH – My Name
What has really driven me away from much of D-CRUNCH’s work till now is their all bluster no melody soundscape. Bar their great debut Stealer, Tracks like Pierrot, Across The Universe did little for me and that’s why I wasn’t expecting much from My Name. However, My Name is the groups strongest effort since their debut with a towering, emotive chorus that deserves to be blasted from the top of a building. It’s a fantastic centrepiece and the underlying piano melody is equally as immersive. It feels very Beast circa 2011-14 and that’s a very good thing. The boys would be wise to go further down this road.
STAYC – ASAP
STAYC’s debut single So Bad was one of 2020’s best and most enduring tracks and thus Asap arrived with much hype from both fans and critics alike. Unfortunately, while the rest of the single album really stuck with me, Asap fell flat with a boring melody and lagging hook that just didn’t match the track’s more interesting production choices.
BAE173 – Loved You
While many really liked BAE173’s debut effort Crush on U, I was one of the few that remained neutral about the track. It wasn’t bad by any means but it failed to really differentiate the boys from the rest of the pack. The stunning YG-esque Loved You on the other hand has firmly slotted BAE173 on my radar. This track is just brilliant, harnessing the kind of melodic sound that sounds absolutely timeless. Its chorus ranks amongst the years best and that descending synth riff is just just magic. Given a stronger and more assured performance, Loved You could have truly become one of the strongest tracks in recent memory. But boy does it still hit.
Kang Daniel – Antidote
I’ve had a very hit or miss relationship with Kang Daniel’s music and while establishing a rather intriguing moody atmosphere, Antidote is another track that I feel deeply conflicted about. As mentioned previously, Antidote’s atmosphere is its strongest aspect, enveloping the listener with a dark, ominous soundscape that could have done wonders. This is especially highlighted during the tracks standout second verse where the tempo briefly picks up to a gallop than a lurch. But that chorus man. It’s just too sluggish and autotuned to really illicit any reaction from me and does little to incentivise me to keep listening.
THE8 (SEVENTEEN) – Side By Side (Korean version)
Though it proved more divisive than I had initially expected, Seventeen’s Home;Run was one of my favourite tracks of last year and its jazzy soundscape is continued in THE8’s solo track Side By Side. Albeit in a more reserved fashion. Side By Side embraces the more bouncy and groove oriented area of this sound and nails its expected mood with a knockout hook that just worms its way into your head with ease. It’s the standout moment in a track that isn’t afraid to experiment, shifting between some very different yet equally as interesting instrumental and melodic diversions with ease. An unexpected but great surprise from THE8.
DONGKIZ – Universe
After releasing a handful of fun, bouncy pop during their first year and a great sub-unit release, Dongkiz veered a little off track with last years lumbering Beautiful. Single Universe sees them return to their roots with a bouncy little pop track with a catchy and inoffensive hook. It isn’t has instantly grabbing as their debut year efforts nor is it inherently weak. It’s one of those tracks that I wouldn’t mind listening to if it were to come up on shuffle but I don’t think I’ve ever personally sought Universe out.
Yoon Jisung – Love Song
Another Wanna One member another dud, Yoon Jisung’s solo work has never connected with me. Both his ballads and his more upbeat fare just seem like very generic variants of what has already come out and Love Song is no different. It attempts to bring a more upbeat sound to Jisung’s singles run but is marred by a production that fails to commit in either direction resulting in a track that is forgotten as soon as it ends.
Great Guys – Touch By Touch
2021 has seen many a boy group veer into more funky territory and Great Guys’ Touch By Touch is another example of this trend and does well to fit itself into the slew of similar tracks. The synth fuelled beat is very addictive and the opening hook that’s oft repeated is instantly memorable. But much like Dongkiz’ Universe, there isn’t really much here to bring me back for multiple listens. It’s super solid but I feel like it’s missing that extra special something.
Nu’est – Inside Out
Nu’est have come a long way since their debut 9 years ago both musically and conceptually. Inside Out is the lead single for their second full length album and though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, its a solid burst of moody synth driven pop. This is a sound that the boys have been peddling since early 2018 with Nu’est W’s Dejavu and have all but mastered. As such, Inside Out doesn’t really do anything to wow me but it honestly doesn’t. Its hypnotic hook might initially seem monotonous but turns into a real ear worm on subsequent listens. Will this ever be one of my favourite Nu’est songs? No. But it’s still a solid effort.
DAY6 – You Make Me
Day6 have always been one of the leading acts in the K-band industry and with leader and main vocal Sungjin enlisting in the military, You Make Me acts as the end of an era for the boys. And the music fits this sentiment perfectly, merging a classic Day6 melody to a surging instrumental that makes space for some very exciting electronic influences. The performance is also brilliant, incorporating some stirring belts and a hefty dose of emotion to create another Day6 classic.
P1Harmony – Scared
Unlike many, P1Harmony haven’t really done much for me. I thought their debut Siren was fine but rather similar to much of the other hip-hop based tracks of the past few years and though more unique and enticing, Scared falls into a similar boat. For many, their enjoyment of Scared will rest heavily on how they feel about the central instrumental riff. For me, the beat is what really makes the track and though the central hook could have been better, the instrumental does much elevate the track. The boys are charismatic as hell and the production is strong. All they need is a stronger hook and I think they could really deliver a stunner.
Enhypen – Drunk Dazed
While I didn’t watch I-land, I adored Enhypen’s debut track Given-Taken. So much so that it managed to catapult itself into my top 50 favourite K-pop songs of last year. As such unlike its predecessor, Drunk Dazed arrived on the back of great expectation. And though its production falls into the exact same traps that limited Given-Taken from its full potential, the tracks mammoth chorus is more than enough to compensate. It’s absolutely immense, bounding forward on a soaring melody that attacks the listener and is furthered by the groups layered vocal blend. Now if HYBE stopped mushing the groups vocals together, I think they could really become huge.
AB6IX – Close
Deep House may have become one of the most oversaturated K-pop sounds of the past few years, if there’s any group that I don’t mind still embracing that sound it would be AB6IX. The boys debuted with the sound and while I don’t think they’ll ever top Blind for love in the same sound bracket, Close is another super solid effort from them. While I didn’t enjoy either of the groups 2020 title tracks, Close sees them back to form, tackling a hyper rhythmic soundscape with some gorgeous shots of melody. I haven’t returned to it as much as I initially expected but its super solid either way.
ONF – Ugly Dance
Following up a song as epic as Beautiful Beautiful is a tall task for any group but if any group were to be up for it, it would be ONF. And while Ugly Dance doesn’t come close to the sheer pop perfection of its predecessor, its blend of symphonic pop and janky hip hop are an unlikely match made in heaven. Its verses are a far cry from the pop sounds that have characterised much of the groups singles run but that towering chorus is all ONF. This could have easily gone wrong but when you have a producer as assured as Hwang Hyun and a group of performers as instantly gripping as ONF, you end up with another great single.
ITZY – Mafia in the Morning
I guess after 4 great title tracks, ITZY’s singles run had to come to an end sooner or later and with the honestly terrible Mafia in The Morning, their near perfect run has come crashing down. As probably the years first big disappointment, Mafia In The Morning was honestly hard to listen all the way through upon release. For a group that built their reputation of exciting, unique instrumentals and instantly iconic hooks, Mafia In The Morning fails to do anything that catches the ear. The droning hook is the most evident example of this, lacking any character and coming off as one of the years most monotonous choruses. The only time it briefly catches fire is during the breathless pre chorus, though even that feels recycled from many a generic girl crush track. I’m not mad, just disappointed.