After the incredibly underwhelming slate of releases we saw during the first half of last year, 2021 has really brought the goods. Last year I managed to cobble together 10 strong, yet nothing exceptional, list of releases. But this year I’ve got a whopping 21 songs that I just had to highlight, along with some great honourable mentions that could have easily made the list this point last year. Of these, special shoutout to Aespa’s Next Level, Kim Sung Kyu’s Hush and Lucy’s I Got U, all of which were at one point or another in the main list but were unfortunately released to the honourable mentions last second.
Now without further ado, let’s get to the main list!
Aespa – Next Level
Dreamcatcher – Odd Eye
IU – Lilac
Kim Sung Kyu – Hush
Lucy – I Got U
ONF – Ugly Dance
UP10TION – SPIN OFF
WEi – Bye Bye Bye
2Z – Stupid (review)
Taking the jubilant electric guitar and synth based sound of last years b-side 25, 2Z reinvigorated their sound with one of the years most buoyant singles. The blasts of brass and the consistent drive are excellent and with a performance as confident as the one here, it’s hard not to get caught up in the party.
BAE173 – Loved You (review)
With the long awaited Bigbang comeback seeming constantly out of reach and the rest of YG entertainment not releasing anything in the first half of the year, many were craving the classic YG sound. And while not perfect, BAE173 stepped up to the plate, delivering an absolute gem in the emotive, guitar assisted Loved You.
Brave Girls – Chi Mat Ba Ram (review)
After the most unlikely of breakouts, Brave Girls made their grand comeback with an absolutely stunning summer anthem that channels the very best of 2015-era k-pop into an instantly addictive and bright package channeled through the best aspects of the modern era.
BTS – Butter (review)
As the juicy meat patty between the nice top bun and soggy bottom bun, Butter is the strongest and most assured of BTS’ three English singles, pulsing forward on a crunchy electronic beat and an instantly addictive hook that outshines its generic pop jingle roots to be something much more.
CIX – Cinema (review)
After trying their hand at more generic, “cool” material, CIX treated us to this brilliant slice of groovy retro pop. It isn’t the most commanding or instant of tracks but that earworm of a hook coupled with the warm instrumental come together to form an enduring hit.
GHOST9 – SEOUL (review)
Though its noisy verses might prove divisive, SEOUL comes alive with a chorus for the ages, cementing GHOST9 as a rookie group to look out for and one of the new generations most experimental and exciting groups.
GHOST9 – Up All Night (review)
On the complete other side of the noisy SEOUL, Up All Night brought a new found brightness and melody to GHOST9’s singles run in excellent fashion, lending a soaring hook to some of equally bright verses to give us one of the years most enjoyable summer singles so far.
Golden Child – Breathe (review)
A b-side turned single that I couldn’t stop raving out about upon release, Breathe lends Golden Child one of their funkiest instrumentals yet, something only bettered by that gorgeous soaring chorus which truly opens the track up in stunning fashion.
Golden Child – Burn It (review)
The single that lead Golden Child’s comeback, Burn It took a tired and true trend and morphed it into one of the years most stirring tracks, bringing a sense of drama with that powerful vocal led hook and massive post chorus. A sensational one two punch.
JUST B – Damage (review)
Released at the tail end of June, Damage quickly won me over with its B.A.P like delivery and massive instrumental that goes oh so incredibly hard. If you want to debut with a darker and more edgy sound, this is how you do it boys.
MIRAE – Killa (review)
Another fantastic debut, Killa‘s sleek SM-esque sound instantly cemented Mirae as a group to look out for. The pulsing electronic sound is an absolute treat and with a number of interesting production choices up its sleeve, Killa makes sure to keep you hooked at all times.
Monsta X – Gambler (review)
With a pulsing bass heavy instrumental and a performance to die for, Gambler is the strongest Monsta X track in years, complete with iconic one liners, a fantastic drop and some killer adlibs during the tracks fantastic climax. It’s all at once aggressive yet slick, a feat the boys pull of with the ease.
ONF – Beautiful Beautiful (review)
One of the years most critically acclaimed pop songs, ONF struck gold with the buoyant Beautiful Beautiful. From the rousing “rumpapum” hook to the delirious funk of its backing track, ONF bring listeners through true pop nirvana with a package that expertly skirts the line between house, electro pop and retro all with a modern sheen to appeal to the masses. Truly a perfect production.
OnlyOneOf – libidO (review)
Dark, broody, industrial and the complete antithesis to the song that preceded it in this list, libidO nails its provocative concept with a track that encapsulates the sexual and emotional tension expressed through its lyrics thanks to a deep, thumping instrumental and scintillating airy vocal performance.
Pink Fantasy – Poison (review)
With the heavy metal inspired Poison, nugu group Pink Fantasy managed to “out Dreamcatcher” the Kbopped favourites with one of the years most propulsive and instantly gripping singles. Complete with a healthy dose of metal screaming and hair raising guitar solos.
SHINee – Atlantis (review)
SHINee have always excelled when they go for the pop jugular and with Atlantis, they returned to the sheer intensity that powered their many classics. This is SHINee at their absolute best, powered by a stunning vocal performance and unique instrumental that allows the boys to really transform it into their own playground.
TXT – 0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) (review)
With the surging pop-rock of 0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You), TXT continued their near flawless singles run in stunning style. I loved it on release but that massive chorus and raw vocal performance have gone onto cement the track as one of the years best.
Oh My Girl – Dun Dun Dance (review)
By taking all the best aspects of last years Nonstop and channelling it into a tighter and more focused package, Oh My Girl supplemented their immense commercial success with this gorgeous city pop inspired track. With a chorus as catchy and backing track as light and refreshing, it’s not surprising that Dun Dun Dance has experienced some of the best longevity of any track so far this year.
ONEUS – Black Mirror (review)
My 2021 ONEUS track of choice saw the boys venture into the realm of heavy funk pop, resulting in a track that brings out the absolute best in each of its performers with an instrumental and vocal arrangement that’s calibrated to perfection. But it’s those unexpected rhythmic breakdowns and gorgeous string work that really cement Black Mirror as a classic.
WONHO – Lose (review)
A track that grows more and more exciting the longer it goes on, Lose is a track that “loses” itself to the tracks own groove, pulsing forward on an indelible groove punctuated by Wonho’s reserved, breathy performance. It’s oddly hypnotic, luring you back after every listen. And that’s never a bad thing.
Yuqi ((G)i-dle) – Bonnie & Clyde (review)
A style that I never expected from someone like Yuqi, Bonnie & Clyde channels the kind of pulsing 80’s dance pop of classics like I Need A Hero through a more modern lens to stunning effect. The majestic chorus is the obvious highlight but the real star of the show is Yuqi herself, whos husky voice lends Bonnie & Clyde an unrivalled sense of character.