Welcome to Kbopped’s countdown of the Top 100 K-pop songs of 2021.
To Be eligible for this list, songs must:
- Must released between the 1st of January to 31st of December 2021 and have either a music video or highly stylised lyric and/or performance video.
- English songs by Korean Artists are eligible though Japanese and/or Chinese songs are ineligible as they will show up in other lists
- This is all just my opinion. There is much bias to be found and if you’re unhappy with any of the placements, just remember that this is not meant to be a purely objective list.
20. CIX – Cinema (review)
2021 was the year of shifting concepts and CIX were one of the first, offering a drastic shift in their sound with the dynamic and melodically warm Cinema. 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 and emotive pre-chorus come together to form an enduring hit for the ages.
19. ATEEZ – Eternal Sunshine (review)
ATEEZ’ strongest 2021 single didn’t come from their usual boisterous or heavy hip hop based material but rather the incredibly buoyant and irresistibly bright Eternal Sunshine. It’s probably the fluffiest thing the guys have actively promoted but as with every great ATEEZ song, there’s still a sense of drama surrounding the track. This really shows during the chorus, which is when Eternal Sunshine really comes into its own, opening with a gorgeous melody before transitioning into an equally cathartic synth loop for its post chorus. And by the time the chanted bridge comes along, I’ve already been overcome by pure nostalgic joy.
18. ONF – Popping
ONF have always loved going bright and Popping allowed them to completely embrace the sound of summer for the first time since their debut. And just as with all their other singles during what will for sure go down as one of the most triumphant year long singles runs in k-pop history, Popping was a complete success. It’s one of the years most optimistic tracks, complementing its potentially childish singalong hook with an incredible mix of driving percussion and bright synth work. It’s a perfect summer song, bringing together the sheer joy tied to the season along with the kind of whimsical soundscape that ONF excel at. Combine that with the extraordinary vocal arrangement and you have a track that is bound to heighten your mood.
17. OnlyOneOf – libidO (review)
Dark, broody, industrial and the complete antithesis to the three songs that preceded it on the list, libidO nails its provocative and scandalous 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. It brings out the absolute best in both its performers and producers, causing a near demonic clashing of sounds that heightens the claustrophobia and paranoia created. But within the complete harshness of it all, there’s a surprising number of sneaky hooks, which rise through the production to become almost as instantly iconic as the daring music video.
16. ONF – Goosebumps (review)
Their final release before the group embarked on surprise military enlistments, ONF sent off the first part of their young career with a massive bang in the form of the darker, SHINee-esque , halloween inspired, Goosebumps. This is bombastic electro pop at its peak, taking risks whilst still adhering to an incredibly strong melodic and instrumental backbone which keeps Goosebumps alive even during its (few) quieter moments. Such a cohesive sound can only really be achieved when you have a great partnership between group and producer, something the ONF-Hwang Hyun combination has absolutely nailed.
15. GHOST9 – Up All Night
Despite being known for their dark, industrial tracks that were usually supported by massive choruses, Ghost9 had many bright, uptempo tracks hidden within their back catalogue. And with the release of the ideal boy group summer smash Up All Night, the boys finally gave us a promoted single which put melody at the fore front, resulting in a track that’s consistently fantastic all the way through. It’s the least “Ghost9 style” track but its bright, undeniable energy coupled with a freewheeling performance that works in perfect tandem with the bouncy instrumental give the track just enough bite to make that soaring two part chorus carry an immense amount of weight.
14. Brave Girls – Chi Mat Ba Ram
When Rollin’ blew up, many wondered if Brave Girls would be able to capitalise on the immense hype they had unexpectedly garnered. And while many didn’t believe the group were up to the task to replicate the success of an already classic track, the girls did one better with 2021’s unofficial summer anthem. The bouncy, bright and oh so 2015 era blockbuster, Chi Mat Ba Ram. This is K-pop summer at its best, channeling a classic Brave Brothers sound into a buoyant, incredibly catchy summer single that brings you back to the best sounding summer jams of the past few years. From some instantly memorable brass exclamations to the anthemic hook, this song gets everything right and then some.
13. MIRAE – KILLA (review)
While 2021 may have been short on big name debuts, it managed to give us one of the strongest and most instant in recent memory. Killa is a sci-fi inspired behemoth, overflowing with ideas and executing each one with a thrilling sense of style. The rousing chorus absolutely soars, harnessing a NCT 127 Superhuman like energy and melody to create one of the years most majestic and hard hitting centrepieces. It’s both at once powerful yet light on its feet, making great use of its pulsing production with an equally potent melody which sounds even more immense when supported by some delicious vocal layering. Uncertainty remains whether MIRAE will blossom into somthing great but it’s no doubt that they made their mark.
12. ONEUS – Life Is Beautiful
As you might have noticed, there were a number of summer songs that I adored this year but ONEUS’ Life is Beautiful was without a doubt my favourite. It’s relentlessly optimistic, buoyed by a bright, freewheeling energy that’s coupled with a simple yet surprisingly cathartic instrumental that accentuates the delicate mix of nostalgia and youthful energy the track is no doubt going for. And though at its core it may be a very simple pop song, Life is Beautiful is elevated by a stunning central melody which though headed by a potentially cliché English hook, gets a very strong and resounding message across that’s furthered by the lovely woodwind sample that punctuates each chorus.
11. BTS – Butter (review)
Easily the strongest BTS related song since 2019’s pop masterpiece Boy With Luv and the crown prince of their English discography, Butter returns to the commercial pop sound of past hit Dynamite and elevates almost every single one of its elements into a glossy pop package which side-steps its generic pop jingle roots with an instantly catchy chorus and even more interesting instrumental that’s just bursting with life at every turn. Whether it be the immense synth breakdown after the second chorus or the incredibly fun rap based climax, there isn’t a single dull moment during Butter‘s 3, short, but sweet minute run time.
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