The Year in K-Pop: 2021

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For K-Pop, the year 2021 has been full of ups and downs. The quality of music being produced this year by groups and solo artists alike has varied hugely. Whilst many have been able to present something new to the demanding industry, others have not been as fortunate to live up to the hype that has surrounded their releases. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of my personal favourites and the less memorable releases of this year. 

My favourite releases:

SHINeeDon’t Call Me

Being their first release in nearly three years, the excitement of fans for SHINee’s seventh studio album had reached a breaking point. In true SHINee style, the album was a collection of classic SHINee-eque preppy pop songs, such as ‘Heart Attack’ and ‘I Really Want You’, and genres that the group may have never tried before, showcased through tracks like ‘Body Rhythm’ and ‘CØDE’. There are no songs on this album that you can skip, making the LP completely worth the wait. Once again, SHINee has lived up to their title of the ‘Princes of K-Pop’. 

NCT DreamHello Future

Despite forming over five years ago, Hello Future is NCT Dream’s first full length album. Whilst the LP is nothing too adventurous compared to the group’s previous releases, NCT Dream’s unconventional vocal colour make the album an entrancing listen. Tracks ‘Life Is Still Going On’, ‘Hello Future’, and ‘Dive Into You’ play to the group’s youthful image by giving the album an upbeat tone. The record as a whole is refreshing and playful, which perfectly matches the personalities of the members and highlights their strengths well, both individually and as a team.

ChunghaQuerencia

The solo artist originally made a name for herself in the popular girl group, I.O.I, which was created through the survival show, Produce 101. After the group’s disbandment in 2017, Chungha re-debuted by herself, showcasing her talents in singing and dancing. Chungha’s sound has developed with her, as this album highlights a more mature side of the singer. Tracks ‘Bicycle’, ‘Stay Tonight’, and ‘Dream of You’ emphasise Chungha’s sensual side, showcasing her growth as an artist and individual. Many of the songs from the record have also been paired with energetic performances that are a delight to watch. 

SeventeenYour Choice

Just a few months after their theatrical release ‘HOME;RUN’, Seventeen came back with their eighth mini-album, Your Choice. In comparison to their previous EP releases, producer and member, Woozi, has once again been able to create an album that maintains Seventeen’s high standards. Being a part of their ‘Power of Love’ project, the songs from this EP explore different kinds of love, such as platonic and romantic. The lead single, ‘Ready to love’, is an enlivening pop song that blends the abilities of the performance, vocal, and hip hop units perfectly, creating a coherent and pleasant track for summer. The unit songs embrace the members’ preferred music styles, whilst still presenting something new to their fans. 

ENHYPENBORDER : CARNIVAL 

Even though this group only debuted last year, ENHYPEN has managed to capture the attention of not only the South Korean public, but of fans from across the globe. BORDER : CARNIVAL, whilst following a similar format to their first EP, offers listeners a variety of genres in just six songs. ‘Drunk-Dazed’ is a powerful pop-rock track with a catchy chorus that can get stuck in your head for hours. ‘Fever’, which arguably is the most popular song on the album, allows members with a lower vocal range to shine. The overall production of the EP is something that many groups should take notes from. 

My least favourite releases:

Red VelvetQueendom

Queendom was a highly anticipated release thanks to Red Velvet’s nearing 18 month hiatus, their longest since their debut. Unfortunately, the EP did not live up to many fans’ expectations. Since Red Velvet is known for their experimental b-sides, fans were hoping for the usual unconventional sounds, however, these were overall, highly forgettable. Whilst the title track provided listeners with an uplifting and affirmative song for the end of summer, the rest of the album was not up to Red Velvet’s standard of showcasing something that has never been seen before.

ITZYGuess Who

ITZY is another group that is usually able to pull off peculiar and diverse concepts, but just like Red Velvet, this release was not able to stand out in the sea of other K-Pop albums that came out at the same time. The b-side, ‘SHOOT!’, is possibly the only track that seems to fit ITZY’s girl crush style. Compared to other groups’ albums, Guess Who offers nothing new and feels like an EP made up of recycled tracks. 

Seventeen – Attacca 

While Seventeen remain as one of my favourite K-Pop groups, I have to admit that their second release of the year, Attacca, failed to live up to Seventeen’s usual standard. The unit tracks are extremely different from what fans expect, but not in a good way. The testing of new genres feels a little bit forced and doesn’t seem to work with the group’s energy. Despite some of the more subpar tracks on the EP, lead single, ‘Rock with you’, and b-side, ‘Crush’, are the two best songs on the album due to the members’ impressive vocal performances and fiery instrumentals. 

There are hundreds of other releases from this year that have caused huge debates among fans across the globe. This may be part of the attraction to the world of K-Pop: with controversial opinions being spread over a wide range of social media platforms. With so many new groups and artists joining the music scene on a monthly basis, 2022 will surely bring more releases that will either storm the charts or backfire. 

Words by Amy Britton


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