As we bring 2021 to a close, it is of course time for those end-of-year lists! Lists ranking everything from TV shows to TikTok trends. You could probably find a list ranking anything you could ever imagine.
Last year, I started the Music Monday feature here on DryedMangoez.com in which I shared some of the music I’ve been listening to each week. And of course, at the end of the year, I had to rank my favorites. But for me, I always have trouble ranking things. Whether it’s music or seasons of my favorite TV shows. I’m pretty indecisive that way.
And just like last year, I tried (and failed) to limit my list to a reasonable number. I ended up with a Top 60 last year and then went ahead and added 11 more a week later (lol). So this year, I just went for the straight 70. There’s absolutely no significance to the number 70. It’s really just the number I decided to stop myself at. Otherwise, I could probably go up to 100! (lol)
But then every time I do complete my list, I end up endlessly switching things around. Sometimes I feel a song should be higher, sometimes I feel like I missed a song altogether.
How did I put this list together? It’s really just songs I enjoyed, liked or even loved. Usually it’s just a gut feeling. Other times it’s a quantitative measure. (Which songs were on repeat?!) And for many, it’s their staying power on my playlist. Which songs did I love when I first heard them and love them even more now. There might even be songs I wasn’t a fan of on first listen, but months later have accumulated dozens of repeat plays. Then there’s even songs that I might have loved originally, but ended up fading away over time.
Basically, I have no discernable criteria. It’s basically how I feel and what I enjoy. =D
So let’s get right to it! Here are my 70 (!) favorite songs of 2021.
70. “Ride or Die” by Do Hanse
VICTON’s Do Hanse stepped out into the spotlight on his own this year with the release of his solo debut album “Blaze.” Hanse is known for being able to effortlessly spit bars with a strong, powerful and maybe sometimes even intimidating image. That’s even as he’s probably one of the funniest and most playful members of VICTON. “Take Over” certainly mixes those two sides of him in an attention-grabbing song and music video. Confident is an understatement as Hanse eschews putting himself in a box and steps out in an assertive and forceful performance.
But my favorite track from the album is “Ride or Die.” The passionate rock-infused track is such a statement kind of song and performance that Hanse effortlessly delivers loud and clear.
A really amazing album. And for the record, I love Hanse’s original track “Hallelujah” which he released in 2019.
69. “The Realist” by ONF
ONF is always one to deliver high concept performances. Whether it’s their unique sound or their dynamic style, you’re always in for a treat with ONF. But one song they released this year offered up a different side of them that was so great to see and hear. “The Realist” from their album ONF : My Name is definitely one of my new favorite tracks from them.
68. “Pray” by Dami Im
The amazing Dami Im has released her first all-original album since Heart Beats in 2014. Yes! You read that right! My Reality is her first album in seven years to contain all original songs. And it also signals the beginning of the next chapter in her career as she has left her previous label and signed with ABC Music.
“Pray” is the lead track from the album and it is a breathtaking song about taking a moment from your hectic everyday. Dami’s vocals soar with the positive and encouraging lyrics. And accompanied by a wonderful choir, it is truly a stunning track.
Dami is such an amazing talent and it is very exciting to see her be able to be freer with her music.
67. “0X1=Love Song feat. Seori” by TXT
TXT came back with the incredible “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You).” As a soaring rock-infused track, it was a different vibe, certainly from their summery-last release “Blue Hour.” But different from most of what they’ve released so far and certainly from most of what K-pop is doing today. In that sense, it’s a very refreshing and even bold direction to take for a group that has showed their artistry and versatility already so far since their debut. The song features passionate, romantic lyrics of finding love in the midst of chaos and nothingness. Quite a dramatic theme. And the cinematic music video does well to enhance that vibe.
66. “Gas Pedal” by CRAVITY
I was initially feeling a bit tepid with CRAVITY’s comeback earlier this year. I thought it was interesting after first listen, but I grew to like it after a couple more listens. The chorus for “My Turn” was definitely catchy and I quite enjoy it now. Even randomly singing it from time to time! They go for a similar vibe with “Gas Pedal.” The powerful track is complimented by an Akira-inspired music video which is immediately likeable for a fan of the manga and film like myself. The group and the song easily fit in with the cyberpunk theme and it’s the kind of hip-hop-infused dance-pop track that could easily serve as a rallying cry for youth trying to navigate the streets of Neo Seoul.
65. “Close” by AB6IX
AB6IX’s “Close” is an excellent comeback. The pop dance track is a bright track about a strong and supportive love. The group is at their most charming with their charismatic performance matching with the romantic, hopeful lyrics. Definitely one of my favorites from them.
64. “Dark Dream” by E’LAST
It was ten months since E’LAST’s last comeback as a full group (they released a unit track earlier this year). And “Dark Dream” is exactly the kind of track that loudly and confidently announced their return. One word to describe my reaction after my first watch/listen of the song/MV: WOW. “Dark Dream” is a soaring epic of a track. It’s one of those songs that you just have to experience. Whether it’s sitting and absorbing the dramatic melody and effortless vocals. Or it’s being enthralled by a live performance or the stunning music video. No question, this is E’LAST’s strongest title track yet. And a real attention-grabber.
63. “Magellan” by MOVNING
If it’s not YouTube recommendations, it’s Arirang and Pops in Seoul that introduce me to new artists. Like it did this time with alternative rock band MOVNING. One of their releases this year was emotional rock ballad “Magellan” and it is certainly a great introduction to the band. I definitely checked out the rest of their discography after my first listen.
62. “Bandi” by Jeongmin
Former Boyfriend member Jeongmin came out with a great string of releases this year. But my favorite is definitely “Bandi.” The powerful rock ballad has Jeongmin expressing being the bright light for someone who may need it in their time of loneliness and hardship. Just an excellent, affecting track with Jeongmin’s vocals indeed shining once again.
61. “Let Me Fly” by Produce 101 Japan Season2
If Produce 101 Japan Season 1‘s theme was a bit more of a rousing anthemic song, “Let Me Fly” feels a little more subdued by comparison. But that’s part of what makes it so great. Coming from a toku fan like myself, “Let Me Fly” sounds like the ending theme to a Kamen Rider or Sentai movie. Or even a nostalgic youth coming of age film. That pretty much guaranteed that I would love it. I feel like it’s such a unique style compared to the other “Pick Me” songs which tended more to highlight that trainee appeal call to the national producers. Instead, this feels more like a personal affirmation, thus a bit more inspiring and uplifting in comparison.
60. “Lock Down” by EPEX
After first listen of EPEX’s debut title track, I wasn’t so sure about it. And in my initial review of it, I even said I probably wouldn’t be putting the song on repeat any time soon.
Well, I was obviously wrong if it’s made my year-end list! I was initially intrigued by the song’s concept and sound. I called it a “musical journey rather than one song” and that made it feel “awkward and engaging at the same time.” And though I felt like it was “kind of all over the place,” the song somehow grew on me. And I suppose that intriguing something in the song took hold. “Lock Down” is a catchy song. And that’s probably why it caught on to me and never let go the rest of the year.
EPEX would go on to release a diverse collection of songs during the year, but “Lock Down” ended up being such an impactful debut for me and definitely worthy of being here on this list.
59. “Dimples” by Woosung
The synth-pop retro vibe is perfectly depicted in the aesthetic music video. And when paired with Woosung’s dreamy vocals, the song about a love so sweet it’s bad definitely gets you in the mood. So good!
58. “Vertigo” by DRIPPIN
“Vertigo” is an AMAZING song. No question, it is the rookie group’s best title track so far. Albeit, with an asterisk of course. (Those pesky Universe-exclusive tracks!) As much as I have enjoyed the group’s releases so far, “Vertigo” is the only main release track that I’ve immediately loved from them. It’s almost kind of a waste for them to have held the song for the Universe app instead of releasing it as a full-fledged single. But at the same time, if this is a taste of things to come for the group, I’m nonetheless excited.
“Vertigo” is definitely a different sound and style for the group compared to their releases so far. If before they showed off their brighter, youthful sides, “Vertigo” is a step forward in maturity. A showcase now for their growth and development. Leveling up in performance and charisma, “Vertigo” would’ve been an amazing song to perhaps reintroduce them to a wider audience. But again, if this is a taste of what’s to come from the group, they are well on their way.
57. “Sugar” by Kim Wooseok
UP10TION’s Kim Woo Seok returned with “Sugar” and it’s definitely a different vibe of a track from his solo debut. “Red Moon” was an uber-sexy, dramatic dance track. “Sugar,” meanwhile, is brighter, romantic though with still a bit of flirty playfulness sprinkled in. It’s definitely as sweet and tasty as the title suggests. The line “You got the best of me, you got it all.” in the chorus is especially catchy and perfectly captures the overall good vibes of the song. A great comeback track.
56. “10&Going – SIP” by Lex
BIGFLO member Lex released his first solo single with “SIP.” The very personal lyrics, written by Lex, resonate over the soulful R&B track as he chronicles his own journey while offering hopeful encouragement. I’m a fan of BIGFLO and Lex, so I’m so happy to see him finally getting to release some solo music.
55. “Damage” by JUST B
I’ve been a fan of Lim Jimin and both of his solo releases from 2019. Not a single filler on either of those mini-albums. You should definitely check them out. But I knew he was preparing to debut in a group and was anxiously awaiting it or at least another solo release.
But the time finally came. And Just B debuted with the title track “Damage.” I love this track. Produced by Bang Yong Guk, it is a rousing, youthful track that certainly draws some great memories of young B.A.P. It’s a similar vibe and energy, but definitely a contemporary rock-infused pop-dance track. A very strong debut.
54. “Tamed-Dashed” by ENHYPEN
“Tamed-Dashed” is definitely my favorite title track from ENHYPEN. Just the energy emanating from it really gets you in the mood. Maybe it’s the group’s always powerful performance. Maybe it’s the high-voltage synthesizer in the chorus with the thumping garage bass throughout the song. Maybe it’s the message expressed in the song deciding whether to be tamed by desire or not.
Whatever it is, I think if I wasn’t sure before, this is the track that truly solidifies ENHYPEN’s spot amongst the new generation of K-pop artists. Just an epic, irresistible, repeat-worthy track.
53. “Luna” by ONEUS
One of ONEUS’ most attention-grabbing title tracks, if not the most attention-grabbing was the fiery “Lit” that effortlessly blended the traditional Korean gayageum with an energetic pop-dance track. The group revisits and expands on that brilliant sound with their latest title track “Luna.” Fusing together Korean traditional sounds and oriental instruments, “Luna” takes a bit of a mellower approach than “Lit” did with still a touch of performance-ready dance melodies. The fusion results in a poetic dance track that more than suits ONEUS’ unique flavor and highlights their always powerful talents. Definitely one of my favorites from them. (And yay for much singingLeedo!)
52. “Karma” by KINGDOM
KINGDOM is absolutely one of the most captivating rookie groups out there. Their stunningly epic concepts just command attention. And it’s a complete package when the music matches that standard. Like their debut, “Karma” is a showstopper. A powerful and charismatic song anchoring another strong album. My favorite tracks from the album are “Magical” and “Warning,” though “Eternity” and “Make Us” are good too.
The idea of focusing each release on a specific member, as their own “king” in the KINGDOM universe, is such a fascinating concept. And it’s a great way to shine a spotlight on each member as well. The adventure continues with KINGDOM and it’s a journey worth taking.
51. “Close Your Eyes” by BZ-Boys
BZ-Boys debuted in 2019 with the great “question” and followed it up with a single album in October of that year. But they finally made their first comeback almost two years later. Back with a new member, the group returned with a great, impactful track in “Close Your Eyes.” It’s a really ear-catching track, especially with the traditional Korean gayageum adding an interesting and unique sound to the synth-infused pop-dance track.
50. “I’m Gonna Love You” by Brooklyn
I think it was around this time last year when I first got to know Brooklyn and his music. I was immediately hooked by him and after a couple of months, he’s finally back with a new track. And it is excellent. “I’m Gonna Love You” is a catchy, upbeat rock-infused pop dance track that blends together a cool vibe with Brooklyn’s soft vocals. The accompanying music video is a fun “high school all grown up” concept that perfectly suits the track.
49. “Turbulence” by ATEEZ
Though I’m a fan of most everything they release, softer ATEEZ is definitely my favorite kind of ATEEZ. And the rock-infused ballad “Turbulence” more than fits the bill. The emotional lyrics about overcoming the rough patches in life carry with them a sense of hope that comes through with the group’s wonderful vocal performance here. It’s really great to see ATEEZ releasing a song like this for a title track when usually the group keeps them as B-sides on their albums. But it shines a spotlight on a side of ATEEZ that perhaps isn’t as widely appreciated by the mainstream who may only know them by their powerful, charismatic performances.
48. “Troubles” by Corbyn
Cory Hong aka Corbyn has continued to release some amazing music this year. And “Troubles” is another personal and emotional track with Corbyn’s passionate performance making the song the kind that you just have to experience and absorb. Beautiful. Stunning.
And! If you have a bit more thinking power than I do, you can join other fans as they theorize and unpack the intricate world Corbyn has built with every single one of his songs and MVs. A lot of it goes way over my head (sadly 😥), but it’s certainly another amazing dimension to Corbyn’s excellent work.
47. “Icarus” by JO1
Though a B-side track, “Icarus” is very much title-worthy. I’ve definitely enjoyed JO1’s softer and more mellow tracks a lot. JO1 has been unstoppable since their debut, churning out earworm after earworm. And “Icarus” is another one to add to that repeat playlist. It could really end up being one of my favorite JO1 songs.
46. “Life is Beautiful” by ONEUS
Dark ONEUS is great, but Bright ONEUS is my jam too! “Life is Beautiful” just puts a smile on your face. With a message of seizing the day and Carpe Diem, the music video draws inspiration from the classic film Dead Poets Society as well. ONEUS definitely gets the message across with their bright performance and an especially amazing pre-chorus melody.
45. “Gallery” by Park Jihoon
After finishing At a Distance, Spring is Green, I was in a bit of a Park Ji Hoon withdrawal. But thankfully around that time, he released his new mini-album My Collection. Title track “Gallery” is an energetic, disco-infused dance track that gives Ji Hoon the opportunity to once again show off his effortless talent and charisma.
44. “Bad Influence” by Bernard Park
Finally!! After completing his military service last year, Bernard Park is back with some new music. And WOW! Did he come back with an amazing track. “Bad Influence” is just an incredibly breathtaking song. Bernard’s smooth falsetto glides across this track about a man falling for the fatal charm of a woman that has taken over his life. It is an ethereal, dramatic, sexy, seductive track that definitely has Bernard showing off a different side of him. But he without question delivers one of the year’s most attention-grabbing performances
43. “Veni Vidi Vici” by CRAVITY
Aside from “Gas Pedal,” “Veni Vidi Vici was definitely my favorite track from their album The Awakening: Written in the Stars and I was happy to see them release a music video for it. The rock-tinged dance track is another excellent showcase of the group’s steady, but impactful growth since their debut. I think CRAVITY is one of the groups who have really been able to grow and develop their sound and style in a way that feels natural and seamless.
42. “O@SIS” by 2Z
2Z is one of my favorite debuts from 2020. And this year, they released their first full album. ACT1 has all the excellent songs they released last year and three new tracks, including the dual title tracks “O@SIS” and “Stupid.” The rousing, funky rock track “O@SIS” and the bright synth-rock “Stupid” are both great examples of the band’s talent and versatility. Definitely a good introduction for anyone who might not have listened to them yet. But a sign that you should definitely check out their strong discography so far.
41. “Trigger” by VERIVERY
VERIVERY continues to mature and grow with every release. And “Trigger” shows off another step forward for the talented group. The song’s chorus is especially excellent, pulling together the song’s diverse mix of hard-hitting charisma and softer, mid-tempo vocal acrobatics. It might just be my favorite title track from them so far and I find myself saying that after every release. The rest of the four-track album is also great.
40. “Seoul” by GHOST9
“Seoul” is definitely my favorite title track so far from rookie group GHOST9. The rousing invitation to South Korea’s capital metropolis is an energetic dance track. The proud lyrics play as both a celebratory party night anthem and a Seoul tourism ad. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The vibrant music video brings it all together with GHOST9’s fiery performance sealing the deal. “Seoul” definitely has you wishing you were partying there right now. (Safely of course.) Or at least driving across the many Han River bridges blasting this song at full volume.
39. “Son of Beast” by TO1
TO1 (formerly known as TOO) came roaring back with “Son of Beast.” The group signals their rebirth after some label troubles with this excellent title track and equally great album. The catchy dance track and its infectious hook of a chorus where the boys confidently proclaim they are a “son of a beast” is just irresistible. Melodic, soft verses and bridge paired with powerful raps and the earworm of a chorus all make for one of the best and most likable tracks of the year so far!
38. “Breathing” by WEi
WEi has had some great B-side tracks. And “Breathing” is one of them. From their album Identity: Challenge, released earlier this year, “Breathing” shares a similar style and vibe to songs like “Timeless” and “Hug You” which I loved last year. A sort of soft dance track that compliments their vocals so well. It’s my type of style and I would love to see WEi churn out more similar tracks.
37. “Inside Out” by NU’EST
NU’EST has come a long way since their debut. And the title track for their first full-length album in seven years “Inside Out” certainly exemplifies their experience and maturity at this point in their careers. The song is an uptempo house track that at the same time feels measured and mellow. The lyrics, the performance and the visuals all come together in a sophisticated and confident way.
36. “I Got U” by LUCY
I first got to know of LUCY a few months ago and really enjoyed their music. So I’m definitely happy to see they’ve made a comeback with this great track “I Got You.” A perfectly romantic and encouraging summer anthem. It’s an irresistible and bright track that will grab you immediately.
35. “Mirage” by BDC
This is the first BDC shows up on the list, but definitely not the last. “Mirage,” from their album The Intersection : Contact is one of my favorite tracks from the talented group. The electro-pop track has a bit of a fairy tale aura as the upbeat melody and the group’s vocals float across a dreamlike experience.
34. “Scared” by P1Harmony
Super rookies P1Harmony are back and just as fearless as their rousing debut. “Scared” is a catchy, dramatic track about self-confidence and affirmation. As P1Harmony encourages you to keep your head up, they also get you to vibe with the defiant, self-assured music and lyrics. It’s a fun contrast to have the music go so hard, yet the lyrics be so uplifting.
The group’s powerful dance performance is also a sight to behold and matches well with the on-point vocal performance. Member Theo especially gets a chance to shine with the song’s impactful pre-chorus. A very strong first comeback for P1Harmony.
33. “What I Said” by VICTON
My initial reaction after first listening to the track and watching the music video was:
— LJ D. Banatao (@lesterjeff) January 11, 2021
Indeed, VICTON very well snapped in the most unexpected way. At least to me. My favorite VICTON title tracks are “Remember Me,” “Time of Sorrow,” “Nostalgic Night” and “Howling.” So you can get a sense of the kind of style I might prefer.
So “What I Said” is definitely different. But I do enjoy it much more than “Mayday.” It’s the kind of rousing, powerful track you can’t help but vibe with. Do Hanse definitely takes the spotlight in this track in a way he hasn’t yet in any other title track. And his rap definitely helps confidently set the tone.
32. “Love Me Like That” by Sam Kim
The drama Nevertheless will definitely not appear on my year-end drama list. But Sam Kim’s amazing OST for the drama “Love Me Like That” definitely has no problem making it to this list. This acoustic pop song perfectly encapsulated the romanticized view of the polarizing drama series. But with Sam Kim’s always excellent vocals, it’s hard to deny the emotions the song makes you feel.
31. “In the Dark” by Jeong Sewoon
Jeong Sewoon has been one of my favorite solo artists. Though he has had plenty of fun, upbeat songs (Some of my faves are “Just U,” “Baby It’s U,” “Waterfall”), my absolute favorites from him are the ones that are perfect for my Night Drive playlist. (See “No Better Than This,” “Your Favorite Song”) His latest title track “In the Dark” definitely slots in with the latter. The seemingly moody, rhythmic music of the track is an interesting balance with the actually uplifting lyrics. It’s a very appealing combo that highlights who he is an artist.
30. “Your Ocean” by Hoppipolla
YouTube recommendations come through again as they introduced me to the band Hoppipolla. Formed on the JTBC series Superband in 2019, the band returned with its 2nd mini album. And its title track “Your Ocean” is a beautiful, emotional rock ballad. I loved it immediately and definitely encouraged me to check out the rest of the album and their previous releases. Thank you YouTube!
29. “Moon Rider” by BDC
It took eleven months for BDC to release new music between their debut in 2019 and the release of their first mini album last year. They cut that wait time in half this time as they continue their The Intersection series with “Discovery,” their second mini album. The rookie group took a huge leap forward with their releases last year. And they continued their growth and evolution with the title track “Moon Rider.” A catchy dance track, “Moon Rider” allows the three members of BDC to be their most confident yet. Strong vocals matched with a great performance make for an instantly engaging comeback.
28. “Unthinkable” by FTISLAND
It’s been a long two years since FTISLAND last released new music and perhaps even longer since the group was last together performing. But Hongki, Jaejin and Minhwan return as a trio with the stunning rock ballad “Unthinkable.” FTISLAND is one of the very first Korean artists I ever listened to more than 10 years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since. For many fans, “Unthinkable” will be quintessential FTISLAND. A powerful track with Hongki’s vocals bringing to life those emotional lyrics; something that is to be expected from a band like FTISLAND.
27. “Eyes on You” by Heo Chan
I first have to admit that my VICTON bias is Heo Chan. But even more than just my bias in the group, I feel a great camaraderie with him ever since I found out he was a big fan of Lee Gikwang. Though I must also point out Heo Chan was my bias before I found that out. So this was just another reason for me to solidify my choice.
Going into my first listen of VICTON’s album, I didn’t know which tracks were the solo tracks from Seungsik, Chan, Sejun or Hanse. And after that first listen, I decided on “Eyes On You” as my favorite track. Little did I know that it was indeed Heo Chan’s solo track. Such a great showcase of Heo Chan’s musical style and a great opportunity to show off his individual talents.
26. “Magical” by KINGDOM
As much as I have enjoyed KINGDOM’s truly epic title tracks, there are a lot of hidden gems in each of their three albums released so far. “Magical” is definitely my favorite. It’s almost like a more contemplative and dreamlike version of their grand titles. A still similarly adventurous sound and lyrics, but also an opportunity for the group to show off their versatility.
25. “Rocketeer” by INI
There’s just something about Produce 101 Japan. Indeed, they’ve produced some great artists so far whether it’s the winning groups of both seasons or other alums that have been able to debut as well. It’s hard not to be blown away after just one listen of both “Rocketeer” and “Brighter.” But “Rocketeer” especially took me by surprise with its chorus. As soon as that thumping chorus kicked in, I was sold. The song is the kind of impactful, confident track that will definitely grab people’s attention. And it definitely got me excited about the group’s future.
24. “Chaser” by WOODZ
I was in awe of WOODZ’s latest album Only Lovers Left. The album is such an excellent showcase for WOODZ’s talent, style and sound. His maturity shines in the passionate and expressive album. My favorite track from the album is definitely “Chaser.” The rock-infused retro vibe of the track is absolutely amazing. And WOODZ’s vocals perfectly convey the rising tension of the song’s lyrics.
23. “Down” by A.C.E
A.C.E teamed up with American electronic music duo Grey for fun and playful romantic track “Down.” The summery pop track gets some EDM flavor from Grey and the group’s always silky-smooth vocals seal the deal. “Down” could be one of the most appealing and enjoyable tracks of the year. And the fun the guys have in the music video is irresistible.
22. “Libido” by OnlyOneOf
OnlyOneOf has been one of the most daring, most creative groups out there. Their debut “savanna” was just a taste of things to come for the group. And their latest title track “libidO” is probably the best example yet of just how much the group intends to push the envelope and offer something unique and different in what can sometimes be a sea of sameness. As the title may suggest, “libidO” takes on a bold approach as the group sings of an uncontrollable desire that one can try to suppress. But doing so only has an even bigger impact on one’s behavior. The rated 12 (!) music video and subsequent music show performances may surprise some people. But they are a perfect visualization of the song as well as OnlyOneOf’s fearless musical and performance style.
21. “In The Dark” by Bobby
Bobby’s album Lucky Man is just excellent. And if I could, I’d probably put most of the album’s tracks here on my list. But to represent the album and the side of Bobby I really like, I have “In The Dark.” Though Bobby certainly owns the stage when he goes hard, I prefer the softer side of this multi-talented artist. I was pleasantly surprised by his album Love and Fall which is still one of my favorite albums by a Korean artist. And I was looking forward to this new release. It had everything I hoped for and as you can enjoy in the MUPLY “All The Playlist” medley above, there’s a track for just about any and all tastes. And all from one talented artist.
20. “I Wouldn’t Look For You” by Kim Jae Hwan
Former Wanna One member Kim Jae Hwan released his third mini album, anchored by the title track “I Wouldn’t Look For You.” The emotional acoustic rock song has the singer taking a great step forward with his sound and style. Having released a couple of wonderful ballads since his solo debut, Kim Jae Hwan pairs his strong, smooth vocals with a melodic progression that results in a dramatic track that really commands attention. The music video also enhances the passionate performance he effortlessly delivers with the track.
19. “Not The End” by HIGHLIGHT
It was a wonderful day when Highlight made their long-awaited comeback with new mini album The Blowing and the amazing title track “Not the End.” “Not the End,” co-written and co-composed by Joo Chan Yang, Lavin and (one of my ultimate biases!) Lee Gikwang, is a beautifully warm and hopeful title track. The group effortlessly conveys the emotional, yet optimistic lyrics with their smooth vocals while the song’s warm verses lead into the bright, soaring chorus. It’s just a perfect track to signal the group’s comeback and illustrate their experience and maturity after more than ten years in the industry.
18. “Still Dream” by Kim Woojin
Kim Woojin has definitely been through a lot in his career so far. But he was finally able to put all the negativity behind him and take a step forward with the next chapter of his career as he made his solo debut. “Ready Now,” his official debut title track is an excellent song speaking about the new beginning. But his pre-release track “Still Dream” was really his re-debut for me. An absolutely soaring track, the lyrics are certainly fitting for Woojin’s journey in the last year and a half. And that extra meaning and emotion support what is an excellent performance from him. Woojin shows off his “Main Vocalist” talent while delivering a dynamic and impassioned dance performance in the cinematic music video. The music starts off soft before crescendoing into its soaring climax, again, befitting its uplifting and positive message.
17. “S.O.S” by Monkey Majik
Zero-One Others; MetsubouJinrai absolutely wrecked me. And its ending theme by Monkey Majik playing over stunning portraits of the four antagonists-turned-protagonists just capped off the roller coaster of emotions. Absolutely amazing track and perfect for this film.
16. “My Name” by D-CRUNCH
D-CRUNCH title tracks so far have been the sort of strong personality, tough guy image that many groups like to turn to. That kind of powerful, hip-hop-infused dance track. But the group switched it up with their latest release and it might just be their best title yet. It definitely suits them.
“My Name” is a perfect dramatic tack with soft verses and a powerful chorus that includes a drop, yet still actually has sung lyrics. It’s amazing that many choruses of title tracks today feature almost no lyrics and instead rely on electronic music to connect verses. That makes “My Name” even more of a standout. And the performance that goes along with it just shows a wonderful and welcome growth for the underrated group.
15. “Pray” by Kim Jae Hwan
“Pray” by Kim Jae Hwan is definitely one of the biggest surprises for me this year. A really stunning and beautiful track. Kim Jae Hwan is backed by a choir as he sings emotionally about finding the strength amidst hardship and struggles. Everything about the song is just breathtaking and just needs to be listened to to really get the full experience. Words don’t do it justice.
14. “Us At That Time” by Kim Wooseok
Stan talented people! I enjoyed watching Kim Woo Seok on seasons 2 and 3 of Voice, in his supporting role on my favorite 2020 drama A Piece of Your Mind and most recently in Scripting Your Destiny. Definitely a talented actor deserving of a lead role very soon. But I was pleasantly shocked to learn he has a beautiful voice as well! And not only that, he’s also performed on stage in musicals.
His warm vocals are on full display in “Us at That Time,” one of two OSTs from his recently aired tvN Drama Stage episode “Lucky.” A stunningly beautiful love song where his soft voice matches so well with the piano and guitar. The song begins in a wonderful acoustic vibe before crescendoing into a soaring climax at the end, including Kim Woo Seok’s voice. I can’t even describe what a wonderful feeling I had listening to the song and then realizing the voice belonged to the actor Kim Woo Seok.
Also listen to the other track from the OST, “Like a Star,” an equally beautiful performance from him as well:
13. “Anymore feat. BIGONE” and “Answer Me” by Chanhyun
YouTube recommendations come through yet again with this excellent track from soloist Chan. “Answer Me” is a vibe of a song. The soulful R&B track features Chan’s warm vocals telling a story of longing after a separation.
But what’s so interesting is that after discovering “Answer Me,” I checked out his song “Anymore” featuring BIGONE which was released a few weeks before. And turns out it’s actually the precursor to “Answer Me.” “Anymore” has Chan telling a girl he does not love her anymore in quite an insistent and confident way. But Chan’s vocals and the music give off a hint of vulnerability. And that perfectly leads into “Answer Me,” which of course, talks about actually missing that same girl.
So I definitely suggest listening to “Anymore” first and then “Answer Me” after. One of the best music experiences you’ll have this year!
12. “Story” by A.C.E
A.C.E has had some rousing title tracks, but my favorite tracks from them have been their B-side tracks. “Story” from their latest album is one of them. A beautifully mellow pop track where the group’s smooth vocals pair with a night drive-worthy melody.
11. “Flashback” by B.I.G
It’s been more than seven years since B.I.G first said “Hello” with their debut single. I’m happy to have been a fan for all seven of those years. So I am definitely happy and excited to see them releasing their first new single in more than two years. As much as I loved Triple Seven’s “Presente” (it will definitely be on my favorite songs of the year list), seeing B.I.G releasing new music is a long-awaited treat. “Flashback” is the perfect song to celebrate the group’s renewed energy and excitement for the future. The feel-good, nostalgic track reflects on the group’s journey so far and their journey moving forward. It’s easy to get lost in the vibes of the song and when coupled with the bright, dreamlike music video, it’s a great experience.
10. “Want” by Woonie, Yonghyeon
TST member Yonghyeon collabs with Woonie on the release of “Want.” This smooth R&B dance track is irresistible. The only downside is that at just over two minutes, it is too short! It’s definitely a song you want to vibe to for much longer. Yonghyeon has also teased more solo releases in the future, so that is something to look forward to. Just an excellent vibe of a track.
9. “Dionaea” by ORβIT
ORBIT has wowed me since their debut. “Universe” is one of my favorite songs of 2020. But what really impressed me was how stunning that debut truly was. The visuals, the glossy music video, the performance; you’d never think they were runners-up on Produce 101. Now with the release of their first mini album, the group is back to show off once more.
Leading off the album are two title tracks with music videos for each being divided between the Japanese and Korean lines of the group. Both “Dionaea” and “Blind” are very different vibes, but equally amazing. But “Dionaea” is definitely my favorite of the two. It is an absolute vibe and right up my alley. The group perfectly brings to life the lyrics written by June. A combination of both soft and passionate vocals match the dreamlike melody. Just stunning.
8. “Because It’ll Be Faster For You to Forget Me Than Me Loving You” by from20
I was so happy to have been able to catch up with former BIGSTAR member Kim Raehwan who made his solo debut this year as well as founded artist collective The Faker Club with IMFACT’s Ungjae and designer Sulju. As the artist now known as from20, he was able to release some incredible music this year. And I’d probably be able to find a spot for all of his songs on this list if I tried. But first to show up is the song that clued me in to this next chapter of his career. After a string of emotional and bittersweet tracks to start, from20 went a little more uptempo with “Because It’ll Be Faster For You to Forget Me Than Me Loving You.” With a matching dramatic MV, the song’s fusion of pop, rock, R&B and electronic music results in a sort of dreamlike urgency as from20 sings of reminiscing about a past love.
7. “Dante’s Valley” by Corbyn
Cory Hong aka CORBYN is an amazing artist. Such an incredible talent that puts so much passion and honesty into his music. “Dante’s Valley” is another personal track from him that just simply needs to be experienced. The always great vocals singing the emotional lyrics with a haunting melody as the backdrop. Just amazing.
6. “Presente” by 777 (Triple Seven)
I don’t know what it is about co-ed groups and that Latin flavor. But it always works. That’s definitely the case with 777 (Triple Seven). Co-ed groups are always refreshing to see in K-pop. Having been a fan of B.I.G since their debut and liking their hoobae group 3YE, I was very excited when the collab was first announced.
777’s debut track “Presente” is definitely my choice for song of the summer this year. The rousing Latin-infused track is the kind of seductive, flirty summer party song you just want to get up and dance to. Amazing, fun song brought to life by a flawless, powerful and fiery performance from the members.
I’m very excited to see what 777 has in store for the future. According to them, they hope to release a song in every season. That should be very interesting and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
5. “US” by Moon Jongup
Moon Jong Up finally released his first mini album and its title track “US” is all kinds of awesome. The dreamlike, summer track is absolutely the kind of vibe for a hopeless romantic like me. The song is just so good. Certainly not unexpected from a talented guy like Jong Up. Amazing track!
4. “Antidote” by Kang Daniel
Kang Daniel is a special artist. He has been able to deliver consistently amazing performances while having to deal with many struggles, including his mental health. And that battle is the focus of his latest album Yellow. Like “Paranoia” released in February, this album and title track “Antidote” is very personal. Expressing his feelings and what he’s been through, through music presents an enthralling experience. It’s almost indescribable being allowed in to his thoughts in this way. But he lets it all out there and it is truly captivating.
“Antidote” is a fascinating experience on its own. The melody is an absolute vibe and you’ll find yourself grooving to it almost immediately. But then you listen and look at the lyrics and remember what the song is actually about. That dramatic contrast is so fascinating.
I must say, I was waiting for a big rousing climax that never came. The song seemed to be building up to one and I think it would’ve been amazing. But again, the song is a personal and introspective track. Really, just the way he is able to express himself in this way is truly mesmerizing. You’re left in awe. And the entire album experience is one to be had as well, especially as a musical journey through Kang Daniel’s healing process.
3. “Aurora” by ONEWE
ONEWE has had breathtaking tracks before, but “Aurora” is something else. This is an absolutely stunning track and might just be one of the band’s absolute best. Yonghoon’s incredible vocals again help the track soar to unbelievable heights as the band comes together to bring this emotional track to life. It has such an epic feel to it, something that I don’t think ONEWE has yet done with their music. Certainly many emotional and powerful tracks. But “Aurora” is on a different level. Very much title-track worthy. And I would be over the moon if they were to release more tracks like “Aurora” in the future.
2. “Radio (Will Sing Our Song)” by from20
The bittersweet, yet romantic aura of from20’s “Radio” is irresistible. Easily one of my favorite songs of the year and maybe of the last few years. One of my most played tracks of the year as well, I never got tired of it since my first listen. Again, from20 is an incredible talent. And “Radio” is one perfect example of that as well as his sound and style.
1. “Cinema” by CIX
When “Cinema” was first released in February, I said it would probably end up close to the top of my favorite tracks of the year list. At the halfway point, it remained #1 and I figured the song would remain close to the top by the end of the year.
Welp. Here it is. Still at #1. And I am definitely not surprised. Nor am I at all mad. I absolutely love CIX’s “Cinema.”
The fact that it is reminiscent of my two favorite tracks from them certainly helped. In fact, “Rebel” and “Revival” were two of my favorite songs of 2020. But this mid-tempo synth-pop track delivers an airy, dreamlike aura (with a sprinkling of well-placed funk) that matches the romantic lyrics.
I listened to this song on repeat all year long. And the fact that it is still as excellent as when I first heard it is a testament to just how good it really is.
Check out all these songs on my Spotify playlist!