From standout concepts, grand debuts, and monumental anthems, the year of 2020 was one to remember. Here are our favorite picks of the year!
While 2020 was filled with incredible hardship and challenge, the K-Pop industry took its obstacles in stride, delivering fans with impeccable releases. This year, the industry and its artists continued exhibiting to the world its creative lead.
Blending music, fashion, video production, performance, narratives, and technology, K-pop produced immersive, multi-dimensional projects. The genre thus remains as an example of creative ingenuity, impressing and inspiring K-pop fans globally.
As this season comes to an end, take a look back at some of the rich releases K-pop artists and industry teams have delivered this year alone! Marked by fresh concepts, new units, grand debuts, and anthems, this year was one to remember.
Return to the Past
One of the dominating themes this year in K-pop was a blast to the past, through retro-inspired concepts. In a season filled with anxiety and fear due to COVID-19, the following tracks and their music videos provided nostalgic fun, giving fans’ a small reprieve from the stresses of this year.
“LA DI DA” – EVERGLOW
EVERGLOW thrilled fans with their 80’s inspired synth-wave track, “LA DI DA”. As queens of electric pop, the turn to the retro sound was both fitting and natural. The power track’s underlying snare kick pushed the melody into an addictive pace, only driven further by the members’ energetic chorus.
Simultaneously dark and moody while still upbeat, “LA DI DA” marked arguably the group’s strongest release yet.
“When We Disco” – J. Y. Park ft. Sunmi
J.Y.P’s song featuring Sunmi, “When We Disco”, reignited the disco-fever of the ’80s. Filled with swathes of neon light, a lively disco dance floor, and retro clothing, its accompanying music video resembled a cinematic film of the times.
Moreover, the track’s synth-beat and keyboard melody transported the listener to the past while its lyrics yearned for the magic of the disco once more.
MAGO – GFRIEND
GFRIEND’s “MAGO” was a lush and luxurious twist on K-pop’s retro resurgence. Its darker bass combined with guitar riffs allured the listener into its seductive tune. Additionally, the music video featuring a disco set and vintage outfits consisting of glimmering tops, flared pants, and platform heels recalled earlier times.
Culminating to present a hazy disco party in its final scenes, “MAGO” was a dreamy throwback to the ’80s.
Apink – “Dumhdurum”
“Dumhdurum” by Apink cast a spell on listeners with its groovy synth-beat. Though more relaxed than other retro track releases, the song was no less addictive with a catchy, synth-driven chorus and verses highlighting the members’ whimsical voices.
Apink shined in the sophisticated music video, displaying almost blase attitudes, only adding to the charm of the lyrics that attempt to hide the pain of parting from a lover.
“Dynamite” – BTS
Worldwide sensation, BTS, continued to smash global records with their retro-inspired song, “Dynamite”. Meant to provide some comfort to fans during the pandemic, “Dynamite” reminds listeners of better times.
The playful track “with a little funk and soul”, had fans across the world dancing along to the song’s groovy choreography and upbeat tune. As a result, the song made history by debuting at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the first for an Asian act.
2020 also saw many music videos inspired by the cinematic genre of the Western. Utilizing tropes such as cowboy hats and boots, tumbleweeds, deserts, and a whole lot of denim, the industry blended East and West, reiterating K-pop’s global platform.
Also, the chaotic fun of the genre provided an added layer of cheekiness usually seen within K-pop music videos. In a less than eventful summer marked by heat, lockdowns, and quarantining, K-pop’s turn to the genre provided memorable adventures.
The 2nd Album RESONANCE Pt. 1 “THE PAST” – NCT
NCT surprised fans with the concept video for their second album RESONANCE Pt. 1 “THE PAST”. The full unit of 23 members partook in a festival in the desert, standing in denim sets with cowboy hats, boots, and at times, all three.
The group added a chic flair to the Western-inspired concept, posing in an editorial styled shoot. The concept intrigued fans, hinting at the grand scale and fun of the album to follow.
— NCT (@NCTsmtown) September 23, 2020
“Blue Hour” – TXT
TXT delivered a whimsical carnival with Western flair in “Blue Hour”. Dancing against the beat of the funky track, the members wore Western-inspired wear including denim, piped shirts, and even a bolo tie. Moreover, the group included a fun dance break utilizing their cowboy hats.
Evoking the characteristics of the Western with isolated, wide-open fields as well as youthful wandering, TXT used their inspiration of the genre to portray the power of imagination and the endless possibility that their lyrics describe.
“Nonstop” – OH MY GIRL
In one of the catchiest songs of the summer, OH MY GIRL captured hearts with their bubbly track “Nonstop” and its equally peppy music video. The playful concept of the video blended various sets, including a retro bedroom, a futuristic cityscape, and a desert.
Illustrative of the Western-inspired theme this year, “Nonstop” included many elements of the genre in its desert scenes including a classic gun-toting showdown, tumbleweeds, cowboy hats, and tassels. As its lyrics describe the uneasiness in a blooming relationship, OH MY GIRL depicts the wild unknowingness that new relationships can bring.
“FANTASIA” – MONSTA X
MONSTA X incorporated Western flair in their music video for “FANTASIA”. In the opening scenes of the video, member Jooheon set the stage for the power track. Donning a leather tasseled jacket, a cowboy hat, and holding the reigns of black panthers, Jooheon resembled the main protagonist from the Wild West.
Though most of the scenes edge on the side of glamour and luxury, shots of members in denim, boots, and tassels, bring the heat of the Western genre into the track that describes the self-confident thrill of success.
“Not Shy” – ITZY
Perhaps the most evident depiction of the Western this year, ITZY’s “Not Shy” encapsulates this year’s love for the genre. The music video brought fans on a journey into the desert with ITZY members as a group of outlaws.
Featuring a car chase, Western-styled outfits, a desolate auto supply store, and a gun-toting standoff, the group created a Western cinematic experience of their own. Using the genre’s theme of reckless bandits, ITZY communicated their confident lyrics of self-identity.
Trips To The Galaxy
The K-pop industry showed its love for otherworldly concepts in its galactic releases. Through grand, atmospheric music and celestial videos, artists brought fans to the stars this year. The cosmic inspiration for such projects allowed for some of the most cinematically stunning releases of 2020.
“Knock” – ASTRO
ASTRO’s brilliant “Knock” is the epitome of the galactic concept K-pop fans saw this year. Exhibiting a more refreshing sound than prior tracks, the song described a yearning for someone unreachable and their travels through the universe to reunite with them. The romanticism of the song is matched by its dreamy, space-themed music video.
In some scenes, members danced in complete darkness, illuminated by a singular circular window resembling a telescope’s view and in others, they stood surrounded by planets and moons. ASTRO brought fans on an epic journey through the release, which was a pivotal project of this year’s celestial theme.
“Secret Story of the Swan” – IZ*ONE
IZ*ONE’s “Secret Story of the Swan”, captivated fans with its grand sound, heavily attributed to its percussive instrumentals. Marking a bolder sound for the group, the pauses in its beat-drop invoked the feelings of being suspended in time and space before amping up its fast-paced melody once more.
The result was a tension-filled track that entranced fans into its alluring beat. IZ*ONE portrayed the magical song through its music video, displaying members travelling through interdimensional portals, dancing in clouds, and surrounded by starry skies.
“ALIEN” – LEE SUHYUN
AKMU’s Lee Suhyun released her solo project titled “ALIEN”, a quirky yet ethereal treat. The groovy song painted the term “alien” in a positive light, celebrating one’s uniqueness and their differences from others.
The music video took K-pop fans to space as Lee Suhyun portrayed an alien herself, combining animated scenes with those in reality, creating a comic-inspired watch that took fans to space.
“Where the sea sleeps” – DAY 6 (Even of Day)
“Where the sea sleeps” by DAY 6 (Even of Day) spoke of rocky journeys and challenging storms the group and their fans might encounter. However, the group promised all difficulties could be overcome with fans by their sides.
To represent the track’s lyrical message, the DAY 6 unit brought fans on an animated galactic journey featuring their plushie merchandise characters to represent the members. Filled with hardship, recovery, and friendship, the voyage through space was an endearing representation of the group’s bond with their fans.
“Star” – LOONA
LOONA’s track “Star”, the English version of their Korean song “Voice”, added to the galactic enchantment of the releases this year. The dark, synth-pop track contained more minimalistic instrumentals than other songs from the group.
Thereby, allowing their vocal strengths to shine while they sang dreamy lyrics about finding seeing starlight in another person. Its music video was a glittering cosmic affair, featuring shots of the stars in the universe and the members surrounded by floating bodies of light.
Homage To Korean Culture
2020 was another year illustrating K-pop’s increasing worldwide popularity and expansion into the global music market. As foreign fandoms increased in size and K-pop continued to gain global acclaim, various artists used their platforms to pay homage to and highlight Korean culture. As such, many tracks and music videos were a thrilling combination of Korean history, instruments, fashion, and art.
“Daechwita” – Agust D
BTS’ Suga, otherwise known as Agust D, awed fans around the world with “Daechwita”, named after the genre of traditional Korean music. Agust D combined traditional percussive and wind instruments with more current hip-hop sounds to create an appealing mix of past and present.
Furthermore, the lyrics themselves refer to various Korean historical references, including “Berserk tiger/ Gwanghae flow”, referring to the ousted King of the Joseon era, Gwanghae. Filmed at the historical drama set of Yongin Daejanggeum Park, Agust D provided a grand cinematic experience.
“Goblin (Favorite Boys)” – A.C.E
A.C.E celebrated Korean culture in the music video for their rock, hip-hop track “Goblin (Favorite Boys)”. Donning modern twists of Korean traditional hanbok, the members danced in front of various Korean art pieces in the colorful video.
The title of the song and its lyrics “I’m a, I’m a Goblin” refers to the Korean folklore figure of the goblin, a natural deity that either helps or tricks humans in various legends. The powerful track communicated not only the confidence of the members in themselves but also displayed their cultural pride to a global audience.
“Hanryang” – Min Kyunghoon X Kim Heechul feat. BIBI and DinDin
Min Kyunghoon and Kim Heechul, who have been preparing hip-hop music during their variety show Knowing Bros After School: Universe Hipsters, released “Hanryang” featuring BIBI and DinDin. The hip-hop, Joseon-inspired track is an unapologetic declaration of one living life the way they desire, despite criticism from others.
The assertive lyrics are matched by traditional Korean instrumentals with a heavy trap beat, highlighting Korean culture. Furthermore, the historical music video directed by Super Junior’s Shindong, features a Korean folk village set as well as all of the artists, and surprise guests ATEEZ, wearing elaborate modern hanbok.
“ULLAELI KKOLLAELI” – 1TEAM
1TEAM provided a more recent and subtle ode to Korean history in comparison to other Joseon-inspired releases with their song “ULLAELI KKOLLAELI”. The retro, ’90’s inspired watch focused on the pain of moving on from a break-up and the efforts friends may take to help brighten their spirits.
To do so, members played traditional Korean games from childhood, including classics such as “ddakjji” and “malttug baggi”. The fun music video summoned nostalgia while incorporating Korean culture by highlighting traditional past-time games.
“How You Like That” – BLACKPINK
BLACKPINK utilized their global platform to draw attention and appreciation for Korean fashion during their music video for the song, “How You Like That”. Since its release, the music video drew more than 700 million views, and in it, the girl-group members wore re-designed versions of traditional hanbok.
Inspired by patterns and styles utilized by scholars during the Joseon Dynasty, the outfits captivated viewers, drawing more attention to Korean fashion and Korea’s historical roots.
Amidst postponed tours and changing schedules, K-pop groups continued to push creative boundaries and provided fans with refreshing content. From new sub-units to thrilling releases from already established ones, 2020 was an impressive year for sub-unit releases.
“Monster” – Red Velvet’s Irene & Seulgi
Femme fatale duo Irene and Seulgi from Red Velvet delivered a dark and seductive project with “Monster”. Declaring the lyrics “I’m a little monster/ Be scared of me”, the members exhibited vicious performances during the music video for the song.
The sub-unit expanded on Red Velvet’s sinister concept seen previously in “Psycho”, delivering an even more ominous stage with their sharp choreography and glaring visuals.
“Bad Idea” – ASTRO’s Moonbin & Sanha
ASTRO’s Moonbin and Sanha boasted matching synergy in their sub-unit release titled “Bad Idea”. The vocalists delivered a darker project for fans, singing about the uneasy anxiety one feels after a bad dream.
Dancing against the track’s hip guitar riff, the pair delighted with the minimalistic, achromatic concept for the music video.
“RESONANCE” – NCT 2020
NCT exhilarated fans with their various sub-unit projects across 2020. Perhaps the most exciting of all was their unit “NCT 2020”, which included all 23 members.
In the music video for “RESONANCE”, a remix of NCT’s releases this year, the group gifted fans with a rare glimpse at every NCT member together in one project. The video was also a grand throwback to the group’s various releases this year.
“One Billion Views” – EXO-SC feat. MOON
EXO sub-unit EXO-SC, featuring members Sehun and Chanyeol, dropped their track “One Billion Views” this year. The mellow, groovy track filled with ’80’s synths and guitar riffs had every listener nodding along to its addictive tune.
Sehun and Chanyeol portrayed their dynamic chemistry once again with this release, as well as their first studio album since debuting as a unit in 2019.
“Hmph!” – WJSN CHOCOME
WJSN debuted their first sub-unit group, WJSN CHOCOME, composed of members Luda, Soobin, Yeoreum and Dayoung this year. The unit delivered a sweet release with “Hmph!”, the upbeat and playful disco-inspired track.
The quirky concept of the video and its retro sound resembles popular hits by many second-generation girl-groups, reviving the eccentric fun of K-pop as a genre.
The Grand Debut
This year brought some of the long-awaited debuts of the K-pop industry to eager fans. As the industry continues to showcase artists with polished skills and complex concepts, K-pop as a genre remains an inspiration for creatives and performers across the world. The debuts this year were reflective of the talent and edge characterizing the industry.
“BOY” – TREASURE
Fans of the twelve members of TREASURE were anticipating their debut since their formation during the reality show YG Treasure Box. The group emerged into the industry with their debut single album titled The First Step: Chapter One. Immediately, the group stole the hearts of long-time fans and new listeners with their title track “BOY”. Showcasing both their boyish charm and professional skills, TREASURE’s debut certainly lived up to its immense hype.
“Siren” – P1Harmony
P1Harmony stormed into the K-pop scene in a memorable fashion. First releasing a pre-debut film titled P1H: The Beginning of a New World, the group showcased their worldview wherein they discovered their own superpowers and teamed up against a deadly virus.
Subsequently, they debuted with their title track, “SIREN”, and its equally cinematic music video. Boasting strong vocals and rap skills, sharp choreography, and impressive acting to top it all off, P1Harmony proved themselves as a group to watch out for.
“WHO DIS?” – Secret Number
Multi-national group Secret Number expressed their self-identity in the jazzy debut song “WHO DIS?”. Impressing with their vocal strength and bold image, the girl-group made a memorable impression with the addictive track.
Moreover, its colorful music video accompanying the song was an apt representation of the group’s distinct concept and style which were continued in their subsequent release this year, titled “Got That Boom”.
“Black Mamba” – aespa
SM Entertainment debuted their first girl-group since Red Velvet in 2014, named aespa. As another group including multi-national members, aespa appealed to a global fanbase. Furthermore, their polished cohesion in “Black Mamba” a track characterized by the group’s vocal powerhouses, dazzled new fans.
The group’s reveal also marked SM Entertainment’s foray into artificial intelligence, debuting the members’ AI characters in “Black Mamba”‘s music video as well.
“Given-Taken” – ENHYPEN
The world eagerly anticipated ENHYPEN’s debut following their formation during the reality show I-LAND. The group signed with BE:LIFT Lab, a joint endeavour between CJ E&M Entertainment and Big Hit Entertainment, and debuted only a few weeks after the show’s finale.
Displaying incredible talent during their appearances on I-LAND, ENHYPEN proved their admirable rookie-power with their debut song “Given-Taken”. Delivering an intriguing narrative as well as polished performances rivalling senior groups, ENHYPEN’s debut was a stand-out this year.
The Year Of The Anthem
While the world stood at a standstill, picking itself up after the emergence of the pandemic, various K-pop releases nevertheless retained the spirit of the new decade, gracing fans with powerful, imposing tracks. From expressing triumphant celebration to unstoppable self-confidence, various tracks from K-pop artists this year became the anthems for life at present and hopes for the future.
“Answer” – ATEEZ
In one word, “Answer” is monumental. Pushing anthemic moments in the track through a grand percussive melody, a tension-building pre-chorus, and a booming EDM climax in its chorus, ATEEZ victoriously toasted to the new decade. The song can be representative of the group’s triumphant claim on the year as ATEEZ themselves proved to be monumental through their explosive success.
Moreover, “Answer” quickly became an inspiring message to overcome challenges of the year, urging listeners to live as though “Everyday’s a finale show/ As like tomorrow is the end of the world”.
“I CAN’T STOP ME” – TWICE
TWICE’s “I CAN’T STOP ME” was emblematic of the group’s continued pattern of releasing impactful title tracks, gripping casual listeners and fans alike. Though the song was more of a slow-burn than the straightforward catchiness of prior tracks like “FANCY” or “MORE & MORE”, “I CAN’T STOP ME” displayed its own addictive appeal.
Including this year’s trend of ’80’s inspired synth-beats, its release reiterated TWICE’s leading force in the industry, making for a track that dominated music charts and fans’ playlists this year.
“God’s Menu” – Stray Kids
“God’s Menu” by Stray Kids contained many iconic killing-points, including its memorable introductory line “네 손님”, followed by the “DU DU DU DU DU DU”‘s of its chorus. As such, through the release, Stray Kids embraced their unmatched “mala”, translated as “spicy”, genre of music.
A cleverly penned take on expressing Stray Kid’s musicality, “God’s Menu” also pinpointed the new decade as a time to be confident with one’s identity and unique differences.
“So What” – LOONA
LOONA delivered the empowering anthem titled “So What” this year. The EDM track excited fans at every second, providing a bold, attitude-driven listen.
Moreover, its lyrics encouraged fans to embrace qualities negatively perceived, including being cold, being sharp, and being fearless. Through their daring lyrics and unafraid music video LOONA asked the question, “so what?”, encouraging listeners to be unapologetically confident this year.
“Life Goes On” – BTS
BTS provided a comforting and understanding portrayal of the year through “Life Goes On”. One of the few groups to acknowledge the devastation of COVID-19 directly in their music, BTS took the opportunity to provide fans with much-needed support.
While confronting the pain of the past, the track provided hope for the future, promising that “life goes on”. In this manner, the song represented the hardship the world has endured and welcomed the better times to come.
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