Whew, 2020 really was a ride, wasn’t it? In a year when all we could really do was stay inside, I’m not exaggerating when I say that K-Pop really kept me going. Being a fan of so many groups – and always eager to find out about new debuts – always having new music to look forward to kept me with something to be excited about when there wasn’t much else.
And now that the dramatics are out of the way, I’d like to treat you to the best 25 releases of the year – as decided by me. This was such a difficult list to narrow down and it almost caused me physical pain to limit it to one song per group (I’m sorry Twice, Dreamcatcher, Blackpink and Everglow!) but here we are. I also limited it to title tracks or songs that got music videos because there were some banging album tracks this year too.
The list is also not in order of favourite, because that changes from hour to hour. But it’s in order of release, because everyone needs a little bit of order. And if you’re after some K-Pop perfection to ring in 2021, then I’ve compiled it all into a handy Spotify playlist down below too.
Let’s get started…
Cherry Bullet – Hands Up
From the styling, to the dance, to the sampling of Fur Elise – Cherry Bullet’s Hands Up is pure perfection. It was a step away from their releases up until then – and is a major outlier, as their next comeback was a more playful sound too.
I had been hoping that Hands Up would see Cherry Bullet go down a more girl crush route, and maybe in 2021 they still will. But until then, I have the moody, mature Hands Up to keep me going. The lower key of the song not only really suits the members’ voices, but also adds some power. And like all great pop music, I guarantee the chorus will stick in your head for days or weeks after.
KARD – Red Moon
I didn’t really get into KARD until Red Moon but I’m so pleased that I’m now a convert. One of the only co-ed groups in K-Pop, KARD already set themselves apart. Then, with their trademark sound – bringing in other global genres to the mix – the foursome should be unstoppable. Yet, somehow, the group is yet to have their first win, probably because their global fan base is larger than their Korean. Red Moon should have been the song to get their first music show win, with it being almost two songs in one thanks to the post-chorus section.
As a side note, the whole mini-album itself is flawless, with the other songs Go Baby, Enemy, Inferno and Dumb Litty (although Dumb Litty was released as a digital single in 2019).
On top of having a unique sound, the group’s visuals are so dynamic. We’ve got BM who is the bicep emoji personified, Somin who is so elegant and graceful yet has just as much power as her bandmates, Jiwoo who (I think) always has the best styling and hairstyles, and J.Seph whose angular features would make him quite intimidating if he didn’t have that cheeky smile. He’s currently completing his mandatory military service, and I can’t wait for his return and more from KARD.
Dreamcatcher – Scream
If I had to choose a favourite from this list, then Scream would be it. According to my Spotify Wrapped, it was my most listened to song of the year and I’m still just as obsessed with it as when it was released. As usual, Dreamcatcher returned with their signature rock sound, with added airiness and grunge. And the chorus really goes off, bringing in their most intense choreography yet.
The music video kicks off a new storyline in Dreamcatcher’s universe, and the lyrics are just as powerful as the music, with the girls singing about online trolls. Their second comeback of 2020, with Boca, continued the theme. And I would have included that on this list but I prefer Scream ever so slightly more and have to follow the rules (even if they’re my own rules).
It was the group’s first comeback without Chinese member Handong, and it’s been great to see her perform the track with the rest of the Dreamcatcher girls since she returned to Korea.
Weki Meki – Dazzle Dazzle
In 2020, my taste in K-Pop changed a little bit, moving away from the bubblegum sound I was initially interested in. However Weki Meki’s Dazzle Dazzle is still such a not so guilty pleasure.
The music video is pastel perfection and the simple sets do nothing to distract from the visuals. It follows the trend of pastel colours, holographic backdrops and jewels – but it’s a trend I love and works well with the song.
Dazzle Dazzle is easily my favourite of Weki Meki’s 2020 comebacks, although Oopsy was on repeat over the summer too, and added another hint of breezy K-pop to my playlist.
ITZY – Wannabe
Funnily enough, I didn’t really like Wannabe when it was first released. I was a bit bored of Itzy’s whole “I’m different, I’m just me!!!” vibe – but now I fully take back what I thought. Wannabe has become one of my most played songs of the year and I wouldn’t be surprised if it still is in 2021.
With each comeback, Itzy grow and appear more mature, with bigger sounds, more intricate choreography and beautiful styling. And Wannabe gave us one of the most iconic moments of 2020 – Ryujin’s shoulder dance.
Wannabe is definitely one of the songs I listen to when I need to cheer myself up, which is probably why I’ve come to enjoy it so much as 2020 has been pretty horrendous.
(G)I-DLE – Oh My God
I didn’t really keep up with (G)I-Dle after their debut but, as mentioned above, my taste in K-Pop has changed a little in 2020 and their stand-out sound wormed its way into my ears. The group has one of the most distinctive sounds in K-Pop at the moment, with rapper and leader Soyeon being instantly recognisable as soon as she opens her mouth.
Oh My God has a somewhat haunting sound with a music video to match, and is nothing like an outsider might think K-Pop sounds like. On the other hand, their summer song DUMDi DUMDi still has their sound, but is also a bit more traditional K-Pop.
Apink – Dumhdurum
Apink’s Dumhdurum was truly my song of the spring in 2020, with its breezy, up-tempo sound and hook never leaving my head. If running is your thing, it’s a great song to run to as well with it’s steady tempo (although you might find yourself wanting to dance at the same time, which isn’t ideal).
The visuals of the music video aren’t anything mindblowing – especially when you compare it to their 2019 track Eung Eung, which saw them build a man – but a different look would not have worked at all. So for that reason, it’s everything I would want it to be.
Chung Ha – Stay Tonight
When I tell you I was excited for Stay Tonight… From the first teaser photos I knew I was going to love it, and I was not wrong. I’ve seen complaints that the song doesn’t really go anywhere, and that the pre-chorus build up doesn’t pay off – but that’s why I like it. It’s jarring in place in the best way and is sassy the whole way through.
The music video has a vintage Hollywood feel and is beautiful to look at, as is the choreography which brings in elements of the ballroom scene.
Chung Ha is by far my favourite soloist in K-Pop and her inclusion of male dancers wearing heels, vogueing and wearing makeup made me proud to be a Stan. Whether or not the obvious LGBT representation and themes were intentional (I think they were, how could they not be?), Stay Tonight is a certified bop.
Nature – Girls
Nature’s Girls was such a sleeper song for me. I added it to my 2020 playlist after first listen, but I didn’t really become obsessed with it until much later in the year. And now, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the dance practise video and other performances.
Girls is a major step away from Nature’s previous sound, and while I did enjoy Oopsy (My Bad), I’m so glad they tried something new. Girls is dark and spooky and the music video even had to be censored in Korea for its depictions. The lyrics are a little sad for K-Pop, with the members singing about how much they just want to be loved.
But that said, it also has some funny lyrics – when has anyone ver described their heart as “hot like chilli”?
BLACKPINK – How You Like That
This year was finally the year we got a full BLACKPINK album. We got three (THREE!!!) music videos, and while Ice Cream and Lovesick Girls were something new from the group, How You Like That is my favourite BLACKPINK release of the year. Yes, I know, it’s just Ddu-Du Ddu-Du 3.0 – but why fix something that isn’t broken? It shows off the girls’ power, attitude, and vulnerability all at the same time.
And that music video? Wow. Each member has their defined moment to shine, while the group shots look like they’re taken from Hollywood movie sets. The girls all have their own style when it comes to fashion, and that’s scene in How You Like That. Rosé’s silver hair and Jennie’s blonde streak were everything and, yes, I did copy Jennie’s dye-job for a few months.
As a whole, 2020 was a great year for BLACKPINK. The Album (creative, I know) showed off all of their different flavours, had some all-English tracks for naysayers who won’t listen to K-Pop “because they don’t understand what they’re singing” and had some great collaborations – though I think Bet You Wanna is better than Ice Cream, which got a music video, but here we go.
Hwa Sa – Maria
Hwa Sa killed it again with her 2020 solo Maria. It’s full of her sass, beautifully shows off her unique voice and the music is so multi-layered that you hear something new every time you listen to it.
She looks like a long-lost Kardashian sister in her nude bodysuit and grey sweatpants outfit, with her hair dark and long. And the rest of the music video is a visual treat, with dark imagery and simple but effective choreography. And there’s also the added bonus of the other Mamamoo members making a cameo at the end.
The only reason this probably isn’t in my top five most played songs on Spotify is because most of the time I listened to it was her on her Studio Choom performance, which is next level.
Sunmi – Pporappippam
Sunmi is like a chameleon of K-Pop. She can be super sexy (Gashina), playful (LALALAY) or romantic, as is the case of Pporappippam. The song is perfect for a summer evening, with its light sound bubbling along throughough, while being punctuated by the pre-chorus.
The music video is beautiful and the purple colour theme (which is to be expected, given that the title translates to “Purple Night”) fits the vibe amazingly well. There’s no wonder Sunmi has been around for so long, and I’m so happy she shows no sign of slowing down.
Somi – What You Waiting For
What You Waiting For was the (very) long-awaited comeback from Somi, and what a comeback it was. It showed a clear growth from her debut Birthday, bringing in a more grown up and developed sound and music video too.
I’m still not over her “Rrrring the alarm!” before the dance break or the different direction the song takes after that. And if Somi continues down the path she went with What You Waiting For, her next comeback is going to be even better, if that’s possible. Somi had a hand in writing the song, alongside the likes of Teddy who is one of the masterminds behind BLACKPINK, too.
She also got her first music show win with it, and it’s really not difficult to understand why.
Jessi – Nunu Nana
I’d been aware of Jessi for a while, though her music hadn’t really taken my fancy until Nunu Nana was released. That wasn’t to say I hadn’t been a fan before, as I admired her personality and strong attitude, but I became a proper fan with Nunu Nana.
It’s jam-packed full of attitude, sass, power and shows of Jessi’s sweet singing voice as well as her trademark strong rapping skills. The choreography has become one of the most iconic dances of 2020. And the styling – much more Western than the usual K-Pop – suits Jessi and the song so well.
BTS – Dynamite
For some reason, I didn’t listen to Dynamite until a while after it had been released – but I couldn’t stop when I finally did. Dynamite has been a much-needed uplifting song for me in 2020 – it’s impossible not to feel happy when you listen to it.
The song has been everywhere too – from television adverts to playing in loads of supermarkets I’ve been in – which has been a nice treat on down days.
Everything about the song just screams happiness and it’s really helped take some of the heat off of the hell-hole that 2020 has been.
LUNARSOLAR – Oh Ya Ya Ya
LUNARSOLAR had one of my favourite debuts of 2020 and, like many of the tracks featured in this list, OH YA YA was one of the songs I listened to when I needed a mood boost.
The chorus is ridiculously catchy and the members look like they’re enjoying themselves so much when they perform. I watched every music show performance because their stage presence was so infectious (maybe not quite as much as Covid) and seeing them so happy to be on stage made me smile in turn.
I’m so, so excited to see what LUNARSOLAR do next – but I hope their next physical release is printed correctly, as the cover and pages of my photobook weren’t the same way around…
Wonho – Open Mind
I was really surprised I enjoyed Wonho’s solo debut as much as I did, as I hadn’t been a massive fan of Monsta X apart from a few songs. But his entire debut mini-album is incredible, especially title track Open Mind and Lost In Paradise.
Open Mind has a retro vibe to it, with a powerful bass line and chorus that keeps it moving from beginning to end, with Wonho’s vocals weaving between the lower end of the scale to higher octaves too. The whole song is a masterpiece.
That, as well as the fact that Wonho is ridiculously good looking and most of his performance outfits showed off at least a little bit of his God-like body, meant it would be impossible to not include Open Mind in this list.
Everglow – La Di Da
LA DI DA could also be a contender for my favourite song of the year, and I listened to it to death (and more) when it was released. It’s still one of my go to tracks as soon as I open my playlist, now.
Everglow get better with each and every comeback and they’re one of my favourite groups, despite only debuting in 2019. Dun Dun, their first comeback of 2020, was also brilliant, even if it was somewhat of an Adios clone, and would’ve had a place on this list had I not decided to limit it to one entry per group.
LA DI DA has an 80s sound that has been popular among K-Pop releases this year. You will find yourself singing the chorus – the “la di da” part at least – at the most random of times. And you’ll also get your arms completely tangled up trying to copy the chorus choreo.
LOONA – Why Not?
I’m a very casual LOONA fan, in the sense that I only really listen to their full-group music after their official debut. And while I enjoyed Hi High, Butterfly and So What, Why Not? is by far their best title track in my opinion.
Why Not? is upbeat with a pounding electronic bassline and a fun chorus, which is the most important part of a song.
What I have come to enjoy about LOONA is that, more often than not, their album tracks are just as good – if not better – than their title tracks. Their most recent release [12:00], from which Why Not? is taken, is no different. The 80s-inspired Voice (or the English version Star) is just as good as Why Not? and well worth a listen.
TWICE – I Can’t Stop Me
It’s impossible for TWICE to come out with a bad title track. Every single comeback is incredible (although some more than others) and I Can’t Stop Me is right up there with my favourite TWICE song Fancy.
I Can’t Stop Me is another release with a 1980s vibe. Despite being released fairly late in the year it’s become one of the songs that have defined 2020 in K-Pop. It’s given us so many iconic moments – from the choreo, to Chaeyoung’s “risky risky wiggy wigi” – that it will go down in K-Pop history.
And the styling… I’m going to need every single one of the denim outfits immediately.
Mamamoo – Dingga
Dingga should be the official anthem of 2020. It’s all about wanting to have fun with your friends and get drunk but having to stay at home, which is something we can all relate to this year. It’s been the end-of-year antidote to a boring year, that’s for sure.
I wasn’t such a fan of the song on first play but after leaving it for a while and coming back to it it became one of my favourites from the latter part of the year.
I actually prefer it to Mamamoo’s most recent title track AYA, probably because of the fun feel to it, which is what I needed the most.
GFRIEND – Mago
I was very surprised to be such a fan of GFRIEND’s Mago, as I hadn’t really listened to any of their music before apart from Rough. I’d given a few of their more recent comebacks a chance, but Crossroads and Apple didn’t really catch my attention.
But I have completely fallen for Mago and can’t stop listening to it. It just makes you want to dance thanks to the throwback disco sound and the club setting of the music video.
The members look beautiful throughout and I’ve enjoyed watching their music show performances too. Mago has one of my favourite choreographies of the year as well.
STAYC – So Bad
From the first beat, STAYC’s debut So Bad sounds like it could be taken from Stranger Things, and the album art looks like the logo of a 1980s arcade or shopping mall.
I’d been keeping up-to-date with STAYC’s debut plans after learning they came from Black Eyed Pulseung’s label, as the duo were behind some of my favourite songs, such as Twice’s Fancy and Apink’s Dumhdurum. Because of that I had a feeling I’d enjoy their debut, and I was right.
The vocals in So Bad are gorgeous, while the contrastic rapping adds depth and texture. It’s a busy song, that’s for sure, but one that I keep going back to.
Momoland – Ready or Not
Momoland have had a major transformation in during 2020, and the members’ Instagrams have kept me entranced even though they haven’t really done a lot, music-wise.
As soon as their end-of-year comeback was announced though, I had high hopes. 2019’s Thumbs Up was one of the year’s best songs for me, and I was hopeful that Ready Or Not could save 2020 just as much.
Ready Or Not has the sound that Momoland are known for, with simple chorus lines and catchy melodies, with choreography that looks good but is still simple enough for fans to learn.
What I’ve really been enjoying recently with Momoland is their visuals. All of the members have blossomed into superstars in their own rights, but, for me, Ahin’s Barbie-blonde makeover has been one of the highlights of 2020.
aespa – Black Mamba
I didn’t have high hopes for aespa’s debut, I’ll admit it. The whole real life mixed with virtual reality members felt weird to me, and I had no idea how it was going to work.
Luckily, the abstract concept didn’t affect the group’s music at all, and Black Mamba is quite possibly the most perfect debut song ever.
It’s not what you’d expect, seeing as aespa come from SM, the same label as Red Velvet. They’re just as polished as other SM acts, naturally, but they have the edge that newer generation groups possess too, which seems to be popular.
I could – and often do – listen to Black Mamba on repeat, just for the chorus drop. The choreography is strong and full of attitude and one day soon I will master the drop to the floor in the chorus. Until then, I’ll just keep watching the dance practise and pretend.