Kpopalypse’s 30 favourite k-pop songs of 2021

Yes, it’s the post that the k-pop Internet has been secretly waiting for all year, welcome to the list of Kpopalypse’s favourite k-pop songs of 2021!

The year of 2021 was a strange time for the world, and it was also an equally strange time for k-pop song quality.  As predicted, it was certainly a year of “changing of the guard” – there were many surprise breakout quality songs from places that I didn’t expect, while most artists that have historically performed very well on my lists in previous years aren’t here at all.  Those who check my weekly roundups and livestreams will probably be able to guess a lot of this content, but those of you who don’t follow this site closely (or ever) should expect some surprises!

New readers, or readers who are easily confused, may wish to read the following dot points, which make clear this list’s scope and intentions:

  • Songs are eligible if they were released between 1st January 2021 and 31st December 2021, although the cutoff does extend a little bit prior to both dates to catch songs that were released in the dying days of the previous year.  This list was published on 31st December 2021 but may appear earlier for some readers due to timezones.
  • Songs have to be feature tracks/singles, but B side and album tracks are eligible if they were also “debuted” on TV shows or had their own official video made for them. 
  • Songs for OSTs are not eligible for this list, because they’re almost universally terrible and just not worth the effort to cover.
  • Songs for festive and sporting events are not eligible.  Christmas songs have their own separate list, and sport event songs are ignored in the hope that if we ignore them they will just stop making the sport ball shape.
  • Chart performance, cultural relevance, attractiveness of the members, who won something on some awards show that nobody with a brain cares about, whether someone is a morally upstanding citizen or otherwise etc are not relevant factors for this list and these aspects are only commented on for “narrative colour”.  This list is my 100% subjective opinion on music quality only and is purely reflective of my own personal taste, it does not constitute an authority of any kind.
  • “K-pop” is deliberately defined a little loosely for this list – as music either originating from or existing/trying to exist in the Korean industry.  Songs that aren’t strictly “pop music” are eligible.  Songs from Korean agencies trying to break into non-Korean markets and/or singing in non-Korean languages are eligible.  K-pop artists featuring on non-k-pop artists’ tracks are eligible.  Western attempts at “being a k-pop” are also eligible.
  • I write these lists for fun, good times, the joy of sharing good music with others, an easy way to collect songs that I like so I can play them later, and as a fun writing exercise because I enjoy writing.  If you’re enjoying these lists for what they are (harmless subjective opinion, expressed with twisted cunty humour) then cheers to you and I appreciate your support and readership!  However if you hate it, then I wonder how you even got onto a 100% ad-free site like this that does no promotion at all.  In these ultra-woke times where the k-pop world considers sarcastic humour that doesn’t tick politically correct boxes tantamout to receiving an anal fisting from Satan himself, most k-pop websites are too scared to even so much as throw Kpopalypse.com a link, for fear that they be tarred with the brush of problematicism and become swiftly cancelled from online existence (if you don’t believe me, try linking this post on your k-pop focused website of choice and see how long the link lasts before some “concerned” moderator snatches it away).  My posts are easier than ever to ignore if you don’t want to see them, so anyone from within the hive-minded oh-so-woke k-pop community who hates this site yet is still reading past this point probably didn’t come from a random link and must have really made a genuine effort to even find this post at all, so I hope that you are secretly enjoying your hate-reading experience.  Don’t worry, I won’t tell.
  • On the other hand if this post was too sunny, bright and positive for you, you may wish to consider reading my worst k-pop songs of 2021 list instead so you can feel appropriately miserable.


 

KPOPALYPSE’S 30 FAVOURITE K-POP SONGS OF 2021

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30. Weeekly – After School

When I first listened to Weeekly’s “After School”, I was a bit reluctant to admit to myself how good it was, and there’s a few reasons for this.  The first reason is the song name – being reminded about the incredible wasted potential of that k-pop group still hurts my soul and probably gave me a small PTSD attack as I remembered how Pledis didn’t do a damn thing with E-Young’s guitar talents.  Then there’s the group name, and while I understand why there’s three ‘e’s in it (to make the group’s name more memorable, not to humans, but to the Google search algorithm) I don’t think it looks any less stupid because of that fact, and I’d hate to encourage that type of behaviour.  Then there’s the song itself which is fairly slow and pedestrian for such a bright-sounding pop song and really I’m kind of sick of slower songs this year, it feels like it’s been a year of nearly all slow songs.  However “After School” eventually won me over anyway because at the end of the day it still is a bright sounding pop song and not some fucking maudlin snoozer or shouty downtempo bullshit like we’ve been hearing all year from literally every other group ever.   It really wouldn’t kill more k-pop songwriters to write an actual nice melody for their groups to sing every once in a while and Weeekly’s song at least gets that part incredibly right, so I suppose I can forgive all the other stuff.

29. Pink Fantasy – Poison

Pink Fantasy’s Dreamcatcher clone is very cute and I definitely appreciate the effort they went to, but it’s actually a little too close to Dreamcatcher for comfort.  I’m not saying that I want less Dreamcatcher clones (far from it, as the more people doing this type of thing, the more chance someone will finally get it right) but “Poison” makes the same kind of production and arrangement mistakes that most of Dreamcatcher’s songs also make, with guitars lacking definition and too low in the mix (even in the heavy breakdown section), vocals pumped right up the front way louder than everything else, too much singing in general, riffs that don’t really match the vocal lines, etc.  The most glaring example of it all not quite gelling is in the verses, where the melodies and that downtuned chugga-chugga stuff sound pretty good in isolation but kind of get in the way of each other when combined, and the whole thing just lacks a bit of sonic polish to glue everything together.  Still, much like the better Dreamcatcher tracks it has the same strengths too – put aside the poorly executed concept and the song works because these chorus melodies and ideas would have been fine for a group even with no guitars at all.  It’s okay to suck at engineering concepts if you still get the important stuff right, now someone get these girls to #1 on Billboard so we can see Daewang’s face because that gimmick is getting old.

28. Unicorn – Utopia

The Korean TV idol show Girls Planet 999 really did show how stupid k-pop fans are, just in case anybody on the planet was still in any doubt.  Everyone complained about the producers’ previous idol show Produce 101, how it was blatantly exploitative, how the contestants were treated like garbage, how deceptively the show was edited, and of course let’s not forget the results-rigging, with the show illegally making fans pay for the privilege of casting votes that weren’t even counted.  What a furore that caused, “gosh, we sure regret supporting these problematic people, we definitely won’t be doing that again”, said the collective hive-mind of k-pop social networking.  So the same group of people responsible for Produce 101 then rolled out most of the exact same behaviour again on Girls Planet 999 and everybody just learned nothing and lapped it up, all the same sites wrote all the exact same type of dick-sucking promo articles, all the fans fell for exactly the same manipulated editing tricks, etc etc.  That’s why I always tell people to disregard these shows until they actually put out some original music, but of course nobody listens to me, everyone else would rather pose as “socially concerned” and “woke” in public but suckle relentlessly at the bloated teat of South Korea’s hyper-capitalism in private.  So it’s just as well that the show at least had the decency to get the girls to form temporary groups at one point and release songs, thus enabling me to actually give somewhat of a fuck, and it didn’t hurt that they actually hit gold a couple of times with the songs too.  Girls Planet 999 project group Unicorn (not to be confused with the now defunct k-pop girl group of the same name from a few years back) have a very nice Honey Popcorn early Apink style song here with a quality chorus that might help some of you get over the loss of Gfriend, and it’s a pity they didn’t do a proper video but these relay dance things have release-quality audio on them so I can deal.  Pity this is both the first and last song we’ll ever get out of Unicorn but that’s life in dick-sucking Korean TV land I guess, at least the group name is now free for a third flash-in-the-pan girl group to recycle in a few years from now.

27. NCT 127 – Sticker

Here’s the entry that’s probably going to cause the most upset with my readers this year, as I know few of them liked this.  Too bad though – NCT 127’s “Sticker” works for me – but why?  Shouldn’t it suck just like every other boy group song that sounds like this, which is nearly all of them these days?  Well, no it doesn’t.  Okay sure, the vocals are cheesy beyond belief, the entire song concept is actually really fucking stupid, but then since when have NCT 127’s lyrics ever been anything but idiotic, I tend to tune the words of the vocals out and just register them as no more than “pitched mouth noises” of indeterminate meaning.  If you can mentally achieve the same feat by actively not listening to the words, there’s actually quite a bit here to enjoy musically.  The main riff that’s driving the song is heavy metal in disguise just as much as any Blackpink song and if you can’t get your head around it try this metal remix that makes everything a little more obvious.  Unlike a lot of boy group songs where it’s just a kaleidoscope of ideas that don’t fit, “Sticker” is all pretty carefully written to the same metal-style tonal scheme, and even the parts where it deviates are arranged with care (for instance when the chorus hits, the major second in the vocals clashes with the minor second in the riff, so these two elements are presented call-and-response style rather than played together).  What you’re really hearing here is the natural evolution of the sound from “Cherry Bomb” and it’s probably going to take a Loona dance practice video for it to gel with most of you, but in the meantime just know that I like it and if that’s a problem for you don’t worry I’ll find plenty of ways to annoyingly remind you that I like it in the future.

26. Rocket Punch – Ride

While B-side tracks are technically eligible for inclusion in all Kpopalypse lists if they have some kind of live performance stage for TV, everyone who submitted them in 2021 pretty much wasted their time, because any track that was actually good enough for list inclusion ended up getting its own video anyway not long after the debut live stages came out.  “Ride” was definitely one of those big tracks that people raved about with their “I know you don’t like covering B sides but here’s this video of a Rocket Punch song recorded on some live stage how about it” and of course I’m reluctant to include recordings like that because the sound quality is always inferior to the studio version so it doesn’t seem like I can make a fair assessment.  So it’s a good thing that this special dance video or whatever the hell it is came out, because the song is definitely catchy and cool and if I relied on those shitty live videos this would have been harder to determine and Rocket Punch probably would have been slightly penalised as a result, through no fault of their own.  Anyway I’ll probably change that rule for 2022 because I get swamped with so many song submissions, in the meantime just know that “Ride” is great and you should listen to it.  Also I love the black and white outfits in this video, I’ll definitely show this video to my girlfriend, get her to pick her favourite look and then try and find it cheaply online for her.  Profit.

25. Adora ft. Eunha – Make U Dance

A very frequent question that I receive in my livestreams, QRIMOLE, carrier pigeon etc, is “did you cry when [group x] disbanded?”.  My general answer to this is “actually I’m really happy about it”.  We should all be exceptionally grateful when our favourite slaves finally escape their indentured servitude and move onto other things.  Not only is it better for their mental and physical health, but sometimes we even get a good song out of the equation.  Gfriend’s “yeah, nah” contract about-face seemed like a raw deal only for the people who didn’t think about it for the 0.005 seconds it requires to realise that they just managed to extricate themselves from the clutches of one of k-pop’s scummiest conglomerates.  Eunha clearly made the transition outward with some friends in tow and now she gets to steal the show guest star in this very cool track that manages to be musically completely unusual yet really melodic and catchy at the same time, with a singable chorus that will stay with you long after you’ve stopped thinking about what any of it means, and yeah there’s a bunch of bizarre breakdowns which all k-pop tracks seem to have now, but here they’re well-paced (i.e short) and actually fit the mood of the song instead of sounding like a trendy afterthought.  The lyrics and video concept are the icing on the cake, cleverly taking a swipe at the inner machinations of the k-pop world, but the song doesn’t need these elements to shine and would have worked just as well if it was the usual bullshit about “I like this guy but gosh I’m too shy to approach him, guess I’ll flirt with him a bit, damnit why is he too stupid to understand that I want him to fertilise my eggs” that female k-pop singers tend to always get stuck with.  Let’s hope that Viviz are this good, and sorry Adora for not talking about you much but we love you, I promise.

24. Vandy City – A Bit Too Passionate, A Bit Too Foolish

Vandy City’s song was featured in a recent Kpopalypse Nugu Alert, and if you don’t read that series (and my site statistics show that most of you definitely don’t) then you probably should.  I gush on and on about how awesome it is over at that particular post so you could go and check it out if you haven’t already done so, but I just want to add here that I really appreciate the visual approach to this song’s music video.  It always shits me when I see people pretending to play music that’s obviously machine-driven or recorded on a completely different instrument, and Vandy City have the right visual presentation for a synthpop song here by actually showing the electronic instruments that it was created on, as opposed to pretending to be a “rock band” when they’re not or whatever.  I never understand why people do that, especially because electronic instruments look cool as fuck, it mystifies me why people don’t show them off more.  Just be honest and embrace the machines, it looks better that way, and meanwhile we should all embrace Vandy City for looking and sounding super cool.  I mean embrace them figuratively of course, I’m not suggesting you go up on stage and grope them or anything, that would be weird.  Just clarifying this because we all know what some k-pop fans are like.

23. Luna – Madonna

I’m really, really not a fan of this kind of “big vocal” style pop song generally, so full credit here to Luna for actually making this work.  Okay, it doesn’t all work, the verses with that low “don-na-ma-don-na-ma-don-na” sample are actually a bit shit, but they’re over with quickly and all the other musical elements are excellent with Luna bringing far more power and charisma to the table than she was ever realistically allowed to show in f(x) or even previous solo songs.  While a lot of the time it’s the instrumental backings that really sell me on a song more than the vocals, “Madonna” is an exception with Luna’s soaring voice front and center, 100% responsible for carrying the entire package to musical success.  It probably helps that she deploys just the right amount of vocal sauce without going overboard as she easily could have, and as other singers of her calibre probably almost all would have gladly done, so cheers to her for reigning in her powers and putting the song first.  Really the only big deficit here is the video, with Luna dressed up in various shades of frightening metallic peacockery, none of which suit her style even a little, but if you want to look at Luna, just look at… well, literally any of the candid footage on her YouTube channel has her looking far better than this.  Not that that’s important, or maybe it is, but either way “Madonna” is the best thing Luna has done since she did that prog-metal thing with Jambinai like the fucking legend she is.  Stan Luna.

22. Rohann – Comin’ At Ya

So this rap track might seem suspiciously short, and there’s a reason – this version of “Comin’ At Ya” is actually a solo edit of the album track which also features Chillin Homie (seriously, these names…), for some reason he didn’t get on the video so his part is removed completely.  I don’t really mind though and in fact I prefer the solo edit as Chillin Homie doesn’t really add anything that special rap-wise to the longer one, and the track while good is also repetitive so a brisk two minutes is actually about right and doesn’t allow the beat to overstay its welcome.  Listening to Rohann righteously dump on weak Autotune rappers is great entertainment but aside from that the beat is just about perfect, with a cool bassline, excellent tremolo guitar and no weak hi-hats or whatever the fuck.  I’m sure everything else Rohann does probably sucks (because far be it for Korean rappers to be musically consistent) but this doesn’t so enjoy it.

21. Onewe – Veronica

Here’s how to make tropical house sound cool for once – handball the toot toot melodies off to electric guitars.  I don’t know why hardly anyone has thought of it before – oh wait, yes I do, it’s because pop songwriters are scared to take chances and basically are conservative and boring.  Anyway, I’m glad someone decided to take a chance here because it totally works and the result is a song that retains the pop feel of this type of song while also still rocking.  We even get a keytar solo which is pretty inspired, and later on twin keytar/guitar harmony leads, now that’s something very cool that even the most keyboard-solo-crazy artists usually won’t do.  Even better is that none of it changes the feel of the song.  Wow, it’s amazing what you can achieve with musicians who actually know how music should fit together, I don’t know exactly where Onewe exist on the hazy spectrum between “idol group” and “rock band” but it doesn’t really matter because “Veronica” is just great.

20. Yubin – Perfume

One of the first very good songs of 2021, Yubin’s “Perfume” is obviously heavily inspired by Apink’s “Eung Eung“, it’s definitely the same type of song even if Yubin does take it in some different directions especially in the verses.  That’s definitely a good thing, if there’s one type of trend that I could definitely handle in k-pop it’s a latter-day Apink clone-fest, so bring it on.  Maybe it doesn’t quite have the appeal of that song just because “Eung Eung” leaned on some really iconic keyboard riffing that just isn’t present here, but I’m just so happy to hear this sound again that I’ll calmly accept this slightly inferior version.  If anything “Perfume” probably gains a point just by being a little bit more melodically accessible, “Eung Eung” is kind of oddball and takes a few listens to really “get” but this song here doesn’t and just sounds immediately cool.  Whatever, it’s cool, thanks Yubin.

19. Seoul Magic Club – Que Sera Sera

So here’s one you probably almost all missed, those of you who scour my year-end lists for things that captured the attention of literally nobody else but me, this is for you.  One of the most gorgeous pieces of guitar-pop I’ve heard in recent years, “Que Sera Sera” probably isn’t going to gain much in the way of popularity due to being an independent release and also having a strange video entirely devoted to synchronised swimming instead of some guys and girls shaking their petite, toned asses.  It would even be hard to market to sports fans, as they tend to consider synchronised swimming to be a bit of a “joke sport” (I remember my father complaining bitterly about it when it was included in the Olympics for the first time in 1984) but really in this context it’s just underwater ballet, and that’s preferable to doing the sport ball shape if you ask me.  I feel like the swimming is a good fit thematically (much more so than their fairly boring “version 2” video which is just the band taking photos of each other), with the waves of the pool matching the waves of distorted guitar washing over the mix, at least I’m pretty sure that distorted wash in the choruses is a guitar, as live when they appear as a three-piece it seems to be absent.  Hopefully they can do something this cool again in future but for now here’s a group you should definitely support, unlike whatever trendy nonsense is filtering through the k-pop consciousness right now, so how about it?

18. Everglow – Promise

Hey Everglow’s song for UNICEF is actually pretty good, and you know what, they didn’t go and do a performance for kings of countries that were bombing children straight after they wrote it.  Isn’t it incredible how some people can just, you know, not be hypocrites, like wow, amazing.  Maybe that’s what “we’ll keep this promise to you” really means, that they’re not going to sell out UNICEF and the kids they’re trying to save like certain other groups did.  Mind you I’m sure they would have happily been given “permission to dance” over the graves of dead children if some rich baby-killing client ponied up enough money because all these k-pop companies have zero morals, but that doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t.  Anyway it’s such a great song, I guess they had to make something that children would actually willingly listen to without screaming and crying so there’s not too much annoying crap in the mix, if it didn’t have that stupid breakdown at 1:33 there’s no telling how high this song would have gotten in this list.

17. Pop! Corn – Shoot!

It’s good that I already mentioned in the review of Unicorn above how much Girls Planet 999 sucked and was basically a big ball of shit that every single k-pop fan and k-pop writer should have completely refused to write about just out of sheer moral principle, because it means that I don’t have to re-mention it here, but I will anyway because fuck you.  I’m so tired of every Korean pop TV show being a competition.  Why does everything in Korea always have to be needlessly competitive?  The entire rest of the world (except maybe the USA and Australia who are similarly insane and stupid) thinks Korean TV’s obsession with competition is truly sickening and disgusting.  Just make music shows a co-operative event instead where people can just learn songs and perform them, no voting, no knockouts, no competition, no awards, no torturous Squid Game-esque bullshit that we’re all tired of, because wasn’t the point of Squid Game that the entire of Korean society is too much like that already.  In a better world where groups on Girls Planet 999 didn’t have to lamely “compete” in these temporary groups we could have had Pop! Corn as a permanent group instead, releasing a whole bunch of stuff just as cool as “Shoot!”, now wouldn’t that be nice, but oh no, according to the Korean TV overlords that’s not acceptable and we can’t have nice things.  Everybody who supported that TV show, everyone who wrote “recaps” about it like it was in any way relevant, everyone who treated it or any other show like it with anything other than complete contempt and disinterest, you are part of the problem.  Reflect and learn better for next time.  You will forget that I even wrote this by the time the next one of these awful shitshows rolls around probably, but I won’t, I’ll be here to remind you.  Expect it fondly.

16. TXT – Loser=Lover

While I do give a lot of credit to groups such as NCT and Blackpink for PAVING THE WAY into some bold new sounds for k-pop, we also shouldn’t forget the contribution of BigHit/HYBE and their flagship boy group that’s been taking the world by storm in recent years.  Of course I’m talking about TXT, and their excellent song “Loser=Lover” which breaks new ground in adding some cool rock music elements to the idol pop format.  In fact we shouldn’t even really call it k-pop, but rather TXT-pop to account for this incredible innovation.  Everyone should recognise this, especially the Grammys who for some bizarre reason didn’t see fit to give TXT any awards this year for this great song, clearly this is western bias and these boomer award-show-giver-people are persecuting our boys, tsk tsk how problematic we should cancel them.  Let’s also go around to all the media outlets who don’t write about TXT and harass them, if we doxx and cyberbully a bunch of their writers I’m sure that will work out just fine for us and they will cover TXT more plus apologise and change their articles so they have more TXT in them.  So anyway I was sitting in my room thinking about TXT and these things and my dad and Boram came in and pulled up a chair and sat down, they said “we need to talk to you” and I said “Okay what’s the matter?”  They said “me and your mom have been noticing lately that you’ve been having a lot of problems, you’ve been going off for no reason and we’re afraid you’re gonna hurt somebody, we’re afraid you’re gonna hurt yourself so we decided that it would be in your best interest if we put you somewhere where you could get the help that you need” and I said “Wait, what are you talking about, WE decided?  MY best interest?! How do you know what MY best interest is?  How can you say what MY best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy?  When I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities?  So how can you say I’m crazy?

15. Donna – Will You Miss Me?

So like anyone else who heard this song and who was actually alive and following the pop charts in the 1980s I did a massive double-take as soon as it started as the first two seconds or so of the backing track sounds almost identical to how Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” begins.  This fact didn’t actually bode very well for my appreciation as I honestly really dislike that particular song (mainly due to overexposure, it was overplayed when it came out and overplayed again when Marilyn Manson did an even more boring cover of it a decade later) and I’m really not even a fan of Eurythmics in general, so it’s just as well that after that first sequence everything changes completely because otherwise I would have probably put it in the worst list instead.  Donna’s track is a lot better than that fucking song anyway, chugging along with a cool rocking tempo and some good pop songwriting sensibility with no gimmicky bullshit or general crap that we seem to have to put up with everyone nowadays.  It’s just simple and it does the job it’s supposed to.  The only downside is the Autotune, in my opinion she could have lost that, but then who knows what she sounds like without it, if she sucks at singing real bad maybe it’s better if she leaves it on, I dunno.  Anyway, cool song, keep it up Donna.

14. Wonho – Lose

Wonho is pretty much out here making boy groups in general redundant isn’t he.  It’s not so much his physique itself which is impressive (although it is) but his unwavering commitment to objectification.  He sure made tallying votes in my annual objectification survey easy this year, and I appreciate that because most years my thirsty readership can barely even follow the voting instructions at all, with most votes usually having to be thrown out due to you folks all drooling all over your devices and hitting the wrong keys, but in 2021 most voters managed to scratch out a W, N, H and O in roughly that order somewhere in between faps so I knew who you were at least trying to vote for.  The smarter Wonho fans (the ones who appreciate Wonho for what he is, as opposed to the ones pissing and moaning about “protect my baby”, trying to treat a grown-ass man pushing 30 like a child in some weird pedophilic frenzy) are acutely aware that he knows exactly what he’s doing.  Clearly he’s not playing games here (except maybe those games), he’s seen a gap in the market and has just decided to go all-in, in this fiercely competitive industry where pretty much everybody is super-fit and it’s easy to be forgotten if you stray from the public eye, he’s doing what he knows he must to make sure that you continue to notice him.  Fortunately as far as this list is concerned, that also means delivering “Lose”, a track that just like the man himself is unusually muscular and doesn’t fuck around.  So many songs this year are all over the place, experimenting with three different styles and ten timing changes per minute all heaped into a godawful mess, but when you look at music history, the best popular songs are usually the ones that are simple, straightforward, and convey their musical ideas as directly as possible.  Wonho’s “Lose” has a quick tempo (remember those), some catchy melodies and a tough-sounding beat that stays consistent throughout – that’s really all anyone has to do to get on this list.  Why is it so hard, I ask (as one might)?

13. Rocket Punch – Ring Ring

If I had never heard this song before, and you blindfolded me and played it to me, and asked me who I thought the girl group was, I would probably have said to you “Twice”.  I would have felt that way because “Ring Ring” has similar melodic elements and captures the same kind of energy and feel of their better songs.  The song definitely has the same sense of fun that infuses their better tracks, with a really light vocal feel (lots of singing, but the vocalists are singing it straight down the line with no fancy business) and similarly bouncy instrumentals with all the frequency lumps smoothed out so they stay out of the way of the girl gang.  On the downside, it’s honestly just a bit high-pitched and vocally overbearing for my taste but then… so is Twice too, usually.   This is just a really good Twice track, that for some reason JYP didn’t see fit to give us this year, so we got it from someone else and a different girl group brand attached instead.  Yay us.

12. Yukika – Loving You

2021 in k-pop is full of artists with great musical track records on average over the years producing absolute miss after miss, and on the flipside, lots of people who’ve never gotten it right before coming out with breakout songs.  I’m not talking about ‘hits and misses’ in terms of popularity, because only losers give a fuck about what the masses like, I’m just talking about cool songs, and Yukika has one of the coolest ever with “Loving You”.  I’m not sure what suddenly happened here, but I’m not about to question it and happy to give Yukika credit when it’s due now that she’s finally gotten it oh so right after releasing 23 songs in a row that were all as dull as used dishwater.  I think the main difference between “Loving You” and the rest of her output is just the quality of the melody and harmony choices, everything else is much the same.  There’s nothing wrong with a straight forward disco beat, some orchestration, subtle funk guitar, those are pretty typical features of a lot of her tracks, but here everything just finally fits together in a way that it didn’t before, even the bass guitar going off into crazy solo land throughout the entire track doesn’t derail anything, because everything around it is static enough so it doesn’t sound like the sound collision that it could have.  I hope Yukika can keep up the quality like this, but given what a weird year this has been for music, I’m hesitant to lay all my hopes down on anything or anyone in particular, we’ll just see what happens I guess.

11. Keembo – Inside

Both of us who fondly remembered supporting k-pop girl group Spica back when they were active were delighted when the group recently partially reformed as the duo Keembo, as the girls Boa and Bohyung sure were two people who weren’t paid their dues the first time around.  Spica were a group that should have been huge like Mamamoo but just missed the mark with the wider public for some reason despite ticking all the boxes.  So the idea of the reformation was great, it’s just been such a shame that everything Keembo has put out since they started back up has just been boring slow jams and ballads leaning heavily on their vocal skills in lieu of any sort of actual catchy song material.   Fortunately, that has all changed with “Inside”, the type of tough-sounding fast-paced disco number that was under-appreciated back in Spica days and is even more underappreciated now just because these girls aren’t the latest and greatest shiny thing to debut, in fact this song doesn’t even have enough views to keep out out of Nugu Alert eligibility, which is really quite sad.  If you’re looking for something to do to make k-pop a better place, why not leave some likes and supportive comments on this video, and let these two girls know that they’re not forgotten.  The gods of nugu appreciation will thank you.

10. Bulgogidisco ft. Joongmo Do – Go

Even though “Go” is a rock song, the star of the show in “Go” is definitely the singer’s vocal performance, and it’s a classic example of how “good singing technique” and “good vocal performance” are in fact two completely different things, because he’s carrying the whole song on his shoulders here while objectively not singing in the traditional sense at all for the most part.  You see the problem with a lot of Korean rock is it’s just too polite, while they’ve got the heavy guitars correct and present, they’re very much still doing pop vocals.  That works great when the difference between the sweetness of the vocal and the heaviness of the instruments is deliberately very extreme but usually the contrast isn’t that high, and so the end result just sounds like a singer who’s lacking in effort and doesn’t want to push themselves.  Not the case here, in “Go” everyone is going about equally apeshit and it really hits the spot, the result being a rock song that makes you want to destroy some random shit for no reason, which is how you know that a rock song is absolutely top quality.

9. AKMU & Lee Sunhee – Hey Kid, Close Your Eyes

AKMU shat out a fuckton of songs in 2021, and a lot of them were as boring as piss – but “Hey Kid, Close Your Eyes” got their sound right.  AKMU are always best when edging towards the more modern, rockier/dancier end of what they do.  Their laid-back writing style doesn’t suit ballads or slow songs whatsoever, everything becomes so laid back and airy that it might as well just be fucking dead, but give them a decent beat and a newer sonic concept and you get cool stuff like “Dinosaur“, “Alien” (which is AKMU in all but name), or this song right here.  AKMU understand the concept of “space in the mix” and apply exactly the right level of melodic action here to make the track work, and this is from a group who have a singer that is more technically capable of supporting a bunch of vocal spam than most groups who aren’t but do it anyway.  It’s one of the few tracks in recent memory in k-pop where you can actually time the amount of reverb used on the main vocal, because there’s actually enough space around the vocal phrases to hear exactly how it decays.  Oh and I don’t know who Lee Sunhee is or what they did here, but… hi there, this is a good song, isn’t it, cheers to you if you had anything to do with that.

8. Yuqi – Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde are two people who keep popping up in the lyrics of k-pop songs for some reason, I’m not sure why the world of k-pop is so fixated on this couple.  Maybe it’s because they’re combining the three things that seem to be totally off-limits for k-pop idols, which is having good friendly fun without worrying about society’s rules, getting money, and being in a relationship.  Whatever the case, G-Idle’s Yuqi has a song that references the fun-loving duo and for some reason it’s a thousand times better than any song ever that G-Idle themselves or anyone else within that group has ever been involved with.  I really like the song and it’s nice to not have to shit on G-Idle members for a change (who probably all have voodoo effigies of me on their moodboards by now) and it kind of sucks that the video has stupid interludes in it so here’s an audio version so you can listen without the silly drama segues and can enjoy the fact that here’s a song that for once doesn’t have stupid flow-breaking interruptions.  Seriously, not only is the song catchy as shit but the beat never drops out, anywhere, hopefully that’s proof to people that they don’t absolutely need to do that shit every five seconds in every song ever.

7. Youha – Abittipsy

Some songs took a while to grow on me this year – but not this one.  “Abittipsy” sounded fantastic right from the first note, the first time I heard it, and still sounds equally great now.  Why does it work so well?  Probably the simplicity has a lot to do with it, everything just fucking rocks with four beats on the floor and no fancy crap that nobody asked for, also melodically it’s pretty much all the same, all the way through – and that’s okay.  So many tracks were great this year in certain sections but neglected how the parts fit into the whole because songwriters were just trying to do too much and ride too many stupid trends.  Sure, after the second chorus of “Abittipsy” we get a bit of a breakdown but it’s not “shout shout woop woop skrt skrt” fucking bullshit that so many groups are doing now, it’s just a nice interlude where the track drops out for a while, and that’s all it is, then the track comes back and we’re good.  Youha’s song proves that don’t need a ton of ideas to make a good pop song – just a few really good ones will do. 

6. Cherry Bullet – Love So Sweet

Another song which had no problem appealing to me right out of the gate, Cherry Bullet’s “Love So Sweet” was a great song and I know this will be a lot of people’s pick of the year.  With good reason too, the fast, snappy rhythms and consistent melodic scheme hark back to the days when it wasn’t a crime to have “bops” and we didn’t feel obliged to boringly slam the brakes on a brisk tune in order to insert endless scotch snaps, triplet hi-hats and other boring crap from genres that just don’t belong.  I mean, if you’re doing an entire song like that, fine it if works, but keep it out of our pop songs please.  How FNC, one of the most muddle-headed of all agencies, manage to occasionally come up with songs this good for their groups I don’t know.  It would be good if they applied the level of thought that creating a song like this requires to all their decisions, so I’ll just hope and pray for the girls of Cherry Bullet that they’re getting fed properly and they don’t all hate each other.  In the meantime enjoy one of the sweetest songs of the year.

5. Skull ft. Anthony B, Kannon – Ganja

I don’t want to boringly crap on about drugs too much, but it’s kind of hard to talk about anything else when reviewing a song like this.  They do kind of make it tricky just by naming it “Ganja” in the first instance, not to mention literally every single line of lyrics being about smoking weed, and then there’s the video where there’s so much reefer floating around that even the marijuana plants are smoking marijuana.  So I’ll just quickly say that I really respect how Skull has gone completely all-in on the concept here with absolutely no pussyfooting around, and I hope he continues to mysteriously evade jail time, because frankly, going to jail for putting any substance in your own body is bullshit.  Never mind my or anyone else’s stance on drugs, this is simply a personal rights issue – it’s your own body, you should be able to put whatever you want in there.  Anyway onto the song and while I really don’t like a lot of Skull’s more traditional reggae music, as he’s usually just a little too far over into the Bob Marley style of reggae for my liking, he absolutely hits the mark here with a track that has massively deep bass that I could listen to all day, some very sweet and subtle guitar and keyboard work, and a surprisingly large amount of melody given that everyone on this track probably has their lungs completely destroyed – a rare example of hard Autotune being used for good rather than evil.  The song going for exactly four minutes and twenty seconds is also a nice touch, not just for the obvious pun but also because most reggae songs are actually longer than this and overstay their welcome quite a bit.  There’s definitely nothing else quite like this in the Korean music scene, and even a lot of the Jamaican reggae doesn’t sound this good because Jamaican producers tend to undermix the bass.  Overall “Ganja” didn’t quite make me want to break out the pipe myself (I don’t think weed is the devil but I don’t think it’s the elixir of knowledge and health that some people say it is either, so definitely don’t smoke it, unless it’s really high quality, or it’s free, or you want to) but it certainly made me like Skull a lot more, keep out of jail if you can and watch out for those YG guys trying to steal your stash.

4. Dreamcatcher – BEcause

Regular readers who are by now probably very familiar with my complaints about Dreamcatcher over the years (tldr; not enough metal) might be surprised to see “BEcause” riding so high on this list, as opposed to some of the other Dreamcatcher tracks this year which were actually heavier.  However it’s actually the minor-key melodic sensibilities of “BEcause” that make it stand out amongst their other material.  Overall Dreamcatcher have kind of “settled” into a certain style of songwriting where they can do what a lot of other groups can’t, which is consistently produce tracks that are above the average, regardless of how heavy they choose to go with the textures, and most of their other songs didn’t rate a mention this year because they’re all just in that fuzzy “somewhat above average, swimming around the lower end of the shortlist” bracket and frankly not distinguishable enough from each other to really make an impact.  “BEcause” is different because it’s just far more jam-packed with catchiness than everything else they’ve done this year, and this was proven to me when I was compiling this list – I had what I thought were several Dreamcatcher songs in my head, but when I checked what was in my head against the tracks themselves, they were all actually just different parts of this Dreamcatcher song.  Bonus points for the post-first-chorus rap for using Atari Teenage Riot style pitch shifted/chopped breakbeats that keep the pace of the song moving forward instead of the usual boring half-time trap garbage we’ve all heard a thousand times now because boy are we all sick of that shit, thank you, and yeah I know I sound like a broken record mentioning this in every second review here but it really has been a trap-crap year.

3. G-reyish – Blood Night

G-reyish are a group that should really be getting more attention, but probably won’t, because most k-pop fans are boring and they suck, and their agency probably knows this so they’re starting to try some new things in the hopes some of them will notice.  “Blood Night” is different territory for G-reyish because it’s pushing some kind of weird dark image in the video which is a bit at odds with what the group have done in the past but hey it looks pretty sweet to me.  I’m sure k-pop’s Illuminati-hunting loser contingent will notice all of this and complain about “another evil satanic group that serve tea and biscuits in Hillary Clinton’s secret rape dungeon buried in the mountain under Bohemian Grove” but if you actually have a life and don’t believe in everything your paranoid boomer QAnon antivaxx uncle who was cool once but definitely isn’t these days posts on Facebook you’ll probably just look at the video and think “gosh that looks cool” like a normal person.  In any event it’s all a distraction from the stomping 6/8-time track that musically falls somewhere between Sunmi’s “24 Hours” and T-ara’s “I Go Crazy Because Of You” but is better than both those songs, and that’s a pretty good place to be in k-pop, so let’s thank our secret satanic overlords who control all the k-pops for converting G-reyish to the dark side, at least until next year when the label realises that this song didn’t work out for them either and makes them do a beach concept or something.

2. Jackson Wang – LMLY

People who read my writing about 80s throwback songs will be familiar with the fact that the new “80s songs” don’t actually sound that much like songs from the 80s, they just recall the 80s because of the focus on squared off rhythms, vocal melody at the forefront (as opposed to rapping) and drum and keyboard sounds from the era, however there’s just as much in the way of points of difference, like the production styles, addition of analog synths which were very untrendy for digital-obsessed 80s pop producers, gates everywhere, constant saxophone and guitar solos, etc.  However proud Hong Kong citizen and GOT7 member Jackson Wang’s “LMLY” (which is a stupid title for it, why not just call it “Leave Me Loving You” like a normal person given that’s what the acronym means anyway) actually, genuinely, does sound like 80s songs from the 1980s.  I’m not sure why he’s done such an incredibly faithful recreation of pop music from back then, I can only assume that he’s nostalgic for the days when Hong Kong had less mainland Chinese interference, but he’s done an alarmingly good job of writing something that’s absolutely in an 80s style, and while the saxophone is still missing everything else is definitely correct and present.  Good work Jackson, we love you!  Note that the official video embedded above has annoying drama segues that break up the song, so click here for a version that is still intact, like Hong Kong’s constitution (for now).

Okay, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the number one song for Kpopalypse in 2021 is…

drum roll please…

1. N.O.M – Mega Punch

There was only one realistic pick for top song of 2021, and here it is – N.O.M’s “Mega Punch”.  How to even begin to write about N.O.M without addressing the elephant in the room that they are very obviously the gayest group ever?  It simply can’t be done by any publication with the high levels of integrity and honesty that readers of kpopalypse.com have become accustomed to and have rightly come to expect, so let’s just dive right in.  The reigning kings of gay male dog-whistle in k-pop, N.O.M have been around for quite some time, long enough to have done outrageous things like go on variety shows and show BTS how to dance in heels (although because BTS are so overworked by their shitty company they then forgot how, so T-ara’s Eunjung then had to show them a second time), which is about as close to coming out as outrageously gay as you can actually do in the Korean entertainment world if you’re in any way hoping for mainstream acceptance and TV spots.  N.O.M had some sort of hiatus a few years back, but more recently they’ve been pumping out the tunes on a semi-regular basis and on average those tunes have been reasonably good.  N.O.M have always been generally very good quality, and generally very gay and yes I know one of the members did some awful solo trap thing recently that sucked harder than your boyfriend but as a group N.O.M haven’t really put a foot wrong yet.

However, “Mega Punch” is a game-changer, because not only is the entire package incredibly, totally, completely, smack-the-cum-out-of-your-mouth obviously gayer than gay just like everything else they’ve ever done, it’s also such a good song that it actually makes you completely forget how gay everything else is – even when that gayness is staring you right in the face.  When I first saw this video it was only at 0:49 when that iconic ass-slap happened that it started to dawn on me, that maybe, possibly, there might be some kind of hidden message for the gays here, but I was too busy rocking out to the incredible beat and cool synthesiser lines to care.  That scene at 2:44 where they faithfully recreate the milk-dribbling scene from Stellar’s “Marionette” (and you can rest assured that unlike Stellar, N.O.M know exactly what they’re doing here and are 100% down with it) barely even registered because I was so busy singing along to that catchy chorus.  It even took me about ten watches of this video for me to realise that the guys in the group were wearing high-heeled boots in some scenes, even though the guys in N.O.M wearing their high-heeled boots is literally the very first thing you see in the video.  It’s like how the biggest homophobe you ever met in your life is also a massive fan of Queen, probably the most LGBTIQXYZABC group in all of classic rock – and it’s because the songs are that good that they transcend everything, including the ultra-strong connection between people’s genitals and their brains.  When you brain is “on drugs” your critical faculties can be dulled to the point where you may accept activities that you might otherwise find repulsive, likewise when your brain is “on Queen” you can suddenly accept Freddy Mercury’s bisexuality even if you’re a massive raging bigot the rest of the time.  It’s the same deal with N.O.M so I suggest that you all get your brains “on N.O.M” as quickly as possible and enjoy “Mega Punch” in all possible ways available to you, whether you’re super gay-friendly like Siwon or homophobic like absolutely every other straight person ever.

For some bonus content, how about a dance practice so you can appreciate the uninterrupted high heeled dance routine?  Okay it’s not quite T-ara’s shuffle dance but it’s still dancing in heels which I’m sure is pretty fucking hard and I know some of you will appreciate it.

The song didn’t make it onto any music shows, because Korean music shows are not gay enough for N.O.M, or perhaps they’re too gay for N.O.M, I’m not sure which, but here’s a fancam of N.O.M dancing in the street outside a music show instead.

Here’s a Tik-tok version from another public appearance:

And here’s a live performance in a club or something. 

These videos are from YouTube account N.O.MfanGrace where you’ll find lots more N.O.M content so please give her a warm thank you plus drop her a quick like and a subscribe for stanning N.O.M as any reasonable person should.

Of course the final word on N.O.M can only be reserved for my cat:


Thanks for reading this list!  Don’t forget every yearly Kpopalypse list also has an honourable and dishonourable mentions companion list, so you can see the songs that just missed it! 

Kpopalypse will meet you again with more writings in 2022!

21 thoughts on “Kpopalypse’s 30 favourite k-pop songs of 2021

  1. 1. “After We Ride” by Brave Girls
    2. “Mega Punch” by NOM
    3. “Thank You” by Apink
    4. “Dun Dun Dance” by Oh My Girl
    5. “Cactus” by Twice
    6. “Pose” by Red Velvet
    7. “Uni” by Weeekly
    8. “Perfect World” by Twice
    9. “Bonnie & Clyde” by Yuqi
    10. “Because” by Dreamcatcher

  2. Oh my god I’m crying that N.O.M’s Mega Punch is your number 1. I simply died in absolute joy when i first watched the video/heard the song. I don’t even realise it but I have the biggest, stupidest smile on my face when I hear the song or watch the MV. I expected it to be on your list but not number 1. So happy that someone else shares my joy. Cheers to N.O.M

  3. Glad to see Yubin’s “Perfume” in here! One of my most played songs of the year, with an absolutely gorgeous video. Just look at those colors!

    Youha’s “Abittipsy” is also lovely, and feels oddly nostalgic in a way that other synthpop/retro throwbacks do not.

    Unfortunately that Dreamcatcher song still makes me mad. Wondering how their songwriters accidentally threw together so much good music at the start, because I haven’t seen any from them in the past 2 years.

    At least “Mega Punch” is as fantastic as you made it out to be. I am stanning immediately.

  4. surprised that seventeen`s rock with you & billie ring x ring isn`t on here, i thought those songs were amazing. with the billllie track really growing on me. great list oppar, & cheers to the new year.

  5. Oh man you know I’m all about dat gay, guess I gotta check out the extreme #1 recommendation. I’m also super excited Sticker made it on here–it’s so precise in its weirdness but it works (to annoy my other kpop-loving bestie, a bonus). I nominate it to be the flagship troll anthem in call-and-response style. Happy New Year!

  6. Discovered some cool new songs – Bulgogidisco, Donna, Seoul Magic Club and Vandy City. Cheers Kpopalypse!

    1. Pink Fantasy – Poison
    2. Dreamcatcher – Eclipse
    3. Everglow – Promise
    4. Billlie – Ring x Ring
    5. Youha – Abittipsy
    6. Sunmi – Go or Stop?
    7. Cherry Bullet – Love So Sweet
    8. Weki Meki – Siesta
    9. Purple Kiss – Ponzona
    10. Bae173 – Loved You

  7. As always these list fits my tastes pretty spot on! Definitely some songs on here that I listened to a lot this year (seoul magic club, n.o.m), but also some songs that i completely forgot about or brushed off early (yuqi, yukika). Still think my favorite song remains that one PRSNT song, but maybe thats just a bit of recency bias shining through.

    Overall a pretty nice year. The bad songs remain bad, but I feel like overall the average quality was slightly higher.

  8. That ganja song is legendary (coming from a non-smoker)! Nice list.
    I thought aespa’s “Dreams Come True” was going to be #1. Everything about that song was perfection.

  9. As a fan of TWICE, I’m both dissapointed and relieved that they’re not on your any list. But too bad though, they’ve been on your best list for 4 years straight and this year they seem to be off form 😕

      • There were actually plenty of songs that were “good but not good enough”. Twice didn’t have any real clangers this year and performed better than average overall – just no great standout feature tracks either.

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