21 K-Pop Songs That Got Us Through 2021

Dec 30, 2021, 19:14 IST

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Another year has ended, and another chapter has closed. 2021 was a tough one for many of us, with the global pandemic raging on, but we’ve made it through and ahead is a fresh start — whatever that may be. The end of the year is always a nostalgic time and human instinct puts us in a situation where we have no choice but to let our minds wander back, comb through the memories, and recall the times that made us laugh and cry. We also want to pay homage to K-Pop tunes that helped us forget our troubles and dance, even through the terrible storm. Together, let’s take a look back at 2021, in releases, presented in chronological order, and celebrate the songs that helped us travel through the seasons, and gave us a little bit of relief in the times when it may have been difficult.

On The Ground by ROSÉ

On The Ground by ROSÉ

We loved seeing Blackpink’s Rosé come into her singer-songwriter self. This song isn’t the most cheerful, but it’s a song about realisations — important ones. Rosé is honest and vulnerable on the track, expressing to us her mistakes, and that everything she has always needed is right in front of her. There’s a recognisable chord progression in the pre-chorus of this track that reminds us a bit of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space. It gives us the first taste of a feeling we’re going to be drawn to all year: nostalgia.
Photo courtesy: YG Entertainment

Rollin’ by the Brave Girls
Rollin’ by the Brave Girls

You may ask — didn’t this song come out four years ago? Yes, it did, but its journey has been remarkable. There’s no song that belongs on this list more than Rollin’. Though the song came out in 2017, around March 2021, thanks to a viral YouTube video, the song found it’s way onto the Billboard K-Pop Hot 100 chart and reached number 1 on South Korea’s Gaon chart – and it stayed there for six weeks. It’s a fantastic pop tune, with the catchiest of hooks that is reminiscent of a classic 3rd generation girl group sound. Suddenly, the Brave Girls were performing a four-year-old song across South Korea’s most popular music shows. No group has ever done what they did before and this song instantly became a symbol of perseverance and second-chances.
Photo courtesy: Brave Entertainment

After School by Weeekly
After School by Weeekly

You know that feeling when you have a school-girl crush and you want to jump around dancing in your room? That’s exactly what this song is about, and it’s what it makes us feel like. It’s soft, it’s bouncy, it’s light, and it’s sweet. The lyrics match the song’s playful melody: “A playlist we've made together, Turn it up, This moment will never come again, Everything here is sparkling, I've captured it all.” A go-to for any moment that needs a lift, this song gives you a reason to smile and feel giddy.
Photo courtesy: IST Entertainment

Bambi by Baekhyun
Bambi by Baekhyun

This song starts with a beautiful electric guitar melody that melts beautifully into Baekhyun’s voice. There’s a reason why he’s called “genius idol.” He swells into a falsetto by the time you reach the chorus and continues to dance around with his vocals for the rest of the track. As much as he’s dancing physically on screen as you watch the video, his vocals also dance around the song. This song is sexy, and Baekhyun delivers it perfectly. This was Baekhyun’s parting gift to us as fans, right before he left to go fulfill his military enlistment, and months later, we’re still on the edge of our seats yearning for his return to hear more.
Photo courtesy: SM Entertainment

Spider by HOSHI
Spider by HOSHI

We always love when the boys of SEVENTEEN give us a taste of their individual talents that combine to make such a refined group. HOSHI shares writing credits on this song with his bandmate, Woozi, with whom he also works with on the group’s tracks on occasion. Together, these two have made some of the group’s most popular songs, so it’s no surprise that this song follows suit. The video accompanying the song allows Hoshi to show off his flexible stature, smooth moves, and striking visuals. We always knew he was a star, but this song proves it and we’re begging for more.
Photo courtesy: Pledis Entertainment

ASAP by STAYC
ASAP by STAYC

When you hear the call “STAYC girls, it’s going down,” you know it’s about to be followed by a treat for your ears. This track is bubblegum pop to a tee, and it’s so much fun. Virality played a strong hand in what songs we heard a lot of in 2021 and one of the most viral tracks across social media was ASAP. The internet loved danceable tracks, with catchy hooks and choreographed dance moves to match, and this song checked all the boxes.
Photo courtesy: HIGHUP entertainment

BAD SAD AND MAD by BIBI
BAD SAD AND MAD by BIBI

2021 has been an incredible year for rising star BIBI. It was the year she made the Billboard Top 100 with her hit The Weekend, which was a collaboration with 88rising. But it would be a shame to look past the incredible EP she put out in April, rightfully titled Life is a Bi… The 23-year old vocalist and performer expressed so many emotions with this collection of songs; euphoria, anger, sadness, regret, relief, and BAD SAD AND MAD encompasses them all. We hear a frustrated BIBI exclaim her emotions through the lyrics with a haunting track running behind. We may not have known it at the time, but it’s exactly what we needed to hear.
Photo courtesy: Feel Ghood Music

Advice by Taemin
Advice by Taemin

Right before leaving to fulfill his military enlistment, Taemin gave us this massive hit which is enough to keep us fed for the next two years. Taemin is a legend — this is something we all know. But this song, the video — we’ve never seen anything like it. He is an outstanding performer. The video starts off with a tattooed Taemin hunched over a piano playing an entrancing melody, and it only gets better from there. He dances through the melody with ease, his perfect falsetto is delivered to our ears seamlessly, and the elements of the visuals with the song combine to make one of 2021’s most memorable and captivating tracks. We love Taemin, and we can’t wait until he’s back and gives us more.
Photo courtesy: SM Entertainment

Butter by BTS
Butter by BTS

Global sensation BTS is no stranger to reinventing what success means over, and over again, and this release was nothing short of one of their biggest success stories, breaking records left and right. The climax of the song arrives shortly after member SUGA begins his clean rap verse about two-thirds of the way into the track. We’re already locked in, but this moment shines. “Ice on my wrist, I’m the nice guy,” he exclaims. “Got the right body, and the right mind,” he continues. We nod along in agreement. You can hear the other members of the septet cheering along in the back, and SUGA smoothly passes the verse along to leader, RM, exhibiting the extraordinary teamwork of the veteran group. And by the time he reaches the end of this verse and the final chorus comes around, our minds are blown. The group has done it again with an extraordinary hit.
Photo courtesy: HYBE

GAMBLER by Monsta X
GAMBLER by Monsta X

What a year it’s been for Monsta X. The group not only released two successful albums (and two EPs), but also a full feature-length film. Every song was a hit, but GAMBLER gave us a different side to the group. The opening sounds like you’re strapped into a car as it launches into full speed. There’s a soft whisper, and you’re listening close. All of a sudden, glass shatters, and the car crashes. This is when the melody begins. There’s a lot of elements in the track — a drum beat that keeps your head bopping, an electric guitar that introduces itself confidently, and strong, intense vocals from the members of the group, and an excellent music video that felt like a movie. From start to finish, the song is a joyride.
Photo courtesy: Starship Entertainment

Alcohol-Free by TWICE
Alcohol-Free by TWICE

Nothing screams summertime-by-the-pool more than this song by TWICE. What’s amazing about this group is their ability to make a fun track, time after time. This one’s a bit different, though. It’s reminiscent of something you might hear when you’re on vacation, sitting by the pool, enjoying your time off, drink in hand. Your mind begins to daydream about basking in the sun and enjoying the weather. Even in the wintertime, this song could make you forget about the cold you’re facing and bring you the warmth you need to get through.
Photo courtesy: JYP Entertainment

Moon & Back by 2PM
Moon & Back by 2PM

2PM are legends.he group is recognisable as the IT boys from K-Pop, worlds past, and in 2021, they gave us an album (after a five year hiatus, as the members enlisted in the military one after the other) that reminded us about why they’ll never go out of style. This song is a B-side, but something about it is special. The smooth vocals and the soft melody give a feeling of content. This B-side isn’t a song they promoted or made a video for, but it’s a classic. The lyrics are comforting, with the chorus declaring “I love you to the moon & back.” We missed 2PM, and we’re glad they’re still giving us something to dance to.
Photo courtesy: JYP Entertainment

DUMB DUMB by JEON SOMI
DUMB DUMB by JEON SOMI

This track has all the makings of a perfect pop song: fun lyrics, a captivating hook, and a bridge you can’t help but scream out loud. The execution is perfect, putting soloist JEON SOMI at the top of our to-watch list. It also has a fun music video with SOMI roaming the walls of a high-school, wishing her crush would acknowledge her interest. “Hey dumb dumb!” she calls out to him, giving us a fantastic hook to yell in frustration along with her. The Clueless-esque styling of the video and Spice Girls-era reminiscent sound of the song give us that exact same feeling we couldn’t seem to get enough: you guessed it, nostalgia.
Photo courtesy: The Black Label

LO$ER=LOVER by TOMORROW X TOGETHER
LO$ER=LOVER by TOMORROW X TOGETHER

There’s been no greater transformation in 2021 than when TOMORROW X TOGETHER began to embrace their inner angst and turned into pop-punk’s newest IT boys. When the group put out “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)” we thought they hit peak brilliance. Then this song came out and we had to strongly reconsider. Youngest member Beomgyu was made to perform pop-punk choruses— he takes control of the mic stand and sings his heart out, with full emotion. This group was not created to be boxed into any genre and we can’t wait to see what comes next from them.
Photo courtesy: HYBE

Star Lost by Stray Kids
Star Lost by Stray Kids

This song wasn’t the title track of the group’s album NOEASY, but it’s still a standout. It’s different from the songs we’re used to hearing from third gen stars, but it strikes a level of comfort, which is something we definitely needed in 2021. The delivery of the lyrics hit home as you’re listening, and there’s an air of vulnerability, which is not what you generally expect when listening to a Stray Kids song. The climax of this song arrives when you hear member HAN exclaiming “Trust me I’ll be with you, star lost!” It feels like an invitation into a secret world they’ve built, and we’re accepting happily.
Photo courtesy: JYP Entertainment

Zombie by Purple Kiss
Zombie by Purple Kiss

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in 2021 was Purple Kiss and their ability to take over the airwaves with Zombie. Something about this song connects on another level,, and we’re not sure if it’s the clean vocals, the plucky electric guitar, or the bass beat. The hook is fantastic and melts so seamlessly into a heavy rock-like back track. This song gives you the feel of a rock song, but with that quintessential K-Pop girl group flair. There’s an instrumental delight mixed with fun, bouncy, inviting vocals from the group’s members. It’s a memorable track, and we’re sure to continue playing it through 2022.
Photo courtesy: RBW Entertainment

Red Lipstick by LeeHi (feat Yoonmirae)
Red Lipstick by LeeHi (feat Yoonmirae)

LeeHi paired with Yoonmirae has given us the perfect disco-inspired party anthem with this track. It’s fun, and more importantly, it makes us forget our worries and want to dance. The singer’s clean vocals layered with the song’s strong hi-hat backbeat is alluring and makes you want to move. Yoonmirae’s verse comes at the perfect time, beautifully disrupting the flow of the song, giving us a surprise lift. Together, these two tell us what we need to hear at the moment: You’ve got red lipstick on, you’re here, so just dance, people! And they leave us no choice but to listen.
Photo courtesy: AOMG

Sticker by NCT 127
Sticker by NCT 127

This song has struck a lot of NCTzens and become one of the most polarizing tracks the group has put out. It begins with a mystifying flute melody and blends with an interesting techno drumbeat. Within the next few seconds, the song completely shifts gears as the first verse starts. The melody completely changes and it strikes some confusion. But hear us out – this is what makes this track so iconic and memorable. This song brings back some elements of the most classic SM group songs that broke the mould, songs like Exo’s Wolf and TVXQ!’s Triangle. The song introduces itself in parts, all stripped back and seemingly a bit strange, but all of the elements eventually combine to create the chorus. And that’s where the magic happens. Say what you want, but you can’t deny this song’s been stuck in your head since it came out.
Photo courtesy: SM Entertainment

BAD LOVE by KEY
BAD LOVE by KEY

We received a surprising amount of tracks in 2021 that help us reminisce on the music of the disco era, but nothing quite like this one. Something about this song feels strong in an almost epic manner. Nobody else in the industry would be able to pull off a song like this. SHINee’s Key is not afraid to show us his vocal ability, hitting the highest of notes in the song, giving it the exact flair it needs to stand out. He mixes his unique vocals with a striking, intense backtrack and sparks that same feeling we’ve been exposed to quite often, as mentioned above: nostalgia.
Photo courtesy: SM Entertainment

Savage by aespa
Savage by aespa

We loved girl group releases all through 2021 but the true standout was definitely aespa with their debut album Savage. Earlier in the year, when the group put out their massive hit, Next Level, they had the world singing a song about their fantasy-world. A world that we really only know about through their videos and their songs. This song starts with a simple expression, but one that stays in your head that you can’t help but repeat over and over again: “Oh my gosh! Don’t you know I’m a… savage?” Next thing you know, we’re all travelling to KWANGYA — SM Entertainment’s fictional universe — together, through the song’s electronic backbeat and hyperpop skeleton. K-Pop’s shift into the hyperpop space has been a delight to see, and aespa is leading the charge, going where no Korean girl-group has gone before.
Photo courtesy: SM Entertainment

Eleven by IVE
Eleven by IVE
Every December, there’s always a breakout track that gives every other song a run for its money and this was 2021’s. Starship Entertainment’s newest girl group, IVE, debuted in early December with their title track Eleven and we haven’t had it off repeat since. This song takes you on a ride; it starts off with an addictive melody, leads into an upbeat verse, and just when you think it can’t get better, you’re pulled in with a tempo change. The pre-chorus slows down right before you’re struck with an explosive chorus. It’s hard to avoid becoming addicted, and this group gave us a reason to keep dancing through the new year.
Photo courtesy: Starship Entertainment


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