Kang Seung Yoon (WINNER) – “IYAH”
Release Date: March 29
Back when “IYAH” was released I wasn’t enthralled by it, but I don’t think being attention grabbing was ever the aim. It’s still a bit generic, but it has a timeless sound that’s ironically rather refreshing to hear after listening to hours upon hours of idol groups trying to one-up each other by being extra with the latest trends.
It’s hard to go wrong with that chorus, and the choral backing to close it out just cements that this would absolutely bang in concert. Just get the fucking lighters out and sway side-to-side, letting “IYAH” wash all over you. It doesn’t even modify the wheel much less reinvent it, but it’s still going to be as solidly good in 10 years, which is definitely worth something.
Lee Mujin – “The Assignment Song”
Album: ‘The Assignment Song’
Release Date: July 17
This is a release that typifies why Lee Mujin is so easy to like and why he’s on the path to being a star. Yes, he’s talented, but releasing his college songwriting assignment — that light-heartedly complains about his professor (English translation) — as a single is undeniably relatable and amusing. Better yet, it’s catchy and includes electric guitar riffs to punctuate it and supplement the expected amount of acoustic guitar. It really had no business being this good, and yet it is.
Aespa – “YEPPI YEPPI”
Release Date: October 5
This has many of the hallmarks of a typical Teddy girl group production, which isn’t exactly up my alley in terms of preference. However, unlike many of his songs that rely on some kind of sparse instrumental drop as an excuse for a chorus, “YEPPI YEPPI” opts for a catchy melody with an addictive synth instrumental anchoring it. It also proves that a song about self-empowerment/self-confidence doesn’t have to be weighed down in self-seriousness and that exuberance can work just as well musically.
Dreamcatcher – “Poison Love”
Album: ‘Dystopia: Road To Utopia’
Release Date: January 26
“Poison Love” revolves around maintaining the deep house soundscape, appropriately putting listeners into a trance. However, the dramatic pre-chorus explosion of energy is a true standout and enough on its own to make it notable. Thematically it makes sense to keep the atmosphere subdued and repetitive, but musically it could’ve taken another step up with at least a flurry to finish.
ACOUSOLJAH – “Danbee”
Release Date: May 21
A breath of fresh air in 2021, “Danbee” is effectively an alternative folk and r&b song with reggae vocal stylings, which combined quite effectively. The uniqueness of the release in the Korean music scene is one thing, but it’s the melodic flow along with the catchy-enough chorus that made it truly addictive.
Woosung (The Rose) – “Dimples”
Release Date: December 9
Sometimes you’ve got to just appreciate an artist shamelessly committing to the concept, and Woosung does this on “Dimples” by both literally and sonically putting on his flashiest outfit and leaning into the synthwave. The song is well produced throughout, with a predictable but satisfying melody that’s just a fun listen.
TK – “Side Mirror”
Release Date: January 17
Honestly, the first 30 seconds of this alone makes it worth a mention. Hell, maybe just the instrumental would be enough, as it’s impeccable production for my tastes. Every additional element that’s added as the song progresses just fits perfectly. Feels like some track from the OST of an old video game that’s been expertly repurposed to make synthwave R&B.
AKMU – “Hey Kid Close Your Eyes”
Album: ‘NEXT EPISODE’
Release Date: July 26
An almost paradoxically haunting yet punchy retro sound is enhanced by the songwriting that uses children at war as a metaphor for the transition into adulthood and facing the terrors society at large has waiting. Appropriately unsettling throughout, whatever repetitive lull it may fall into in the back half is redeemed with the bit of flourish for the finish.
Ten (NCT) – “Paint Me Naked”
Album: ‘Paint Me Naked’
Release Date: August 10
A playful and fun ode to young love with a tinge of edge to its pop sensibilities thanks to bursts of electric guitar. Admittedly nothing especially complicated or original to it, just a simple and catchy pop ditty that never made me reach for the skip button whenever it came around.
WONHO – “Lose”
Album: ‘Love Synonym Part 2: Right For Us’
Release Date: February 26
Fans of his are probably tired of me saying it by now, but WONHO‘s music as a soloist has been both a shock and a pleasure. Sure, he has obvious appeal just through existing, but his progressive R&B stylings have made him a great listen as well. He knows he’s not a vocal powerhouse, and that’s a strength in itself, as WONHO and his production partners tailor his sound to mood-making and end up with enchanting tracks like “Lose“, powered by a bass guitar (with funk to it in spurts) and a propulsive beat. Just so easy to listen to.