SEVENTEEN – “Anyone”
Album: ‘Your Choice’
Release Date: June 18
“Anyone” starts with a simmering intensity and pays it off when the amazing rhythmic guitar riff enters, along with vocals that are lock step with each strum for dramatic effect. It’s essentially about an us-against-the-world kind of love and delivers an appropriately defiant edge for that mood, with a pulsating beat drop being the centerpiece of a sparse but melodic chorus. One of those songs that’s likely to get you a speeding ticket at some point.
PURPLE KISS – “Cast Pearls Before Swine”
Album: ‘HIDE & SEEK’
Release Date: September 8
Who knew the best way to make trap in K-pop work was to add a whiny synth and up the tempo a bit? Well, PURPLE KISS figured out the secret on “Cast Pearls Before Swine“, though I suppose that oversimplifies things. The track has a lot of other bells and whistles to it, and the best section is the pre-chorus featuring vocal runs and rapid-fire percussion. The chorus settles into a highly rhythmic delivery that’s hard not to bounce along with, then provides a memorable vocal delivery of the title with the “dwaeji moge jinju mokkeori” hook. A get out and bounce around on a sunny day type vibe.
GIRIBOY (Feat. Seori) – “That’s How We Ended Up”
Release Date: October 14
The composition reminded me of “Stan“, except about the ugly aftermath of a breakup. “That’s How We Ended Up” starts things off with an almost jazzy sound, and GIRIBOY gradually ramps up the intensity as the frustration towards his past lover builds, with the inclusion of beautiful strings used to compliment this. Seori provides a haunting vocal that’s highly effective at representing the woman’s desire to just move on. Fittingly, she doesn’t appear again, and he ends up basically losing it before apologizing and settling down, so the progression of the song’s lyrics fits well with the cycle of abuse. A GIRIBOY tour de force that feels like a sibling of acclaimed (deservingly) “Empty House“.
STAYC – “LOVE FOOL”
Release Date: April 8
The synth loop that begins “Love Fool” had me borderline sold within the first five seconds, then the steady beat kicks in and guitar strums are added to foster this oddly indie pop/indie rock vibe. It’s just such a sweet soundscape and it’s sold beautifully by STAYC‘s reserved vocal performance, with the groovy chorus being easy to fall in love with. STAYC basically invite you to chill with them a bit, and it’s hard to resist.
TAEMIN (SHINee) – “Advice”
Release Date: May 18
Intense piano that transitions into an electro-trap instrumental was certainly unexpected, but TAEMIN makes it work with an almost unhinged performance. A defiant song dedicated those who want to bring him down, the contrast of the ominous melody and the aggressiveness of his falsetto works surprisingly well. Nothing if not unique, “Advice” makes its mark and it’s hard to forget its central hook, which presumably is what the TAEMIN of this song would want.
Weeekly – “After School”
Album: ‘We Play’
Release Date: March 17
“After School” is a throwback to the playful and fun hits of the second generation, modernized behind trendy trap elements. Its chorus is rhythmic and highly addictive, hitting its melodic stride later with the “I’m so good with you” hook. Instead of settling there, an impressive vocal-heavy bridge escalates everything and paves the way to a satisfying conclusion that results in Weeekly delivering one of the most complete efforts of 2021.
WOODZ – “Chaser”
Album: ‘ONLY LOVERS LEFT’
Release Date: October 5
Probably the song from 2021 that most consistently gets me to drop what I’m doing and dance like an absolute clown around the living room like I’m some kind of rock star. A foot-tapping foundation built on a bass guitar and steady beat amplifies for its intense chorus where the guitar gets crunchy and the melody is impossible to resist moving your body to. WOODZ‘s performance also takes center stage here, and his ability to deliver a crisp and piercing vocal, switch into something more intense when it’s required, and also hit impactful falsetto notes really elevates the effort. This is absolutely 100% my shit.
N.O.M – “MEGA PUNCH”
Album: ‘MEGA PUNCH’
Release Date: July 1
The fact that N.O.M themselves don’t seem to take themselves too seriously makes it easier to dismiss them as a novelty act, but in a year dominated by synths everywhere, “MEGA PUNCH” certainly deserved a lot more attention than it got. The nonstop, adrenaline-driven synth lines deliver constant energy, and are complimented by a relentless beat and timely claps that round out a stellar instrumental. It also has multiple hooks in the chorus that complete an absolutely infectious offering. Almost feels like some are afraid to admit it’s good cause the very sincere denizens of the Internet won’t take them seriously anymore or something.
DPR IAN (Feat. DPR LIVE & CL) – “No Blueberries”
Album: ‘Moodswings In This Order’
Release Date: March 12
“Welcome to the other side.“
Damn, who knew a spoken line could be so memorable, but DPR IAN makes it so on “No Blueberries“. The song’s meaning is quite ambiguous, perhaps revolving around anxiety and/or pushing people out of your life, but the thing that’s for sure is his emotive performance is the star even among quality help from distinct voices in DPR LIVE and CL. The looped guitar strums are the standout constant of the instrumental, and it’s layered behind thumping bass that comes in for the groovy chorus for an almost entrancing experience.
Bang Chan & Hyunjin (Stray Kids) – “Red Lights”
Release Date: August 23
An amazingly moody and emotional showing is not exactly what one imagines when Stray Kids comes to mind, but Bang Chan and Hyunjin make it feel like it was in their wheelhouse all along. The creeping synths start things off and a light guitar later enters, but it truly ramps up for the pre-chorus, which is where “the moment when I close my eyes, all I see is red lights” hook resides. The drop that follows sends the track into percussion hits with a dirty industrial-esque synth and frantic strings, making for an instrumental-dominant chorus that’s actually worth the listen.