Top 10 Korean Albums Of 2021: Honorable Mentions
Top 10 Korean Albums Of 2021: Part 2
DPR IAN – ‘Moodswings In This Order’
Release Date: March 12
Notables: “So Beautiful”, “No Blueberries”, “Nerves”, “Scaredy Cat”, “Welcome To The Show”
‘Moodswings In This Order‘ is probably my favorite album of the year. Not only does it have a bunch of standout single-worthy tracks, but they all manage to tie into an overarching album narrative and progression of sound that revolves around DPR IAN‘s battles with mental health. Having dealt with bipolar disorder since childhood, DPR IAN takes the listener on his journey through the darkness, despair, loneliness, regrets, fears, and eventually acceptance of who he is now. Every track is meaningful, and he imbues them with depth and authenticness while still ensuring the tracks still have melodic appeal with pop and R&B sensibilities.
Perhaps this is a bit of a hot take, but I really do feel like this got snubbed on a lot of year-end lists, and not just on ones that focus on Korean music, but the general ones for music as well. As somebody who has dealt with mental health struggles himself, perhaps this hit bullseye for me more than it did for others. But hey, that’s what music can be about, and it’s hard to think of a release in recent memory as captivating.
IU – ‘LILAC’
Release Date: March 25
Notables: “LILAC”, “Flu”, “Coin”, “Troll”, “Ah Puh”
For awhile now, but especially since 2015, IU has treated album releases like an ongoing journal, chronicling her life experiences through music. Appropriately then, the theme of ‘LILAC‘ is reminiscing on her 20s while looking ahead hopefully to her 30s. The album traverses a somewhat broad spectrum of sounds and moods, from uplifting to sassy to dramatic to conciliatory, expressing the nostalgia in reflection but also using the pop framework to represent the brighter path forward.
Essentially, ‘LILAC’ was the standout title track plus a whole gaggle of good songs that shine a lot more within the album’s narrative, where IU’s songwriting has a bigger impact. It takes a lot of delicate treatment for an artist to make age-specific releases that both accurately capture the contemporary experience and manage to connect to those younger through a sense of hope and older with a sense of nostalgia, but IU has always managed to thread that needle.
TXT – ‘The Chaos Chapter: FIGHT OR ESCAPE’
Release Date: August 17
Notables: “LOSER=LOVER”, “Anti-Romantic”, “0X1=LOVESONG”, “Frost”, “Dear Sputnik”
Through ‘The Chaos Chapter: FIGHT OR ESCAPE‘, TXT embody the spirit of young adults in a world that’s filled with tension everywhere and an increasingly dreary outlook for their generation, and they effectively represent those feeling the anxiety and despair of the era. It’s thus an appropriately angsty and emo-driven (having a remix that outright says as much) album, and the overarching theme of cynicism while maintaining a sliver of hope that peeks out because you haven’t gone full nihilist is something that’s relatable.
It does have missteps like “Magic“, which reminded me of the pandering, distorted efforts HYBE seem unable to shake themselves free of. But the strengths of the album are of the highest quality, with four standouts that are among the year’s best and carry it over any hiccups, with TXT integrating everything from punk to hyperpop comfortably under the album’s thematic umbrella.
Golden Child – ‘YES’
Release Date: January 25
Notables: “YES”, “Burn It”, “Cool Cool”, “Milky Way”, “Breathe”
A no-skips kind of mini where almost every song is good if not great, ‘YES‘ utilizes beautiful production across an array of offerings, from a propulsive EDM rallying cry (“Burn It“) to emotive soft rock (“Milky Way“) to unabashed brightness that nowadays is usually reserved for J-pop groups (“Breathe“). Yes, the introductory instrumental is even included because its dramatic ass is absolutely worthy of recognition since it segues perfectly into a … burner of a song.
One of the interesting things about ‘YES’ being so eminently listenable is that Golden Child have adopted a more mature sound and image, but have done so without getting bogged down in the dreary, self-seriousness that many others do and instead have handled it with a unique kind of energy that has prevented the flavor of their music from devolving into stale crackers.
OurR – ‘Can’t’
Release Date: May 12
Notables: “Green”, “MUNG”, “Well”
“Beautiful” is the primary word that comes to mind when summarizing ‘Can’t‘. OurR showcases beautiful soundscapes, beautiful vocals, and a beautiful narrative that spans all six tracks on the album. Through a mashup of indie, electronic, and trip-hop, the album tells the story of a dreamer who eventually attains what they were pursuing but becomes disillusioned when reality reveals it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and eventually sees them descend into a cycle of uncertainty and doubt.
Every song except “Green” (just over four minutes) is over four-and-a-half minutes, and not for nothing because they all have an important section of the narrative to tell. Of course, that’s rather meaningless unless things are melodically pleasing, and thankfully most of the album’s songs work well individually, with tracks like “MUNG” and “Well” barely missing out on the top songs list.