A.C.E. – “Goblin (Favorite Boys)”
For those not intently queued into the K-Pop world, the five A.C.E. boys most definitely have not crossed the airwaves anyway near the same level as BTS, but the self-titled “Favorite Boys” caught some attention after signing with the same U.S. management team as Blackpink and (G)I-DLE. I have yet to find out what they mean by singing “I’m a Goblin,” as it’s not exactly obvious within the lyrics, but the song is catchy and I’m here for anyone seriously making “I’m a Goblin” a repeatable part of their choruses.
BLACKPINK – “How You Like That”
“Look at you, now look at me.” What a way to assert dominance, and that’s exactly what BLACKPINK did in 2020. Racking up features with Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, and Cardi B, the female quarter have soared into the spotlight as the baddest girls in K-Pop. “Bring out the boss bitch!”
BTS – “Black Swan”
Harking back to their first international hit, “Fake Love,” I like to describe “Black Swan” as their “dark song.” Preceding “Dynamite,” their breakout all-English sensation, “Black Swan” is perfectly, dramatically emo and one of the most intensely choreographed routines the group has ever done.
Cignature – “ASSA”
Cignature’s “ASSA” roughly translates to a kind of antisocial outcast that we should be proud to be—a big theme of K-Pop in 2020. More popular groups like ITZY have done similar songs, such as “WANNABE,” but it’s Cignature’s playful track that I think takes the cake over the more mainstream, highly produced alternatives. “Who is the trend these days?” the girls sing, “I’m tired.” I feel you.
Everglow – “La Di Da”
I’m sorry, did I just say I was over highly produced, mainstream girl groups in that last blurb? My bad, that was before Everglow released “La Di Da.” Borrowing from the success of The Weeknd’s After Hours and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia (or vice versa…), Everglow returned flip-switched from 2019’s cutesy “Bon Bon Chocolat” and tore it up with “La Di Da,” featured at the top spot of a lot of “Best of K-Pop” lists this year.
KIARA – “TOMBOY”
It’s hard to debut this f**king cool as a solo act in the K-Pop industry, and if the edgy synths in the chorus didn’t sell us, or KIARA’s fashion, it was definitely her ending the video holding an NES controller. There’s too much to love in this “I’m your boss, yes good boy” attitude, and I hope we have more to see from KIARA in 2021.
Lee Suhyen – “ALIEN”
Recently signed to YG (the same house as Blackpink), Lee Suhyun’s debut with “Alien” may be my most listened to song of the year. With over 15 million views on YouTube, the video’s animated alien persona is as charming as Suhyun herself, and the cutesy self-expression akin to A.C.E.’s
“Goblin” and Cignature’s “ASSA” only adds volumes to how excitingly bold artists are becoming now that K-Pop is turning into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Loco – “Can’t Sleep (feat. HEIZE)”
Back from his mandatory military service, Loco’s “Can’t Sleep” with HEIZE is probably the sweetest duet since MINSEO’s “2cm” with Paul Kim. Singing about not being able to get a girl out of his head, Loco’s charming song, coupled with its colorful video, is probably the biggest earworm on the list this year.
MINO – “Run Away”
You’ve heard BTS’s “Boy with Luv,” but “Love and a Boy,” which appears alongside the single “Run Away,” are both on MINO’s TAKE, the best K-Pop album of 2020. Incredibly involved visually and audibly, MINO breaks free from his group WINNER to rap at break-neck speeds, and the panting in the middle of the second verse of “Run Away” playfully exemplifies what makes him such a talent.
TWICE – “I Can’t Stop Me”
If Everglow’s “La Di Da” felt like it fit right in with the return of disco in American pop music, TWICE’s “I Can’t Stop Me” barrels through the obvious arguably better than all the rest. The “Yes or Yes” and “Feel Special” girls have come a long way to get here, even in just two years’ time, and the “Fancy” meets TRON aesthetic of the music video really just seals the deal.