2020 #KpopYearInReview

Inspired by the Kpop Konverters’ video in which they shared their responses to Twitter’s @chelssik’s #KpopYearInReview, I decided to blog about my own responses to @chelssik’s list. Since I’m ridiculously long-winded, this post ended up being TL;DR af! For brevity’s sake, below is the quick version in one concise list. However, if you’ve got time to spare, keep reading for details and videos for each of my picks.

1. Favorite 2020 song: Golden Child “ONE(Lucid Dream)”
2. Favorite song I discovered in 2020: N-SONIC “Excalibur”
3. Favorite debut group of 2020: DKB; Cignature
4. Favorite new to you group: Golden Child
5. Favorite debut soloist of 2020: Ong Seongwoo
6. Favorite new to me soloist: Gaho
7. Comeback I thought I’d love more than I did: Cignature “Arisong”
8. Artist I recommend the most in 2020: Spectrum
9. Favorite 2020 album: NCT 127 Neo Zone
10. Artist I discovered that was out of my comfort zone: DPR IAN
11. Favorite choreography of 2020: Taemin “Criminal”; Verivery “Lay Back”
12. Most aesthetically pleasing MV of 2020: TXT “Blue Hour”
13. Most danceable song of 2020: BTS “Dynamite”
14. Most chill/relaxing song of 2020: NCT “Love Song”
15. Most inspiring song of 2020: NCT U “From Home”
16. Most memorable comeback of 2020: Victon “Howling”
17. Favorite album cover of 2020: TXT Minisode1:Blue Hour (blue version)
18. Artist I can’t believe I waited until 2020 to listen to: multiple 1st gens
19. Favorite lyrics of 2020: Stray Kids “God’s Menu”
20. First new bias of 2020: Heechan of DKB
21. Newest bias: Seeun of StayC
22. Favorite concept of 2020: Stray Kids God’s Menu
23. Hidden gem of 2020: Feeldog “Friends”; Ned “Twinkle”
24. Most unique comeback of 2020: Stray Kids “God’s Menu”
25. Most Memorable K-pop moment of 2020: SHINee reunited
26. Artist you wish got a little more love in 2020: Spectrum
27. A group you didn’t get into in 2020, but will in 2021: TOO; E’last,
28. 2021 comeback you’re most excited for: SHINee
29. Best OST of 2020: Gaho “Start Over”
30. Best cover of 2020: Ateez “Black Cat” (Turbo); A.C.E “On and On” (Vixx)
31. Best dance cover of 2020: OnlyOneOf ‘Savage’ (Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé)
32. Most underrated comeback of 2020: Pentagon “Dr. Bebe”
33. Most listened to 2020 song: DKB “Rose”
34. Most listened to 2020 album: DKB “LOVE”
35. Most listened to artist in 2020: BTS
Bonus: Last song listened to in 2020: IMLAY’s SMTown Live DJ set

1. Favorite 2020 song: Golden Child “ONE(Lucid Dream)”

This is honestly not as easy a choice as I thought it would be. For me, my song of the year changes constantly throughout the year, sometimes even day to day. For the longest, all Spring in fact, it was Itzy’s “Wannabe.” Then summertime hit and “God’s Menu” dropped, which made me think, “This is it, here’s the game changer, this song will be my SOTY no doubt.” But just a few days later Golden Child hit me with “ONE (Lucid Dream),” and I realized I liked “ONE” just a little bit more than “God’s Menu.” Don’t get me wrong, I still consider “Menu” a god tier song, which is why it appears most on this list. And as the year progressed, still other songs jumped to the top of my faves list here and there a few times. But now as I reflect, it’s “ONE(Lucid Dream)” that will be the 2020 song I’ll still be playing on steady rotation in another ten years.

2. Favorite song I discovered in 2020: N-SONIC “Excalibur” 

One of my favorite things to do when I have time to kill is watch playlists or compilation videos of underrated songs. There are so many hidden gems in K-pop’s back catalog, especially for a newish fan like me. I caught a snippet of “Excalibur” in one of these comps from 2016 and immediately knew I was going to fall in love with it. Sidenote: the N-SONIC rabbit hole is quite fascinating for those interested in the legal side of K-pop i.e. artists successfully suing their company for termination. I’m glad they dropped “Excalibur” before they did!

3. Favorite debut group: Cignature, DKB

I really cannot decide between these two, I have so much deep love for both of them. The Cignature girls have had my heart ever since seeing them as Good Day on The Unit in 2018 and I was awaiting their debut for many months. Most of my faves from Good Day are now in Cignature, including my biases Lucky & Viva (now Belle & Sunn). Others are in the group Red Square, and I’m so happy to be able to cheer both teams on, but especially Cignature. As for DKB, you might know if you’ve read my previous post that they hit me like a thunderbolt last February, shooting past the 50+ other groups I stan and grabbing ult status in a matter of minutes. They had an incredible 2020 that included appearances on Immortal Songs and You Heeyeol’s Sketchbook.

My favorite debut groups of 2020: Cignature and DKB

4. Favorite new to me group: Golden Child

I’ve known of Golden Child ever since February 2018 when “It’s U” was the suggested thumbnail on literally EVERY SINGLE MV endscreen that I watched that month. Props to Woollim’s marketing team, but sadly that strategy often has the opposite effect on me. I avoid ubiquitous suggestions, I get suspicious of anything shoved in my face every 3 minutes. I did, however, eventually cave and watch “It’s U,” if for no other reason than the hope it would stop popping up in my suggesteds. I honestly never gave Golcha the time of day until Wannabe seeped into my ears in late 2019. I remember being surprised, because I actively avoided listening to them (not proud that I did that). But Wannabe grew on me, and I downloaded it on January 9, 2020. I’ve been trying to stan them ever since, and while I’m in love with their music, I just can’t seem to learn more than a few members. I’m blaming it all on that dumb mind block I created for 2 years. My heart needs to tell my brain, “You like Golden Child now, tear down the wall!”

5. Favorite debut soloist of 2020: Ong Seong Wu

Who doesn’t love Ong? He’s super talented, absolutely hilarious, and the solo work he’s been putting out is amazing. “Gravity” in particular was in my Top 10 Songs of 2020, and another song I’ll be playing for years to come.

6. Favorite new to me soloist: Gaho

My daughter talked up Gaho to me for two years, but it wasn’t until the Itaewon Class OST that I finally paid attention. I ended up adding every song of his to my Spotify, and “A Song For You” is possibly my favorite male vocal performance of the year. I say possibly because I hesitate breaking loyalty to my Ult Vocal Bias, Day6 Sungjin. Since Sungin’s guide audio for “Afraid” (my actual favorite male vocal of 2020) wasn’t technically released as a single, I feel OK saying Gaho’s “A Song for You” vocal has my top spot.

7. Comeback I thought I’d love more than I did: Cignature “Arisong”

Oh Cignature, how I love you, but this song just wasn’t all that I’d hoped it would be. It didn’t help that it came out the day after Everglow “La Di Da” which I loved far more than I thought I would. Arisong is a cute song, but it didn’t grab me like “NuNuNaNa” and “Assa,” and I really wanted it to.

8. Artist I recommend the most in 2020: Spectrum

This one pains me, because clearly I didn’t recommend them enough. I honestly have no hesitation to recommend any artist I stan, but the ones I actively tout are those I feel could benefit from even my tiny voice to shout loudly for them. I have no platform, no clout, nor any reason to think anyone cares what I recommend. Even so, I will always jump at the opportunity to post, tweet, or mention something about an underrated or under-appreciated artist that I love. I so wish I did more for Spectrum.

SPECTRUM

9. Favorite 2020 album: NCT 127 Neo Zone

I’m not even an NCTzen, so how did this happen? Plain facts: it’s a bomb-ass album, that’s it, period. There are no skips (although sometimes I do have to skip Johnny’s “…and don’t make me tell you again” line in ‘Sit Down.’ <cringe>) Runner-up was BTS’ Map of the Soul:7, but even so, Neo Zone was a clear win for me. A lot of CDs rotate in and out of my car, but the Neo Zone disc seems to still reside permanently, not just in my car, but in the actual CD player itself. Thankfully my girls have both the yellow and red album versions, so I have a CD in my car and a back up in my office. Also, major props to SM’s mastering team – the sound on on those discs is pristine (a quality not heard on many K-pop CDs – I’m looking at you JYPE.)

10. Artist I discovered that was out of my comfort zone: DPR IAN

Musically, DPR IAN’s “So Beautiful” is right IN my comfort zone. Visually, however, the MV for “So Beautiful” is the kind of dark concept I’d typically recoil from seeing. In this case, I found it riveting and gorgeous, and it actually made me fall in love with the song even more.

11. Favorite choreo of 2020: Taemin “Criminal”; Verivery “Lay Back”

I couldn’t decide between the two, so here’s another shared top spot, or better yet, I’ll say Favorite Solo and Favorite Group. Taemin is Taemin, the best, the king of dance, unmatched. My favorite aspect of “Criminal” is the homages to Michael Jackson which are apropos not just because the title is similar to “Smooth Criminal” but also because we all know Taemin is the MJ of K-pop. Verivery, on the other hand, is my sentimental pick, and I love so much about the “Lay Back” choreography. I have so many favorite points: the huge arm move in the pre-chorus, the subtle leg twists and the weaving group movement in the chorus 1st half, followed by those adorable alternating leg flicks in the chorus 2nd half, then those cool as hell shoulder shrugs. It’s all such a treat for my eyes, and their knife-like sync throughout is icing on the cake.

Best Solo Artist Choreography of 2020: Taemin “Criminal”
Best Group Choreography of 2020: Verivery “Lay Back”

12. Most aesthetically pleasing MV: TXT “Blue Hour”

I’m a sucker for pastels, acid wash, fedoras and oversized coats (or as my 80’s teen heart calls it, “the John Taylor look.”) You add in blue Soobin, blonde Tayhyun, and BUBBLE GUM ICE CREAM YEONJUN (!!superior look!!) and you’ve got an MV overflowing with pleasing aesthetics. It’s a candy-hued carnival confection, yet just cloudy enough to keep it from being overly sweet. This is TXT, after all, so an underlying thread of melancholy is always going to be there, even if it’s as wonderfully subtle as the gray skies and wistful stares in “Blue Hour.”

13. Most danceable song: BTS “Dynamite”

I kind of wanted to hate it, because it was EVERYWHERE. No lie, our local radio station played it literally every 20 minutes, for months on end. But I gotta admit, I loved it every single time! I danced to it every single time I heard it. Even when it wasn’t playing on the radio, “Shining through the city with a little funk and soul” was playing on a continual loop in my brain, and yep, I was dancing to it then too. “Dynamite” is dangerously addictive. It’s dance crack. It’s also the most danceable 2020 K-pop song in practical terms too, as the choreography was created to be easy to follow along.

14. Most chill/relaxing song: NCT 127 “Love Song”

Have I mentioned I grew up in the 80s? This. Is. My. Jam. Like seriously, this takes me right back to the synth-laden R&B of my late 80s teen years, it’s in the same vein as The System’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove” (which, btw, NCT could slay as a cover). I’m not surprised that “Love Song” was written by the same team (The Stereotypes) that penned Bruno Mars’ delicious throwback “That’s What I Like.” And so much of Neo Zone has this same retro R&B vibe that it just had me living for it all year.

Not the full song, but a cute track video. Download the actual song if you haven’t already!

 15. Most inspiring song: NCT U “From Home”

You’re probably noticing a theme here, which is that I like a lot of NCT songs. How am I not an NCTzen?! I seriously need to figure that out, as I probably should be. In any case, “From Home” is an inspiring song because it’s about being away from home, yet finding the comfort of home in others, something everybody can relate to at some point in our lives. It’s about finding your “home away from home” in the people with whom you surround yourself. And it’s also an amazingly beautiful song; it would inspire me even if I didn’t know what it was about.

16. Most memorable comeback: Victon “Howling”

Three syllables: Han Sueng Woo. Three words: First OT7 Win. Enough said.

17. Favorite album cover: TXT Minisode1: Blue Hour (blue version)

I honestly love every version of the Minisode1 album: peach, pink, and blue (or purple, pink & blue, depending on whom you ask). Blue, however, is my favorite, and it also ties in best with the album title. The design is so minimal and aesthetic, the pixelization is both retro and modern. Plus it’s pastel and, as we’ve established, I love pastels. I don’t know how something so angular and geometric can be so pretty, but it is.

I want this album art to cover an entire wall of my office

18. Artist I can’t believe I waited ’til 2020 to listen to: multiple 1st gens

With all the debate this year about who paved the way in K-pop, I felt compelled to go back to the original Korean pop wave, back to the artists that truly did pave the way, indisputably. To my surprise, I discovered a big love for S.E.S, I downloaded about 15 of their songs! Up until 2020 I only knew of “I’m Your Girl,” but that’s not even their best song, which in my now-educated opinion is “Dreams Come True.” I also found gems in the catalogs of Baby V.O.X, H.O.T, FinK.L, and even a few Shinhwa and Sechskies songs that don’t make me cringe at the lyrics.

19. Favorite lyrics: Stray Kids “God’s Menu”

Speaking of lyrics… the poetry here is that Stray Kids music is the menu and we listeners get to dine on the delicious dishes they serve up. “Cooking like a chef, I’m a 5-Star Michelin” is not only the Best Line of the Year, it’s probably the Best Line of the Decade, and I say that knowing we’ve got nine more years to go.

Make sure to turn on captions to fully appreciate “God’s Menu”‘s poetry

20. First new bias of 2020: Heechan of DKB

My first time paying attention to DKB was in an 11 minute clip of their 1 Second Music Quiz on Fact In Star. Not 15 seconds in, Heechan shouted out his name to guess “NCT sunbaenim Boss,” then adorably mimicked the “doong doong” bass when he wasn’t sure he was right, and by the time he hopped from his chair to do the dance, my heart was sprung. The fact that he nailed Boss’ moves and attitude, then slayed every other choreo in the quiz, cemented my bias, and honestly catapulted him to my Ult Tier of biases in about 10 minutes.

DKB killin’ it in Fact In Star’s 1 Second Music Quiz

21. Newest bias: Seeun of StayC

StayC won my heart because So Bad is a flipping BOP and each member is unique and magnetic. I didn’t pick a bias right away, but over time found I was drawn to Seeun because she reminded me of Seulgi. It wasn’t until after I settled on Seeun as my StayC bias that I learned she actually covered Seulgi in a pre-debut dance of “Monster.” She did it proud!

StayC Sieun and Seeun cover Red Velvet Irene and Seulgi

22. Favorite concept: Stray Kids “God’s Menu”

I love “God’s Menu”’s lyrics, but let’s face it, the concept is what sells this song. I would have liked “God’s Menu” even if it was a b-side with no MV or choreo, but the concept is SUPERIOR and it’s what takes this song from good to great. SKZ are the genius chefs of K-pop. In the MV, their musi-culinary (yeah, I went there) innovation even includes a construction site lab where Felix holds a test tube of what will surely be their next tasty dish (“Back Door” anyone?). Hyunjin owned this era, but I’d argue every single member had a superior look for this concept, especially Felix, Changbin, and Bang Chan (those face chains!)

23. Hidden gem: Feeldog “Friends”, NeD “Twinkle”

Please give these tracks some love. Feeldog released “Friends” just four days before leaving for his military service, and what a beautiful farewell gift he gave us. I honestly feel that he is one of the kindest, realest, most uplifting artists in K-pop, and I can’t wait for his return. The world needs his artistic view and positive energy! “Twinkle” is a track that popped up in my suggesteds and my first thought was, “How did a Brazilian song end up in my K-pop algorithm?” but upon closer listen, I realized that it was in fact a K-pop song, albeit with a distinct samba vibe, and I’m totally here for it.

24. Most unique comeback: Stray Kids “God’s Menu”

Do I need to say any more about this? They’re cooking. I’m dining.

Michelin Chefs of K-pop

25. Most Memorable Kpop moment: SHINee reunited

I always feel awkward about my love for SHINee because I became a K-pop fan right at the darkest point in their history. I kept SHINee at arm’s length for quite some time for that reason, I didn’t feel I had a right to be a SHINee fan, at least not right at that time. That needed to be a time for just Shawol. It wasn’t until “Good Evening” dropped months later that I felt like the door was open to new fans, and I walked through it for sure. I fell SO in love with them and their music, and now I can hardly remember life before stanning them. The November double whammy of their surprise reunion in Taemin’s dressing room plus their 1st V-Live a few days later is my most touching, ADORABLE, and memorable moment(s) of 2020.

26. Artist you wish got a little more love: Spectrum😭

I’m not much of a cheerleader, but I tried to step outside my comfort zone and cheer as loudly as I possibly could for Spectrum. Every opportunity I got, I touted them and begged people to stan them. I streamed their MVs for hours, and I’m actively *not* a fan of streaming MVs for hours, but I did it for them. They were so deserving of so much more love. It’s a shame they’re gone.

SPECTRUM’s last comeback, from February 2020; at least they went out with a great song!

27. A group you didn’t get into, but will in 2021: TOO, E’last

Of all the Road to Kingdom teams, TOO was the one I knew the least about, but they really impressed me and have been on my “need to stan” list ever since. E’last grabbed me with their moody elegance, they seem like a group that can take up that “concept kings” mantle from VIXX, so they are also at the top of my list. I do, however, already have an E’last bias. It is Choi In, and yes, it IS because I’m in love with his smile and laugh, and NO, I’m not ashamed to pick a bias based solely on his smile and laugh. Leave me alone.

28. 2021 comeback you’re most excited for: SHINee

See #25 above. Let’s all hope Covid ends soon and SHINee World VI becomes a reality this year. I don’t care where in the world it takes place, I WILL go.

29. Best OST: Gaho (Start Over)

I love a lot of the songs on the Itaewon Class OST, but “Start Over” is the best. It encapsulates the drama so well, by which I mean it has this incredible dark heaviness to it, but it somehow overcomes that weight to feel genuinely uplifting and triumphant. Throughout the drama, I referred to it as “Saeroyi’s song” until I learned it was actually called “Start Over.” It’s still fitting as Saeroyi’s theme, however, since start over is pretty much what he had to do the entire series.

30. Best cover: Ateez “Black Cat Nero” (Turbo), A.C.E “On and On” (VIXX)

I feel like I’m copping out on some of these picks by choosing more than one, but these are both SO GOOD! “Nero” is amazing because Ateez bring their own special Ateez flavor to it. They are truly performance kings and this consummate stage shows them at their best. It deserved all the recognition it received, including the first ever Immortal Songs win for a rookie group. A.C.E’s “On and On” is equally as impressive, but for different reasons. A.C.E are kings in their own right, and knowing they put this cover together in THREE DAYS is unfathomable. Their performance is crazy strong and A.C.E are completely immersed in their VIXX roles. It is, in fact, so incredibly faithful to the original that, dare I say it… I think A.C.E’s performance of “On and On”… might actually be… better than… NO! I refuse to say it, I won’t say it. But you know what I wanted to say. Let’s at least admit that the “On and On” choreo has never been executed as perfectly as A.C.E did it here.

31. Best dance cover: OnlyOneOf “Savage” (Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé)

There aren’t many clips in K-pop where the moment I see them I say, “I need to show this to every single person I know.” This was one of them. Even the locals fell in love with this cover, it trended on TikTok and Twitter. I enjoyed showing it to my friends that snub K-pop because even they had to admit that OnlyOneOf pulled this cover off with true swag.

32. Most underrated comeback: Pentagon “Dr. Bebe”

How the heck did “Dr. Bebe” not get Pentagon their First Win? Everyone knew they were overdue for it, and everyone knew this song was one of their best. And an earworm too, I think I woke up singing it for three straight weeks. I’m very happy Pentagon finally got their First Win for “Daisy,” but it felt a little like one of those Oscar wins where the Academy realizes they made a mistake not giving it for a certain performance, so they give it to the next big performance no matter what. Like when Denzel won for Training Day when we all know damn well he deserved it for The Hurricane. Honestly, Pentagon deserved it for “Shine,” let’s be real.

33. Most listened to song: DKB “Rose”

34. Most listened to album: DKB “LOVE”

35. Most listened to artist: BTS

Numbers 33 – 35 are indisputable, so there’s not much to say beyond, “Thank you Spotify Wrapped for saving me having to calculate which song, album and artist I listened to most in 2020.” I could argue that my non-Spotify listening would have tilted the results, considering how much Neo Zone was played in my car, but maybe not… I recall we had a few hours-long road trips during California’s “Covid Tier Orange” Summer in which LOVE and MOTS7 were the only two CD’s in my car, so on second thought… I’m guessing Spotify got it right.

Bonus: Last song listened to: IMLAY’s SMTown Live DJ set

Who didn’t watch SMTown Live? Anyone? No way, it was New Years Eve, the concert was free, and there was nowhere else to go. If you even kind of like K-pop, you watched SMTown Live. I could link IMLAY’s full 20 min. DJ set here, but even though it was the best set of the three deejays (sorry Ginjo and Raiden), it’s not what I’ll remember IMLAY for in 2020. Instead I’m going to link IMLAY’s SMTownLive stage with YangYang, since “Asteroid” is what I’ll remember IMLAY for in 2020. It’s one of my top songs of the year, and we got robbed of seeing either IMLAY or YANGYANG in the MV, so their SMTown Live performance was a lovely New Years Eve treat.

2020 went out on a high note with SMTown Live

Holy crap, you actually made it this far? Well I thank you. I feel like I owe you! That was quite the wordy read, and I appreciate you sticking with it to the end. If you have even more time, let me know in the comments which ones you agree/disagree with, and please also share your own list too! Thanks again for giving this your time 🙂

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