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[Curated Playlist] The 10 Best K-pop Artists of 2020

Edited by Yoon
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

This year, the K-pop industry was struck hard by a series of cancellations of concerts and offline events in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, but at the same time, artists who showed high-quality music and performances received great results from overseas, raising the status of Korean music. Now that we are wrapping up the year, we introduce the most beloved and notable artists.

1. IU

Credit: EDAM Entertainment

Eight is the only album IU released this year, but the ripple effect it caused was enormous. “Eight,” the new some of her “coming‑of‑age” series, gave off an excellent synergy through her collaboration with BTS’s Suga. Although it is only a digital single, along with Love poem’s “Blueming” and “Love poem” released last year, the song came under the spotlight. The achievement of these songs proves the fact that IU is an artist who can handle songs that can be loved for a long time. 

 

2. BTS

Credit: Big Hit Entertainment

This year, BTS has undoubtedly become the best output of the K-pop scene. MAP OF THE SOUL:7’s “Black Swan” and “ON” showcased the dignity of the world’s most successful boy band, while “Dynamite” talks about the relaxation and sympathy that come with success, and “Life Goes On” sings the void after the victory and delivers comfort to the public. “Dynamite” reminds us that K-pop’s success is not limited to the narrow market of fandom but also to the public. Strengthening its fandom and communicating with the public, BTS has certainly become an invincible group.

 

3. ZICO

Credit: KOZ Entertainment

He actively used the TikTok dance popular in the “insiders’ circle” and thoroughly exposed it to achieve success. Both his song and dance moves are optimized for social media, which goes well with the “hipness” that the artist himself has. The listeners tune into songs that they can sing and dance along easily. ZICO’s “Any Song” makes you realize how important it is to capture “trend” and “reflecting the times” to lead pop culture.

 

4. Blackpink

Credit: YG Entertainment

Blackpink became the most notable group for this year and out. “How You Like That” solidified the team’s identity with their stable singing and high-quality choreography, even with the sound that gives us a strong sense of deja vu for “Kill This Love.” This is a good result of developing their own previous discography. “Lovesick Girls,” on the other hand, adequately combined K-pop with dance-pop, catching the ears of music fans around the world. They do put continuous efforts to taste the success overseas, but the fact that they have grown they have doubled their potential by sticking to their own color makes their success all the more meaningful.

 

5. Oh My Girl

Credit: WM Entertainment

“Nonstop” is the biggest hit. Although the easy and catchy chorus is certainly a success factor, the fact that they tried to differentiate themselves with Mimi’s colorful rap is the reason the song wasn’t labeled as “just another tropical song.” “Dolphin” is the song that raised our expectations for Oh My Girl. The chorus, filled only with “da da da,” is unforgettable and created a “kill-point” using the unique catchphrase, “Get splashed again.” In the second half of the year, YooA’s solo EP also left a deep impression.

 

6. Red Velvet

Credit: SM Entertainment

After passing through the confusion of “Zimzalabim” and the freshness of “Umpah Umpah,” Red Velvet’s festival ends with the chills of “Psycho.” The plan, which was built up with the festival’s splendor and chilled down with “The ReVe Festival” Finale, is very unique. The unique features within the heavy baseline and message in the lyrics, as well as the finely chopped high hat and the chaotic trap beat increase the immersion of the song. The subunit Irene & Seulgi’s debut album Monster is also a must-hear. The true value of the two becomes evident in their non-title track “Naughty.” The play of words with “game (which sounds like naughty in Korean)” and “naughty” catch your ears, while the perfect balance of verse-pre-chorus-chorus form and playful vocals harmonize flawlessly. They even perform tutting dances that are hard to see in idol group choreography.

 

7. IZ*ONE

Credit: Off the Record Entertainment

From “FIESTA” to “Panorama,” every single feature that creates a song is colorful. The pushy sounds amplify the mood, while the ever-changing stage movements and small hand gestures cannot captivate your attention. Moreover, “FIESTA” raised the bar for girl group performances. Their music and performer’s colors are clearly unified into one, and even their outfits and a sophisticated music video are just perfect. One of the biggest advantages is that the spotlight doesn’t focus on just one member but to all by showcasing unified performance.

*It’s just a shame that members’ talents and efforts have been tarnished by the Produce 48 production team and some labels.

 

8. GFRIEND

Credit: Source Music

There wasn’t any awkwardness despite the fact that it was their first album after getting absorbed into Big Hit Entertainment. LABYRINTH, the first album of their “回 series,” clearly represents the group’s identity. Instead of following the current K-pop trend that captures the trendiness shown in the US and UK markets, GFRIEND consolidate their own music world. Their performance cannot be left out. Because they didn’t waste any time getting on the bandwagon, they became a girl group that fully blossomed their potential.

 

9. Hwasa

Credit: RBW

Following “twit,” Hwasa came up with yet another song that is just perfect for her. The song’s message is directed at the social image that Hwasa has, and it contains more meaning only when she sings it. She tried to differentiate herself by inserting a dance break in the Latin-style bridge on top of the producer’s trendy melody. Even though it’s not the first time she has worked with the producer, the song highlights its own unique color to the point where it feels “new.” Her vocal is flawless as always, so naturally, the story within the song is also clear.

 

10. NCT

Credit: SM Entertainment

The one big shot that they have been loading since “Cherry Bomb” finally blasted with “Hero (Kick It).” It cannot be denied that it is the best output of NCT, and this one song has somewhat resolved the sneer that people who laughed at SM for challenging hip-hop showed. SM, who was always mocked for the childish raps, put Taeyong and Mark at the forefront, dispelling all doubts. In addition to “Hero,” NCT dropped two new albums in the second half, NCT RESONANCE Pt. 1 – The 2nd Album, finishing the year strong. The department store-like composition that crosses various genres could reduce the album’s concentration, but rather, it gives no time to drift away. Songs sung in multinational languages for multinational members and fans are also intriguing. 

Edited Yoon: I love music, especially K-POP, and I dream of becoming an A&R person, lyricist, artist, etc. I will cover various articles, including song reviews, artist reviews, and K-pop market analysis. 

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