A Definitive Ranking of the Best K-Pop Songs of 2021
2021 may be over, but that doesn't mean that we can't appreciate the amazing K-pop releases that came out last year.
In fact, we can't stop thinking about the year's greatest hits. Want to revisit with us? Here's a list of our favorite K-pop songs of 2021—and why they were the very best of the year.
20. 'Rush Hour' – Monsta X
In their latest Korean comeback, Monsta X took their beloved Monbebe to the race track for a high-octane and energetic performance that switches between quick and skillful rapping and powerful belting vocals.
19. 'First' – Everglow
Everglow delivered an inspirational and empowering message over a contrastingly dark trap beat in "First." "The past is scaring you, but know your power" is a message we can all take to heart—and the fact that the song is so catchy doesn't hurt.
18. 'Zombie' – Purple Kiss
Just in time for Halloween, rookie girl group Purple Kiss tackled the excitement and anxiousness of a first crush while declaring they're going to give chase to the object of their affection as if they were zombies. This fall track perfectly mixed cute bubblegum pop with the spookiness of the season.
17. 'Crush' – MCND
With smooth guitar riffs and the infectious chant of "Crush," MCND encouraged everyone to get up and dance without being afraid of making a little noise, which made it the perfect song to wildly dance around to in front of your bedroom mirror.
16. 'Tear Drop' – SF9
After a successful run on Mnet's Kingdom competition, boy group SF9 returned to the scene with the melancholic but upbeat "Tear Drop." With an icy EDM backing alongside sleek raps and chilling vocals, it was one of the truly unique K-pop releases of the year.
15. 'Heaven's Cloud' – SEVENTEEN
Despite only being a B-side on their eighth mini-album Your Choice, "Heaven's Cloud" was a standout track of the year. The song features refreshing production and beautiful building harmonies from SEVENTEEN's vocalists and rap verses that only further contribute to the dreamy color. Once the song ends, you'll want to take a nice and peaceful nap on top of an actual cloud.
14. 'PTT (Paint The Town)' – LOONA
The pounding drums and compelling brassy synths alongside the determined vocals of "PTT" definitely make it a hard song to forget. This comeback only further proved that the girls of LOONA can take on any concept and own it.
13. 'Cinema' – CIX
CIX took us on a cool ride to the movies with "Cinema" and allowed us to travel through a cinematic daydream alongside them. The rich vocal, soft tempo and dreamy lyrics such as, "Any moment of us will probably last forever / like a youth movie" made the film concept unique and inviting. Ticket for one, please?
12. 'You Can't Sit With Us' – Sunmi
Loaded with inspiration from iconic 2000s movies including Mean Girls, former Wonder Girls member and current soloist Sunmi delivered another bop with her signature retro vibe—and she even got to take down some zombies in the visual.
11. 'Next Level' – Aespa
In their own special take on an A$ton Wyld song that was originally featured on the soundtrack of a Fast & Furious sequel, Aespa created one of the catchiest tracks of the summer. The unexpected but bold beat drop at the climax of "Next Level" captivated fans worldwide and solidified Aespa's status as a rookie girl group to watch.
10. 'I'm Not Cool' – HyunA
K-pop veteran HyunA returned for the first time since 2019's "Flower Shower" with this colorful and eclectic track. The song, while catchy, is also quintessentially her sound her brand, making it hard to imagine anyone but her pulling it off. HyunA may not be "cool," but she will forever be effortlessly charismatic. "I adore myself. You should adore yourself, too," she chants in the song, and we wholeheartedly agree.
9. 'Frost' – Tomorrow x Together
K-pop it boys TXT made a splash during 2021's summer with their second studio album The Chaos Chapter: Freeze, which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart. The most recent single "Frost" was co-penned by Ashnikko and features a new edge that contrasts TXT's typical bubblegum pop sound, displaying an intense visual as well as vocal performance from the boy group.
8. 'Deja Vu' – ATEEZ
ATEEZ is probably known to most K-pop fans for their fierce dance and vocal performances. "Deja Vu" is a track that sings of failed love and desperation, but still remains true to ATEEZ's form of being absolutely danceable. While "Deja Vu" was a less sonically intense single compared to previous title tracks like "Pirate King" and "Wonderland," the song was no less impactful. The EP that included the track "Zero Fever: Part 3" became their first entry on the Billboard 200 at a peak of No. 42, and the group also topped Billboard's Emerging Artists Chart.
7. 'Hot Sauce' – NCT Dream
There aren't too many groups that have carved out their own signature sound in the way that the sub-groups of SM collective NCT have. "Hot Sauce" features NCT's signature style of trap-inspired club bangers but is additionally enhanced by the members' charismatic and youthful energy—or alternatively, their "Hot Sauce."
6. 'Celebrity' – IU
Reigning K-pop soloist queen IU returned in 2021 with Lilac, her first full-length album since 2017's Palette, and her fans were not disappointed. IU's sparkly vocals over the fluttery production were infused with the charm and personality that come through in every one of IU's releases.
5. 'Thunderous' – Stray Kids
Fresh from their win on Mnet's Kingdom, Stray Kids made a crashing comeback with "Thunderous." The lightning-quick rapping and smooth singing are fueled by a victorious summer for the band. The confidence that oozes from this track, on top of Stray Kids' self-production, gives it its edge. After all, no one can do Stray Kids quite like Stray Kids.
4. 'Drunk-Dazed' – ENHYPEN
It is hard to think of a boy group song that was heard around the world more than ENHYPEN's "Drunk-Dazed." Despite only debuting in the final months of 2020, ENHYPEN has already positioned themselves to become one of K-pop's next biggest stars. The boy group was among the few to make their Billboard 200 debut in 2021, with "Border : Carnival" reaching the 18th spot. With its dark-pop synths shrouded in vocoded singing, the vibe of "Drunk-Dazed" is mysterious but captivating from beginning to end.
3. 'LUNA' – ONEUS
With beautiful fantasy visuals and poetic lyrics, ONEUS made an impactful fall release with "LUNA." This track was one of the most artistic and intricate K-pop releases of the year, filled to the brim with traditional and cultural imagery to suck any listener in.
2. 'Don't Call Me' – SHINee
In one of the most anticipated comebacks in the K-pop world, veteran boy group SHINee returned from their hiatus last year with their first studio album since 2018. "Don't Call Me" was a departure from their usual contemporary R&B style, with the members taking on a more trap-inspired vibe. The song is effortlessly catchy and explores a new side of the group that we hope to see more of in the future.
1. 'Butter' – BTS
Despite not releasing an album or EP in 2021, BTS dominated not only the summer but also the charts and radio with "Butter." The song was the longest-running No. 1 single on the Billboard 100 of 2021, won Favorite Pop/Rock Song at the American Music Awards and is nominated for Best Pop Group/Duo Performance at the 2022 Grammy Awards. Plus, it may have been the smoothest (and catchiest) release of the entire year.
Love discovering the newest artists in K-pop? Click HERE to read our interview with rising K-pop girl group bugAboo.