2020 Year-End K-Pop Recap (& Honorable Mentions)

Well… 2020 was certainly different, wasn’t it?

It was a year where the industry couldn’t function as usual, but that didn’t stop K-pop from churning out more music than ever. It was a year of unprecedented international success and rising album sales — just as most other music markets struggled to move physical product. It was a year divided sharply in half, from the seemingly unfocused hodgepodge of trends during the first six months, to the injection of retro synth-pop as a re-emergent force in K-pop’s evolution.

2020 saw some promising rookies face growing pains in their second year, while others pushed their sound in unexpected directions. Legends of the industry made satisfying comebacks, and a few new groups stole my attention.

It was also a big year for The Bias List. Readership doubled year over year, and at the time of this writing we’re approaching almost 10,000 comments in 2020. I want to thank all of the contributors – both old and new, frequent and sporadic. The community that’s sprung up within the comments section is one of the most rewarding parts of this blog. And even though I no longer have time to reply to each comment individually, I do read each and every one.

Counting the entry you’re reading right now, 2020 has totaled 792 individual posts so far, adding up to around 313,000 words. That’s like… three novels! This includes some big projects, like my personal ranking of the Top 50 K-pop Songs of All-Time, episode recaps for Road to Kingdom and I-LAND, the third “season” of K-Pop A-Z with f(x) and the weekly “Looking Back” series, which took an overview of individual months from 2011-13 (and will go even further back next year!).

In 2020, I made a concerted effort to bring a little more J-pop to the blog. This is something I plan to continue doing, and it will culminate in an expanded countdown later in the month. And though I wouldn’t have expected it, this year I found myself absolutely captivated by K and J-dramas. It all started with the boredom of quarantine, and just expanded from there. I may try to find a way to work this into a countdown of some sort. We’ll see! 

As far as this year’s main countdown is concerned, the eligibility rules remain the same:

  1. A song must have been released as a title track between December 1, 2019 and November 30, 2020. Other songs (ONF’s New World, Yukika’s Yesterday, etc) will be part of the “b-sides and album tracks” list. After some thought, I’ve decided to be more strict about this in 2020.
  2. A song must be paired with a full music video.
  3. Japanese singles by K-pop artists will be part of the J-pop countdown

Given how strange 2020 felt in K-pop, this year’s top 50 also feels a bit left-field. But, that doesn’t mean it’s bad! In fact, I think this is one of my most balanced years yet, offering the chance for many different acts and genres to shine. There’s a good mix of big-name and underrated artists. Quite a few heavy hitters who usually feature prominently on my countdowns are completely absent this year, which feels weirdly disconcerting. It just goes to show how unpredictable the K-pop market is.

As usual, this list is completely my own opinion, meaning those of you who know my taste well will have a pretty good idea of the biases that went into creating the countdown. With that said, hopefully there will be a few surprises here and there. And if you’re new to K-pop or don’t follow it closely, I hope you come away discovering a treasure or two!

I’ll see you all tomorrow for the kickoff of the Top 50 list, and the official kickoff of “countdown season” here on The Bias List! For now, here are the ten songs that didn’t quite make it onto the main list, followed by a couple of C-pop tracks that soundtracked my 2020.

60. Chungha – Stay Tonight (review)

59. Rocket Punch – Bouncy (review)

58. Moonbin & Sanha – Bad Idea (review)

57. Dongkiz – All I Want Is You (review)

56. Stray Kids – God’s Menu (review)

55. NCT U – Make A Wish (review)

54. KEEMBO – Scandalous (review)

53. Park Jihoon – Wing (review)

52. Lee Suhyun – Alien (review)

51. Secret Number – Got That Boom (review)

Wu Jiacheng – Wild Island (full review)

WARPs UP – Hali Gali (full review)

Oner – Gamer