The Top 10 K-Pop Artists of 2020

A day after ranking my favorite rookies of 2020, it’s time to look at K-pop’s more established artists. This year, the criteria is the same as it’s always been:

  1. Quality of work
  2. Quantity of work
  3. Influence of work on the industry

As usual, the first criteria far outweighs the next two, and is entirely subjective. This is not a countdown of the most successful acts in 2020. If it was, we’d see BTS and BLACKPINK at the top. This is a celebration of the groups/artists that really shaped the year for me. Rookies are ineligible, as they have their own countdown.

Honorable Mentions:
ATEEZ
SuperM
Everglow
ITZY
Woodz
NCT

2020 END-OF-YEAR MASTERPOST


10. CHUNGHA

That long-promised album may have never materialized in 2020, but Chungha still released a steady stream of new music throughout the year. Across this run of singles, she tackled a variety of genres while solidifying her place as this generation’s dance diva to beat.

Last Year: n/a

2020 Singles: Everybody Has, Stay Tonight, My Friend, Be Yourself, Play, Bad Boy, Dream Of You


9. TWICE

Twice continue to release solid music. Their singles were hit and miss this year, but they make it on the list largely due to their great full album Eyes Wide Open. It feels like the girls have really entered a new stage in their career, and it doesn’t feel forced or rehashed. They know their strengths, and showcase them well.

Last Year: 4

2020 Singles: More & More, Fanfare, I Can’t Stop Me, Better


8. A.C.E

A.C.E may not release a ton of new music each year, but they’ve managed to deliver an outsized ratio of modern classics. Across one mini album in 2020, they scored two tracks on my year-end list, highlighted by the daring Goblin. Their members are also gaining some well-deserved recognition in the industry, and I have a feeling that 2021 could be big for them.

Last Year: n/a

2020 Singles: Stand By You, Goblin (Favorite Boys)


7. STRAY KIDS

Though Stray Kids didn’t conquer my top ten singles list like they did last year, they released a ton of material in 2020. And, a lot of it was very strong. They also continue to be some of this generation’s most dynamic performers, showcasing that on music shows and ceremonies. This year saw them branching out to Japan with a pair of strong singles, as their international sales exploded.

Last Year: 2

2020 Singles: On Track, TOP, God’s Menu, Blueprint, Easy, Hello Stranger, Back Door, Ex, Any, All In


6. TXT

Given the strength of their 2019, I would have expected TXT to vault all the way to the top of this list. But, a mixed bag of releases lands them in the middle instead. Still, they remain one of K-pop’s most exciting prospects, and this was only cemented by their excellent Minisode mini album in October. With a burgeoning Japanese career, their discography seems ready to grow bigger and more diverse next year. And (fingers crossed) it feels like Big Hit is finally realizing that these guys are at their best when they go pure pop.

Last Year: n/a

2020 Singles: Can’t You See Me, Puma, Eternally, Drama, Blue Hour, We Lost The Summer


5. SUNMI

Without an actual 2020 album to her name, Sunmi still scores a high spot on this countdown. That’s thanks to two incredible singles — one on her own and one with mentor Park Jinyoung. She also released a great OST track and a more personal b-side track, and was more active on variety shows than in years past. Sometimes, it’s a matter of quality over quantity, and Sunmi definitely fit that description this year. Now, give us the album in 2021, please!

Last Year: n/a

2020 Singles: Gotta Go, Pporappippam, When We Disco (with JYP), Borderline


4. THE BOYZ

The Boyz had a remarkable year of growth, becoming mega album-sellers and showcasing their skill and creativity in the spring’s Road to Kingdom. I didn’t like all of their music this year, but I absolutely loved some of it. Members were incredibly active in 2020, whether that be on dramas or in variety, and it felt like there was constant buzz swirling around this group. With Kingdom on the horizon, they seem poised to break out even bigger in 2021.

Last Year: n/a

2020 Singles: Reveal, The Stealer, Christmassy!


3. OH MY GIRL

Speaking of breakouts, Oh My Girl were one of 2020’s biggest successes. They didn’t even release all that much music, but thanks to Nonstop and Dolphin, they had a stranglehold on the charts since early spring. With a strong solo debut from YooA, and Arin’s new job hosting Music Bank, the girls were a constant presence this year. I couldn’t be happier for them, even if I wish they would have delivered another album before year’s end!

Last Year: 8

2020 Singles: Nonstop, Bon Voyage (YooA solo), Etoile


2. GFRIEND

Becoming part of the Big Hit family turned out to be a major boon to GFriend, at least creatively. The girls did just what a group of their age should, shifting and maturing their sound without sacrificing their charms as a group. They found some great new collaborators in 2020 that helped forge this reinvention. This resulted in one of the most cohesive discographies this year. I may not have always loved the singles, but GFriend gave us some great 2020 b-sides. All three (!) of their albums were solid all the way through, which isn’t something you can say about every K-pop act. I’m excited to see where they take their music next.

Last Year: n/a

2020 Singles: Crossroads, Apple, MAGO


1. GOLDEN CHILD

After a relatively quiet 2019, Golden Child were very active this year. Releasing three title tracks (all of which appeared on my singles countdown), the guys finished their BLSSD-produced trilogy and followed it up with a bright pop confection that reminded us why we fell in love with their music in the first place. They delivered some ridiculously-strong b-sides, as usual, and grew their fandom thanks for a frustratingly short stint on Road to Kingdom. Bomin acted in the excellent 18 Again drama, while Jangjun showcased his unique sense of humor in his irreverent Jang Star series and Joochan starred in his first musical. As a fan, it was hard to ask for much more from the group in 2020. I hope that 2021 will be just a packed with great content.

Last Year: 7

2020 Singles: Without You, One (Lucid Dream), Pump It Up