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Best Korean Albums of 2021

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best Korean albums of 2021!

(G)I-DLE kicked off 2021 by sweeping charts and music show trophies with their fourth mini-album I burn, though the members later spent the rest of the year primarily focusing on solo activities. The group's resident hitmaker So Yeon is still unstoppable as she produces yet another banger. Accompanied by a mix of Moombahton beats and traditional East Asian music, title track HWAA, meaning both "flower" and "fire," signifies the fierce and passionate flames in the heart after letting go of a past love. Despite its title, I burn comes across rather cold and melancholic. It sets a somber winter mood with the intro HANN (Alone in Winter), and follows with pieces like the soulful R&B LOST, the mid-tempo Moombahton-based DAHLIA about chasing after a toxic love, and MOON which reflects their wish to hide from the moonlight and be alone. With more members joining as songwriters, I burn is remarkable and meaningful to (G)I-DLE in many ways. It's also their highest-selling album to date!

AKMU - Next Episode
You can never go wrong with AKMU! Four years after Summer Episode, Chan Hyuk and Su Hyun unveil their Next Episode, collaborating with a star-packed lineup of songwriters and featured artists. AKMU expands their music palette and showcases their musicality by trying out diverse genres with different artists who also bring their own unique qualities. Lee Sun Hee shows her pure and dreamlike vocals in the retro synth-style Hey Kid, Close Your Eyes, IU stretches her wide vocal range in the playful and captivating NAKKA, Zion.T adds a chill vibe to the summery Bench, Beenzino gives a hip-hop twist to the rhythmical "Tictoc Tictoc Tictoc," Jannabi's Choi Jung Hoon acts as a storyteller in the stirring retro rock-pop "Next Episode," Crush soulfully sings a Stupid Love Song in the R&B duet, and Sam Kim croons in his charismatic voice in the empowering anthem Everest. Together with Chan Hyuk's songwriting talents and Su Hyun's awe-inspiring vocal performance, this collection of masterpieces gives listeners utmost solace and pleasure.

Chung Ha - Querencia
New-generation K-pop diva Chung Ha belatedly presents her first full-length album four years after debut, and it's packed with 21 genre-hopping tracks. Divided into four parts showing different themes and styles, Querencia first explores her authentic self in "Noble" (Side A), with the strong R&B pop-trap Bicycle and Masquerade. She showcases her "Savage" and lively spirit in Side B with the dreamy Stay Tonight, Dream of You and the bouncy "Chill." As the album proceeds, it escorts us to a world of "Unknown" with rhythmical and poignant tracks like the reggaeton Latin-pop Play featuring Chang Mo and the ballad BYULHARANG lovingly dedicated to her fans. Querencia ends with her observations on "Pleasure," including the modern pop rock number X, the seductive All Night Long written by Baek Ye Rin, the R&B ballad "Everybody Has," and Comes N Goes which spreads positivity. Querencia is unquestionably a milestone in Chung Ha's music career as she takes a step forward to the world stage with more global pop hits.


After tugging at heartstrings with the sentimental RE-CODE, CNBLUE is back to rock 'n' roll in the EP WANTED. Reminiscent of the band's early 2010s releases, WANTED features five self-penned rock anthems in their signature style led by Jung Yong Hwa's powerful voice. The lead single "Love Cut" unleashes a cool but subtly down mood while declaring the determination to cut off a toxic relationship. The blend of rock and disco elements, along with the addictive whistles of western cowboy music, just makes us keep going back to this song. Apart from "Love Cut," CNBLUE brings more of their characteristic band sound in the funky 99% and the modern rock number "Nothing." They also go mild and tender for the mid-tempo rock ballad Hold Me Back composed by Jung Shin, and wrap up with the sweet and serene Time Capsule.

Hoppipolla - And Then There Was Us
Keyboard, guitar and cello sounds mingle in harmony in Hoppipolla's world of music. In their second mini-album, the Super Band Season 1 champion continues to heal souls with self-produced pieces carried by I'll and Ha Hyun Sang's emotional vocals and falsettos. Their tender compositions and poetic lyrics dive into the deepest corners of your heart, such as "Your Ocean" where they promise to never let go, "Unnatural" which describes the unsettling feelings of facing changes, and "Mom" which gives voice to the words we find hard to express to our loved ones. And Then There Was Us is the best album to put on loop for a whole day and relish in some peace of mind.

A finalist on Super Band Season 1 like Hoppipolla, LUCY has been very different from other bands since the beginning. Notable for melding synthpop and ambience sounds with guitar, bass, drum and violin, LUCY comforts hearts and brings joy with their stirring second EP. Blue freshens up minds and souls with six songs, including the uplifting and refreshing title track "Rolling Rolling" that reminds us to take some time off from our busy lives. There's also the alternative pop rock "You're Right" that suits well with their airy voices, the sweet serenade "Dream," and some bluesy acoustic rock ballads. Vocal-wise, LUCY may not be the strongest, but their unique compositions and the way they showcase the distinctiveness of each instrument make them a Korean band that surely deserves more recognition.

ONF - ONF: My Name

Before heading off to military service, ONF brought three albums in total this year, of which their first full-length album, ONF: My Name, is the most well-received and successful. It's all about self-love now, and Beautiful Beautiful is the empowering K-pop anthem of 2021 you need to hear. The funky house number comes with inspiring lyrics that comfort and enlighten: "So you know we have a galaxy in hearts of all. Tears are droppin' after overcoming darkness. We become brilliant stars." Showing off their dynamic vocals, ONF pulls off different concepts and genres in the album, like the dreamy synth-pop The Realist, the feel-good and upbeat "Trip Advisor," the pleasant ballad I.T.I.L.U and two contrasting unit tracks. As always, ONF delivers on-point vocal performances blended into well-made compositions from their regular producer Hwang Hyun.

Pentagon - LOVE or TAKE

Just when you thought Pentagon was going to be K-pop's Heartbreak Hotel based on last year's sad releases, they unexpectedly jump back to young and fresh mode in their cutesy comic-themed 11th mini-album LOVE or TAKE. This "romance manhwa" comprises seven chapters, each representing a love story of its own. In the main chapter, they play it cool with a crush in the refreshing and cheery pop-rock title track DO or NOT, arguably one of the best K-pop hits of the year. The heartwarming Baby I Love You, the self-assured electronic dance plug That's Me, the catchy "Sing-a-song" and Hui's solo track "Boy in time" about looking back on the past all add up to complete Pentagon's youthful melodrama. Released in the spring, LOVE or TAKE undoubtedly conveys the feeling of blossoming romance with its sweet and bright tunes.

TXT - The Chaos Chapter: Fight or Escape
Turning a new page in their music journey, TXT surprises with a drastic change in music and style for The Chaos Chapter compared to their previous The Dream Chapter and minisode1 series. As the repackage of their second full album, The Chaos Chapter: Fight or Escape gets across the boys' chaotic, complex state of mind when encountering love. The emo pop punk plug LO$ER=LO♡ER and the hybrid pop rock number 0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) capture the quintet becoming more mature, bold, fearless and assertive, yet still sparkling with youthful teen spirit while voicing the yearning to be loved. Tae Hyun's powerful singing and growls elevate the emotions in both title tracks. The B-sides are also excellent, including the electronic pop Anti-Romantic, their disco-pop first English single Magic, the dreamy hip-hop style "What if I had been that PUMA," the refreshing retro funk pop No Rules, the fan song "MOA Diary," and the trap-based hyperpop Frost.

Wendy - Like Water
Following a yearlong hiatus, Red Velvet's Wendy came back better and stronger by flexing her vocals to the fullest in her first solo album. Wendy, with her calm, soothing and ethereal voice that's Like Water, serenely sings five stories of different sentiments. She reassures us that it's fine to take a break from life in the slow-tempo ballad When This Rain Stops. She finds a precious love that she can count on in the folksy acoustic pop ballad Like Water. She cutely confesses to her crush in the groovy pop R&B Why Can't You Love Me? She recalls a past relationship in the emotionally charged modern rock ballad "The Road." Finally, she celebrates her friendship with bandmate Seul Gi in the melodious ballad Best Friend. Bluesy and tranquil, Like Water guides us on a journey through the various emotions of everyday life.

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Published December 28, 2021

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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