In terms of albums, these names below will make 2020 more fulfilled.
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- Watch: BTS’s Jungkook Defies Gravity In “3D” MV Featuring Jack Harlow
Not just a single song, an album contains the main story and how the artists want that story to be carried to their audience. Therefore, it has more effect to touch the audience's heart and soul. Because of counting as a whole, an album needs more aspects to judge or calculate its quality. And these 10 albums below have shown their power to do that successfully, as redefining the year 2020 of K-Pop.
"Map of the soul: 7" - BTS
Produced during the pandemic, Be brought calm and comfort to many this fall. But BTS’ Map of the Soul: 7, released back in February, is the septet’s artistically intricate masterpiece of the year. The generous offering of 20 tracks spanning an hour and 14 minutes allowed listeners to digest and dissect its complexities as the world transitioned to a period of isolation and quarantine.
The album cycles through moments of introspection on BTS’ seven-year journey—from reflecting on the beginning of their career (“We are Bulletproof: the Eternal”) to boldly declaring that they welcome the pain that comes with their current level of fame and success (“On”). “Black Swan” is the project’s most arresting track: over serene guitar plucks, the members express the disturbing fear of losing passion for their craft. “The heart no longer races when hearing the music play,” Suga raps. “Oh that would be my first death I been always afraid of.”
"Dystopia: The Tree of Language" - DREAMCATCHER
Across the K-pop spectrum, some musical genres are more widespread than others. DREAMCATCHER has taken an unconventional path and carved a niche with rock at the core of the group’s musical identity.
The act’s first full-length album since it debuted in 2017, Dystopia: The Tree of Language is DREAMCATCHER’s best release yet. Throughout 13 tracks grounded in the artists’ rich vocals, they blend this rock sound with different influences including EDM (“Scream”), Latin (“Red Sun”) and R&B (“Daybreak”). “Jazz Bar,” although less heavy on the rock influences, is the most transporting track on the album, with a simple melody and light piano chords that whisk you away to the dimmed corner of a jazz bar.
"In Life" - Stray Kids
To get an idea of Stray Kids’ nascent but prolific career, look no further than the group’s two 2020 Korean albums: Go Live, released in June and consisting of 14 tracks, and the repackaged version, titled In Life, released three months later with eight new tracks. This rate of output is made all the more impressive by Stray Kids’ heavy involvement in songwriting, which three members—Bang Chan, Changbin and Han, who produce music under the sub-unit name 3RACHA—have taken part in since the act’s pre-debut songs. Both Go Live and In Life offer a feast of dynamic hooks and festive vibes, but In Life has the slight upper hand in no small part because it introduced the lead single “Back Door”—a high-energy track brimming with pizzazz (and one of TIME’s 10 Best Songs of 2020).
The other additions, which include both group songs and sub-unit releases that create more space to highlight each member’s vocal color, see a narrative weaved across cutting off old ties (“Ex,” “B Me”) and strengthening new bonds (“My Universe.”)
"BLOOM*IZ" - IZ*ONE
While the fierce and bold girl crush image has become increasingly popular in K-pop, IZ*ONE has stayed unapologetically sweet and cute. The 12-member act’s first full-length album, BLOOM*IZ, is a welcome addition to the group’s kaleidoscopic discography—IZ*ONE is quite literally multicolored, with each artist having an official, designated pastel shade.
BLOOM*IZ showcases the group at its best, serving up a sonic palette of colors that demonstrates the varied hues and tints in bubblegum pop. There’s the rosy stroke from the chipper “Pink Blusher,” the galactic brush from the bouncy “Spaceship” and the rainbow splash from the album’s title track, “Fiesta,” as described by the lyrics: “When the flowers of various colors bloom and the flower petals flutter off/ The party is at its peak.”
"Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 2" - Taemin
There’s something bewitching about Taemin’s voice. It’s delicate but not weak, breathy but not lacking substance—something like a gentle caress to the ear. This vocal timbre is at the center of Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 2, one of the most cohesive-sounding 2020 releases. Each track spotlights the SHINee and SuperM member’s singing against a backdrop of instrumentals that gradually soften in progression from the album’s first track to the last.
“Idea,” the opener and lead single, features a resounding orchestral bassline while the songs that follow immediately, “Heaven” and “Impressionable,” are marked by deep choral vocals. But the album takes a turn starting with “Be Your Enemy”—an ethereal duet with singer Wendy from Red Velvet—ending with “Identity,” where, for most of the song, deep exhalations replace a percussion section to keep the rhythm.
"ALL ABOUT LUV" - Monsta X
Though ALL ABOUT LUV made headlines this year for being the first all-English album from a K-pop group in more than a decade, the project isn’t just notable for its linguistic direction. Sweet tunes, dulcet harmonies and tender falsettos abound in songs that range from bouncy electro-pop jams (“Love U,” “Someone’s Someone”) to gentle, synth-infused ballads (“She’s the One,” “Misbehave”).
Better known for their aggressive, anthemic bangers, the members of Monsta X here unleash a soft and sensual side as they teasingly sing some of K-pop’s most suggestive lyrics. “I really, really wanna love you/ But I can’t say the word I want to/ ‘Cause they won’t play it on the radio,” the chorus of “Love U” goes. Rappers Joohoney and I.M get a special nod for flexing their singing pipes in this vocal-centric album.
"Eyes Wide Open" - TWICE
The introduction of “I Can’t Stop Me” alone makes TWICE’s Eyes Wide Open album one of the most remarkable of the year. The nine-member group combined retro influences from the ‘80s with its signature cheery sound for this lead single that is an instant earworm. But it appears on the Best Albums section of this round-up rather than the Best Songs section for a reason: the 12 other tracks from this release, connected by a running theme of light versus darkness, are just as strong.
The concept begins in “I Can’t Stop Me” as the chorus says, “I’m surrounded by that spot, spot spotlight/ As it shines on me, I’m swept into the darkness.” This idea extends into “Up No More” which describes spending dark nights alone, to “Say Something,” which paints a picture of waiting for someone under the moonlight. The songs are less about love than they are about feeling torn between the angel and the devil perched on one’s shoulders. What’s captivating about Twice is that even as they sing about inner turmoil, the words are expressed through sweet-toned voices and upbeat tunes—giving the listener a reassuring, revitalizing hug.
Super One, SuperM
In 2019, supergroup SuperM debuted to much pomp and circumstance—the act brought together seven of SM Entertainment’s star idols from the groups SHINee, EXO, NCT 127 and WayV. While SuperM’s first track “Jopping” raised questions about the group’s sonic direction as the song was arguably more embraced for its contribution to memes (“jopping,” a portmanteau of “jumping” and “popping,” is now a part of K-pop vernacular) than to music, Super One proves that this group of artists is here to leave a musical legacy.
The range of songs provide accompaniment to every activity one might do in isolation: the hard-hitting title track, “One (Monster & Infinity),” and pre-release single (“100”) can heat up a solo dance party; the ballad (“Better Days”) about this “world full of uncertainty” can inspire a cathartic quarantine cry. But Super One’s high point is the energetic, springy “Wish You Were Here,” whose catchy refrain that begins with “Ba-ba, ba-ra” echoes in the memory long after the album’s final notes have played.
回:Walpurgis Night, GFRIEND
The pandemic certainly did not halt GFRIEND’s musical progress. In one year, the nearly six-year-old group released three albums of varied lengths for the series “回”—a Sino-Korean word meaning to “turn around” or to “return.” But instead of going backward, the six members forge a new path forward with the magical and mystical Walpurgis Night. With tracks packaged tightly around a renewed identity (“Mago,” “GRWM”) and an empowered self (“Better Me,” “Wheel of the Year”), the album stands out for its thematic cohesion—and with a theme particularly resonant in a year when isolation has perhaps created more space for personal reflection.
GFRIEND’s 2020 journey is also reflected in the structure of Walpurgis Night, through the inclusion of the group’s lead singles released in February (“Crossroads”) and July (“Apple”). And whereas these songs focused on feeling lost and facing temptations as their respective titles suggest, the final track on this album, “Wheel of the Year,” is about trusting the heart’s compass as one runs toward an unknown destination. It’s apt advice for a moment like this as the pandemic promises to keep getting worse before it gets better.
The Book of Us: The Demon, DAY6
One of the most emotionally impactful songs of the year is, ironically, delivered without any trace of emotion. That is no accident. Day6’s “Zombie” zeroes in on feeling void of purpose—“Breathin’, but I’ve been dyin’ inside/ Nothin’ new and nothin’ feels right,” vocalist Young K opens in the English version—and its message is boosted by the singers’ monotonous tone and cyclical drum beats.
Day6 is not the only band in K-pop (the group is formed by musicians on the guitar, bass, keyboard and drums) but it has consistently produced some of the most stirring songs. Besides “Zombie,” plenty of tracks on The Book of Us: The Demon boast memorably penetrating lyrics. The band mourns the end of a relationship in “Tick Tock” and wrestles between letting go and holding on in “Afraid.” The album may not be an all-out remedy for pain itself, but it certainly holds the power to make listeners feel less alone in their own.