As we hold on to the pieces of normalcy to break free from the pandemic-induced nightmare, the K-pop industry displayed its undeniable power to enter the global scene in 2021.
Groups and soloists challenged boundaries as they experimented with electro-pop, disco, punk, rock, R&B, and other genres. Majority of this year’s comebacks or debuts became a source of comfort for fans—while taking their identity to the next level. So, without further ado, here’s our list of the 21 best K-pop title tracks of 2021.
21. Ready to Love by SEVENTEEN
Ready to Love is probably one of SEVENTEEN’s most timeless tracks. It opens with a sentimental introduction until it quickly builds up with a thumping beat to set its tone. The dose of energy feels almost pop-rock, with no signs of slowing down until its final chorus. The song is an example of a constant melody without sounding too boring. Definitely a song that aged like fine wine.
God-tier: Ready to Love might not be as powerful as SEVENTEEN’s previous tracks, but it’s an ode to their maturity.
20. Bad Love by Key
Bad Love is an experience. It’s nostalgic, strange, powerful, and unapologetically Key. There’s something inspiring about seeing an artist embrace their weirdness and uniqueness—and this track is the best example. The warped synth and metal clangs combined with his powerful voice is a treat, which almost feels like you’re entering the future. In a great way.
God-tier: As soon as Bad Love starts, you know this song feels like Key in his rawest form.
19. Luna by ONEUS
Luna feels like ONEUS’ ode to Korean culture, as it starts off with the traditional gayageum before jumping into the trends. The track is a work of art as the boy group embraced their roots while seamlessly allowing their vocals to immerse into the modern sound. It almost feels like you’re being sucked into a time travel K-drama with its zigzag instrumental elements. A masterpiece.
God-tier: It’s hard to miss out on the traditional Korean instruments combined with the disco-wave trend in K-pop. Well done.
18. Don’t Call Me by SHINee
SHINee never sticks to one genre—and Don’t Call Me is solid proof. The surging emotion of the group as they raise their middle fingers to a former lover is perfectly encapsulated in the overwhelming, yet satisfying track. The pre-chorus seems repetitive for some, but it acts as the appetizer to the main course: their impressive vocals that shined all throughout the track.
God-tier: Key’s sassy intro rap “I don’t want you back, don’t call me / I keep saying there’s no next time in your life” is a bold reminder that SHINee is indeed back.
17. Dimples by Woosung
In an interview with NME, Woosung revealed that Dimples “just happened.” How? Because the ‘80s inspired, synthwave-driven track is probably one of his best releases as a soloist. His fluttery vocal style shines all throughout the song and while its ascending chorus seems too simple for some—it actually works. It’s the perfect balance to the (sometimes) overwhelming synthwave without adding more details.
God-tier: If you’re too dense to understand the chorus, allow us to translate it for you: Woosung wants you to swim in your dimples.
16. Rose by D.O.
Amid a stream of noisy, hip-thrust macho madness, D.O. proved he can stand out by staying true to his musical roots. Rose is an acoustic, almost straightforward song that’s enough to send female fans in a kilig-induced frenzy by just singing about how “pretty” his lover is. In true Do Kyungsoo fashion, he stuck to his guns with this track—and delivered.
God-tier: We’re not sure if D.O. was writing a song or a love letter because those lyrics sent us in a lovesick swoon.
15. The Weekend by BIBI and 88rising
BIBI is one of this year’s surprise stars, albeit overdue, with her relatable and straightforward lyrics. And thank God, The Weekend (with 88rising) is a reminder of why she’s here to stay. The slick, disco-inspired track is a desperate plea to a lover about why “aren’t you into me” before jumping into the catchy chorus that’s easy to sing-along—and cry while chugging a bottle of liquor.
God-tier: “You only call me on the weekend / You only love me when we freaking / You got me jumping off the deep end / You only call me on the weekend” — ouch.
14. Savage by Aespa
Next Level put Aespa on the map, while Savage sealed their fate as one of the strongest girl groups today. The synth-heavy, experimental, disjointed track is an example of chaos done right as it allows listeners to know more about their unique lore. Savage is unpredictable and thrilling, taking us into an exciting four-minute ride that leaves us wanting more.
God-tier: Ningning and Winter’s vocal acrobatics throughout the track are enough to send us screaming.
13. Door by Kwon Eunbi
Kwon Eunbi has always been a strong vocalist since her IZ*ONE days. However, Door is the fitting whiplash that listeners needed to fall completely into her spell. The track follows a jazzy, electro-swing melody that strikes a perfect balance between sexy and dreamy. Frankly, this type of sound is not new. However, it’s the Roaring Twenties combined with the Alice in Wonderland-esque vibe that makes it a powerful debut.
God-tier: That moment in the bridge where Eunbi seduces you with her low voice—then hits us with a belt. Chef’s kiss.
12. Unnatural by WJSN
WJSN has always been flirting with their mature side for quite some time, but it’s Unnatural that allowed them to fully unleash their inner dangerous woman. The dark-atmospheric synth melody is the right amount of spice they needed to show off their strong vocals. At the same time, the see-saw between its subdued and explosive vibe is the perfect way to turn up any party.
God-tier: The sensual, echo-y preview is the perfect tease to the vocal-heavy, powerful chorus.
11. Eleven by IVE
The moment IVE debuted with the powerful Eleven and fans were confused about their concept—that’s when we knew Starship Entertainment found a winner. The tribal-like percussion combined with the six members’ powerful voices is the perfect way to establish themselves as the rookie girl group to watch out for. Based on this track, we’re pretty sure IVE is going for a chic, luxurious concept.
God-tier: The slow-mo refrain by sassy Rei and Leeseo is the perfect build-up to the powerful chorus.
10. Butter by BTS
With a group as powerful as BTS, it’s easy to slack off since they’re bound to hit the charts. Yet Butter proved haters wrong as they showed off their undeniable charm and musical growth. Starting off with a kick drum that’s “smooth like butter” and maintaining the momentum with its snappy lyrics and hard-to-resist sex appeal, it’s easy to know why Butter is one of their biggest tracks yet.
God-tier: Sorry, Jungkook and Jimin. It looks like V and Jin won us over with their vocals in this track.
9. Vivace by LIGHTSUM
Fairytale concepts are long overdue in K-pop with groups like WJSN and IZ*ONE suiting them like a glove. Luckily, LIGHTSUM showed they can take listeners to a whimsical dream with Vivace as well. The elegant, electropop track is a step in the right direction in their girl group journey, taking listeners on a euphoric crescendo until its final note.
God-tier: Chowon starting off the chorus with a powerful and dreamlike bang is a statement of her star power.
8. Favorite (Vampire) by NCT 127
Five years into their career, NCT 127 proved they will always have fans on their toes on what to expect. Favorite (Vampire) is no different. This track appears more laidback compared to their previous releases, but its flute-like melody and heavenly vocals of the members took listeners on an exciting ride. Experimenting has always been their strongest suit and this time, it’s their vocals that pushed its boundaries.
God-tier: We thought Haechan and Jungwoo’s “Without regrets, baby” are heart-fluttering enough, but Jaehyun’s “You are my favorite” sent us screaming.
7. Lilac by IU
Saying goodbye to your youth always feels bittersweet, but Lilac showed that breaking up with your younger self doesn’t always have to be heartbreaking. IU has always been open about maturity but compared to Palette and Twenty-Three, this track feels more intimate as she fully embraces her 30s. This song is the perfect title track after a four-year wait for her latest album.
God-tier: It’s been 13 years since IU’s debut, yet Lilac proved that her voice is still as dreamy as ever.
6. ASAP by STAYC
ASAP is a whimsical, flute-like breath of fresh air as it feels like an ode to K-pop’s 2nd Generation—with STAYC’s high-teen flair. There’s something so nostalgic, fun, and timeless about this track that’s released during the outpour of noise music nowadays. Hats off to Black Eyed Pilseung, the master of easy-to-listen bops, for this track. The songwriting duo never lost their touch.
God-tier: The catchy “ASAP! Whoo-woo-oo” at the end of the chorus. Need to say more?
5. HWAA by (G)I-DLE
There are many detailed elements to the spellbinding HWAA that command listeners to pay attention. At first, it seems like a typical pop track since it maintains an even tempo until its final note, but what drives the song home is how (G)I-DLE managed to deliver its strong meaning without being too overwhelming. Of course, who can forget the traditional Asian instruments in its instrumental? Outstanding.
God-tier: Soyeon’s songwriting talent shines throughout the track as the lyrics paint a picture of someone’s fiery passion to burn any traces of fear.
4. 0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) by TXT feat. Seori
0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) is a strong reminder of why the K-pop industry needs to explore its inner emo. With its thundering backbone and the rawness of TXT’s vocals, this track is too explosive to be ignored. Of course, the lyrics which tell the story of an emotional and messed-up person who’s struggling for love are the cherry-on-top to a masterful track.
God-tier: Huening Kai blasting “I'm full of problems lovesick / No way to go / I was fine to die / I’m a loser in this game” is powerful and relatable.
3. The Feels by TWICE
TWICE is known for songs that send listeners to a teenage dream—and The Feels is the best way to enter the Western market. The bright, retro track is a picture-perfect way to describe the shot of kilig towards a lover. Another noteworthy factor is how confident all nine members sound with their feels—compared to the typical shyness of someone with a crush.
God-tier: When Nayeon starts the chorus with “You have stolen my heart oh yeah” then Jihyo follows up with “Lightning straight to my heart oh yeah” is classic TWICE—but better.
2. Bambi by Baekhyun
Of course, Baekhyun made sure to (temporarily) leave with a sexy banger before enlisting in the military. Listening to Bambi feels like he’s luring you into his spell—until you realize it’s impossible to escape. Baekhyun has always released panty-dropping R&B hits since his soloist debut, but he outdid himself with this one. Perhaps, a glimpse of what to expect after his discharge?
God-tier: The moment Baekhyun sensually croons “No other answer is needed / Because you're my favorite” in the beginning, we’re a goner.
1. After School by Weeekly
One has to have a heart of stone if listening to Weeekly’s After School didn’t put a smile on your face. With its fast-paced tempo, refreshing melody, and adorable lyrics about the end of classes, this track is bubblegum-pop heaven. As the song seamlessly moves towards its final note, you can’t help but reminisce about the bliss of face-to-face classes especially when school is over. This track went viral on TikTok for a good reason.
God-tier: That moment on the bridge when Monday belts out the lyrics “ride and fly,” then Jihan starts off the final chorus with a bang. Iconic.