This is the sixth year I've done this, which makes me like a grand old man of K-pop. I have now been a fan for nearly a decade, which has gone fast, and it seems amazing that so little remains of the scene that saved me from becoming a retro-indie bore, snoring on about how music peaked with the third Belle and Sebastian album or something. Anyway, in a totally too-old-to-be-hipster kind of way, it has been a bit sublime to see what felt like my own little world - one which took me to China for three years for the express purpose of blowing my wages on travel to a number of very costly concerts - now become so mainstream that I can find the albums in my local HMV. I usually mention the Dazed list in this introduction, but honestly - it's so disappointing this year (and I've always thought a list which in 2014 never even had Sugar Free in its top 20 eyebrow-raising anyway), I am not going to post a link.
Anyone (and I know it will be just a few) reading this has probably stumbled upon my blog accidentally or has some interest in K-pop already, so you already know some of the story of 2020. Nonetheless, here is a quick summary...
BTS ruled supreme with Swan, which is not (at the risk of upsetting the 'army') especially remarkable, Mamamoo, whose 2020 singles were not as strong as usual, splintered into a number of solo presentations (I've listed Hwasa as the best) as did EXO, with Suho's superior effort threatening to sound like a Bends-era Radiohead song from those opening notes. COVID-19 compromised the MAMA Awards and, of course, concerts, whilst many of the major names had disappointing comebacks - I wasn't too taken by Stray Kids, it's fine and all but it sounds less grand than usual, or Seventeen. The latest bout of A-Pink sugary-pop (described as 'a sophisticated sound' by Dazed, dear lord) was far too sickly and Loona's big moment made my head hurt. Maybe I'm (finally) too old? Judge for yourself, after all I am the fella who thought BTS sounded like a less interesting version of B.A.P. when they first emerged. I did like A.C.E. - number one for Dazed - but it doesn't make my list whilst, four years later, and I am still not sold on Weki Meki. Otherwise, 2020 was a good, solid year for the Korean pop scene - not as strong as the pre-2016 era, but about as healthy and exciting as you could hope, with a number of mature and maudlin songs, which might surprise some who are listening for the first time.
And The Guardian still doesn't list K-pop music in its best albums of the year, so we can at least have some comfort in the fact the 'establishment' remain slow to catch on.
K-pop moves fast, but the true classics are songs that endure forever. I can't imagine anyone will remember Weki Meki in four year's time. But they will probably still be listening to my number one choice for 2020. So without further ado, and with all sarcasm now at a limit, let's see what this year had to offer...
20) Siyeon - 'Paradise'
What? Really? Yes, in totally unexpected fashion, I am starting this year off with a heart-wrenching ballad, one that actually preceded the pandemic and which is just absolutely beautiful. Came along unexpectedly, pulled at the emotions and showed that Dreamcatcher are more than 'just' another leggy K-pop girl-group producing absolute bangers for over half a decade now. An exceptional 4.05 minutes of lovelorn emotion that, in the wake of such a sorry year, might provoke the feelings of even the biggest bigoted-Brexit buff (scrap that, this comment could be a little bit too hopeful, plus it's not got Liam Gallagher in it).
19) Hyo - 'Dessert' (featuring Loopy and Soyeon)