Feature

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

37 thoughts on “The Top 10 K-Pop Artists of 2020

  1. Pingback: K-POP Best of 2020 Masterpost | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  2. Yes, I am on a role when it comes to predicting your award wins!!!

    A little surprised at some of the placements, and I definitely do not agree with all of them. Still, I find that there were some really amazing artists this year.

    Just a question, if you counted rookies for your artist countdowns, would any make the top 10?

    Like

  3. ATEEZ are one of my absolute favorite groups ever, Their level of quality has surpassed Seventeen and TXT (for me) .. but… they haven’t really released anything of this year. Fever was just a filler album to me, I want them to release more material but I understand that Mingi is on Hiatus so I think it’s much better if they tone down for a while…..

    but they are absolutely amazing performers, Answer was an amazing highlight and I hope they do what you recommended. Anyways, now on wards to different comments about Golden Child , GFriend and Onf… My other three favorite groups in the lead against them.

    Like

    • Also, what I mean by “do what you recommended” I mean this tweet:
      Now that ATEEZ’s Treasure series is over, where should they go next?

      Personally, I’d love to see a sci-fi, cyberpunk aesthetic with heavy electronic or techno influence in the music. I think they could do really cool things with that.

      Like

  4. There’s no way that a Sunmi album will be less than amazing. She’s really in her own lane. And, if someone deserves to have success with this retro synth-pop trend, that person is her!

    Like

  5. Onf Are Amazingly Amazing but….. What is what the sparse comebacks? Are WM obsessed in putting them on shows that they think that is much better than building Onf around their music?

    Onf have amazing vocalists and performers and they have their secret weapon: Hwang Hyun who can help them in their career.

    I just hope they channel their energy into something big and funky! Like,maybe, 2013 era SHINee? That sounds pretty amazing to me and I think they can certainly fullfil it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rather than 2013 SHINee (Drippin takes that), I would love to see them do something entirely new and interesting. Take maybe Rising Sun as an inspiration with a bit of Circle of Life and SHINee’s Everybody (I know, that is 2013 SHINee, but still), and then they have that sound which will give them SOTY awards left and right.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually that is not able to happen…. The SOTY Awards will go to BTS, even if they release something like this:

        Not hating on them, just saying that people are really unfair when it comes to stuff like this.

        Like

      • I Think Onf Would really know how to do that and I love if they do that! But DRIPPIN doing 2013 shinee doesn’t do right with me….. I want them to do more potent classic pop releases like INFINITE.

        Also, Can there be a group which will do Circle of Life? Pls, can there?

        Like

  6. I am still upset about GFriend not choosing Labyrinth, It’s not that I am upset About the fact that this was just another case of people choosing Good songs over lackluster material, or b-sides better than their respective songs….

    This is Probably Gonna be GFriend’s Peak and It wasn’t even a single! Labyrinth represents everything amazing about GFriend and adds an insurmountable instrumental riff, This might have been GFriend’s best song yet! and I am afraid that they won’t be able to top it…. because I want a group’s crowning achievement to be a single..

    but anyway, They had an amazing year! Mago was amazing, Their Albums were awesome and I think they are returning back to their old melodic power!

    Now, In 2021, I want something bigger and better than Labyrinth and I hope that happens.

    Like

  7. Ah… Golden Child! My favorite group after Infinite and The Best K-pop Group of their time! That’s down to their dynamic performances, powerful vocals and the Unflagging Energy produced by them, Their 2020 was absolutely amazing! OMG and Lean On Me were great and while they had less albums and even if the second one didn’t Impress me… they had like, Without You and One and Pump it Up. Which were all amazing!

    Now, For 2021 , I Want them to work with Sweetune, He is Golden Child’s Ideal type! dynamic performances, powerful vocals and the Unflagging Energy… just imagine the vocal arrangement in the choruses! THE CHORUSES! I can only imagine great stuff if they revive to work with him in 2021.

    With That saying, get well soon Jaehyun! am really rooting for you here!

    Also, Golden Child NEED their Insurmountable riff!

    Like

    • After Infinite , Boyfriend then Snuper………… Golden Child will follow for what’s to come next into the Sweetune Produced Saga, releasing amazing song after amazing song!

      Hoping this saga will lead to songs in the same vein:

      Like

  8. When I look back at the year there are a handful of comebacks that truly stuck with me, the kind that five years from now I will still remember well and A.C.E’s The Butterfly Phantasy was probably the strongest of them. There are so many underrepresented and underappreciated groups in Kpop as a whole; yet if I could magically snap my fingers and elevate only one of them to top tier prominence in the industry, I would pick A.C.E. They are truly exceptional in every way I can think of and all I wish for is for more people to recognize just how good they are.

    Like

    • I love WJSN’s discography this year (PANTOMIME (!) is a cultural reset, also HOLA and TRA-LA are great) but GFRIEND holds LABYRINTH (!), HERE WE ARE, ECLIPSE, EYE OF THE STORM, ROOM OF MIRRORS, TAROT CARDS (!), MAGO (!), LOVE SPELL, THREE OF CUPS, AND GWRM. GFRIEND is just a god-tier girlgroup for music at this moment. No one comes close.

      Like

    • I love WJSN… but this year they really had done almost nothing. Butterfly was an underwhelming title track (while it did grow on me). The Mini Album was Awesome! but…. the chocome sub unit song was really…not up to par.

      Also, GFriend had released three solid albums, So consistency was there and had an amazing reinvention this year(just like how Nick Pointed out) and like MARKLEXTERGARCIA (which is one of the best names of all time) pointed out, GFriend holds Labyrinth, Eye of the storm, Room of Mirrors, Tarot Cards, Mago , Love Spell, Three of Cups , GRWM and Their Influence was much, much better than WJSN.

      So………. I don’t see what you were trying to do here

      Liked by 2 people

    • I think you have a personal preference for WJSN which is fine. It wasn’t a stellar year for them the way it was for GF. I’m a fan of both and hoping to see more from WJSN soon. I just don’t see how you can convince yourself that they had similar output this year lol. Open your eyes, as NCT might say.

      Like

  9. For a group that you apparently dont like you talk a LOT about them and your comments always have a negative tone when its about them

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  10. Thank you so much for including Golden Child. They do deserve more. I hope Goldenness will grow more in 2021. Golden Child hwaiting! Goldenness Hwaiting! Other all groups yting!

    Like

  11. Pleasantly surprised to see you rank A.C.E! I love them, but they had one (very, very good) album and I never got the sense that they gained a lot of recognition in the industry, so I didn’t think they’d make it here! But nice!

    Like

  12. Since they are my bias, I always WANT to include them, but this is the first year I feel like I could legitimately include Dreamcatcher on this list. We’ve seen some of their concepts and sound being copied. They had a phenomenal comeback with Scream that launched a great album with 3 other promoted songs and a strong follow up with BOCA. They’ve jumped to over 100k sales from about 30k. And like with OMG, seeing a girl group that’s been around for a while start to gain traction later in their career is always enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I was expect Everglow make it to your top 10, because i think dun dun and la di da are really good songs and much better than their 2019 title songs. So glad to see TWICE still in the top 10 (kinda worried because you and some people not a fan of more & more). Wish 2021 will be ONF year please..

    Like

  14. Not Monsta X? 2020 wouldn’t have been worth living thru without them! They were the only good thing about this horrible year! Ty Monsta X for your hard work and always holding your fans in your hearts!

    Like

    • These end-of-year lists are meant to be a positive celebration. I’d encourage you to focus on what you like about the list rather than what you don’t. And if you don’t like anything? Well… go over to twitter, I guess?

      Like

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