2021 offered quite a few strong albums, enough for both of my categories to include numerous honorable mentions. Full albums were especially great this year — a trend I hope to see continue in 2022.
Like usual, my top ten list is cut in half, presenting the top five mini albums and the top five full albums. My eligibility criteria has widened just a bit to include a few important highlights:
- Mini albums must have at least four full tracks to qualify
- Repackages are considered the definitive version of an album (unless otherwise noted)
GHOST9 – Now: Where We Are, Here
VERIVERY – Series ‘O’ Round 2: Hole
U-Know – Noir
Dreamcatcher – Dystopia: Road To Utopia
Twice – Taste Of Love
Seventeen – Your Choice
aespa – Savage
5. Woodz – Only Lovers Left
Only Lovers Left has such an odd structure. It feels flipped upside down, with the title track and strongest material arriving later in the album. This took some getting used to, but a grand finale makes the journey worth it. Woodz always puts out strong albums, and this is his best so far.
Standout Album Tracks: Chaser, Kiss Of Fire
4. Key – Bad Love
After an excellent album with his group SHINee, Key returned as a soloist and embraced his retro charms. Bad Love is very consistent. Even when it dips into more generic material, the force of Key’s personality and artistic vision keep things compelling.
Standout Album Tracks: Yellow Tape, Helium
3. Brave Girls – Summer Queen
Too many K-pop albums are piecemeal affairs without any overarching theme, but Summer Queen‘s intent is right there in its title. This is an all killer, no filler blast of summertime pop. Every song could have been an standout single. In fact, half of them were!
Standout Album Tracks: Fever, Summer By Myself
2. Lucy – Gatcha!
I already knew I loved Lucy’s music, but I never thought they were capable of an album this diverse. Across just four tracks, the group display their upbeat charm with their catchiest hooks yet. Gatcha also makes room for some left-field turns, like the dynamic synth pop of the shimmering One By One.
Standout Album Tracks: Buddy, One By One
1. Golden Child – YES
Golden Child’s music has changed considerably since debut, but going “dark” or “mature” doesn’t always mean shouting over recycled K-pop beats. YES feels slick and assured, yet never forgets the strength of a knockout pop melody. Bookended by contrasting singles Burn It and Breathe, the album has no dull moments. Round N Round and Cool Cool supply the upbeat dance grooves, while the anthemic Milky Way brings rock grit to their sound.
Standout Album Tracks: Round N Round, Cool Cool
ONEUS – Devil
Nu’est – Romanticize
ENHYPEN – Dimension: Dilemma
5. Twice – Formula of Love: O+T=<3
Twice’s Formula Of Love is a behemoth of an album, *twice* as long as many “full-lengths” from their peers. With this in mind, it’s remarkably consistent. It’s the sort of album without definitive highlights… and that’s not a bad thing. Instead, every track is solid — from the retro dance sounds of Moonlight and F.I.L.A to the soft rock of Cactus to the theatrical trap of Last Waltz.
Standout Album Tracks: F.I.L.A (Fall In Love Again), Push And Pull, Moonlight
4. TXT – The Chaos Chapter: Freeze / Fight Or Escape
TXT’s Freeze (and repackage Fight Or Escape) takes influence from their past work but vaults their sound to new levels. It has a gritty backbone, softened and polished by glossy pop tropes. It’s a diverse piece of work, held together by the group’s conviction. Bolstered by the incredible 0x1=LOVESONG, Freeze goes on to unveil future singles Magic and Frost. But, there are so many buried treasures here. Failing to give No Rules a music video was a serious misstep!
Standout Album Tracks: No Rules, Dear Sputnik, Anti-Romantic
3. Golden Child – Game Changer
I usually include repackages as part this countdown, but I think Golden Child’s original Game Changer is the superior version of the album. Not only do DDARA‘s repackage tracks fizzle, but their placement up front causes the album to lose its initial shot of adrenaline. Across a series of full-group standouts and fun unit tracks, Game Changer has so much to love. The guys challenge new genres, bringing energy and excitement to every track. It’s a parade of highlights, with Fanfare, Bottom Of The Ocean and Spell standing at the top of the pack.
Standout Album Tracks: Fanfare, Bottom Of The Ocean, Spell
2. ONF – My Name / City Of ONF
ONF’s City Of ONF feels like a cohesive statement. For me, that’s what makes a truly memorable album. You can cobble together as many great tracks as you want, but without a consistent theme it simply feels like a fun playlist. City‘s tracks reference each other in wonderful ways, adding a storytelling aspect to the group’s experimental, synth-heavy sound. There are varying levels in the arrangement of each track, and this ebb and flow feels fresh and intentional. Do yourself a favor and pick up a physical copy of the album for bonus track Lights On. I can’t imagine the listening experience without that killer finale.
Standout Album Tracks: My Genesis (Übermensch), The Realist, Secret Triangle
1. SHINee – Don’t Call Me / Atlantis
SHINee are no strangers to fantastic albums, yet even after years in the industry Don’t Call Me / Atlantis stands as one of their strongest. Balancing fan-favorite sounds with new challenges, the album is a satisfyingly blitz through their considerable talent. These days, SM Entertainment too often feels like “the NCT show.” It’s thrilling to hear a collection of songs that pulls different strengths from the agency. There are too many highlights to list, with upbeat dance tracks and pensive mid-tempos stealing equal attention. Across it all, SHINee are in epic form. Their iconic vocals power every moment, while their nimble choreography reverberates in the mind. This is the sound of a K-pop legend in their full, confident glory.
Standout Album Tracks: I Really Want You, CØDE, Heart Attack
Pingback: Best of 2021 Masterpost | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion
This went about as I would’ve expected. Was curious who’d get the win between ONF and Shinee. Glad WOODZ got the nod as well. As for my favs…
•Shinee – Atlantis
•Twice – Formula of Love
•Gaho – Fireworks
•Golcha – Ra Pam Pam
•Enhypen – Dimension: Dilemma
•Suju-DE – Countdown
•BI – Waterfall
•NCT 127 – Favorite
•IU – Lilac
•Heize – Happen
•Leehi – 4 Only
AOTY: ONF – City of ONF
•(G)-IDLE – I burn
•Oh My Girl – Dear Oh My Girl
•Twice – Taste of Love
•Aespa – Savage
•PIXY – Fairyforest: Temptation
•Dreamcatcher – Dystopia: Road To Utopia
•Dreamcatcher – Summer Holiday
•U-Know – Noir
•BI – Cosmos
•Taemin – Advice
•Yukika – Insomnia
•Golcha – YES
•Woosung – Genre
•Woodz – Only Lovers Left
•OnlyOneOf – Instinct Pt. 1
•Verivery – Series ‘O’ Round 2: Hole
•Lucy – Gatcha
•Onewe – Planet Nine: Alter Ego
•AKMU – NEXT EPISODE
•Xydo – Paradigm
•Colde – idealism
MAOTY: KEY – Bad Love
Really solid year for albums imo. Lot of great stuff came out. Not only was it projects with good music front to back but they felt like ACTUAL albums with a cohesive idea and direction throughout. Well done kpop industry.
LikeLiked by 3 people
Wishlist for next year… PLEASE give girl groups some full albums. And if i have go another year with only one OMG and WJSN comeback
P.S. forgot GWSN’s – Other Side Of The Moon for mini list 😛
Agree with everything here, except that the verivery album would top the mini album list for me.
This really was ONFs year, and im scared if they’ll ever be able to top it.
ONEWE’s Planet Nine: Alter Ego is still my pick. Two of my Spotify top 5 this year were off that album, neither of which were the title (and I like the title quite a bit)! Loved Gatcha like mad as well, but P9 edges it out in terms of replays.
I’ve mentioned this several times now but my favorite album of the year was SUNMI 1/6, which I played the bejeesus out of, and had some of my favorite bsides that balanced being good/interesting music and also having emotional meaning.
Other top picks are TWICE, aespa, and SHINee, the first Dreamcatcher mini, and WJSN Unnatural.
Well, I got the mini-album predictions off by a bit, I forgot how much you love Golcha’s Yes! Great list though, all these albums are fantastic.
Go go Woodz and SHINee! Great albums.
I would love to know how you rank Shinee’s albums, there all so good its basically impossible. Maybe in five years you could rank their ten studio albums in a new feature. You already could with Super Junior and Boa, might be fun 🙂
I’m being so biased here but Verivery’s ‘Hole’ wins the mini album section for me. What a rebound after a year and a half of subpar music
Lucy’s ‘Gatcha’ makes a very close second
I have to say that I am glad I gave Lucy a chance recently. I got into ONEWE and I thought that was a sign for me to look for other bands. Then you say nice things about Lucy and…it’s looking good right now. Im excited to get to know them more.
Also, I’m happy to say I have the physical copy of City of ONF. I still have not gotten to chance to listen to the track Lights on…I’m sorry 😅 I’ll get to it this Christmas as a end of the year treat.
Tons of Lucy’s tracks are piano/synth heavy, so I highly recommend checking out their radio stuff as well! It’s cool to hear them perform with only guitar/bass/violin/cajon and gives some of their songs a totally different vibe. Their Kiss the Radio version of I Got U is a personal favorite, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them — they have a lot of fun with it.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Kind of sad querencia wasnt here but im okay as long as txt is a part of this
My top 3 minis got into the list!!!
The moment Gatcha by Lucy was released I already know it’s one of the best minis this year. No song sounded the same yet the package feel cohesive as a whole. Brave Girls resurgence is a pleasant surprise bc we got to get the classic brave bros gg sound from them. Woodz’s mini is very interesting in a way that 4 of the songs there can easily be title tracks and all of them feel very Woodz. My other picks are: GHOST9’s NOW: Where We Are Here, GWSN’s The Other Side of The Moon, Sunmi’s 1/6, and OnlyOneOf’s instinct, pt.1.
As for full albums, I honestly don’t check everything out because I feel like it’s the companies way of releasing rejects as fillers and not as solid as western pop albums (due to the promotional strategies in the West) but i love Golcha’s Game Changer and TXT’s The Chaos Chapter: Freeze the most here. We’re getting all good songs in those albums.
I respect Twice but their musical style has never been my cup of tea. Since their sound has matured, though, I decided to try Formula of Love and was pleasantly surprised! I now have (checks) three Twice songs in my playlist lol.
I also played the Don’t Call Me album during a long car ride with a friend who doesn’t listen to K-pop and it’s now a part of her playlist 🙂 My mom likes it too.
Try Eyes wide open and Taste of Love too! Some of their best works.
I’m admittedly a bit biased, but Twice’s Taste of Love and Formula of Love have been on repeat since they were released. Definitely my favourites of the year, and I’m glad to see them both mentioned here! Also loved TXT’s Freeze/Fight or Escape, STAYC’s Stereotype (personally it was such a pleasant listen), aespa’s Savage, Brave Girls’ Summer Queens, Stray Kids’ Noeasy, and Seventeen’s Your Choice. I don’t check out that many albums, but those were my favourites!
Also, now that you changed the requirement from 5 to 4 songs for minis, would Everglow’s [insert coordinates] (the La Di Da mini) have made it into your minis list last year or to the HRs, if it was a 4-song requirement too? Don’t Speak has led me back to their other retro offerings, which means the La Di Da and Untouchable have been on repeat lately!
Also Stray Kids’ albums are the best!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I would have liked a solid hip-hop track on “Noeasy” along the lines of “Tortoise and the Hare” or “We Go”, but other than that I was really happy with it as a complete package.
I very much love that full album list! I am torn between which mini-albums were my favorite this year but the full-lengths listed here are delicious!
Without a doubt, ONF’s album was my favorite this year. It was fantastic, daring and experimental. It felt like a culmination of ONF’s work so far and offered growth to their discography. It was led by two massive title-tracks, had incredible b-sides and told a story. The Realist? Ugly Dance? Secret Triangle?! Trip Advisor?! My Genesis?!! BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL?!?!
This was the album which got me into ONF and I love it so goddamn much!
For Mini-albums…It’s either OOO’s Instinct or Golden Child’s YES. which takes the cake for me. Both amazing albums which expands on each of the artist’s potential.
Want to know your thoughts regarding ONF’s new album by the way. Is there a buried treasure or…?
The closest for me is The Show Must Go On, but I’m still not excited enough about it to write a full review. The album is solid, but Goosebumps is far and away the strongest song.
Pingback: The Top 10 K-Pop Albums of 2021 | Beatsway
Here are my top three albums for non-musical reasons (11/30/20 – five minutes ago)
4. Golden Child – Game Changer. it is so heavy I can use it for home defense. Minuses – they never put everyone’s name on these in English. I have given up and just call everyone Jaehyun. Tall Jaehyun, short Jaehyun, Q Jaehyun, Jooheon Jaehyun, Jaehyun Jaehyun.
3. Kai – I got the photo book one where he looks like an 80s Italian Vogue rent boy. There were sheets of stickers, about six posters and this elastic band thing with his name on it. Minuses – the CD was so scratched that I had to buy a flip book version with more rent boy pictures. Aw.
2. Mirae – A solid, clean package with a place to put the CD so it doesn’t scratch. Standard book size dimensions. Nice photo cards and a tiny stand-up Jun Hyuk who glares sternly at me.
1. Rain -Pieces. Rain truly gets his older demographic. His CD came with a mask, a jigsaw puzzle, and four shirtless pictures of him. Perfect for Covid quarantine, the mother-in-law suite, or the nursing home.
LikeLiked by 1 person
If you make again for best kpop album 2022,KING Taeyeon INVU deserve get high ranking