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10 K-Pop Acts That Dominated 2021

From newcomers like aespa and STAYC to beloved soloists like IU, here are the artists that commanded the genre in 2021

kpop acts 2021
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    The 2021 edition of our Annual Report continues with a spotlight on some of the best and brightest acts in K-pop. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.


    2021 was another major year for K-pop. What was once a niche corner of the music industry has transformed into a formidable sub-genre in recent years, in part because of its depth and diversity of sound.

    There’s something for everyone under the K-pop umbrella — the catch-all label refers to South Korean groups (boy and girl alike) and soloists who incorporate a mix of standard-raising production, choreography, and packaging. The music itself pulls from so many different sounds that listeners drawn to rap are able to debate speed and precision between groups all day, and those more into bright, bubblegum sounds have a place of their own, too. Many of the most interesting acts find a way to do both.

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    This month, we’ve given a nod to industry-shakers like BTS (who have arguably transcended the label of K-pop altogether, and whose “Butter” is our No. 1 song of 2021), and rising stars like TOMORROW X TOGETHER, our December Artist of the Month. Now, we’re shining a spotlight on ten more acts worthy of your ears, too.

    Check out the list, arranged in alphabetical order, below.


    aespa

    While people scramble to figure out how to break into the metaverse, aespa is already there. The group’s name combines the phrases “avatar” and “experience,” and their concept as a group includes virtual avatars for each member.

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    While launching the group with such a storyline was remarkably prescient and sees aespa arriving ahead of the virtual reality curve, it’s not the most interesting thing about this quartet. aespa caught on this year thanks to music that is great, to the point where it’s hard to believe that these girls debuted as recently as 2020 (with “Black Mamba”).


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