MANILA, Philippines – 2021 was another major year for K-pop. What was once an unknown in the international music industry has now solidified itself into a global phenomenon.
Known for their diverse sound and full-blown productions, K-pop artists (may they be soloists or groups) usually explore various genres in their releases. Acts could first release a bright, poppy album, and then release a more dynamic, rock-themed album as their comeback, leaving fans always on their toes.
At this point, even non-fans are already familiar with a song or two from K-pop sensations such as BTS, BLACKPINK, NCT, SEVENTEEN, TWICE, and more. At this point, K-pop has even birthed multiple generations of artists; fans call recently debuted acts K-pop’s 4th generation, while some acts from the 1st generation (those who made their debut before 2005) are still active in their careers.
With all these artists and releases, it’s no wonder that K-pop thrived in 2021. Take a look at some of the most memorable events in the industry for that year:
BTS continues their world domination
It’s no longer surprising that 2021 was a good year for K-pop powerhouse BTS. Setting world records, winning numerous awards, releasing back-to-back hit tracks, and engaging in prestigious international events – BTS continued to be the leading representatives of K-pop in the global scene.
In July, BTS was appointed by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in as “Special Presidential Envoy for Future Generations and Culture.” Then, in September, BTS spoke before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which serves as their third appearance before the UNGA.
All seven members, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook, took turns speaking at the SDG Moment in New York.
BTS also made history as the first Asian act to win Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards in November. Aside from the biggest prize in the AMAs, they also took home the other awards they had been nominated for – “Favorite Pop Group/Duo” and “Favorite Pop Song” for “Butter.”
Shortly after, they were nominated for “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance” for “Butter” at the 64th Grammy Awards. This marked the second straight year for the group to be nominated for the Grammys.
BTS was also the first K-pop group to hold pandemic time in-person concerts outside South Korea. They had their “Permission to Dance on Stage – LA” at SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles, USA from November 27 to 28 and December 1 to 2. All shows were sold-out.
According to Guinness World Records, BTS set a total of 13 records in 2021 alone, earning the group a coveted spot in the GWR’s 2022 Hall of Fame. Some of these records include being the most-streamed act (group) on Spotify and having the best-selling album in South Korea.
“Butter,” their second all-English track which was released in May, single-handedly seized five records. These include the most streamed track on Spotify in the first 24 hours and most viewed YouTube music video in 24 hours by a K-pop group.
2021 was also the year that all seven members of BTS had their own personal Instagram accounts. Member V now holds the record for the fastest time to reach 1 million and 10 million followers on Instagram.
After a whirlwind of activities, the group is currently on an extended break. Their agency, Big Hit Music, said that BTS is also gearing up for a concert in March 2022.
2nd Gens are back!
Perhaps one of the best highlights of 2021 was the return of groups from K-pop’s 2nd generation. These groups, which debuted around 2004 to 2012, are considered to be the first acts responsible for bringing the Hallyu wave abroad.
Case in point: Remember Super Junior’s “Sorry Sorry,” Wonder Girls’ “Nobody,” and 2NE1’s “Fire,” which all went viral in the Philippines almost a decade ago? They’re just some of the 2nd Gen acts that have made K-pop a household name.
And while many of them are no longer active as a full group (many have fallen under the infamous “seven year curse” and have disbanded), some acts, although no longer composed of their original line-up, have reunited in 2021.
T-ARA, known for their bops “Roly Poly,” “ALL KILL,” and “Sugar Free,” released their comeback single “Re:T-ARA” in November 2021. It was the girl group’s first group album in four years.
Brave Girls, who debuted in 2011 and had several changes in their member line-up over the years, also gained massive popularity with their new release “Rollin.’”
Numerous male K-pop idols have also finished their mandatory military services in 2021, making the reunion of several boy groups possible.
SHINee released their album Don’t Call Me in February and the repackaged album Atlantis in April. These albums see the return of members Onew, Key, and Minho, who all just got discharged from the military in 2020. Don’t Call Me was the group’s first group album in nearly three years.
2PM also reunited for their seventh mini-album Must, which was released in June. It was the group’s first comeback after a five-year hiatus. Prior to Must, their last album was Gentlemen’s Game, which was released in September 2016. Since then, all 2PM members, with the exception of Thai-American member Nichkhun, have all finished their mandatory military service.
HIGHLIGHT made their group comeback in May with their third mini-album The Blowing. It serves as the group’s first comeback since Outro that was released in November 2018. Since then, members Doojoon, Yoseob, Kikwang, and Dongwoon have completed their mandatory military service. HIGHLIGHT originally debuted as the six-member group BEAST under Cube Entertainment before they rebranded as HIGHLIGHT and established their own company, Around Us Entertainment.
EXO also released the special album Don’t Fight The Feeling in June, their first group offering since Obsession was released in November 2019. While several members are still undergoing or set to enter their military service, two members – Xiumin and D.O. have been discharged.
Super Junior, meanwhile, celebrated the group’s 15th anniversary with the release of their 10th album The Renaissance in March.
Several female soloists, who all debuted in various 2nd Gen K-pop groups, also made their highly-anticipated comebacks in 2021.
Luna from f(x) released “Madonna” in October, her first comeback since the release of her digital single “Even So” in January 2019. HyunA also made her long-awaited comeback with the mini album I’m Not Cool in January after a health-related hiatus.
2NE1’s CL also released her debut album ALPHA in October. Although the celebrity had released several digital singles and EPs in the past, ALPHA marked the singer’s first full-length album as a soloist.
While many groups have reunited for albums, several K-pop groups have also reunited for special events. And although they haven’t released any new music, fans are still thankful for the nostalgia that their reunions bring.
All eight members of Girls Generation appeared in a September episode of the South Korean variety show You Quiz on the Block. It’s the first time that the girls formally came together as a group since their 2017 album Holiday Night. Since then, members Seohyun, Tiffany, and Soonyoung have left the group’s agency SM Entertainment to pursue solo projects.
Five members of girl group After School have also reunited for a special episode of South Korean web show MMTG. The group, which debuted in 2009, had a unique school concept wherein members “joined” and “graduated” from the group. They performed their hit songs “Bang!” and “Diva” during the reunion.
Girl group I.O.I also reunited in May to celebrate their fifth anniversary. Only two out of the original 11 members were not able to attend the reunion in person. I.O.I is a project group that was formed in May 2016 following the first season of Produce 101. The girl group officially disbanded at the end of January 2017.
Boy group WANNA ONE also had an emotional reunion at the 2021 MNET Music Awards. 10 out of the 11 members were present for the reunion performance, their first since the group’s final concert in January 2019. WANNA ONE debuted in August 2017, following the second season of Produce 101. They disbanded in December 2018 when their contracts expired.
Disbandments and contract renewals
Group disbandments are not new in the K-pop industry. In fact, fans have coined the term “seven year curse” in reference to groups not renewing their contracts. Usually, when a K-pop group makes their debut, their contract only lasts for seven years. After that, members choose whether to renew their contracts and continue their activities as a group, or pursue careers as solo artists.
GOT7 left their agency, JYP Entertainment, in January after seven years. However, all members have emphasized that they will still continue to be part of GOT7, and even released a music video for the song “Encore” in February. Since then, the GOT7 members have signed on to various agencies and pursued solo careers.
IZ*ONE announced their disbandment in April, with the release of their “Parallel Universe” special video. A product of the survival show Produce 48, IZ*ONE debuted in October 2018. During their run as a temporary project group, they released two studio albums and seven extended plays.
GFRIEND also left their agency Source Music in May. The girl group, which debuted in January 2015, was active for six years.
In November, it was announced that seven out of the eight members of girl group Lovelyz had decided not to renew their contracts with Woollim Entertainment. Only Baby Soul remained in the agency. Lovelyz made their debut in November 2014.
In other news, all 13 members of boy group SEVENTEEN renewed their contracts with Pledis Entertainment, one year ahead of their contract’s supposed expiry. This marks SEVENTEEN being one of the few K-pop groups that haven’t had any member lineup changes since their debut in 2015.
All four members of boy group WINNER also renewed their exclusive contract with YG Entertainment. The group was first formed through the 2013 survival reality program WIN: Who Is Next. They made their debut the following year as a five-member group with their first album 2014 S/S.
Aside from powerhouse groups, K-pop is also home to versatile soloists. IU, who debuted in 2008, continues to be one of the most successful soloists of her generation.
In 2021, we see several idols making their solo debuts. While they remain active as members of their respective K-pop groups, these idols say that having solo releases is part of their career growth.
BLACKPINK members Rosé and Lisa released their solo albums in 2021. Rosé released her album R in March, while Lisa released Lalisa in September. This means that three out of the four BLACKPINK members have now released solo music, with only Jisoo left.
Two members of Red Velvet also debuted as soloists. Wendy released her mini-album Like Water in March while Joy released her remake album Hello in May. In August, Red Velvet made a full-group comeback with Queendom, their first release since December 2019.
South Korean artist Kim Han-bin, more popularly known as B.I., also released his solo album Waterfall in June. It serves as his first full-length album since his departure from K-pop group iKON in June 2019. Prior to Waterfall, B.I also released the three-song project Midnight Blue in March.
EXO member D.O. also made his solo debut with the album Empathy. The album, which was released in July, includes Korean, English, and Spanish tracks. D.O. is the sixth EXO member to release a solo album, following members Baekhyun, Lay, Suho, Chen, and Kai.
Aside from the release of two mini-albums, Your Choice and Attacca, 2021 also marked SEVENTEEN’s foray into solo and subunit releases. While the group is known for their unit tracks and even solo performances in concerts, several members have had solo releases for 2021. In February, Jun released “Crow” and “Silent Boarding Gate,” followed by Hoshi’s “Spider” mixtape and The8’s “Side by Side” in April. Wonwoo and Mingyu teamed up for the single “Bittersweet” in May.
Given how eventful 2021 was, we can’t wait to see what K-pop has in store for us in 2022. Are there any K-pop events from the past year that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments section! – Rappler.com