Next year, K-pop’s expansion – western or otherwise – won’t rest solely upon putting together foreign-sourced groups but in diversifying creatively and technologically. Four labels (YG, SM, HYBE, and JYP) have announced their intent to launch NFTs and/or cryptocurrencies. Boy group Treasure are currently starring in their own web-based drama show, BTS, TXT, Enhypen have comics and novels on the way, and SM Entertainment continues to build on aespa’s AI use and KWANGYA lore. We’re at a fascinating and important point in K-pop’s evolution but before looking forward, we must, of course, jump back into 40 killer K-pop tracks which owned 2021.
1. ONF “Beautiful Beautiful”
The space carved between the video’s gritty dystopian city (complete with hordes of militia and surveillance machines) and the song’s funk-influenced dance-pop is home to a message that strikes a chord: be yourself and love yourself in a world that keeps trying to make you in its own image. Reveling in the emotive and rebellious power of that declaration, the song builds around the heart-thumping thrill of the chanted “Brrram bbabam” refrain, but this is just one exultant moment in a track brimming with unbridled joy. Almost everything – from the string runs to guitar riffs to the Tarzan-cry ad libs – rockets “Beautiful Beautiful” ever upwards, and just when you think there’s nowhere possibly left to go, it resets itself for a triumphant outro with the jaw-drop of an acapella barbershop vocal. It’s audacious, and spectacularly so. A flawless and life-affirming shout from the rooftops.