Along with releasing their “Best K-Pop Songs of 2020” list, Billboard also recently released what they believe to be the 10 “Best K-Pop Albums of 2020”. While they admit that it’s impossible to incorporate the vast variety of the K-Pop genre in just ten albums, they did include both soloists and groups, idols and indie artists, and new and experienced artists in the list.
“At best, these records were complete products that effectively utilized the (mini-)album format to put forth a cohesive vision,” the staff at Billboard write. “At worst, they were a bundled collection of unimpeachable songs that made us love these acts even more. We couldn’t complain either way, and 2020 could’ve used more of that.”
Here are their choices for the best 10 K-Pop albums of the year.
10. Go Live by Stray Kids
Go Live was Stray Kids’ best-selling album until the repackaged version, In Life, was released, with over 330k sales. This is a huge accomplishment for a group that’s still just under 2 years old, and with the title track “God’s Menu”, which is their best-performing song to date, it’s not a surprise that it made it onto this list!
Here, Stray Kids are not young’uns wading through loss, pain, and confusion as they were on “Astronaut” or “Side Effects.” GO生 presents a far more confident, self-aware, and sophisticated image of this octet, whether it’s on “God’s Menu,” where they claim that they’re not going to follow anyone else and instead play their own game, or on “Blueprint,” where they diligently keep moving forward no matter how hard people try to bring them down.
9. tellusboutyourself by Yerin Baek
Yerin Baek used to be part of the duo 15& along with Park Jimin, and made her debut as a solo artist in November 2015 with the EP Frank. In total, she has released two EPs and two full-length albums, of which tellusboutyourself is the latest, released on December 10 this year. The album is also written in all-English lyrics, and Yerin’s goal was to show that she’s capable of writing more than just love songs.
You can hear the sound of tellusboutyourself from saying the title out loud: it’s casual, conversational, intimate. As always, Yerin Baek sings with a firm conviction that belies her graceful vocals, transforming the simplest of lyrics into immersive pools of emotion… She’s never sounded so honest or vulnerable, and the calming production she wraps herself around makes it feel all the more freeing.
— Joshua Minsoo Kim
8. XX, by Sumin
SUMIN is a solo artist that first made her debut on December 7, 2015 with the song “뜨거워질거야”. She has produced for artists such as BTS and Red Velvet (she’s credited for hits such as Jimin‘s “Lie”, Red Velvet’s “Look”, and WOODZ‘s “Pool”), and is known for establishing the genre of K-Pop called “Neo K-Pop”. XX, was released on June 23 this year.
SUMIN’s tweaks hit so suddenly, it all feels like a passing memory by the time XX, cools down for the starry slow jam “ZAZA.” The fleeting nature of it all, though, only compels you to rewind and re-experience the rush.
— Ryo Miyauchi
7. Nonstop by Oh My Girl
Nonstop is Oh My Girl’s 7th EP, released on April 27 this year with the title track “Nonstop” and the very popular B-side “Dolphin”. These two songs became their highest-charting on the Gaon Digital Chart, ranking at #2 and #9 respectively. The album sold about 44k units. Here’s what Billboard thinks of the album:
Oh My Girl not only saw the deliciously danceable title track “Nonstop” become an instant springtime smash, but their sweet acoustic B-side cut “Dolphin” connected big time with audiences to show the septet’s range. Five years into their careers, it feels like Oh My Girl are finally getting recognized as the multi-talents they’ve been since debut, with all signs pointing to how they won’t stop impressing anytime soon.
— Jeff Benjamin
6. Eyes Wide Open by TWICE
Eyes Wide Open is actually TWICE’s only second full-length album, released on October 26 this year with the title song “I Can’t Stop Me”. It has sold nearly 500k copies, and became their highest-ranked album on the Billboard 200 chart at #72, making them also only the third Korean girl group to rank in the top 100 on this chart after 2NE1 and BLACKPINK.
Members Jihyo, Nayeon, Sana, Dahyun and Chaeyeon all have sole writing credits on at least one song to place them alongside album collaborators like J.Y. Park, Dua Lipa, MNEK, Heize, and more. But not only is the group taking more creative control, they’re conquering new sounds. From the fiercely empowering “Go Hard” and “Queen,” the city-pop stylings of “Say Something,” plus the dark dance-pop of “Hell in Heaven,” TWICE’s eyes are clearly set on proving they can handle anything.
5. Neo Zone by NCT 127
Neo Zone is NCT 127’s second full-length studio album, released on March 6 with the title song “Kick It”. It’s NCT 127’s best-selling album to date, with nearly 900k units sold! It’s also the group’s first album to reach the top 5 on Billboard 200 chart, as well as their first album to receive multi-platinum certifications from KMCA. Here’s what Billboard thinks of the album:
One of the best things about NCT 127 is that their music is as expansive as they are. Neo Zone is a testament to this, as its 13 tracks find the group moving from classic R&B influences to ’90s synths to even incorporating metal… And while one might argue against packing so many musical variations onto one album, the diversity works in NCT 127’s favor: Just like their larger concept makes them limitless, their music refuses to be pigeonholed into labels and genres.
4. Equal by WOODZ
WOODZ made his debut as a solo artist outside of UNIQ (and his brief time in X1) in July 2016 under the name Luizy. With a change in musical direction in 2018, he changed his stage name to WOODZ, and has released a number of singles as well as written and produced songs for other artists. Equal is his first EP, released on June 29 this year, and has sold nearly 150k copies.
From boy band member to breakout MC to behind-the-scenes music producer, Cho Seung-youn has lived many different lives in the K-pop scene, but the determined star truly came into his own as a multitalented, multifaceted artist with his first solo EP released as WOODZ.
3. SOUL LADY by Yukika
Yukika is a Japanese artist based in South Korea, and has formerly worked as both a model and a voice actress. SOUL LADY is her debut album, which came after some singles such as her debut song “Neon”. The album was released on July 21 this year and has sold around 7.5k copies, with a title track of the same name.
Longing to be part of a bygone era felt fitting for a year like this, and Yukika’s SOUL LADY captured that perfectly. Her city pop songs are bursting at the seams: there’s addictive synths, electronic loops, twinkling xylophone accents and, most of all, saudade. She does all this with an ethereal lightness that makes the album seem effortless… Comfort has been handed out by a miser this year, but on SOUL LADY, Yukika was generous in her warmth and familiarity.
2. Neverland by Cosmic Girls
Neverland is Cosmic Girls’ eighth EP, released on June 9 this year with the title song “Butterfly”. It was their first album to make over 100k sales, now at about 105k total units sold, and also beat their record for most first-day sales. It debuted at #2 on the Gaon Album Chart, and “Butterfly” peaked at #81 on the Billboard K-Pop Hot 100 chart. Here’s what the company thinks of this album:
While WJSN brought an alluring, summer pop experience with “Butterfly,” the shimmery lead single is only the beginning of the journey down the otherworldly Neverland. As you follow the track list, the synths turn flashier, arrangements become more ornate, and the songs grow into extravagant productions… The set of exquisite beats and arrangements in Neverland build a dreamy world that lives up to the title’s promise, and WJSN gladly take charge to guide you through the fantastical soundscape.
1. BETTER by BoA
At #1 on Billboard’s list is iconic artist BoA’s latest album, BETTER. It’s her 10th full-length album, released on December 1 with the title song “Better”. The album served as a twentieth anniversary celebration since she first debuted under SM Entertainment in 2000 at the age of 13, and it’s incredible that she’s still producing such great and well-received albums after two decades in the industry! Billboard only has high praises for this soloist:
But whatever BoA sings over, her voice is a marvel of performance, both in the pure skill of her delivery and in capturing subtle gradations in mood. No other K-pop album this year felt so refined, so real, so invigorating in its portrayal of the capacity for human emotions. And what more could you ask for in 2020 than an album that reminded you that, despite everything that happened, that in the good and the bad, you were still here, you were alive.