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2021’s K-Pop scene: BTS is still invincible, BLACKPINK and TWICE are “underwhelming”, what surprises will there be in 2022?

K-Pop in 2021 has been filled with surprises, among them are uprising new names, and also familiar names that failed to meet the expectations. 

In 2021, K-Pop has been through an unforgettable era with many significant names and viral songs. The atmosphere has gotten more lively and dynamic after being through quite a down era due to the pandemic in early 2020. Let’s take a look back at the most significant characters of K-Pop in 2021!

BTS is still on another level

If one gotta chooses the most impressive representative of K-Pop in 2021, that’s definitely still BTS. The boy group from Big Hit Music continued to prove that they are on another level compared to the remaining part of K-Pop. Another year has passed, but BTS still maintains their pace and continues to add new numbers to their already-long list of achievements.

BTS – “Butter” MV

This year, BTS released “Butter” – their 2nd English single since “Dynamite”, followed by the single album “Butter” and the track “Permission To Dance” in July. On Sep 24th, BTS also got featured in the track “My Universe” alongside Coldplay. Despite not being on any official album, singles such as “Butter” and “Permission To Dance” still gave BTS many impressive achievements both in and outside of Korea.

“Butter” is BTS’ most successful song of 2021.
“Butter” is BTS’ most successful song of 2021.

BTS’ most successful song in 2021 – “Butter” – has established many records, among which are the most-viewed MV in the first 24-hour on Youtube (108,2 million views), 257 hours of maintaining a Perfect All-kill on Melon, 10 consecutive weeks of #1 on the Billboard Hot 100,…”Butter” also won “Song of the Year” at the MAMA 2021.

bts

In terms of album sales, BTS is still an invincible name in K-Pop. According to Gaon, BTS topped the physical sales chart among Korean artists in 2021 with 7.208.920 copies sold. Their Japanese album “BTS, THE BEST” released in June 2021 also broke the record to become the first album of a Korean artist to receive a million-seller certificate from RIAJ in 10 years.

Leading all domestic digital charts, Billboard Hot 100 and even the physical sales, how about music streaming? In Dec, BTS has surpassed 8 billion streams on Spotify, becoming the first group and the 4th artist to achieve this in a year.

bts
bts

In the top 10 “Greatest Pop Stars of 2021” chosen by Billboard, BTS is in #6. According to Billboard, 2021 continued to be a successful year for BTS. They still conquered all the best data, as well as all the best awards. At MAMA 2021, even though they didn’t attend, BTS still easily acquired all 4 Daesangs, proving their name in Korea while still maintaining their reign in the U.S.

BTS has made history by becoming the first Asian artist to win Artist Of The Year at the AMAs. Aside from that, BTS also won 4 awards at the Billboard Music Awards in 2021 and was nominated at the “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance” at the Grammy 2022. To end such a sucessful year, BTS has finished 4 concert performances “Permission to Dance On Stage” in the U.S., making 33,3 million USD with 214.000 tickets sold. This was a meaningful milestone to the group as it has been 2 long years since they last performed live in front of offline audiences.

 BTS performing “Butter” at the AMAs 2021
BTS performing “Butter” at the AMAs 2021
 BTS won “Artist of the Year” at the AMAs 2021
BTS won “Artist of the Year” at the AMAs 2021

2021 has been an amazing year to BTS as they have broken many barriers and conquered new summits that no K-Pop artist has ever achieved. BTS is still going up and upgrading through time. With such a stable position along with their huge fandom, BTS is expected to be even more impressive in the upcoming 2022.

BTS concert
BTS concert

The sudden rise of Brave Girls and aespa

The most impressive girl groups in 2021 are not BLACKPINK nor TWICE, but… Brave Girls and aespa.

Brave Girls, the Gen 2 group which debuted in 2011, had a spectacular resurgence over the past year. The group’s miracle story started when Rollin‘s stage compilation suddenly became hot on Korean YouTube.

Previously, this song was very popular in the Korean military community, but it did not achieve many significant achievements. In March, Rollin‘s stage compilation was uploaded “randomly” by a personal channel but suddenly went viral, reaching 10 million views within only 20 days. From this point on, the Rollin effect began to explode. Rollin returned to dominate digital music charts, breaking Ddu-du Ddu-du (BLACKPINK)’s record to become the song with the most PAK hours in girl group history. In total, Rollin had 262 PAK hours, second only to IU in the list of artists with the most PAK hours in 2021.

brave girls

Thanks to Rollin‘s success, Brave Girls has a strong reputation in the Korean entertainment industry. The group appeared as a guest on Running Man, Weekly Idol, You Quiz On The Block as well as became the advertising face for many brands… Rollin‘s dance was selected as one of the most viral Kpop choreographies in 2021.

This is also a turning point to help Brave Girls escape their fate of disbanding when there was a long unlucky period after 10 years of debut. In early 2021, Brave Girls planned to disband and 2 out of 4 members moved out of the dorm to start other jobs. However, Rollin’s historic reversal caused the group’s career to “turn upside down”. Brave Girls‘ success gives confidence to many less fortunate groups from other small companies in Kpop.

brave girls

For aespa, the group’s success story is also extremely interesting. They started out as a rookie group that was “rejected” by netizens with countless scandals since their debut. From their “moderate” appearance, “picky” music to controversies over attitude and plagiarism, no one thought that aespa could rise to “boss” the new generation girl group battle in a spectacular way.

When aespa released Next Level in May, this remake of the Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw soundtrack did not receive much attention at first. A few weeks later, Next Level gradually climbed up the charts. Viral choreography, viral chorus and “boom”! aespa became the leading girl group in the 2021 Kpop race!

aespa

After Next Level, aespa “took advantage of the victory” with their first album Savage released in October. As expected, 4 SM girls continued to achieve impressive results. Savage topped the Melon chart for days, and the album also sold more than half a million copies – a huge number for a rookie group.

Closing 2021, aespa won many memorable awards, including 2 Daesangs at AAA and MMA. With Red Velvet going downhill, IZ*ONE disbanding, ITZY and (G)I-DLE being affected after school violence controversy, TWICE gradually cooling down and BLACKPINK “disappearing” in 2021, aespa is a rare bright spot as well as the hope of Kpop in 2022. Of course, aespa will have to prove more, maintain continuity and develop further in terms of achievements to establish a strong position among the Gen 4 girl groups. Let’s wait and see how aespa will perform next year.

blackpink
twice

The transition between two generations of K-pop

Kpop in 2021 also witnessed a generational transition between Gen 3 and Gen 4 groups. It can be said that, after their peak, Gen 3 groups have begun to decline, making room for Gen 4 groups to shine.

BTS
BTS
Twice
Twice
ITZY
ITZY
ENHYPEN
ENHYPEN
Stray Kids
Stray Kids
TXT
TXT

Except for BTS, no Gen 3 group can make a stronger breakthrough in term of achievements. TWICE used to be the most prominent girl group of Gen 3 but now has gradually decreased in popularity despite their regular comebacks. GOT7, TWICE‘s senior, also disbanded and left JYP after their contract ended. Meanwhile, potential names like aespa, ITZY, ENHYPEN, Stray Kids, TXT, ATEEZ, The Boyz, IVE,… are gradually being accepted by Korean and international fans.

This year also witnessed the disbandment of GFRIEND – one of the most talented K-pop girl groups of the 3rd generation. GFRIEND was once TWICE‘s biggest rival with songs that repeatedly topped music charts. They were expected to grow stronger when they came under HYBE, but GFRIEND‘s disbandment was something that no one expected.

GFRIEND‘s disbandment was completely unexpected, even to its members, causing a wave of anger in the group’s fandom. The termination of the contract happened very quickly and there was evidence that the GFRIEND members themselves only knew when everything was over. A day before the disbandment announcement was made, the members still posted their photos on Instagram and V Live to interact with their fans. But right after the announcement was made, the group’s previously announced schedules were all canceled without specific reasons.

GFRIEND's disbandment is a sad event of Kpop 2021
GFRIEND’s disbandment is a sad event of Kpop 2021

This year’s music awards ceremonies are the places where netizens can see clearly the transition between two generations of K-pop idols. The top 3rd generation groups like BTS, TWICE, BLACKPINK, Red Velvet… are all not participating. The lineups of famous award ceremonies like AAA, MMA, MAMA… are all Gen 4 representatives. Although netizens are all regretful that Gen 3’s heyday is over, it can’t be denied that this is the natural evolution of K-pop. In the history of more than 2 decades, generations were born one after another, reached their peak, and gradually stepped back to make room for the juniors to develop.

From the end of this year to the beginning of the year, many groups have been preparing to debut. Potential names for the 2022 rookie competition include IVE – Starship’s new girl group (including Jang Wonyoung, Ahn Yujin), JYP’s new girl group, and HYBE’s new girl group (including Sakura, Kim Chaewon, Heo Yunjin), the girl group that came out of the survival show Girls Planet 999KEP1ER, YG’s new girl group…

K-pop industry starts to flourish again

In 2020, the Kpop music scene passed quite sadly due to the lack of offline concerts because of COVID-19 and the absence of outstanding TV shows. In 2021, the atmosphere in the music industry began to flourish.  In the first half of this year, many groups still held online concerts, but at the end of the year, concerts with audiences or offline award shows and ceremonies returned.  Many groups also hold offline fansigns, instead of online fansigns like in 2020.

The audience wore masks and did not scream at a K-pop show in Suncheon Concert 2021 taking place in October. This is one of the first music events with audience in Korea after 2 years because of the epidemic.
The audience wore masks and did not scream at a K-pop show in Suncheon Concert 2021 taking place in October. This is one of the first music events with audience in Korea after 2 years because of the epidemic.
World K-Pop Concert on November 14 has a scale of 3,000 spectators
World K-Pop Concert on November 14 has a scale of 3,000 spectators

In early December, BTS attracted attention with 4 nights of the Permission To Dance On Stage concert in the US, attracting more than 240,000 spectators.  Meanwhile, TWICE also kicked off their 4TH WORLD TOUR ‘III’ global tour with 2 nights of concerts in Seoul.  SM’s boy group NCT 127 also held concerts on 2nd Tour Neo City: Seoul – The Link from December 17 to 19.  In the first quarter of 2022, the Kpop music industry promises to be even more exciting when BTS, TWICE… continue the concerts of the world tours.

Many Kpop groups such as BTS…
Many Kpop groups such as BTS…
TWICE…
TWICE…
… and NCT 127 have kicked off their new world tour
… and NCT 127 have kicked off their new world tour

In 2021, many survival shows were also held and broadcast, such as Kingdom, Street Woman Fighter, Girls Planet 999, My Teenage Girl… In which, Street Woman Fighter is an extremely successful program of Mnet.  Street Woman Fighter had an unexpectedly massive impact, making the names of many dancers as sought after as many Kpop idols.  At MAMA 2021, the stage of Street Woman Fighter dancers became a “nail” stage. 

Predictions for Kpop in 2022

Next year, many Gen 3 groups will end their contracts with their management companies.  New generation groups of YG, JYP, HYBE… will also debut in turn.  In the current situation, it is likely that the tour will be promoted, making up for the long time Kpop has been affected by the epidemic.

With the memorable events of 2021 and expectations for 2022, let’s wait and see what breakthroughs next year’s Kpop will have!  Will there be a rookie girl group more successful than aespa, will BTS make history at the 2022 Grammys?  Will BLACKPINK comeback with a more explosive hit than How You Like That?  Will TWICE continue to stick with JYP or “go their separate ways” like GOT7?  Let’s wait and see.

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