October 2021 was arguably the busiest month in K-pop yet this year. Everyone, from up-and-coming fourth generation superstars aespa to legendary South Korean hip-hop trio Epik High, were on a roll. There was also the long-awaited solo studio album from former 2NE1 member CL, plus IU’s first release since her seminal album ‘LILAC’.
Last month also marked the official Western expansion of K-pop stalwart girl group TWICE, who returned with their first English-language single ‘The Feels’. Not to mention brand-new music from boybands such as SEVENTEEN, NCT 127 and ENHYPEN. Without further ado, let’s jump right into the eight K-pop songs from October 2021 you need to hear.
In less than a year, aespa have gone from SM Entertainment’s experimental new girl group with a Marvel-esque lore and confusing virtual members to the next big thing in K-pop. The insanely catchy ‘Savage’ is a proper and worthy follow-up to their viral hit ‘Next Level’.
- READ MORE: SM’s Culture Universe could be K-pop’s most ambitious alternative universe yet – but can it be pulled off?
What NME said: “‘Savage’ is brimming with addictive hooks and refrains that sit on top of masterfully layered production, further perfecting the edginess the quartet had already grounded themselves in.” – Carmen Chin
CL’s ‘Tie A Cherry’
CL fans have been waiting for her debut solo album since at least her 2013 single ‘The Baddest Female’. Fast forward to almost eight years later and the iconic singer has finally blessed the world with ‘ALPHA’. The record, led by the remarkable single ‘Tie A Cherry’, has undoubtedly been worth the wait.
What NME said: “This may just be the perfect demonstration of her musical calibre, especially considering that she’s credited as the main writer of the song, with clever, tongue-in-cheek wordplay about tying a ‘cherry stem’ with just your tongue.” – Carmen Chin
Epik High’s ‘Face ID’
As Epik High gear up for the release of ‘Epik High Is Here 下, Part Two’ – not to mention a two-month-long trek across North America in 2022 – the legendary trio first have some choice words for their haters on the clever ‘Face ID’.
- READ MORE: Epik High’s Tablo: “I’ve gone through long periods where I felt like I was completely alone”
What NME said: “Though ‘Face ID’ may seem a little more laid-back compared to [the group’s] previous hater call-out tracks, this may also be an indication of how far Epik High has come in dealing with them.” – Ruby C
‘Tamed-Dashed’, the title track of ENHYPEN’s first full-length album ‘Dimension : Dilemma’, continues the boyband’s penchant for making anthemic numbers that are deceptive in their brevity, like ‘Drunk-Dazed’ and ‘Given-Taken’ before it.
What NME said: “Seeped in exciting, blood-pumping EDM-style synth bass, ‘Tamed-Dashed’ pulls one in with its dizzying intensity, but just like its ‘Border: Carnival’ equivalent ‘Drunk-Dazed’, it never quite breaks free from the clutches of a sinister energy lurking beneath.” – Tanu I. Raj
IU’s ‘Strawberry Moon’
In the sublime ‘LILAC’, released earlier this year, IU bid a hopeful but solemn goodbye to her 20s while looking towards the next chapter of her life. The wiser vibe yet sweet familiarity of her new single ‘Strawberry Moon’ seems to signal what’s to come from this beloved singer-songwriter.
What NME said: “Here lies the genius of IU as one of the most cohesive and expressive songwriters of her generation. ‘Strawberry Moon’ depicts the kind of easy, mature love that is unaffected by the whimsies of the heart or life, or even power dynamics.” – Tanu I. Raj
NCT 127’s ‘Favorite’
NCT 127 have never been ones to take the easy way out, even if that means alienating some fans (ahem, ‘Sticker’, ahem). But on their latest release ‘Favorite (Vampire)’, the boyband have found a sweet spot between experimentalism and current trends, creating a song that’s an easy all-rounder.
What NME said: ‘Favorite (Vampire)’ is an immensely nuanced piece – hiding within it inconspicuous layers of thumping beats, sizzling synths and dulcet vocals – [with it’s] haunting and tragic [vibe being] symptomatic of its forlorn lyrics.” – Carmen Chin
SEVENTEEN’s ‘Rock With You’
Pop rock is back and no one’s doing it like SEVENTEEN. ‘Rock With You’, the title track of their new mini-album ‘Attacca’, might not be the boyband’s first foray into the genre but it’s definitely their catchiest thus far. Topped off with powerful vocal performances from S.Coups and Woozi, ‘Rock With You’ is simply hard irresistible
What NME said: “While we’ve heard SEVENTEEN do rock-inspired songs better than ‘Rock With You’ – 2018’s J-rock-esque ‘Run To You’ is a great example – the track is still is a promising reflection of where the group’s sound can go from here.” – Angela Patricia Suacillo
TWICE’s ‘The Feels’
TWICE aren’t shying away from the cute sound of their early releases in order to please a Western audience. Instead, on their first official English-language single ‘The Feels’, the nine-member group meld it together with their cooler side – a la ‘Fancy’ or ‘Feel Special’ – for a song that hits all the right spots.
- READ MORE: TWICE talk new mini-album ‘Taste Of Love’, its tough recording process and their favourite songs to perform
What NME said: “If the aim of this release is to garner the attention TWICE deserve on the global stage, then their mission should hopefully be accomplished with ‘The Feels’. It’s an undeniable bop that feels primed to serve as a gateway to lure more pop fans down the TWICE rabbit hole, one earworm lyric at a time.” – Rhian Daly