September 2021 was yet another thrilling month in the K-pop scene, with vocal powerhouse Lee Hi making her return with her long-awaited third studio album ‘4 ONLY’. Not to mention new music from 13-year industry veteran Key of SHINee and boyband NCT 127, as well as the solo debut of Day6 vocalist Young K.
Last month also marked the return of two rising fourth generation girl groups, STAYC and ITZY, both of whom have undoubtedly made their mark on K-pop in the short time they’ve been around. Without further ado, let’s jump right into the eight K-pop songs from September 2021 you need to hear.
ATEEZ’s ‘Deja Vu’
What NME said: “The staccato beats and paced vocals on ‘Deja Vu’ are testament to how easily and effortlessly an act can execute a conceptual levelling-up while still staying true to their ethos.” – Tanu I. Raj
ITZY have officially arrived. The popular five-member JYP Entertainment girl group have released their long-awaited first full-length album ‘Crazy In Love’, fronted by the singles ‘Loco’ and ‘Swipe’.
What NME said: “Layered with exciting orchestration and insistent claps, [‘Loco’] perfectly complements the zany, young, magnetic energy of ITZY, holding a listener’s attention till the very end and becoming a triumphant introduction to the album..” – Tanu I. Raj
Key’s ‘Bad Love’
It’s been a long two-and-a-half years without original solo music from SHINee’s Key, but the iconic singer is finally back – and he’s brought retrofuturism back with him. His ‘Bad Love’ mini-album encapsulates everything we love about the past and makes them new again.
What NME said: “From the first moments of [‘Bad Love’], metal clangs and warped synths grind and gurgle, like sci-fi foley… The swelling atmosphere of synths and a vocal performance for the books ensure that, as the title track, ‘Bad Love’ set the bar astronomically, unreachably high.” – Abby Webster
Lee Hi’s ‘Red Lipstick’
Five years have come and gone since Lee Hi made her mark on K-pop with her sophomore album ‘Seoulite’, but the powerhouse vocalist is finally. The singer not only co-wrote the majority of ‘4 ONLY’, she also enlisted the help of famous friends like B.I, Yoon Mirae and Wonstein.
What NME said: “Lee Hi dip her toes in the retro trend dominating more recent K-pop comebacks, pairing her soulful vocals with funky synths from the early-’90s and a splash of disco for good measure. Throw in Yoon Mirae’s rapid-fire performance and tie everything up with a deceptively simple hook, and you have a sure-fire… hit on your hands.” – Angela Patricia Suacillo
NCT 127’s ‘Sticker’
The members of NCT 127 have been busy with solo activities and other NCT subunits in the year-and-a-half since their breakout record ‘Neo Zone’, but they’ve finally reunited and are back to show they haven’t lost their touch with ‘Sticker’.
What NME said: “‘Sticker’ is a proud showcase of the illustrious sonic colour NCT 127 are known for, and is most palpable in the record’s title track of the same name. Here, the group cobble together frenzied beats and warped bass over a minimalist layer of EDM to produce the album’s eccentric lead.” – Carmen Chin
STAYC may have only made their debut less than a year ago with the synthy smash ‘So Bad’, but in that time, the six-member group have solidified their position as ones to watch with addictive songs like their viral hit ‘ASAP’ and now ‘Stereotype’.
What NME said: “[‘Stereotype’] forgoes the tried-and-true formulas for K-pop’s pronounced refrains and hooks… by adopting a mellower but more cohesive sound. Here, ‘Stereotype’ finds a perfect sweet spot between the slow-burning addictiveness of ‘ASAP’ and the immediacy of ‘So Bad’, coming together to create their most impactful title track to date.” – Carmen Chin
Since going solo, former MONSTA X member Wonho has gone above and beyond to prove his versatility as an artist. From the vulnerable ‘Losing You’ to the sultry ‘Lose’ and now the fun-loving ‘Blue’, is there anything he can’t do?
- READ MORE: Wonho on new mini-album ‘Blue Letter’: “It’s a message for those who are having a hard time”
What NME said: “While the star has been involved with the writing and production of all of his releases so far, [‘Blue Letter’] marks the first time he’s contributed his skills to every song on the tracklist. The results are impressive – particularly ‘Blue’, which would be an instant radio smash in a just world.” – Rhian Daly
Young K’s ‘Guard You’
No one could imagine a more bittersweet debut than Young K’s, whose first-ever solo release precedes his upcoming military enlistment. But the Day6 singer isn’t going out (temporarily) without a bang. ‘Guard You’, the lead single from his new mini-album ‘Eternal’, encapsulates everything the singer is known for and continues his penchant for making pop-rock songs with a lot of heart and soul.
What NME said: “A dramatic pop-rock anthem where Young K feels most at home, [ ‘Guard You’] has all the ingredients of a Day6 standard, a head-bopping earworm with a sentimental message at its core. Powered by a synthetic drum beat, the song starts out slightly cautious as Young K paints a delicate portrait of his significant other through his observations.” – Sofiana Ramli