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With each passing year, the stakes in K-pop are constantly rising—especially for the best K-pop music videos. A video concept (whether it’s teen crush or neo-futuristic) sets the tone for an artists’ comeback and serves as the driving force behind an album’s lead single. These spectacular eye-candy visuals are arguably just as important as the music itself and are treated as such.
From ethereal set designs and vigorous choreography to intricately designed wardrobes, every detail in these music videos feels intentional. Needless to say, the final product usually pays off in the end. For many K-pop acts, it’s become the norm to rack up millions of views on a single video in 24 hours or less, showing just how passionate and enthusiastic fans are for their faves.
Below, we took a look at the best K-pop music videos from 2021 — the ones whose beauty and impact should surely go down in global music video history.
Of course, any conversation on theatrics without the mention of Taemin would be blasphemy. The SHINee superstar consistently serves drama, suspense, allure, and mystique without missing a single beat. After two heart-stopping comebacks last year, Taemin’s “Advice” is nothing short of captivating. Between the beautifully sporadic dance number and the sinful crop top/sports bra combo, no one is safe once he enters the room.
Jeon Somi, “XOXO”
One thing to note about the anthemic “XOXO”: you mess with Jeon Somi, and she tends to mess back. Truly nothing is more freeing than the “angry ex-girlfriend’s revenge fest” trope as she happily ruins her two-timing boy’s life — well, theoretically, of course. Decked out in Y2K-inspired low-rise jeans, funky belts, and outlandishly stylish fur coats, Somi is the reigning queen of good girl gone mad. We love to see it.
You’ve met the Avengers of K-pop and the eight Pirate Kings, but how about K-pop’s prettiest Space Warriors, known as EVERGLOW? The sextet debuted as the newest “It Girls” on the block in 2019 and has continued to live up to the status. As opposed to the group’s hyper “girl crush” anthems and bombastic retro earworms, “FIRST” blurs the line between femininity and masculinity. With their most intense choreography to date and outfits built for battle, EVERGLOW leaves everything on the table for all who dare challenge their prowess and excellence.
The running trend among EXO members, ahead of their ongoing military enlistments, has been to either drop one helluva banger or a heartfelt goodbye song/EP for fans. Fortunately, “Genius Idol” Baekhyun got the memo and gifted six R&B-inspired tracks before heading off for duty. “Bambi” is just the tip of the iceberg for the singer’s third EP — it’s almost too hot ‘n heavy to stand. Both musically and visually, Baekhyun commands attention with every twirl of his fedora hat and MJ-inspired swing of his hips. Grab your coat, because this is one train ride you do not want to miss.
With two English singles, collaborations with the likes of Megan Thee Stallion and Coldplay, and a sold-out mini-residency at Los Angeles’s SoFi Stadium, BTS remains unstoppable. In their multi-platinum hit, “Butter,” the septet brings a whole new meaning to smooth choruses and equally smooth dance moves. The amount of color and sunshine radiating is so infectious, it’s impossible not to smile along.
U-Know, “Thank U”
Although dance-heavy music videos are popular within K-pop (especially for highlighting the point moves), it’s still exciting to see a plot-driven video every once in a while. TVXQ’s Yunho chose the latter for his second solo track, “Thank U.” The second-gen veteran could’ve easily boasted his “main dancer” status, but instead, he opted for the cinematic route and focused on his acting. Inspired by classic noir films, “Thank U” is nearly eight minutes of epic adventure, suspense, and revenge — possibly the most blockbuster of a music video you’ll ever experience.
Throughout her solo career, Sunmi has forged quite a list of memorable music videos — her turning point began with 2017’s “Gashina.” In “Tail,” she transforms from an enchanting siren to Cat Girl Queen with a dash of unhinged vengeance. With tongue-in-cheek references to Batman Returns’ Catwoman, leisurely crawls across the floor, and tail imagery galore, Sunmi owns the catlike persona in a way that’s not only sexy but downright intimidating and iconic.
Hyolyn & Dasom, “Summer or Summer”
2021 caught every longtime K-pop stan by surprise when a handful of second-generation groups made their return. As longtime champions of summer comebacks, SISTAR’s presence has left a giant hole in the industry since their disbandment in 2017. Luckily, two of the members, Hyolyn and Dasom, came to the rescue and blessed fans with a beach-worthy summer jam. Though bandmates Bora and Soyou were absent from this release, ”Summer or Summer” perfectly encapsulates the group’s friendship, or better yet, their unbreakable sisterhood.
NCT U, “Maniac”
As expected, the NCT content has been rolling out nonstop this year, with each unit getting a chance to one-up themselves from 2020. However, out of all the NCT-related projects in 2021, NCT U’s “Maniac” is the most visually underrated. Led by vocalists Doyoung and Haechan, the brassy number is right on target with an explosive amount of energy. Interestingly enough, what makes this video so appealing is the focus on dancer and choreographer Lia Kim. As she dances opposite herself in two distinct personas (one in a white dress and the other in a black suit and bralette), Lia brings “Maniac” to life with an unmatched sensuality and impeccable form.
Jackson Wang, “LMLY”
Ever since Jackson Wang founded his record label (TEAM WANG) in 2017, he’s truly been coming into his own. The GOT7 star previously directed the video for his single, “Pretty Please,” and decided to continue the ‘90s Hong Kong cinema-style in its follow-up, “LMLY.” The story follows a lovestruck Jackson working as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant. He spots the girl of his dreams and does everything in his power to make her fall for him—only to find out she was never his, to begin with. While not technically K-pop anymore, Jackson is still influenced by his musical roots: “LMLY” is sincere, aesthetically appealing, and solidifies Jackson’s eye for quality storytelling.
The phrase “oh my god” has taken on an entirely new meaning after aespa’s sassy opening line in “Savage,” because let’s face it — we’ve all rehearsed that line in the mirror. Through aespa and their AI counterparts, “Savage” pushes the “cultural technology” movement forward with futuristic effects, stylistic camerawork, and CG animated characters similar to anime or (as pointed out) a nostalgic favorite, Winx Club. As the third music video in the girls’ careers so far, this is nothing new for them, but it somehow manages to hit harder every time. Each member is in her element, cementing aespa’s place as a global trendsetter and innovator in K-pop. Also, damn, WINTER knows she can rock a bob.
ONEWE, “Rain To Be”
The five-piece ONEWE brought a fresh, new dynamic with their use of rain. Instead of dancing in it, as we often see K-pop artists do, the band sacrificed their beloved instruments for the sake of building and releasing tension. “Rain To Be” opens with gloomy yet mild darkness, a tell-tale sign of an upcoming storm. With the water rising from the ground and rain spilling from the sky above, ONEWE practically drowns in the euphoria of it all, allowing it to consume them. As you hold your breath watching the band go under, you realize music is ingrained in their DNA: each member plays with more tenacity than ever.
You know you’re a badass when you can name a song after yourself and do it with confidence. Keeping on trend with BLACKPINK’s high-quality productions, “LALISA” is dripping in swagger and finesse, all with Lisa’s fingerprints on it. Throughout the three-minute run, the singer switches from a multitude of outfits and sets. It’s clear Lalisa Manoban is calling the shots in front and behind the camera, from special agent to biker chick to expensive Thai princess sitting on her golden throne. Ultimately, “LALISA” was her solo introduction to the world, and she’s here to stay — attitude and all.
NCT Dream, “Hello Future”
Finally, the world is healing, and NCT Dream is seven again. Nothing could’ve set this year on a better track than what the Dreamies did with “Hello Future,” and it was a blissfully cathartic experience. The video’s vibrant atmosphere is a mix of ‘70s hippie vibes and a subtle nod to the UFO/Men In Black era of the ‘90s — an odd combination that’s strangely comforting. It wraps you up in its rambunctious blanket joy from start to finish, leaving you a bit teary-eyed from the boys’ rapid (and deserved) growth. Plus, with a bone-chilling outro like this, it’s not hard to see why Dream’s future looks so bright.
AKMU (feat. Lee Sun Hee), “Hey kid, Close your eyes”
Vocal duo AKMU is a treasure among K-pop artists. With Chanhyuk’s raps and compositions and Suhyun’s robust vocals, the siblings’ musicality seldom falters. Visually, they’re able to deliver a message so clearly while still leaving it up for interpretation and conversation. Although painfully dark, “Hey kid, Close your eyes” is a perfect representation. Backed by a melancholic synth-pop production, the video seemingly portrays how war affects children around the world. While kids are shooting each other with water (or paint) guns, the color story remains black and white, conveying the severity of the situation.
When it comes to the spunky concepts of ITZY, expectations are always high in the visual department. Fortunately, “Loco” did not disappoint with its loud and vivacious designs. Yeji seemingly takes a page out of Sunmi’s Cat Girl book, and the video introduces us to blonde streak Ryujin — a win on all fronts. Besides the killer wardrobe, it was also interesting to see the members interrupt the choreography and set up for their hypothetical concert. “Loco” shows ITZY as the true Gen Z princesses they were poised to be.
Key, “BAD LOVE”
If anyone can seamlessly transport us back to MTV of the late ‘80s, it’s SHINee’s Key. After making his solo debut with Face, “Bad Love” marked his first time taking creative charge for a project. In an interview, Key revealed his retro space inspiration derived from sci-fi films of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Hence, the spacious sound elements and spaceships throughout the video. While Baekhyun’s “Bambi” was a nod to Michael Jackson’s soul and R&B roots, “Bad Love” plunges into the dance-pop era of MJ with flashy sets and lighting to match. It’s a spectacle for the ages.
Jessi, “Cold Blooded” (with SWF)
Even if you’ve never seen an episode of Street Woman Fighter, you’ll probably recognize this song and a few familiar faces. In collaboration with the survival program, rapper and singer Jessi composed her latest hit, “Cold Blooded,” specifically for the Mnet show. The video features all six of the competing dance crews, who all shine with confidence, strength, and total girl-boss energy. Jessi herself doesn’t even appear until the last minute, showing she’d much rather support the other women instead of focusing the spotlight on herself. “Cold Blooded” is as tough as it is feminine, reminding women you can balance both and still look good doing it.
Eric Nam, “Any Other Way”
Eric Nam is such a staple to the K-pop community — whether you discovered him as a talk show host or through his ever-evolving music, he’s sculpted a permanent place in all of our hearts. In the singer’s latest track, “Any Other Way,” Nam takes to the outdoors with an array of scenic shots and soothing backgrounds. The way he glides and prances across the fields paints a picture of calm winds moving in time with his body, freely and untamed. That’s what it feels like to be in the presence of Eric Nam.
Hwasa, “I’m a 빛” (I’m a B)
MAMAMOO’s Hwasa is a woman in her own league. No matter what type of environment she’s in, she always seems to thrive off being authentically herself. In her latest video, Hwasa plays up the role of insanity to perfection just before she flips back into her careless persona. However, the highlight has to be the traditional dance sequence between the second chorus and bridge — it ties in the dramatic elements so poetically. “I’m a 빛” is proof that Hwasa’s creativity and sense of self are the catalysts behind that genius mind of hers.
A year ago, EXO’s Kai had everyone on Earth in a vice grip with the sultry dystopian world of “Mmmh.” While the singer’s previous release focused on futuristic visuals and effects, this year’s “Peaches” borrows from the past. The modernized hanbok and serene mountain imagery is a love letter to South Korea’s history, while peaches are symbolic in the country’s mythology and are seen as the fruit of happiness. Although Kai isn’t the first to draw inspiration from ancient Korean themes, he does portray it in the most dreamlike sequence we’ve seen yet. Side note: a moment of silence for yet another beautiful execution in choreography.
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