2020 In Review: Day 14 – Artist of the Year

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2020 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

Artists of the Year are selected holistically, but in general our picks are artists who showed consistency by releasing multiple good works over the year. (One really good work can do in rare cases.)

Often their work would also have meant something for other artists or the scene that they are part of, though that is of course difficult to judge less than a year out. That can mean direct or indirect influence, including collaborations and production credits; less tangibly, it can also include international recognition, cultural significance, and commercial success which typically (not always) brackets the first two.

Artist of the Year 2020


For LPs Map of the Soul: 7; EP Be; single “Dynamite”; Japanese LP Map of the Soul: 7 ~The Journey~; and featured appearances with Halsey and Lauv

Our Artist of the Year choice typically has both critical and commercial acclaim under their belt. It’d be an understatement to say that BTS had both in 2020. Map of the Soul: 7 was praised for its scale and ambition – befitting a group of BTS’ stature – as well as the polished execution, and promoted tracks like the forlorn “Black Swan” and decadent “On” provided unique sounds that we didn’t hear quite anywhere else in Korean music this year. (Naturally, these recognized in our own list on Day 7 as well.) On the commercial side: suffice to say that BTS’s 2020 was probably the single most successful year that any Korean musician has had, by international standards. The litany of sales and other records broken have become almost routine for the group now, and with “Dynamite” and “Life Goes On” securing historic Billboard #1s and the former also a Grammy pop nomination, the year only solidified their place in the global mainstream. And still, they show no signs of slowing down.

The Runner-up


For LP Sugungga, containing contents of singles “Fish”, “Rabbit”, “Tiger”, and “Softshell Turtle”

As we discussed on Day 11, it’s been extremely difficult for Korean traditional or modern-fusion music to break into the public awareness. (Leenalchi’s spiritual predecessor, SsingSsing, may have come the closest.) So Leenalchi’s success in this regard can’t be overstated. They had every reason to be supremely confident in their music, a winning formula of pansori theater, funk, and hip-hop; by bringing charisma and humorous flair into this fusion style, and harnessing an unexpectedly explosive partnership with the Ambiguous Dance Company, Leenalchi kicked off a sensational debut that fascinated and amused many who may not have touched any of those elements on their own. As they quietly expand their reach into TV, ad campaigns and PSAs, they explore uncharted territory where none in their place have gone before.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

Ahn Da-young

For LP Antihero, containing singles “7, 3, 2, 1”, “지문 (Fingerprint)”, and “잘 있어요? (We’ Just Living in a Dream)”; and featured appearances with Retro Funkee and Oh Ji-eun

Choi Ye-geun

For LP 갈 곳을 잃어도 어디든 흘러갈 수 있게 (Even If Get Lost, It Can Flow Anyway); singles “나의 겨울에게 (Dear My Winter)”, “Gravity”, “Distance”, and “Stay Up”; and featured appearances with 015B, Im Seulong, AkMu, and Grand Mint Band

Gwangil Jo

For LP 암순응 (Dark Adaptation); collaborative EP 신세계 (New World) (with Brown Tigger); singles “곡예사 (Acrobat)” and “한국 (Korea)”; and collaborative single “정리해고 (Layoff)” (with Basick)


For LP CheongPa Sonata; and featured production credit with Kim Hyun-chul

Khundi Panda

For LP 가로사옥 (Garosawk); single “AMA”; and featured appearances with Jinbo, Heejae, Ravi, JuanKim Trio & Friends, Grizzly, Sunggook & Jay Moon, Moonsun, Nvked, P-Type, Loxx Punkman, Sharkrama, Cherry Coke, ChoiLB, and Fisherman

Kim Oki

For LPs 포 마이 앤젤 (For My Angel) and Yun Hyong-keun; group LPs Kwak Orchestra (as Kim Oki Saturnballad) and Big Picture (as Fucking Madness); and featured appearances with Otakhee, Blnk, Authentic, Sumin Jung, Chin Sooyoung, D’allant, Fredi Casso, Mandong, Samuel Seo, and Kangkang


For LP NCT Resonance, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2

Samuel Seo

For EPs D I A L and Unity II; single “Let Us Talk”; collaborative singles “Eden_Stardust2 Vol.01” (with Eden) and “Automatic Remix” (with various artists); and featured appearances and production credits with Kim Oki, Janet Suhh, P-Type, Moonsun, Dopeboilsh, Brown Tigger, Coreyah, Han Hee-jun, OnlyOneOf, and Yenjamin


For LPs Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 1 and Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 2, containing contents of Never Gonna Dance Again: Prologue

Yerin Baek

For LP Every Letter I Sent You.; OST work on Crash Landing on You; and featured appearances with pH-1, Code Kunst, Loopy, Samuel Seo, and The Blank Shop

All artist images from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review