2020 In Review: Day 4 – R&B and Soul

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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

The alternative-R&B scene led by the likes of Lofibaby and Samuel Seo made big strides in 2020, even as more mainstream musicians continued to output excellent work. A surprising number of idol groups also extended serious reach into this scene, with Baekhyun, CL, Kai and more contributing strong albums to the crop.

The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.

The 2020 R&B and Soul Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best R&B and Soul Album 2020

Lofibaby – 미술관 (Art Museum)

Taking the strengths of 2018’s N to the next level, Art Museum was the year’s most viscerally satisfying R&B album. The soundscapes were crafted out of dense and bold future bass and PBR&B, forming the backbone of imposing vistas like “Art” and “Frottage”, but Lofibaby were also unafraid to use the toolset in less predictable ways, as in the sleek but forlorn “Oriental Ink Painting” and the ultra-rhythmic “Croquis”. It was track after track of sustained excellence, with nary a throwaway. On top of the immaculate sound and filling compositions, the Lofibaby also committed to this theme of a museum tour, providing a subtly entertaining minigame of connecting each track to both the art style it depicted and the shape of love it sang of. As the “docent” said in the last skit, this remains one museum that you can visit whenever and wherever, and we’ll have plenty of reason for return visits.

The Runner-up

Yerin Baek – Every Letter I Sent You.

Yerin Baek’s lyricism has seemingly grown more and more introspective over the years, and her first full-length – a loosely-connected and almost entirely English collection written over several years – came with an appropriately subdued and wintry accompaniment. Every Letter I Sent You. was not as radio-friendly as Frank and not as sonically dazzling as Our Love Is Great, but it made up for everything with singular and absorbing concentration. These brooding tracks invited close listening with their gentle edges and detailed sound; Baek then laid out the contours of her thoughts like never before. Her rich vocals flowed over each acoustic backdrop and lovingly crafted melody, giving us some truly stunning moments like the sweeping chorus of “0310” and the hypnotic trance of “Point”. It was an effort that solidified Baek’s spot among the modern greats – and with the recent Tellusboutyourself, she shows no signs of stopping.

The First Ten Out

A.Train – Paingreen

Baekhyun – Delight

Damye – The Sandwich Artist

Fanxy – Stress

G1nger – Sunbeams

Hersh – Thoughts. II

Jinbo – Don’t Think Too Much

Saay – Feelosophy

Samuel Seo – Unity II

Seori – ?depacse ohw [Read our interview on this album]


Best R&B and Soul Song 2020

Samuel Seo – 굴레 (Cycle)
Written by Samuel Seo
Composed/arranged by Samuel Seo, Park Beom-seok, Hwang Jae-yeon, Heo Ah-min, Kwon Han-kyeol

“Cycle” seemed to be enveloped in a shroud, a fascinating thick atmosphere driven by Hwang Jae-yeon’s evocative guitar tone and other hazy elements. Inside Samuel Seo ruminated on a nonspecific but fundamental kind of frustration (somewhat of a carryover from the themes of D I A L), which eventually bubbled up to the shroud’s surface in the form of a wiry and defiant chorus. The pervasive background vocals (everywhere but especially in that chorus) really made this track. Not only did it add a satisfying richness to the sound stage, it also lent a symbolic solidarity to the song’s central message. And that message itself was an interesting subversion: whereas the titular gul-leh is typically used to describe a bleak and toiling kind of cycle, Seo sang of a more resigned yet hopeful interpretation. In his words the cycles we inhabit move on, inexorably, even “when it’s dark ahead of you”; “In the end it’ll keep on rolling, somehow.” And so the song rolls on.

The Runner-up

G1nger – Winter Sleep
Written by G1nger
Composed by G1nger, Wuram
Arranged by Wuram

Another year, another strong crop of rookie R&B musicians. Among them G1nger had a strikingly inventive debut EP, headlined by the dreamy “Winter Sleep”. The rustic organ-tinged keyboard and shimmering lo-fi synths seemed to herald a sleepy jam, but then the beat dropped and G1nger went off on a singing-rap hook that was reminiscent of Jclef’s best. Through it all, the tender lyrics were sweet whispers, holding the listener tightly, captive in the moment: “Let these feelings never rot // and you make light for me // They’ll never get dirty // Oh you, oh you”. At times both electric and soothing, “Winter Sleep” was a needed breath of fresh air.

The First Ten Out

A.Train – Hurt

Baekhyun – Candy

Bibi – 사장님 도박은 재미로 하셔야 합니다 (Kazino)

Hersh – Pray

Lofibaby – 프로타주 (Frottage)

Saay – Omega

Samuel Seo – 개나리 (Gae Na Ri) (Feat. Yerin Baek) [Read our interview on this song]

Sumin – 사랑만들기 (ZAZA♡)

Syn – 자가치유. (Self Cure Tape.)

Youra – 행복은 도피여야 해 (Happy)

Honorable Mentions


Baekchan – Baekchan 01
Besisi – Ideal Type
BoA – Starry Night
Bronze – Aquarium
Cadejo – Freebody
Cherry Coke – Every Flower You Gave Me
CL – 사랑의 이름으로 (In the Name of Love)
Crush – From Midnight to Sunrise
D’allant – [Cosmos]
Diid – Imagine
Faver – Good Nights and Sad Times
GiiANA & B Jyun. – Stereo / Mono
Hippy was Gipsy – 0
Hnie Hnig – Human Nature
Hyolyn – Say My Name
Jackingkong – Dress Code
JuanKim Trio & Friends – I’m Not a Coward
Kai – Kai
Kirin – The Town
Mandy – Why Do U Love Me
Oceanfromtheblue – Luv-fi 2020
Onthedal – ℃ dal
Paulkyte – The Wheel
Samuel Seo – D I A L [Read our interview on this album]
Sonacvill – 무늬 (The Other Side)
Sumin – XX,
Suzanne – The Distance Between You and Me
The Deep – Escape
Yelloasis – SEA Chord
YOUniverTH – Interview


015B & Shin Youme – 나의 호기심 (My Curiosity)
A.Train & Budung – 우리가 불 속에 놓고 온 것들 (Things We Left in the Fire)
Ailee – Beautiful Disaster
As One – 애써 (It’s OK Not to Be OK) (Feat. Lee Dae-hwi)
Besisi – 이상형 (Ideal Type) (Feat. Sumin)
Boni – Gravity
Byul-yang – Times
Cherry Coke – Twisted
CL – +Done161201+
CL – +처음으로170205+ (Rewind)
Cl0cker & Rish – I’m Shallow
Claire Hau – Overdose (Feat. Tommy Strate)
Club 33 – Dreams Come True (Feat. Golden, Jay Park)
Cott – Velvet (Feat. Onthedal)
Crush – Sunset
D’allant – Neptune
Damye – 영업종료 (Sorry We’re Closed)
DeVita – Evita!
DiiD – 새벽의 기도 (A Dawn Prayer) (Feat. Oppn Door)
DPR Live – Jam & Butterfly (Feat. Crush, eaJ)
Eunbii – 기대 (Lean On Me) (Feat. Childdiahn)
Everglow – No Good Reason
Fanxy – 내가 너를 니가 나를 (Hurt)
Fisherman – 사이 (Between) (Feat. Sumin)
G1nger – T-shirts (Feat. Jeebanoff)
G1nger – 책갈피 (Doil)
Ga Eun – GDC (Girls Don’t Cry)
Glowingdog – Alone (Feat. Sogumm, Gond)
Gongsol – 순간 (Moment)
HA:TFELT – 피어싱 (Piercing) (Feat. Thama)
Haeil – Lil Time (Feat. Audrey Nuna)
Hartts – Bloom Again (Feat. Summer Soul)
Hersh – 기다림 (Waiting)
Hnie Hnig – Nero
Hongha – 심박계 (Hrm (Heart Rate Monitor))
Horim – 싶은 것 같이 (Notanymo’)
Hyolyn – 9Lives
Jackingkong – Dress Code (Feat. Onthedal)
Jamie – Numbers (Feat. Changmo)
Jeon Woong (Ab6ix) – Moondance
Jhnovr – Fallin’ (Feat. Kim Ximya)
Jhnovr – White Center
Jida – Jupiter (Feat. Lilac)
Jinbo – 갈매기 (Seagulls) (Feat. Digital Dav)
JuanKim Trio & Friends – Forever
JuanKim Trio & Friends – Recover
Junggigo – Warm
Kai – 음 (Mmmh)
Kim Yeo-myung – Have You Ever
Kriz – 소용돌이 (Soyongdol-i) (Feat. Jinbo)
Lee Hi – 홀로 (Holo)
Limhara – Stream
Lofibaby – 미술 (Art)
Mandy – Purple Water (Prod. Deer)
Max – Lie (Feat. Chungha)
Milli Oshyun – 초승달 (A New Moon) (Feat. D2ear)
Mogwaa – 잠깐만 (Hold On) (Feat. Xin Seha)
n0xx1 – 드루와 (Dooroowa)
Nafla – 태워 (Burn)
Necta – Herb (Feat. Han5world)
Ourlingo – 낫또 (Natto)
Paulkyte – I, I, I
Saay – Aloha
Samuel Seo – 운 (Cloud)
Saula – Emotions
Seora & Eunbii – Blur
Seori – Fairy Tale
Seori – Running Through the Night [Read our interview on this song]
SF9 – 더 잔인하게 (Stop It Now)
Soma – Room
Sprinkler – Sunshine
Sultan of the Disco – Waiting for Your Calling Back
Sumin – 불켜 (Turnon)
Super Junior D&E – Change
Suzanne – Can’t Hang
Syn – 이 밤은 짧아 (All Night Long)
Taemin – Just Me and You
The Deep – Here I Am (Feat. Deepflow)
The Neovyy – 무례 (Badly) (Feat. Marvin)
The Night of Seokyo – Diving (Feat. Bini)
Yerin Baek – Lovelovelove
Yerin Baek – Point (Feat. Loopy)
Yerin Baek – Popo (How Deep Is Our Love?)
YOUniverTH – Palette
YOUniverTH – 아를의 밤 (Arles Night)

All album art 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