2020 In Review: Day 8 – Pop and Ballad

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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

There was excellence at small and large scale from 2020’s pop and ballad crop, though the top of our list this year leans towards the ambitious and sweeping epics. Note that IU – Eight (Prod./Feat. Suga) does not reappear on today’s post, as it was already recognized as the runner-up to the Song of the Year on Day 2.

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

The 2020 Pop and Ballad Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Pop and Ballad Album 2020

Choi Ye-geun – 갈 곳을 잃어도 어디든 흘러갈 수 있게 (Even If Get Lost, It Can Flow Anyway)

Few artists these days seem Choi Ye-geun’s equal in versatility, and her first LP reflected that in a dazzling collection of everything from dance pop to jazz. We’ve all heard albums that fall apart that way, but Choi’s astonishing command of seemingly every style (and impressive vocal performances) made for an unlikely yet persuasive coherence.

The first half of this album, in particular, remains nearly perfect. The crisp colorful R&B of “Lucid Dream” flowed into the operatic escalation of “Unbalance”; into the charged atmosphere stepped the passionate grooves of “Scarecrow” and “Gorilla”, the latter having received an exhilarating brass-band facelift that somehow improves on one of the best pop tracks of 2019. And that doesn’t even touch the excellent ballads. In both raw creativity and stunning performances, Even If Get Lost was easily the best pop we’ve heard all year.

The Runner-up

Ahn Da-young – Antihero

Ahn Da-young’s brooding style, the same one that made In the Endless Zanhyang We Are’s work so hypnotic, carried over well into this first solo full-length. Headlined by perhaps the strongest schedule of lead singles from 2020, Antihero probed the vagaries of relationships in often surreal and strangely delicate language. (When Ahn broke that spell she really made it count, like in the merciless bluntness of “Usual Person” and murderous aggression of “Revolver”.) This writing was strong, but the sound was unmatched: the whole album was awash in a gritty and tactile feel, with distorted guitars, synths and strings forming the backbone of unpredictable, deeply satisfying compositions from “Fingerprint” to “Panorama” and culminating in genre-bending opus “7, 3, 2, 1”. Harnessing both dynamic-range-breaking loudness and ponderous deliberation, Ahn crafted an unforgettable album.

The First Ten Out

Ahn Ye-eun – ㅇㅇㅇ (OOO)

The Blank Shop – Tailor

HA:TFELT – 1719

Kim Na-eun – 두 가지 꿈 (Two Dreams)

Kwon Soon-kwan – Connected

Lee Juck – Trace

Lim Heon-il – Breathe

Moonseorim – 최선의 방황 (The Best Wandering)

Park So-eun – 고강동 (Gogangdong)

Sunwoojunga – Serenade [Read our interview on this album]


Best Pop and Ballad Song 2020

Kwon Jin-ah – 뭔가 잘못됐어 (Something’s Wrong)
Written/composed by Kwon Jin-ah
Arranged by Seo Dong-hwan

“Something’s Wrong” felt like Kwon Jin-ah’s immense potential fully fulfilled at last, in one glorious best ballad of the year. A gracious and tastefully trimmed melody took us on a cliche-breaking journey as Kwon sang of love that’s so right that it feels wrong, brimming with hope, driving out fear. There was a magical lift in that second verse, when the strings and guitar begin to assert and Kwon breathlessly reports on a happy surrender and perturbed gravity; and the song only grew in emotion and somehow elegance too from there, like a beautiful, sprawling dream. But that’s the point, isn’t it, that it’s not a dream; but here and real, both love and this song.

The Runner-up

Lee Juck – Whale Song
Written/composed by Lee Juck
Arranged by Yang Sion

This spot had some stiff competition – occupied at times by Ahn Da-young, Okdal, and Sunwashere – but in the end, Lee Juck’s sweeping vision won out. “Whale Song”‘s wondrous and wondering lyrics hearkened back to Lee’s own “Rocinante” from the Panic days, telling a very intimate story of connection against a vast backdrop spanning continents and oceans. Yang Sion’s arrangement brought this to film-score grandeur and stirring progression, and the chorus-less structure preserved the song’s sense of discovery to the end. With the strings cresting and lapping, the climactic moments were the song’s best, crystallizing into hope on a distant horizon: “Once the days and months have collected, will we finally meet // And will that water, like a mountain, finally break.”

The First Ten Out

Ahn Da-young – 7, 3, 2, 1

The Blank Shop – We Are All Muse (Feat. Yerin Baek)

Choi Ye-geun – 허수아비 (Scarecrow)

Kwon Soon-kwan – Connected (Feat. Crush)

Lim Heon-il – Capture (Feat. Wisue)

Moonseorim – 섬이었던 (Used to Be an Island)

Okdal – 어른처럼 생겼네 (Still a Child)

Sunwashere – 밤과 낮 (Night and Day) (Feat. eAeon) (Jeon Yonghyeon Remix)

Susan – 시공간 (Space n Time)

Yewon – 퐁당퐁당 (Plop Plop)

Honorable Mentions


Ailee – I’m
Autumn Vacation – 세상은 한 장의 손수건 (The World Is Like a Handkerchief)
Boheme – 보엠교향곡 제 1번 [생] (Boheme Symphony No.1 [The Circle of Life])
Choi Yuree – 동그라미 (Shape)
Cott – Rotary
Danny – 첫 차 (First Car)
Fromm – Cellophane
Jeon Sang-geun – 한 걸음: 흔적 (One Step: Trace)
Jeong Eun-ji – Simple
Jo So-jeong – 들켜버려도 좋은 (일기) (A Diary for Me)
Joohyo – 12 Songs to Guide You Home
Kim Feel – Yours, Sincerely
Kimpomme – 여인에게 (Dear J)
Lee Won-woo – Needy
Lucid Fall – 너와 나 (Nowana)
Lucy – Panorama
Nijuu – Nijuu in the Sea
Okdal – Still a Child
Paul Kim – 마음 (Maum), Part. 2
Sejeong – 화분 (Plant)
Seo Eun-kwang – FoRest: Entrance
Seo Ja-young – Monologue
Shin Seung-hun – My Personas
Shin Yong-jae – Dear
Sonakbyul – 방백 (Aside)
Stella Jang – Stella I
Suho – 자화상 (Self-Portrait)
Sunwashere – Sun Was Here
Susan – 0
Yewon – 月見草 : 밤에 피는 꽃 (Evening Primrose)
Yoon Jiyoung – Blue Bird


Ahn Da-young – 리볼버 (Revolver)
Ahn Da-young – 원래 그런 사람 (Usual Person)
Ahn Ye-eun – Kakotopia
Ahn Ye-eun – Loop
Ahn Ye-eun – 속삭임의 회랑 (Whispering Gallery)
Ailee – 우리 사랑한 동안 (When We Were in Love)
Autumn Vacation – 나미브 (Namib)
Autumn Vacation – 루프탑 (Rooftop)
Baek Ji-young & Ong Seung-wu – 아무런 말들도 (Didn’t Say Anything)
Bol4 – 빈칸을 채워주시오 (Blank)
Choi Ye-geun – Unbalance
Choi Ye-geun – 나의 겨울에게 (Dear. My Winter)
Choi Ye-geun – 자각몽 (Lucid Dream)
Choi Yuree – 굳은살 (Stay)
Dalsooobin – Dive
Danny – 여우비 (Fox Rain)
Elaine – Deep Breath
Fromm – Aliens (Feat. Kim Feel)
Fromm – 시트러스 썸머에일 (Citrus Summer Ale)
Hahn & Surim – 서울의 밤 (A Night in Seoul)
Hwasa – LMM
Hynn – 아무렇지 않게, 안녕 (When I Tell You Goodbye)
Hyunhee Seen – 독백 (Monologue)
Jeong Eun-ji – AWay
Jeong Eun-ji – 느리게 가는 세상 (A Slow Child)
Jo So-jeong – 물음표가 가득한 나의 밤 (Comfort for Me)
Jooboring – 이중생활 (A Season Song) (Feat. Onthedal)
Ju Yoon-ha – 나는 싫어
Jung Seung-hwan – 언제라도 어디에서라도 (Whenever Wherever)
Kang Asol & Im Bora – 정물 (Still Life)
Kim Feel – Black
Kim Feel – 변명 (Excuses)
Kim Jin-ah – 사라지지 마 (Stay Still)
Kim Na-eun – 해변에서 (At the Beach)
Kim Sookhyung – Home
Kimpomme – 여인에게 (Dear J)
Kwon Soon-kwan – 터널 (Tunnel)
Lee Juck – 돌팔매 (Stoning) (Feat. Jinpyo Kim)
Lee Seol-ah – 성숙한 마음으로 무모하게 (SMMM)
Lee Won-woo – 좋아해보자 (Let’s Love)
Lim Heon-il – Everything
Loona – Universe
Lucia – 월령 (Lunar Phase)
Lucia – 창백한 푸른 점 (Pale Blue Dot)
Lucid Fall – 불안의 밤 (Nights of Disquiet)
Luli Lee – 나의 곁에 있어줘 (Stay With Me)
Mathias Echae – How Are You Doing?
Meenoi – 당신을 기다리는 내마음에는 (Something In My)
Moonseorim – 무엇으로 (The Things That Create Me) (Feat. Seyoung Kong)
Moonseorim – 파도의 품 (The Arms of the Waves)
Nuri – Season (Feat. Kim Nami)
Park Jagajang – 자장2 (Jajang2)
Paul Kim – Hero
Rocket Punch – 다시, 봄 (Lilac)
Roy Kim – 살아가는 거야 (Linger On)
Ryu Jisu – 비켜가 (Time)
Savina & Drones – 사랑은 언젠가 끝에 닿아 (Where All Loves End)
SBGB – 여우비 (Sun Shower)
Sejeong – Skyline
Sejeong – 화분 (Plant)
Seo Ja-yeong – 혼잣말 (Monologue)
Seoyoonshin – 섬 (Island) (Feat. Kimhwol)
Shin Yong-jae – 첫줄 (First Line)
So Hee Song – 달무리 (Moon Halo)
Sohyang – Stay
Sonakbyul – 우물 (Well)
Sonakbyul – 흑백나라의 앨리스 (Alice in Monochrome Land)
Song I-han – 지키자 못한 말 (Late Promise)
Song Ji-eun – 신기루 (Mirage)
Soopie – Wind
Sprinkler – Shape of Water
Stella Jang – Villain
Sunwashere – 페이즐리 (Paisley)
Sunwoojunga – Serenade
Sunwoojunga – 도망가자 (Run With Me)
Susan – 깜빡 (Forget)
Sweet Sorrow – 작은 방 (Small Room) (Feat. IU)
Syn Hjang – 어깨선 (Shoulder Line)
Taeyeon – 내게 들려주고 싶은 말 (Dear Me)
Taeyeon – 너를 그리는 시간 (Drawing Our Moments)
Won Da-hee – 그거면 돼 (That’s All) (Feat. Lee Hye-min)
Won Hyo-yeon – 그대뿐이죠 (Only You) (Feat. Sinho, Sarah)
Woo Ye-rin – 어항 (Fishbowl)
Yewon – Subway
Yoon Jiyoung – 다 지나간 일들을 (Holding On)
Yoon Jiyoung – 부끄럽네 (Shame) [Read our interview on this song]
Yujihi – 파란밤 (Blue Night)

All album art from Bugs Music. Kwon Jin-ah header image from Antenna YouTube.

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