2021 In Review: Day 8 – Pop and Ballad

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2021 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 top 12s of 2021’s Pop and Ballad category are perhaps the most diverse they’ve ever been, with bluesy rock-ballads, citypop, orchestral ballad, acoustic electronica and more all being represented in this catch-all field. Elsewhere, the year saw continued strength from traditional-inspired ballads from Lucia and Woo Yerin among others, a stirring comeback in Wendy’s solo EP, an unlikely superstar debut in Lee Mujin’s “Traffic Light”, unexpected crossovers by Jeon Yoo-dong and Kim Il-du and more, and some awe-inspiring prolific displays by the likes of Ahn Ye-eun and Kwon Jin-ah.

Note that both Budung – 지지않는 곳으로 가자 (Let’s Take a Step to a Brighter Place) and Ahn Ye-eun – 소식 (The Word) will not be listed below, since they were respectively our Album of the Year (Day 2) and runner-up Song of the Year (Day 3). The “Next 10” and honorable mention lists are alphabetically sorted by artist name.

The 2021 Pop and Ballad Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Pop and Ballad Album 2021

Younha – End Theory

The language of science and particularly astronomy bestow a larger-than-life beauty to the album’s earnest stories, and the sweeping lines and sprawling scale of its set-pieces (“P.R.R.W.”, “Wish”, “Here”) are as accessible as they are sensorily inundating. The soundscapes of Younha past, from piano rock to EDM to pop ballad, and a characteristically tour-de-force vocal performance are all confidently deployed to pull tracks like “Oort Cloud” and “Stardust” into a coherent whole. A breathtaking journey and the best album of Younha’s decorated career.

The Runner-up

Hong Haelim – March

It’s a rare, fully committed orchestral pop album, but rather than any reference to the dramatic string ballads of the 2000s, March is closer to a jazz album in its laid-back assurance and elegant pace. The instrumentation often takes deep and leisurely breaths, and the gorgeously detailed arrangements provide expansive space for Hong’s delicate but grounded voice to shine. It feels both classic and ahead of its peers.

The Next 10 (Alphabetical)

Ailee – Amy

AkMu – Next Episode

Han Hee-jung – Notate

IU – Lilac

Kang Sung-hee – Rain, Woman & the Other Thing

Kwon Jin-ah – 우리의 방식 (The Way for Us)

Kwon Wol – 순 (Receded)

Park Hyun-seo – 갈대 (Reed)

Sueun – 사랑한단 말없이도 사랑을 확인하는 방법 (9 Ways to Say “I Love You”)

Sung Si-kyung – ㅅ (Siot)


Best Pop and Ballad Song 2021

Hong Haelim – 작곡된 것처럼 (March)
Written and composed by Hong Haelim
Arranged by Kim Yong-eun

The titular crown jewel of March is replete with swelling string runs and poignant pauses, all building to a stirring final act. Hong’s meta-metaphor comparing the assurance of love to the act of composing music (“Come tomorrow, I’ll be loving you […] The precarious harmonies and vibration of colliding strings”, “I remember how we’ll be tomorrow, just like I know this melody”), plays deliciously off the ebb and tide of the composition, making it a joy to follow.

The Runner-up

Budung – 씬이 버린 아이들 (Guess Who?)
Written by Budung
Composed and arranged by Budung, Park Joon-hyung

Perhaps the brightest moment of Let’s Take a Step to a Brighter Place, a representation of its wiry hope. The rousing melody is wrapped in a nostalgic modern-rock arrangement, awash in driving guitar and piano chords that sparkle and scatter. The lyrics are not straightforward – providing only glimpses at the misdirected, perhaps doomed persistence of the narrator’s past – but the helpless, unanswered questions of the chorus are nevertheless unforgettable.

The Next 10 (Alphabetical)

015B – 불확정성의 원리 (Uncertainty Principle) (Feat. Dawon)

Ju Yoon-ha – 우리가 남긴 불빛 (The Light We Left Behind Us)

Kim Areum – 잠수모드 (Diving)

Kim Hyun-chul – City Breeze & Love Song

Kwon Jin-ah – Knock (with Parkmoonchi)

Lee Jung-kwon – 해피엔딩 (Happy Ending)

Lee Seung-chul – 우린 (We Were) (Prod. Lee Chan-hyuk)

Lee Seung-hwan & Sunwoojunga – 어쩜 (How Could You)

Oh My Girl – Dear You (나의 봄에게) (read our review)

Susan – 투명한 하늘 (Lucent Sky)

Honorable Mentions


Ahn Da-young – Burning Letter
Ahn Ye-eun – 섬에서 (From the Island)
Ahn Ye-eun – 섬으로 (To the Island)
BoA – Better
Broccoli You Too – 어떻게든 뭐라도 해야 할 것 같아서 (I Feel Like I’d Have to Do Something)
Car, the Garden – 부재 (Absence)
Cloud – 많이 과장해서 하는 말 (With a Lot of Exaggeration)
Ha Sung-woon – Select Shop
Hoppipolla – And Then There Was Us
Hwang Kyung-eun – 안녕히 (Farewell)
Hwang Puha & Sunji Lee – 답장 (The Reply)
Kang Seung-yoon – Page
Kim Areum – Summer City
Kim Hyun-chul – City Breeze & Love Song
Kim Il-du – 새 계 절 (New Season)
Lee Joo-young – 발라드
Lee Jung-kwon – Diary
Lee Seol-ah – 더 궁금할 게 없는 세상에서 (Empty World)
Lim Heon-il – Sunset
Lucia – 소로 (Narrow Road)
Lucy – Gatcha!
Mesani – Jungle
Stella Jang – Stairs
Verycoybunny – Bunny
Wendy – Like Water
Wisue – 지나간 여름을 안타까워마 (Dear My Last Summer)
Woo Yerin – Night : 여름에 노란 꽃이 밤에만 핀다
Yang Da-il – Our Joys and Sadnesses
Yerin Baek – 선물 (Love, Yerin)
Yimnao – Naotic Summer Ballad
Yukika – Timeabout,


015B – Elena Coda (Feat. 일레인)
Ahn Da-young – 먹이 (The Food Chain)
Ahn Ye-eun – 가자 (Beginning)
Ahn Ye-eun – 창귀 (Changgwi)
Ahn Ye-eun – 출항 (Sailing)
Ahn Ye-eun – 프루스트 (Proust)
AkMu – Everest (Feat. Sam Kim)
Annacha – 사랑에 물들어 (Soaked in Love)
Baek A-yeon – 춥지 않게 (I Need You)
Broccoli You Too – 좋았었던 날은 (A Good Day)
Budung – 00
Budung – 연애 (Lovers)
Car, the Garden – 파도 (The Wave)
Cho Kyu-chan – Back to You
Chosng – 바다 (I’ll Be Your Sea)
Chun Yong-sung – 반셔터 (Half-Pressed) (Feat. Jungwoo)
Chungha – X (걸어온 길에 꽃밭 따윈 없었죠)
Cloud – 많이 과장해서 하는 말 (With a Lot of Exaggeration)
Daybreak – 말이 안 되잖아 (Doesn’t Make Sense) (Feat. Heize)
Eric Nam – I Don’t Know You Anymore
Giryeon – 어떻게 너를 잊어 (Never Forget)
Han Hee-jung – 나의 세계는 (My World Is)
Hoppipolla – 너의 바다 (Your Ocean)
IU – Strawberry Moon
IU – 라일락 (Lilac)
IU – 아이와 나의 바다 (My Sea)
Jeon Jin-hee – 낮달 (Daymoon)
Jeon Jin-hee – 여름밤에 우리 (Summer, Night) (Feat. Wave to Earth)
Jeon Yoo-dong – 은행나무 (Gingko Tree)
Jeong Se-woon – In the Dark
John OFA Rhee – Crazy (Studio Live Ver.)
Kim Il-du – 별이 뜨는 (Rising Star)
Kim Jae-hwan – Pray
Kim Marie – 너의 이름은 맑음 (Your Name)
Kim Na-young – 내 빛바랜 날들 (My Faded Day)
Kim Sejeong – 집에 가자 (Let’s Go Home)
Kimhwol – 침묵 (Silence)
Kwon Jin-ah – 우리의 방식 (The Way for Us)
Kwon Jin-ah – 잘 가 (Good Bye)
Kwon Wol – 엽서 (Postcard)
Lee Hyung-eun – 멀리가지마요 (Be There?)
Lee Joo-young – 꿈 (Dream)
Lee Mujin – 신호등 (Traffic Light)
Lee Seung-gi – 소년, 길을 걷다 (The Dreamer’s Dream)
LeeZe – 나는 꽃, 너는 봄 (My Spring, Your Flower)
Lucia – 밤의 정원 (Nox)
Lucia – 수피 (Forest)
Lucia – 시내 (The Stream)
Lucy – I Got U
Lucy – One by One
Mesani – Earthquake
Msftz – 삼투압 (Osmotic Pressure)
NCT U (Doyoung, Haechan) – Maniac (Prod. Ryan S. Jhun)
Park Hyun-seo – 너를 향하고 있어 (Heading Towards You)
Park Hyun-seo – 당신이 그린 그림 (Your Will)
Park So-eun – 우리는 같은 음악을 듣고 (Music n Movie)
Rainbow Note – 수면 (Surface)
Ronny Chu – Bye Bye
Sam Kim – The Juice
Shin Onyu & Kim Kang – 허밍버드 (Hummingbird)
Shin Seol-hee – Bird
Shuya – 불안 (Anxiety)
Sonnet – Ready
Stella Jang – 집에 가자 (Let’s Go Home)
Sueun – 아포칼립스 (Apocalypse)
Sujo – 너는 나의 여름 (My Summer)
Sulyeohan – Sign (Feat. Ocean)
Sung Si-kyung – 마음을 담아 (With My Heart)
Sung Si-kyung – 방랑자 (Wanderer)
Sunwoojunga – 동거 (In the Bed)
Sweden Laundry – 다 사랑 같아 (Everything Is You) (Vocal Zitten)
Syn Hjang – 하늘다람쥐 (Sugar Glider)
Verycoybunny – Go for It
Wendy – When This Rain Stops
Wisue – 교토 (Kyoto)
Wisue – 지나간 여름을 안타까워마 (Dear My Last Summer)
Woo Yerin – 낙원(楽園) (Paradise)
Woo Yerin – 화;월 (Night Flower)
Yang Da-il – 한숨 (Loss)
Yeonhee Dabang – From 2021
Yerin Baek – 왜? 날 (Why Me?)
Yesung – Corazon Perdido (Lost Heart)
Yimnao – 여름이고 밤이고 숲이어서 (For It Was Summer and Night and Forest)
Younha – P.R.R.W.
Younha – 물의 여행 (Wish)
Younha – 별의 조각 (Stardust)
Younha – 오르트구름 (Oort Cloud)
Yukika – 애월 (Lovemonth)
Yullin – 유영 (Spacewalk)
Yuqi – Giant

Lyric translations by author. Artist profile and album cover images from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2020 In Review

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review