The Best K-Pop Music Videos of 2021 (Part One)
The best music videos released this year by K-pop artists! This is part of a series of 2021 wrap-up articles coming out over the next two weeks!
Note: Some of these music video reviews are excerpts from reviews published earlier in the year. For many more music video recommendations, listen to the corresponding episode of 17 Carat K-Pop!
#50: KAI, “Peaches”: Looking ethereal in dressy, white outfits, KAI lets the inner dancer that has always been in him shine. His natural talent and fluid body movements steal the show, ensuring “Peaches” stays as alluring as intended.
#49: TWICE, “The Feels”: This music video turns on the charm right away, showing TWICE in a pink, larger-than-life closet, debating what to wear to the prom. They then dance the night away at prom wearing contagious smiles and a pastel rainbow of dresses. Whether intentional or not, “The Feels” is extra special for its nods to previous TWICE eras. TWICE put a fresh spin on the wardrobe from the “What is Love?” era, update the plaid looks from the “YES or YES” era, and add tons of sparkles to the outfits that are straight out of the “CHEER UP” era. “The Feels” is a showstopper of a single, and TWICE perform it in a way that is electrifying for fans old and new.
#48: YUQI, “Giant”: It is hard not to be fixated on the animations this video consists of, which flow into one another to make a one-person, shadow puppet-style show. Words do not do justice to the imagery in this video, which utilizes shadows and lights to bleed one image into the next. It is a flip book of epic, incomparable proportions. By the end, YUQI is not necessarily a giant, but her shadow behind her is. The ultimate lesson: finding her inner worth and ability to “rise up like a giant” does not require changing herself. After all, one’s shadow is always giant relative to one’s actual height! YUQI does not change, but her self-perception does in a thought-provoking way.
#47: Whee In, “water color”: As Whee In sings about bringing to life her colorful “dream world,” she rocks bright outfits amid groups of people wearing relatively muted, plain outfits. From a bright blue, tulle gown with glittery heels to a white outfit with bright purple gloves, Whee In stays the center of attention. Even in the scene where her backup dancers wear colorful clothes too, Whee In still wears an even more colorful look than the rest of them. In addition to using colors to effectively send the song’s message, Whee In also uses animation, turning into a cartoon character near the end. “water color” has the creativity that is a necessity for effectively conveying this song’s message.
#46: Bling Bling, “Oh MAMA”: CONTRAST turns out to have been the perfect album title, as this single’s music video has two distinct aesthetics. Some scenes take place at night, where the members wear black clothes and dance on an abandoned ship. The other setting is a desert during the day, featuring vivid blue structures in front of which they dance in all-white looks. In addition to the differences between the scenes that are literally black and white and night and day, the scenes are distinguished via short, animated transitions. Not only does “Oh MAMA” utilize color well and showcase chic outfits, but it holds attention thanks to the members’ cartoon counterparts.
#45: SUNMI, “TAIL”: SUNMI is a method actress of sorts, fully immersing herself in whichever role she is playing for a specific music video. In this case, that role is an anti-damsel in distress. SUNMI calls the shots, tying a villain to train tracks and turning on the charm to influence a suspect. She serves glamorous looks galore while delivering this sultry performance. She alludes to a steamy romance with the help of a cat analogy, a comparison that could easily come across as silly if it weren’t for SUNMI leaning so heavily into her character. She takes on the role of a ferociously bold lover with ease, embracing the persona fully.
#44: HA SUNG WOON, “Sneakers”: HA SUNG WOON’s bubbly personality is sure to add sunshine into any viewer’s day! Rocking pastel hair and a big smile, he dances through life thanks to the pep in his step his new pair of shoes brings him. It’s a relatable feeling expressed by a lovable performer.
#43: YOUNHA, “Stardust”: YOUNHA looks up at colorful, cosmic phenomena as she, long story short, reunites with and heals a younger version of herself. The skies are simply stunning, YOUNHA’s pink hair and white dress are adorable, and her storytelling is touching. “Stardust” is a gorgeous video that complements the emotional album perfectly.
#42: BamBam, “riBBon”: The music video for “riBBon” shows BamBam at his most charming, dancing and flying through picturesque scenes as he dons Mad-Hatter-chic outfits and sings about feeling reborn. He is seen at a dance party, in a human-sized chess game, and atop mountains of presents, among other scenes. It’s a gorgeous and quirky music video fit for its one-of-a-kind star, and there couldn’t be a cuter way to be introduced to Solo BamBam!
#41: Red Velvet, “Queendom”: “Queendom” is a visual feast, as the group moves from one colorful, Wonderland-esque setting to another one. They work their literal magic in a mysterious hotel, have a tea party in a vibrant garden, and ride a chariot through the clouds. It is a whimsical video fit for its whimsical song. Plus, it has outfit inspiration for days!
#40: LISA, “LALISA”: BLACKPINK’s music videos are known to have larger-than-life settings and countless costume changes, and LISA wants the world to know her solo music videos are and will be just as extravagant! While undergoing over a dozen costume changes, LISA parades through rooms, rides a motorcycle, pole dances, sits on a throne, and more. The video’s numerous settings, outfits, and even hair colors make the “LALISA” music video seem like a challenge, daring fans to guess which of the many concepts that LISA is dipping her toes into now will reemerge in the future. LISA is chameleonic, but she is also sure of herself. She is the epitome of unbothered and confident in her identity, incorporating sounds from her native Thailand into this Korean song and rapping about running the show. At every turn, “LALISA” conveys the message, “Ready or not, here LISA comes.”
#39: WONWOO X MINGYU ft. LeeHi, “Bittersweet”: “Bittersweet” both captures the complexities in the song’s lyrics and brings to life an unexpected story. “Bittersweet” is a contemplation on “How did love become love,” a realization of how platonic love can be just as valid and powerful as romantic love. Long story short, in the end, MINGYU and WONWOO choose their friendship over romance. They lose their competitiveness and jealousy and instead carry out a stereotypical romance movie scene as friends instead. They learn they do not need a lover to enjoy a dramatic walk in the rain!
#38: TAEMIN, “Advice”: In “Advice,” TAEMIN’s evil alter ego calls all the shots. The drama starts right away, as TAEMIN’s alter ego plays the piano in a “hell frozen over” type of landscape, and it ends with him basking in the literal and symbolic damage he caused with a car wreck. Because “Good TAEMIN” is nowhere to be found, it is reasonable to assume his music video storyline is far from complete; the two TAEMINs have not yet encountered one another. This sinister addition to his storyline maintains fans’ curiosity and prompts fans to ponder what broader, philosophical messages TAEMIN sends through his dual selves.
#37: LOONA, “PTT (Paint The Town)”: LOONA power through synchronized choreography as they sing about literally leaving their mark on the world. The banging of a gong, tall flames, and other details heighten the sense that they are getting ready for something major to happen. The empowering video is the perfect fit for the empowering song, and it is an impressive video in both general (with its choreography) and specific ways (with its symbolic details).
#36: THE 8, “Side By Side”: THE 8 struggles to win over a crush in a way that (possibly unintentionally) brings to mind music videos from SEVENTEEN’s early days. The storyline in the older SEVENTEEN song “Mansae” is combined with the aesthetics of the newer SEVENTEEN song “HOME;RUN” to make something brand new. This observation is not to say that “Side By Side” is a carbon copy of previous releases; THE 8 adds a charming, fresh twist to both the sounds and sights of this release. THE 8 from SEVENTEEN and THE 8 as a soloist merge in a new, impressive, and natural way.
#35: NCT DREAM, “Hello Future”: The award for Most Feel-Good Music Video of 2021 certainly goes to this one! Looking like they came straight from summer camp, NCT DREAM carry peace and love-themed signs as they parade across a field. As if that display wasn’t cute enough, they also engage with CGI creatures and perform choreography that involves conjuring up rainbows.
#34: IU, “Celebrity”: As IU dons beautiful, prom-ready gowns and is surrounded by admirers, she sings lyrics with dark undertones. “Celebrity” reflects on fame and the imposter syndrome that can come with it. IU gives a pep talk to herself, reassuring herself that she deserves her accolades and attention, but her facial expressions give away the fact she cannot fully convince herself of that. This message is stressed when IU sings about a past release (she references being “not fully bloomed” when she writes love poems, a reference to her Love poem album and its single, “Blueming”) before switching gears to envision a hopeful future (she goes on to sing about how even in winter, flowers can find ways to bloom through cracks in the ground). “Celebrity” adds layers to the perceptions the public has about getting treated like a princess.
#33: GRAY ft. LeeHi & Loco, “Party For The Night”: GRAY has released a handful of quirky music videos to go with the tracks on his newest album, Grayground., but “Party For The Night” is the most fun of the bunch. Theme song-style, the camera constantly spins to focus on a different room of an eccentric house, and the camera zooms out at the very end to show all of the colorful, fun rooms at the same time. By then, everyone is dancing on the building’s balcony. “Party For The Night” is a feel-good video that is odd in all the right ways!
#32: E.SO, “Orgel”: E.SO is an exciting new artist who deserves much more attention. She is already proving to be effective at delivering an important, powerful message through a unique format. The “Orgel” music video starts off with her tied up in puppet strings in a dark and spooky setting. E.SO stuns with her delicate voice, one that is enhanced by a music box-esque instrumental. By the end of the video, the eerie atmosphere lingers, but E.SO is finally freed from the puppet strings and celebrates by twirling around the room. The music video makes for a gothic ballet of sorts, as she embraces a dark princess aesthetic while acting out her quest for autonomy.
#31: Stray Kids, “Red Lights”: As impressive as Stray Kids are when performing as a full group, it is particularly impressive to see members Bang Chan and Hyunjin perform a routine as a duo. The two tell a story from opposite sides of a wall, moving in response to one another. Their chains are not just the main prop they use to represent their struggles via dance. The chains being connected to each other turn themselves into one another’s props too, adding an additional layer of meaning to their performance.
#30: IU, “LILAC”: IU transitions between pretty purple and white outfits while singing about saying goodbye to someone as if it is actually an enjoyable thing to do. She describes a lovely spring day that makes for a picture-perfect setting in which to part, and this optimism comes across as genuine. After all, she successfully cheers up her fellow train passengers and starts a party during their ride! She concludes the video waiting for another train, a small smile creeping over her face as she (presumably) starts daydreaming about the possibilities it represents, rather than viewing it as symbolic of a sad ending.
#29: LEE JIN HYUK, “Work Work”: LEE JIN HYUK repeatedly expresses frustration with his current workload and his need to get “some holiday.” A loved one is not helping matters, as the constant texts are just distracting him (“Maybe love is like work,” he sings). The “work bear” stays on his case, by doing everything from making sure he stays at his desk to sitting on one end of a see-saw to stop him from taking time off to play on it. When JIN HYUK is not shown in an office setting, looking bored and flustered, he is on a pastel playground, soaking up the sun from a hammock or the top of monkey bars. “Work Work” is charming from start to finish, continuously adding more fun elements sonically and visually over time. Props are introduced ranging from balloons to confetti to a stuffed dog, and the song is full of sound effects, whistling, and “yee-haw”s!
#28: OH MY GIRL, “Dun Dun Dance”: From watching a UFO to playing arcade games, the “Dun Dun Dance'' music video makes the audience want to join the group on their adventures. The girls show off their boundless energy as they ride go-karts, visit the beach, and dance like no one is watching. Both the girls’ sequined clothes and more casual looks add stylish touches to this precious and highly rewatchable video.
#27: KWON EUN BI, “Door”: KWON EUN BI has made sure to make a statement with her solo debut! After walking through a hallway lined with doors, she finds a hidden one that unveils a beautiful, colorful sky, bright green grass, and tons of butterflies. This is the secret getaway she retreats to while singing about the need to keep a relationship secret. The other settings are equally dazzling, and KWON EUN BI adds extra pizazz to them with her sparkly outfits. Her singing and dancing in rooms full of flowers, clouds, and glitter embody what her solo debut represents: hope, excitement, and joy.
#26: DreamNote, “GHOST”: DreamNote have not had a comeback in nearly two years, but this comeback proves to have been worth the wait. They have a new and improved look and sound, and this transition into a darker concept appears effortless. Playing the role of witches in “GHOST,” the girls let out evil laughs, cause objects to levitate, and explore a magical palace. The dance routine that takes place during the chorus is performed in front of an A Nightmare on Elm Street reference, and the post-chorus features nervous, hushed whispers, as if the girls are reciting an incantation. Additionally, what makes “GHOST” so memorable is the howling that sounds implausibly musical and catchy. This is a spellbinding comeback, and this group’s underrated status is proven by the delightfully spooky “GHOST” music video.
Read Part Two below!