It’s been a different kind of summer, that’s for sure. For many, the vast majority of it was spent in a sort of lockdown, whilst for others, it was spent in a vastly overused “new normal” scenario; a type of freedom which allows more than a lockdown would, but at the same time nothing like many had before the pandemic truly hit. Plans and holidays were scuppered, political tensions ran rife, and numerous other global movements have begun to truly spread their message(s) globally.
In the music world, things have been just as uncertain. Other than Lady Gaga‘s smash hit Chromatica, and Dua Lipa‘s Future Nostalgia, nothing has really managed to stand out as a wall-to-wall success during the course of the year, and it has been extremely taxing for up-and-coming artists to try and gain a foothold in the industry with no chances of physical marketing, or live shows.
However, this is a Kpop website, so to focus predominantly on the UK’s COVID, and musical, situation would feel rather redundant; there’s BBC and ITV to fill you in on that, after all. And, considering South-Korea had a much more effective role in stopping the spread of the virus, their music industry continued to flourish (albeit in a different kind of capacity). Thus, we can still talk about some of the artists who made this Summer one to remember, even if it’s going to be impossible to forget, in a handy list. We hope you enjoy.
Considering everything that has gone on in the year we call 2020, it no longer feels weird that Jay Park, a figure of inconsistency in terms of output during the last half-decade or so, is one of the breakout artists of this Summer. Yet, as the CEO of both AOMG and H1GHR MUSIC, the industry mogul has overseen countless fantastic releases during the warmer months, chiming in with some quality music of his own in between. With retirement apparently on the horizon for the 33-year-old performer, there’s absolutely no doubt that with his eye for talent and industry nous, Jay Park will be more than ready to wholly embrace a behind-the-scenes role permanently.
Stand-out Single – “All The Way Up”: Alright, it’s Park‘s only official single over the course of the Summer as the featured artist, so it kind of has to be chosen, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great. Built around its bubbly synth melodies, catchy chorus and positive energy, it’s an easily accessible single which doesn’t have mountains of depth, but thrives in its fun-loving surface level charm.
Moving from one CEO to another, the KOZ founder and Chief Executive Zico is next on our selection. Bowing out for his mandatory military service in style, the 28-year-old followed up on January’s steadfast “Any Song” in style with RANDOM BOX, an EP full of unabating charisma. Whether it was the relentless earworm “Summer Hate,” or the scathing dissection of wannabe rappers heard across the stacatto, gritty synths of “No You Can’t,” the layered release showed the former Block B leader as a true artist, and someone unafraid to switch swagger for sweetness when required.
Stand-out Single – “Cartoon”: Light and flirtatious, this Grease-like offering sees Zico delve into more playful territory, yielding surprisingly good results. Cascading through its runtime with carnival-tinged organ chords, nimble recorder melodies and steadfast basslines, all whilst Zico sing-raps along about his love that is just like an animated film, it’s a smile-raising effort full of youthful conviction.
It’s a real shame that the world has to lose Sik-K for around 20 months to the military. After all, these last years have seen the young artist break through as one-to-watch on the global scene, and allowed the hip-hop artist to delve into more expansive soundscapes, and tap into more affecting, pensive subject matter.
Fortunately, though, Sik-K did as Sik-K does before leaving for his mandatory enlistment, releasing two equally fantastic albums. Summer’s offering, HEADLINER, saw a new peak for the 26-year-old too, retaining the rock influences of 2019’s FL1P, but ditching the doubt and self-reflection for uber-confidence and more refined introspection. Across a total of 16 tracks, the H1GHR MUSIC star goes from a synth-driven tale of a hookup-turned fling (“RSVP“), to an acoustic confession of love (“Darling“), right the way to a lamenting of one’s tastes over tropical synths (“TOO PICKY“). Surprisingly consistent, HEADLINER is one of the more understated records of the year, and one that deserves more acclaim.
Stand-out Single – “RSVP”: The catchy lead-single for the deluxe edition of HEADLINER, “RSVP” skitters along with bouncy synths and a trap-laden consistency. Packed with some humour and charismatic zip, this exploration of no-strings-attached hookups is hardly innovative, but is filled with a healthy dosage of enjoyable sonic substance.
If it is meaning you want in your rap, though, then look no further than Woo. Young at heart but wise in his work, AOMG‘s brightest talent released the powerhouse debut album BLACK OUT in the middle of August, and it’s effect has failed to wear off. Consistently inventive, always surprising and never dull, it’s a nine-track tour-de-force which sees the 23-year-old shed his baby fat and grow into his own as one of the most intriguing figures in Asian hip-hop. It’s hard to say that Woo is one to watch at this point, because if you haven’t been tuned in, you’ve already missed a huge chunk of a journey that has been undoubtedly star-making.
Stand-out Single – “USED TO”: A collaboration with electro-pop artist CIFIKA, “USED TO” is the title-track of Woo’s debut album, and is as robust a lead-single as you could ever dream of. Chock full of poignant imagery and self-reflection of dark times in his life, the rapper dives into taboo territory and scathingly critiques both himself and naysayers alongside fuzzy, reverberating guitars, and a surprisingly catchy hook. Accessible without hitting the reef of commercialism, “USED TO” is one of the finest singles of 2020.
The final selection, Crush has had an active Summer and then some. From appearing on the Begin Again programme to releasing a selection of singles produced during lockdown, the 28-year-old has been an constant figure at the apex of the Korean R&B scene, but with the consistency and all-round vigour of the releases, nobody will be complaining. With military enlistment on the horizon, it’s great to see the P Nation artist go all-out before the time comes, leaving the world with enough bops to fill the waiting time with amply.
Stand-out Single – “OHIO”: Built around an integral, anxiously bouncy piano melody and skeletal slapping percussion, “OHIO” is a raw unleashing of built-up apprehension. Moving from bar to bar at breakneck speed and seemingly never taking a breath, Crush tells himself “I’m feeling good I’m feeling fine,” before speedily dispatching one of the most unshakeable choruses of the year. Full of vivacity, “OHIO” is a mood-raising playlist-made track worthy of more than just a few repeat listens.