After ranking my favorite rookies of 2021, I turn my attention to K-pop’s more established artists. This year, the criteria is the same as ever:

  1. Quality of work
  2. Quantity of work
  3. Influence of work on the industry

As usual, the first criteria far outweighs the next two, and is entirely subjective. This is not a countdown of the most successful acts in 2021. This is a celebration of the groups/artists that really shaped the year for me. Rookies are ineligible, as they have their own countdown.

Honorable Mentions:


10. LUCY


Lucy opened the year with a few great OSTs before releasing the first in a string of albums. They secure their spot on this list thanks to their consistency (and standout June album Gatcha). They also began to gain notoriety after the Olympics, due to a shoutout from the National Archery Team. Who knows how high they’ll climb next year?

Last Year: n/a

2021 Singles: Hero, I Got U, Irrelevant Answer, Rolling Rolling



GHOST9’s first full year was marked by a steady stream of comebacks. Along with a couple great title tracks, the guys’ output bore plenty of standout b-sides. Line-up changes made for a disappointing capper to their 2021, but the group continues to carve out an exciting niche for themselves.

Last Year: n/a

2021 Singles: Seoul, Up All Night, Control



Aespa may not have released all that much music, but they owned 2021. Their Next Level feels like the most influential idol track of the year, and their debut mini album unveiled their unique colors. The stage is set for the girls to become a leading force in the industry, and I can’t wait to see where 2022 takes them.

Last Year: n/a

2021 Singles: Forever, Next Level, Savage



Twice have been a stalwart on this list for a couple years now, and that’s thanks to a matured sound that sees them embracing their strengths. They were as busy as ever in 2021, releasing a killer full-length album after blitzing the market with both Korean and Japanese comebacks. They also tackled their first English-language single to great success.

Last Year: 9

2021 Singles: Kura Kura, Alcohol-Free, Perfect World, The Feels, Scientist, Doughnut

6. TXT


I wouldn’t have expected TXT to embrace an angsty teen-rock sound, but it turned out to be a match made in heaven. After a hit-or-miss 2020, they were extremely consistent this year. They may have only released one album in 2021, but they milked that album for all it was worth — releasing no less than four music videos. They also continued to advance into global markets, gaining fans all over the world.

Last Year: 6

2021 Singles: 0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You), Magic, LO$ER=L♡VER, Frost



ONEUS didn’t take time to breathe this year. If we count their ONEUS Theatre project, they delivered five singles. That’s almost a bi-monthly schedule! These singles were all completely different from one another, yet each was delivered with such panache. The group offered a little something for everyone, and this versatility gained them many admirers. Their sales blew up and they seem to be on the path for continued success.

Last Year: n/a

2021 Singles: No Diggity, Black Mirror, Shut Up 받고 Crazy Hot!, Life Is Beautiful, Luna


Golden Child

Don’t let the tumble in ranks fool you. I think Golden Child actually had a stronger 2021 than 2020. There are just a few other acts that stood out more this year. As usual, the group consistently released fantastic music — both title tracks and b-sides. Their YES album is one of their best, and August’s Game Changer includes some of their strongest work. A near-constant promotion schedule (4 mvs, plus 5 special unit mvs!) kept them in the public eye. Sales increased and individual members found their niche in variety and dramas.

Last Year: 1

2021 Singles: Burn It, Breathe, Ra Pam Pam, DDARA
Special Unit MVs: Singing In The Rain, Poppin’, That Feeling, Out The Window, Game


Brave Girls

This time last year, I would have been shocked to hear that Brave Girls would feature on any of my year-end lists. But, Rollin‘s resurgence was a K-pop miracle. The group’s time in the spotlight could have easily started and ended there, but they took the opportunity to release their best work yet. They totally owned the summer, become the first artist in Bias List history to top my monthly round-up feature for three months straight. While so many of their peers opted for a trendier girl crush style, Brave Girls took a more melodic approach and delivered bonafide K-pop classics.

Last Year: n/a

2021 Singles: Red Sun, Chi Mat Ba Ram, Pool Party, After We Ride

2. SHINee


SHINee really deserve to be a joint number one on this list. The only thing holding them back is their own legacy. They’ve had so many amazing years in the past that you just expect them to be fantastic. But, how many groups in their thirteenth year release an album as great as Atlantis? How many release solos as amazing as Key’s Bad Love? Prior to Taemin’s enlistment, the guys made early-2021 their own, delivering exactly what the fans wanted. It’ll be awhile before we hear from the group again, but Key, Onew and Minho have more than enough K-pop cachet to hold things down until the eventual reunion.

Last Year: n/a

2021 Singles: Don’t Call Me, Atlantis, Superstar
Solo Singles: Key – Hate That, Bad Love // Taemin – Advice

1. ONF


When I think back to K-pop in 2021, my mind will likely go straight to ONF. After years of frustratingly infrequent releases, they blitzed the market with comeback after comeback. Then, the guys hit us with a plot twist. It turns out, this imperial phase heralded a full-group enlistment and extended hiatus. But, if you’re going to bow out for a while, I can’t think of a better way to do it. ONF kicked off the year in stunning fashion, maintaining that excellence all the way into December. Through it all, longtime collaborator Hwang Hyun supplied daring, infectious music that stood apart from every other group in the industry. ONF found success through their own unique vision. There are few things more satisfying than that.

Last Year: n/a

2021 Singles: My Name Is, Beautiful Beautiful, Ugly Dance, Popping, Goosebumps


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Publisher: Nick