What a difference a year makes! This time in 2020, I struggled to cobble together a mid-year list worth celebrating. I ended up finding five songs, though one wasn’t technically a single.

This year, I’ve got a whopping fourteen tracks!

That’s quite a turnaround, and a testament to 2021’s strength. Because of this, I’ve scrapped my honorable mentions list. There are many solid songs not mentioned here, some of which may land spots on my final list in December. But for me, these fourteen are the best of the best.

Boy groups reigned supreme, which isn’t surprising. I tend to prefer their music. Or rather, I have more intense feelings about it. Boy groups often deliver my favorite and least favorite tracks of any year. But, 2021 has proven to be even more lopsided. The sheer number of boy group releases seem to be dwarfing girl group output this year, allowing for a wider variety to choose from. I’m hopeful that the remainder of the year will strike a better balance. After all, last year brought some killer girl group tracks to my top ten.

Speaking of ‘top ten,’ how many of these songs will find themselves there once we reach the end of 2021? It all depends on these next few months. Whatever happens, I’m anticipating a super-solid list.

Stay tuned for my mid-year albums list and “biggest risers and fallers” feature — both coming soon! And be sure to sound off in the comments. What were your favorite singles during the first half of 2021?

TOP SINGLES

BDC – Moon Rider

The pinnacle of BDC’s spacey trilogy of singles, Moon Rider is a streamlined shot of dramatic dance pop. It’s the kind of boy group track I absolutely covet. (full review)

Brave Girls – Chi Mat Ba Ram

Chi Mat Ba Ram harnesses a K-pop summer sound I absolutely adore, racing forward on unflagging energy and deliriously fun, brass-kissed beat drops. (full review)

BTS – Butter

All it took was a slight twist to Dynamite‘s jingle-ready hooks to craft something far more enjoyable. Butter may be generic pop fluff, but it gets its formula exactly right. (full review)

Golden Child – Breathe

Breathe is the rare instance of K-pop agencies picking a fantastic b-side and giving it full promotional push. This is Golden Child at their most upbeat and funky, offering a jolt of unadulterated joy. (full review)

Golden Child – Burn It

I never would’ve thought a 2021 song could wring this much excitement from a dated tropical trend. Burn It laces its familiar elements with an ultra-dramatic melody, building to a stirring, vocal-led chorus that simply soars. (full review)

Jessi – What Type Of X

What Type Of X remains the strongest delivery method for Jessi’s intimidating charisma. Its rock/rap fusion feels like a breath of fresh air, especially as the track hits that head-banging finale. (full review)

Mirae – Killa

The year’s most promising debut, Killa gifts Mirae with an instantly-recognizable concept and signature sound. Yes, it’s all a little Superhuman in execution, but the guys pull it off with aplomb. (full review)

Monsta X – Gambler

This far into their career, I never expected Monsta X to knock me out like this. Gambler takes all their aggressive swagger and fuses it to a killer beat drop and volleys of impassioned vocal ad-libs. (full review)

ONF – Beautiful Beautiful

The year’s most optimistic K-pop track, Beautiful Beautiful ditches the moody tropes favored by most boy groups and chooses light and laughter. It’s an exhilarating funk-house track, bursting with flavor and flair. (full review)

OnlyOneOf – libidO

A song so good it had me reevaluating its artist’s entire discography, libidO throws down the gauntlet with its edgy, provocative concept and dark, industrial groove. (full review)

SHINee – Atlantis

SHINee are at their best when being as “SHINee” as possible. Atlantis knows this well, and lets the guys cut loose over an undulating rhythm and bright, punchy chorus. (full review)

TXT – 0x1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) (ft. Seori)

A sleeper hit of sorts, TXT channel overblown teen angst into surging pop/rock catharsis. The chorus hits like a ton of bricks, anthemic in the most cliched of ways but all the better for it. (full review)

UP10TION – Spin Off

I’ll never not want to stick my fingers into that second verse and tighten things up, but Spin Off‘s galvanizing chorus is too good to let its slower moments drag it down. This is ‘bombastic K-pop 101.’ Turn it all the way up. (full review)

Yuqi – Bonnie & Clyde

If anything, Yuqi’s solo work has quickly proven just how much (G)I-DLE is holding her back. Within a world of high-pitched aegyo, her deep, husky voice is an absolute treat. In Bonnie & Clyde, it finds a mammoth chorus to sink its teeth into. (full review)

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Publisher: Nick