As 2021 comes to a close, we take a look at some of the most important moments in K-pop this year – the good and the bad. 

As K-pop’s reach crosses South Korean borders and becomes commonplace on the global stage, there are some moments that become keystones in the foundation of what is now a truly global genre. Despite the reach of the pandemic, 2021 had no dearth of such instances, both good and bad. Here, we look back on some of the most important moments in K-pop in 2021. 

K-pop’s support of the #StopAsianHate movement

In the wake of rising hate crimes against the Asian-American diaspora against the background of the pandemic, K-pop stars came out in support of the #StopAsianHate movement, showing that as they took the global stage, they were not unaware of the realities of the world. 

Stars such as Eric Nam, CL, Epik High, and BTS issued statements in support of the movement. It was also one of the few times when BTS – one of the most popular stars on the planet – opened up about experiencing racism during their rise in America, recalling instances where people asked them why they spoke English. 

“A submission to, and eventual complicity with racism normalized a dynamic that should not exist. To grow up believing we needed to be O.K. with racism in order to have a seat at the table is not O.K.. To internalize racism at such a young age, in retrospect, warped my sense of normality.” said Eric Nam in his own essay for Time, where he discussed how racism impacted him growing up Asian-American in the USA.

BigHit becomes HYBE, buys Ithaca Holdings

Anyone following the rise of BTS was aware of just how consistently the company seemed to be swooping up talents in K-pop industry, but the next chapter of BigHit finally came into place in the form of HYBE Corporation, which brought together all BigHit’s divisions and holdings under one giant umbrella, positioning Bang Si-hyuk’s small dream as a global giant. 

That wasn’t all, however. In addition to its existing roster – which consisted of talents such as BTS, TXT, ENHYPEN, SEVENTEEN, Zico, NU’EST and more – HYBE also bought Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings – home to Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande – thus marking their foray into the American market. 

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GOT7’s departure from JYP

In January 2021, all seven members of GOT7 said goodbye to JYP Entertainment after the expiration of their contracts. While all members moved on to better, greener pastures, it still left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of fans. The silver lining in the whole ordeal, however, was that despite leaving the agency, the group did not disband – the idea of a reunion, thus, is a very real possibility! 

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The rise of accountability in K-pop

With global recognition came greater responsibility, and thus greater accountability. Perhaps this is why the world of K-pop seemed racked by bullying scandals in 2021. Stars such as (G)I-DLE’s Soojin, Stray Kids’ Hyunjin, SEVENTEEN’s Mingyu, and The Boyz’s Sunwoo were accused of bullying and violence, and while they all took due responsibility and reflections for their mistakes, we also ended up saying goodbye to some of them. 

The revival of the second generation

While a lot of stars from the so-called Second Generation of K-pop hit their thirties, it certainly did not mean that their momentum was slowing down. With Onew, Minho, and Key coming back from the military, SHINee reunited and treated us to Don’t Call Me. Elsewhere, 2AM also dropped their album Ballad F/W after seven years of hiatus, and 2PM came back with a bang with their album Must. We may all have grown older, but we still have got the groove for sure! 

K-pop takes the MET Gala

One of the most talked about events of the fashion world collided with K-pop, sending fans into a tizzy. K-pop stars CL and BLACKPINK’s Rosé walked the coveted red carpet for the MET Gala, becoming the first K-pop artists to do so. Does this mean we may get to see more of our favourite K-pop stars become fixtures on the red carpet? We sure hope so! 

BTS’ historic Grammy nomination – again!

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Despite not having a full album out, BTS remained the talk of the town (the world, really). Not only did they hit No. 1 with both ‘Butter’ and ‘Permission To Dance’, but the former also earned them their second Grammy nomination, making them the only K-pop act in history to achieve the feat. The group also became the first Asian artists in history to be named Artist Of The Year at the American Music Awards, proving that their flag is still flying high and strong. 

Brave Girls’ second innings

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In a story fit for the history books, K-pop act Brave Girls came back from the brink of disbandment thanks to viral support for their 2017 track  ‘Rollin’’. In February 2021, a compilation video of Brave Girls performing ‘Rollin’’ at different military bases across South Korea went viral, thanks to the support of current and former soldiers, some of whom claimed the song ‘got them through’ their military service. 

The compilation catapulted the group into newfound fame – and just in time, it seems, since the members were seriously discussing disbandment after years of moderate success. Thanks to the sleeper success of ‘Rollin’’, however, Brave Girls came back to the K-pop circuit renewed, even releasing new music later in the year.

You can read more about this topic over at the Asia Pop Observer.