With only a couple months left in 2020, I think it’s fair to call it: this year has seen a huge resurgence in the power of the girl group in Kpop. And I don’t think we’ve ever had a year when we’ve needed it more.
Certainly, there have been huge releases this year from boy groups like BTS, SuperM, and NCT. (And we love them all dearly; don’t come for me boy group stans.) But the girls? The girls have upped their game this year.
From groundbreaking title tracks to radical concept changes to continuous leveling up, here’s why 2020 has been the kick-ass Year of the Girl Group.
Groundbreaking Title Track Releases
The girl groups have dropped certified title track gold in the Kpop industry in 2020. Some have a history of such releases, and for others, it was a completely new and sometimes unexpected opportunity. But they’ve all been absolutely amazing.
Loona: “So What” and “Why Not?”
We started off the year with Loona’s “So What,” which was so good that I wrote an entire article about it.
Blockberry Creative and Loona have positioned the group as something completely new in the kpop industry. Their insanely long debut — featuring solo tracks from each of the twelve members and three subunit tracks in addition to an epic group storyline — was just the beginning.
With “So What” earlier this year and their recent release “Why Not?” (there’s already a theme here) they continue to explore wildly different soundscapes and straight-up weird song structure. But it’s so working for them.
Their songs make you go, wait, what? And then before you know it you’ve listened to them 52 times over.
The result is an unmatched sound in the entire industry that leaves listeners wondering: where can they possibly go next?
In his review of the song, PD from Form of Therapy commented that Loona’s “Why Not?” actually manages to be both feminine and masculine sounding at the same time. Not agender, not a girl crush or sexy concept, masculine and feminine, together.
I would say it still leans a little more feminine, (I mean, they’re all impossibly cute; what are you gonna do?) but I see the point he’s making. Loona is hard to categorize.
Kpop has a long history of pigeon-holing gendered groups into “gendered” sounds: floaty, cute, light, and airy songs and concepts for girls, heavy, shocking, and aggressive songs and concepts for guys. Of course, there are exceptions, and the boundaries have been blurring a lot over the past few years (Taemin, Kard, Moonbyul, etc.).
But Loona is proving that it’s possible to do and be both masculine and feminine at the same time, and that’s groundbreaking, especially done by a girl group.
Their music videos continue to top themselves as well, thanks to the genius of video production company Digipedi. I can’t wait to see the heights Loona continues to reach in 2021 and beyond.
Everglow: “La Di Da”
I think Everglow is a group that everyone has been rooting for in 2020. They started the year with their title track “DUN DUN” and the accompanying Reminiscence EP. They established their sound as hard-hitting dance-pop with almost fan-chant like shouting parts that more and more groups seem to be favoring. The comeback was well received and established Everglow as a real player in the Kpop scene — after only debuting in March of 2019!
After several months off, they came back in September with the track “La Di Da” — and a completely different sound for the group. “La Di Da” is heavily influenced by 80s synth pop, complete with Vogue-esque dance moves, sparkles, and glowy lens flare effects. To modernize the concept, they added grungy black and white, Sin City-type scenes to the video, or what I like to call the “disco in Gotham” concept.
The result is a stellar music video, concept, song — the whole package. I suspect that this comeback will be on a lot of Top 20 lists at the end of the year, and it’s well deserved.
I don’t think they started it, but to me, this song cemented the “return to the 80s” trend that Kpop is going through right now (especially with girl groups and soloists). It seems like once they dropped this track, I started noticing those distinctive synths pop up everywhere, but to me, no one has done it as magnificently as Everglow.
In the words of member Yiren, “Everglow, forever let’s go!”
(g)-idle: “Oh my god”
“Oh my god” was one of the first major releases this year, and it was truly a stunner. In their short career, (g)-idle has yet to really stick to one style, but this even seemed like a departure for them.
The first thing I thought when I heard the track was: ah, Billie Eilish has come to Kpop, and I still think that’s true in many ways. But it would be inaccurate to leave it at that. “Oh my god” brought in that haunting, tortured quality that many of Eilish’s songs have (especially with Minnie’s vocals) but combined it with the more typical (g)-idle electro-pop sound, plus some church bells and Soyeon’s signature rap break.
The music video is on a completely different level as well. It features the members everywhere from stark white, almost mental asylum-looking scenes to shining regal thrones to reddish-brown mud, each representing the journey from innocence to desire, featuring lots of temptation and regret along the way.
The lyrics noticeably stand out as well. Soyeon and Minnie sing in the first chorus, “Oh my god, she took me to the sky. Oh my god, she showed me all the stars.” You very rarely get girls singing about girls in Kpop, but songwriter Soyeon leaves the implication ambiguous. “She” could be anyone from a lover to a deity to potentially even a future/alternate version of herself, who has experienced desire and is now pulling her old self into that new reality.
It’s hard to put into words how different and exciting and compelling this song is, and I’ll be surprised if this music video isn’t at least nominated or wins MV of the year.
Radical Concept Changes
2020 also saw the girls change things up — from sound to style to concept — in a big way. This often comes as quite the risky move on their part, since it’s easy to continue with a similar sound to what first made a group successful and ride that train as long as possible in an overcrowded industry.
But the best groups take risks and change up their sound, and there were several girl groups that took that chance in 2020.
Red Velvet: Irene & Seulgi
After main vocalist Wendy’s unfortunate accident at the end of last year leaving her severely injured, it looked like the high-speed train that Red Velvet was riding to the peak of industry fame would slow down significantly.
Fortunately, SM Entertainment saw this as an opportunity to debut Red Velvet’s first and only subunit, Irene & Seulgi.
The duo released the title track “Monster,” pursuing an edgy, haunting, heavier sound that was very different from anything Red Velvet had done in the past and fully showcasing the vocal and performance abilities of the two women.
Then they promoted a second song off the album, “Naughty,” featuring an insane tutting-based choreography that may be the most difficult of any choreography — by any group, male or female — released this year.
There are not many popular Kpop duos in general, much less female duos, and Irene & Seulgi showed that they can be just as compelling as their whole group and bring a different vibe and style to the Kpop music scene.
Gfriend’s comeback with “Apple” came as a serious, and welcome, left turn for the image of the group. With their earlier releases like “Glass Bead” and “Rough,” they were firmly put in the “cute” and “innocent” categories, even while they aced complicated choreographies and vocals.
Later releases like “Fingertip” changed up their look and sound, but still didn’t leave the most memorable impression.
Finally, with “Apple,” they went with a completely new and exciting direction, combining Biblical and Greek goddess imagery and an undeniably witchy aspect to the MV and song.
They played with their previously “pure” image using white, goddess-like dresses and sandals in the first half of the music video, and then hit fans with an abrupt change to all black, very I’ll-put-a-spell-on-you outfits.
The song itself has a much more sensual and sultry vibe, while still taking full advantage of the Gfriend power vocals. And of course, the choreo is impeccable, complete with power strut into the chorus.
This was one of the most exciting comebacks of the year for me, and I can’t wait to see Gfriend continue to elevate their sound and image in 2021.
Weki Meki: “Cool”
To be completely honest, I had absolutely no idea who Weki Meki was until I watched the MV for “Cool.” With previous title tracks like “Oopsy” and “Picky Picky,” I (wrongfully!) skipped them altogether.
But something about the thumbnail of the video and the title “Cool” caught my attention, probably because I already had this previously formed idea of them as a cutesy girl group.
Boy am I glad I did because this song is a certified bop. It’s what I think of as “model music,” something you could strut down a runway to. True to its title, it does actually make you feel cool when you listen to it.
The glamour and quality of the video (white jumpsuits! fancy banquets! spotlights and shadows!) put this song over the top and differentiate it from many of the group’s previous releases as a more mature and dare I say luxurious sound, and it’s a damn good look on Weki Meki.
The Consistent Level Up
And then there are some groups that just always bring fire tracks, comebacks, albums, everything — and they didn’t allow 2020 to deter them in the slightest. These are some of the girl groups I love watching consistently top themselves with every new release.
As any of their fans will tell you, Dreamcatcher is so underrated it should be illegal. They are the only group — male or female — combining electronic pop with a heavier rock/alternative sound (and often a fantasy, anime-inspired look), and it works for them beautifully.
In the first half of 2020 they came back as six — temporarily minus Chinese member Handong — with the track “Scream,” and lyrics that challenge the tendency toward hateful speech in our society, especially online.
The perspective of the song shifts from a victim of hurtful comments (“Please, I don’t want to scream,”) to someone actually using their words to hurt others, (“I just want to make you scream,”) illustrating how easy it can be to fall into these patterns of negative gossip and even outright hate if we don’t think carefully about what we say about others online or IRL.
The lyrics and message would be impressive enough, but the heavy rock instrumental, fantasy-themed MV, and intense choreo make this comeback god-tier level Kpop. And the full album that came with it was just as excellent.
They followed up the release in the second half of the year with their comeback “Boca,” continuing with the “be careful what you say about others” theme, but this time casting the girls as defenders of those being attacked by hateful words and — as the title might suggest — get the haters to shut their mouths.
The English line in the bridge, “Too many angels dying now / I’m gonna change your mind,” inevitably brings to mind the several tragic suicides that have occurred in the last few years within the Kpop industry, in which hate speech targeted toward those individuals was either a factor or a direct cause in their deaths.
Even within their own niche subgenre of pop/heavy rock, Dreamcatcher continues to bring innovation with each comeback, story, theme, dance — just about everything they do. I can’t wait for them to kill it even more in 2021, and until then, stan Dreamcatcher y’all.
I mean what can I even say about Mamamoo at this point that hasn’t already been said — they’re just the best, and they’re only getting better.
After their victory on the competition show Queendom last year and their smash release “Hip,” Mamamoo as a group has been pretty quiet for most of 2020, instead allowing the individual four members to shine in their solo releases.
Then as a group they dropped “Wanna Be Myself,” a song created to advertise activewear brand Andar, and of course because it’s Mamamoo, it was a title track-worthy song. I think this was very well-timed on their part to get themselves back on the industry radar, since they then released “Dingga” not too long after, a pre-release for their upcoming (10th!) mini album “Travel.” The track was a fun romp similar to previous release “gogobebe,” all about letting loose and having fun with friends.
Then, just days ago they released the title comeback “Aya,” a dramatic yet at times understated track that seems fit to be played in clubs across the world (when that becomes a thing again). The song is also reminiscent of their previous release “Egotistic,” as well as Hwasa’s solo release earlier this year, “Maria” in its instrumental and structure.
It’s so much fun to watch Mamamoo innovate and build on their now six-year-old career as a group (which is basically decades in Kpop years) and keep pushing the industry in new exciting directions, both as a girl group and as artists in general. As the Moomoos say, always believe and listen to Mamamoo.
Twice is not a group I thought I would be adding to this list — truthfully I’m still not that familiar with “the nation’s girl group.”
After their debut with “Like Ooh-Ahh,” which I thought was excellent and had a fun weird zombie MV to go with it, I was turned off by the very very bubblegum “Cheer Up.” And from there on I basically hopped in and out and never really landed on the bandwagon for Twice.
But I’ve definitely been a fan of their releases this year, “More and More” in the summer, and more recently, “I Can’t Stop Me,” which fully jumped on the 80s synth trend Kpop is going through right now.
Looking back through their discography now, it’s easy to see how they’ve really matured and grown in both their image and sound, and I look forward to seeing them continue that trend in 2021 and beyond.
It’s always fun to look at the general industry trends in a given year, and 2020 has given us some welcome switch-ups in that sense (not so much in, you know, everything else). These were some of the most prevalent trends for girl groups throughout the year.
Move over “cute concept,” the “badass concept” is here to slay. I’m not sure if it’s the times, or audiences are finally just getting bored of the cute thing, but many girl groups have chosen an edgier, grittier theme for this year. I can only speak for myself, but this change definitely works for me.
We’re even seeing more challenging and intricate choreo to go with the concept change, and less of the “girl group hand dances” of the past.
For badass songs, MVs, choreo, and more, see: “La Di Da” by Everglow, “Monster” by Red Velvet Irene & Seulgi, “So What” by Loona, and many more.
More mature vocal sound
There are precious few girl groups that start out with mature vocal abilities (read: just Mamamoo), typically favoring sweet, high-pitched, bubblegum vocals with maybe one or two standout voices in a group.
But this year, many groups favored a more mature sound, even allowing those members who are natural altos to shine in their comfortable range. They also tended to favor lower tones in rapping and even tried out techniques like vocal fry and semi-whispered lyrics for a haunting or sensual effect.
Mature and innovative vocals found here: “Aya” by Mamamoo, “Naughty” by Red Velvet Irene & Seulgi, “Oh my god” by (g)-idle, “Apple” by Gfriend, and more.
Have I mentioned that the girls have completely owned 2020? By far the most exciting thing to watch with these groups this year is seeing them step into their power and absolutely own their talents, performances, and whole selves.
It speaks to a growth in the industry as a whole, seeing these women not only own these stronger concepts and new musical styles, but also clearly love and thrive when performing this way. You can see it on their faces when they’re on stage. Not that it’s unenjoyable to be cute sometimes, but there’s a certain feeling of confidence and natural flow that comes from stepping into these more mature and badass types of performance.
There’s still room for expansion here: I want to see girls do GOT7 level acrobatics in their choreography. How about a superpower concept a la EXO? There are still a lot of new directions for them to explore, so I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings.
Powerful MVs, concepts, and women this year: “Cool” by Weki Meki, “Why Not?” by Loona, “Scream” by Dreamcatcher, and more.
If you’re a Kpop fan, I’m sure you’ve noticed by now the groups I didn’t include on this list: Blackpink, Itzy, Apink, Oh my girl, EXID, and more, not to mention the soloists that have also absolutely killed it this year (Chungha! Sunmi! CL!). No shade to them! I just had to narrow it down to the comebacks and concepts that stood out to me most this year, and I can’t fit everyone in this already 15-minute long article.
That being said, who were your standout female performers in Kpop this year? Are you excited about the direction the industry seems to be heading with more powerful and mature girl group concepts? What can still get even better in 2021?
Personally, I can’t wait to see where we go next. Hopefully, 2021 will have us reinstating in-person concerts and meetups, but until then, keep supporting the girls!
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