While 2020 seemed like a slow-moving year that would never end, 2021 flew by in an instant and the next we knew, it’s June, and it’s time for our mid-year reviews. This time, Elif and Xiao Qing define what a good comeback is, and discuss the various artists who caught their eye in the first half of the year.

Elif: Time really flies and I can’t believe half of the year is already over. With work and university keeping me incredibly busy, I honestly lacked a bit of time to be updated on each comeback. But while going over the releases for our mid-year review, I realized that the number of comebacks I genuinely liked this year is low. Most songs were on my playlist for a few days or weeks, but were not exactly memorable and dropped off soon. Usually, three components define a good comeback for me: the song, the MV, and choreography/performance. So keeping these three in mind, I was able to narrow down the list of my favourite comebacks to above mentioned three. What about you, Xiao Qing? How did you perceive the releases of 2021’s first half and what makes a good comeback for you?

Xiao Qing: I’m the same: a good comeback consists of the song, the MV as well as the performance. While a song and MV can be catchy and fun to watch, the live performance has to be just as strong. For the first half of 2021, I was a bit disappointed with some of the comebacks I was looking forward to — while the song was good, having listened to the artist’s past discography, the comeback feels like a step down. Funnily enough, it was the artists who I listened to casually who had the best comebacks, and that may be because I did not have as high of an expectation as I did for others, but these were still solid comebacks. One of which is Enhypen, which we both placed at number two on our list.

In my view, Enhypen is currently one of the best rookie groups we have in the K-pop scene. The songs are well-produced and memorable, the MVs always have good production quality, and the comeback stages are fun to watch. In “Drunk-Dazed”, I was absolutely floored by the choreography during the bridge, where they were literally on the floor (haha, did you see what I did there?) and their vocals were still stable and almost flawless. Much like the title of the song, I always get put into a trance whenever I listen to “Drunk-Dazed” or watch the MV, and I always have to rewind the track and give it another listen before I can move onto the next song. For a seven-month old group, I’d say Enhypen is on a roll. What put them on your list, Elif?

Elif: I noticed Enhypen’s flawless releases a little late, only after coincidentally listening to “Given-Taken”, but I have to agree that their releases are very promising for such a young group. “Drunk-Dazed” is an amazing comeback track and while I genuinely liked the video and dance, it is the song that I find mind-blowingly good. From Jungwon’s gorgeous opening to the stunning timbres during the chorus, it is incredibly well produced and constructed. It really perfectly engulfs this sinister, yet magical atmosphere they are going for, all while being unbelievably catchy.

This also goes for the MV (although I still have to grin about the blood running down the walls scene) and the choreography, which perfectly fits the song. Each step is perfect and while it looks really complicated with an abundance of position changes, footwork and floor parts, like you pointed out Xiao Qing, they pulled it out really well. All in all, everything came well together for “Drunk-Dazed” and I think I will be enjoying the song for a long time. But for me, this comeback barely missed the top spot. I can see that you put Taemin first. Can you elaborate on your reasons?

Xiao Qing: I will admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for Shinee, having been a fan since their “Replay” days, and Taemin has always been my bias. We knew that he was a talented dancer from the beginning, and when he started solo activities and showed off his ability to sing as well as create a dynamic performance, I was floored. His recent comeback, “Advice”, had me laid out, unable to move, because he exceeded my expectations greatly. Throughout his entire solo career thus far, he has always been focusing on breaking out of the box and challenging himself to try different styles of performance and music, and they have been executed flawlessly.

“Advice” was an amazing comeback, with Taemin demonstrating his strengths as a dancer, singer, as well as a performer. The MV for “Advice” is consistent with his theme of breaking out of molds and stereotypes, and it left a strong impression that made me want more. While Enhypen was impressive, there is obviously still more room for growth in the future.

On the other hand, Taemin, an experienced performer who knows his strengths and weaknesses, was able to execute his concept and deliver his message flawlessly. It was the confidence and the performance quality only a seasoned idol could provide, and that’s what put Taemin in the top spot of my list. Although I am sad to see him enlist in the military, I applaud him for providing us with such quality performances since his debut with Shinee in 2008, and for providing us with yet another sexy and sultry banger before going. 

Speaking of sexy, sultry bangers, Kang Daniel also came back pretty strong this year. What put him at the top of your list?

Elif: Taemin is definitely among my favourite solo stars and if I had to pick one artist with a flawless discography, it would be him. Since his immaculate debut with “Danger”, each of his tracks have been incredible and I love the unique image niche that he carved out for himself in K-pop. His concepts and dances are always alluring and interesting. However and rather surprisingly, “Advice” didn’t blow me away as much as I wanted it to. The choreography and concept are once again absolutely magnificent, but the song just didn’t do it for me. The high chorus part threw me off. 

With Kang Daniel, I was really torn between him and Enhypen, but what made him come out on top of my list, is the personal notion of his comeback. He didn’t hide the fact that this album is about his depression and thus the product is very dark. Specifically, I was thinking of “Paranoia” when putting him first, because to me this is one phenomenal release. Previously, some of Kang Daniel’s tracks fell flat for me as he lacked the vocal ability to pull them off. This track, however, is perfectly suited for his charming voice. The harmony between the pre-chorus bridge, the chorus, the bridge is immaculate, while the ‘la la , la la’s perfectly engulfed Daniel’s pain and anguish.

Same goes for the MV, which boasts an impressive cinematography. “Antidote” meanwhile read like a continuation of “Paranoia” as it was symbolic for his pain turning into sheer hopelessness. I especially found the “Please let me go” part haunting. All in all, I don’t have anything but respect for Daniel for having the courage to turn his pain into art and giving an insight into a very hard period of his life. Let’s talk about the comebacks that we ranked third! Why did you pick Demian?

Xiao Qing: Demian caught my eye with his debut track, “Cassette”, and even though he has yet to release a full album, his singles have all been memorable, including his latest release, “Love%”. Much like Enhypen and Taemin’s comebacks, “Love%” is sexy and alluring in its own way, and is a track that I keep going back to. Once again, I was tricked by the song’s sultry and catchy beat, thinking that it was a fun and happy song, ”Love%” is anything but happy. There is a sense of jadedness present throughout the entire MV, and this darkness greatly contrasts the catchy beat of the song.

Throughout the MV, we see chase scenes and physical fights, but also the use of symbols and motifs which makes it a thought provoking MV that warrants another watch. I always enjoy an MV that I can watch over and over again — no matter how emotionally draining it is — and be able to pick out new details every single time. Furthermore, upon listening to the live performance of “Love%”, I was impressed by Demian’s versatility and emotiveness in his voice. Although he isn’t as known as the other two artists on my list, he’s definitely a soloist everyone should keep an eye out for. What about you, Elif? Why did Bibi come in third on your list?

Elif: Although I really enjoyed Demian’s debut too, I decided to go for Bibi for third place, because I think she is quite an outstanding artist! She is not a typical idol, but her company (she is signed to Tiger JK’s Feel Ghood Music) definitely knows how to promote her; she appeared on a bunch of variety shows and also performed on music shows for this comeback.

What I really enjoy about Bibi, is her gorgeous voice and how perfectly she knows it; she always picks the tracks that fit her honeyed vocals like a glove and tells a story with her releases. Sometimes these stories are quite heart-wrenching and this is also the case for this year’s mellow “BAD SAD AND MAD” and groovy “Life is a Bi”. Bibi highlighted that she told her story through the album and that it is broadly said, about the hardships of life. I was really impressed by the symbolism, cinematography and her skillful acting in the music videos.

“Life is a Bi” especially, revolves around the high standards society puts on women and this unavoidable feeling of comparing yourself to others. I enjoyed how Bibi passed through different roles to convey that this is an exclusive challenge for all women. It is a profound and thought-provoking release that made me think about many things in my life as a young woman. Lastly, both tracks make for a mellow and groovy listen with an excellent production. I am looking forward to her future releases. Wrapping the first half of the year up, I can see that I picked comebacks with a personal notion or a symbolic story behind them. I am excited to see what the rest of the year will bring!

Although the number of comebacks we genuinely enjoyed were lower as compared to previous years, the ones that did make an impact proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, and that we should keep an eye out for artists and groups that we tend to overlook. Here’s to hoping for a successful second half of 2021!

(YouTube [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. Images via HYBE Labels, SM Entertainment, Konnect Entertainment, Sony Music Entertainment Korea, Feel Ghood Music.)