Bop Shop 2021 Favorites: Songs From Dawn Richard, Wet Leg, IU, And More

It’s been nearly 20 years since their debut album, The Second Stage Turbine Blade, but Coheed and Cambria are still finding ways to excite their ever-growing fanbase, as we saw with this year’s release of “Shoulders.” The track, a continuation of the longest-running concept story in music, masterfully pairs heavy metal-infused riffs with sweeping, melodic vocals in a way that only Coheed can. For the music video, the progressive rockers deliver a powerful performance as mysterious, masked figures emerge and remove their masks one-by-one to reveal the people underneath. “As a band, we’ve always been a little outside of the mainstream and that’s helped keep us true to ourselves,” the group said in a statement. “As people, it’s important to focus on your strengths and who you are, and not try too hard for acceptance. Everyone is special and has their own unique contributions and that’s what the video represents.” —Farah Zermane

From Twice To TXT, These Are The 21 Best K-Pop B-Sides Of 2021

By Elizabeth de Luna

Back in 2020, we looked toward K-pop to see what it could be and where it could take us. The industry made swift, graceful pivots to accommodate the pandemic, leading the rest of the world into an era of virtual concerts. By the end of the year, many were cautiously optimistic as the first vaccines were approved. “Wouldn’t it be great,” we thought, “if by this time next year, we’d be going to live shows again?”

Just a few weeks ago, we were close to realizing that bright wish. P1Harmony performed at the Korean Culture Center Night in Los Angeles in what might have been the first in-person K-pop concert in the United States since the pandemic began. BTS sold out a four-night run at the shiny new SoFi Stadium in the same city. Ateez, Monsta X, and Twice all announced North American tour dates for early 2022.

Today, as Omicron spreads, that hope flickers. But in the face of what seems like near-constant uncertainty, perhaps we should be grateful that K-pop exists at all.

In March, hundreds of songs disappeared from Spotify as the platform tussled with Korean distributor Kakao M. Entire playlists of curated musical memories vanished. It took nine days for them to return, and during that time, fans nearly lost their minds. It was a reminder of how much art and fandom affect our happiness, health, and well-being, even when we can’t physically be together to experience them.

So while the K-pop industry expanded and experimented this year — creating new opportunities in both the physical world and in the metaverse, in real-world dollars and NFTs — its most compelling draw remained, as always, the music. Below are the 21 best K-pop B-sides of 2021.

  1. Cravity: “Bad Habits”

    After a solid 2020 debut, Cravity committed to a new aesthetic in 2021. The concept saw them revving literal and metaphorical engines on title tracks “My Turn” and “Gas Pedal.” Cravity’s strength lies in their ability to augment their natural differences — Seongmin’s sugary highs, Woobin’s power vocals, Minhee’s soft vibrato, and Serim’s powerful raps — with clever production. On “Bad Habits,” they drop into surreptitious whispers and balance the textured depths of their ranges with airy pre-choruses. Their experimentation on hip-hop-driven tracks is so successful that it’s easy to forget that the group can sing almost anyone under a table.

  2. Bobby: “In the Dark”

    It was a big year for boisterous Bobby, who’s built a career on endearing individualism and unconventional charm. He tested the limits of that public image in August when he announced that he was both engaged and expecting his first child with his fiancée. It was a bold move, considering that adverse fan reactions to romantic relationships can threaten an idol’s career, but Bobby’s never been one for subtlety.

    His January album, prophetically titled Lucky Man, was released ahead of these life-altering developments. He ricochets like an errant pinball between animalistic rage (“U Mad,” “Devil”) and doe-eyed devotion (“Lilac,” “Ur Soul Ur Body”). It’s especially heartwarming to hear him sing about love, knowing what lies ahead. On “In the Dark,” he repeats a two-word chorus to imitate the recurring thoughts that keep him awake: “At dawn, at dawn, at dawn, I think of you.”

  3. CIX: “Bad Dream”

    The fact that CIX hasn’t absolutely blown up is one of K-pop’s most perplexing mysteries. Their potential is evidenced in two of the best singles of the year (“Cinema” and “Wave”), stunning choreography, stellar live performances, and a solid catalog of EPs in both Korean and Japanese. Something isn’t adding up.

    While “Cinema” and “Wave” were buoyant, bright, and boyish, “Bad Dream” is an exciting evolution of the quintet’s inky, glistening signature sound. The contrasting releases are proof of what we already knew: that CIX’s dynamic versatility is worthy of broader recognition.

  4. ONF: “The Realist”

    ONF largely flew under the radar internationally until they appeared on the reality competition Road to Kingdom in 2020. Their second-place win in a battle against six other groups raised their profile and helped them land their first appearance on Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart and Billboard‘s K-pop Hot 100 with the finale track “New World.” “The Realist” is a knowing nod to ONF’s sci-fi concept. The song pulls you across time and space, into multiple dimensions, like a traveler looking for the right exit. Five of the group’s six members enlisted in mandatory military service this month, so while we won’t hear much from ONF for a while, “The Realist” is a more-than-acceptable parting gift.

  5. Chaser: “Woodz”

    Another year, another great Woodz EP. The multi-hyphenate nabbed a spot on last year’s list, and this year’s collection Only Lovers Left proves he has staying power. He clinched his first music-show win with single “Waiting” and, while his talents were never in doubt, it’s a relief to see him enjoying a stable solo career after completing stints in two boy groups, a production collective, and as a writer for other artists.

    At every turn on Only Lovers Left, Woodz is burning, bleeding, and puckering up first for kisses and again when it all turns sour. On “Chaser,” he rushes through the night in search of an elusive lover, her plastic heart in his hand, in a race against time to reach her before it melts away.

  6. Younha: “Oort Cloud”

    The tracks on Younha’s End Theory are so consistently good that any could feasibly place on this list. After much deliberation, the folksy “Oort Cloud” won out for its infectious positivity and unusual tap dance break. Named after icy debris at the farthest reaches of our solar system, the song is a stirring call to action urging listeners to “break the shell” and move beyond the last layer of their limitations.

    Many mysteries about the Oort Cloud remain unsolved, but it is believed to be the birthplace of comets with the longest orbits. That’s an especially fun fact considering that Younha was nicknamed the “Oricon Comet” for her ability to shoot up Japan’s music charts in her teens. She is moving into her 18th year in the industry as bright as ever.

  7. AKMU ft. Sam Kim: “Everest”

    Brother-sister duo AKMU earned their seventh No. 1 Korean single this year with “Nakka” off their collaborative EP Next Episode. On deep cut “Everest,” singer-songwriter Sam Kim duets with vocalist Su-hyun in a meditative ode to frosty peaks that stretch so high “you can touch the night.” They imitate the slow climb up the mountain by layering guitar and vocals, then kick drum and cymbals, like sheets of fresh snow. “Our new album has a piercing message of transcending freedom,” her brother Chan-hyuk explained at a press conference. The duo hopes the collection encourages an “inner freedom, which allows people to remain unfazed by external forces.”

  8. Key: “Eighteen (End of My World)”

    After dropping Don’t Call Me and its repackage Atlantis as a member of Shinee, Key wrapped his 13th year in the business. A beloved multi-hyphenate prone to snarky cackling and tipsy livestreams, Key has become a reliable soloist in recent years with standout singles like “One of Those Nights,” “I Wanna Be,” and now “Bad Love.” Key’s tender tribute to his younger self is a favorite B-side on his September EP Bad Love. “[‘Eighteen’] is what I want to say to 18-year-old Key,” he told NME. The result is a love letter to the past that urges little Key to “dream and fly more.” “My eighteen,” he sings. “I would love to watch the end of my world with you.”

  9. B.I: “Waterfall”

    Former leader of iKon, rapper B.I returned in June with his first musical release since 2019, when allegations of drug use resulted in a public fall from grace. On this album, B.I seeks redemption through brutal self-evaluation. He opens “Waterfall” by calling himself a “monster, sinner, and hypocrite,” then explores the benefits of owning up and moving on: “If I wash away all of the shameful past… My blood flows properly after I let go… Understanding it, I can picture a new future.” Toward the end of the track, distorted horns herald his second coming. Washed clean by confession, B.I repeats, “Waterfall, that begins with falling down / That’s me.”

  10. Twice: “Espresso”

    Twice’s album Formula of Love: O+T=<3 is bursting with banger B-sides in both Korean (“Cruel,” “Last Waltz,” “Push and Pull”) and English (“Icon” and “Hello”), but the addictive “Espresso” is the one to beat. The nine members sing with impressive elasticity, as if their voices are being stretched into taffy. They purr, “E.S.P.R.E.S.S.O, that’s who I am,” over tongue clicks. Four years ago, the group would have interpreted these lyrics with an airy sweetness or a cheerleader’s infectious pep. On Formula of Love, those girls-next-door of yore have evolved into impossibly cool girl-crushes, as potent as coffee itself.

  11. Baekhyun: “All I Got”

    “All I Got” is what the eyes emoji would sound like if it were a song: thirsty as hell. “Two small beds stacked next to each other… On a night when there is nothing to watch on TV / What can we do?” Baekhyun asks innocently before pulling out his ace: a goosebump-inducing falsetto. As the night wears on, his voice rockets to stratospheric heights, his love as expansive as his vocal range.

  12. Weeekly: “Yummy”

    Weeekly seemed to bubble under the surface in 2020, but they turned up the heat to a roiling boil in 2021. Their single “After School” was one of the best releases of the year and they continue to dole out B-side delight after B-side delight. “Yummy” is a chipper, staccato banger with the same irresistible you-can-do-it energy of a children’s show soundtrack. The group always delivers lyrics that celebrate the freewheeling joys of adolescence, and on “Yummy,” that freedom tastes extra sweet. “Run noisy for 24 hours… it’s OK to make a mistake,” they sing. “There will be more exciting things!” For more sonic bliss, treat yourself to other divine B-sides like “Uni,” “La Luna,” and “Memories of Summer Rain.”

  13. Chung Ha: “Flying on Faith”

    This year, Chung Ha paved her own lane via the souped-up Querencia, a superbly super-sized album and the first in her five-year solo career. Hits like “Gotta Go” and “Snapping” strengthened her reputation for intricate choreography and earworm choruses, but Querencia is a statement of self.

    Chunga Ha learned the word “querencia,” which means a conceptual home or place of strength, from her therapist. The album is a manifestation of the term, as Chung Ha jumps comfortably between strengths, singing and rapping in Spanish, English, and Korean across 21 tracks and a handful of genres, including dance-pop, rock, reggaeton, and samba. “Flying on Faith” is perhaps its catchiest B-side. Chunga Ha speaks directly to a partner, explaining how negative thought patterns from past relationships make it hard for them to succeed as a couple.

  14. Gaho: “Afraid”

    If Gaho’s voice sounds familiar, it may be because he sang the theme song to 2020’s wildly popular K-drama Itaewon Class. The gig made his pipes recognizable, but not his face or name, as evidenced by a Pixid skit where two members of the Korean public have absolutely no clue who he is. When he starts to sing, their eyes light up in recognition.

    Though Gaho began releasing music in 2014 at 17 years old, his first full-length album, Fireworks, arrived just this year. Already unmatched in his mastery of power ballads, Gaho offers new insight into his potential as he plays with modern pop and rock influences on “Part-Time Lover” and “High.” “Afraid” combines those elements with Gaho’s athletic vocal range to capture the buzzy bliss of believing in yourself against all odds — and even when few know your name.

  15. Jeon Soyeon ft. BIBI and Lee Young Ji: “Is This Bad B****** Number?”

    Yeoboseyo!? Jeon Soyeon calling! The leader of (G)I-DLE and the most prolific female producer in K-pop dreamt up this collab with rising singer-songwriter Bibi and rapper Lee Young Ji for her solo EP Windy. The finished product is an explicit chain of phone calls made in search of a bad bitch. Young Ji asks, “Do you know who the fuck you’re talking to?” before a melancholy Bibi talks sleepily about fellatio and offers to include you in a game of marry, kill, fuck. Soyeon finally hangs up and asks herself, “Why did I make a phone call elsewhere when I’m here?” Then she checks in to make sure we’re all on the same page. “You can’t help but just want to be part of it, right?” Right.

  16. Oh My Girl: “Dear You”

    Last year, Oh My Girl’s smash hit “Nonstop” set a record as the longest-running girl group song in the Top 100 of MelOn’s Daily Chart, before their B-side “Dolphin” dove in and beat it. This year’s EP Dear OhMyGirl is a darling collection of soft songs emanating nostalgic warmth. The sweetest among them is “Dear You.” The lyrics welcome spring as if it were a person, greeting the little green buds stretching upward from the sleeping ground with fond reverence. Thoughtful production keeps the song from veering into childishness, enabling it to reflect the soft-hearted outlook of a sentimental adult.

  17. Kai: “Come In”

    Kai’s Peaches is a near-perfect, no-skips collection of songs hand-picked like fruit at their ripened peak. “Come In” is the most intoxicating of the bunch. Dreamy in its distortion, the song envelops you in ambient warmth, then uses hypnotic repetition to lull the listener into soporific comfort, like musical ASMR. “I get closer to your ear / So that only my breath can reach you,” Kai murmurs above a pulsing rhythm that slowly begins to resemble a heartbeat. “Don’t leave me alone, come into me.”

  18. Dreamcatcher: “Whistle”

    Masters of mystery and magic, Dreamcatcher may be most at home among heavy rock and metal, but they pull off this cool dance-pop bop with aplomb. The majority of the group’s songs are produced by the same team — Leez and Ollounder, the duo behind much of Ateez’s music — which means there is a satisfying consistency across Dreamcatcher’s discography, no matter the genre. The group usually delivers dark dominance, but went for lighter, brighter fare on this year’s EP Summer Holiday, resulting in this breezy track about a lover they worry will “disappear in the morning fog,” like a whistle on the wind.

  19. Seventeen: “Anyone”

    When Seventeen debuted seven years ago, their first six singles revelled in the sweaty-palmed thrills of puppy love: racing hearts exploded into confetti at the sight of their crushes, and they stoically held back tears over broken hearts. This year, Seventeen proved they’re still romantics at heart. “Ready to Love” and “Rock With You” are as sweet as those early singles, with lines like “I’m a fool of love for you” and “No words are enough for you!” While it’s hard to pass up the delicious 8-bit silliness of “GAM3 BO1,” the truth is that “Anyone” easily eclipses all their other B-sides and even outshines “Ready to Love.” With maturity in their corner, Seventeen are more self-assured but no less devoted. “Not anyone can change the only rule in the world,” they promise. “No matter where I am… I’ll say it’s you.”

  20. Tomorrow X Together: “Frost”

    All hail the inimitable TXT, who held court this year as the reigning princes of K-pop. After solidifying their status as fourth-generation royalty with 2020’s Blue Hour EP, they iced out the competition with an almost prescient take on this year’s pop-punk resurgence. The Chaos Chapter: Freeze — released just 10 days after Olivia Rodrigo’s genre-reviving Sour — and its repackage, Fight or Escape, bounce between emo sentimentality (“0x1=Lovesong,” “Loser=Lover”), disco-infused buoyancy (“Magic”) and this stinging lament. TXT opens Frost with a playful homage to co-writer Ashnikko’s signature giggle, then snarls bitter grievances that echo our pandemic-era uncertainty: “Spring’s here but warmth is nowhere to be found… I’m hollowed out once again… Really lost my mind… Suspended time, within it I’m dying.”

  21. Onewe: “Aurora”

    In this ode to a lover that shines like the polar lights, vocalist Younghoon’s voice explodes into an airless vacuum with all the brilliance of an aurora itself. Choruses come and go in blinding flashes, with the flickering interplay of drums, cymbals, and an electric guitar that shimmers like ribbons of light in the night sky. The song snaps and fizzes in the ear like Pop Rocks on your tongue.

    Co-composed by guitarist Kanghyun, with additional lyrics from vocalist Yonghoon and rapper CyA, “Aurora” has inspired fan tattoos and advances an impressive lineage of space-themed lyrics and imagery. Guided by humble beginnings (their earliest gigs were Saturday busking shifts on the popular university thoroughfare in Seoul’s Hongdae district, and they donated their earnings to Korea’s aging comfort women), three-year-old Onewe leads a growing faction of K-rock groups bringing new and exciting color to the genre.

11 Albums You Might’ve Missed In 2021

“Everywhere I go, I just feel so trapped,” JMIN states at the top of his debut EP’s opening track. “I been really fucked up / I can’t go back.” The desire to look forward, find freedom, and in the process find himself is the red thread of the K-hip-hop newcomer’s debut project, Homecoming, an electrifying snapshot of the life of a young artist on the rise as he searches for balance between past and present, mind and matter, and home and homeland. “I used to bе nothing, I only caused trouble / Mama, I’m sorry I caused you this pain,” he admits on “You and Me.” “I’m gеtting the money, it’s coming in bundles / Remember those days I would sit in the rain?” In a brief 18 minutes, Homecoming packs a strong punch. Effortlessly ebbing and flowing between topics such as mental health (“Don’t Worry”), ambition (“Dedication”), love lost (“Tryna Find Your Love”), and success found (“Want Me,” “Wave”), JMIN expresses the messy, complicated, ever-changing feelings of a 21-year-old just trying to figure his shit out, and he does so by putting pen to paper. At the crux of its being, his music is just that: storytelling. Homecoming tells the beginning of JMIN’s story with clarity, brevity, and a whole lot of dedication. —Sarina Bhutani

Bop Shop: Songs From Ed Sheeran and Elton John, Best Coast, Nnena, And More

Attention, reader! Meet your newest girl-group obsession, Ive. The sextet recently exploded on the scene this month with one of the best debut tracks from a rookie K-pop group we’ve heard in a while. Their earworm single, “Eleven,” is filled with joy, electricity, and a touch of mystery. The pre-chorus slows down just a bit before bursting into the refrain with all the rapturous feels of a new crush. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. You make me feel like eleven!” We haven’t stopped counting since. —Daniel Head

Ziemba’s René Kladzyk Wants To Be Haunted

By Caitlin Wolper

Is the house still standing? That’s what the singer René Kladzyk is waiting to find out when she returns to her childhood home in Michigan this Christmas.

“I’ve been having dreams about it, just wondering if they tore it down or not. It makes sense for them to tear it down, but it’s just, I don’t know — it just feels like the last place that remains of my dad,” Kladzyk tells MTV News. She frets. “There are no real places left.”

Kladzyk, 36, had been planning to move from New York City to Tucson — a midpoint between her parents’ homes — in February 2020. But when she went home to El Paso for the 2019 holidays, her dad Frank suddenly had a stroke. She spent the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital; he passed away on January 2, 2021.

She never made it to Tucson. Kladzyk only went back to New York to clean out her apartment, instead staying with her stepmom full-time to grieve her father’s death. She then started working as a reporter covering COVID-19 and immigration. Her life was changing rapidly, and at the same time, a 14-year relationship ended.

“There was this big relationship in my life that was the inspiration for a lot of love songs, and when my dad died, [this person] was really awful to me. It was like the last straw, and I stopped speaking to him,” she says. “I lost my dad, I lost my best friend, I moved to a new place. Every single facet of my life was rewritten really radically.”

Amid that upheaval, Kladzyk, who performs as Ziemba, created her fourth album, Unsubtle Magic. A carefully orchestrated work, Kladzyk trades between the eerie and intimate, stepping back and forth, downhearted and hopeful, into scenes of hulking grief. Unsubtle Magic is a heel-turn from Kladzyk’s previous work, which looked to high-spirited ‘80s pop, loaded with synths and twinkling love songs.

“This album was precipitated by my dad’s death. That whole period of time was very tumultuous in a lot of ways,” Kladzyk says. “It wasn’t just his death. It was rebuilding from the ground up.”

Unsubtle Magic was first imagined as a cover album of the soft rock her father made under the pseudonym Aurel Roy. The reworkings and original songs that emerged delicately interrogate grief and journey through stages of mourning.

Imposed in part by the coronavirus pandemic, “solitude was very conducive to getting a ton of shit done,” Kladzyk says. She found solace in other art, like Mary Oliver’s poetry, namely “In Blackwater Woods”; Joan Didion’s classic novel about mourning, The Year of Magical Thinking; and Ionna Gika’s finger-plucked, ghostly song “Roseate” that, after a period of calm, unleashes gritty chamber pop. “A feeling of commiseration was helpful for me,” she adds.

Unsubtle Magic was inspired by her father’s music as well as the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, the British folk-rocker Richard Thompson, and the Magnolia soundtrack. “My dad’s musical aesthetics seeped into it,” Kladzyk notes. “There are a lot of references to the era when he was a touring musician — there are a lot of ‘70s rock musical references.”

She recreated one of his own songs, the measured “Set in Ice,” for the record. Though she typically has to switch a song’s key to perform something of her father’s, this track fits in both their registers. It’s a prescient tune reimagined in this context. Lyrics like “Heaven only knows how I made it through” and “The woman lies aching, she’s set in ice” feel inextricable from Kladzyk’s own experience. “Set in Ice” is a spot where the album swings toward bohemian balladry, earnest and even-keeled. It makes sense on an altogether frozen, frigid album animated by motifs of gushing water and lonely winter.

Now, nearly a year since her father passed, Kladzyk is facing the first Christmas with his absence.

“I don’t really love winter, but for a couple of weeks in December, I really love winter. And I think it’s partly that, when I was a little kid, Christmas felt so magical,” Kladzyk says. In her marching ode “Sandia Crest,” which memorializes an aunt, she describes waking up on Christmas morning. “I just remember running down the stairs and turning and seeing all the lights and smelling the pine. And that was just so thrilling.”

Coming to terms with the fact that this house is “now a derelict property” made her realize that losing the structure itself means the joy in the memory is gone: “Christmas lost, that feeling [of joy] lost.” It’s not just losing physical manifestations of her father’s presence — her own legacy is forfeited along with the building, as she sings in “A Nightmare.” “Part of you might die here, a part of you I’ll never know,” she acknowledges. “Part of me might die here, a part of me no one will ever know.”

When Kladzyk shares that she’ll spend the holidays this year at her aunt’s, she chokes up for the first time.

“The house I’ll be at, where my aunt lives, is the house that my dad grew up in Bad Axe, Michigan,” Kladzyk says. “My aunt, all of her siblings died, and she lives by herself there in her childhood home. She’s very isolated, so I’m going out there because I didn’t want her to be alone. She’s been alone for a lot of holidays.”

She touches on the holidays with a careful eye on looming devastation. Her cover of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” cherry-picks the classic’s two most yearning stanzas, which include “I’ll be home for Christmas / You can count on me” and “I’ll be home for Christmas / If only in my dreams,” and adds a campy glee that would read glib if it weren’t so self-aware.

Her own track “Only Lonely Christmas” turns a wary eye toward the impending holidays. Reimagining her father’s hospital room, Klazyk mourns the future: “Will it be only lonely Christmas?” There’s still evidence of her father in the world, of course. She has his music, has written an ode to his lessons, and she sees his behaviors and mannerisms echoed in herself and her sister. The recognition is painful at times, but more than anything, it’s heartening.

“It’s nice actually to be reminded of weird little details,” Kladzyk says. “The thing that makes me sadder is the idea of forgetting.”

She’d prefer to be haunted. On the electro-pop “Will You Haunt Me,” which hearkens to Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love,” Kladzyk sings, “Will you haunt me? Pray you’ll haunt me now.” The idea of total loss is perhaps the most painful.

“I guess in some ways I’m doing better, more functional or whatever, but grief is weird. You think you’re fine and then something triggers and you’re crying on the phone with the reporter,” she chuckled wryly. “I think it will hurt for the rest of my life. I’m OK, I’m moving on in all sorts of ways and I’ve accepted it, but it’s still shocking to me sometimes.”

Much like the commiseration she found in reading Didion and others, she felt she needed to create a work of substance when writing Unsubtle Magic. “As a listener, when someone is actually opening their heart, it’s healing in a way,” Kladzyk says. “A lot of making this album didn’t feel good, and I motivated myself because I thought it might help somebody else.”

Unlike some of Kladzyk’s past recordings, Unsubtle Magic is inextricable from the life events surrounding it, difficult as it was to put together. She points to “Harbor Me,” an uptempo song on her previous album, and says that, compared to what she endured to create Unsubtle Magic, she feels disconnected from its origins. 

“I love that song — it means nothing to me,” Kladzyk says. “That song is so much easier than writing things that break your heart.”

Seventeen Want To Be Your ‘Source Of Strength’

The first time you’re exposed to the K-pop superstars of Seventeen, you might wonder: Why are there only 13 of them? Allow group member Joshua to explain.

“We’re the sum of 13 members, made up of three units: our hip-hop unit, vocal [unit], and performance [unit] that perform as one group,” he told MTV. “So, 13 plus 3 plus 1 equals Seventeen.”

“We have 13 brains that work together,” member DK added. “I think this serves as inspiration for each other, as well.”

Of course, the group’s fans, known as Carats, already know this. And based on the year Seventeen has had, folks across the globe are quickly finding out just what members S.Coups, Jeonghan, Joshua, Jun, Hoshi, Wonwoo, Woozi, DK, Mingyu, The8, Seungkwan, Vernon, and Dino are capable of, too. They released two EPs in 2021, June’s Your Choice and October’s Attacca. As the MTV Push artists for December, and also the first K-pop act featured for an MTV Push campaign, Seventeen are already looking ahead to what they can accomplish in 2022.

“Being able to share songs and show performances that uplift and offer comfort especially in tough times like these is how we reciprocate all the love and support from our fans,” Wonwoo told MTV News. “And this is one of the things I personally find most fulfilling.”

“I hope to show these performances directly to you in person and be in the same space together with our fans once again in 2022,” Mingyu told MTV News.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, touring remains tricky. Seventeen have not performed a typical large arena show since February 2020, though their performances for their MTV Push showcase demonstrate their onstage skills. In particular, “Rock With You” explodes with the propulsive collective energy that a 13-person group can bring; the experience almost feels incomplete without seeing the choreography they utilize to present the song in its entirety.

It’s all part of a constantly evolving process, Woozi says, that seeks to best show off the power of the group as one unit: “While recording and finalizing, we had to do a lot of experimentation to find the right key for all the members.”

“Through the lyrics, we tried our best to talk about and convey the power of love,” S.Coups added. “We wanted to send a message to the listeners that Seventeen will be next to them as a source of strength.”

Crush,” meanwhile, displays a more dance-pop sensibility — something Hoshi said made the song a dazzling opportunity to work on different extremes. “I think it was the hard-hitting beat and the pop-style melody [that drew us in],” he said.

The result is yet another captivating entry into the ever-expanding world of Seventeen. Catch the group breaking down the making of “Rock With You” and get to know them further in the interview above.

The Journey Of Becoming A Taylor Swift Fan In Your Thirties

By Liz Riggs

“Well, I guess there’s no turning back,” a fellow thirtysomething late-adopting Taylor Swift fan named Jess Tantisook tells me over the phone.

She’s talking about discovering the 2020 album Folklore, but it’s impossible to discuss how we accidentally became Swifties without talking about the coronavirus pandemic, or reexamining the last two years fraught with anxiety, grief, and trepidation. “We’re all locked inside. If the world had looked different, maybe it would have passed us by.”

There’s this idea that by your thirties, you’ve more or less figured out your favorites — drinks, songs, artists. Most people my age have stopped “discovering” music and, in some cases, distanced themselves from youth culture as a whole. So to become a Taylor Swift super fan nearly a decade and a half after her debut album dropped — well, it’s fucking thrilling. It’s unique to come so late to a catalog that was written in the moment by someone going through often teenage experiences and emotions. Arriving without that immediacy requires a kind of youthful humility, or at least the ability to say to yourself: I don’t care, I like it.

The path to Taylor Swift, like coming of age itself, is not linear. To truly understand how this happened — and I maintain that in some ways becoming a Swiftie in my thirties happened to me — we must circle back to 2009.

I was graduating from college, getting ready to move to Nashville to take a teaching job. On rotation: Kings of Leon, Blind Pilot, and the new Fun singles. (It’s not lost on me that Jack Antonoff was planting seeds of my Swiftiedom even then.)

Jess was 24, living in Denver, listening to Ben Kweller, Matt Pond PA, and Good Old War. Jenna Vesper, a 36-year-old in Portland, was listening to Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids, and very committed to Pandora’s discovery radio. Michael Carey was 22, getting ready to move to Phoenix, riding a skateboard around his Ohio college campus.

“When you’re a dude in college bopping to Taylor Swift… that doesn’t exactly fit with the image I was trying to project,” Michael says, laughing. He was listening to Kanye West, Incubus, and Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s. I was still swooning over the Something Corporate songs I had loved when I was 17. Swift wasn’t really on any of our radars.

“We could have listed the girl bands we liked on 10 fingers,” Jess says. “We just didn’t listen to girls. I felt super drawn to male singer-songwriters.”

In hindsight, there was a lot of internalized misogyny wrapped up in my music taste at that time. I argued that Swift wasn’t talented. I thought she didn’t write her own songs — and yet I’d spent all of my teen years worshiping NSYNC, whose lack of writing credits I was willing to overlook. Or maybe I just didn’t care about the craft when I was 13 — either way, it’s a double standard I maintained for years.

Swift wasn’t on my radar not only because she was a country-music singer (the other Swifties I spoke to were also not big country fans) but because she was a woman. I was naive and myopic, shouldering exhausting anti-feminist sentiments that I wouldn’t fully unpack and unlearn until later, ignoring friends and bands simply because I thought I preferred the company and voices of men to women. You could say I had a bit of growing up to do.

“I knew ‘Bad Blood’ because I’d heard it on the radio a bunch,” Jenna tells me — trying to recall how familiar she was with Swift before November 2021. “And the one song I did download of hers a couple of years ago was ‘[You Need to] Calm Down’ because it’s so catchy… But that’s it, and I’m a queer person and I was like, this is cute.”

Michael — and I found “Love Story” first — while it didn’t make me feel anything, I thought it was catchy.

“The first Taylor Swift song I heard where I was like, oh my god, I kind of like this was ‘Wildest Dreams,’ Jess says. “I think it would have been a one-off, but then Ryan Adams covered that album and I thought: This is in my wheelhouse, let’s listen to the acoustic indie version of this.”

Jess would call this moment a “small permission” — an extension from the universe to change your mind about something, to like something you’re not supposed to. Or perhaps to enjoy music your younger self didn’t. Permission, in 2014, to give 1989 a listen.

Another tipping point: Taylor’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert in 2019. Historically an outlet reserved for smaller, up-and-coming bands as an intimate showcase opportunity, it provided the perfect inroad to an indie fan base and a slightly older crowd. I’d watched Local Natives perform on it. Michael had watched The National and Mandolin Orange. I didn’t realize major pop stars ever performed there.

I watched the Tiny Desk in Paris, overseas on a fellowship, reeling over my own stalled writing — a novel in progress strewn desperately across my desk while I streamed the performance on my work computer. She played “Death By a Thousand Cuts” (a personal sleeper favorite: Swift intent on writing a sad song even though she wasn’t sad at the time). I was listening to Lover’s sharp, sophisticated songwriting by this point; not only was she  finally willing to write about drinking and slipping more cursing into her lyrics, but she was in love—happy. Another song she performed at the Tiny Desk: “All Too Well.” I’d never heard “All Too Well” before, so it probably goes without saying that this is the moment in which I realize that I, for one, am fucked. Swift has me.

“I listened to that song because I listened to the Tiny Desk concert,” Jess says. “And then ‘All Too Well’ reminds me of a relationship in high school that is unresolved.”

Things started to spiral a bit. Folklore and Evermore came in 2020. Michael — whose wife is a longtime Swiftie — listened because of the production from The National’s Aaron Dessner. Jenna wasn’t on board yet. Jess likens Folklore to slipping into a great novel. I listened on repeat, walking laps in my East Nashville neighborhood. Taylor seemed to have gone full indie. I sunk fully into fandom. A YouTube rabbit hole, 1989 voice memos. Kaylor Tumblr posts. Fan accounts. A dinner party: No one said anything bad about Taylor but I shouted about her songwriting. The cardigan arrived in the mail; I treated it like a house shawl, draped over my shoulders like I’d knitted it myself.

By the time Red (Taylor’s Version) arrived in November, Jess, Michael and I were ready. Jenna had still not fallen all the way down the rabbit hole, but she would soon.

“I can’t believe for the last 10 years I’ve been walking around not knowing that Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t go to Taylor’s birthday party,” Michael says, referencing the backstory behind some of the most poignant cuts on Red. “It’s a real scarf!”

Swift, of course, had been building the hype for her re-releases well, as if she didn’t already have some practice in this arena. Somehow, I felt excited for an album that came out nearly a decade ago — everybody was. I canceled my plans one Saturday night to watch her perform on Saturday Night Live. The rumored 10-minute “All Too Well” version was coming, short film and all.

“Watching that video, the ‘All Too Well’ short film, on Friday night — I came home from the Free Britney rally. I didn’t know shit, didn’t know it was going to be 10 minutes long. I watched it and was so livid at this man [who broke her heart] and the whole thing,” Jenna says.

“I like what it stands for,” Jess says. “It’s cool that she’s going the extra mile to be like, fuck the system… I can relate to all those things so it doesn’t seem silly. Same with Olivia Rodrigo. I’m not getting myself a drivers license, but I remember these emotions,” Jess says.

I remember those emotions, too. In 2012, some of my friendships were fraying, I hated my job and was picking up the pieces of a long-distance entanglement with a musician. In short: I was 25. My ex had gone overseas for several years and since returned — my first experience with the odd elasticity of time, that two years could feel insurmountably long and then suddenly disappear, and I’d managed somehow to move on. Swift intrinsically understood time like this since she was a teenager. I wish I’d gotten to know her earlier.

In hindsight, I don’t really know how I got through that era without “All Too Well.” I guess I had other breakup anthems, but I wish I’d had that one.

“The way we talk about Taylor matters,” Michael tells me. “Taylor is one of our icons, and it matters the way we talk about her art, those little microaggressions that we place on her because she’s a female artist. The way that we talk about her matters for future artists, but not only that: It’s how we view women in all roles.”

There is a feminist clarity in these re-releases, a fuck you to a male-dominated industry while Taylor simultaneously puts an arm around the younger versions of herself.

“I think my feelings about Taylor right now are so easy to jump into because of inhabiting the discourse about how Britney Spears was really wrongly treated by all of us. Because we do inherently treat things that girls like badly,” Jenna says.

We don’t often have much grace for our younger selves, either. This is what makes listening to Red (Taylor’s Version) so interesting, because Taylor doesn’t revise; Swift has said that songwriting is like putting a picture frame around a feeling you once had. I didn’t want to acknowledge (or frame) the romantic ideals I dreamed of when I was younger, but Swift has always been honest with us in her songwriting. She distills being young like few others can. She wanted a fairy tale as a teenager, but she was willing to admit when her views changed in later songs. That is perhaps the truest form of growth.

Even though her music wasn’t the soundtrack to our twenties, it will be the soundtrack to our thirties. Swift reminds me of the exact pain I need to pull from for my own writing, and yet I get to do it — as she gets to with these re-releases — with a decade’s worth of perspective. She had an ax to grind for the boys who broke her hearts; now she sends their babies presents. Is there some peace in listening to her re-record these earlier albums, knowing how the story ends?

Maybe, for me and these fellow late-blooming Swifties, Taylor Swift is like a friend you meet later in life — different than someone you’ve known forever, but just as important. You come to the new friendship with wisdom, and you have the chance to learn so much about each other’s past. The kind of relationships that are often more intimate when you have a decade of emotional maturity under your belt. It’s a companionship you’ve longed for, a saudade sentiment for something you didn’t know existed. And then it arrives, and nostalgia isn’t the right word. Gratitude, probably. Contentment, perhaps. Golden — as if you were tied together by an invisible string all along.

Bop Shop: Songs From Normani And Kaytranada, Grace Cummings, Kai, And More

Summer may be over, but if Kai says it’s peach season, it’s peach season. As the first single from his highly anticipated sophomore solo EP, EXO‘s Kai exceeds any and all expectations with “Peaches.” Utilizing a traditional-turned-modern Korean melody overlaid with sweet, yet seductive lyrics, this comeback stays true to the Kai we know and love, yet continues to push his artistry forward and further establish him as a soloist. Accompanied by a bright and airy, pastel-hued visual filled with traditional Korean garb, complex choreo, and lots of peaches (literally), the track serves as the perfect start to this new era of Kai and leaves fans wanting more. —Sarina Bhutani

BTS Turn A TV Studio Into A Disco Club Performing ‘Butter’ On The Late Late Show

At this point, the BTS song “Butter” is already a bit of an institution. Despite only dropping in May, it’s reached multi-platinum status in addition to hitting No. 1 in several countries (including the United States) and gaining a remix featuring none other than Megan Thee Stallion. There are a lot of factors at play motivating that kind of success, but one of the main ones is that, simply, BTS are so incredibly popular globally that it’s a bit hard to fathom.

Perhaps that’s why all seven members will, at the end of 2021, take a much-deserved hiatus. It’s hard to say how long it’ll last — earlier this week, the group’s music company Big Hit called it an “extended period of rest” in a statement — but however long it is, it’s clear that Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook deserve it.

Before then, they’re ending the year on a high note. That includes bringing “Butter” to The Late Late Show and making use of every inch of the studio to transform it into the club banger it was designed to be.

If you’ve ever been part of a television audience for a show taping, you know how small the studios can be. There are plenty of camera tricks at play to make the space feel bigger and grander on the screen than it might in real life. But for this “Butter” rendition, the smallness of the space is revealed in a different way: BTS simply takes over the production, creating a gigantic disco dance floor and seizing all control.

It was the 1,000th episode of James Corden’s show, so he clearly chose the right group to help ring in such a milestone. By the end of the performance, BTS have peacocked around in incredible jackets, held an impromptu fashion show in the middle of the dance floor, and made it feel like Corden’s studio could just barely contain their energy. Sounds about right.

Get down with “Butter” in the video above.

Jimmy Fallon Recruits Ariana Grande And Megan Thee Stallion For A Covid Christmas Carol

Every year around this time, people start asking the same question: Will any new contemporary Christmas song ever come close to achieving the status of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You?” The answer is likely no, as becomes clear when you consider the sheer volume of new holiday music releases that drop yearly. Not many of those become standards, and fewer still even have a shot at becoming timeless.

Knowing this, Jimmy Fallon tried to do something else — he aimed to make a definitive Christmas song for right now, instead of going for timelessness. On the December 6 episode of The Tonight Show, the host recruited heavyweights Megan Thee Stallion and Ariana Grande — two of the absolute biggest and best in the game right now — to help bring the song, “It Was a… (Masked Christmas),” to life. The results may save lives!

The premise of the song is that it’s a good thing to remain cautious of Covid in order to protect yourself and your loved ones during the holidays. Fallon sings, his voice frosted with Auto-Tuned, to wear a mask, get a vaccine booster shot, and say hey to folks via Zoom when necessary to avoid risky meet-ups. It is a chillingly bleak reminder that we’re still in a pandemic, though the message is softened by two key aspects of the video: many, many oversized and relentlessly cozy sweaters, and the presence of both Meg and Ari.

Grande plays foil to Fallon, accompanying him on the couch, waiting in line for a booster, and on a ski trip, and all throughout, she’s redoubling everything he sings in her own superstar manner. She gets her own melancholy verse — “Last year I was here / Don’t tell me this year’s the same” — before Meg enters in a full nurse outfit, complete with booster syringes (!) on her fingertips.

In one of the more comedic moments, she raps, “Put Purell on everything / Turkey, eggnog, candy canes,” as those very actions are carried out. In one of the more viscerally upsetting moments, Fallon and Grande sing through masks with each other’s mouths on them. There’s also a dancing mask monster?

“I had so much fun,” Meg said on Instagram promoting the clip. Check it out above, then go get your booster shot already.