In 2020 many of us sought solace in music, and K-pop singers did not disappoint, with numerous releases overflowing with engaging musicality and passionate vocals. Soloists in the South Korean idol pop scene, including members of popular boy bands such as BTS , EXO , and Winner, have always released stand-out content, and over the past 12 months many shared their sonic creations with listeners. Ranging from anniversary albums to conceptual ones, here are the best album releases from K-pop solo artists this year, according to one South China Morning Post critic. Albums are listed alphabetically by title. Better by BoA One of the longest-active K-pop stars, BoA ’s been doing it for 20 years already, and there’s nobody doing it quite like her. In an album that feels like a homage to the ghosts of her past, present, and future, the singer serves up sleek dance tracks that bounce between infusions of pop, R&B, jazz, and hip-hop. She muses about love, her career, and her artistry and paints an aural soundscape of musical theatre that is BoA at 34 years old. Though the album dropped in December and came at the tail end of a tough year, it was certainly worth waiting for. D-2 by Agust D (also known as Suga of BTS) Technically a digital-only mixtape and not a full-blown album release, D-2 may lack a physical presence, but that means absolutely nothing in the streaming age: it will exist eternally as a must-listen of 2020. Suga’s second mixtape as Agust D is a reflection of the artist’s growth since his first mixtape, released in August 2016. It is a bit more mellow sonically, but remains fierce, as he continues to relay the musical explorations of his career and life through its 10 collaborative tracks. The top 15 K-pop group albums of 2020: BTS, Twice, NCT 127 D-2 perfectly exemplifies the intimate and tempestuous style of music Suga excels at creating, whether you’re here for the regally declarative Daechwita, where Suga waxes poetically over traditional Korean instrumentals infused with trap influences, or opt to ruminate on interpersonal relationships while grooving along to People. Or maybe you feel like getting thoughtful over booze while listening to Honsool – shorthand in Korean for “drinking alone” – and unwinding over its melodic tune as it blends with his straightforward flow, or just decide to do your thing while listening to any of the other engaging songs he serves up. Delight by Baekhyun Candy-coated saccharine tunes blend with R&B on the EXO vocalist’s second solo EP, Delight , which lives up to its name. If last year’s City Lights was an album to spend the night listening to, Delight is all about that daytime feel, with a few twilight moments like the slow burns of Bungee and Love Again . The singer’s expressive tone is on full display throughout each track, slinking and grooving along to smooth trap beats and bursts of refreshing retro pop styling. Better? K-pop queen Boa picks the three best songs of her career Stand-outs Poppin’ and Ghost arrive back to back to bring some bounce into your step while dancing along, as he shows his skill with snappy runs and falsetto. Baekhyun proves yet again his worth as one of South Korea’s most popular young male hitmakers with a delightful album for the ages. Inside Me by Kim Sung Kyu In a year without much warmth, the Infinite vocalist made his return triumphant with the cosy album that is “Inside Me” and its lead single, I’m Cold . After a hiatus while he fulfilled South Korea’s military draft service, Kim returned very much to a familiar place for him: moody electropop and R&B that verges on contemporary jazz and neo soul but never quite goes where one expects. This EP is Kim’s most experimental attempt yet at solo music, with most of the tracks playing around with pitch shifts and tonal vacillation as if he has decided he’s bored of being known as a stalwart singer and now is going to show everyone that even when he’s using Autotune or his voice isn’t in play, he can still relay the intensity of emotions he’s known for. Kai by Kai Though EXO may be on hiatus as a group due to several members currently completing South Korea’s mandatory military service, 2020 was a year where numerous members showcased their artistry on solo releases or various other projects, including Baekhyun’s Delight . None, however, shone quite as bright as Kai, who arrived on the scene like a comet sweeping overhead to finally explode, showing the world that he has what it takes to stand on his own as a soloist nearly a decade after he first arrived, dancing in a teaser image for EXO back in December 2011. A J-pop idol making waves in K-pop with her determination and hard work Slow and steady wins the race, they say, and with his self-titled Kai , which uses the Chinese character for “open”, the artist turned a new page of the book of his career and delivered one smoothly charismatic alt R&B tune after another. Kai has captivated audiences for years, but it’s with this album that he’s truly come into his own, and done so in such a way that Kai is worthy of revisiting repeatedly. María by Hwa Sa Hwa Sa is undeniably one of the most talented performers in South Korean pop today, coming out of vocal pop group Mamamoo and holding her own as a solo artist who blends pomp, style and artistic sensibilities to create release after release that is engaging and meaningful. Her first EP, María , fronted by a single of the same name, kicks off with an all-English philosophical intro questioning self-love and referencing depressive modes of behaviour, like being unable to smile and get out of bed. The despondent intro leads into an album that spends its time leapfrogging between provocative dance songs, like María , B-side Kidding , and last year’s Twit , and more melancholic moments, like LMM that was shared via an expressively cinematic music video. Overall, the album may only be a mini album, but it packs a condensed, impactful sonic punch in its seven songs that will keep you dancing and thinking for a long time after you hear it. Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 1 & 2 by Taemin This may be cheating a bit to qualify these albums as one, but although Taemin released the two Acts of Never Gonna Dance Again separately, it is impossible to deny their connection and parity. It may be too early to say this pair of albums are Taemin’s magnum opus, as they will hopefully be far from his last and most glorious work. The albums deliver a series of dramatic dance and R&B tracks that explore themes like falling from grace, with singles Criminal and Idea reflecting themes closely related to heaven and hell, and B-sides showcasing his skills as a vocalist. A consummate performer since he began his career with boy band SHINee back in 2008, Taemin is reliably a great soloist in the K-pop world, and proves it yet again with this release. Here’s what to expect from Exo’s Kai’s first solo album – interview Soul Lady by Yukika City pop is having a moment right now, but nobody is breathing life into the trend as much as Yukika, a Japanese star turned K-pop idol who released her Soul Lady LP in July. Thematically, the album celebrates Yukika’s journey from Japan to Korea, and stays true to its genre concept throughout its 13 tracks. Though not all are solely grounded in city pop – funk, house, synth and balladry all make appearances, for example – Soul Lady glides along with a refreshing take on this soft, old-school form of breathy pop, as the artist creates a lush soundscape of 13 songs that feature modern production elements to create an altogether timeless sound that you can both cry and smile to. Take by Mino 2020 has not been so hot for most people, but Winner’s Mino has been on fire in the best of ways: he’s a regular presence on television as one of South Korea’s most popular young variety show personalities, and he released his sophisticated sophomore solo LP, Take . The album, released at the end of October, is more introspective than his brash 2018 debut LP XX . The 12 tracks weave a web of tunes that twist and turn into a look at Mino’s perspective and artistic vision, as he ruminates on romance and his career through brash, spitfire raps conflated with wistful singsong moments, and features from collaborators like iKon’s Bobby, rapper Bewhy and R&B artist Zion. T. Aural space is a collaborator as much as any of the humans, with Mino incorporating empty moments and quiet instrumentals to enhance the intensity of his songs. This is an album that gives more than it takes, leaving listeners feeling wistful, regretful, hopeful, and all around ruminative as Mino comes into his own. What Do I Call You by Taeyeon Taeyeon did not need to deliver a near-perfect mini album during the last month of 2020, but if anyone could be relied on to do so, it would be one of South Korea’s most popular young singers. Title song What Do I Call You is playful in its funkiness, with trap beats, her lilting vocals and coy strings all blending to create something both addictive and coy. It’s only a taste of what the Girls’ Generation vocalist has to give, though, as the rest of the album’s tracks offer up everything from jazzy lounge on Playlist , upbeat lo-fi pop on To The Moon , a feel of euphoric celebration of self on Wildfire , before closing out with the dulcet sway of Galaxy . With her captivating tone and relatable lyrics, Taeyeon ended 2020 with an album that arrived like a perfect cup of your favourite drink: comforting and warming. Which stories mattered most to you in 2020? Find out with our Year In Review 2020 retrospective. For more great stories on Korean entertainment, artist profiles and the latest news, visit K-post, SCMP's K-pop hub .