Wanna One, by Swing Entertainment, CC by 4.0

My dear chingudeul, annyeonghaseyo! In less than ten days, it’ll be Christmas. Though I hope it’s not too early for We Are: The Guard to gift you guys with the latest Best New K-pop!

But before that, how did y’all enjoy last weekend’s 2021 Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA)? As expected, recurring issues surrounding category criteria and final results have caused chaos among the stan community. But I personally have to admit that I had a blast dancing and crying to these performances:



Officially opening the stage for 2021 MAMA were today’s main dancers among 4th Generation idols- Stray Kids’ Hyunjin, TXT’s Yeonjun, ITZY’s Yeji, Enhypen’s Heesung, ATEEZ’ Wooyoung, and aespa’s Karina. It’s sad yet understandable that the grand collaboration could not be performed on one stage to follow COVID-19 protocol in South Korea. Nonetheless, they created one of the most futuristic and immaculate stages in MAMA history as elements of fire, water, flora, technology, sun and ice. Rather than a competition, the mix of bold, sharp and graceful moves altogether showed the dancers’ blooming unity.



Tables turned when our fave girl-crushes performed one of the top-trending stages of the night, yet were sent home empty-handed. Remixing concert-like versions just for MAMA, ITZY filled the stadium with overwhelming excitement to “Loco” and “In the Morning.” They even had Squid Game’s Heo Sungtae open the stage, tons of theatrical props, Chaeryeong’s special pole-dance, and Ryujin's action-filled dance break. We all know how superior the Mafia song and dance ruled this year in K-pop, so it was quite heartbreaking to not see the girls grab an award that night.



Giving the most breathtaking performance of 2021 MAMA was the one and only, reunited Wanna One. Formed by the male and second season of Produce 101, the record-breaking group captured hearts worldwide in 2017 with their diverse backgrounds and naturally amazing talents in singing, dancing, performing live, songwriting and producing music. The nostalgia was real while the eleven prince charmings performed the emotional “Beautiful (Part III),” and crowd-jumping “Energetic,” and “Burn It Up.” Now, these are the moments to relive!

Congratulations to international oppas, BTS who conquered all three 2021 MAMA daesangs (grand awards) - Artist, Song, and Album of the Year for “Butter” and BE! We hope y’all a safe trip home to Seoul! Moving on, here are this week’s top comebacks this December:



A few days ago, NCT U released “Universe (Let’s Play Ball),” one of the most fun and soulful R&B songs from NCT’s entire discography so far. The pre-released song is from NCT’s 3rd album, Universe, whose title track is actually “Beautiful.” While we follow a day in the life of 21 members (sadly without Lucas and Winwin) in this light-hearted serenade, the boys send pure healing energy with their harmonious melodies and lyrics, “You are enough just the way you are. Beautiful, beautiful you are.” Not only does the song fit the snuggle season, but is for everyone going through hard times or simply coming-of-age.



K-pop has gone so far out into the world, experimenting mixes of genres from all over Asia and America for years. But 2021 has been the year of Korea with it's modern take on traditional music from “Thunderous” to “I’m a B.” ATEEZ is next to raise to the flag with “The Real (Heung Ver.),” a dope and festive mix of oriental elements and hip-hop from Zero: Epilogue. Originally performed on Kingdom: Legendary War, this comeback is just too good to be real. From the heartracing pre-chorus of Jongho’s charismatic vocals to the hardcore dance choruses, overall could run for 2022’s Song of the Year, aye?



Monsta X be flexing their duality from last month’s “Rush Hour” to this week’s “You Problem” from THE DREAMING. Surprise! This song is in full English lyrics, therefore more than family-friendly for upcoming get togethers! Mixing some groovy pop and gentle rock, the genre’s quite an interesting fit on the hip hop group, while the song is about just dropping issues aside and dancing away. With rapper IM sharing his bright side as well, I can't slap out of smiling! The vibrant colors, happy beat and good mood are all too contagious.



Moving further into the worlds of Latin and Trap music, the 2ne1 maknae (youngest) released her fantabulous fourth single, “Fantabulous!” This song perfectly reminds us of the multi-talented and dance sensation she is with her badass choreography and smooth execution. Not as flashy as her previous hits “Ninano” or “Teamo,” this song goes for a more mature and sexy vibe. I’m loving the 14-bar rap, a piece of Minzy that Blackjacks (fandom) missed over time. With all four members of 2ne1 slowly reactivating their names in the K-pop scene, I hope a reunion surprises us soon!



Christmas ballad coming through, so have your tissues ready because heartache picks no time of the year, after all. If you’re celebrating the holidays alone, I really do hope that you find a hand to hold or a face to smile with. But I won’t stop you from crying your emotions out to Ailee and Wheein’s “Solo Christmas.” With sorrow in each beautifully-sung note, the vocal duo embrace the atmosphere along with the heartfelt piano accompaniment. Hugs, chingudeul!



Don’t put the tissue away just yet. From their 8th mini-album, Lock Up, K-pop rock icons F.T. Island are back with “Unthinkable.” Depicting the most painful moments after a breakup, this song relays realistic emotions that we all experience at some point in life. Somehow, this comeback completely reminds me of their 2012 hit “Severely,” with the common car crashing scenes and K-drama-like instrumentals. Combining rock, ballad, and orchestra to break listeners’ hearts must be F.T. Island’s forte, I guess. But, it’s good to see them oppas back!



Let’s close this week off with a song that united all fandoms this year in it’s newly polished version, “Counting Stars,” originally an audition piece from Show Me The Money 10. “Better than your Louis Vuitton” is 21-year-old BE’O, who will have you falling harder than you’d ever have for anything before. With his appealing vocals and outrageous rap all coming from such angelic visuals, the show’s second runner-up is just undeniable. BE’O definitely holds a share of the future of K-hiphop in his hands. Hwaiting (fighting/good luck)!

Well, chukhahaeyo (congrats) to all the award winners, performers, and fantastic comebacks this week. New music from Purple Kiss and SHINee’s Minho are coming up on next week’s Best New K-pop! Till then, here’s an exciting teaser from JYP’s upcoming girl group:

Hannah Lee is a Hallyu enthusiast from K-music to K-drama to K-food and even K-fashion. By day she takes her architectural apprenticeship, but by night she fangirls till sunrise. According to her latest MBTI test, Hannah is a perfectionist who has a lot of miscellaneous thoughts and is lazy... but passionate!