10 of the best, most influential K-pop performances of 2020

Melissa M. Munoz

This year saw a ton of amazing K-pop performances, from at the KBS Song Festival, to Sunghoon’s figure skating during , to pretty much every stage on Road to Kingdom. Each K-pop stage demands idols give their all, thrilling fans with precisely coordinated choreography and enviable vocal performances, and they’re constantly improving.

Still, some 2020 performances had a bigger impact on K-pop fandom than most. There were stages that went viral on TikTok, performances that helped groups break out, and clips that made everyone sit up and take notice regardless of the idols involved. K-pop internet is a loud and busy place, so when a performance rises above the noise it’s usually for good reason.

In chronological order, here are some of the best and most influential K-pop performances that made a splash among K-pop fans this year.

It’s impossible to pick a 2020 highlight for BTS. This entire year was a moment for the Bangtan Boys, who have only gone from strength to strength since “Boy with Luv” commanded the West’s attention last year. One might say their big moment was the at the MTV Video Music Awards, a single that went on to break numerous records. Others could easily argue it was when BTS secretly

However, if we’re choosing just one, the moment that caused many to finally recognise BTS’ power was when they all piled into James Corden’s car to casually jam out to Bruno Mars. BTS’ Carpool Karaoke segment was less structured than the group’s usual music show stages, but it perfectly showcased their charismatic personalities and wry humour alongside their vocal capabilities.

There isn’t much dancing, and they don’t complete a single song. Yet BTS’ warm playfulness made their failed attempt at the Friends theme tune one of their most adorably memorable performances this year, with the video having over 60 million views at time of writing.

Lisa from Blackpink’s Youth With You dance makes it look easy

Blackpink also had a big year, with a Netflix documentary, their first studio album, and an upcoming live streamed concert. Yet the performance that gained significant attention outside the girl group’s fandom was when Lisa acted as dance mentor for Chinese reality show Youth With You, quickly making it clear she wouldn’t coddle anyone. Clips of her were rapidly disseminated and dissected throughout K-pop fandom in March, sparking discussion over whether the rapper was being overly harsh to the show’s young idol hopefuls.

Lisa’s strict approach was too much for some, but it reflected the demanded of idols. Sternly guiding the girls to stop them forming bad habits, Lisa demonstrated just how much thought, precision, and practice goes into every K-pop dance, right down to minute details like learning .

The contestants’ visible struggle with the choreography for “Yes! OK!” therefore made Lisa’s seemingly effortless dance performance doubly impressive. The contrast of their version of Youth With You’s theme song with hers threw Lisa’s skill and professionalism into stark relief, illustrating the countless hours of hidden effort behind every perfect Blackpink stage.

Stray Kids breaks out with “God’s Menu” music video

2020 was a breakout year for Stray Kids, who finally started to gain wider recognition for their bold experimentation and unique sound. Yet while inviting banger scored the boy group their third and fourth music show wins, it was the bold flavours in June’s “God’s Menu” that brought them to attention and laid the table for their success.

The addictively assertive song grabbed listeners by the ear, providing healthy fodder for and in both the percussive refrain and Felix’s “I’m a five-star Michelin” line. Meanwhile, the shockingly slick “God’s Menu” music video ended up winning Best Music Video at the Asia Artist Awards, showcasing striking choreography that incorporated yet somehow made sense. Basing a K-pop comeback on a cooking concept is unconventional to say the least, but Stray Kids served it.

00s’ sultry cover of Red Velvet’s “Psycho” entrances everyone

Was this article partially written because I needed everyone to see this absolutely irresistible performance? Maybe.

While rehearsing for their version of 00s’ leader Bomin modestly proposed aiming for . As of writing, their magnetic girl group cover has racked up over 18 million — and with good reason.

Golden Child’s Bomin, Stray Kids’ Hyunjin, ASTRO’s Sanha, and AB6IX’s Daehwi had previously collaborated on a cover of last year, but it was this year’s sultry performance of Red Velvet’s 2019 single that captivated K-pop Twitter in June. 00s’ alluring Music Bank stage had thousands of people spamming the replay button, and asking each other who that mysterious blonde guy is. (It’s Hyunjin. You’re welcome.)

Soobin and Arin’s cover of Oh My Girl’s “Dolphin” starts a cult

Oh My Girl’s seventh EP Non-Stop was released in April, but it was a July rendition of their cute single “Dolphin” by Arin and TXT’s Soobin that caught the internet’s attention. Surrounded by aquatic blues, the two Music Bank MCs da-da-da-ed their way into TikTok dance lore with over 20 million YouTube views — almost 7 million more than .

Not only did the bubbly performance launch an , it was so catchy that it prompted the formation of the you may have seen swimming around online comment sections. This collective’s beliefs primarily consist of posting “da🐬 da🐬 da🐬 da” in comments with no explanation, and everyone is welcome to join.

Hwasa owns “Maria” choreography video with 1Million Dance Studio 

Hwasa: Girls want to be her, girls also want to be with her. K-pop queens Mamamoo released one of the best songs inspired by the pandemic in but it was their maknae’s solo track that turned the most heads. Collaborating with 1Million Dance Studio, Hwasa’s choreography video alone gained over 47 million views in just five months, making it the popular YouTube channel’s most viewed clip released this year — and 15th most viewed of all time. 

Though 1Million Dance Studio’s videos are always enthralling, the power of Hwasa combined with choreographers Lia Kim, Tina Boo, and Yeji Kim makes this video even more notable. Watching them body roll with enough raw confidence to kill a man never gets tiring.

“Maria” was also used in K-drama True Beauty for a , if you want to see what this choreography looks like in less professionally capable hands.

TikTok falls for Wonho’s seductive “Open Mind” music video

Last year was rough on Wonho. The singer sadly departed Monsta X last October amidst rumours he had used marijuana in his younger years — allegations the police subsequently . Fortunately, neither he nor TikTok would allow him to be forgotten.

Debuting as a solo artist in September, Wonho proved he can make it on his own with his seductive single and used his music video to show off his significant assets. The ridiculously jacked idol displayed both his dance ability and incredible abs in a tight, strategically unzipped top, ensuring fans would be viewing his performance multiple times.

, but it was TikTok user putting it to a slowed version of that made it go viral. The hypnotic edit quickly inspired — including from Arrow star .

Refund Sisters destroy the patriarchy with “Don’t Touch Me”

The fact that Refund Sisters’ briefly dethroned BTS’ “Dynamite” from the top of the Gaon Music Chart tells you just how big this October debut was. This collaborative project brought together four K-pop powerhouses to form the Avengers of girl groups with industry veterans Uhm Jung-hwa and Lee Hyori, American singer Jessi, and Mamamoo’s Hwasa. They even adopted new stage names for the project, like superheroes with flimsy secret identities that everyone pretends are working.

This cross-generational group sent a pointed message regarding not only the K-pop scene, but society in general. Ranging in age from their mid-20s to nearly 50, the Refund Sisters rebel against notions of how women “should” dress and behave as they age. Performing “Don’t Touch Me” in their first official stage on Show! Music Core, the Refund Sisters declared that they are going to do exactly what they want, and anyone who has a problem will just have to deal with it. 

Shinee reunite in delightful livestream

Okay, this one is definitely stretching the definition of “performance,” but it just felt wrong not to include boy group Shinee’s long-awaited reunion. The well-respected senior group sang a line of during their return livestream at least, so I’m counting it.

The past few years have been very difficult for Shinee, who have been together since 2008. Bravely soldiering on as four after losing beloved vocalist Jonghyun to apparent suicide in 2017, members Onew, Key, and Minho had to enlist for their mandatory military service soon after, leaving youngest member Taemin to focus on solo projects and join collaborative group SuperM. 

But as of Minho’s discharge in November, Shinee is finally back together as nature intended. The reunited group celebrated their return with this joyful live stream, a lovely bright spot amid a trying year. It was a heartwarming event for everyone who knew of Shinee’s struggles, regardless of whether they were fans.

MAMA’s “Qui fert pondus coronae velit” stage sees The Boyz, Ateez, and Stray Kids fight to the death

The Mnet Asian Music Awards always inspire some unforgettable stages, and 2020 was no exception. This year’s ceremony saw , , and perform one after the other in ancient Roman-themed collaboration “Qui fert pondus coronae velit,” storming the stage with swords, shields, and newly rearranged songs.

Roughly translating to “the one who wants to wear the crown must bear its weight,” the boy group dégustation revealed the three will battle against each other in reality show Kingdom next year. And if this spectacular performance is anything to go by, it’s going to be dangerously competitive.

The Boyz shot off fireworks as they rammed set pieces together, dark Ateez channelled strong underworld energy, and Ares-inspired Stray Kids literally led an armed battalion, before one representative of each group took part in an aggressive In many ways, the real winner was the audience.

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