Discover more from Mando Gap
Favourite 100 Mandopop Singles of 2021
the best Mandopop of the year, including singles about love, protest, and escape from waa wei, Air League, Cyndi Wang, and more
When people refer to Mandopop, they tend to refer to the stuff of the past, where there was some coherence of the sound across the scene. Artists were experimenting, working in dance, rap, and R&B into their sounds but you could easily fit their sounds together and trace them back to some common point.
But nowadays, Mandopop is more fractured, branching out from where it once felt stuck in its own past to engage with more—artists influenced by the pasts of other genres and scenes currently in motion so that it becomes difficult to really trace them back to one common point. Instead, Mandopop has morphed into hundreds of different communities with shared interest in a genre that further develop into a specific subgenre. There’s the constantly changing idol-pop scene in China, burgeoning R&B scene in Taiwan, slivers of hyperpop emerging in China, and the different microcosms of rap across both Taiwan and China, emo-rap, trap, drill, you name it. The same sounds that were popular before still hold, but no longer does one sound hold dominant quite the way it did before.
It’s then tricky to really capture the breadth of Mandopop. Part of that’s the issue of borders, especially outside of China, as restrictions on Chinese entertainment have left many tracks off global streaming and others with absolutely no promotion in non-Mandarin speaking spaces. Keeping track of what’s popular is an impossible feat, requiring you to keep track of multiple charts within each country. And with Tiktok and Douyin as increasingly popular ways to discover and spread new music, the regional split makes it impossible to follow virality closely.
It’s because of that, the difficulty in being able to catch every scene—and I’d go further to say impossible for someone outside of the Mandarin-speaking region— that I prefer the term “favourite” over “best.” There are other reasons, but that impossibility is why you’ll probably note some scenes are missing or under-covered, particularly viral hits in the region and tracks missing from global streaming. But still, these are my favourite tracks from the year from December 2020 to November 2021, and I think they manage to provide a pretty comprehensive view of Mandopop over the year.
This list is broken in half because of Substack limitations. Sorry! You can skip ahead to the top 50 here. Find playlists on Youtube and Spotify and feel free to also check out my list of Mandopop music videos.
100. icyball - “醉後喜歡我”
The bitter taste of alcohol, the loneliness that comes from the end, “醉後喜歡我” (“Like Me After Drunk”) is the last call strung up with starry twinkling lights while you drown yourself in the karaoke booth.
99. The Wanted - “Save a Little for Me”
The real depth begins after the line, “if there is still love in the palm of your hands, I’ll save a little for me,” breaking through the vocoder, the acapella echoing its sentiment of self-love.
98. SiNNER MOON - “BLEED IT”
SiNNER MOON revels in Gunta’s production, dropping maniacally chirped lines that connect for a moment before he’s moved onto something else over the bass rumbles.
97. Geng Sihan - “Shell”
Life still stirs in Geng’s grief, the piano that seems to play in spite of his anger, the strings that sound beautiful because of whatever you’ve gone through.
96. Cyndi Wang - “心靈的冒險”
A slice of escape as cascading synths shimmer, bottling excitement while Wang’s bubbly voice keeps things optimistic, ready for when we can go anywhere.
95. Della - “Annoying”
“I’m annoyed.” Della pauses, then reiterates it, this time with an electric edge and the bass boosted, screaming it at a soon-to-be ex who tried to change her.
94. Fang Wu - “Not My Fault”
The acoustic guitar might provide the distance Wu desires, but the freedom comes from her snarls—there’s a rush in how the instrumental backs out as her voice curves in one final piercing rejection.
93. DDG - “GLORY”
Menacing before its full production is even bared, DDG brought drill to China with the hazy atmosphere of “GLORY,” the occasional hard beat, and his dense rap.
92. Interesting CN & Kun Yu - “申时”
“申时” (“3 PM - 5 PM”) is brisk, playfully introducing a variety of string instruments like the guzheng, pipa, and erhu, and even landing a joke in its violin solo.
91. Bolly - “Fucked Up World”
Ticking time and chopped and screwed vocals, Bolly makes love feel both terrifying and thrilling.
90. Eric Chou - “You Don’t Belong to Me”
The characters of More Than Blue: The Series attempt to lighten the blow of grief for others before they go and Chou’s ending theme captures the dynamics with precision, unfolding in the simplest terms: the ache and fulfillment of ensuring someone else’s happiness in sacrifice of your own.
89. SHOU - “FEEL”
SHOU’s raps are lethargic, his melody sluggish, but that’s what makes “FEEL” like a lazy summer afternoon, asking you to take the day off before you confront what you feel.
88. Vinida - “Love Is Blind”
Vinida’s big diva moment doesn’t abandon hip-hop for retro flair, but the doo-wop chorus does let her throw away all guardedness to belt “baby, please be kind to me.”
87. Mitchell Zhong - “Ladies & Gentlemen”
There was no revelation quite as liberating this year as Zhong’s understated yet confident statement on its gentle disco beat: “I am they.”
86. C.T.O - “Oh! That Girl”
Light funk-pop that’s buoyantly danceable, doing away with drama in favour of goofy ad-libs and cheesy declarations.
85. noovy - “Before We Die”
noovy race through rolling guitar lines and crashing drums to beg another to “let me hold you tight, let me be weak for a day.” It’s like an unanswered question, wondering if you’ll also be vulnerable for a moment or continue to live in a flatline routine.
84. Mao Buyi - “The Truth of Life”
“The Truth of Life” is cynical and exhausted—“because there is no dream, I wake myself with just an alarm clock,” Mao sings over its peppy swing.
84. Sweet John - “Search by a Kiss”
Love is just a tender hypothesis tested by Sweet John’s guitar noodling. “Do you doubt it? Are you disappointed?” Their exploration leaves you with more questions, and like any good kiss, leaves you craving more.
82. Bloodz Boi, umru & William Crooks - “Iced Lemon Tea”
“Dong Leng Cha” remixed into the trio’s playground: Bloodz Boi relaxes under sludgy autotuned, umru creates beats that crank against one another, and Crooks delivers a verse hanging upside down on the monkey bars.
81. SING女团 - “初梦谣”
Several girl groups invested in merging traditional and modern, but SING女团 (Super Impassioned Net Generation) were the best of the bunch, using traditional string instruments and drawing traditional scenes like the riverbank in vivid detail. “初梦谣” (“First Dream Ballad”) is also distinctly modern, using the traditional to dress up its electro-house and ambitious in its execution of a rap break and several melodic shifts.
80. Haezee - “Yuh Right (feat. YELLOW)”
“Yuh Right” is R&B vengeance, Haezee taking pleasure from an ex’s pain. “This is what trusting you turned me into,” she seems to proclaim when it blooms open on its chorus, cold and vindictive, slinging taunts like they’re sweet nothings.
79. HAOR - “Start It!”
HAOR plays the long game, just begging you to make a move, goading you with coos of “dalatala” and light electronic funk.
78. Flesh Juicer - “Modern Siren (feat. Julia Wu)”
Metal-rap group Flesh Juicer bring nu-metal chaos, forcefully dragging you into their blind rage while Julia Wu acts the siren, her sweet alluring vocals tempting you under.
77. sis - “Last Song”
There’s a fatality to “Last Song,” as the trio leave everything in serene harmonies and gentle ad-libs, heading out together with a final line: “if this is the last song, let me sing softly with you.”
76. Zhang Jiawang - “迟来的情话”
A Douyin hit not just because of Zhang’s honey-sweet voice but because its sugar-sweet chorus played directly into Chinese tropes of romance. “迟来的情话” (“Belated Terms of Endearment”) draws a childhood love that blossoms after missing its chance: “If I can’t send you flowers at eighteen, then I’ll invite you to drink at twenty-eight.”
75. Sunnee - “Want To”
Producer Sihan drew out all of Sunnee’s strengths with the darker edge of its moombahton pop, leaving breathy calls to get addicted and space for a heated dance break.
74. Meng Jia - “Glass Wall (feat. VaVa)”
On its EDM-lite pop, Meng and Vava find themselves on opposing sides, the former treating love like a need, the latter like a temporary stop. But every thought disappears through its drop, dumb enough to make you embrace the other side of “Glass Wall.”
73. Neci Ken - “The Place I Don’t Belong to”
Its crystalline arrangement chokes you, their lonely exhaustion building from finger-picked guitars and hushed voices to crashing tides and wailing harmonies.
72. Joanna Dong - “等睡醒以后”
“等睡醒以后” (“After You Wake Up”) is a soothing exploration on letting go, floating in the still water of Charlie Lim’s production and Dong’s voice. “Is it ok?” she asks you, only to answer later with a quiet “it’s really ok.”
71. Andrew Tan - “Round & Round”
“I’m still going round and round,” Tan sings, trapped in the circle of his own memories, preferring an existence where you’re still around even if it’s an illusion.
70. deca joins - “Bedroom”
When the haze fills the room, “Bedroom” feels like its own universe—claustrophobic when they sing “the way out is too dark and too far, no one can get out of this room” but also, in the space of its instrumental, peaceful enough to be the same escape the group craves.
69. Ruth Kueo - “Taipei Dreams”
A song about letting yourself get lost, retreating when reality gets too tough, pouring Kueo’s sweet voice over its dreamy interior.
68. Yu Jiayun - “十万个为什么”
“十万个为什么” (“Hundred Thousand Whys”) is filled with questions that create newness in something familiar, its night sky unfolding with skittering drums and twinkling keys.
67. a-Mei - “緩緩”
The ripples of “緩緩” (“Slowly”) run deep and lazy, a-Mei bathing in its atmosphere like a sunny afternoon in the water or a late morning with a lover.
66. Drangadrang - “Life’s Pazangal”
In the dance-rap of “Life’s Pazangal,” as Indigenous drums and digital beats morphed into one another, Drangadrang was caught in tension: demanding space to speak over the boisterous chorus but also screaming for mercy into the void on the bridge.
65. Chen Linong - “Yogurt Love”
The sound of youth’s last summer, filled with sickly sweet confessions, shaped by crisp guitar lines, and sprinkled with finger snaps and coos.
64. Eileen Yo - “Daydream”
Synth ripples that beg you to take a dip and Yo’s lustrous voice that becomes even more alluring when she jumps up a register, snaring you in.
63. Lilylu - “Pray for Me (feat. BRAD)”
Lilylu and BRAD try to make the most of one last try, warbling their way through synthwave by operatic howls and autotuned emo-rap.
62. IXFORM - “So Hot”
The top contestants of Youth with You 3 debuted fashionably late, shuffling with confident swagger across the funky rhythmic dance-pop.
61. Steelo - “依果波”
“依果波” (yī guǒ bō) carries Steelo’s hometown with it, waxing about its scenery over woodwinds and sparkling synths that mimic the wind and water—when he sings “follow me home” in Nuoso language, he invites you to engage with his culture.
60. Liao Juntao - “The Sealed Love Letter”
Liao addressed two letters: one to nobody, a beautiful farewell he’d like to throw to the wind, the other to someone who’ll never receive it. “The Sealed Love Letter” rattles off all the things Liao could be, knows he would be if you were his and he was yours, if he didn’t love someone already taken. Adorned with an arrangement like calligraphy and neatly tucked away, it’s only to be used on the improbable day you feel the same.
59. Rain Lee - “Changxi”
Like the moon, “Changxi” revolves slow, its rock gradually eclipses its dull heavy thrums, only for them to return by its end. Lee sighs in its constant push-and-pull, at times discordant with its force, other times revelling in its cosmic harmony.
58. Astro Bunny - “Is It Just Me?”
Astro Bunny test the limits of their glossy electronic sound— when pushing dancier production, longing and loneliness of a failed relationship don’t feel so paralyzing.
57. Enno Cheng - “The Scenery (feat. ABAO & Chunho)”
Producer Chunho builds “The Scenery” gradually, programming drums and electronic flourishes into its soulful sound while Cheng and ABAO weave a dance through Taiwanese, Paiwanese, and Mandarin.
56. Song Mengjun - “Sleepless Night (DJ热搜版)”
If the virality of Douyin was based on a twenty-second snippet, then the joy of Douyin was in transformation: covers of old songs, remixes of new. Chinese artists have long been into releasing DJ remixes with sleepy acoustic singles, but these remixes caught renewed attention with Douyin. Its twinkling manyao mix was just part of the move from Douyin to the dancefloor.
55. Rose Liu - “Ain’t Gonna Wait”
Liu stops a lover from giving only half, demanding his full effort and attention on the bubbly “Ain’t Gonna Wait.”
54. June Pan - “Mannequin”
Its retro influence is another of Pan’s masks, adorning “Mannequin” with electric guitar licks and drum fills, as she does everything to prevent herself from watching you leave when you see the real her.
53. Four Pens - “You Save Me (feat. miaou)”
Four Pens share gratitude for those who saw them through their weakest moments. The vocals let the sunlight cut through dissonance, shining light onto its soft-rock arrangement brightened by additional production from Japanese band miaou.
52. Hoo Leeger - “LOWKEY”
The emo-rapper switched lanes, first by not rapping on the pop-rock “Block,” then by doubling down on it, rapid-fire raps on blaring club beats.
51. CHIYO - “Superwoman”
Chiyo’s cartoonish pop shares her bright confidence to pull you up, establishing herself not just as the kind of cool you dream of, but the kind of cool you can also be.