It’s that time of the year!
Korean pop music has been busy this year, despite the many hurdles, the many scandals, the many members leaving, and the many disbandments. That said, there was a lot of debuts, a lot of fandoms uniting, a lot of returning groups, and a lot of really awesome music. This year’s roster of acts did not have to deliver so hard, but they did.
It was hard narrowing it down to just 15 tracks, and I also had to make some sacrifices about whether December actually counted (because, let’s face it, there were some killer tracks this month, alone). So, from January up until the end of November, we’ve got fifteen stellar tracks from Korean pop… let’s go!
첫사랑 (Pop? Pop!)
from the mini-album “Sequence : 7272”
In a year flooded with debuts of girl groups left and right, none could match the effort made by the new faces of POPMUSIC, CSR, otherwise known as Cheot Sarang (or First Love). Taking on the more innocent concept as opposed to their various debut opponents, CSR burst into the K-pop scene with “Pop? Pop!“.
Breezy, fun, and full of the cutesy cheer that could very well find itself in a Lovelyz, GFRIEND, or Apink circa 2011 catalog, with its frantic but twinkly instrumental, “Pop? Pop!” was a breath of fresh air in a sea of girl crush concepts that sought towards being the new BLACKPINK.
At #15, CSR’s debut track is a stark reminder that 2015 was 7 years ago… I think it’s time we bring the pop? pop! back in K-pop.
from the mini-album “Acid Angel from Asia <ACCESS>”
Speaking of new concepts and debuts…
Let’s talk tripleS, a still up-and-coming 24-member group, which has piqued a lot of interest with their member format. Created by that same guy who developed the Girl of the Month concept with LOONA, tripleS looks to take the K-pop world on, and its first steps are with a sub-unit composed of four of the announced members: Acid Angel from Asia, debuting with “Generation“.
Short and sweet with its funky sound, but holding on to that popular Y2K concept that’s taking K-pop by storm, “Generation” holds itself up so well as a debut song for a four-member subunit; the downside is that it couldn’t pique enough interest to keep the subunit together, but that’s all for another time.
In the meantime, it’s time for a new generation of K-pop, and Acid Angel from Asia of tripleS is taking us on the ride. TikTok up!
from the single “DANCE ON”
2022 wasn’t just infested with debuts… it had its share of re-debuts, and if you can recall a little 5-member to 7-member girl group by the name of ELRIS, then you already have a good idea of what 2022 had in store for the budding girls formerly of Hunus Entertainment…
After a move to IOK Company and a full re-brand that included member name changes, ELRIS transformed into ALICE, with newly minted concept changes into a more glamorous territory. The best of this is displayed in their recent comeback, “DANCE ON“, a disco-infused pop song that goes in on the funk (and the vocoder), but it never lets you down, and it will have you grooving from left to right.
Oddly enough, this is my first foray into ELRIS/ALICE, and my hope is that they keep dancing on in K-pop, because with songs like this (and others in their catalog), they deserve it.
WA DA DA
from the mini-album “FIRST IMPACT”
Remember survival shows?
OK, so it’s not like they ever left, but Mnet sure had some nerve to bring the idea back literally the same year they had their Produce scandal (and boy, do that take nerve). The end result comes to us in the formation of Kep1er, formed through the highly-under-the-microscope survival program Girls Planet 999, and the delivery of a what was hopefully a stellar debut came in the package of “WA DA DA“.
Luckily, it worked. Stupidly named, crafted with the most frantic and erratic of electronic noise, and vocally performed with some of the best that GP999 had to offer, “WA DA DA” was that so-bad-it’s-good catchy tune you couldn’t escape even if you tried. Earworms still exist, my friends.
Although, I will still never forgive lines like vroom vroom vroom like a supersonic, but there were certainly far worse lines this year…
from the single “X”
2022 really said “let’s bring back the women of K-pop”… this year saw the rise of not only new killer girl groups, but it also saw the resurrection of many second- and third-generation girl groups, with the likes of SNSD and KARA celebrating 15-year anniversaries.
Yet, it was the five girls of EXID who really delivered on the best (although KARA’s was a very-close second). Burning up the scene with “FIRE“, EXID brought back that ELLY sound that we’ve all been very familiar with in the last half of the 2010s (and with the likes of TRI.BE keeping it going), giving us the red-hot and fierce heat that somehow hasn’t cooled over since the girls called on their hiatus just only two years prior.
Like tabasco, this hot and saucy Middle Eastern-inspired dance track will have you begging for the same flavor and more from the five-member hotties in the future…
Tick Tick Boom by CLASS:y
Tick Tick Boom
from the mini-album “Day&Night”
Remember survival shows… again?
If it wasn’t enough that Girls Planet 999 rounded out 2021 and gave us one of the hottest rookies in 2022, My Teenage Girl, or MTG, said otherwise. MTG would go on to give us another hot rookie group to look forward to; enter CLASS:y, who feature members that have gone on to impress both in the vocal and dance departments.
Sure, they killed it with their stellar two-song debut in the same year, but their best song comes in the form of a Latin-inspired near-reggaeton track known as “Tick Tick Boom“. Like the ticking of the bomb that its lyrics allude to, this is a track that might not have the huge drops you’re expecting, but it exudes a fiery aura, a heat that only some of the more seasoned girl groups can deliver.
If this isn’t already a good indicator of what the girls of K-pop are delivering this year, then just wait till the next few groups push that button.
Talk that Talk
from the mini-album “BETWEEN 1&2”
2022 also brought up disbandment concerns for many groups, with those groups formed in 2015 being given the well-known distinction of being ‘7 years old’… and who would fall into this category? The 9 girls of TWICE themselves.
And yet… they announced something even better: all members renewing their contracts, accompanied by a comeback featuring all members, marketed as a dedication to the many ONCEs who continue to stand by the girls. So let’s talk that talk on, well, the comeback: “Talk that Talk“.
Aesthetically in the early 00s, “Talk that Talk” is a high-energy electropop dance track that does feel like we’ve heard it all before… but why change something that works? With its tight hooks, fun rap segments, and funky beats, “Talk that Talk” is TWICE at their best.
So, what is it that we want? What is it that we need? Let’s talk the talk we all should be aware of: the third-generation girls are here to stay and here to slay.
Feel My Rhythm by Red Velvet
Feel My Rhythm
Red Velvet (레드벨벳)
from the mini-album “‘The ReVe Festival 2022 – Feel My Rhythm’”
The third generation of girl groups keep their momentum going!
Sure, TWICE had us talking that talk, keeping them in the K-pop zeitgeist for a few more years to come. However, Red Velvet maintained themselves as a tour de force in K-pop with the classical effort of “Feel My Rhythm“, ensuring we’re still in the ReVe Festival train for a long time.
Interpolating and sampling the melody of “Air on the G String”, filling in spaces between segments with hip-pop beats and twinkly sounds that is found in many of Red Velvet’s catalogue, “Feel My Rhythm” is that one song that tugs at my passion for music: a blend of my passion for the ethereal, beautiful sounds of classical music with the frantic, high-energy beats of Korean pop music.
If anyone could have done something like this, it most definitely had to be SM Entertainment’s five queens. What a what a feeling it is to feel this rhythm.
from the mini-album “Midnight Guest”
This was a year where even groups that were almost nearly doomed to a life of obscurity saw their own sliver of K-pop success, and the perfect example is that of the now 8-member girl group fromis_9, having moved to PLEDIS the year prior, fulling placing them within the HYBE circle of acts.
And damn! What a great move it was. We wouldn’t have ever gotten “DM“, which is perhaps their best song… ever.
Short for ‘Doesn’t Matter’, but could very well be alluded to ‘Direct Message’ if we’re closely thinking about it, “DM” is a pop song meant for the night, wrapped in elegance; it’s that song that’s gives every girl an opportunity and shines light on vocal prowess. There’s no real rap, there’s no breakdown; it’s a beautiful track, and it knows that it is. It’s a funky disco-like track that doesn’t need all the hard bells and whistles to appeal.
None of what we’ve heard before “DM” matters anymore, and that’s really all that matters in the end… right?
from the mini-album “THE SECOND STEP : CHAPTER ONE”
It, uh… it really says a lot when this is the only boy group song on the list.
For good reason, too.
Every boy group song this year held no candle to TREASURE’s “JIKJIN“, a song that utilizes its members’ vocal prowess, its high-intensity instrumental, and last but certainly not least, its drop with so much ease and finesse, I couldn’t bring myself to even stick through their follow-up comeback song because it didn’t have the same feel.
If there was anything right that YG Entertainment did this year, it was finally give BLACKPINK a comeback in a year-and-a-half, and grant us this treasure of a comeback song that I wish the other boy groups of the year aimed towards.
from the album “I NEVER DIE”
You might not remember it now, considering it’s already been months ago, but do you recall what the biggest (and probably still is, if we’re being real) song of 2022 is? I wouldn’t fault you if you said anything from IVE, but no, it has to be the fxcking song itself… “TOMBOY“.
Released after the highly-publicized Soojin bullying scandal that continues to plague K-pop in other groups (see the next song), (G)I-DLE needed to rise from the ashes and bring something new to the table.
This came in the form of an angry dance-rock track that saw the girls use a slur (gasp) that is usually so unheard of in K-pop; not to mention, it is also incredibly catchy. No one could possibly escape that whistle tune, or the ahhs of its chorus, or its stupid but fun Engrish rap segment delivered by queen Soyeon herself.
It’s neither man or woman… it’s whatever it wants to be. And it’s fxcking cool.
LE SSERAFIM (르세라핌)
from the mini-album “ANTIFRAGILE”
Speaking of bullying scandals…
LE SSERAFIM made its debut this same year, but they had the brunt of it all, considering their level of success. Fearless, they sure are, because after the whole Kim Garam thing, there was no telling if they were able to follow-up with the same level of success following their debut.
Fortunately, “ANTIFRAGILE” proved otherwise.
With its almost-Rosalía like reggaeton influence, “ANTIFRAGILE” displayed something new in LE SSERAFIM: they’re diverse. The poster-children of ‘slays at different concepts’, if you will. It also doesn’t help that their comeback song is an infectious earworm; it’s a song that will have you mumbling anti-ti-ti-ti to yourself.
Also, lovey lovey lovey dovey dovey dovey…
from the album “HORN”
Now, if we’re talking about the best of K-pop’s older generation of girl group giants making their return to the scene, we have to talk about a group that has allowed their sound and concepts to grow up with them: Apink.
This is best embodied by the mature but bittersweet concept of holding to a lost love that must be let go featured in their comeback for “Dilemma“, featuring a free sample that you might have heard elsewhere in K-pop through the year (here’s looking at you Mamadol).
That isn’t to say that it doesn’t work – in fact, it works incredibly well. The melancholy is captured with finesse, hidden behind a pulsing dance and hip-hop beat that will have you crying while you’re dancing on your own. Let’s not forget that Apink is well-known for their vocals, and each member kills it with their parts.
Catchy with its repeating hook, sad but mesmerizing with both its dark instrumental, the only dilemma I have is getting this out of my head.
from the single “After LIKE”
It was either this or “LOVE DIVE”. I couldn’t pick seriously. I picked memes.
OK, but memes aside, if there was a group, girl or boy or otherwise, that took Korean pop music by the hair and flipped it and still made something glamorous, it was IVE. Sorry, SISTAR, but we’re calling it IVESHIP Entertainment moving forward.
Jokes aside, IVE has had quite the year, and it is due in part to “LOVE DIVE”. It’s a fabulous song and most certainly would be on this list… if it wasn’t for that goddamn sample! You know the one… how do you even type it on here? That one that had the Pussycat Dolls stepping up their woohoos in “Hush Hush; Hush Hush”… that one by Gloria Gaynor…
It begs the question we’ve all been dying to know, thanks in part to a red Lisa Rinna M&M… what is “After LIKE“? And why is it so good? Why is this disco track so hyper-speed, it makes you want to do drag?! We’ll never really know.
from the mini-album “NewJeans 1st EP ‘New Jeans’”
TikTok, viral dances, surprise releases, multiple music videos, the military… you might think I’m just running a whole bunch of words and topics at random, but they all have something in common. They put a bright spotlight on ADOR’s freshly-debuted girl group NewJeans.
This is thanks to a short and breezy track named “Hype boy“, released as the second track off of their debut mini-album, promoted with multiple music video perspectives and a performance video that could only be possible thanks to continued efforts from K-pop fans and singers on TikTok dancing to its infectious chorus and its incredibly complicated but fun choreography.
And sure, it did take a viral military performance by some boy band members to have it reach new heights, but it was also helped by the slick rollout of NewJeans’ debut altogether – we were given no warning. Beyoncé who?
Warped but catchy, breezy but easy, catchy, infectious, and still a little downplayed compared to a lot of the girl crush efforts of girl groups of today’s time, “Hype boy” is that strange breath of fresh air that also manages to give off a sense of nostalgia. There’s no need to say that maybe you could be the one… “Hype boy”, you are the one.
And there you have it!
To really sum it up, 2022 was the year for girls and women – from the debuts of the many girl groups in the fourth generation, the continued successes of the many fourth generation girls from last year, the return of many beloved girl groups, and the many quality releases from all the females, you couldn’t tell me otherwise.
2023 will be quite the year: BTS members are enlisted, giving rise to concerns on where K-pop will stand worldwide; more boy groups are likely to debut and/or make comebacks, so there’s no telling who’ll take over next year; and the continued reign of the women will see more comebacks, because 2022 made it very clear.
I certainly cannot wait for what is in store next year.