The Korea Herald


2022 highlights of K-Pop: From rise of new female groups to long-awaited return of legends

By Hong Yoo

Published : Dec. 26, 2022 - 16:37

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K-pop girl group IVE (Starship Entertainment) K-pop girl group IVE (Starship Entertainment)

Addictive rhythms and powerful choreography continued to propel K-pop up the global music charts in 2022.

Korean artists have reached the top spot on the Billboard 200 -- the ranking of the best-performing albums and EPs in the US -- a record four times this year.

Stray Kids was the first Korean act to top the chart this year with its album “Oddinary,” followed by Blackpink, (G)I-idle, and RM.

Apart from the global chart-toppers, this year’s K-pop scene was undoubtedly dominated by the fourth generation girl groups such as NewJeans, IVE, (G)I-idle, Le Sserafim and Aespa.

In addition, the return of groups such as Big Bang, Girls' Generation and Kara after several years of hiatus brought new energy to the industry.

Here is a list of 20 tracks that best capture 2022.

1. “Pink Venom” - Blackpink

Blackpink nabbed their first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their latest full-length album “Born Pink” in early October, making them the first K-pop girl group to take the throne.

“Pink Venom” is the first single from the album, and infuses the group’s trademark hip-hop style with the sound of the Korean traditional instrument geomungo.

The single peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200 chart for two weeks.

The song ends with a chaotic rhythm as the beat drops.

2. “Maniac” - Stray Kids

Stray Kids’ popularity grew by leaps and bounds with “Maniac,” the focus track from the EP “Oddinary,” which ranked No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

The EP also sold over 1 million copies, a first for both the band and its label JYP Entertainment.

Stray Kids said they tried to show their unique explosive power in a restrained manner for the song, but the track still carries Stray Kids' trademark noisy backing and a killer hook.

3. “Hello” - Treasure

“Hello,” the lead track from Treasure’s second EP “The Second Step: Chapter Two,” is filled with a positive and energetic message that reflects the cheerful image of the group.

The dance song delivers cheerful vibes, with a bright mood overlaid with Treasure’s warm vocal color.

Their label YG Entertainment’s characteristics pop out strongly in the chanted chorus with hip-hop elements.

This is the group's first song without Bang Yedam and Mashiho, members who withdrew from the group a month after the release of “Hello.”

4. “Hype Boy” - NewJeans

NewJeans, the first girl group from the Ador label under K-pop powerhouse Hybe, made an impressive debut this year with their songs topping local charts.

The rookie group’s second single “Hype Boy” came with four different music videos.

The mid-tempo melodies and repetitive lyrics lead up to a catchy chorus, but what really made their track go viral was their refreshing and easy-to-follow dance, with choreography that looked back to the earliest generations of K-pop.

5. “Love Dive” - IVE

Another rookie girl group, IVE, has cemented its position in the K-pop scene with its second single, “Love Dive.”

The song is appealing and charismatic as it expresses the courage it takes to “dive into love” but what the girls really fall in love with is themselves.

The motif of this was the story of Narcissus, the figure from Greek mythology who was so impossibly handsome that he fell in love with his own image reflected from a lake.

The lyrics “Narcissistic, my god I love it” forms the hook of the song echoing like chants.

6. “INVU” - Taeyeon

The title track of the soloist Taeyeon’s third LP “INVU” is a pop-house tune. A synth harmony is overlaid with a melody that combines with the singer's high-pitched vocals makes the storytelling more dramatic.

The lyrics say that the singer knows she will get hurt and tired of loving the people, but she will continue to love others nonetheless.

That is why she says “I envy you,” since others will stop loving her and abandon her, but she cannot do the same.

From beginning to end, it contains changes in emotions and personal maturity under an organic and dense musical design.

7. “_WORLD” - Seventeen

“_WORLD,” from the album “Sector 17,” is an R&B song with a funky rhythm and a sweet melody.

The song invites listeners into a “new world” with horn instrumentals, light disco influences, and soft and smooth vocals accentuating the “fresh teen” image that has represented Seventeen since its debut.

The highlight of the tune comes with Vernon’s rap, opening with the lines, “Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door / Run your fingertips over the whipped cream cloud.”

The light, flowy, and amicable song glides through the ears, definitely making it a pleasant track to listen to.

8. “Tomboy” - (G)I-dle

(G)I-dle comes back for ‘vengeance’ after a yearlong hiatus with its megahit song “Tomboy,” a rebellious pop-rock song with an ear-catching melody and eye-catching choreography.

In the song, the girls refuse to become the “blonde Barbie doll” they say men want them to be and instead choose to be tomboys.

The hook, which combines the members’ unique voices with a rough instrumental sound, and the addictive variation that flows out at the moment the atmosphere is heightened are the points to look out for.

9. “Wild Flower” - RM

BTS’ RM made a stunning debut as a solo artist with his album “Indigo” and the main track “Wild Flower” this year.

RM sings of wanting to live not like a firework but a wildflower, highlighting the artist’s fear of losing his love for music.

“Wild Flower” is composed of string instruments including a subtle guitar and percussion.

Vocalist Youjeen from the band Cherry Filter adds volume to the song by adding her powerful delivery to the explosive chorus.

“Wild Flower” reached No. 83 on the Billboard Hot 100.

10. “Dreamers” - Jung Kook

This year’s World Cup became more memorable for South Koreans thanks to “Dreamers” by BTS’ Jung Kook, adding to the national team's success in make it to the last 16 for the first time in 12 years.

“Dreamers,” part of the Qatar World Cup's Official Soundtrack, featured Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi.

The track speaks of how people make dreams come true through self-determination and perseverance: “Look who we are, we are the dreamers, We make it happen, ’cause we believe it."

The song debuted on Spotify’s Daily Viral Song chart in all 73 countries making Jung Kook and Japanese singer Fujii Kaze the only Asian musicians to achieve the milestone.

11. “Good Boy Gone Bad” - TXT

This is a hip-hop track infused with a rock sound by Tomorrow X Together, also known as TXT.

The group dressed head-to-toe in black outfits for the music video, which depicts an innocent boy engulfed in anger and loss after a breakup.

Lyrics like “I’m like a zombie dead alive/ Born atop the tomb of love” exemplify the gothic atmosphere of the song along with the explosive and unyielding chorus.

“Good Boy Gone Bad” has served to shift TXT’s image from lively and youthful boys to mature grownup men.

12. “Polaroid Love” - Enhypen

This is a go-to tune if you are looking for a cute and heartwarming song.

The chords used to compose the song are addictive and the melody is easy to sing along to.

The song is about boys recalling the initial tingling moments of love while looking at a Polaroid photo.

A “Polaroid Love” challenge on TikTok hit more than 1 million views as the song gained popularity in the country and abroad.

13. “Antifragile” - Le Sserafim

Another rookie girl group, Le Sserafim, surprised their fans by coming back with the vigorous choreography of “Antifragile.”

The song starts off in minimalist style, with just a vocal and a drum beat, to make it sound sophisticated and unique.

The melody is very addictive with few variations repeating the word “antifragile” and with a Moombahton undertone.

The rap verses of the group’s members Eunchae and Chaewon “Walk like a majestic lion, Eyes glinting with so much Desire, Pour more gasoline on the fire” is the only transition of melody found in the song.

14. “Girls” - Aespa

This dance song with boisterous vocals and remarkable rapping over powerful bass and rough textured synths.

“Girls” shows off the SM performance-style with a rugged dance breakdown, powerful climactic vocals and a chant for the chorus.

With a rock guitar, “Girls” has a bombastic flair that gives a kick to the song, while the music video connects it to Kwangya, a storyline that develops in the SM cinematic universe.

15. “Still Life” - Big Bang

Second-generation K-pop idol group Big Bang made the most anticipated comeback this year with “Still Life.”

“Still Life” is a soft-rock track that portrays the group’s history from the early 2000s when the band began their career up until now.

The song is unlike Big Bang's typical party anthems, but G-Dragon’s whimsical lyricism, T.O.P’s husky raps, and Taeyang and Daesung’s unique vocals were enough to rally old fans.

“Still Life” seemed to be a farewell message to the group’s old days and left fans wondering if it hints at a fresh start.

16. “Forever 1” - Girls’ Generation

Girls’ Generation reunited for a summer comeback to mark its 15th anniversary with their seventh full-length album “Forever 1.”

The title track “Forever 1,” made up of euphoric electro highs and soaring vocals, illustrates the K-pop veterans' everlasting love for their fans.

The uplifting song brings back old memories of their debut single “Into The New World,” as both of them were produced by Kenzie.

The music video of “Forever 1” shows where the members have been in terms of solo careers only to get back together as Girls’ Generation at the end.

17. “When I Move” - Kara

The second-generation K-pop girl group made a stunning comeback at the 2022 Mama Awards, performing “When I Move” from their new special album “Move Again.”

The track is composed of groovy guitar and synth bass that accentuates the retro touch in the song.

Despite a seven-year hiatus from performing as a full unit, the members of Kara sang and danced in perfect harmony as if they had been performing beside one another all these years.

For the new album “Move Again,” which marks Kara’s 15th anniversary, the group welcomed back Nicole and Ji-young, who left in 2014.

18. “Yet to Come” - BTS

The K-pop megastars of BTS wrapped up the first nine years of their career with this lead single.

Deviating from the vivacious dance tunes the band had recently led with, “Yet to Come” had a softer and more poignant tune, with the notes pleasantly knocking on the ears -- similar to those of “Spring Day” and “Life Goes On.”

While the soft alternative hip-hop tune may feel bland to those who expected more of the band’s dance-pop hits such as “Dynamite” and “Butter,” it plays more like background music as the act reminisces on its journey, and as it braces for the next chapter of its musical odyssey.

19. “Event Horizon” - Younha

Singer-songwriter Younha topped local music charts with this song which was a late-bloomer.

“Event Horizon” was released in March but garnered popularity over half a year after when Younha started performing the track live on college campuses during the fall festival season.

The song made a "perfect all-kill" by the end of November on local music charts including MelOn, Genie, YouTube Music, Flo, Vibe and Bugs.

The modern rock sound blended well with Younha’s sentimental vocals.

20. “Beatbox”- NCT Dream

This single is similar to the act’s former hits, with NCT Dream’s unique music style and sound combined with a hint of 1990s hip-hop.

The tune unveiled in May served as a perfect way to cool off from the summer heat with beatbox-inspired dance beats that deliver a positive message to teenagers to make their voices heard if there is a dream they want to achieve.

“Beatbox” is centered around cute, retro beats with chants that create a positive and energetic mood.