If it was not already obvious, 2022 made it crystal clear – Kpop girl groups are a force to be reckoned with.
From topping South Korea’s musical charts each week, to selling millions of albums and thousands of concert tickets, women dominated the Kpop landscape this year. Rookie girl groups broke throughout the noise with the fierceness and individuality of much more seasoned acts, breaking records and smashing charts along the way. But while the year was undoubtedly defined by newer acts, established ones did not leave the genre unscathed – experimenting with new sounds, they managed to prove once again that there is no age limit to innovation and making quality music.
Just like all the past years, the Kpop soundscape in 2022 was not dominated by any specific trend – between cheerful breakout anthems, reggaeton-infused gems, and nostalgic R&B ballads, there was something for everyone. If anything, this year was characterized by the theme of self-discovery (musically speaking), with each act appearing to release music not for the charts but to find out who they are as artists.
Down below – in no particular order – are our 15 favorite Kpop songs released in 2022.
“ANTIFRAGILE” BY LE SSERAFIM
After taking a more sleek approach with the debut track “FEARLESS”, LE SSERAFIM decided to continue the minimalistic sound and pair it with a rhythmic thumping reggaeton beat co-written by Isabella Lovestory. And just like that, ANTIFRAGILE was born.
With its infectious hook, this song is as catchy as they come, and will for sure tunnel its way into your mind after just one listen. But aside from its catchiness, the track’s greatest strength lies in the fact that it combines two different musical realms – Kpop and reggaeton – without downplaying either one.
The intoxicating beat stays consistent from start to finish (a signature feature of reggaeton), but does so without forgetting the energy and charisma that are characteristic of Kpop. It manages to keep balance between the two genres, while remaining unapologetically itself from beginning to end.
“HYPE BOY” BY NEWJEANS
Among the rookie girl groups that took over Kpop by a storm this year, one name is particularly memorable – NEWJEANS. After their surprise debut this summer with the single “Attention” (which dropped on a random Friday in late July), the group continued their journey with their second track “Hype Boy”. And skyrocketed to stardom in doing so.
The song’s bubbly and fun nature made it an instant hit, with verses that melt together almost seamlessly, and a cyclical energy that makes the song easy to listen to and even easier to get addicted to. But what captivated the attention of most fans is the Y2K aesthetic imbued in the comeback – as Y2K is all the rage these days, “Hype Boy” was the perfect track at the perfect time.
“LOVE DIVE” BY IVE
Groups gaining momentum right off the bat is not unheard of, but the way IVE managed to grasp momentum immediately and never lose it is definitely commendable. After the success of their debut track “Eleven”, IVE opted to come back with a track that is similar to its predecessor and yet completely different from it.
“Love Dive” continues the group’s atmospheric sound that denoted their debut, while boasting a darker and sleeker appeal that makes it stand out from this year’s releases. Over the mesmerizing vocals and trance-inducing beat, IVE will manage to capture your attention with this song, and make sure it’s theirs to keep.
“28 REASONS” BY SEULGI
It’s not everyday that you see an artist who is undoubtedly made for the job, but Seulgi fits the bill to the T, and “28 Reasons” is the ultimate proof. Rife with eerie elegance, the solo debut gives her room to shine as both a charismatic performer and a gifted vocalist. Her voice is infused with grace and sentiment, swinging between light-weight vocals and soft growls, mirroring the storyline of good vs. evil that is unraveled within the song.
Seulgi’s poised singing creates a nice contrast with the heavy bass, giving the track a more somber and subdued appeal, and proving that sometimes powerful songs come in less buoyant packages. “28 Reasons” is unique and memorable in itself, but it is Seulgi’s vocal delivery and the storytelling quality of her voice that elevates it to the next level, and makes it a song no one else could execute as impeccably.
“RUN2U” BY STAYC
After three successful comebacks, STAYC found themselves on the cusp between being rookies and being an established girl group – with “RUN2U”, they solidified themselves as the latter. Sound-wise, the track feels like a meeting point between their past releases – it displays the synth-tinged production that carried their debut song “So Bad”, but still possesses the rhythmic sing-along quality of “ASAP” and “Stereotype”.
Thematically, it seems like the perfect next stepping stone in the group’s journey, reading as a playful exploration of first love in the perfect teen-sized way. “RUN2U” is not only impressive due to its catchiness and overall musical quality, but also because it helped calcify STAYC as an artist with their own colors.
“GINGAMINGAYO (THE STRANGE WORLD)” BY BILLLIE
Sometimes being weird is not a bad thing, and “Gingamingayo (the strange world)” is a prime example of that. Over the eclectic beat and punchy rhythm, Billlie ponder over the strangeness of becoming an adult, a lyrical theme that is strategically reflected in the nursery rhyme-style chorus and the chanted lines that remind of kids playing in a schoolyard.
Whereas ‘gingaminga’ means ‘not sure’ in Korean, Billlie appear very sure of their identity as an artist on this song. Intertwining fierce raps, lively sing-along verses, and a packed production, the track places the group on the frontlines of today’s maximalist approach to Kpop, and declares them as one of the most promising rookie acts in the genre.
“SHUT DOWN” BY BLACKPINK
With the release of their highly anticipated sophomore album “Born Pink”, BLACKPINK had sky-high expectations to meet – thankfully, the record’s title track did not disappoint. Intertwining a hip hop hook and trap beats with a sample of Niccolò Paganini’s classical composition La Campanella, “Shut Down” reads as both refreshing and reminiscent of the group’s signature sound.
It’s catchy and repetitive in its energy, but unlike the majority of their previous works, it’s not bombastic and doesn’t rely on predictable gimmicks. Moreover, its strength rests in the fact the classical sample is driven to its full potential without overpowering the rest of the beat, remaining a byline to strengthen the chic appeal of the track.
Being as catchy as it is brilliant, “Shut Down” feels like the perfect middle ground between an ear-worm and a full-fleshed song.
“SUPER YUPPERS!” WJSN CHOCOME
In the age of girl crush and self-serious anthems, WJSN CHOCOME opted to steer away from these trends with their second comeback “Super Yuppers!”, leaning into an aspect of Kpop that has been quite underused in recent times – dumb quirky fun.
Sonically, the song plays into a sound that reads as familiar (and predictable) to anyone who has been keeping up with the genre these last few years – synth pop inspired by the 80’s. But despite relying on a sound that has been vastly popular in Kpop for far too long, “Super Yuppers!” still feels like a breath of fresh air due to its non-serious appeal.
From the ridiculous song title, to the underpinning giddy energy, and the tongue-in-cheek music video, this track not only owns up to the ‘unserious’ title, but makes it its most alluring feature.
“POP!” BY NAYEON
Albeit being the first member of TWICE to have a solo debut, NAYEON didn’t begin her journey by quietly knocking on the door – no, she decided to make a grand entrance with “POP!”, a song that is as exuberant as the exclamation point in its title implies.
The track is playful and energetic, with its perky production and a beat that never lets you down. But apart from the addictive hook, the beauty of this release rests on how fitting it is for a solo debut of NAYEON’s caliber, as well as for NAYEON herself.
It’s overflowing with confidence and pride (worthy of a member from one of Kpop’s biggest acts), but still possesses that freshness and novelty that characterizes a good solo debut. It’s bright, sweet and fun, but also remarkably sure of itself – just like NAYEON.
“CHILD” BY MARK
As today’s music soundscape is so strongly geared towards catchiness and surprising listeners, there is not much room left for rawness anymore. That’s why “Child” – Mark’s first solo endeavor outside of NCT – felt like such a welcomed disruption.
Whereas NCT is known for their noisy tracks, “Child” is an alt-rock hip-hop exquisiteness, where Mark confesses his insecurities and pressure he faces due to growing up in the spotlight, while switching back and forth between English and Korean. Melding melancholic electric guitar and bass synth elements, the artist shows off both his rap and vocal skills, capturing the pathos veiled behind the lyrics.
“Child” is not a flashy, colorful debut and adopts a more modest attitude, but that is precisely why it manages to stand out – with its vulnerable and confessional nature, it says a lot in its simplicity.
“ILLUSION” BY AESPA
The album “Girls” may have been nothing to write home about, but pre-released b-side “Illusion” sings a whole different tune. This hyper-pop gem feels quintessentially aespa – the production is a mix between a futuristic, rich composition and a sleek chord progression, paired with a bold industrial sound and a versatile vocal delivery.
With its right blend of quirky lyrics and daring production, it fits perfectly besides the group’s previous work, keeping consistent with their identity as pioneers of hyper-pop in the 4th gen of Kpop.
“SATURDAY DRIP” BY NCT DREAM
Being known for their bold and noisy tracks, there are several aspects of NCT’s discography that are criminally underrated, one of which is that they are capable of releasing very very fun songs – “Saturday Drip” is the perfect example. Over the bouncy, hip hop heavy beat, the four members – Mark, Jeno, Jaemin, Jisung – riff off one another, feeding off each others’ energy and then giving it back to listeners. And the cute Super Mario video game samples throughout the song are the cherry-on-top! However, the winning point of “Saturday Drip” is that it fully embraces its own ridiculous playfulness, which makes the track even more fun and unforgettable after just one listen.
“YOUNG LUV” BY STAYC
Being grouped together with such a strong title track like “RUN2U”, it would be understandable for the b-sides of the album “YOUNG-LUV.COM” to not shine as brightly – au contraire, “YOUNG LUV” beams just as much (and maybe even more).
The track draws inspiration from the pop-rock scene of the early 2000’s – a genre that is not new in today’s K-pop soundscape, but is foreign to the girl group. Luckily for us, the sextet bodied the genre in full. Encompassing their vocal prowess with melodic guitar, they lean more into the poignant appeal of the genre, making the song a memorable piece within STAYC’s discography, as well as in the Korean pop music realm this year.
“BLUE FLAME” BY LE SSERAFIM
It’s rare for a b-side to nearly overshadow its title track, but “Blue Flame” might have achieved just that. Whereas “FEARLESS” did not give listeners enough to chew on, this upbeat retro-pop gem gave us a full-fledged meal.
Borrowing elements from disco pop (a sound that has been well-worn in Kpop), the track is able to stand out from the masses thanks to the combination of dreamy chords with a groovy bassline, and an intricate array of vocals from the members. For a newly debuted group, it shows great potential for their future as performers and musical artists.
“HARD TO LOVE” BY BLACKPINK
Despite being the only solo track in an album full of group songs, “Hard To Love” is able to hold its own on the record. ROSÉ fits the disco-tinged pop-rock hybrid like a glove, taking the song from overly simple to exquisitely minimalistic with her vocals alone.
With nothing but pulsating vintage beats and guitar runs carrying its melody, the track is laid back and reserved in nature. It is up to ROSÉ’s vocals and the emotional pathos they bear to fill in the blanks, and make it dazzle in its simplicity. If anything, it makes “Hard To Love” very easy to love.