While rookie girl groups impressed like no other when it came to K-pop in 2022, they were not the only ones cementing a place in the year’s best music. Veteran performers like Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon proved why she’s a giant in the industry, and fourth-generation boy groups like Treasure showed that their star continues to rise.
The best K-pop songs and albums of 2022 surprised us with their sound, their lyrics, and the feelings they evoke. With undeniable replay value, they are likely to stay on playlists long after this December.
In no particular order, here are the best K-pop songs and albums of 2022. (Only full-length projects were considered in the albums section for the purposes of this list.)
“BTBT,” B.I x Soulja Boy Feat. DeVita
“BTBT” may be about losing balance in the face of romance—the title is short for “biteulbiteul,” which translates to “staggering” in Korean—but the song is unfaltering in its declaration of love. Singer-songwriter B.I collaborates with Soulja Boy and DeVita on this groovy track that seduces with its smooth melodies as much as it does with its inviting lyrics. “You say you need a true love / someone to kiss and hug you/ you feigning for some touching / I could be all that and above,” B.I croons. As the intention behind the lyrics becomes more explicit over pulsating drums, “BTBT” begins to mirror the sound of one’s accelerating heartbeat.
“GingaMingaYo (the strange world),” Billlie
Billlie, with an eclectic and whimsical sound, stands out among the dozens of rookie groups vying to make their mark in K-pop. “GingaMingaYo (the strange world)” is a prime example. With its chirpy chants, boisterous beats, and Billlie singing almost too enthusiastically about the uncertainties of adulting—gingaminga means “not sure” in Korean—”GingaMingaYo” is entirely weird. But also weirdly brilliant. “Why do my parents say I should stay calm and still / friends are the only ones who can understand me,” Haram sings. Understanding the singular appeal of this track is taking a step closer to speaking the same language as Billlie.
You won’t want to say goodbye to Treasure’s “Hello.” The song is at once nostalgic and futuristic. Nostalgic because of its composition that’s reminiscent of early 2010s pop, futuristic because there’s something about Treasure’s delivery—in particular, the rap verses from Choi Hyunsuk, Yoshi, and Haruto—that’s so snazzy. And while certain elements of the track are expected—such as the instrumental chorus and the penultimate, high-intensity section signature to most tracks from YG Entertainment—what’s wrong with familiarity if it scratches the itch for an earworm? The song’s music video shows fireworks bursting in the night sky as “Hello” reaches its climax. If the inside of one’s ear could be captured through a painting, that’s exactly what listening to “Hello” would look like.
“Hype Boy,” NewJeans
NewJeans’ “Hype Boy” didn’t only go viral in 2022 for its springy dance challenge. If anything, the inspired choreography only accentuates the vibrant spirit of the song. When NewJeans made its debut earlier this year—the group was formed by ADOR, a subsidiary of HYBE—its music was characterized not by a fiery intensity but by laid-back subtlety. But that does not mean NewJeans’ songs lack energy. “Hype Boy” has mellow beats and soft instrumentals, but the soaring vocals in the chorus and the post-chorus serve up a one-two punch of serotonin.
“Love Dive,” IVE
Though Yujin opens the song with, “I am really curious about you,” it’s IVE that immediately piques our interest with “Love Dive.” A delicate “ooh” from Leeseo enchants from the electropop track’s first moments, and “Love Dive” only becomes more captivating as IVE’s rich voices glide over dreamy synths. The group sings about a mysterious attraction that welcomes exploration, and this track leaves the listener ready to plunge in for more of IVE’s charm.
Read More: The 10 Best Songs of 2022
Lowlife Princess: Noir, Bibi
In Lowlife Princess: Noir, Bibi is a woman on a mission—a bloody one, at that. That’s because the singer-songwriter’s first full-length album tells the story of the fictional Oh Geum-ji—inspired by the protagonist in Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance—who is “the queen of the underworld” out for vengeance. “Lowlife princess—these two words are incompatible in their meanings,” Bibi said according to The Korea Herald, who reported that Oh Geum-ji was the artist’s alter ego. “They seemed to expound the character Oh Geum-ji that was created through the emotions I pulled out of myself.” Across its 12 tracks, Bibi freely releases Oh Geum-ji’s inner rage. She calls herself a weapon (“Blade”), and declares herself “a bad bitch” (“BIBI Vengeance.”) But the artist doesn’t only communicate her threat level through lyrics. Bibi’s voice, smoky and husky, is one that tells a million stories. Whether she’s singing the melodies in the haunting “Animal Farm,” rapping the lines in the chilling “Lowlife Princess,” or literally screaming in “BIBI Vengeance,” the artist is on the offense thanks to her deeply evocative performance.
Sector 17, SEVENTEEN
SEVENTEEN’s album Face the Sun, released in May, is an artistic feat. Connected by the theme of heat and passion, the nine tracks blaze a sonic trail from the hip hop-based “Hot” to the rock-heavy “Don Quixote” to the pop-embracing “Shadow.” But it’s the act’s repackaged album released in July, which contains the songs in Face the Sun in addition to four new ones, that is superior. For starters, Sector 17 boasts “_World” as its lead single. It’s a warm and sunny track with disco elements that features SEVENTEEN singing heartily about creating a new world—after everything was burned to the ground in Face the Sun’s last song, “Ash.” The repackaged album also introduces “Cheers,” the second song from SEVENTEEN’s leaders unit consisting of S.Coups, Hoshi, and Woozi. The track is a raucous celebration that invites all to raise their glass for what promises to be a rollicking good time.
If INVU is a canvas, Taeyeon is the master painter who splashes it in all the hues and shades of her voice. Her silvery and poignant tone is arresting, whether she’s fiercely belting high notes or gently singing in falsetto. And the seasoned artist traverses genres while putting her vocal prowess on full display. Across the thirteen tracks, Taeyeon ventures from dance-pop (“INVU”) to R&B (“Some Nights”) to disco (“Weekend”). The songs are connected through her pensive musings on love, as she probes into feelings like being lonely together—“Even if I smile brighter, I’m still sad / Even if I’m next to you, it’s far away,” she sings in “Set Myself on Fire”—and being healed from past wounds (“Heart.”) As she flexes her pipes with agility and precision, her voice carries with it a spectrum of emotions.
I Never Die, (G)I-dle
Though “Tomboy” was one of the most commercially successful K-pop songs of 2022—the pop punk track charted for weeks on the Korean music streaming service Melon—the album it belongs to, I Never Die, deserves its own recognition. Across eight tracks, (G)I-dle impresses not just with performance but with production: every song has writing credits from Soyeon, Minnie, or Yuqi. And while the group begins to challenge stereotypes in the lead single “Tomboy”—where they refuse to become a “blond barbie doll” to meet societal standards—(G)I-dle builds upon the rebellious energy in the tracks that follow. The album takes a more gentle turn from “Already” to “Escape” before shifting back to the hard and heavy through the rock-leaning “Liar.” But the final number “My Bag,” a propulsive hip hop-infused banger featuring all five members rapping, is the project’s standout.
Indigo is “the last archive” of RM’s twenties, and the BTS leader pens an intimate record of youth that turns journal entries into song. The album is perhaps most pointed in the lead single “Wild Flower,” a collaboration with Youjeen where RM paints a piercingly honest picture of his relationship with superstardom. “Even before the start, I imagined an end where I could applaud and smile,” he says. “When everything I believed in grew distant / when all of this fame turned into shackles / please take my desire away from me.” The rest of Indigo deals extensively with freedom from these shackles. “Can’t lock me in the frame, I’m movin,’” Anderson .Paak sings in “Still Life.” “I wanna be a human / ‘fore I do some art,” RM muses in “Yun”—which features Erykah Badu. And the BTS leader’s meditations are always at once specific and universal. We may not be the same type of artist that RM is, but we’re humans searching for our voice, our place of belonging, our personal “flower field.”
Correction, December 14
The original version of the story misidentified (G)I-dle’s rock-leaning song. It’s “Liar,” not “Escape.”
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