Yes, it’s the post that the k-pop Internet has been secretly waiting for all year, welcome to the list of Kpopalypse’s favourite k-pop songs of 2022!
So, welcome to Kpopalypse’s favourite k-pop songs of 2022! I can confidently say at least as far as I’m concerned, 2022 was a fantastic year for k-pop, easily better than 2021, and in fact the best that we’ve had since 2011 – but only if you were willing to look for Korean songs in the maximum variety of places. Fortunately Kpopalypse is willing to go the extra mile so you don’t have to, and this list is the result! Much like the years before it, the truly great songs came from huge A-list artists, nugus with only a tiny fraction of channel views, and just about everything in between. Those who check my weekly roundups and livestreams will probably be able to guess a lot of this content, but those of you who don’t follow this site closely (or ever) should expect some surprises!
New readers, or readers who are easily confused, may wish to read the following dot points, which make clear this list’s scope and intentions:
- Songs are eligible if they were released between 1st January 2022 and 31st December 2022, although the cutoff does extend a little bit prior to both dates to catch songs that were released in the dying days of the previous year. This list was published on 31st December 2022 but may appear earlier for some readers due to timezones.
- Songs have to be feature tracks/singles, but B side and album tracks are eligible if they were also “debuted” on TV shows or had their own official video made for them.
- Songs for OSTs are not eligible for this list, because they’re almost universally terrible and just not worth the effort to cover.
- Songs for festive and sporting events are not eligible. Christmas songs have their own separate list, and sport event songs are ignored in the hope that if we ignore them they will just stop making the sport ball shape.
- Chart performance, cultural relevance, attractiveness of the members, who won something on some awards show that nobody with a brain cares about, whether someone is a morally upstanding citizen or otherwise etc are not relevant factors for this list and just like with my weekly roundup series these aspects are only commented on for “narrative colour”. This list is my 100% subjective opinion on music quality only and is purely reflective of my own personal taste, it does not constitute an authority of any kind.
- “K-pop” is deliberately defined a little loosely for this list – as music either originating from or existing/trying to exist in the Korean industry. Songs that aren’t strictly “pop music” are eligible. Songs from Korean agencies trying to break into non-Korean markets and/or singing in non-Korean languages are eligible. K-pop artists featuring on non-k-pop artists’ tracks are eligible. Western attempts at “being a k-pop” are also eligible.
- I write these lists for fun, good times, the joy of sharing good music with others, an easy way to collect songs that I like so I can play them later, and as a fun writing exercise because I enjoy writing. If you’re enjoying these lists for what they are (harmless subjective opinion, expressed with twisted cunty humour) then cheers to you and I appreciate your support and readership! However if you hate it, then that’s good too, please keep coming to this advertisement-free site that does no self-promotion at all and upsetting yourself over someone else’s opinion, I promise to continue to serve your special needs.
- On the other hand if this post was too sunny, bright and positive for you, you may wish to consider reading my worst k-pop songs of 2022 list instead so you can feel appropriately miserable.
KPOPALYPSE’S 30 FAVOURITE K-POP SONGS OF 2022
30. (G)I-dle – Never Stop Me
One of the biggest reasons why 2022 was such an unusually great year for k-pop, is that a lot of acts are actually discovering how to rock lately. (G)I-dle investigating rock music has been a very good situation this year, as the only songs that have suited the group so far is stuff like this (and the slightly weaker but still pretty good “Tomboy“, a song which narrowly missed honourable mentions status) where they’re finally leaning into some rock abrasiveness after having tried nearly every other shit style in the world. With anything else other than a rock concept (G)I-dle have been weak and flaccid, but the gradual creep of distorted guitars back to the k-pop mainstream has recently served them well. Speaking of gradual creeps, the video for “Never Stop Me” is making me very Minnie biased given that she’s dressing like all my most recent and most stylish girlfriends here and is just killing this look, and yes I will notice these things and I will comment on them because the k-pop industry is at least 90% about people selling and appreciating looks and if you can’t handle people being honest about that please fuck off to kpopreviewsbyscaredpeople.com or in other words every other k-pop website ever. Don’t worry if you’re disturbed by this new (G)I-dle stanning though, I’m sure this group are going to go the way of their labelmates eventually with the kind of high-profile disintegration that becomes gradually inevitable when one member of the group continually gets all the shine – seriously Soyeon, spread the love around a bit more please, did labelmates 4minute teach you nothing. Anyway enjoy this brief ride into quality corporate-sanctioned idol rock while it lasts because you know what CUBE are like, they’ll find a way to fuck everything up soon enough.
29. IVE – Love Dive
I don’t really know much about IVE but I know they’re on Starship Entertainment and given what my readers already know about what goes on behind closed doors at that wacky funhouse, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the collective mental health of this group might be a bit sketchy through no fault of their own. With that in mind, let’s do the kind thing and get the negative parts of this review over and done with first just in case any of the poor girls stumble across this review in their Internet travels, so let’s talk about that breakdown at 2:20. What fucking drugs does a human on planet Earth need to be on to appreciate a musical turn that stupid, because whatever they are I certainly don’t want any, who knows what bullshit music I might start weirdly appreciating, only to sober up later and realise that for a few hours there in a drug-haze I thought Kanye West was relevant (not saying the breakdown sounds like Kanye West, just as shit). Anyway if that turd of a breakdown bothers you as much as it bothers me, I fixed it for you, and if Starship had thought to have done the same this song would have ascended a few more places on this list instead of scraping in right near the bottom. It’s a pity as the rest of “Love Dive” is gold, and it’s a rare song where none of the main sections (except that breakdown ahem) are significantly weaker than the others. The verse, pre-chorus and chorus are all equally good and all have roughly equivalent power to get lodged in your head at any given moment, as I found all throughout 2022 when I was listening to the 99.9% of songs that were worse than this one but couldn’t get “Love Dive” out of my head. Now I just need to find a way to stop myself from being reminded of the “Sodomy” set from Meet The Feebles every time I watch the video, just look at that architecture and tell me that the set designer isn’t a Sebastian the fox stan.
28. msftz – Takeoff
I don’t know why rock music is having a slight uptick in the Korean pop scene, perhaps it’s the success of “Tomboy” or perhaps maybe Olivia Rodrigo reminding people how that sort of sound can be successful in a pop format and the news gradually filtering back to Korea, like all western pop trends tend to do after a couple years, but whatever the reason is, I support it. I don’t really know anything much about msftz in particular, but I do know one thing, which is that she usually doesn’t sound musically anything like this at all, so there’s no doubt that she’s noticed this trend and has thrown her hat into the ring, and you know what, it’s a pretty fucking stylish hat. I mean seriously don’t even bother investigating her other material if you like this song because you’re bound to be as disappointed as I was, but this song right here, this is fucking cool – it’s punchy, fast, with tons of melody, some neat dynamic changes with beat dropouts that actually add to the song instead of just taking away, and a super catchy chorus that isn’t going to leave your head anytime soon. Yeah I’m not super keen on how each verse starts off weirdly high in the vocals but hey, I can deal with a minor flaw like that in a song which is generally speaking very very awesome and presented with tons of style and charm.
27. H1-Key – Athletic Girl
H1-key copped a meteoric amount of hate before they even debuted because one of the girls in the group Sitala put some stuff on social networking in support of the Thai dictatorship back when she was way too young to realistically know any better, so when the song “Athletic Girl” finally appeared, everyone listened to about five seconds of it and immediately shat on it just out of confirmation bias, their desire to be moral crusaders, and no other reason. We know this is true because as soon as Sitala left the group, opinions on the output of H1-key did a not-very-mysterious 180-degree shift immediately, but the fact is that all of their feature tracks this year have been nothing but great. The other reason why we know that the hate of this song was unjustified and had nothing to do with the song itself, is that the main alleged sticking point for most people was the lyrics, but they are actually fucking fantastic, nailing the “aspirational” k-pop concept better than any other recent example I can think of. Even Le Sserafim’s great “Fearless” didn’t get it quite this right, because the bragging in that song feels like punching down when it’s from a group on a massive label conglomerate who are clearly destined for success anyway. H1-key are the underdogs and the lyrics reflect their struggle for refinement of themselves, rather than degradation of the competition, in fact if this list was only about lyrical quality and the music wasn’t a factor “Athletic, Girl” (makes more sense with the comma there, right? Ah, now the hook doesn’t sound so silly, does it…) would probably be in the top ten, maybe even top five if that cringe “I’m so fly” bit wasn’t in there. However musically the song doesn’t slouch either – slinky bass and ambient synths set the tone, with the girls shifting their vocals dynamically into the lower register at the right moments in order to suit the instrumental elements when needed, a trick that a lot of other k-pop songwriters could learn from. The combination of the backing track’s dominance at key points and the cold synthesised sonics reinforces the lyrical message that the girls are enduring and excelling in a manufactured crafting process, which rings true because it is true. The result is unusually moody for pop song material in general, so maybe it does make sense that objectively-listening pop fans wouldn’t like it, but then I don’t think there are many of those left in k-pop aside from the people who visit kpopalypse.com amirite.
26. Purple Kiss – Nerdy
Another song that was inexplicably criticised for lyrical quality when the lyrics were actually fan-fucking-tastic, if there were perceptive social outcast themed pop songs in heavy supply that were as good as “Nerdy” when I was growing up I probably wouldn’t have migrated to heavy metal, punk and rap in my teenage years so goddamn quickly. I guess k-pop fans can’t relate to a pro-nerd song and find it corny because k-pop fans are usually the ones doing the bullying these days, but at least Purple Kiss didn’t become the victim of some weird hate campaign or at least not one that I know about. Anyway “Nerdy” is basically Mamamoo’s “Hip” with a Harry Potter visual makeover and enough ska elements from Madness (via SunnyHill) to kick it out of the doldrums and make it more than just another sped-up R&B song. As it turns out, those were exactly all the changes that were required to get it into a list like this one and the end result is a song that fucking rocks with fat bass, compelling melody and enough quirkiness to do justice to the theme. Bonus points to “Nerdy” for being one of the only k-pop songs I’ve ever heard to inject major key passages into minor key harmonies and actually make it work properly because they incorporate the shift into a very overtly playful context that makes sense to the general theme they’re exploring rather than just doing it seemingly randomly, this is something that k-pop in general continually fucks up time and time again so I was surprised to hear the songwriters behind Purple Kiss get it right here. When I write the inevitable thesis on that subject I’ll be sure to mention it again but for now just know that there are a few k-pop songwriters out there who actually understand how music works, let’s cherish them.
25. BE’O – Love Me
One of the puzzling omissions on the favourites list this year for many readers is probably going to be Viviz. Surely I stan this trio of ex-Gfriend members like any normal person would, right? Well, of course, but if I’m being completely honest, Viviz’s music hasn’t quite matched up to the lofty heights of Gfriend’s discography so far. There’s no doubt that the Viviz members served consistent AAA-tier visuals in 2022, but this is a list about music quality only, and while their music certainly was above average (hell, they even did something semi-listenable for the disgustingly creepy Universe app of all things) it didn’t quite hit the same highs. I’m sorry but 2022 was really an outstanding year for k-pop, and you needed to be extra good just to get over the line this year. The best song that 3friend managed in 2022 was “Bop Bop“, their revised take of the current BTS-style disco trend and hey, it’s a great song, but “beating BTS at their own game” isn’t actually all that notable from a song quality point of view. Anyway I don’t know anything about BE’O other than that he is a guy signed to Viviz’ new label and for some reason he has the killer song that I really wish Viviz had simply because I’d rather look at Eunha than him, and I’d clearly write more about Viviz than him too as you can tell by this review. Anyway I’m sure Viviz will dominate a certain other Kpopalypse list that will be coming your way soon so look forward to that, in the meantime listen to this song and maybe the visuals are your speed too but if not just do what I do and close your eyes and just try to imagine that it’s being sung by one of the Viviz members after some kind of throat surgery that caused their voice to lower in pitch slightly. Sorry BE’O that I didn’t talk about you very much in this review but I had 3friend on my mind and that tends to be a bit all-consuming, just know that your song is good and keep doing what you’re doing, cheers.
24. Rolling Quartz – Azalea
Rolling Quartz are just fucking good and the fact that they don’t get A-list levels of support from k-pop fans shows just how full of shit these fans are, because Rolling Quartz have a lot of qualities that k-pop fans say they want in theory but actually don’t give a single shit about in practice. They should be all over Rolling Quartz at least on paper just for lead singer Jayoung alone, who unlike about 99% of your k-pop faves can actually sing and usually does, she lipsyncs or double-tracks almost never outside of music videos and has the kind of vocal power and technique that can compete with Ailee, but without Ailee’s occasional tendency to drift off into dull improvisation. Jayoung also has stage presence to burn, something which k-pop fans insist their fave has but in fact idols across the board don’t because the style explicitly forbids it, hell, even the members of this group who don’t touch a microphone still have more stage presence than all the members of any idol group put together. “Azalea” isn’t Rolling Quartz’ own song, but they’ve changed Maya’s already decent original up just the right amount, elevating the song greatly with better vocals and more modern production but other than that mostly just not trying to fix what wasn’t broken. The only shame is that the original face-shredding guitar solos have been replaced with something more subtle, and for my money that’s the only area where Rolling Quartz are lacking. Their lead guitarists always tend to do laid-back in-the-pocket blues-based solos at times when the rest of the music dictates that they should be really going full-tilt, it’s still more than you get in most Korean music but the missed potential to kick ass is just a shame given how well it would suit them. I guess until After School’s E-Young can get in there and teach them how to shred, just know that Rolling Quartz are still great anyway and that if you don’t like this music, you are the problem with society.
23. TWICE – Talk That Talk
There’s quite a lot of Kpopalypse favourites lists with Twice songs on them, and that’s because Twice are remarkably consistent with their feature tracks a great deal of the time. JYP’s decision to outsource different teams to his different groups definitely paid off for Twice who seem guided by a clear vision of the kind of elements that make their particular brand of pop music work – catchy simplistic melodies that are disciplined enough to fit the backings the way they should (rarer and rarer these days), four on the floor dance beats and an absolute bare minimum of trend-riding bullshit. There’s certainly no correlation whatsoever between the sounds of Twice vs Itzy vs NMIXX and we should all be grateful for it, because we don’t need three Twices, and we need three Itzys even less and three NMIXXes even less again (come to think of it, just one NMIXX song seems to already contain three NMIXXes). So I’m very grateful for Twice’s existence even if JYPs team keeps fucking up some of the non-musical details like having strangely ugly set design and trying to minimise their star visual Jeongyeon’s screentime as much as possible, even though she looks outstanding here in the three and a half seconds when she does appear, or Nayeon cosplaying the Hammerites from the Thief games which looks really strange but I guess they threw that in there to scare away any German stalkers. The visual missteps are weird but in the end it’s not that big of a deal because at least the music is as good as it always has been, more or less, and you just have to be grateful that someone is making pop music for an A-list group that’s as directly catchy and no-nonsense as this, because k-pop in general is really fond of nonsense right now.
22. HYNN feat. Jo Gwangil – Orpheus
Ballads don’t always suck – and sometimes they even become my favourites, like this one here. K-pop fans get so easily distracted by vocals and vocal delivery, even though that’s almost never where the action truly is in a good song, but here’s a rare example where k-pop fans really should have noticed the amazing vocals happening across the board but somehow largely didn’t. Imagine having Jo Gwangil on your track doing a rap, i.e someone who actually understands the type of vocal dynamics that make the best rap songs work, and then actually having a ballad singer matching him compositionally, with climactic points and high notes that actually make sense in the context of the song instead of just being “look at me look at how well I can do the note now” like they usually are. See, ballads can be good, it’s just that most of the time they’re lazy dogshit instead because the companies behind your favourite artists take one look at the stupid shit you post on social media and think that you’re an easily manipulated dumb bitch with no standards who will accept anything as long as your “team” is involved. If you want better songs in your life, you can start by proving them wrong and championing songs like this.
21. Yedd – Confession
I like to shit on R&B vocals in my k-pop reviews a lot, and I’ll keep doing that because it’s totally justified and righteous and truthful and stating absolute facts which are beyond reproach plus it annoys a lot of dumb people, but even I have to admit that there are certain contexts where R&B style singing actually works well. A really good example of just such a context is Yedd’s “Confession” which succeeds in its implementation of R&B vocalising for much the same reason that Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” also works – because everything else around the vocals just sounds so fucking stark. Yedd is plumbing some sort of Nine Inch Nails type territory here which isn’t an influence I thought I’d see in k-pop (or whatever this is), except it’s better here than when Nine Inch Nails do it because we don’t have to put up with Trent Reznor being an emo dick and smashing keyboards for no reason that some poor underpaid bastard has to go and fix just for him to then smash it again the next night like a child. Instead we just get Yedd’s high-flying singing interspersed with her creepy monotone drawl while she eats bread rolls, stabs things and generally acts like the personification of every evil protagonist from my fiction stories put together, while some awesome synth track plays. It’s pretty fucking good musically, certainly the best attempt at a mid-paced industrial dance I’ve ever heard out of Korea or maybe anywhere else for that matter (because most of that music doesn’t sound any good at this speed, but this does), and the minimal visuals are perfectly matched, overall the vibe is asphyxiating but in the best way possible and I feel like if someone was going to stab me to death while this song was playing in the background I guess I’d be kind of reluctantly okay with it.
20. STAYC – RUN2U
STAYC have honestly been a bit of a letdown after their fantastic debut song “So Bad“, so it’s great that they have another good song again. Maybe their fans who have been pissed off about all the negative STAYC reviews on Kpopalypse dot com will finally see this and be happy, but probably not because k-pop fandoms love being miserable more than life itself, that’s why they vote in rigged competitions, spend all those hours joylessly streaming the same song over and over, and it’s also why they check into what this website is saying so often. So, just so those fans can have something negative to focus on (because that’s what they really want) I’d just like to say that although STAYC’s “RUN2U” is an excellent song, there are still nineteen songs that were better than it this year, which are below in this post. So that means STAYC didn’t even crack the top 19, how pathetic. Really, they should just give up and disband at this point, what is even the purpose of them existing. In fact why don’t you stream [random k-pop group X who is not STAYC] instead. Okay, the STAYC fans have probably left in horror now to go and complain on some other social network that promotes mental illness, so that’s good news for us, now I can get back on track and tell you the reasons why I like this song, and honestly it mainly boils down to those great harmony choices plus smartly written vocal lines that don’t dominate over the instrumentation 100% of the time but just nicely fit together. It’s got the same sense of disciplined writing that “So Bad” had, so it’s pretty obvious that the same people wrote it. So there you go, it’s really fucking good, now let’s hope STAYC have a few more of these killer songs because I’m sure the STAYC fans will be back here with pitchforks and torches any minute and it’ll be good to have something to pacify them with because I’m not sure if my life insurance covers “death by fandom stoning”.
19. Hong Jin Young – Viva La Vida
We all had our fears when we heard that the new Hong Jin Young song was going to be called “Viva La Vida”, as surely it was a sign that she’d jumped the shark into the horrible “Latin” trend, and while the final song I guess seems somewhat inspired by that trend, Hong Jin Young has made it work with her own style better than anyone could have reasonably expected. The formula shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it’s the incredible chorus that comes in out of nowhere and saves it, with the swaying melodies only outdone by the swaying of Hong Jin Young herself as she effortlessly channels more sexy-concepts-are-back energy than a dozen Hyunas. The whole package straddles a pretty satisfying path between a whole lot of musical styles which usually sound far more shit than this does, there’s shades of Latin, trot, ska and even German beer drinking songs in the melody choices, and while I have heard that type of sound done before in k-pop (check previous years’ worst lists), I’ve never heard it done this well before anywhere. Clearly this is the trot genre mashup we needed in 2022 and how this hasn’t cracked a million views yet I don’t know… wait yes I do, k-pop is obsessed with youth and the next new potential big thing instead of veteran artists kicking ass, but that’s everyone else’s loss I guess.
18. IVE – After LIKE
Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” has been the template for k-pop songs before, but usually the soundalikes are structurally and conceptually based, such as Ailee’s great “I’ll Show You” which is probably the best example out there, and takes the same basic concept of that song and reinterprets it in a more modern k-pop kind of way. “After LIKE” is the first time where the arrangement of the original is actually completely ignored, and they’re instead just lifted the iconic strings line and thrown it over a completely new context. This works really well for two reasons, firstly because that string solo was actually the best part of “I Will Survive”, and secondly because most k-pop arrangements are way too crowded with vocals for their own good so having a very bold instrumental melody (but not the dreaded tropical shithouse, now thankfully completely out of fashion) really works to break up the action. Having said that, the strings riff still sounds quite good anyway even with a rap over it, and it’s actually the other parts of “After LIKE” which hit harder and will stay with you for longer after a few listens. Why Starship couldn’t consistently give songs this good to their flagship groups years ago who the fuck knows, but at least they’re getting it right now, so I’m not complaining. What’s after LIKE? Another spot for IVE in the top 30 favourites list will do nicely.
17. Hwayeon – Blossom
Okay, so who is this? Why of course Hwayeon here is actually Sohyeon who used to be in ShaFla, the classic late 2010’s k-pop group responsible for such hits as “You’ve Changed” and “DDu-Ru-DDu-PPa-Ra-Ppa“, how could you not know this, what are you stupid, I mean you say you’re a k-pop fan but yet… okay, just kidding, I had no fucking idea who she was when I heard this song either… but I’ll tell you one person who did know, and that’s producer, “richest man in k-pop“, Bang Shi-Hyuk. Yes it’s he of HYBE/BTS fame, and for all the extremely valid criticisms that can be thrown his way, he at least knows how to get one thing right which is his trot/k-pop hybrids, as he proved with GLAM as much as BTS fans and also he himself would probably like to forget that. People forget that he’s not the CEO of HYBE anymore and has stepped down to focus on production, and if this is what he’s producing then I support his path to redemption, let’s hope he sticks with it. He’s going for some silky trot-lite here and I really mean trot-ultra-lite because this song is so subtle with the trot elements that it’s arguably more in the early T-ara style semi-trot/modern k-pop hybrid direction, and that’s always a good place to be. I guess Bang learned his lesson from those times working on T-ara’s Absolute First Album all those years ago about how to write songs. Also seriously how good does this video look, with the drifting camera shots perfectly capturing the mood, and Hwayeon looking truly amazing, they made such an effort here that I really think ShaFla lady is actually Bang’s type and not that cutting-edge chalk artist he was rumoured to have a crush on. So everyone
let’s stan Bang Shi-Hyuk okay that’s going a bit far, but definitely listen to this great song he wrote and remember that just like GG Allin, The Mentors and Anal Cunt the best songwriters aren’t always the noblest.
16. PRSNT – Take That Back
PRNT is also Jenyer who is also Jiyoon who used to be in k-pop group 4Minute, and she’s been absolutely on fire in 2022 with great songs across the board. “Take That Back” is her standout for this year and it actually reminds me a lot of Kavinsky’s “Odd Look“, which is also another great song, and while that song has some electronic bells and whistles that I really enjoy, I actually prefer the slightly faster, rock-based sound of PRSNT where the melody is pushed further forward. I also prefer PRSNT’s singing, Kavinsky’s song has some fairly indistinct R&B style warbles which certainly do the job well enough but they’re the song’s weakest link, there’s just a better melody happening with “Take That Back” and it makes a huge difference to my overall enjoyment levels of the song to have a really well-written, soaring melody over the top instead of some nasal blues-based meandering. Bonus points for the live performance video that looks like it should, sure they’re miming anyway so it really doesn’t matter that much but one of my pet peeves is when they choose to have a “live video” with a drum kit in cases where it’s completely obvious to anyone with ears that the drums are machine-programmed, why not just show how much of it was actually played live, so that’s another thing that PRSNT are getting right. Now all they have to do is become huge, which is where you guys come in, let’s make it happen folks.
15. JUNNY – Not About You
There’s one thing that this list is very short on, and that’s k-pop boys. That’s not a deliberate decision by me to shun them, it’s just that competition for great songs was stiffer than Wonho’s underwear this year and I found barely any male idol music that I could actually get into. So since Junny is here, and he’s a k-pop guy of some description, you know that his song is shit-hot. Junny is actually Korean-Canadian, and moved to Seoul from Vancouver to kick-start his career, so although it might not look like it, this is actually an example of a “k-pop outsider” breaking into k-pop. I don’t know how well he’s actually doing for himself financially in such a hyper-competitive industry, but based off the back of his self-penned track “Not About You” he certainly deserves some success, as there’s no doubt here that he’s got the songwriting talent to go far. The song is just a solid mid-tempo groover that’s actually pretty similar in tone to another Kpopalypse favourite, SoReal’s highly neglected “My Heart Says” and there’s really not much to say about it other than it’s pretty punchy and doesn’t fuck anything up with stupid style or tonal shifts for no reason, so those factors alone already see it climb to the top 1% of songs this year. It’s just a pity that it hasn’t exactly set the YouTube viewcount on fire because everyone’s too busy listening to nonsense but anyone who was paying attention this year knows that popularity doesn’t equal quality…
14. LE SSERAFIM – Antifragile
…however, that doesn’t mean popularity and quality are mutually exclusive, either. There was really no question about HYBE’s new girl group Le Sserafim being successful, they had the songs, the marketing and even a nice little controversy on debut to make everyone pay attention, pity it also cost them a member because HYBE has no balls and no moral fortitude to stick by their new recruits but then what do you expect from the agency that brought you the cancellation of Gfriend. In a year where so many songs were just filled with random shit, Le Sserafim’s debut “Fearless” went too far the other way and erred on the side of caution a little too much, it was actually still really good but was the rare song this year that didn’t realise its full potential due to not being quite adventurous enough. However “Antifragile” got the balance right, there’s enough interesting and weird things happening here to hold the attention but it also doesn’t sound simply gimmicky or drift off into stupid land because the same tonal scheme applies throughout and everything hangs together and is a sensible development of everything else. In a short pop song, consistency of tonality is important, we all love “Bohemian Rhapsody” but if that song was edited down to k-pop song length it just wouldn’t work all that well so I’ll thank agencies for not buying up or commissioning every messy piece of genre-hopping shit for their idol groups and trying to shove that into a TV music show format. I know I keep banging on about this but it’s so frustrating seeing group after group completely fail with all their comebacks for the exact same reason, so cheers on whoever was behind “Antifragile” for getting it right, here’s hoping missing member Kim Garam gets to display a bit of anti-fragility of her own soon.
13. Jo Gwangil feat. Gaeko – Compensation
Pure rap song of the year is by a couple of guys and I’m shocked because Korean men shouldn’t be allowed to rap really, but Gwangil Jo is a rare exception who shows here just how far his peers are lagging behind, and he’s always worth listening to. Even when Gwangil Jo is not at his best he’s still acceptable enough to be worthy of a hearing, but here he’s definitely on fire, and as always it’s not the dizzying delivery speed of his syllables but his dynamic approach to rapping that steals the show, it’s rare to see a rapper who understands dynamics on this level as not many other rappers in Korea really even seem to think much about how to bring light and shade into a track. The eerie backing track helps him along a great deal, while this trappy sub-bass type of jam isn’t my favourite type of rap beat, the choice of ambience makes it work anyway. Meanwhile Dynamic Duo’s Gaeko actually does quite well for himself during his middle section because at least his part is a nice break between the more intense Gwangil Jo sections, but he’s clearly outclassed. Dynamic Duo are good when they feel like dipping their toe into harder music but they’ve been stuck in soft R&B land for most of their careers lately and it shows, hopefully at least having Gaeko on the track will do Gwangil Jo some favours career-wise, and perhaps it will light a fire under Gaeko’s ass to come back with Dynamic Duo harder next time too, here’s hoping.
12. Dami – Beauty Full
There were two very very high quality Olivia Rodgrigo/Paramore style pop-punkish themed songs coming out as solos from k-pop idol group members this year, one of them was Moonbyul’s “C.I.T.T“, which wound up in this year’s honourable mentions list, and the other one is Dami’s “Beauty Full”. While both songs are great, and both are also very similar, Dami’s is better – the guitars in “Beauty Full” are thicker and full-throttle all the way through rather than just in the chorus, the drums sound acoustic and meaty rather than light and machine-driven, there’s less places where the pace slows down and there’s just a little more variety in the melody overall. On the other hand the chorus of “Beauty Full” isn’t as catchy, but that’s actually fine because it just means it’s less likely to annoy over repeated listens. Overall it’s a big win for Dami, who also suits the concept visually, with the “schoolboy” look actually suiting her far more than half of Dreamcatcher’s own concepts where they give her awkward ill-fitting clothes and weird Hillary Clinton styling. Speaking of which, there’s actually far more genuine rock instrumentation in this song than there is in the majority of Dreamcatcher comebacks these days, which makes me wonder what fucking problem their songwriters have with not injecting more guitars into Dreamcatcher songs generally, Happyface just need to bring in a little more of this energy and a little less leaning in on the trap drum machines and Dreamcatcher could be out there headlining Wacken festival soon, we can dream.
11. Jambinai – Once more from that frozen bottom
Jambinai are always great post-rocking fun, and the only reason why their song with Sunwoo Junga “From The Place That Is To Be Erased” isn’t in this favourites list is because the live version with Luna was already in my favourites lists back in 2016 and their new version is basically identical. However it’s all okay because “Once More From That Frozen Bottom” gets in instead, and what it lacks in the way of FTPTITBE’s melody is made up for by the song being supremely heavy and cool. The fact that it starts like a goddamn explosion certainly helps because the “slow build to mega heaviness and then slow decline” structural cliche of most of this style of music does get a bit old. Instead in a nice change for this group you basically get your balls ripped off as soon as the song starts and they’re never really handed back to you for the entire piece, as the initial heaviness gives way into some mantra-like harmony vocals and then some other weird crazy shit, all of which will give you the chills but in a good way and none of which most k-pop fans are going to like very much but that’s too bad for them. Jambinai make other popular “let’s put traditional Asian instruments into some kind of rock context” groups sound flat and gimmicky, and they’re significantly in front of their global contemporaries in the post-rock style as well, given that most of that sort of stuff has mellowed with age into Radiohead style territory by this point, so you should support them and buy their shit, do it caonimas.
10. Red Velvet – Feel My Rhythm
SM often fuck up with Red Velvet, and have been doing so consistently since the start of the group’s existence, foisting on these poor girls dud track after dud track, mostly flip-flopping between pathetic clone-stamps of horrid first-generation girl groups (the “Velvet” side) and awkward avant-garde trash musical experiments that would have been rejected from SM’s other groups for being too corny and stupid (the “Red” side). As living proof that k-pop fans will swallow anything as long as generically attractive people do it, it must really burn the Red Velvet members to be on the same label as Girls’ Generation yet be lumbered with constant conceptual and musical insanity instead of the actual pop songs their seniors got. So with that in mind I’m glad that “Feel My Rhythm” is here because although this track actually isn’t any less batty than most of their output (the brain-dead lyrics are certainly right down there with SM’s worst), it still works as a pop song anyway, almost in spite of itself. Using Bach’s “Air On A G String” as a starting point and butchering the ever living fuck out of it by sampling and replaying the string parts completely out of context really shouldn’t work this well, but it does, because the songwriters repeatedly trying to shoehorn this shit over a pop beat and square-peg that round hole strips just enough of the conservatism off the Bach business to make the song interesting enough to care about, but not too much that they throw the baby out with the bathwater. Each time it sounds like it’s going to go into stupid random-melody land it actually doesn’t because some string part or engaging vocal line swoops in to save the day and pull everything back. The wacky breakdown that flips from ambient strings to some kind of trap thing to electronica weirdness is a great highlight more worthy than a thousand insipid boring “high notes”, and the bass register is just nuts, with a bassline that I definitely want to learn just as soon as I can work out what the fuck is even going on down there, which will probably take me at least until my 2023 favourites list appears. Red Velvet have never been this good before and probably won’t ever be again, so make sure you enjoy “Feel My Rhythm” because it’s only a matter of time before this group are made to come back again and are forced to fry eggs on the moon in time to sea shanties played backwards through spring reverb but with rap or whatever their next moronically overblown concept happens to be.
9. WJSN Chocome – Super Yuppers!
Someone has to revive Orange Caramel for the simple reason that given their massive popularity back in the day plus the huge demand for such a concept, it makes zero marketing sense not to. The fact that Pledis never really capitalised on Orange Caramel as much as they could have, and Blockberry never even attempted to push Chuu into this massive gaping marketing hole that’s practically custom-built for her, shows what complete morons must be controlling the creative direction at k-pop agencies lately – we don’t want trap beats, ballads, R&B and yelpy screaming bullshit – just give us the fucking pop songs we came for. Fortunately in lieu of other agencies being dicks we have WJSN Chocome instead picking up the slack and their offering is about as good a second-best as anyone is offering right now, “Super Yuppers!” is just an outstandingly upbeat and catchy song that’s as much mid 2010’s Orange Caramel style melded with modern new-80s style as one could reasonably wish for. The tune might start off with a-ha’s drums, but diverges pretty quickly into something a bit fresher and more fun, and it’s a massively pleasant change from the kind of turds that have been served up from nearly all major girl groups lately. The entire package probably doesn’t have quite the direct conceptual appeal to go over in a huge way with global audiences – it’s really not clear exactly what the fuck a “super yupper” is, or what’s even happening in the video other than a lot of product placement, at least in Orange Caramel’s songs the conceptual themes translated pretty well even when they were weird as fuck, but hey at least the music itself is directly appealing and that’s what matters. If you can get past the weird inscrutable nonsense quality of it, and you should, then “Super Yuppers!” is definitely one of the retro k-pop songs of the year. Hey Annie I’m sorry but I think I like Yeoreum’s look here a little bit more than Luda’s, please don’t get out the voodoo doll, no not again, aaahhhhh fuck why does my back suddenly hurt…
8. Rocket Punch – Chiquita
“Chiquita” does a lot of things wrong. Those incoherent lyrics, the truly fucking awful bit of vocals at 0:24 (stop doing that “let’s throw a random melody in that has nothing to do with the entire rest of the song” thing please k-pop songwriters, thank you), the abundance of dumb shouting for no reason, the clothes which look like the were vomited up by an AI trained on SM box videos, and honestly just a bit too much vocal crowding overall especially when things really get going. Worse of all however of course is that shit song title, I personally was scared to even hit play on this as soon as I saw it was called “Chiquita”, I mean how good could a song with such a crappy title actually be? Very good, as it happens – “Chiquita” gets the important things right, like amazingly cool synth patches, neat electronic rhythms, a catchy chorus melody and even a Blackpink-style outro development that’s good enough to end up being the song’s highlight instead of the something-died-in-my-ass disasters those post-second-chorus excursions usually are. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover, although actually you can, you just might be wrong sometimes, as I was. Mind you it’s a song by Rocket Punch who are generally good for some weird reason so I should have known, but whatever, I’m not as addicted to being right as I am to good music so I don’t mind guessing wrong if the result is I get a good song out of it, the damage to my ego will recover faster than the damage to my ears if the song actually was the “Latin” disaster that the title suggested.
7. Dreamcatcher – Vision
The chorus of any Dreamcatcher feature track – consistent heavy metal brilliance, possibly the most reliably high quality k-pop songwriting craft out there today. Every other part of any Dreamcatcher feature track – genre/quality lucky dip, who knows what you’re getting, and who knows if it’ll be any good or not, but you’ll tolerate it regardless of what it is because you know there’s a kick-ass heavy metal chorus on its way. Fortunately this time we lucked out as Dreamcatcher’s writers have gone for some sort of industrial dance music thing in the verses which absolutely fits in with their style, and the chorus just ends up being a more anthemic, heavied-up version of the same thing which is actually just fine and we don’t have to stretch that tolerance muscle to breaking point like we’ve had to do in the past with a lot of their other features. There’s nothing else to say except it’s honestly great and enough to make you want to go and buy some of their sexy NFTs so you can sit back and watch the planet burn until it resembles one of the neat post-apocalyptic backdrops in this music video, although since Ethereum moved to proof-of-stake and is now 99.95% more environment that probably won’t work anymore and we’ll just have to rely on good old fashioned power-mad Russian dictators to turn the world into a battle-scarred wasteland instead, what a drag.
All the songs from here on out in this list are pretty much flawless and apart from the #1 it was very hard to put these in any sort of order, but I gave my my best shot. Here we go:
6. CSR – LOVETiCON (♡TiCON)
I don’t know what CSR is supposed to stand for in this context, but it’s the most well-known brand of sugar in Australian supermarkets so it seems appropriate that this group’s tune is really sweet and catchy. I don’t really know what the song is about either, other than it references MBTI or something, which is obviously bad because MBTI is completely fraudulent harmful trash that people glom on to simply because it makes them feel good, just like excessive sugar consumption, so I suppose it fits and I’ll grudgingly tolerate it in this context. There’s certainly enough brightness in the hooks here to give anyone type 2 diabetes, and the overall mood is similar to the very early Twice tracks, but actually much better than any of those because the melody and harmony choice is better – no mean feat, because that’s something Twice usually always got right even at their worst. Importantly, “Loveticon” doesn’t make the same mistakes that a lot of other girl group songs do when going for this mood – none of the melodies are random and ill-fitting, there’s no stupid slow-down sections, or parts where they’ve inserted unwelcome scotch snaps or some wacky drum machine sound just because it’s popular, and even the obligatory rap parts stay uptempo and bright. Even the shouting and yelling is kept to a bare minimum, although it could have probably been removed altogether with no negative effect, there definitely isn’t enough of it there to actually annoy, just enough to give it all a bit of a sense of fun. You know, “fun”, that thing k-pop fans have forgotten how to have because they’re too busy being mind-controlled and streaming like good little slaves in the Matrix, let’s hope actual fun in music makes a comeback soon, if CSR keep this sort of quality up they might be one of the groups to lead the charge.
5. Youha – Last Dance
Who said sexy concepts in k-pop were dead? Youha clearly wasn’t caring about current trends because here she’s bringing sexy back in style with bedroom action aplenty much in the manner of Jay Park’s notorious R&B ‘ladies jams’ except we don’t have to look at Jay Park’s “Mr. Cool Ice” tier tacky body art or listen to his flaccid music. Even better that her video has something of a plot that unlike Jay’s videos has a bit more substance to it than “look how hot I am, let’s have sex now” so there’s actually a narrative reason to care about all the on-screen action – as IU says, porn is better when it has a story. “Last Dance” is a sultry song to match the theme, with ambient synths and cavernous reverb adding a lot of extra interest to what’s actually a fairly simple song in stripped-down form (pun intended). The entire package is both sounding and looking a lot like the latter day Apink, but with a more overt sexiness and tension in both the music and presentation, so those Apink girls had better watch out this year because we may finally have a new contender for the Kpopalypse “most fappable” list – we’ll see. In the meantime “last dance” is at least the best R&B song in k-pop precisely because it doesn’t sound that much like the usual crap that goes into an R&B song, and may in fact not be, but who cares, it’s great anyway and Youha deserves a lot more traction in the k-pop world than what she’s probably getting at the moment with songs like these.
4. Vincent Park, Griffy – Guilty Pleasure
Who the hell are these people? I have no idea but their song sure is beautiful. I don’t even know if Vincent Park is a person or a band, because we all know about that annoying trend that started about 15 years ago where people started giving their band a person’s name instead, I can’t tell you how confusing that made the lives of people like me who were working in radio at the time. He/they/it/whatever do have an Instagram with a streaming link though, so you could check that out if you wanted and do your streaming party thing, but anyway while more information would be nice I guess it doesn’t matter too much because the main point is this song is ridiculously good. It’s a shame that the video is very obviously just some old cartoon with expired copyright that’s been lifted and re-used with a few very minor tweaks (and that they disabled embedding – tsk tsk), but it’s been very well synced up to fit the theme and does the job so I can’t complain too much about it, at least its existence helped me to find this gem of a song at all. Anyway this video has less than a thousand views at the time of writing this which is just criminal given the outstanding song quality on offer here so why no replay this video a ton and support Vincent Park instead of whatever corporate crap you were going to support instead.
3. CSR – Pop? Pop!
Oh look it’s CSR again and nobody will be shocked by this song’s inclusion in this list, especially given that it’s a soundalike of Lovelyz’ amazing “Ah-Choo!” which topped the Kpopalypse favourite songs of 2015 list, and I assume it was written by the same people because honestly who else could even write something like this. In fact I know many of you expected this song to be #1 this year, and it probably would have gotten there if it also had a breakdown as good as “Ah-Choo!” but they went for some quasi rock-riff thing instead which certainly isn’t a bad choice but just doesn’t quite fit together that well with everything else here. There are however things I like better about “Pop? Pop!” as well though, like the increased reliance on syncopation, some of the weird harmony shifts and the strange details that they’ve thrown into the arrangement that make it really interesting, like the bizarre chromatic shifting at 1:47 and that polyrhythmic line at 1:31 which is very unusual territory for k-pop in general. The whole track overall is outstanding, really fresh sounding, and it really blows me away how CSR got their releases so right this year when so many other k-pop girl groups got their music so very, very wrong, why can’t everyone else be this good, I’ll never know. Oh wait, I do know, it’s because writing and producing pop songs is a very underrated and misunderstood talent and hardly anyone can get it right. Don’t believe all those cynical “oh it’s so easy to write a pop song these days just do x y and z and presto” YouTubers, because it is definitely not anything of the sort, and all the proof you need is that a song like “Pop? Pop!” only comes around once every seven years.
2. Sorn – Sharp Objects
Sorn was great in CLC but she was honestly wasted, and if you don’t believe that then you probably haven’t heard “Sharp Objects” yet, a track where she definitely reaches a level of potential as a performer and singer that she was previously never allowed to come anywhere close to. “Sharp Objects” lacks some of the typical k-pop production sheen that our corporate industry-numbed ears have probably grown accustomed to, but makes up the shortfall with an absolutely ripping tempo (172 BPM!) and an arrangement that gets right down to business, wasting no time at all with any bullshit of any type. There’s no dumb raps anywhere, no concessions to shitty new beat-drop styles, no Scotch-snapping like it’s fucking Riverdance for your grandparents and any slowdown in the pace is just a quick blip on the radar. The focus is squarely on delivering melody and harmony quickly with a minimum of fuss and only the bare minimum of quirky keyboard countermelodic riffs to spice things up and give the song that appropriate “from back when a time that pop music didn’t suck” feel. It’s also nice that the all-English lyrics actually make sense and don’t sound shameful, which automatically puts Sorn’s solo output miles ahead of anything CLC ever did… or any other group on CUBE Entertainment for that matter.
And the number one for 2022 is… drum roll please:
1. Girls2000/Little Princess Project – Bad Girlfriend
Well it’s finally happened, a group that I featured on Kpopalypse Nugu Alert actually got the top spot in the favourites list, and holy fucking shit is this song good. “Bad Girlfriend” doesn’t even have a video, but it did get released as a single in November so it’s eligible, you can go listen to it on Spotify if you wanted (search 소공녀 프로젝트 and you’ll find it, you’re welcome). You can read more about them over at the Nugu Alert post where I go into what little detail I know about the group, why they exist and why they couldn’t be bothered making a video for this thing (tl;dr – videos are expensive). The above video is actually a demo version of the song, but I’ve included it because it has English lyric captions which are actually very helpful for appreciating the song given the excellent lyrics on offer. Here’s the final released single mix of the song, which is honestly scarcely different, it’s just different girls singing some sections:
So what makes this song so great? Firstly, fast pace all the way through – it really helps, folks. Then of course, the excellent lyrics which perfectly encapsulate the kind of kickass “empowered girls who don’t give a fuck” concept that so many k-pop idol groups have promised over the years but none of them ever truly delivered on because they’re too busy sucking corporate cock every two seconds to really let loose with the kind of lyrical gems that are needed. “Hear the sound of that motorcycle vrooming/that’s so much better than your whining” sounds like something Hana would write, it’s easily the lyric of the year and it’s far from the only good lyrical moment on offer here (more accurate English subtitles are needed though, get in touch if you can help). Then there’s the backing track, it’s nice to hear a meaty rock drumbeat and some heavy chugging guitars instead of whatever limp fucking bullshit is used more often these days, it helps counterbalance the vocals both sonically by filling out the frequency field, and thematically by providing something texturally tough. On top of that “minor four chords” a.k.a the “Roly Poly/Bite It You Scum” progression of i-VI-III-VII always works well in the type of context, keeping things light and not too complex. Oh and no stupid rap, no stupid breakdowns, no “skrrt skrrt vroom vroom” (apart from the aforementioned motorcycle), no random melody that doesn’t fit, those things help too. It all adds up to just the right amount of melody and harmony vs just the right amount of pissed-off-ness, without getting too bogged down in either. So in other words, imagine “Roly Poly” if it was some kind of electronic punk rock song that kicked ass instead of a disco track and you’ve got “Bad Girlfriend”. Since about the only thing wrong with “Roly Poly” is that it isn’t a punk rock song, how can “Bad Girlfriend” therefore be anything less than perfect? It’s so good that listening to it makes me wish I lived in Seoul just so I could go out and see these girls perform at some shitty club every other week, but that’ll never happen so hopefully I can do it vicariously through some of you – if you live over there, go see their final concert on January 8th in Seoul and tell them about this list. Also buy some merch of some kind to support them, and send it to me, I’ll reimburse you (I’m a L in most T-shirt sizes), and don’t forget to take some video when they do “Bad Girlfriend” from start to finish so I can sync it up to a studio recording and we can then have a music video for this song of some description. Do it, caonima.
Thanks for reading this list! Don’t forget every yearly Kpopalypse list also has an honourable and dishonourable mentions companion list, so you can see the songs that just missed out on inclusion!
Kpopalypse will meet you again with more writings in 2023!