aespa – Girls
A mammoth SMP-style throwback from one of Korea’s biggest and most popular groups, Girls reaches back to the SM sounds of old to create one of the years most magnetic singles. Endlessly creative and consistently thrilling, Girls stands as the groups most vocally exciting and instrumentally bombastic track yet, harnessing their many strengths into a straightforward yet immensely exciting single. And though its central hook may initially underwhelm, further listens bring out its many hidden charms. The dance break especially, gets better on every repetition. It’s unabashedly SM in nature and a track that makes excellent use of both its abrasive production and powerful vocal performance.
ATEEZ – Guerilla
While they keep choosing the wrong title track, Guerrilla stands as one ATEEZ’ strongest “dark” singles in a while, expertly melding their dramatic vocals with an invigorating production that melds elements of screamo, rock and electronica to create a thrilling soundscape. Similar to Girls it doesn’t quite hold together as well as I had hoped but by the time we reach Guerilla‘s all hands on deck climax, I’m not complaining.
BAE173 – DaSH
Instead of capitalising on the throwback, guitar driven pop sound they absolutely nailed with last years Loved You and this years outstanding Annoyed, BAE173 continue to peddle a boring, incredibly stock standard NCTfied sound that fails to do them any favours. DaSH falls in line with their last comeback JAWS in the fact that it’s just so incredibly boring. From the chanted, shouty delivery to the cringey “we’re so cool” lyrics, there isn’t really much to grab onto here.
from20 – Chemical
A majestic synth driven banger, Chemical stands as one of the years finest singles, taking the burgeoning synth pop trend and twisting it enough to deliver a track that manages to convey just the right amount of melancholia through its euphoric production and rousing central hook. Its seesawing hook might not be for everyone but additional listens have only bolstered the tracks already irresistible charms. Pair this with iKON’s But You for a great one two punch of high tempo emotive synth pop.
ITZY – Sneakers
While not the colossal disaster many of us had expected from the teasers and honestly incredible rollout, Sneakers stands as one of ITZY’s weaker efforts in a discography that’s slowly becoming more and more inconsistent. It’s a fun little bop and while the pre-chorus and beat do elicit some sparks, Sneakers actually falters due to being incredibly unremarkable. It’s just not memorable, a far cry from the groups 2019/20 era works. But it’s kinda catchy I guess?
KB (OnlyOneOf) – be free
The second single in OnlyOneOf’s ambitious ‘Underground Idol‘’ series, be free built upon the moody sounds of predecessor Begin but upped the funk to deliver an absolute standout effort. The bass line here is terrific, supported by licks of rhythm guitar and a production that just knows where to go and when to do it. I adore the extended instrumental breakdown just before the tracks climax and though the chorus could have been melodically interesting, KB’s emotive performance makes sure to draw every little bit of emotion and nuance from it as possible.
Kep1er – Up!
Bolstered by a killer chorus that should have cemented Up! as 2022’s song of the summer, Up! stands as yet another example of unfulfilled potential. It has the opposite problem to many of the other tracks here, hampered by so-so verses that though fine, fail to truly match the sheer perfection of its central hook. It’s just sunshine in a bottle, exploding with an incredibly buoyant melody that perfectly fits K-pop summer. I want to love this but i always end up just liking it instead.
Loona – Flip That
Released on the same day as Kep1er’s Up!, LOONA’s Flip That was an excellent extension of the groups brighter, more dreamy sound all the way until its chorus. Its verses harness a dreamy, vaguely tropical soundscape that feels ripped right out of 2018/19. A sound that’s actually become quite nostalgic for me. And while the chorus does harness a similar production, it’s hampered by a repetitive chorus that goes nowhere and unfortunately sinks what could have been a more atmospheric summer standout.
MCND – #MOOD
One of the years biggest growers, #MOOD continues the classic boisterous charms of past MCND singles in exciting fashion. No it’s not nearly as great as last years Crush but its rambunctious hook melodic pre-chorus and thrilling climax stand as some of the strongest moments in the groups discography. It’s just dumb fun and while I could definitely do without the first post-chorus, its exclusion further down the track helps what is one of the years most enjoyable bops.
NewJeans – Attention
Released without any fanfare and almost instantly blowing up, HYBE’s latest girl group NewJeans joined the K-pop landscape with this excellent laid back jam. Its an incredibly rhythmic production, framed by oft repeated, cut, adlibs and some gorgeous, airy harmonies during the hook that sound so damn satisfying. It perfectly conjures a Y2K era RnB soundscape and doesn’t try too hard, instead playing off its restraint to deliver a number of instantly addictive and very quotable hooks that go down incredibly well. There’s a reason why this song is dominating the charts right now.
NewJeans – Cookie
On the other hand, Cookie stands as the groups first real misstep. Both musically and conceptually. Though I won’t touch on the controversy surrounding the tracks lyrical innuendos, something made worse due to the ages of the girls, the music itself is quite weak. Its laid back groove is in line with previous standouts but the hook this time feels too strained and boring to really work as well. It gets pretty boring pretty fast. And that’s all there is to it. Just boring.
NewJeans – Hurt
A hazy soundscape more inline with western pop than most of modern k-pop, Hurt plays few cards but manages to play them mostly right. This is an incredibly simple track, moving forward on a simple, percussive backing and an oft repeated hook that’s bound to get stuck in your head. It may not be the most ear catching of the groups singles and lack the potency of songs like Hype Boy or Attention, but it works as a nice palate cleanser at the end of the day. This is very much my kind of laid back jam.
Pixy – Villain
An exciting electronic detour for PIXY, Villain saw them incorporate the sounds of some of their more exciting b-sides into a single to great results. It’s a little too messy for me during the first verse but by the time that jerky, hushed chorus comes around, I’m completely won over.
Purple Kiss – Nerdy
Ok, I might be the only person who doesn’t think this is excellent. Sure, it’s got one of the years most exciting and tight production but I just don’t connect with any of the hooks. They feel too scattered and one not for me, playing very very well off the phenomenal production but failing to really hold up by themselves. There are some really really cool sounds here but personally it kind of just comes and goes without much of an impact. For me, Zombie still remains the superior Purple Kiss track.
SEVENTEEN – _World
Likely one of the most laid back and inoffensive single the group have ever released and one that stands as a stark contrast to the more rambunctious Hot, _World initially failed to illicit much of a reaction from me before growing into a real highlight. It’s smoothed out to the point of near mundanity but benefits off multiple listens thanks to its incessant hook and buoyant production. It’s very much from the Dynamite school of songwriting and though not world changing in the slightest, is a fun little bop every time it comes around.
SVT Leaders (SEVENTEEN) – Cheers
A song that I hated on release but has since grown on me immensely thanks to its sheer energy alone, Cheers‘ aggressive and heavily autotuned production doesn’t always work but absolutely slaps when you’re in the right mood. It’s one of those noise music hype tracks that really shouldn’t work but gets over the line thanks to some very cool production flourishes and a number of very memorable hooks. It’s a complete banger and one that blows the undercooked Hot out of the water. If you’re going to go hard, might as well go all the way.
Super Junior – Mango
After more than 17 years in the industry, Super Junior continue to display just what makes them such a commanding force in the industry with the killer, melodic dance pop of Mango. It’s a wonderfully potent dance pop track that pulls equally from trends new and old to deliver a near timeless pop effort with a killer chorus, majestic arrangement and even better vocal performance. Probably my favourite Super Junior effort in years.
TAN – Louder
Though debuting with one of the years strongest and most addictive tracks in the form of the sleek Du Du Du, TAN have had a hard time following up the strength of their debut. Sophomore effort Louder though enjoyable suffers from the same issues that their debut so skilfully avoided, coming across as disjointed and scattered when it should instead feel tight and laser focused. There are some great moments here such as the dynamic verses but the drop sucks much of the momentum out of the entire package. I don’t hate it as much as many others but it does hinder what could have been a real standout effort.
TAN – Walking on the moon
Treading towards a more slinky dance-RnB inspired production more in line with their debut, Walking on the moon is a song that works in fits and starts but grows a little too mundane and repetitive by the time it rears its head. The verses are a bit of a nothing burger that build to an ascending if rather predictable pre-chorus before the addictive hook comes in. This is the sound the group clearly excel at and though a little boring, signals a nice future direction for the boys.
Tempest – Can’t Stop Shining
Tempest’s debut effort Bad News didn’t really strike a chord with me but with follow up Can’t Stop Shining, they’ve channeled their inner Astro to deliver a fun blast of buoyant pop. Those opening synths are like candy to my ears, recalling some of the best and most enjoyable pure pop tracks of the mid 2010’s and its recurrent usage helps the track carry a wonderful throwback vibe. The verses remain the tracks undeniable high, punctuated by the excellent “turn it up, up” hook that harnesses a rhythmic delivery alongside a fantastic rhythm guitar base to deliver a real knockout. The chorus still is a little on the nose and juvenile for me but there’s just no denying just how great this song really is.
TO1 – Drummin’
Following one of the messiest and most confusing rebranding’s I’ve ever seen, TO1 (formerly TOO) returned to the scene with this wonderfully fun pop track that harkened back to the sounds of past glories Count 1,2 and Step by Step (still a perfect summer song). And though lacking the tight melodic through line of those 2020 standouts, Drummin’ succeeds thanks to its sheer goofy charm and undeniable energy. The hooks here are rock solid, punctuated by a rambunctious performance and excellent pre-chorus. Surprised by the lack of drums though given the title!
UiU – Starlit
Clawing out of the trenches of nugudom through the sheer strength of Starlit‘s chorus, UiU scored a real winner with the wonderfully sounding 2nd gen esque Starlit. It’s an incredibly low budget production and the performance leaves much to be desired but every time that gorgeous chorus comes around, it’s like I’m transported into a higher plane of existence. Alongside Road-b’s two incredible singles, I’m loving the strength and throwback nature of the nugu efforts we’ve been seeing this year!
WJSN (Cosmic Girls) – Last Sequence
Though they were once comfortable seated within my holy trinity of girl groups alongside GFRIEND and OH MY GIRL, WJSN’s lack of releases of the past few years has really affected my overall pull towards the group. I loved 2020’s Butterfly but their sub-unit efforts alongside last years middling Unnatural failed to really stick with me as much as I had hoped. Enter Last Sequence, which takes the dance floor thump of that single and improves it in every way possible to give us a real standout performance piece that utilises its lockstep hook to excellent effect to give us a dance track that pushes and pulls the listener in an incredibly satisfying way.
2 thoughts on “2022 K-pop Roundup (July – August)”
All I have to say is… wow. This was massive, and this was impressive. Kudos to the effort of this post Arpydarpy!