Now, before we get into it, we gotta set some ground rules:
- To be eligible for this list, the song must have been released between the 1st of January 2022 and 15th December 2022.
- Song must be paired with a full music video and be promoted to some extent.
- Songs must be by a Korean artist and be in either Korean or English (Japanese / Chinese singles will get their own seperate countdown)
- And finally, this is all just my opinion. There is much bias to be found and if you’re unhappy with any of the placements, just remember that this is not meant to be a purely objective list.
10. LE SSERAFIM – Antifragile (review)
On the surface, Antifragile is one of those songs that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Adapting one of the industries most overused sounds and mixing it with a number of potentially cloying samples and vocal lines, the tracks bones don’t really do much to excite. And in the hands of another group or set of producers that may have been the case. Instead, we have what is easily one of the years most exciting and daring tracks, harnessing LE SSERAFIM’s star studded lineup in thrilling ways both lyrically and performance wise.
The production swerves in ways that follow the expected path but also deviate in new, exciting directions that make Antifragile an endlessly repayable package. It hits the perfect soft spot between derivative and inventive, circling back to some utterly infectious hooks whilst having the verve and flexibility to mess with sound and structure in the most satisfying of ways. It’s no surprise that it’s gone onto become one of 2022’s most iconic tracks. An utter triumph.
9. Acid Angel from Asia (tripleS) – Generation
The NewJeans-ificiation of K-pop as I like to call has been one of the biggest breathes of fresh air the industry has experienced in a long time. This light on its feet, incredibly vibey y2k inspired sound was one of 2022’s biggest and best surprises and apart from the group that started the sound, under the radar act tripleS’ perfectly managed to capture the sound with the stunning Generation. A track that takes the absolute best of its influences and packages them into a tight, perfectly produced package.
The one thing that I love about Generation is that it’s basically one big chorus. The wonderfully utilised and incredibly catchy interpolation of the La la la la la hook as the tracks through line is one of the years best production choices, perfectly refuelling Generation every time it feels as though it’s running out of steam. This alongside a melodically exciting chorus work wonders in contrast to the aforementioned airy hook, giving Generation a killer one two punch. Add to that a dynamic production that includes the use of electric guitar, brass and atmospheric synth work and you’ve got a real gem of a debut.
8. RoaD-B – Nonstop (review)
As I’ve said throughout the countdown, under the radar acts were on their a-game this year, consistently giving us tracks that far outshone their more popular contemporaries. Especially in the case of boy groups. Enter RoaD-B, a group who out of nowhere delivered not only the years strongest boy group debut but one of the years strongest singles period.
In many ways, Nonstop‘s success can be attributed to their producers. Sweetune have long been one of my favourite K-pop producers and though they’ve recently been relegated to more under the radar acts, their golden touch is always evident. Nonstop soars with the kind of tight, electrifying production and layering emblematic of their best work, pulsing with a sense of life in a landscape usually devoid of it. The synth palette is perfectly utilised, bringing a sense of majesty to even the more rough vocal moments, elevating the evidently low budget to some truly euphoric levels. And by the time that climactic high note rolls around, Nonstop has more than made its mark.
7. Girls’ Generation – Forever 1
With a number of big name groups announcing their returns or reunions throughout the year, 2022 in many ways will be remembered as the year of legacy comebacks. Though exciting, these comebacks usually fell into two very specific sounds. Either the traditional, for the fans style ballad or the upbeat, signature sound adjacent pop track. But rather than fall into either bucket, Girls’ Generation delivered the best of both worlds with the transcendent Forever 1. A track that tugged at nostalgia whilst still delivering a thrilling pop package.
Though criticised for sometimes being too straightforward, Forever 1 in my mind succeeds solely because of that reason. This is an anniversary track with one purpose, to bring the fanbase together in a culmination of fireworks and tears. Something it achieves aplomb with its utter head rush of a chorus. Sure it’s a little derivative and maybe a little over sentimental in its approach but I would be a fool to say it doesn’t work. From the interpolation of Into The New World during the bridge to an iconic, goosebump inducing Taeyeon high note at the climax, Forever 1 is a celebration. One that no doubt cements the legacy of Korea’s greatest ever girl group.
6. TWICE – Talk that Talk
TWICE are one of those groups who despite the fact are near the very top of my bias list, have never managed to crack into any of end of year top 10 lists. And though looking back either of their outstanding 2019 efforts would probably easily slot themselves into the top 10 that year, I feel as though my ranking of the groups songs over the years has never really truly been indicative of my enjoyment of their music. However with the blistering pop brilliance of Talk that Talk, the girls have finally broken to curse.
In many ways, Talk that Talk is the perfect conduit for TWICE’s charms, mixing the retro inspired goodness of singles like Can’t Stop Me with the ebullient fizzy pop of their earlier efforts to deliver a complete home run. There isn’t a weak bone in Talk that Talk‘s perfectly constructed brew, bouncing from one killer hook to another without a moments notice and delivering one of the years most joyous listening experiences. The verses move at breakneck pace, eliciting interest before the rousing chorus sweeps you off your feet almost effortlessly. But sometimes it’s the small additions that manage to pack the most punch and when that extra bit of vocal firepower surfaces during the climactic chorus, I’m completely sold.
5. Golden Child – Replay (review)
Golden Child have always been one of K-pop’s most consistently exciting groups, coming back year after year with material that knows how to excite whilst never quite resorting to the soundalike nature of their peers or their past work. And in many ways, Replay is perfectly emblematic of that, reaching into a thrilling electronica infused soundscape that plays as one of their most unabashedly intense singles yet. What I didn’t expect however, was the long dormant soul of brothers past INFINTE to come bursting out of the crypt in the form of this song.
Replay is essentially Golden Child doing their very best INFINITE impression, something that not only works wonders but one that makes every single moment of this absolute thrill ride worthwhile. This is an absolutely breathtaking electro stomper that opens with a stunner of a hook and only gets bigger from there, culminating in an awe inspiring cavalcade of high notes and grungy electric guitars. It’s a suitable sense of immensity that not only fits the vocal arrangement like a glove but brings out the absolute best in the groups incredibly strong and texturally diverse vocals, something that has always been at the forefront of the groups strongest efforts. At first it may seem as though Replay is doing too much with its numerous breakdowns, soaring arrangement and ultra rhythmic centrepiece but over time, you come to realise just how intensity like this is needed.
4. RoaD-B – Icarus (review)
While a great debut might get a group off to a great start, in my mind the sophomore effort is the real show-ground. Especially for under the radar groups constantly at risk of disbandment. RoaD-B had a great thing going with the dynamic Nonstop but that would mean very little if follow up effort Icarus fell flat on its face. Thankfully, like every great followup, Icarus not only carried everything great about its predecessor but built upon that thrilling energy with a more emotive edge and even grander chorus.
A song so classically Sweetune it almost hurts, Icarus melds its slower, more emotive verses with one of the years biggest most rousing centrepieces, perfectly playing dynamics and synth textures to wring the most amount of emotion and energy from each and every turn. It strikes the perfect balance, building the perfect emotive backbone thanks to a wonderfully placed evocative guitar riff that translates effortlessly into the chorus to end all choruses. It’s a centrepiece that feels like a true centrepiece, a real triumph carrying an immense amount of weight melodically that’s expertly matched by a production that knows how to translate that weight musically. It’s utterly majestic and the perfect nod to the Sweetune of old whilst still keeping a keen eye on the future. At its absolute best, Icarus truly soars but unlike its titular character, never flies too close to sun.
3. IVE – Love Dive (review)
Despite only debuting in December 2021 and having just 3 singles under their belt, IVE were one of 2022’s biggest breakouts, creating a brand almost on par with the biggest girl groups of the past few years. And while much of that could be attributed to the popularity of individual members, there’s no denying that the strength of their singles has been absurdly good. Similarly to Icarus, Love Dive is the sophomore effort that not only eclipses a very strong debut but one that expands the groups sound in extremely thrilling fashion.
From the thumping percussion that opens the track to the iconic vocoder assisted pre-chorus and of course the gorgeous airy “ooooh” that runs throughout as the tracks one true calling card, Love Dive is an absolute treasure trove of hooks and a total production masterclass. It’s the complete package, not skimping on a single element and delivering a track that feels like a true, satisfying whole. Targeting current trends whilst also blowing open expected deviations with sounds that feel so perfectly chosen and utilised that you can’t imagine it going any other way. A fever dream of pulsing electronics and ethereal, otherworldly exclamations, Love Dive is the true encapsulation of the groups “chaebol crush”” concept and a track that not only feels incredibly vital to the overall girl group landscape but one that will no doubt stand as one of 2022’s best and most iconic efforts.
2. IVE – After Like (review)
While sampling something as iconic Gloria Gaynor’s seminal I Will Survive is nothing new or unusual for K-pop nor pop music in general, songs of such nature usually fall victim to the sheer icon status of its influence. Forever being relegated to being a soundalike rather than standing tall on its own. Something that I had initially feared when the first few teasers for After Like were released. Sure the sample sounded utterly transcendent but would the rest of the track fall victim to the aforementioned issues or would it manage to carve out its own identity?Well, given its commercial and critical success, it shouldn’t be too hard to tell which way the track went.
After Like is the kind of career triumph that comes along very rarely, working as the perfect match between artist and song that not only resounds with fans but also the general public. From the delicious rhythm guitar assisted verses and wonderfully groovy usage of house piano, After Like knows how to differentiate itself from its iconic sample, crafting a real, fully functioning song that’s built with the sample in mind and not around it. This leads to a listening experience that excites throughout, dishing out iconic hook after hook without a second thought whilst also circling back to its majestic centrepiece.
It’s almost perfectly arranged giving enough space between the vocals and instrumentation to really give each individual element the room to shine. The instrumentation vaguely traces the iconic string sample throughout verses, hinting at the eventual centrepiece without coming across as too soundalike. Something which gives After Like the edge on repeated listens. A sense of longevity and replay-ability that hasn’t favoured many other tracks this year. But as much as I talk about the connecting tissue, I cant talk about After Like without mentioning the sheer majesty of its centrepiece. The sample is just otherworldly, exploding in the most thrilling of ways to deliver true, unabashed pop brilliance that more than cements IVE’s status as one of modern K-pop’s leading groups.
1. NewJeans – Hype Boy (review)
When many, myself included think about 2022 from a k-pop lens, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that NewJeans would be the group at the forefront of many peoples minds. From debuting without any prior fanfare to achieving almost instantaneous viral success, the girls have all but made their mark on the current k-pop landscape both commercially and musically. Their laidback, y2k era inspired sound worked as a real shift in an industry that was slowly losing the charm it once had, instead treading into uninspired, melodically inept soundalikes. But with the one two punch of Attention and Hype Boy the girls almost singlehandedly revitalised the industry in my eyes. And while Attention initially caught most of the “attention” (haha), Hype Boy was the dark horse effort that rose to near unrivalled virality with time.
Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern in my listening habits. My most listened to K-pop song of the year has never topped my yearly countdown. In 2019 BTS’ Boy With Luv barely beat out Stray Kids’ career defining masterpiece Miroh for the top spot. 2020 saw Gaho’s Start Over saw far more streams than eventual winner Pporappippam and 2021 saw Golden Child’s Breathe take the crown over the groups other single and 2022 topper, Burn It. An interesting trend but one finally put to rest thanks to Hype Boy‘s sheer addictive brilliance. From the hypnotic opening synth loop and ingenious ticking sample to the immaculate atmosphere established within the first few seconds, you instantly get the feeling that the producers behind Hype Boy knew exactly what they were doing. The extended intro alongside the pulsing percussion that supports the verses lends Hype Boy the perfect vibe, laid back without coming across as tedious or boring. A hard task but that the track pulls off flawlessly. It’s an utterly intoxicating brew, reeling you in with a perfectly calibrated and near irresistible atmosphere.
But I can’t possibly talk about Hype Boy without raving about the fantastic chorus. It’s a complete ear worm, flowing seamlessly from the spiralling, disorientating pre-chorus to give us one of the most memorable centrepieces of the year. Hook after hook lands, harnessing an incredibly addictive melody that feels both at once celebratory yet slightly melancholy. Bittersweet you could say. Sure it may not be nearly as instantly exciting nor as interesting as some of the tracks that preceded it on the countdown but it carries a sense of unrivalled charm that puts it far ahead of its competitors. And while it objectively may not be the best k-pop song of 2022 for many, it is by far my favourite and song that I will keep listening to for years to come.