The first half of 2023 has been a celebration of Korean Pop's vibrant diversity and creative competence. From legendary and established artists to emerging talents, the year has been a sonic adventure that fans won't soon forget. So here’s some of the top songs of 2023 so far from South Korea that also made it to the top of my playlists on repeat.
1. Super by SEVENTEEN
SEVENTEEN is here to remind us again why they're a force to be reckoned with. “Super” (Korean title “손오공” or “Sonogong”) is an energetic electro-pop bop. The concept of this song is derived from the tale of Chinese mythological Monkey King “Sun Wokung”, celebrating togetherness and pushing forward towards your goals (Sun Wokung is also the inspiration behind Son Goku of the anime “Dragon Ball”). The track's dynamic arrangement with pulsating beats includes an infectious pre-chorus with an anti-drop chorus leading into a fierce post-chorus, making it impossible not to groove along, with the song ending unconventionally on a bridge. The group wanted a performance that would match the sonic energy of the song, so the music video includes 228 performers dancing alongside SEVENTEEN’s 13 members creating a high-octane visual treat that leaves you in awe of SEVENTEEN’s performance prowess.
- Haegeum by Agust D
This is the title song off of Agust D’s (aka Suga of BTS aka Min Yoongi) first official solo album, and the (supposed) last of the Agust D trilogy, following the 2 previous mixtapes. This song has got Agust D throughout the credits list from top to bottom, so this is how you know that it’s definitely going to be a fire track. It’s a sonic experience that bridges the gap between cultural heritage and modern innovation by using traditional elements over trap beats. Haegeum in this song is a wordplay carrying two distinct meanings – the first being the classical Korean stringed instrument called Haegeum which features in the intro of the song. And the second meaning is the literal translation of the word – lifting of a ban or prohibition. Agust D opens the song with the lyrics “this song is a haegeum” implying that this song is both the message and the medium. He goes on to rap about seeking liberation from things and ideologies that limit us in the society. The cinematic music video also features him in a double role, that aids in giving a clearer understanding of the song and deeper interpretation of its lyrics.
- OMG by NewJeans
NewJeans burst onto the scene with an energetic blend of pop, some jazz and EDM, debuting in August 2022, and quickly becoming one of the most favorite of the newer groups from the 4th generation of K-pop. This single was released right in the beginning of this year with its catchy hooks and lively rhythm creating an enjoyable dancefloor anthem. The group exudes youthful energy through their trendy choreography and visual aesthetics, along with their fresh and harmonious vocals, making them popular especially amongst the younger demographic.
- Fighting by BSS
BSS is ready to pump you up with "Fighting”! BSS, short for "BooSeokSoon," is a 3 members unit group from SEVENTEEN, consisting of members Boo Seungkwan, Lee Seokmin aka DK, and Kwon Soonyoung aka Hoshi. It also features rapper Lee Young Ji who won the reality TV series “High School Rapper 3” and “Show Me The Money 11”. “Fighting” is a Konglish (Korean-English) word borrowed from English and is used as an encouraging or supportive phrase to wish someone good luck. This track radiates positivity and encouragement, urging listeners to overcome challenges and keep pushing forward. It’s an up-tempo fusion of pop with lively funk rhythm and motivational lyrics creating an uplifting atmosphere that's perfect for boosting spirits.
5. Like Crazy by Jimin
Jimin's "Like Crazy" is a testament to the power of his emotive vocals. In his debut album, this dreamy synth-pop track is partly inspired by the 2011 movie of the same title, and released in 2 versions, one in Korean and the other in English. The song's title perfectly encapsulates the intensity of the sentiments portrayed, as Jimin's voice dances between vulnerability and power, expressing the complex and ambiguous emotions of love, longing and loneliness through his intimate delivery. This song created music history by topping Billboard Hot 100, making Jimin the first Korean artist to be ranked #1 on the chart.
6. Dive Into by Han Seungwoo
Han Seungwoo (who was a member & leader of Victon and X1) released his 3rd solo album “Frame”, his first after returning from the mandatory military service. Seungwoo’s vocal and rap skills layer this title track combining hip-hop and synth sounds, produced by Cha Cha Malone, so groovy R&B vibes is a given. A shift from his previous EP, this album and song is more upbeat and energizing, displaying Seungwoo’s versatility as a singer-songwriter.
7. Seven by Jung Kook
The second to last member of BTS to officially debut as a solo artist, Jungkook, the 7th member of BTS, released the single Seven in the 7th month of the year (and I intentionally placed this song at #7 on the list). An all English track, it’s written and produced by a team outside of the K-pop industry. Jungkook’s breath-taking vocal melodies, harmonies and runs fill this refreshing summer dance track reminiscent of 90s UK garage pop. The features in this track are rapper Latto and Jungkook’s lady love in the music video, Korean actress Han SoHee. Joining his BTS member Jimin, Jungkook became the only second Korean soloist to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart with this single.
8. Love Eventually by Samuel Seo
One of my most favorite artists from South Korea, the multi-talented Samuel Seo, recently released his new EP “Love Eventually”. Like all of his other albums, this EP too has Samuel composing, producing, writing and playing various instruments on it. This album is a collection of songs exploring love in all its beautiful forms, blending genres like R&B and soul. With its smooth melodies, soulful vocals, and poetic lyrics, the title track "Love Eventually" is Samuel’s personal story of falling in love with his muse. If you're ready to get lost in a world of rich harmonies, lush instrumentals and evocative soundscapes, don't miss out on the magic that Samuel Seo's "Love Eventually" has to offer.
9. Shoong! by TAEYANG
After 6 long years, TAEYANG, main vocalist and dancer of BIGBANG, released his highly anticipated album in April (also the first after his military discharge). The EP, one of my personal favorites from this year, consists of songs for every mood, and more than half the tracks include features. “Shoong!” (onomatopoeic word usually used for cars passing by in Korean), is the dance banger featuring LISA of BLACKPINK, that has a racing concept both in its lyrics and visuals. With TAEYANG’s luscious vocals accompanied by LISA’s raps, the performance elements are also top notch, as expected when you get two K-pop powerhouses on the same track. It’s got an upbeat and addictive R&B melody combined with a bit of hip-hop energy that gives it an oomph.
10. UNFORGIVEN by LE SSERAFIM
The girl groups of K-pop have absolutely got their fair share of reign in 2023 so far. “UNFORGIVEN” is the single from LE SSERAFIM’s 1st studio album and the instrumentation samples the soundtrack from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” as the song has a Western theme to it. In addition, the song’s melodic arrangement also features guitar work from pioneer Nile Rodgers. While most of the song carries a sassy vibe to it, with the message of being fearless and bold, the latter part of the chorus comes off somewhat cutesy with the sing-song delivery.
Honourable mentions (because the more, the merrier):
- BOUNCY by ATEEZ
- Queencard by (G)I-DLE
- HARD by SHINee
- Bite Me by ENHYPEN
- Sugar Rush Ride by TOMORROW X TOGETHER
- ICKY by KARD
- on the street by j-hope & J. Cole
- Beautiful Liar by MONSTA X
- In Bloom by ZEROBASEONE
- Cupid by FIFTY FIFTY
Whether you feel like dancing, relaxing, or simply getting lost in the melodies, these tracks will fit your every mood and provide a window into the evolving world of K-pop. Some of these are a shift from mainstream but categorized under the same umbrella of K-pop for the sake of simplification in this article. So, turn up the volume, let the rhythm take over, and allow yourself to be swept away by some of the tunes that define this remarkable year in K-pop history. I know there are so many more bangers that were not mentioned here so, that is why, I would like you to list the K-pop tracks that you loved from 2023 so far.