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2023 K-Pop Rewind

Ideated By: Kya Brogdon | 8 January, 2024


The amount of new music we get from K-pop groups every year is absolutely insane, it can be hard to keep up with each new release and all of the content that comes with it. Below we have curated our favorite selections for each category of the things that happened in 2023 - keep reading to see if you agree or if you had a different release in mind!



FAVORITE ALBUM : MALE


Intense, reflective, and conscious are three words I think of to describe D-Day by Agust D, SUGA of BTS’ alias. It is hard to put into words how deep and meaningful this album is. Agust D/SUGA may be my ult bias, but this album was the best way to close the Agust D chapter of his career (for now). From critiques of capitalism (“Haegeum”) to discussion of SUGA’s struggles (“AMYGDALA” & “Snooze”), D-Day is an album that explores themes outside of the norm of K-pop. The cherry on top is the Agust D tour where ARMY joined SUGA on a journey to heal from his past. 


ATEEZ absolutely ruled my Spotify Wrapped this year, (to no one’s surprise) and if this album came out a week earlier I’m positive it would have ended up on my Wrapped playlist as well. The cinematic story that ATEEZ are able to encompass sonically throughout their The World series is breathtaking, and I love that we finally have a full album in this series to bring everything together and show off their wide range of music styling. The difference between songs like “Crazy Form,” “MATZ,” and “Dreamy Day” is stark, but each track serves its purpose in rounding out the album sound and show that ATEEZ have no problem exploring any genre or style they want.


Being a Carat since “Mansae” era, for some reason this album felt like a full circle to their success and talents as a group. The fact they paired title tracks, “Super” and “F*ck My Life,” together to represent power through strength and passion was so smart. Honestly, one of my favorite eras of theirs to this day and I still get chills every time I listen to this album fully; it truly strengthened my love for them.


FAVORITE ALBUM : FEMALE


In a world of brass and maximalism, NewJeans are the mellow and minimalist of K-pop. Even though the group’s production is influenced by ‘90s and 2000s pop and R&B, NewJeans feels surprisingly refreshing. I also admire the group’s marketing and creative direction such as collaborating with the PowerPuff Girls and embracing a y2k aesthetic, shown in their EP Get Up. Knowing the group’s target audience is likely younger Millennials and Gen-Z, it taps into a nostalgia that we likely missed because we were too young.


It’s not uncommon for JYP groups’ Japanese albums to be top tier, but I think RINGO takes the cake for my favorite one from this year. This is ITZY's first full Japanese album, and while it continues some Japanese singles we already got before release (“Blah Blah Blah” and “Voltage”) along with three Japanese versions of songs we got in previous albums (“SNEAKERS”, “Chesire” and “Trust Me (MIDZY)”), the new songs we got upon the album release are absolutely stellar. The title track of “RINGO” is ITZY-pop to a T, showing off the girls’ insane vocals and stellar synchronicity in their dance moves, and the b-sides suit their upbeat and fun vibe perfectly. My favorite is either “Playlist” or “STYLE”, and although it’s unlikely I would love to hear either of these played at the teased upcoming world tour.


I’ve always loved (G)-IDLE, but I feel like this album really encompassed all the power and passion the girls have for their music. From the styling, producing, and messages throughout all the songs, this was the success they’ve deserved all along. Having “Allergy” as a pre-release while following “Queencard” after on the official EP which such a strong choice in terms of storytelling, I felt so satisfied. I feel like all the members shined so beautifully too. I’ve just became obsessed with singing “Queencard” in 노래방’s (karaoke rooms) in Hongdae with my friends.


FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO - MALE


There’s something to be said about seeing one of your favorite groups finally achieving one of their dreams that they’ve talked about for years, and that is exactly what this song did for Stray Kids. All of the members, especially Han Jisung, have talked about how much they look up to Tiger JK since their debut, and seeing them finally be able to collab with him on a song and also get to work with him on a music video made me so excited for them. The song and music video are filled to the brim with a self-confident swagger and a hyped energy, and it’s one of my favorites that came from this album. 


This is definitely a choice to choose… However, NCT is always looking Camp right in the eye. The styling of the members is just really striking to me and the effects of pants with no body attached dancing along. I’m also just a sucker for music videos that center choreography at the heart of the visual; NCT never disappoints.


FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO - FEMALE


Not only is “Bet On Me” one of my favorite ITZY songs, the music video makes the song even more impactful. In the song, the members sing about chasing after their dreams no matter what, and following the passions that they have in life, and in the music video this is depicted as all of the girls fighting against their worries and anxieties alone before they finally join up to run towards their dreams together. This is already emotional, but it made me even more teary when I realized that the order the members appeared on screen in the running sequence is the same order that each girl joined the group. First we see leader Yeji running by herself, joined next by Chaeryeong, then Ryujin, then Lia, and then finally by the youngest member Yuna, and the group is finally complete - running towards their goals together. The ending lyric of the song as we watch the members run towards the light at the end of the tunnel hits hard; “두렵긴 해도 그래도 / 떨어질 용기없인 / 절대로 날 수 없으니” (translation: “It can get scary, but / Without the courage to fall / You will never fly.”)


The aesthetics of this video drew me in instantly. The color grading allows the video to feel more surreal; like this world is not a part of ours. And the way they broke that wall of surrealism by allowing the members to make eye contact with the camera is a beautiful contrast. Artistically, the video is a memorial of youth and an invitation to grow.


FAVORITE DEBUT - MALE


Aside from breaking numerous records and earning the title of “main pop boy,” Jungkook (JK) of BTS revealed to the world the entertainer and performer he was born to be. Golden is pop perfection. From heartbreaking ballads (“Hate You”) to ‘90s boy band influence hits (“3D”), Jungkook covered each aspect of pop music. He also performed a few of the songs in New York Times Square for ARMY, which is only reserved for a few performers. Jungkook’s Golden showed how to underestimate the power and impact BTS, Jungkook, and ARMY has. 


Both my most anticipated debut and my favorite of this year, xikers’ first album absolutely blew me out of the water when it dropped. After seeing them open for their company-mates ATEEZ and listening to “TRICKY HOUSE” when it was released pre-debut, I knew this album was going to be a strong contender for my favorite debut of the year, but even now at the end of the year it is still the strongest debut that has come from 2023. Every one of the b-sides on that album could be a title track, and I constantly find myself going back and playing the album all the way through even nine months after it dropped. This coupled with their insanely strong comeback Tricky House : How to Play, xikers are solidifying their spot in the K-pop scene and proving they will only go up from here.


I love a little pop rock moment for any of my favorite artists; and YoungK made my heart so full. YoungK is a powerful lyricist already so I knew this would be a musical masterpiece. However, this feels like such a coming-of-age track for the end of summer, the heat becoming too much and the rush of the seasons changing. He is so impactful and intentional with his music that I just fell in love with this song so much; whenever I’m in the sun, I think of this song. 


FAVORITE DEBUT - FEMALE


Perhaps one of the most anticipated solo debuts of this year, CHUU did not disappoint. Her album Howl is an immediate pop classic, each song is catchy, fun, and easy to listen to, while also holding deeper meanings once you look at the lyrics. The title track “Howl” talks about fighting for yourself even when the world is against you, a reflection of the fight CHUU herself had to go through with her ex-company earlier this year. I think my favorite song from the album is “Aliens,” in which CHUU sings about the beauty in being different, and how everyone in the world is unique to themselves. In the chorus, she sings “사랑하는 방식도 생각, 언어, 대화 style / 전부 다르지만 네가 좋아 beauty of it all” (translation: “The way we love / Our thoughts, language, conversation style, all different / But I like you, the beauty of it all”).


After everything LOONA had been through this year, seeing CHUU come out with “Howl” was so breathtaking. CHUU has one of the most powerful voices in K-POP and it was so beautiful seeing her take an experimental, electronic approach for her solo; it paints her in a new light than ever before. The visuals and message of the song also showcases her power through what had happened with LOONA, and seeing her take that step for herself and using music as her outlet is stunning.


FAVORITE NEW ARTIST/GROUP YOU GOT INTO IN 2023 - MALE


Kya: ONEUS

After being fortunate enough to go to the inaugural year of We Bridge Music Festival & Expo, I fell head over heels for ONEUS. I had heard of them in the past, and I’ve been a fan of their brother group ONEWE for a while, but seeing them perform sold me. They were not only incredible with their vocals and rap, but their choreography and synchronicity was addicting to watch. Performing what are now some of my favorite ONEUS songs at this festival like “LUNA” and “Same Scent,” I knew I was in deep when I was immediately reaching out to my friends to ask who was who in the middle of the next artists’ set. I was able to see them again later in the year when I visited South Korea and they were promoting their then-most recent comeback “Pygmalion,” and they were just as charismatic and talented as I remembered. ONEUS has quickly made their way up my list of my favorite K-pop groups, and I can’t wait to see what they do in the upcoming year.


I’ve always been rooting for Xdinary Heroes since they debuted under Studio J (subsidiary to JYPE) but being able to see them live changed everything for me. I was studying abroad in Seoul over the summer and they were having their first fanmeeting after dropping their EP Deadlock, and this was my chance to even go to a live fanmeeting! It was truly so fun seeing how cute and comfortable all the members are, I really got to know them through all the activities they did. Musically, I’ve always really appreciated live bands and seeing them play their songs all live, and even do an instrument switch, was just so breathtaking. Truly a beautiful, talented band of boys who deserve all the attention.


FAVORITE NEW ARTIST/GROUP YOU GOT INTO IN 2023 - FEMALE


Kya: NMIXX

I’ve been a casual listener of NMIXX since their debut, but something about their releases this year really got me hooked. While a lot of people didn’t like the group’s use of the melody to “Frère Jacque”" in “Young, Dumb, Stupid,” I immediately thought it was such a fun use of the sample and was catchy on first listen. They followed this up with their title track “Love Me Like This,” which is a hip hop and R&B song that shows off the members lower registers as well as their incredible high notes we have come to love in their past releases. Earlier this month, they dropped “Soñar (Breaker),” a pre-release track for their upcoming album Fe3O4: Break, releasing on January 15, 2024. In this track they went back to their “mixxpop” roots, and I love the switch up they have in this song. I’ve seen NMIXX perform at KCON the past two years, and although I had to miss out on their first US tour, I’m hoping I can catch them next time they’re here.


This was the freshness I needed from K-Pop. I’ve been rooting for Natty since Idol School and seeing her fully in her element with the rest of the members is amazing to see. I’m obsessed with the heavy R&B influences while keeping the youthfulness of femininity at the center of their image. I love that they gave each member solos on their first album to establish their strengths and styles and now fully focusing on the group for their second EP allows me to properly individualize them as well. I’m so excited to see future performances from them.


FAVORITE SONG THAT YOU DISCOVERED THIS YEAR, BUT WASN’T RELEASED THIS YEAR - MALE


Given that I only got into ONEUS this year, I took it upon myself to look into the songs they performed at We Bridge and also their past releases that I missed, but “LIT” absolutely takes the cake of my favorite song by them. The mix of traditional Korean instruments and melodies with the more modern styling of music is so addicting to listen to, “LIT” skyrocketed up my most listened to songs since I saw them perform it in April. On top of their incredible choreography done with beautiful fans, “LIT” is an upbeat song that is sure to get you on your feet upon the very first listen. 


This might be a wild statement but I’ve actually never listened to ENHYPEN until this year. I always saw their videos on X (formerly Twitter) and thought they were cute, funny boys. But visiting Korea let me get to know them better. I began listening to their discography and this song is just so colorful to listen to. When I found out this was their debut song, it absolutely blew my mind. The boys are so talented, I would’ve guessed they’ve been in the industry for way longer. I will always listen to this song just for how good it is. It’s literally going to be a timeless classic.


FAVORITE SONG THAT YOU DISCOVERED THIS YEAR, BUT WASN’T RELEASED THIS YEAR - FEMALE


In this music video, YENA is a superhero who brings happiness and joy to those around her, and BIBI plays the more antagonist role, and her vocals and rap bring the same feeling to the track as she does to the music video. The dichotomy between YENA’s lyrics and BIBI’s lyrics are one of the most interesting parts of this song. In the chorus, YENA sings “And I say hey / I’m gonna make it smile smile smile away / 예쁘게 웃고 넘겨버릴래 / Just Smile away / Just smile away” (translation: “And I say hey / I’m gonna make it smile smile smile away / I’ll make a beautiful smile and let it go / Just smile away / Just smile away”), and BIBI follows up with her rap; “비웃을 때 빼고 내 입꼬리는 chillin / 나빠야지 살아남지 넌 뭐해” (translation: Except when I sneer, the corners of my lips are chillin / You have to be bad to survive, what are you doing?”) The push and pull of the vocal style make the track feel complete, and I love that BIBI is starting to be featured more and more in K-pop releases. I would love to have a whole stylistic album released with YENA and BIBI collabing, maybe a series of music videos showcasing their super powered alter ego’s as the “SMILEY” music video does. As the lyrics suggest, this song constantly makes me smile and makes the dreary days seem brighter whenever I hear it play.


Speaking of timeless classics, this song will always be everything to me. This is a collaboration of all the powerhouse women in the Korean music industry. Soyeon genuinely does the genre justice through her musicality and experimentation through her group and solo work. Absolutely obsessed with all these three women and their attitudes against structures of the industry and societal standards of women. If I ever need a pick me up song, I know where to find it.


Picking and choosing between all of the incredible releases we got in 2023 was not easy, but these are our favorites! We cannot wait to see what 2024 has in store.

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