There are two types of K-pop fans: those who are in it just for the fun and couldn’t care less if the songs have deep meaning or organic musicality, and those who passionately defend that there is depth in K-pop music. Both are right in their way of enjoying it, because K-pop has it all. The year 2022 has been serving music for these two types of fans in brilliant fashion. There’s bubblegum pop and memeable dance-pop, but there’s also beautifully arranged pop and theatrical rock. There’s odd, noisy pop and smooth, soulful R&B.
Additionally, many of the big sounds in 2022 K-pop seem to follow trends that started in 2021. For example, 2022 is having lots of emo rock and punk-pop. Some music listed here shows its influence from TXT‘s The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE and aespa‘s Savage. So too 2022 girl groups like NMIXX, Purple Kiss, and OH MY GIRL explore fragmented song structures in rhapsodic styles.
There are still six months ahead of us this year, and a lot can happen: new sounds, new trends, and new acts debuting. Whatever comes, if nothing tops the releases of the first six months of 2022, at least we already have a captivating roster of K-pop releases thus far. In random order, here are the best K-pop releases of the first half of 2022 (singles, EPs, and albums considered).
WJSN Chocome — Super Yuppers!
WJSN Chocome, a sub-unit of girl group WJSN, is consistent in their brand. Their quirky, retro electropop is from the same branch of groups as Orange Caramel, Crayon Pop, and CocoSori. Super Yuppers is only their second single, but its two songs are fun enough to cement WJSN Chocome in this category.
The superhero aesthetic and storyline in the “Super Yuppers” music video recalls anime like Sailor Moon, and cements WJSN Chocome’s resemblance to Japanese pop music and kawaii culture.
Highlights from WJSN Chocome’s Super Yuppers!: “Super Yuppers” and “Sweetie”.
Max Chagmin — Devil
There’s some serious artistry in the second solo mini album by Max Changmin, the lead vocalist of K-pop legendary group TVXQ. Devil features all sorts of funky, jazzy, smooth sounds. Its triumph, however, lies in the opera-rock of the opening tracks, “Devil” and “Maniac”. Those songs are worthy of musical theatre performances.
Highlights from Max Chagmin’s Devil: “Devil”, “Maniac”, “Alien”.
Suho — Grey Suit
Suho’s Grey Suit opens in a revigorating way with the atmospheric alt-rock of “Morning Star” but it’s hard not to feel melancholic as the EP progresses. The vocal performances by the EXO member are delicate and emotional.
The length with which he holds a note in the chorus of “Bear Hug” is almost a metaphor for longing. It’s like he’s using his voice to extend himself towards the person he misses, hugging them with his voice.
Highlights from Suho’s Grey Suit: “Morning Star”, “Grey Suit”, “Decanting”, and “Bear Hug”.
SEVENTEEN — Face the Sun
Boygroup SEVENTEEN just gets bigger and better every year (in 2021, they appeared on the IFPI Global Chart for the first time, ranking #9).
The lead single of their fourth album, “Darl+ing”, recalls the adorableness of their old b-sides like “20” (2015), but with little more maturity. Fans of their hard-hitting side will enjoy dance and hip-hop tracks like “HOT”, “DON QUIXOTE”, and “Ash”.
Highlights from SEVENTEEN’s Face the Sun: “Darl+ing”, “Domino”.
STAYC — YOUNG-LUV.COM
It almost feels like there’s a K-pop element missing in STAYC’s second mini album, YOUNG-LUV.COM. In terms of melody and structure, these songs seem composed to be sung in English and later adapted for a K-pop group.
Still, all the songs are pure pop perfection. The EP only adds to STAYC’s cherished status among K-pop’s girl groups, while also expanding possibilities for non-K-pop fans to enjoy their music too.
Highlights from STAYC’s YOUNG-LUV.COM: “RUN2U”, “SAME SAME”, and “YOUNG LUV”.
Red Velvet — The ReVe Festival 2022 — Feel My Rhythm
Red Velvet delivered a dreamy album that does justice to the elegance they’re known for. Their musical references are just as classic: they sample Bach in “Feel My Rhythm”, and use a waltz structure in “In My Dreams”. The ReVe Festival 2022 — Feel My Rhythm has ballet vibes and the cute hip-hop that Red Velvet does like nobody else (“Beg for me”). As always, the members’ vocal harmonies excel.
Highlights from Red Velvet’s The ReVe Festival 2022 — Feel My Rhythm: “Bamboleo”, and “In My Dreams”.
DREAMCATCHER — [Apocalypse: Save Us]
In recent last years, DREAMCATCHER has shown they know how to variate while continuing to own the style they’ve bet on when nobody else did: goth metal pop-rock. [Apocalypse: Save us] has that and more. Besides incursions on synthpop and EDM, the album features solo moments of the group’s members, where their colors shine. “Beauty Full”, for example, shows the punk side of member DAMI. It’s refreshing but not entirely new to DREAMCATCHER, whose music often incorporates heavy guitars.
Highlights from DREAMCATCHER’s [Apocalypse: Save Us]: “Locked Inside a Door”, “MAISON”, “Starlight”, and “Beauty Full”.
NCT DREAM — Glitch Mode
Whether you love or hate the sound, the industrial dance-pop of boy group NCT has led them to stand out in K-pop music. However, such a brand of sound gets a more organic spin when it comes to NCT’s sub-unit, NCT DREAM. That’s the case with Glitch Mode. There is some interesting experimentation in tracks like “Saturday Drip”.
NCT’s characteristic bass-boosted instrumentals, with stomping raps and deconstructed beats, are present. But so are the melodic, R&B-influenced pop jams. That’s what makes NCT DREAM a brand that is valuable apart from NCT.
Highlights from NCT DREAM’s Glitch Mode: “Arcade”, “Teddy Bear”, “Saturday Drip”, and “Drive”.