Nayeon: "Pop" (2022) | video screengrab
Nayeon in "Pop" (2022) | video screengrab

The Best K-Pop Albums of 2022 So Far

We’re halfway into the year, and there are already many twists and spins in K-pop. Here are the best K-pop albums of 2022 so far.

IVE — LOVE DIVE

There’s a specific type of melody and singing style making its way into chorus of songs by K-pop girl groups in 2022. It’s made of low-noted melodies sung in a spoken-like style, sometimes even whispered. The best of its branch is definitely IVE’s LOVE DIVE. The dramatic chord progression behind the members’ vocals creates an enigmatic effect. It’s surrounded by mysterious “oh oh oh” chants that appear in the pre-chorus and the post-chorus too. 

“LOVE DIVE” might be one of the best K-pop choruses in 2022.

Highlight from IVE’s LOVE DIVE: “Love Dive”.


WOODZ — Colorful Trauma

Anyone paying attention to singer, songwriter, and producer WOODZ wouldn’t doubt his versatility. But who would think rock’n’roll would fit him so well? That’s what he delivers in Colorful Trauma. 

The nuances of rock music get lighter as the EP develops. It starts with hard rock in “Dirt on my Leather”, a headbanging song that benefits from WOODZ’s extensive vocal range. Then it transitions to hip-hop with guitars in “HIJACK”. It goes punk-pop in “I Hate You”; and finishes in mellow pop-rock style with “Hope to be Like You”. 

Melancholic yet energetic, Colorful Trauma is a short but compelling project.

Highlights from WOODZ Colorful Trauma: “Dirt on my Leather”, and “I Hate You”.


OH MY GIRL — Real Love

Real Love is yet again a project that projects OH MY GIRLA as alt-K-pop queens. (Alt-K-pop is not a thing, but if it wERE, OH MY GIRL would dominate.)

The album brings the same sweetness as most OH MY GIRL pop releases in tracks like “Real Love”, and “Dear Rose”. This genre does not stand out as much but it won’t steal the shine of the album. The best is in the EDM of “Drip” and “Replay”, and the bedroom pop of “Kiss & Fix” and “Eden”. “Drip” and “Replay” resemble 2000s-’10s mainstream pop culture, while “Kiss & Fix” and “Eden” recall alternative pop, a mix of singer-songwriter style with hyper pop and PC music. OH MY GIRL are underrated in how they explore these genres and possibilities in K-pop.

Highlights from OH MY GIRL’s Real Love: “Drip”, “Replay”, “Parachute”, “Kiss & Fix”, and “Eden”.


TXT — minisode 2: Thursday’s Child

When it comes to 2021 in K-pop, TXT owned pop-punk. Even though more K-pop acts are now doing it too, there’s no reason TXT would give up on the genre that they make so well. If they did, we wouldn’t have gotten tracks like “Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go”, which inspires the title of minisode 2: Thursday’s Child. The track is as on-brand for TXT’s spirit as it can be.

The EP also features genres and styles that TXT shines on, such as the emo hip-hop of “Opening Sequence”. Its chorus is like a conversation with the 1980s classic “Careless Whispers” by George Michael. The two songs share the same chord progressions. While George Michael sings that he’ll never dance again, TXT sings, “dance with me, dance with me, dance with me”, inviting someone to “take one more chance on me” as they are “bleeding painfully, painfully, painfully”.

It’s impressive how TXT can own sadcore but also refreshing, youthful pop at the same time.

Highlights from TXT’s minisode 2: Thursday’s Child: “Opening Sequence”, “Lonely Boy (The Tattoo on my Ring Finger)”, and “Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go”.


BTS — PROOF

There’s a miscellanea of things in the musicianship and trajectory of BTS that sets them apart from other K-pop groups. Still, it feels weird to exclude BTS from K-pop “best of” lists. Their anthology PROOF was promoted in K-pop style, with performances on K-pop TV shows. But the stage of “For Youth” links BTS to doo-wop, soul boy groups such as Boyz II Men rather than fellow K-pop boy groups. It’s probably intentional, as the cadence and production of the song are tailored to the style of these music genres.

These choices may be a statement about the musical legacy BTS wants to leave, as PROOF marks the end of a chapter in their career. (After the album release, they announced upcoming individual releases from the members.) Channeling boyband royalty and icons of music is a way to express that they, too, have become just that.

But BTS also pays homage to their selves in PROOF by using featuring demos of hits like “DNA” and “I Need U” (which sound nothing like the final versions), and self-references in the original song “Run BTS”.  The album also marks the official release of “Born Singer”, a confessional song that, until then, was available only on Soundcloud, uploaded in 2013. 

Highlights from BTS’ PROOF: “Born Singer”,” Run BTS”, “For Youth”, and “Tony Montana” (feat. Jimin).


PSY — PSY 9th

Those who only know the surface of K-pop may not be surprised to see PSY in a best of K-pop list (because it’s probably all they know of K-pop besides BTS, or maybe Blackpink). But he earns a spot amongst 2022’s best for his ninth album. 

Just like in his worldwide smash hit “Gangnam Style” (2012), PSY offers hysterical, unapologetically fun dance-pop in the lead single “That That”. The track comes full circle in how it indirectly mentions PSY’s hit moment of ten years prior, while also featuring a member of BTS, who are indeed the biggest act in K-pop since PSY himself, and debuted just a year after Gangnam Style.

Just because PSY doesn’t take himself too seriously in “That That” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Not only because the album cements his status as a K-pop powerhouse but also because it features other nice moments beyond eccentricity.

Highlights from PSY’s PSY 9th: “That That” (production by and featuring SUGA of BTS), “You Move Me” (featuring Sung Si Kyung), “Sleepless” (featuring Heize), and “Now” (featuring Hwasa).


bugAboo — POP

It’s exciting when an underdog is the dark horse of the competition (excuse the animal-themed metaphor mix). Girlgroup bugAboo is a small act, yet they’ve released a strong contender for 2022’s catchiest K-pop hit. “POP” is K-pop in a nutshell, it’s as joyful as K-pop can be and features many of the elements K-pop girlgroup music is known for (in hooks, melodies, production).

With “POP”, bugAboo was close to grabbing the crown, if only a K-pop titan wouldn’t’ve come, and by irony of fate, her song would also be called “POP”.

Highlight from bugAboo’s POP: “POP


Nayeon — IM NAYEON

The songs in Nayeon’s first solo EP do a good job in supporting her star quality and charm. She sounds lovely in “No Problem” and “Love Countdown”. But it’s with “POP!” that she nailed what is the most captivating, smashing K-pop release of 2022 thus far. The track, its choreography, its music video — everything about “POP” screams K-pop hit.

The cute dance in the post-chorus is as tailored for TikTok viralness as it differentiates from TikTok trends in how it features only hand moves, almost in an old-school style of hand-clapping games.

Of course “POP!” is a track by a member of TWICE, a trendsetter group who has been releasing the catchiest bubblegum K-pop songs since 2015. But Nayeon is perfectly able to catch attention all by herself too. The biggest merit of “POP!” lies in her charisma. Nayeon is magnetic on camera, she carries the cutesy brand effortlessly. She’s already becoming an it-girl because of the outfits she wears in the music video and the Instagram Reels where she promotes “POP!”.

If you lurk in online K-pop spaces, it’s hard to escape “POP!”. If you enjoy K-pop purely for fun, you’ll love this song.

Highlights from Nayeon’s IM NAYEON: POP!: “No Problem” (featuring Felix), and “Love Countdown” (featuring Wonstein).

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