The Highlights of K-pop 2023

4 mins read

Never is there an uneventful year in the world of K-pop. 2023 was filled to the brim with new music from old favorites and new faces climbing the charts. Amidst the sea of new releases, these stood out.

Best Albums and EPs

Aespa’s My World kicked off the summer with its release in May and was arguably the best release of the year. The unskippable mini album is noticeably fresh compared to previous releases, featuring the title track, “Spicy,” a fun and in-your-face song perfect for summer. The EP displays a range in both sound and songwriting, which is a pretty rare occurrence for recent K-pop releases. The B-side tracks are each unique in sound and direction. Highlights include the soulful ballad “Thirsty” and melancholic “I’m Unhappy,” each with a splash of Aespa’s classic electronic sound. While deviating from the group’s well-established cyberpunk AI concept in releases like Girls and Savage, this EP worked graciously to diversify their discography and offer listeners a new, “cool girl” side of Aespa not seen before.

Twice’s three-member Japanese subgroup Misamo shattered worlds with their appropriately titled album Masterpiece, which rivals Aepsa’s My World for best release of 2023. The lead single“Do not touch” is classy and glamorous with an elegant flare, a theme that drives the album. The album’s B-sides are of similar top-notch production as the title track itself. “Behind The Curtain” pushes the classiness to the max with a jazzy, old Hollywood-inspired melody. “Funny Valentine” is embellished with orchestral strings alongside a sultry sound with a slightly dark edge. The album served as one of the highest-quality releases of the year. The music has substance, a distinctive character, and doesn’t follow trends for the sake of popularity—something that is hard to find. 

The coolest girl group on the block has done it again. Get Up by NewJeans was released with lead singles “Super Shy” and “ETA,” both of which dominated TikTok and Instagram Reels pages for months. “Super Shy” samples the childhood classic Powerpuff Girls’ theme song, making for a soft and fun track beloved by what seems like everyone on social media. To contrast, “ETA” is punchier than NewJeans’ typical easygoing and soft sound, leaning more into a dance club feel. Title track “Get Up” runs for a mere 30 seconds, but transports you to the heavens within that half minute. While it is a shame that the song wasn’t a full-length track, the snippet still offered an angelic tune that captures the longing that comes with young love. Get Up, being only their second EP, solidified their distinguishing Y2K sound while still offering variety from their more retro themed debut EP. NewJeans’ powerfully distinctive sound is the rookie group’s biggest weapon.

Seventeen released their self-produced tenth mini album, FML, filled with emotionally charged tracks. The pensive and nostalgic title track “F*uck My Life” is as much of a banger as it is perfect to bawl your eyes out to. The second lead single, “Super” overtook the charts with its upbeat, jersey club-like sound unorthodox for K-pop. The track samples from Indian-American producer Kshmr’s Sounds of Kshmr Vol. 4, a sample that is heavily influenced by the sounds of the producer’s home country. The earnest “I Don’t Understand But I Luv U” is a standout B-side that absolutely tears at the heartstrings. The lyrics are authentic and the instrumentals feel engulfing and comforting. FML was a significantly more mature project with its exploration of deeper interpersonal topics and stands tall as one of their most sophisticated releases to date. 

Best Debuts

Kiss of Life shook the stage in July with their self-titled debut EP featuring the title track “Shhh,” as well as solo tracks from each of the four members. “Shhh” and the group share a confident, playful, and sexy vibe, all of which are concepts that haven’t taken the foreground in girl groups in years. Despite being from a small company and only being on the scene for half a year, Kiss of Life has skyrocketed in popularity. They boast 2.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone and their newly released second EP has seen much success. The group’s more mature air to their music has gained them a cult following, and a bright future ahead of them. 

Composed of the winners of the K-pop competition show Boy’s Planet, Zerobaseone (ZB1) charmed the world with their retro-themed debut EP, Youth in the Shade released in July. “In Bloom,” the title track, is upbeat and lively and samples from A-ha’s “Take On Me,” giving it a vintage, feel-good sound. A jungle beat of heavy drums enhances the nostalgic feel. As a group formed by the votes of the public, ZB1 debuted with good graces and popularity already on their side. With a second EP recently released, they continue to win over the hearts of many with their charismatic performances.

Best Singles

Jun of Seventeen dropped “Psycho,” a horror-inspired Chinese solo. While horror concepts have been done in K-pop before, none to the degree that “Psycho,” goes to. The song’s melody is anxiety-inducing and sounds like it came straight out of a slasher movie soundtrack. Unsettling embellishments like laughter, bone-chilling piano accents, and unintelligible whispering take things to the next level. It makes for a memorable, one-of-a-kind release.

Who knew video game promotions could sound so good? Le Sserafim released “Perfect Night” in collaboration with the popular video game Overwatch 2. Mellow, light, and catchy—it’s exactly the song that you would want to listen to during a nighttime drive with friends. Feel free to sing along since all the lyrics are in English!

In addition to “Perfect Night,” the group’s Japanese release “Jewelry” is cheerful, peppy, and youthful with faithful J-pop-inspired production, something that happens surprisingly little for Japanese releases. Never is there a moment where the song slows down, and it’s sure to bring up your spirits. 

Artms’ Haseul blessed listeners with the solo track, “Plastic Candy,” a mellow and lovesick city-pop-inspired tune. With its slow beat, heavy brasses, and instrumental solos, it has a late-night jazz bar type of feel. It’s raw yet sophisticated and reflects outstanding artistry. In a messy situationship? This song’s got your back. 

The international music scene is far too vast and intriguing for language barriers to serve as an obstacle to your listening enjoyment. 

Leehan is a senior and this is her first year in journalism. She finds interest in fashion, the arts, and M-A’s diverse student life.

Latest from Blog