During the past few years, South Korea’s music industry has grown exponentially thanks to the help of global superstars BTS, who have emerged as one of the biggest boy bands of the 21st century. The fast-paced and exciting K-pop industry has reached far beyond the South Korean borders, becoming one of the biggest pop markets in the world. Today, we highlight the top K-pop releases during the summer of 2022.
BTS – “Yet to Come”
In a pre-taped special that was released as part of FESTA, an annual celebration tied to the anniversary of the BTS’ debut, the group announced that they will take a break from group activities to focus on their solo work. Three days later, the group released their first anthology album Proof, and its lead track “Yet to Come.” The track develops onto the same theme discussed in their previous era, known as, The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, in which the group discussed the beginning of young adulthood, a period marked by endless possibilities but also a crippling sense of anxiety over insecurities about oneself and uncertainties about the future.
To follow up on the same theme, “Yet to Come” is the nostalgia-ridden track that symbolizes a closure to their twenties, as most members enter their late-20s and early-30s. The track is simultaneously both nostalgic and optimistic, as member V croons in the intro, “Yeah, the past was honestly the best/But my best is what comes next/I’m not playin’, nah for sure.” The members reminisce about the best moment in their past but also realize that their greatest moments are still ahead. It’s these messages of hope laced in songs such as “Life Goes On,” “00:00 (Zero O’ Clock),” “Spring Day,” and now “Yet to Come,” along with BTS’ ability to be transparent through the music that makes them stand out from the rest of K-pop and helps them relate to a bigger audience.
NAYEON – POP!
In their nine years as a group, Twice have achieved immense success to the point where each member is recognized outside the group. However, even with this popularity, not one member of twice had released any solo work until this June when lead vocalist Nayeon released her first self-titled mini album with her lead track “POP!” The track brims with the elements one would presume a summer pop release to sound and feel. The buoyancy of the chorus, the anticipatory hook that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait for the moment the chorus strikes, and the upbeat tempo all together make the song a classic pop hit, so it’s about time K-pop strayed away from all unnecessary EDM chorus-filled tracks and embraced fun pop songs, like “POP!” once again.
SEVENTEEN – “_WORLD”
In spring, seventeen released their fourth studio album, Face the Sun, which became a massive commercial hit for the group, becoming their highest-charting and first top-ten album on the Billboard 200. A month and a half later, the group released the repackaged version of the album, titled Sector 17, along with its lead single, “World.” The song blends funk and R&B and is reminiscent of their old EDM and pop blended releases. While some might say that seventeen is playing it safe with the release of “World,” for fans and casual listeners of the group, this is just Seventeen in their element.
The song doesn’t rely too much on gimmicks, such as autotune and TikTok dance moves like their previous release “HOT,” instead it’s more vocal-driven, with main vocalists, Seungkwan and Joshua, leading the highlights of the song. The song is light and cute with its subtle funk vibes and silverly vocal delivery. Comparatively, the song is nothing groundbreaking in the same way “HOT” wasn’t, but it still has Seventeen’s same aura that once helped them become the worldwide famous group they are today.
NewJeans – “Attention”
As K-pop groups from the third generation disband, go on hiatus, and become less popular in general, there’s been a plethora of newer groups rising. Some of these groups have already made themselves known domestically and internationally, but most of these groups struggle to reach any domestic success and subsequently international too. NewJeans, a girl group who debuted this July with their single “Attention,” is the latest contender for a group that could reign the 4th generation both internationally and domestically, and their lead single is proof of that. “Attention” has every element that 4th generation K-pop groups lack. The song is well-produced and unique with mid-00s pop and R&B influences, contrary to the overproduced EDM tracks constantly released by their peers. The vocals are the highlight of the song instead of the choreography and the music video, which helps them stand out amongst other 4th gen groups that focus too much on the other elements.
Pleasing to listen to, the song utilizes minimalist production along and the group’s honeyed vocals. Their simple choreography also plays a strength, as it makes them more distinct. All these elements in NewJeans debut have been in numerous other songs for K-pop groups of the previous generations and were the reason for those groups’ success. So, it’s safe to say that if NewJeans keeps up with what they did on “Attention,” they too could become a leading force for the next generation of K-pop.
SEVENTEEN – “CHEER”
Before the release of the repackaged version of their fourth studio album, Sector 17, and its title track “_WORLD”, SEVENTEEN’s leader subunit, consisting of S.Coups, Woozi, and Hoshi, dropped their single “CHEERS” alongside a music video. The pre-release single follows the similar vibe found on their last title track “HOT,” with the autotune singing making a comeback along with the song’s hip-hop production, except this time, SEVENTEEN are blending hip-hop and Asian trap beats. The song reflects on how far the group has come since their humble beginnings as artists from a small company.
“CHEERS” is a perfect hype song and a compelling illustration of SEVENTEEN’s willingness to experiment sonically. However, their experimentation doesn’t stop only with the production of the song. Even the choreography has them trying out new things, such as the Bollywood-esque hip-shaking moves towards the end of the song. It’s certain now that SEVENTEEN is aware of the type of sound that will guarantee them a hit. However, even with this knowledge, they seem to have a fascination with experimenting, which builds up to the excitement about the type of sound the group will come up with next.
NewJeans – “Hurt”
The pre-release single, “Hurt,” by HYBE’s new girl group emphasizes just how good the group’s vocals are. Staying true to their throwback concept, “Hurt” is reminiscent of a 2000s contemporary R&B, with its mellow production and subdued lyrics. Once again, the song’s minimalistic production helps to highlight the group’s soft vocals. Along with that, the music video and styling add to the throwback concept. The track is quite one-dimensional in the sense that it lacks climaxes and any dynamic vocal changes but instead glides on a consistent groove. However, the song still shines through in showcasing melodic variation. The track, albeit simple, still has a lot to offer, and with most 4th generation K-pop girl groups shifting most of their focus on dancing and girl-crush concepts, it’s refreshing to see a new group trying something new for a change.
IVE – “After LIKE”
K-pop has been known for many things, such as its high-budgeted music videos, amazing visuals, and frequent sampling. Essentially all these elements help make K-pop so widely successful, and they just so happen to also be present in IVE’s first comeback, “After like.” The dance-pop track first starts with the teasing of the familiar instrumental sample of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and builds up to the chorus, where the riff of the sample is used in the background. However, the track isn’t fully retro, with the addition of an upbeat deep house instrumental that adorns the rest of the track. Though there is more novelty to IVE’s “After like” than just its iconic sampling, and it lies within its exquisite music video and alluring choreography shots. It’s probably one of the best K-pop music videos released this year and the best on this list.
The only flaw in IVE’s first comeback is how the song overshadows its banal choreography. But even that shortcoming isn’t as bad in comparison to all the horrendous choreography-driven releases by their peers.
Talk that Talk – Twice
Ever since Twice started their transition towards mature concepts, they’ve been met with mixed responses, especially from Korean fans. Some of these comebacks haven’t been the worse, but they still lack that Twice charm that most fans know. “Talk that Talk” is the most fitting mature concept with the familiar Twice-esque vibe most fans know. The upbeat synth-pop track carries a compelling bridge and chorus that pairs with a stunning music video in which the girls look beautiful in sleek outfits. The music video stays true to the retro concept of the song, with a retro sci-fi movie aesthetic. However, the most surprising aspect of the song is the vocals, with the three vocalists, Jihyo, Jeongyeon, and Nayeon, carrying the most impressive parts in the song. Undoubtedly, the track delivers some of Twice’s best vocal work, which is hard to find in a title track from the seven-year-old girl group. Overall, the track is energetic and addictive, just like their previous title tracks, but also delivers a new side of Twice that fans have never seen.
THE BOYZ – “Timeless”
After their 2021 release of “MAVERICK,” it seemed like THE BOYZ were shifting from their usual bright and vocally driven production to fit the trends of rap-driven and EDM-filled tracks. However, this might not entirely be the case, as shown through their summer release of “Timeless.” The mid-tempo track essentially serves as a message to their fans that their love for them will forever remain timeless. It’s a sweet-sounding track with a cute message for their fans and is one of the group’s best songs lyrically. Hopefully, with this release, THE BOYZ have permanently moved on from whatever they were trying to achieve in “MAVERICK” and are geared towards creating more sonically and lyrically pleasant music, like “Timeless.”