K-pop had a moment in 2023 with long-awaited solo debuts and big groups dropping multiple new albums. BTS members made some of the grooviest music as they kept dropping new solo singles left and right, maintaining their hit streak. And let’s not forget the girl groups responsible for the recent K-pop surge on social media. Every reel we scrolled on Instagram was blasting with Fifty Fifty’s Cupid or Jung Kook’s Seven.
What makes K-pop numbers so popular is that you never really know what you’re going to expect; it might be a nightclub banger, a viral city bop, or an early 2000s-inspired tune taking you back in time. If we look at the numbers, this year’s sales titan is Seventeen’s biggest summer banger, Super as well as formidable chart-toppers like NewJeans’ Super Shy and Jisoo’s Flower. Apart from our playlist, the stadiums were packed with concerts by SUGA of BTS, TWICE, BLACKPINK, and other K-pop tours globally.
As we look forward to more catchy numbers in 2024, let’s look back and celebrate the best 2023 K-pop tunes:
1. Standing Next To You: Jung Kook of BTS
The youngest member of BTS, took his sweet time to formally launch a solo career. Jung Kook released several collab songs, including Seven ft. rapper Latto, and 3D ft. Jack Harlow. Despite these songs being successful on their own, it appears that Jung Kook was saving the best for last. The title track Standing Next to You from his debut solo album, Golden, which he released in November, is a stunning mixture of conviction and poise.
2. Super Shy: New Jeans
The breakout K-pop girl group from HYBE’s sublabel ADOR, NewJeans delivered 2023’s instant summer smash. While the group made waves in the K-pop scene with their 2022 debut EP, New Jeans, this year they showed that they are stars to watch on a global scale – they were nominated for multiple awards, performed at Lollapalooza in August, and released their sophomore EP, Get Up. The lively song Super Shy is the first single from the album. Amidst flirty lilts supported by Jersey Club and UK garage beats, it’s a sure shot of pure K-pop serotonin.
3. Like Crazy: Jimin of BTS
It wasn’t until this year that BTS’s Jimin presented a legitimate solo debut album, despite having demonstrated his abilities as a soloist for some time (as seen by Lie, his 2016 single released under the group). With his album Face, which dropped in March, Jimin was at his most creative; he co-wrote five of the six tracks and contributed to the concept of both the album and the music video for the lead single, Like Crazy. The song is a dark synth-pop trip through despair, inspired by the same-titled 2011 film. Having struck a chord with listeners all around the world, it’s no surprise that Jimin became the first South Korean artist to reach the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with this hit.
4. Love Me Again: V of BTS
While most of this list consists of high-pitched K-pop tunes, this particular song will transport you to a rainy day. BTS’ V dropped this compelling song composition from his debut solo album, Layover. While it’s indeed lovely to hear V sing without many instrumental flourishes getting in the way, Love Me Again is an easygoing track. It’s something you’ll enjoy listening to at a coffee shop – hushed, languid, and pleasant.
5. Super: Seventeen
One of the most adored groups in K-pop, Seventeen, hasn’t stopped making waves since its debut in 2015. The ninth EP from the 13-member band that was released in April 2023 is proof that they are still breaking records and gaining fans. The EP recently won Album of the Year at the 2023 MAMA Awards and sold 6.2 million copies, the biggest sales figures ever for K-pop, according to their agency, Pledis Entertainment. The group’s album FML included two lead singles, Fck My Life and Super, but the grandeur of the latter was the most notable. Drawing inspiration from the legendary Monkey King Sun Wukong from the beloved Chinese tale Journey to the West, this energetic song combines bass drums with Jersey club sounds to create an extravagant celebration.
6. Queencard: (G)I-dle
“The core message of ‘Queencard’ is that you can be a beautiful person if you adore yourself,” stated Soyeon, the lead singer and producer of (G)I-dle at a press conference during the release of their sixth EP in May. (G)I-dle uses its megawatt charisma to craft a rock and roll-infused, irreverent pop song. The lyrics are a mix of slight comedy and girl power. It’s a quick fix for days when you don’t feel your best or simply need a confidence boost.
7. Haegeum: Agust D (SUGA of BTS)
Every Agust D song is a statement in itself because Agust D is a medium for SUGA aka Yoongi of BTS to describe things. Haegeum (his first full-fledged album, D-Day) makes it clearer than ever. The word haegeum has different meanings in Korean. It describes a traditional Korean instrument (which can be heard in the track), but it can also mean the lifting of a ban or prohibition according to Doolset’s translation. Here, Haegeum is the instrument for his liberation; the song itself is both the sound and its intent, the medium and the message.
8. So!YoON! (황소윤) ‘Smoke Sprite’ (feat. RM of BTS)
Smoke Sprite ft. RM is from Episode 1: Love (2023), Soyoon’s second studio album after her critically successful self-titled debut, So!Yoon! (2019). In Smoke Sprite, desire is expressed through visual and lyrical eroticism; both artists are telling their tales of sexual longing unburdened by the dictates of conventional morality and romantic ideology. Unlike the typical love song, Soyoon and Namjoon do not address each other with their lyrics but rather address an imaginary other who exists outside of the song’s space. This is demonstrated in the music video with Soyoon and Namjoon in the same frame, standing back to back and looking away from each other.
9. Tinnitus: TXT
HYBE’s quintet shines and can be more adventurous on their less-played B-sides, which are just as good as their title tracks. Take Tinnitus (돌멩이가 되고 싶어) for instance. The catchy track explores the Afrobeats genre, a path not many Korean musicians have ventured down in the past. The K-pop song is quite captivating, so the way the group seems to make this song work in the genre is a cherry on top.
10. Flower: Jisoo
Jisoo released her solo album, Me in March, which included the lead hit Flower and the b-side All Eyes on Me. With Me surpassing 1.31 million pre-orders at the time of release, Jisoo became the first K-pop female solo artist to sell 1 million copies. With pop synths circling trap beats and plenty of empty space, Flower is a slow and delicate song. Jisoo’s husky vocals mourn the end of a love, while traditional Korean musical components accentuate its royal aura. Here, Jisoo demonstrates her soloist abilities and ushers in a new chapter for BLACKPINK.