This year, K-pop music releases have gotten more experimental, with many artists not afraid to try new sounds or beats. We noted that female artists and groups were delivering especially strong performances, and were not afraid to experiment with new sounds and genres. Among male artists, the results were pretty mixed, although a handful did stand out above the rest.
Ultimately, we had to base it not just upon our own personal tastes, but also according to the number of album sales that each record sold. So, here are our picks, in no particular order.
OMG by NEWJEANS
After their smashing debut last year, NEWJEANS continue to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with. Their first single of 2023, the shy love song OMG, showcases each member’s sultry vocals over a bouncy R&B-pop track. The song’s slick production, layered with light 90s R&B beats, perfectly captures the K-pop group’s current musical direction. Meanwhile, the lyrics indicate a new maturity and a deeper understanding of emotions, perfectly representing how these teenagers are slowly becoming young women.
I Am by IVE
IVE were one of the most interesting K-pop girl groups to debut in 2021, and with I Am, the lead track off their first studio album, they officially announce their ‘arrival’ to the music scene. The song is a loud, synth-heavy anthem that still lets the members voices blend together in perfect harmony over the beat. It’s the perfect balance of energy and delicacy. The lyrics include the promise that “a big, big stage will open for me tomorrow”, and with such a strong performance, we have no doubt that will come true for them.
Unforgiven by LE SSERAFIM
“We’re here to stay”. That’s the message LE SSERAFIM is sending with the release of Unforgiven, a K-pop track that fuses hip-hop and guitar riffs that packs punch. The girls have a lot to prove after the success of their debut single and boy, do they do just that.
While the lyrics contain the lines “Unforgiven, I’m a villain”, it’s clear the girls are taking charge of their own story and fans are loving them for it.
특(S-Class) by STRAY KIDS
Like the song’s title suggests, STRAY KIDS are an S-Class boy group, and don’t you forget it. From the opening beat, this K-pop track blows you away with the group’s sheer energy and lyrical talents. The song is full of contrasts: the bridge is deceptively musical in its tone, before hitting listeners in the face with a rap-heavy chorus. But the best part has to be how the boys include different rap genres in each segment, proving just how skilled they are at navigating different styles of hip-hop. This is STRAY KIDS at their strongest, and it definitely leaves us wanting more.
Like Crazy by Jimin
K-pop fans have always loved Jimin’s unique vocals, and on Like Crazy, they are on full display, backed by a dreamy synthwave tune that perfectly fits hit style and image. While more of a slow-club dance track, the deceptively light melody packs a punch in all the right places, and the trance-like rhythm had us hooked from the start. This is Jimin showing a new side of himself, not afraid to embrace new genres and get you to groove, and proving himself a more than capable solo artist.
D-DAY by Agust D
One of our most awaited albums of the year, D-DAY was BTS member Suga’s first release under his solo identity. As Agust D, he finally lets himself loose and unleashes a torrent of emotions to stamp his mark across the album’s 10 tracks. We enjoyed his powerhouse lead single Haegeum, in which he makes a case for seeking his own personal freedom, as well as the more melody-heavy Amygdala, in which he lays his emotions bare. His BTS buddy J-Hope also drops in for some fun on the track HUH?!. Overall, this is a standout album and one which we will listen to over and over again.
5-Star by STRAY KIDS
With pre-order sales exceeding 5 million copies, it is safe to say that expectations are high. And K-pop group STRAY KIDS did not disappoint in delivering. The 12 tracks of 5-star have something for everyone. Aside from the lead track 특(S-Class), we found ourselves giving repeated listens to the singles Hall of Fame and Topliner. While still staying true to the group’s hip-hop and pop roots, the album’s tracks have a more experimental feel about them, making each track sound fresh and exciting. And as the title indicates, this album certainly feels like it is worth 5 stars.
MY World by AESPA
The group’s third mini-album signals a new era in AESPA’s evolution, as they symbolically depart from their cyberpunk concept and gradually move into the real world. While still keeping AESPA’s signature musical elements throughout its 6 tracks, the girls are able to showcase their vocal versatility with the album’s strong, dark pop melodies. Spicy, the lead track has hit an impressive 97 million views on YouTube to date but our personal favourite has to be Salty & Sweet, for its more sassy vibes.
Me by Jisoo
Following in the footsteps of her BLACKPINK groupmates, Jisoo has finally dropped her debut solo mini-album, which contains just two songs, Flower and All Eyes on Me. Here, Jisoo is able to show fans a new side of herself, and indulge in her own personal musical style. Flower is a unique, Carribean-influenced dance track with emotional lyrics about leaving a toxic relationship, while All Eyes on Me is a synth-heavy dance track. Each track allows Jisoo’s voice to take centerstage, showing her versatility as a K-pop singer and giving us a taste of things to come from her as a solo performer.
Expérgo by NMIXX
NMIXX is back and K-pop fans are delighted to see the girls letting their hair down and having fun. All six tracks on this mini-album cover a range of genres. On one end is Love Me Like This, a bouncy, hip-hop-flavoured tune in which the girls issue a sassy challenge to a hesitant lover, while at the other is My Gosh, a light and easy ballad where they really let their vocals shine during the chorus. The overall effect results in a fun, summer vibe that you will enjoy blasting in your car.
These are our picks of the best releases for the first half of 2023. Which ones were your favorites?