The best K-pop songs of 2022 took us on a journey through girl group supremacy, glitch modes and hype boys, memories of the past, and visions for the future.
As we’ve written in the past, K-pop isn’t a monolithic genre — the same way American pop can encompass a variety of performers and sounds, so too can K-pop. Slow and whispery, intergalactic and frenzied, five songs crammed into one or a ballad so moving and plaintive it’ll make you cry.
In the third year of this Best K-Pop list, 79 journalists and critics chose songs that spoke to them and the world around them. Some outlined the most unique, bombastic side of what K-pop’s genre mash-up can sound like. Others celebrated the year’s surge of rookie 4th-gen girl groups that have dominated charts and playlists this year. Still others highlighted the indie innovators and b-sides that added depth and dynamite to Korean pop music in a way that will last for years to come. What a time to be alive.
Below, discover the best K-pop songs of 2022 in no particular order, root for your faves, and maybe pick up a new song or two to add to your rotation.
NewJeans, “Hype Boy”
Surprise drops are rare in K-pop, and even more so are surprise group debuts. NewJeans, the first girl group under HYBE subsidiary ADOR, pulled off the bit with a sound as cool as their mid-2000s style, appearing like a fresh Stuck in the Suburbs-esque mirage in a year when new girl groups were already taking over. As July faded into August, we got to know NewJeans through seven music videos in one week — four of which told the story of “Hype Boy” through alternating mini narratives, as the members played characters who each experienced first heartbreaks and romantic dalliances. It was a sweet trick, and the dynamic nature of NewJeans was cemented with the song itself — vibey and fun, nostalgic yet new, with sick little beats and production sounds. There’s a reason everyone can’t stop listening to, and covering, the track: “You’re my chemical hype boy” shifted something in our collective brain. —Fr. Claire Dodson, senior entertainment editor at Teen Vogue
Psy and Suga, “That That”
Come hither… it’s the return of the king. Psy, aka Park Jaesang, aka the artist responsible for K-pop’s first major American breakthrough in 2012, came back with a dopamine hit of a song earlier this year. Psy saunters through saloon doors with “That That,” a jubilant, trot-influenced bop and post-lockdown celebration, produced by and featuring BTS’s Suga. The accompanying music video is one of 2022’s most memorable, featuring a cradled “Gangnam Style” era Psy, stuntman Suga leaping into a rap battle with an eagle’s cry, and some truly unrelenting choreography. Psy never lost it, but “That That” proves why he remains an industry icon. —Katie Gohculture journalist