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Jake's Top Ten Favorite K-Pop songs of the Year

2023 brought new beginnings for the K-pop genre. New releases, an influx of groups debuting, and a vast array of sub-genres taking over the standard sound fans are familiar with. I adored the new tracks of this year, with a handful of them on repeat since they were released. Here are my top ten favorite K-pop songs of 2023. 

The Jersey Club-ification of K-pop this year was indeed such a blessing. Once the beat drops and member, Yunjin begins to chant, “I’m a mess, mess, mess, mess,” you know that you’re in for a ride. The subject matter of the track is also interesting. The members of Le Sserafim shout, “I wish for what’s forbidden,” referring to their yearning to know more about what is considered taboo, just like the characters of Eve, Psyche, and the Bluebeard’s wife, the song’s title. The biblical figure, Eve, bit the forbidden fruit, which caused her and Adam to be banished from the Garden of Eden. The Greek Goddess of soul, Psyche, opens a golden box of Persephone’s beauty from the underworld. As a result, a cloud of darkness puts her into a deep sleep. Finally, Bluebeard’s wife finds her husband’s previous six wives, whom Bluebeard killed. These three women’s curiosity led to their fates. The message of this track is multi-layered, making it even more exciting knowing that the Le Sserafim girls are alluding to familiar themes of popular stories throughout history. 

“Thirsty” is a B-side off of their first EP of the year, “My World.” The Pop and R&B track gives me a heavy Ariana Grande vibe. The production, vocal styles, themes of attraction, and flirty lyrics provide a familiarity to a song that the pop princess would possess in her discography. If you enjoy Ariana Grande’s music, you will enjoy this aespa cut that will have you “Sip-sip-sipping all night.”

Bring back artists who have their own theme songs! NewJeans, the group, has given fans audible nostalgia ever since their first EP in 2022. The quintet creates music that is an ode to the early 2000s, dabbling in multiple genres that took over that era. "NewJeans," the song, is an extension of that notion. "NewJeans'' is the opener to their second EP, "Get Up," a Jersey Club and UK garage-forward piece of work. With playful keys scattered throughout the production of the track, booming basslines, an addictive earworm of a chorus, and writing credits from member Haerin and R&B artist Erika de Casier, the NewJeans girls have developed a certified club banger that only runs for one minute and forty-eight seconds. Extra points for the Powerpuff Girls collab!

I firmly believe that this is the best title track in their entire

discography so far. aespa did their damn thing on this song. The three-year-old girl group debuted in late 2020 and has continued to project their futuristic and technological otherworldly concept ever since. “Drama” is one of the darker tracks in their catalog. The four-member group packs this three-and-a-half-minute track with rich vocals, tight harmonies, and boasty rapping. The hip-hop dance track provides an in-your-face instrumental that shifts gears in the bridge in ways that will have listeners levitating off of the ground. aespa sings about feeling empowered, being the baddest, and how they are the “Dra-ma-ma-ma-ma.” Yes, that hook gets you right away. Members Winter and Ningning particularly stood out to me because of their exceptional vocal performance. However, every member came through on “Drama.” As a result, they’ve delivered some of their best work to date. 

Now, this is how you debut! The female quartet Kiss of Life is like the Avengers of fifth-generation K-Pop, with members previously training and working for top K-pop companies. With an exceedingly flavored smoothie of experience in the industry amongst the four members, it is no surprise that they came out of the gates swinging on their debut single, “Shhh.” The track is R&B and Pop-influenced and is another Ariana Grande-coded track. This comparison could be due to member Belle’s wide range of high notes in the song, from belting to even hitting whistle notes in the final chorus. Ironically, she has been unofficially coined the “Ariana Grande of K-Pop” by many fans. With a sassy delivery from the girls, writing credits from members Belle, Julie, and Natty, and a surprising sample of “Drop it Like it’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg in the chorus, Kiss of Life is coming to shake the table and change the trajectory of K-Pop forever. 

While I love Kai as a member of EXO, his solo work packs an equal punch. For his third solo EP, “Rover,” Kai delivers reggaeton-infused pop with the title track of the same name. The song was bought over for Kai from Bulgarian artist DARA, who previously released her version of the song, titled “Mr. Rover.” The track’s mysterious lyrics and alluring production make the listening experience one hell of a trip. While Kai’s solo music never misses, it seems like it just keeps getting better with every release from this K-Pop icon. 

This was my song of the summer! “Super Shy” is an innocent love song about opening up to their crush despite their timid nature. Member Danielle helped write the single and can be credited for being a part of the team that developed the lyrical themes. NewJeans’ playful and light-hearted performance immediately puts fans in a good mood once the beat hits their ears. The cosmic UK-Garage production hits a home run. It’s impactful yet light and airy. The beat changes add energy to an already fast-paced journey through sound. I could imagine “Super Shy” being the go-to song at Zumba. Overall, you can’t help but get up and dance, performing the revered music video choreography that many are familiar with. 2023 truly was the summer of NewJeans. 

Kiss of Life strikes again with the smooth, soulful R&B b-side “Nobody Knows,” from their second EP, “Born to be XX.” The quartet sings about the secrets they’re hiding, claiming their freedom and their confidence to turn a blind eye to what is expected of them. The music video for the track centers around themes of sexual assault, bullying, self-advocacy, and exposing the wealthy. The vocals on this song are insane, specifically from member Belle. She goes crazy on the song's last chorus, hitting one ad-lib after another like her rent was due the next day. I still have trouble believing this group is only four months old. They perform like veterans and are the shiniest diamonds in the entertainment rough. 

Leave it to Red Velvet to ease your R&B cravings. The sexy and daring “Underwater” is from their third studio album, "Chill Kill.” (Their first full-length album since 2017) Red Velvet does an extraordinary job of executing R&B in a way that stays true to their signature sound, and “Underwater” is another example to add to that book. Members Irene, Seulgi, Wendy, Joy, and Yeri take turns giving a sultry vocal delivery on an ethereal Trap beat. I missed this version of Red Velvet, as they haven’t done a darker concept in a very long time. They knocked it out of the park, as they usually do. Almost ten years into their career, the  5 member group never disappoints and continues to add something fresh to the K-Pop genre. 

Natty is an it-girl. The Bangkok-born artist has trained and been in the public eye for ten years, almost debuted in two groups before Kiss of Life, and is an example of what it looks like to not give up on your dream. Natty smashes her pre-release single, “Sugarcoat,” a rich, 2000s-esque, Brittany Spears-type Pop and R&B phenomenon that sticks out in a sea of K-Pop releases. Every time Natty performs “Sugarcoat,” she oozes stage presence and serves vocals and perfectly executed choreography. She is an amazing addition to Kiss of Life, and I am so happy she is finally getting her flowers. Natty has impressed me so much that she takes my number one spot for my favorite K-Pop song of 2023.

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