Notes on K-pop song faves 2022

Notes on K-pop, aka Tamar Herman's, favorite 50 songs of the year

A recent edition of the electronic newsletter First Floor presented a case for not doing “best of” end of year lists but rather favorite lists. Being perpetually late at my solo listmaking, I kept that in mind while revisiting all of this year’s K-pop and K-pop adjacent releases. It was already on my mind, and Reynaldo helped solidify my plans to present this list as nothing more than my personal favorites in 2022.

Then I had a conversation with a friend about what exactly people think “best of” lists are really about. When I shared some insight based on many EOY (end of year) listicles I’ve participated in, she expressed some surprise: aren’t all “best” music lists made distinctly with favorite, artistically valuable pieces in mind?

Favorite is relative, which is why as you’re reading further I hope you don’t shade me too much for not living in your brain and having the same taste as you but living in my own, with my own ears.

But beyond personal taste and values for what makes a good song, factors like general popularity of a release, an outlet’s brand, or an outlet’s business partners, or a writer’s relationship with some artists, or a writer’s personal preference to go after social buzz, etc. a lot of factors come into account.

These lists aren’t bad because of that, but I was pretty surprised by our conversation and felt like it’s worth a discussion about what you as readers think a best-of list should be, so please share your thoughts in the comments or on the chat.

Back to my list… This is an unnumbered, unranked, and pretty damn unorganized list beyond some loose quasi alphabetizing based on Apple Music of my favorite songs from over the year. I hope I don’t forget anything, but I have a memory span the size of a speck of dust, so I spent the last month listening to all the Korean songs I put into my Apple Music since the end of December 2021 to remember some of the songs I enjoyed way back when in the earlier days of 2022.

It’s been a year of change for me, with several moves plus big career and personal evolutions, so this playlist of mine definitely reflects that, with a lot of intense highs countered by not dramatic lows but soothing, personal tracks, with female soloists especially making an impact on me with their albums.

Please note (before you yell at me about my terrible taste!) that these aren’t necessarily the only songs I feel are artistically the best of K-pop in 2022 (though that’s mostly the case!) but the ones I personally felt a connection with. If I were writing this for an outlet that wasn’t solely ME! this would be a different list written very differently (this is a lot more personal rather than critical of the art), and I’d probably spend more time actually describing the songs, but it’s the last week of December and everyone I know is OOO so I’m just going to enjoy this process and have fun writing.

Writing this is really a labor of love for me more than it is a list I hope people take umbrage in, but I hope that you enjoy and maybe find a song or two to add to your playlists.

If your favorite is missing (although they may appear on my album list!), let me know in the comments! I love to hear about people’s tastes, and to be honest several of my longterm reliable faves didn’t have songs that resonated with me this year so I totally understand diverging tastes.

Le Sserafim - Antifragile

Le Sserafim had a bit of a rocky start resulting in the near-immediate removal of a member from the group right after their debut. But you’d never know looking at the end of 2022, with how amazing of a debut year they’ve had. Impossible to get out of your head once you’ve gone down the anti-ti-ti well, Antifragile is the topper on this Le Sserafim-iced cake that presents bold reggaeton with aplomb.

Kara - When I Move

For someone like yours truly who got into K-pop during the peak of the second generation of K-pop acts, this year was wonderful. Their reunion line-up arriving in the eleventh hour with this absolutely superb, very-Kara dance track.

STAYC - Poppy

While I did enjoy their Korean EP this year, to be honest after their great 2021 I felt like STAYC had maybe lost a bit of their musical footing in 2022. Then Poppy arrived, and so did my joy at hearing this chirpy future house tune that soon became my addiction after it arrived in November.

NMIXX - Dice

I think this song is pop art of the highest form and I will not take questions at this time, but accept and refute your shade. Check out my Teen Vogue blurb for more details.

What I will say is that I’m a bit concerned about this group as the first JYP Entertainment girl group not to get an instant chart hitmaker from their very first moment of debut, not personally but because I don’t know how the company itself will react and how that will impact NMIXX’s future. They’ve definitely resonated with a dedicated audience who appreciates their music, so I hope next year they get to soar, with fans and the members alike enjoying the experience.

BoA - Forgive Me

I can’t decide if a lot of the songs I’ve included on this list are late-year additions because I have a poor recollection of the first half of 2022 (I had covid and moved across the world) or because people were really aiming to save the best for last. Regardless, BoA’s Forgive Me is the sort of strong, attitude-fuelled song that’s par for the course for this K-pop queen of late. She’s never asked for forgiveness when it came to her career, and she’s not going to start now. Having a bit of a rock edge countered with squeaking electro elements and quiet space feels somehow both new and eternal, which is bit like every BoA album in recency. While her past releases are just such a wall that everything she does is compared to them, she’s still going and finding ways to revitalize her musicality and create must-listens into the third decade of her career.

Girls’ Generation - Villain

I’ve written earlier this year about my relationship with the Girls’ Generation 15th anniversary album Forever 1, but honestly I really related to Villain lyrically, for the way it felt to me a metaphoric response for being a woman succeeding, especially in public spaces, while simultaneously being shame for ambition. (I could be looking too much into it, and it definitely has been interpreted by some solely as an addition to the SMCU Kwangya musicverse, but this is my take.)

The fact that it’s the first song composed by a member of the group, with lyrics written by another, feels really important, an actual show of achieving a goal after the ups and downs of life.

Yuju -  Play

I’ve always enjoyed Yuju’s voice within GFriend, and her first solo album, Rec., really put a spotlighted her skill and blended it with intense drama. Play and The Killa both equally impressed, but the creeping, atmospheric flow through Play ultimately won me over.

NewJeans - Attention

Full disclosure, I think NewJeans’ debut album was one of the best of the year so I’ll be reviewing it in my album list soon. That said, out of the songs on it, Attention caught my attention (I had to) the most, with its refreshing, yet laidback, approach. Claps, twinkling bells, and production that recalls the years of my youth (aka mid 2000s) blended with the members charming, playful delivery really won me over.

Youha - Last Dance

I was pulling the music video for Last Dance before writing the blurb and glad I did because YouTube user nguyenhatien1787 described the music video, and thus the song, best in what is now the music video’s top comment: “It's DARK. It's DESPERATE. It's SEXY. It's SEDUCTIVE. Wow! Youha just revived the sexy concept from the ash for 3 and a half minutes straight.” I can’t help but feel more or less similarly, with Last Dance being the sort of moody, haunting dance track of the best sorts.

Yena - Smiley feat. Bibi

One day I’m going to write about how K-pop in 2022 was actually defined by the formerly IZ*ONE members… Choi Yena is one of those, and her Smiley with Bibi does indeed bring a smile to my face everytime I hear its vibrant pop-rock upbeat melody.  There’s a sense of jubilance about it that I think really was needed in 2022, still on the heels of a world-changing pandemic and an upcoming economic crisis. Countering Yena’s bubbly singing hero of the verses with Bibi’s moody, villainous rap is some of the best use of role-playing in a K-pop song this year, in my opinion.

Xiumin - Feedback

Over 10 songs in (or my lack of organizing skills), it says a lot about K-pop in 2022, or at least my taste in it, that this is the first appearance of a male artist. I just think the women ruled K-pop in 2022. While there were releases I enjoyed by men, few provided my personal soundtrack to the year. Xiumin’s Feedback however, is one of them that did, as it’s a pure joy. His album was a bit of a surprise due to his versatility as an artist in a way I feel like the solo albums from other EXO members this year, but the groovy nostalgia of it all suits him and his vocal prowess so well. A little funky, Feedback is bringing that newtro energy to the forefront with crunchy beats and squelching synths, then vacillates between truncated exclamations and sweeter verses. It feels like an entire night at karaoke is slipped into this song in the way it has its highs and lows, a truly experiential song.

WJSN - Done

Dance music is still an integral part to every K-pop song, but there are few standout K-pop songs this year that really came wrapped and packaged for the dance floor. Done outshines them all. It’s very typical of WJSN in that it has their aural synths embedded into the melody, but paired with pulsating bass and addicting deep house beats it levels up their versatility to a brand new universe.

Winner - I Love You

I’m honestly still a bit baffled how I Love You didn’t become one of the major songs of summer in South Korea. It has the pep that summertime tunes demand, and plays up funky pop-rock in a way that was very on-trend for 2022. Kang Seungyoon is the star with his high-pitched “I love yooo-ooooo-ooo-ou”s of the chorus, which perhaps can at first seem grating to some listeners ears but is truly a phenomenal show of Kang’s range. I was lucky enough to see this song performed live this year and it was one of the most fun moments of the year, with the entire crowd bouncing along to every beat and failing to sing along with the titular exclamations.

TWICE - Queen of Hearts

Every girl group needs a perky punk-pop anthem at least once in their career, and this is TWICE’s. The all-English song blends the two elements that I think typically divide TWICE’s singles, both the romantic cuteness and more matured ambition, feeling like it came straight out of a coming-of-age movie from the early aughts with its head-bobbing guitar riffs and harmonizing whimsy. A fun fit for The Princess Diaries soundtrack, no?

RM - Forg_tful (with Kim Sawol)

Being a very forgetful person (see above), it’s little surprise this is the song off of RM’s Indigo that resonated with me. It’s also the perfect song to listen to while walking alone at night during a light rain, which is a very important genre in my life. RM and Kim’s voices blend mellifluously over the acoustic, folksy guitar melody, calmly ruminating on why forgetfulness occurs and how it can in fact anesthetize you from life. A heavy subject, a sweet whistle and steady beat resonates throughout, as if an act of comfort following the thoughts.

tripleS Acid Angel From Asia - Generation

The festive girlishness, the charming y2k highteen concept... this year has been all about refreshing new girl groups, and Acid Angel From Asia, as the first intro to the tripleS project is very promising. Just try to listen and not immediately have the ooh woah’s and la la la’s stuck in your head for the rest of the day.


It has to be said that this year wasn’t necessarily a great one for rookie boy groups, but there were a few bright moments. TAN’s Du Du Du starts with classical harmonics, a dramatic “bassline” call out and then keeps moving forward with sleek, calm momentum before taking off and freewheeling between the softer, inviting verses and moving forward only to rein itself in all again after rising up. If you’re not familiar, it’s definitely worth a listen or 10.

NCT Dream - To My First

While the obvious choice of a B-side to fall in love with from NCT Dream’s album this year was Saturday Drip or Better Than Gold, both of which I do indeed enjoy, the classic boy band lover in my heart could not repel the thrall of To My First, nor did it want to. As NCT Dream has grown up in the spotlight, so too have their vocal prowess and To My First, an apparent call back to 2017’s My First and Last, is more mature, less over-the-top in its effusiveness and more melancholic 2000s R&B styling.  It is, to put it simply, gorgeous.

Suran - Wish i could

I’m a sucker for ballads and Suran’s distinct vocal tone, and her discography as a whole, so it’s no surprise that I had this tumultuous anthem of reflection on during this year’s rough moments. It starts relatively laidback before turning into pained wails, accompanied by symphonic backing and then dropping dramatically after acknowledging the fading of a perfect love. It’s not the biggest or boldest song Suran’s ever done, but it’s a song you feel in your bones.

Sunye- Just A Dancer

Former Wonder Girls member was always known as the group’s vocal powerhouse, so it was fun to see her make her return with the proclamation that she’s Just A Dancer. Bringing dramatic synths to the forefront, her alluring voice, grooving along and inspiring movement, paired with choreography that reintroducing her with the assurance that although Sunye may have had a break she hasn’t lost any of her talent or charm.

Sunmi - Heart Burn

If you know me, you know that I’ve been an especially big fan of a lot of Sunmi’s singles like Gashina and Heroine. Heart Burn didn’t capture my heart (hah) the same way from the very beginning, but like the title suggests it was a slow burn, and the laidback, funky summertime nature of it all eventually won me over.

XG - Tippy Toes

I know they don’t call themselves K-pop, but for the purpose of this list they are at least K-pop-adjacent in that they’re a Japanese group performing in English inspired by K-pop to try and take over the world musically. I honestly really enjoyed what XG’s music ended up sounding like this year, and it’s really close between Mascara and Tippy Toes as my favorite song from them this year. But TT being a bit of something familiar and literal keeps us on our tippy toes as it thumps along with some alt R&B inflections and a bevy of divergent verses and raps… XG was really a surprise this year, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens next.

Tomorrow X Together - Trust Fund Baby

TXT is at their best as they soothingly sing about the rather grim topic of not being an entitled, rich Trust Fund Baby who can do whatever they want. Filled with ambient, airy synths and twinkling chords, it’s lowkey, but awash in emotion and the members distinct voices really get a chance to shine for a length amount of time with each verse, despite the relatively short run time.

Shaun - Don’t Let Me Know

The groovy island rhythm of Don’t Let Me Know really feels like it should be on repeat all summer long. Playing with the themes of rushing and taking it slow, the song really has fun with a range of speeds and beats, picking up and pulling back to express the desire and confusion of the lyrics.

Seventeen - March

Seventeen turning into the kings of the cowboys wasn’t really what I expected out of 2022, but the upbeat riffs and playful twinkling elements bolstered by the enthusiastic exclamations really sold March as an aspirational, albeit a bit cheesy, tune that reflected the themes of their Face the Sun era.

Pentagon - The Game

2022 really was K-pop’s year of classical western music being used as inspiration, and I cannot get over the pure joy of The Game. You have classical influences, Bohemian Rhapsody ones, and dynamism. What more is there to ask for?

Onew - In the Whale

Onew’s Dice album really impressed in a variety of way, but this chill, dreamy B-side especially stood out. It showcases his rich tones, while leaning into some of the nostalgic electropop, synth elements that I feel recalls many of my favorite SHINee releases. It’s seemingly straightforward at first listen,  but the depth of it all feels like a lullaby wrapped up in your favorite dessert, or walking on a beach after the perfect day.

Mamadol - WooAh HIP

This is a list of songs that I really enjoyed and loved this year, but I truly think WooAh HIP was one of this year’s brightest moments. The vivacity of the flow, the performances by some of the South Korean entertainment industry’s best all come together to show that yes, mother’s can be stars too.. These women could have probably done something a lot less dynamic and pulled it off with flair, but they’re stars and made it clear we all know that with this riveting showcase of their talent.

NCT 127- Designer

As much as I enjoy seeing what they do with their singles, I think NCT 127 gets a bit of a bad rep for being so associated with noise music and experimentalism in one-off listens. In actually, they positively shine the brightest on their albums, when you can get the whole flow of what they’re offering up in one go and hear more distinctly the blending of their nine voices. This year’s standout B-side from them was the romantic, oh so fashionable Designer, with its catchy, R&B feels, which enthralls from first listen.

Le Sserafim - Blue Flame

As much fun and exciting as Fearless was, it’s the groovy B-side Blue Flame that I felt was really the most refreshing track on Le Sserafim’s first album. Like a lot of releases this year it's overflowing with a bit of a nostalgic feel, with a sense of saccharine funkiness that is oh-so satisfying.

Kwon Jin Ah - Silly Silly Love

Nobody can quite be so sweet and so relatable in her annoyance all at once but Kwon Jin Ah really knows how to stir hearts with her music. The kinda groovy pop balladry that she shows on Silly Silly Love really just is so perfect in the way it subtly is enraged.

Kwon Eun Bi - Underwater

Whoever is doing the A&R for Kwon Eun Bi deserves an award, because in 2022 she had one of the most stalwart discographies for a female soloist, rookie or otherwise (other former IZ*ONE members were up there with her). Bold in its pure europopdom, with a reggaeton flare thrown in, I have to admit that I really enjoy this especially because her performance in it vaguely recalls that of hers in IZ*ONE’s debut track La Vie En Rose, one of my favorite tracks of 2018.

Kihyun - Bad Liar

A mainstay of Monsta X’s sound, Kihyun’s voice is built to be heavy in its emotiveness, and Bad Liar gives him that chance. It’s passionate and very rockstar-Kihyun in style, which feels right.

aespa - Life’s Too Short

If writing this list has taught me anything, it’s that I was drawn to a lot of songs where artists express how annoyed they are with what others are thinking or saying about them, and have no time for it. Anyhow… I really love this song. It’s almost simple in how girlish and charming it is, with a sweet bubblegum side to it even as aespa tells everyone to STFU.

Kep1er - Wa Da Da

Ever hear a song and think, “well, that’s the literal definition of a banger”? That’s Kep1er’s debut single Wa Da Da, least of all because it literally spends much of its chorus stomping and vrooming along. There’s a sense of sass and grit to this tune, but then it also pulls back the reins for slow, moody bridges, adding intrigue to what could otherwise seem like an onomatopoeic single-faceted dance track. As fun as it is to dance along with it, Wa Da Da deserves numerous replays to fully enjoy how fleshed out it is musically. Or you could just dance along to it too and simply enjoy.

Jin - Super Tuna

This song shouldn’t be so fun and addicting, but I admit I find myself humming it all the time. I know he had an official single out this year, The Astronaut, but during tough times it was Jin’s hobby-inspired (he loves fishing) Super Tuna I wanted to dance around my apartment listening to. A lot of the time it felt like 2022 was really tough and full of intense moments, both personally and on a greater scale, K-pop and otherwise, but Jin reminded us to have a bit of fun  all the while.

IVE - Love Dive

After arriving with the outstanding Eleven at the end of last year, I was really happy to see IVE take off in all their glory this year. While I did love After Like as well, ultimately Love Dive remains my favorite song by this team in 2022. There’s a bit of a proud playfulness about it all, as it woo’s in and out, with the most wonderful delivery about being narcissistic that you or I will ever hear.

Super Junior - Everyday

K-pop groups often put a song on albums that you know is built to be performed live at a concert, and Super Junior clearly did that with Everyday. Everyday bounces along playfully and a bit cutesily with a 2010 pop feel, before coming together in a chorus that is a blend of warm vocals, squelching synths, and vibrant whistles, all creating a sonic sense of festivity.

GOT the beat - Step Back

Getting some trap and classic SMP (SM Performance) bombast blended with an underlying choral chanting, Step Back is an in-your-face attempt at bringing together some of the most distinct, and popular, female vocalists and rappers at SM Entertainment. Though the song received criticism for being less than full of female empowerment (it brings together the group of stars only to incorporate rather trite lyrics calling a romantic rival silly), its power and flare cannot be denied.

(G)I-DLE - Tomboy

In a year defined by female hits, the pop-rockish Tomboy was one of this year’s earliest and, at least in South Korea, biggest hits. (G)I-dle get their edgy side on, while proclaiming themselves the queens of it all. After a rather rough time in recent years, it was nice to see (G)I-dle claim their throne with this brash song.

Epik High - Face ID feat. Giriboy, Sik-K & Justthis

This alt-rock take down on living publicly feels very par for the course with Epik High. It’s critical, it’s smug, and it has some truly great verses from the members and collaborators, all the while feeling very 2022 while recalling past hits, notably 2014’s Born Hater. There’s a grungy feel to it that make it feel timeless, much like Epik High as performers themselves.

Enhypen - Go Big or Go Home

I nearly published this with two videos embedded of Go Big or Go Home, which feels like the right thing, to be honest. A song built to be played on a dance floor, the pulsating, clap-fuelled addition to Enhypen’s discography is almost prototypical in how generic it is… until it’s not. There’s a reason trends become trendy, and although it feels like a typical EDM-meets-K-pop tune, it lives up to its name. Tthe musicality and the vocals all go big and deliver on one of the most blatantly exuberant tracks of 2022.

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CIX - Without You

I thought this ambient take on classic boy band overwrought pop-rock was so much the standout on CIX’s album this year that I actually jokingly demanded answers from the PR about who had allowed (the also good) 458 to become the single instead of Without You. The song varies, between jumping inducing highs of the chorus and and sorrowful belts in the verses, and thrills all the while.

Chang Kiha - Envy None

Not K-pop per say, but I couldn’t not discuss this song, on which Chang Kiha has a sense of wryness and wit in his delivery that is worth not missing. Monotony meets trippiness on Envy None, with Chang’s spoken-word, truncated delivery of thoughts and reaffirmations on jealousy and bragging paired with whistling and distorted beats. “I’m going to sleep,” he ends, in a very fitting shrug.


Run BTS brings the septet back to the sweet spot of nostalgia that impacted so much music this year, but that retrospective slant of their song is a reflection on their career, lyrically rife with memories and musically recalling their earliest releases, full of gritty rock-rap. But as much of a callback it is to the past, it’s similarly a declaration of where BTS is nowadays, and how far they’ve come to get where they are.

B.I feat. Soulja Boy & Devita - BTBT

Throughout the year, I’d regularly chat with music aficionados about their favorite K-pop release of the year, and B.I’s BTBT kept coming up, as it deserved. The alluring beats and performances on the track make it immensely captivating and pretty close to perfection as much as is possible.

aespa - Illusion

For a girl group with such a bold concept as aespa, it only makes sense that they’d also put forth a song like Illusion that paints a picture of intensity through its seductive synthpop. It’s all at once chill and aggressive, seductive and disorienting, and all the more so beguiling because of it.

Fifty Fifty - Lovin’ Me

If you take an ample amount of Imogen Heap, Carly Rae Jepsen and Chung Ha, you’d get Fifty Fifty’s Lovin’ Me. This year has really impressed with female rookies, and Fifty Fifty may be a bit less on the radar than some other groups, but Lovin’ Me is impressive in how it explores tried-and-true dance-pop without feeling bland, but in fact is full of punchiness that can’t be ignored.

ATEEZ - Cyperbunk

If you’ve felt this year was lacking a great K-pop techno moment, don’t worry: it’s a futuristic gem from ATEEZ, which propels itself forward with a breakneck speed as it grows in fierceness. Blending groovy verses and high-energy exclamations, Cyberpunk exemplifies the act’s ambitious theatricality that has come to define them.

NewJeans- Ditto

Of course the girl group that surprised us all with their arrival would close out the year with another excellent track. Restraint is key to the charms of Ditto, but like a subtle infusion of flavor as the song progresses from its dreamy opening synths to soft drums, recalling Jersey club without going fully into an explosive state at any given point, relying on the airy, impassioned voices of the members to let the song soar. It’s gentle in its intensity, the perfect closure for an exciting first year for NewJeans.

Honorable mentions

(G)I-dle’s Nxde wasn’t my personal favorite song musically, but the message of female empowerment and what they were attempting to do with this song re changing perspectives of nudity really appeals to me. No single song is ever going to be enough to change the way we in modernity discuss women in public and private spaces, but it was refreshing to see in 2022 while a lot of this year felt less-than-positive for women in many countries.

Blackpink’s Ready to Love - Seeing this song live when Blackpink was in town for their Newark show really made my week better, it just did. It’s so invigorating, but it was the energy of the liveness of it all that really made me fall for it.

NCT Dream’s Graduation - This is simply so beautiful, I know it’s a last minute ballad but the sentimentality and harmonies just felt so fitting for a celebration of the group’s journey thus far.

Girls’ Generation’s Lucky Like That and Forever 1 - I enjoyed these a lot too, but Villain really understands me.

Treasure’s Choi Hyun Suk, Yoshi and Haruto - VolKno - I thought this was so fun and addicting in its bold intensity. I enjoyed a lot of what Treasure had to offer this year, in fact, but this won kind of just won me over a bit more in how memorable it is.

Rocket Punch’s Chiquita - This had some nice moments, but didn’t hit the sweet spot of a fave for me this year.

Apink CHOBOM and WJSN Chocome - Just generally, not re any particular song. They brought a sense of campy fun back into K-pop after years of it being missing in action, and I love them so much for that. Their releases didn’t become particular faves, but I really appreciate them.

Happy new year and holidays to everyone celebrating! Hope to see you all next year, bigger and better than ever with these Notes on K-pop!