This year offered endless examples of K-pop prominence, including exploratory works of art that are bound to ambitious studio albums, or of course, several strong, impactful punches that have elevated the growing popularity of mini-albums. Thankfully, regardless of your preference in sound, artist, or discography format, there’s a little something that can impress everyone.
With several multi-faceted artists expanding their industry potential through genre-alternating expressions of art in 2022, it can be said that some of the greats maintained their honorable stature while others have officially risen to power in order to showcase the immaculate range that they can bring to the table. So without any further hesitation, let’s get into our curated selection of the top-tier albums of 2022 and celebrate the iconic artists that made this year’s glorious music possible – in no particular order!
Minisode 2: Thursday’s Child – Tomorrow X Together
Despite being an insane year for artists across the board, Tomorrow X Together (TXT) has maintained its already staggering momentum and proven to be a quintessential boyband in modern K-pop.
In fact, their 2022 EP, Minisode 2: Thursday’s Child, showed that the group is completely unwilling to experience complacency by forging a new era comprised of everything from trendy pop constructs to an alternative, punk-twinged spectacle. With their lead single “Good Boy Gone Bad,” the group opts for a darker aesthetic than the sounds of previous albums, but still facilitates introspective moments when dividing the five vocalists – on “Lonely Boy (The Tattoo on My Ring Finger)” and “Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go,” challenging each member with an opportunity for growth.
Forever 1 – Girls’ Generation
The influential women of Girls’ Generation (SNSD) are a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to the global expansion of K-pop, so after 15 years since their debut, a reunion felt like the perfect avenue to celebrate. Though, the album itself being stacked with certified bops made the timely reunion about as sweet as it gets.
From the very beginning of their joint career, the group has dropped multiple albums laced with hit tracks, but the versatility of Forever 1 as a whole allows modern listeners to witness legends in action. On one hand, there’s the seasonal R&B banger “Summer Night” or “Mood Lamp” that brings out a game-changing side of Girls’ Generation, and on the other, there’s the true-to-form authentic and wholesome “Lucky Like That” to back up their ample taste in pop music.
Copycat – CHOBOM
The innately talented girl group Apink has been performing together for more than a decade now, with hit singles as recent as 2022. However, a new perfectly synchronized duo from the group (Yoon Bomi and Park Chorong) debuted as CHOBOM this year with a three-song EP titled Copycat that covers some of the most distinctive sounds of current K-pop stylings.
Though the title track “Copycat” is a fun, spritely pop track that makes perfect sense as a single, the remaining tracks are both equal contenders as some of the best b-sides of the year. The likely top-track selection? “Oscar,” the pair’s retro synthy pop jam with rain-drizzled windshield wipers and perfectly harmonized unity – not to overlook the poignant closing track “Feel Something,” a heartfelt pop ballad-ish vocals with an electro-pop instrumental bridge.
Born Pink – BLACKPINK
At the simple announcement of a BLACKPINK project in the works, fans absolutely lose their mind at the prospect of new content – so when the group dropped an album with plenty of room to breathe, it validated all of our pre-release excitement.
From “Pink Venom,” to “Shut Down,” or “Typa Girl,” the group leans into their reliable and masterfully executed hip-hop techniques, but knows how to shake things up when necessary. For tracks like “Hard to Love,” we get to see a little more vocal range and optimistic energy surface, showing that after several years together, BLACKPINK is still interested in developing new and breathtaking deviations from their former smash-hit singles.
Brand New – Xiumin
When we first learned that the unstoppable EXO vocalist and performer Xiumin was slated to earn his first solo EP Brand New just a few months ago, our instincts said it was going to be something extraordinary. Obviously, that was a good call, because the mini album far exceeded expectations with his inspirational journey of creative independence.
Outside of his addictive R&B single “Brand New,” Xiumin uses this rare opportunity to experiment with his breadth of EXO knowledge on each well-curated new selection of solo music for an unequivocally balanced collection. “Feedback,” a fan-favorite track, is one of those with a display of his desire to discover originality, and “How We Do” featuring NCT’s Mark creates a different angle of R&B nostalgia that the K-pop legend is evidently drawn to.
Joy – woo!ah!
The five-member girl group woo!ah! has been consistently underestimated when it comes to their reliable and uplifting pop music inclusions, and in 2022, on their EP Joy, listeners received a fuller taste of woo!ah!’s irreplaceable magic for essentially ignoring any popular industry sounds or comfortable patterns often utilized by groups hoping to replicate the successes of others.
For example, “Danger,” the group’s title track reignites a fragment of their edgier “Bad Girl” passion from a few eras back but mixes its overall pacing to still keep things fresh. The mini-albums b-sides, most notably, “Go Away” relishes in a less-spotlighted 2010’s form of EDM music that compliments the girl group’s energetic group persona, whereas “Straight Up,” uses a drum-filled backtrack with charismatic vitality that’s worthy of being on your playlist, ASAP.
Antifragile – LE SSERAFIM
If we’ve learned anything from K-pop this year, it’s that you don’t want to mess with LE SSERAFIM. They are seriously fearless, antifragile, and that group, so if you have any questions left, just check out literally any of their songs and you’ll figure that out for yourself very quickly.
Upon debut (just this year) we fell head over heels for their infectious sound on Fearless, but Antifragile bounces around to display even more confident versions of the already focused group. The song of the year itself (“Antifragile”) is enough to earn this EP a proper place on the list, but the bewitching tenacity of “Impurities” and the eclectic opening intro-ish track “The Hydra” makes everything about LE SSERAFIM an even more formidable group than many predicted.
Thank You – Brave Girls
What’s even more exceptional about the massive popularity of Brave Girls is the knowledge that their growing stature isn’t exclusively limited to the resurgence of a past song but continues to evolve into even greater work – as heard on their grateful springtime album, Thank You, with a charming title track by the same name.
Elsewhere on the five-song EP, Brave Girls dropped the stunning retro pop production “You and I,” which has totally transcended into one of their best tracks of all time (a category with a lot of competition honestly.) As the group shifts into their prime and unmatched disco flair, the equally moving b-side “Love Is Gone” teases that the four women in Brave Girls are set on maintaining a funky pop level of prestige. Where would the industry be without Brave Girls? How about we never find out and make sure to protect these queens at all costs?
Selfish – YooA
YooA just dropped her second solo release and barely made the cut due to her last-minute and high-stakes timing, but wow was this body of work worth the wait! Though, we are talking about an icon known for major contributions to the reputable group Oh My Girl, so can we really be surprised that she’s actively crafting hits?
On the Selfish EP, YooA’s title track urges listeners to discover her vocal strength with very demanding production, but like several of our favorite albums this year, she amplifies her overall artistry through the additional supporting songs. “Lay Low” teases YooA’s upbeat and quirkier potential of her solo style with a rapid dance gem that does everything other than flying under the radar as its title suggests. Then, on “Melody,” the Oh My Girl singer shows a little more story and adaptive nature, altering from her lower register to an airier falsetto without skipping a beat!
blanc – Junny
Junny is truly a relentless soloist with a colorful scope of artistic abilities, as proven by his 2022 debut album blanc, after already earning the attention of listeners and several influential industry icons. Now, the singer has figured out how to capitalize on the platform that a full-length album provides and has since become an icon himself.
There’s the obvious choice as an MVP song via his soulful lead single “Color Me,” however, on blanc, picking a favorite is a daunting task due to the thoughtful approach to each inclusion presented by Junny. Other songs that make this album a really obvious choice for an album of the year contender? Well, we have “mercury,” “Not About You,” and “boyhood,” as just some of Junny’s life experiences that have been funneled into his exemplary art.