Skip to main content

The best K-pop songs of 2023 so far

A still from K-pop group Kep1er's 2023 concert in Japan.
Kep1er Wakeone

The first half of 2023 is over, and its time to choose the new K-pop songs that have steadfastly remained on our playlist since the beginning of the year. There are no rules for this list, so it includes groups and solo artists, and perhaps most importantly, B-sides too. Several groups have hidden their best songs so far this year behind their title tracks, and it really shows on this list.

Here are the best K-pop songs released so far this year, in no particular order – except for the first song, which is the best so far. All the songs are also included in this YouTube Music playlist, if you’d like to listen after reading.

Back to the City — Kep1er

[최초공개] Kep1er(케플러) - Back to the City (4K)

Love Struck is a fantastic mini-album and Giddy is a great title track, but Back to the City is the hidden gem here. The cute and fun concept really suits the group, and this high-energy song is incredibly catchy, with the chorus staying with you long after the song has finished. It also shows off Chaehyun, Mashiro, and Huening Bahiyyh’s voices in a way few Kep1er songs do, and the M2 music video shown here lets you see how much fun they have with the choreography. It’s going to take quite a lot for this not to be my favorite song of the year.

Vibe — Taeyang (featuring Jimin)

TAEYANG - 'VIBE (feat. Jimin of BTS)' M/V

Unforgiven — Le Sserafim

LE SSERAFIM (르세라핌) 'UNFORGIVEN (feat. Nile Rodgers)' OFFICIAL M/V

The Wild West concept for Le Sserafim’s comeback was stunning and the theme continues in Unforgiven, right down to the song’s title and its use of elements from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly‘s famous theme. The song itself took a while to grow on me, and aspects still don’t quite work, but I’ve warmed to it a lot after repeated listens, and I love the way Le Sserafim continues to experiment and play with different concepts. The music video and key choreography are fantastic, emphasizing the group’s incredible attitude that has been present since Fearless.

The Feeling — Shinee

SHINee 샤이니 'The Feeling' MV

I am — Ive

IVE 아이브 'I AM' MV

Ive’s After Like was such a departure from Eleven and Love Dive that it had me somewhat confused about the group’s direction and how it was defining its unique sound, as did Kitsch, the first single release from the studio album I’ve Ive. However, I am is a return to form and a superb second release from the album.

The lyrics have a strong message about confidence, and the song showcases each member’s unique vocal talents in a way Kitsch did not. The music video here is full of Ive energy, but I also suggest watching the It’s Live version too.

Super — Seventeen

SEVENTEEN (세븐틴) '손오공' Official MV

Pandora — Mave:

[MV] MAVE: (메이브) _ PANDORA

It’s far from the first of its kind, but Mave: is a virtual, AI-generated girl group that has come out with a cracking debut single. Mave:’s four members are Zena, Tyra, Marty, and Siu, and they represent South Korean tech company Kakao’s push into metaverse entertainment.

The avatars were created using Epic’s Metahuman technology and the Unreal Engine platform, and are beautifully animated, with their dance moves originally being motion-captured from human performers. There’s a fascinating look at the development of the members here, but listen to the song first, as I promise it’s way better than you expect.

Groovy — Cravity

CRAVITY 크래비티 'Groovy' MV

Cotton Candy — Jinyoung

[MV] Jinyoung(진영(GOT7)) _ Cotton Candy

Cotton Candy, the first single from Got7 member Park Jinyoung’s debut solo album, doesn’t break the mold, do anything outrageously exciting, or have especially memorable choreography, but that’s OK. It’s pure, tuneful, light, and thoroughly enjoyable K-pop.

The title is appropriate, as this song is not about sustenance, it’s about fun, and listening to it will make you smile, just like seeing those pink, sticky strands of sugar twisted onto a stick at the fair. You’ll listen once, then you’ll listen again and again.

The Blue – Soopia

[MV] Soopia(화수목(花水木)) _ THE BLUE(파란색)

Unhappiness — Kwon so Jeong

권소정 Kwon so jeong - 떠오른 불행은 Unhappiness Official M/V

Is this strictly K-pop? I don’t know, possibly not, but I’m including it anyway, as it appears not to have gained the attention I think it should. The song seems to be about an unwanted, one-sided relationship breakup, and the sadness and longing that comes with it.

It’s moving and ethereal, with an almost haunting emotion to Kwon so Jeong’s vocals and expressions. I discovered it by accident, but it has become a firm favorite this year.

Who’s Next – Lapillus

Lapillus(라필루스) 'Who's Next' MV

Journey — Woodz

[MV] WOODZ(우즈) _ Journey

Cho Seung-youn’s fifth mini-album, Ooli, is great all the way through, so it was a fairly hard decision which song to include here. Seung-youn’s shows his considerable vocal talent in this K-rock ballad with its soaring chorus, and it is far more upbeat than the bleak (but popular) Abyss. For a contrast, and a look at the artist’s versatility, listen to Busted from the same album.

Ay-Yo – NCT 127

NCT 127 엔시티 127 'Ay-Yo' MV

SOS – Kang Daniel

강다니엘(KANGDANIEL) - SOS M/V

There are times where a song is simply good, but a masterful music video elevates it far beyond that, and SOS is the perfect example. The incredible music video plays like a horror Western version of the action movie Mad Max as directed by John Woo, and the song fits the crazy visuals surprisingly well. It looks like it cost a fortune, is absolutely insane, and I’d actually watch a far longer version. Cool song, too.

Killer — Key

KEY 키 'Killer' MV

Nevertheless — Billie

Billlie | 4th EP Official Visualizer Track 06. 'nevertheless'

Rightly, single release Eunoia should get you listening to Billie’s The Village of Perception: Chapter Three mini-album, but it’s Nevertheless (buried as the last track, if played in order) that stands out as the album’s best, and a favorite of the year.

The funky synth pop sound is almost overpowered by the group’s vocals until the bass drop near the midpoint of the song, right before everything gets turned up for the chorus.

Perfume — NCT Dojaejung

NCT DOJAEJUNG 엔시티 도재정 'Perfume' Performance Video

Fill it Up — Lucy

Fill it up (채워)

Like Billie’s Nevertheless, this is not the title track of the artist’s album. Fill it Up is found on Lucy’s Insert Coin album, headed up by Unbelievable with its game and anime-inspired music video. Fill it Up is totally different from that upbeat pop-rock song though, bringing in harder guitars, synths, and some distorted vocals for a far more K-pop boy band-style sound.

Rising – TripleS

트리플에스(tripleS) 'Rising' MV

Cupid — Fifty Fifty

FIFTY FIFTY (피프티피프티) - 'Cupid' Official MV

So often, K-pop can feel overly produced and created in a cynical fashion as part of a massive business machine. Cupid is kind of that, but without the cynicism. Fifty Fifty is signed to an independent label, and the members’ individual talents are pushed, rather than them being slotted into a predetermined role.

To increase attention, Cupid has been released in Korean and English, and it’s a sweet, happy, classic K-pop song that you’ve probably already heard on social media. You should listen to it again.

Knock – Lee Chaeyeon

(MV)LEE CHAE YEON(이채연)_KNOCK

I Do — (G)I-DLE

(G)I-DLE - I DO (Official Music Video)

I want to like (G)I-DLE more, but the five-member group makes it quite hard to do, whether it’s through misplaced profanity in their lyrics, or oddly cringe-inducing songs like Queencard. I Do is an irresistible creative departure for the group, and it’s a close second to Back to the City for this year’s best for me.

A romantic, heartfelt pop ballad sung in English, I Do gives each member a chance to shine (the group’s songs always need more Miyeon and Yuqi), and it’s accompanied by a fantastic music video that’s like a K-pop mash-up of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stranger Things.

Honorable mentions

A promotional still of the K-pop group Le Sserafim.
Le Sserafim Le Sserafim

As with every best-of collection, there are entries that were continuously swapped in and out of the top titles list, and it’s worth highlighting them.

Hold on Tight — Aespa

aespa 'Hold On Tight' MV | Tetris Motion Picture Soundtrack

If you’ve seen Tetris on Apple TV+, you’ve heard this song already. If not, all you need to know to click Play on the video is that it does indeed include Aespa’s interpretation of the famous Tetris theme song.

ChrOme Arts – OnlyOneOf

[MV] OnlyOneOf 'chrOme arts'

Eve, Psyche, & The Bluebeard’s Wife — Le Sserafim

LE SSERAFIM (르세라핌) ‘이브, 프시케 그리고 푸른 수염의 아내’ OFFICIAL M/V

The second major release from Le Sserafim’s album Unforgiven, Eve, Psyche & The Bluebeard’s Wife is ultra cool, with a social media-friendly key dance move and fantastic choreography in the music video. But it’s a bit lacking in substance, and has already been played to death, seemingly given more promotion than Unforgiven itself.

Sugar Rush Ride — TXT

TXT (투모로우바이투게더) 'Sugar Rush Ride' Official MV

GGBB — Mamamoo+

[MV] MAMAMOO+ 'GGBB'

GGBB is an almost perfect example of doo-wop K-pop fun, and I adore 90% of it. Unfortunately, it’s practically ruined by a disastrous out-of-place rap break partway through that sucks all of the retro energy out of it. If only they had stuck to the theme throughout, this would have been a faultless, nostalgia-filled comeback for the group.

That’s it for the first half of 2023, and if you want more K-pop song recommendations, we’ve got a list of the best K-pop songs ever right here.

Editors' Recommendations

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
This excellent 2023 movie received no Oscar nominations. Here’s why you should watch it anyway
An older married couple sit beside each other in The Iron Claw.

Professional wrestling is a sport rooted in family. From the McMahons and the Harts to the Flairs and the Rhodeses, wrestling is a family business, always has been and always will be. In the 1980s, Fritz Von Erich and his five sons – Kevin, Kerry, David, Mike, and Chris – captivated the hearts and minds of fansof the Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. The Von Erichs were billed as an all-American, hardworking family who stood up for justice and fought against evil. The gimmick worked as the Von Erichs quickly became wrestling royalty.

By the early 1990s, a once-gifted family fell prey to what some deem a "curse" and endured unspeakable tragedies. The rise and fall of the Von Erichs became the subject of The Iron Claw, written and directed by Sean Durkin. The A24 film received overwhelmingly positive reviews and did good business in theaters, grossing around $38 million on a budget of $15 million. Yet, The Iron Claw was shut out of the Oscars, SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes. The Iron Claw receiving zero Oscar nominations is wrong at this moment, but in five years, it will look even worse.
Zac Efron has never been better

Read more
This 2023 movie will seduce you (but not the way you think)
A man takes a woman's hand in The Taste of Things.

When we think of romantic movies, we typically think of traditional romances told in very narrow terms: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy must win girl back. The last couple of decades have loosened those definitions a bit, so now a boy can meet a boy, a girl can lose a girl, and a non-binary person can try to win back another who doesn't identify on any scale. Yet, while the players may change, the game stays relatively the same; traditional narratives are reinforced, and these plots must have dramatic climaxes to wrap things up.

The Taste of Things is a different kind of romantic movie. It doesn't rely on an "idiot plot" to move things along; in fact, it really doesn't have a plot at all. Instead, it's one of the few movies to let its characters exist and do their thing, which, in this case, is cooking. Food is the central thing in The Taste of Things; it's what drives the two leads and defines their love for one another. Here are three reasons why you should do yourself a favor this Valentine's Day and watch this movie.
The film is about three different kinds of love

Read more
Squid Game season 2: Everything we know so far
A man looks at a man in uniform in Squid Game season 2.

Following a hugely successful first season that surprised virtually everyone, many fans are eager for the potential return of Squid Game. In its first season, the show followed a group of contestants competing against one another in a series of children's games with deadly stakes.

Some of those playing the game would die, and the rest would move on to the next round. Ultimately, a single winner emerged, rewarded with an insanely large cash prize. As many wonder about what season 2 could contain, here's what we know so far about the hit Netflix show's future:
What will season 2 of Squid Game be about?
Squid Game | Official Trailer | Netflix

Read more