For better or worse, 2022 has been one of the most exciting years we’ve seen in K-pop in a long time. Be it record-breaking debuts to dispiriting disbandments, things have been nothing short of eventful. This year we witnessed the meteoric rise of rookie girl groups, from “teen royalty” queens IVE, the charming girls next door NewJeans to LE SSERAFIM and their elegant new take on the K-pop ‘girl crush’ concept.
- READ MORE: The 25 best K-pop songs of 2022
Despite the tidal wave of shiny new acts, it’s also been a good one for nostalgia lovers, with acts like Big Bang, Girls’ Generation and KARA – among others – returning to prove that they’ve still got it. The fully fledged return of concerts this year around the world also helped many K-pop fans make unforgettable new memories, whether they were awed by the groundbreaking scale of BLACKPINK’s ‘Born Pink’ tour, bore witness to the performance abilities of Stray Kids for the first time or… were let down by a festival missing half its original line-up (you can’t have the good without the bad, after all).
NME looks back at eight of the biggest stories and events in K-pop in 2022.
1Rookie girl groups on top
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: when it comes to K-pop, 2022 was undoubtedly for the girls – especially the rookies. This year, Starship’s newest girl group IVE continued their winning streak with ‘Love Dive’, sweeping charts and music shows with ease. HYBE act NewJeans also made their surprise debut with the Y2K charms of ‘Attention’ and soon had the entire industry dancing along to the infectious ‘Hype Boy’ (which topped NME’s list of the top K-pop songs of 2022). And they weren’t the only rookie girl groups to watch this year: fellow HYBE girl group LE SSERAFIM came in strong with their debut EP ‘Fearless’ in May, with TikTok instantly finding a viral hit in their vulnerable B-side ‘Sour Grapes’.
Going back even earlier in the year, Billlie member Tsuki made waves with her performances of the group’s first comeback track ‘GingaMingaYo (the strange world)’ – another entry on NME’s top K-pop songs list – flicking between facial expressions at a breakneck pace and claiming her place as one of the strongest new performers in K-pop. JYP Entertainment also launched its latest act NMIXX into the world with the polarising (but iconic) single ‘O.O’. Say what you want about that song, but there’s no denying its impact.
2Past favourites return to the spotlight
Rookie groups may have made some of the biggest waves this year, but beloved acts from past generations of K-pop have also stepped up to prove that their reigns are far from over. 2022 saw an unprecedented number of iconic reunions, beginning with Big Bang and their April single ‘Still Life’, their first release as a quartet and a heartfelt testament to their growth. Weeks later, 2NE1 leader CL sent the K-pop world into hysterics when she invited her bandmates to join her onstage at Coachella for a surprise performance of their hit single ‘Because I’m The Best’.
- READ MORE: The 10 best Korean dramas of 2022
The second half of the year brought even bigger reunions, beginning with Girls’ Generation and their seventh studio album ‘Forever 1’, which commemorated their 15th anniversary together. As NME put it in a four-star review of the record: “Acts may come and go, but Girls’ Generation is forever”. Also celebrating their 15th anniversary this year were KARA, who returned with an unexpected line-up that saw their youngest member Young-ji working with former members Nicole and Ji-young for the first time and coming back stronger than ever.
Honourable mentions: SISTAR’s medley of hits on You Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook, GOT7’s self-titled mini-album and EXID’s 10th anniversary reunion with ‘X’
3For BTS, the best is yet to come
The biggest headline in 2022 had to be that June 14 announcement by BTS. The world was thrown into a frenzy after the boyband declared their intention to focus on solo endeavours for the time being, leaving everybody buzzing with questions: What will happen to HYBE? Will BTS enlist? Are they disbanding? (The answer to that last question is no, in case anyone’s still confused.)
The last few months have only proven that the BTS story is far from over. Whether it’s rappers J-Hope and RM’s first full-length solo efforts (both five-star records, in NME’s opinion), Jin’s sparkling debut with Coldplay collaboration ‘Astronaut’ or Jungkook opening the FIFA World Cup with his very own original track, BTS are undoubtedly flourishing.
Taking fate into their own hands, the septet also put an end to a months-long debate surrounding their military enlistment, announcing their intention to serve with pride before reconvening in 2025. And while the world eagerly awaits the day all seven of them can stand on stage together again, one thing is for sure: BTS will only return stronger than ever.
4Every K-pop fan’s biggest nightmare: Disbandment
After a decade of ups and downs, we bid goodbye to boyband NU’EST with the release of ‘Needle & Bubble’ in March, a move that surprised fans after their post-Produce 101 surge in popularity. CUBE Entertainment later disbanded beloved girl group CLC, leaving fans with one of the most solid yet regrettably short discographies in K-pop after years of erratic, infrequent releases. Perhaps most shocking of all was the fate of Ryan Jhun-helmed girl group bugAboo, who never really got to realise their potential, releasing two single albums in their first year before being dissolved in early December.
Honourable mentions: BVNDIT, who were abruptly disbanded after returning from a two-year break
5TWICE are between (chapters) 1&2
After the conclusion of TWICE’s ‘III’ world tour in May and vocalist Nayeon’s solo debut soon after, fans waited with bated breath to find out if that tour would be their last. Despite their groundbreaking success, the nine-member act have not had an easy run, whether it’s facing cyberbullying or grappling with mental health struggles, leading some to fear that they would not last beyond their standard contract term of seven years.
Luckily, the JYP group announced in July that all nine members had renewed their contracts, heralding their next chapter together with the release of their 11th mini-album ‘Between 1&2’, a project where they exercised their creative autonomy more than ever. 2023 is looking to be even more exciting for TWICE, with their long-awaited Japanese subunit – affectionately dubbed MiSaMo by fans – and massive new world tour on the way.
6Stars step out as soloists
BTS and TWICE weren’t the only groups whose members went solo this year. 2022 saw some of the most highly-anticipated solo debuts in years, particularly from third-generation and early fourth-generation groups.
These include Kihyun’s ‘Voyage’, Miyeon’s uplifting ‘My’, Seulgi’s darkly intoxicating ‘28 Reasons’ and the debuts of former IZ*ONE members Choi Ye-na and Lee Chae-yeon, just to name a few. SHINee’s Minho also finally unveiled ‘Chase’ this month, making the second-generation star the fifth and final member of the boyband to make his solo debut.
Honourable mentions: Weki Meki’s Choi Yoo-jung’s ‘Sunflower’, Xiumin of EXO’s ‘Brand New’ and ex-NU’EST member Baekho’s ‘Absolute Zero’
7Tours and festivals are back, and (for the most part) better than ever
As COVID-19 restrictions die down around the world, K-pop artists are finally able to tour again. Perhaps it’s the frustration of only performing to virtual audiences over the last few years, but many acts are back with a vengeance, launching some of the most ambitious tours we’ve seen in years. BLACKPINK, of course, lead the charge with their ‘Born Pink’ concerts, billed the largest-ever tour by a K-pop girl group. From its larger-than-life production to the sprawling number of dates carrying on well into 2023, the girl group are well on their way to making K-pop touring history.
- READ MORE: Going behind the ‘Born Pink’ world tour with its creative director: “We could do a six-hour BLACKPINK rock opera”
Boybands Stray Kids and SEVENTEEN also wowed with their tours this year, both having performed at some of the biggest venues of their careers worldwide and solidifying their reputations as some of the greatest performers of our time. With their recent Japan concerts, the latter also became the first act after BTS to launch their own city-wide concert experience under HYBE’s The City project, encompassing unique themed shopping experiences, exhibitions and events, just to name a few.
K-pop is bigger than ever – but putting on massive concerts and festivals is no easier than it was pre-pandemic. The logistics of flying in artists and crew sometimes from halfway across the globe and managing huge crowds are no mean feat. Concert and festival producers, whether in the realm of K-pop or not, have their work cut out for them. One disaster that made headlines this year was the inaugural KAMP LA festival, which lost half its line-up to visa issues a day before the concerts were due to begin, leading to mass refunds and half-filled venues.
8Idols advocate for themselves
Like any other industry, K-pop comes with its fair share of issues. While past scandals about exploited idols seldom made waves overseas (though they no doubt inspired some bad-faith “dark side of K-pop” thinkpieces), recent (and ongoing) incidents involving boyband OMEGA X and former LOONA member Chuu have re-ignited discussion about the treatment of K-pop idols in a way that puts the performers at the forefront of the conversation.
By speaking publicly and strategically about their circumstances and airing their side of the story, these stars are helping to set a new precedent in the industry – one that will hopefully lend more idols the courage to advocate for themselves and increase scrutiny on unfair practices.