If 2022 K-pop had a theme, it would be “historic.” This year was huge for K-pop debuts, hiatuses, and reunions, with new groups such as NMIXX making their debut, famous groups like KARA reuniting, and current groups including BTS announcing big changes going forward. And throughout all of this, K-pop artists just kept conquering the world, delivering banger after banger.
From Stray Kids’ “Charmer” to iKON’s “FOR YOU,” these past 12 months have been absolutely filled with great K-pop songs. Still, there were some K-pop performances that had a bigger impact than most in 2022. Whether they went viral, kicked off a TikTok trend, or marked an important moment for the group, this year had no shortage of significant K-pop performances that made an impression far beyond their own fandom.
In chronological order, here are some of the best, most influential K-pop performances of 2022.
1. ‘DARARI’ by TREASURE becomes an adorable TikTok trend
TREASURE underwent significant changes this year, as members Mashiho and Bang Ye-dam departed the group due to health reasons and to pursue music production, respectively. But before TREASURE’s lineup was reduced from 12 to 10, the two-year-old group went viral on TikTok with their B-side track “DARARI,” which lists Bang Ye-dam as one of its composers and lyricists.
Just days after “DARARI” was released on Feb. 15, TikTok user Aidafi3 posted a simple dance video in which she mimicked listening to a sped-up version of the bright love song through headphones. Viewed 45 million times, her cute choreography quickly became a TikTok dance trend, spreading among creators, other K-pop idols, and eventually to TREASURE themselves. The group even used Aidafi3’s unmistakable moves in the official choreography for “DARARI,” seamlessly incorporating them with added footwork.
2. ‘Tomboy’ by (G)-IDLE tops South Korea’s music charts
“Tomboy” was (G)-IDLE’s first song as five members following dancer Soojin’s departure from the group last year. Yet despite this apparent setback, it became the girl group’s most popular song yet, achieving (G)-IDLE’s first perfect all-kill by topping all South Korea’s major music charts simultaneously. “Tomboy” has also accumulated over 190 million views on its music video, exceeding (G)-IDLE’s previous frontrunner “Oh my god” by a few million.
Written by (G)-IDLE leader Soyeon, “Tomboy” is an attitude-fueled pop-punk song declaring the group’s intention to behave exactly how they want rather than submit to being model, demure girlfriends. While “Oh my god” certainly gained (G)-IDLE well-deserved attention, “Tomboy” was a breakout song that made clear this K-pop group isn’t going anywhere — and still has a lot to say.
3. BIGBANG’s ‘Still Life’ ends their four-year hiatus
BIGBANG are commonly called the Kings of K-pop, and have reigned with that title for over a decade. Having debuted 16 years ago in 2006, this celebrated K-pop boy group was instrumental in driving Korean entertainment media’s international popularity, and are highly regarded as innovative and influential trendsetters.
As such, BIGBANG’s long-awaited April release was significant both for the group and the K-pop scene as a whole. Not only did single “Still Life” mark BIGBANG’s first new song since suspending activities to complete their mandatory military service in 2018, but it was also the iconic group’s first single as four members after dancer Seungri officially left in 2019. A sentimental song that reflects BIGBANG’s maturity, “Still Life” debuted in the Billboard Global 200 chart’s top 10 and has since racked up 77 million views on its music video.
4. IVE’s ‘LOVE DIVE’ puts the rookie group in the history books
IVE only debuted in December last year, but the K-pop girl group has been making waves from the moment their debut song “Eleven” dropped. They followed up that success in 2022 with April single “LOVE DIVE,” a dark pop tune which won both the MAMA Award and Melon Music Award for Song of the Year. This was no small feat, especially considering the rookie group was up against K-pop giants such as BTS, BLACKPINK, and BIGBANG.
Both of these awards are also daesang — the most prestigious prize given at an annual award show. As such, winning these accolades made IVE one of only four K-pop girl groups to take home both a rookie award and a daesang in the same year, following in the footsteps of Miss A, 2NE1, and aespa. As of writing, the music video for “LOVE DIVE” has almost 180 million views on YouTube.
5. ‘ZOOM’ by Jessi has TikTok creators dancing
If you spend any time on TikTok, there’s a good chance you’ll recognise Jessi’s “ZOOM” within moments of hitting play. The opening of the rapper’s hip hop single became a viral dance challenge on the video sharing app this year, with thousands of creators copying Jessi’s attitude-filled choreography. Some even paired it with dynamic camerawork or outfit transitions, contributing to 4.4 million TikTok clips that have jumped on the sound.
“ZOOM” was also significant for Jessi as her last release under PSY’s record label P Nation, having opted not to renew her contract in order to pursue other endeavours. Jessi hasn’t yet revealed what said endeavours will be, but it’s looking as though 2023 will be an important year for her.
6. 2NE1 reunite to perform hit ‘I Am The Best’ at Coachella
It’s been six years since 2NE1 disbanded, which is almost as long as the four-member group had been active. Even so, half a dozen years is far from enough time to allow anyone to forget this unquestionably legendary group. 2NE1 were instrumental in the global spread of Korean media and had a massive impact on the K-pop scene, credited with expanding the scope of K-pop girl groups by eschewing cute or sexy concepts to focus on themes of women’s empowerment.
It was therefore thrilling to see 2NE1 come together for a historic surprise reunion on the second day of Coachella 2022. Closing out record label 88rising’s showcase, Bom, CL, Dara, and Minzy treated a screaming audience with a performance of their assertive hit 2011 single “I Am The Best” — a song that is consistently included in lists of the best K-pop songs of all time.
7. PSY returns to the stage with ‘That That’ (feat. SUGA of BTS)
PSY’s hit song “Gangnam Style” took Western markets by storm in 2012, catapulting the solo artist and his galloping horse dance to international attention. PSY then proved he wasn’t a one-hit wonder with successful singles such as “Gentleman” and “Daddy (feat. CL of 2NE1),” before taking a break in 2018 and founding entertainment company P Nation.
“That That” marked PSY’s first return to the stage in four years, which would be significant enough by itself. However the upbeat song was also a collaboration with BTS’ rapper SUGA. Though SUGA only intended to write and produce “That That,” PSY gradually roped him into featuring on it, learning the choreography, and having the time of his life hamming it up in the music video. The joyful clip has since racked over 380 million views in just seven months.
8. ‘NANANA’ leads GOT7’s first album after leaving their company
When GOT7 left JYP Entertainment in 2021, many fans feared the boy group was disbanding. It was a fair assumption. While it isn’t unheard of for K-pop groups to continue without the entertainment companies that formed them, it’s still a relatively uncommon arrangement, and GOT7 had already been together for seven years. Fortunately the seven-member boy group were quick to assert they were sticking together, reassuring fans with single “Encore” before taking a break to focus on solo projects.
This year, GOT7 followed up on their promise with “NANANA,” the lead single of their first album without JYP Entertainment. With writing credits including leader JAY B (under the pseudonym Def.), “NANANA” was an important step forward for GOT7, demonstrating the group’s new direction and ambitions for the future while simultaneously returning them to their roots.
9. ‘POP!’ by NAYEON bubbles over to TikTok
TWICE’s vocalist NAYEON made her solo debut in June, releasing an album of bright and bubbly pop songs led by the energetic tune “POP!” This love song was addictive enough by itself, racking up almost 160 million views in five months and offering the type of bright optimism we could all do with a lot more of.
But what really gave “POP!” an edge over the competition was its simple yet memorable choreography, which has inspired numerous dance covers and a TikTok trend. The sound has been used over 2 million times on the video sharing platform, with countless creators and celebrities copying NAYEON’s cute popping hand gestures.
10. ‘Hype Boy’ by NewJeans gets South Korea’s military dancing
NewJeans only debuted this July, but you’d never know it judging by how much attention they’ve earned in just five short months of activity. The rookie girl group’s appropriately-titled debut song “Attention” was already warmly received, but their popularity really took off with their EP’s second single “Hype Boy”. NewJeans’ fun, catchy love song won fans and impressed their seniors, while its lively choreography became a popular dance trend that was picked up by K-pop idols such as GOT7’s JAY B and Stray Kids’ Changbin.
Yet while numerous artists jumped on the trend, the most notable “Hype Boy” dance cover was by a group of idols completing their mandatory military service. The video of enlisted K-pop idols shaking it to “Hype Boy” in uniform went viral across multiple platforms, with just one copy of one video on Twitter gaining 8.2 million views alone. The widely-shared performance featured SF9’s Inseong, ONF members E-Tion and J-US, Spectrum’s Jongchan, and dancer Kim Namwook, all of whom were serving in more ways than one.
11. Girls’ Generation marks their 15th anniversary with ‘FOREVER 1’
For some, the first K-pop song to captivate them was “Boy With Luv” by BTS (feat. Halsey). For others, it was PSY’s aforementioned “Gangnam Style”. But for countless listeners across the world, the tune that taught them to love K-pop was the 2009 bubblegum bop “Gee” by Girls’ Generation.
Girls’ Generation are record-breaking K-pop icons who have been together for as long as some other idols have been alive, even if they haven’t technically been active for the entire time. While this year marked Girls’ Generation’s 15th anniversary, the group has been on hiatus since 2017 as the members have focused on their respective solo careers.
“FOREVER 1” was Girls’ Generation’s first new release as a group in five years, offering the celebratory 2010s throwback in a return that some fans feared would never come. As such, the cheers and fanchants during the group’s first live performance of “FOREVER 1” certainly seemed sweeter than usual, finally welcoming the well-respected K-pop veterans back to the stage after their long absence.
12. ‘Pink Venom’ returns BLACKPINK to the area
BLACKPINK are undoubtedly skilled singers, rappers, and dancers, but arguably what they excel at most is making their fans crave more. Though the K-pop girl group never officially went on hiatus, BLACKPINK’s last released song together was back in 2020, which is practically an eternity in the fast-moving K-pop scene. The members kept fans fed by diverting focus to their solo careers in the interim, but it wasn’t the same as seeing all four on stage together.
“Pink Venom” was Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa’s highly awaited return as a group, once again delivering BLACKPINK’s unmistakably fierce sound to their fans. The music video gained over 480 million views in just four months, reflecting the group’s overwhelming global popularity and demonstrating that, no matter how long BLACKPINK aren’t in their area, the fans will always wait for them to come back.
13. BTS delivers the first ever live performance of ‘Run BTS’
Global superstars BTS announced in October that the group would be going on hiatus until 2025, finally ending years of speculation by enabling the members to enlist for their mandatory military service as well as pursue solo opportunities. The biggest K-pop group in the world wasn’t about to up and leave without a proper goodbye, though.
Before revealing their enlistment plans, BTS held one last big concert in Busan to support the local government’s bid to host the World Expo 2030. With free tickets offered via a lottery, eager fans gathered from all over the world to see BTS perform songs ranging from older tunes such as “Butterfly” to English hits like “Butter.”
It was overall a fantastic night for fans, but arguably the standout was BTS’ first and to date only live performance of “Run BTS” (not to be confused with “RUN” or their reality series Run BTS). Released this year as part of BTS’ anthology album Proof, “Run BTS” departs from the group’s recent dance-pop sound to deliver a hip hop banger that reflects on the group’s journey, returns to their musical roots, and shows the world exactly why millions of people have become fans.
14. LE SSERAFIM perseveres with ‘ANTIFRAGILE’
As the first K-pop girl group to debut under BTS’ company since 2012, all eyes were already on LE SSERAFIM before they ever took the stage. Unfortunately, their May debut ended up being one of the rockiest in recent memory. Just over three weeks after LE SSERAFIM officially debuted, their vocalist Kim Ga-ram was put on hiatus before being removed from the group altogether. It seemed an inauspicious start for the new idols whose careers had only just begun.
Nevertheless, the remaining quintet continued on to release “ANTIFRAGILE” just three months later, determined to demonstrate the resilience they sing about. The lead single of LE SSERAFIM’s second EP, “ANTIFRAGILE” boldly brought the group into a new era after their difficult start, proclaiming that, no matter how big the setback, nothing will stop these rookies from pushing forward.