So, K-pop in 2023 — did we all survive? Just when we think the genre can’t get any bigger, better, or more explosive than we’ve already seen, dozens of artists from every corner of the industry are waiting in the wings to prove us wrong.
If there was one word to sum up how K-pop music videos felt this year, it would be “cinematic.” From artists new and old, every release felt like a film — and had a story to tell. Some came with all the bells and whistles that make music videos feel monumental, while others remained intimate, wanting to appeal to the viewer’s pathos rather than their excitement.
In no particular order, from Star Trek-inspired trips through the galaxy to virtual reality gaming gone wrong, these are Teen Vogue’s 23 picks for the best K-pop music videos of 2023.
U-Know, “Vuja De”
“Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for the show?” TVXQ legend U-Know sings with robust vigor. Because he knows, and you know (no pun intended, I swear), that’s exactly what he’s about to give you in his third Korean comeback, “Vuja De.” But behind the epic set designs, action-packed fights, and colorful costuming of the lively jazz number, lies an even deeper meaning of what it means to be human and how we find purpose in life. “My life and time’s all been sold / Like an undead, lurching Zombie / Buried in money and fame, running fast / Can’t tell if I’m living or if I’m being lived.”
ATEEZ, “BOUNCY (K-HOT CHILI PEPPERS)”
If you haven’t been slowing it down and making it bouncy this year, then have you really experienced 2023 to its fullest? The fiery octet known as ATEEZ take a break from being the pirates of K-pop and instead take a walk on the wild side as outlaws in “Bouncy (K-Hot Chili Peppers).”
Now, I know what you’re thinking — how could “ETA” possibly make this list when the cinematic excellence of “Cool With You” (sides A and B) exists? Well, that’s a very valid question! While NewJeans’ “Cool With You” is visually and thematically a work of art, with legendary appearances from Hoyeon Jung and Tony Leung, “ETA” takes a much more relatable and humorous approach to its storyline. Throughout this pool party extravaganza, the members of NewJeans become sleuthing queens as they catch a friend’s cheating boyfriend and record his every move.
For nearly seven years now, KARD has been one of the most enjoyable surprises K-pop has had to offer — their entire existence goes against industry norms, yet their loyalty to their craft and each other has never wavered. In “ICKY,” their resilience is on full display as the co-ed group doesn’t just lean into their sensuality, they own it as it becomes their beautifully lethal weapon of choice. Between Jiwoo’s seductive nature as she’s entrancing her members, the psychedelic horror-inspired moments, and BM’s viral-worthy verse, “ICKY” has been stuck on the brain ever since it hit the web, making 2023 one of KARD’s best years to date.
THE BOYZ, “ROAR”
There’s something about the fallen angel concept that just hits every time a K-pop group goes near it but for The Boyz, it doesn’t just hit — it chews you up and spits you back out in the most intoxicating way possible. But you want more; you need more. That’s where “ROAR” comes in. Directed by Rigend Film (who’s worked with several other K-pop artists including TWICE and Taemin), “ROAR” is a sinister spectacle of The Boyz falling from grace and embracing their cynical nature as dark angels.
tripleS LOVElution, “Girls’ Capitalism”
Have you ever heard a K-pop song encourage capitalism? Yeah, probably. Have you ever had a K-pop group tell you you should love yourself regardless of what anyone else thinks? Oh, definitely. Okay, now imagine a K-pop group saying it’s okay to do both, to give in to your worldly desires while also knowing your worth isn’t defined by how much money you make or spend — ladies and gentlemen, that’s tripleS LOVElution’s “Girls’ Capitalism.”
“Come on and hashtag me,” EXO’s Kai baits in the opening of “Rover.” With the release of his third EP and its hypnotizing lead single, there was no escaping the millions of hashtags referring to the singer’s viral dance challenge — 451.9 million of them (on TikTok alone) to be exact. From TWICE’s Momo to ATEEZ’s San and Seonghwa and even The Vampire Diaries actress Kat Graham, Kai had the entire world rover-ing this year, and after watching the music video, it’s easy to see why.
TWICE, “Set Me Free”
Oh, how I would risk it all to watch TWICE’s “Set Me Free” for the first time again. Taking a retro-futuristic approach to the girl group’s disco track, “Set Me Free” represents a different take on each member’s perception of freedom. They feel bound by society’s expectations of how they should live and express themselves but refuse to repress their true selves any longer. Visually, the video takes this concept and runs with it, with various scenes depicting each member realizing her own destiny and breaking the metaphorical shackles that have held her back for so long. Each liberation is as powerful as the next — some liberate themselves while others help each other discover their true potential.
Mark, “Golden Hour”
Sometimes, I don’t think Mark Lee realizes the weight his words and thoughts carry. He could say something so profound one minute and jokingly laugh it off the next — not even realizing he might’ve just unlocked the key to someone else’s prayers. It’s part of his charm, and that’s pretty much how “Golden Hour” works. It’s boisterous, insinuating, and a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s also a bit of social commentary that puts Mark at the top of his game.
XG, “Left Right”
Branded as a global girl group, XG isn’t your typical K-pop act. While they are based in Korea and promote the same way we expect most Korean artists to, the group consists of all Japanese members, and they actually don’t sing in Korean at all — they sing in English. Regardless of this distinction, XG came out the gate swinging this year when they released their single, “Left Right.”
BLACKSWAN, “Cat & Mouse”
Over the years, there have been many iterations of BLACKSWAN (formerly known as Rania). But this current lineup of the multi-national girl group finally feels like the hard reset needed for the members to find their footing in the industry. “Cat & Mouse,” a soft pop B-side from the group’s second album, challenges BLACKSWAN’s fierce image with a sweeter tone and aesthetic. Its accompanying music video drips with cotton candy and gumdrops as the girls adorn themselves with pastel colors, ribbons, and lace while frolicking in the forest. It’s all so wonderfully magical and otherworldly, but the icing on the cake is the video’s homage to the nostalgic animation styles of Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera.
Stray Kids, “LALALALA”
Quick, a new Stray Kids video just dropped — what emotions are you feeling? Excitement? Anticipation? Pride? Or D: all of the above? If you answered D, you were probably a puddle of emotions when the nine-piece group dropped its lead single, “Lalalala.” And who would blame you? The rumbling bassline and rhythmic foot stomps alone are enough to shake an entire room and bring listeners to their knees. Directed by Bang Jae-yeob, “Lalalala” depicts a conflict of emotions based on the song’s Korean title, “락 (樂)” (pronounced rak), meaning “pleasure.” It’s a play on the word “rock” and explains that “although you will feel any emotions in life, you hope the last emotion you choose will be pleasure.”
Ever since Girls’ Generation member Hyoyeon’s gone solo, known under the moniker of HYO, we’ve seen astounding new sides to the performer than we could’ve expected. For one, her endeavors as a DJ have been nothing less than exciting, having completed her first North American tour this year, performing in clubs throughout the US and Canada. But even aside from that, Hyoyeon’s artistry has thrived now that she’s taken the reins of her sound and image into her own hands. “Picture,” her second single of 2023, is possibly the best and sexiest version of HYO we’ve seen yet.
Taemin comebacks should just become international holidays at this point — it’s the one day when everyone and their mothers drop whatever they’re doing to find out what awe-inspiring project the soloist has concocted this time. After leaving us with “Advice” in 2021, he’s back in a vulnerably twisted and erotic way that can only be described, in his words, as peak “Taemin-cliche.” Inspired in part by French philosopher George Bataille and his book Eroticism, and German-Swiss poet Herman Hesse and his book Demian, “Guilty” sends a chill down the spine as Taemin struggles with the weight of his guilt versus the weight of his desires. He knows he shouldn’t lead you on — it’s selfish of him. But the rush of falling in love only to rip the rug from underneath you is too exhilarating for him to stop. So he does it. Over and over again.
Nam Woohyun, “Baby Baby”
In the face of what had to be the most difficult year for INFINITE’s Woohyun, the 32-year-old K-pop star still managed to sprinkle a bit of joy into his life (and ours) twice this year for the sake of making music again. After recovering from a battle with cancer, Nam Woohyun returned with his first studio album since debuting as a soloist in 2016. And if INFINITE’s latest comeback with “New Emotions” wasn’t already enough, Woohyun’s “Baby Baby” provides another swift reminder of what gold we’ve been missing since his hiatus.
If you had told me we would get VIXX, INFINITE, Teen Top, and U-Kiss comebacks in 2023, I would’ve had to see it to believe it. But now here we are, in the last stretch of the year, with new music from K-pop titans as if the year were 2013. In VIXX’s first comeback since 2018, we return to the type of dark concepts that the group had pioneered since the early 2010s with “Amnesia.” In this brooding R&B-driven track, we get to revisit VIXX’s world with Leo, Ken, and Hyuk, where they seemingly reference storylines from their past videos coming back to haunt them in their respective scenes.
LE SSERAFIM, “UNFORGIVEN”
Following the success of their 2022 comeback, “Antifragile,” six-member group Le Sserafim struck gold again with their Jersey club banger, “Eve, Psyche, & the Bluebeard’s Wife.” But that wasn’t actually supposed to be the focal point of their 2023 album — it was supposed to be “Unforgiven.” While everyone was singing, “I’m a mess, mess, mess” on loop in their heads this year, “Unforgiven” fell by the wayside (at least, musically), but its music video has racked up over 108 million views since its May release. And rightfully so.
Around 2016 and 2017, there was an acronym in the K-pop community for the three most influential boy groups at the time called “EBS,” which stood for EXO, BTS, and SEVENTEEN. Back then, the members of SEVENTEEN would blush at the thought of being recognized among such notable artists — groups they looked up to and admired. But gone are the days of even considering whether or not they’ve earned that status. Because in 2023, they’ve made it everybody’s problem to know.
After serving preppy, rich high school students in “Spicy,” aespa has returned to their kick-ass ways in “Drama.” Set during the quartet’s return to the fictional world of Kwangya, the video references some iconic Kill Bill moments and classic action sequences we’ve grown accustomed to from the group. Specifically, Karina’s scenes are the most memorable as she engages in an epic showdown with her members in what looks like a bar. Although filmed in black and white, the quick shots of “blood” splattering on the wall from Karina’s sword, spelling out “Drama,” is very Kill Bill-esque and chilling if you’re a fan of the Tarantino movies. aespa may have abandoned their lavish lifestyles from “Spicy” to battle their inner demons in Kwangya, but at least they look damn good in the process.
Crowning themselves as the Hot Girls of Summer 2023, (G)I-DLE had everyone’s heads turning this year, whether you liked it or not. While their infectious pop single, “Queencard,” opened up a lot of divisive opinions online, the accompanying music video quickly rose up the ranks as the fastest K-pop music video to surpass 100 million views this year. “Queencard” has become an unstoppable anthem, with many of the group’s peers taking part in the fun choreography on TikTok and Instagram. But catchy hook and choreo aside, the music video and styling take heavy inspiration from popular Y2K trends and movies and might be one the best homage slash parodies we’ve seen yet.
Do you ever wonder if Sunmi is in awe of her own projects the same way we are? We’re not sure how she does it, but her title as the mother of K-pop concepts is yet to expire, especially with their latest single, “Stranger.” Right in time for the spooky season, the critically acclaimed soloist added another title to her growing list: scream queen. In its daunting music video, Sunmi is clearly having fun playing up the old horror film tropes as she tries to create another version of herself Frankenstein-style. But after the first attempt goes awry, after forgetting she missed one of the duplicates’ bolts, “Stranger” becomes both amusing and unnerving, with the singer roaming around her empty mansion, sometimes even getting pulled by an invisible force, in search of her Frankenstein look-alike.
NCT 127, “Fact Check”
NCT 127 constantly reminds us why they are the leading representatives of Seoul (other than the fact it’s literally in their name). From the cutting-edge style of their concepts to their willingness to take risks and push boundaries, the multi-national unit has become a veteran at bridging the gap between South Korea and the rest of the world. After all, they are the self-proclaimed Deities of Seoul.
CIX, “Save me, Kill me”
When we think about the “best” music videos, we often gravitate toward the showstoppers — the ones filled with glitz and glamor and make us wish we could be a part of them. But sometimes the most important and impactful videos are the ones that address subjects we would rather shy away from. No one understands this better than CIX. Over the past four years, the five-member group has tackled difficult topics such as bullying, self-harm, and suicide, most of which have played out in their story and epilogue films since debuting. “Save me, Kill me” is the culmination of that storyline, combining bits and pieces of these episodes into the final conclusion of their series.