TXT and aespa crafted career-best collections, (G)I-DLE, Suga and NCT DREAM discussed important topics and ATEEZ, ONEW and V created musical worlds.

Partly for the prolific volume of projects artists release each year and partly for the fluid definition of an album (running anywhere from three to 13 tracks), an annual ranking of K-pop albums is never easy. As South Korea continues to extend its global musical influence, certain projects transcend hit-song compilations, presenting larger visions and conceptual narratives.

In 2023, stars like V, WOODZ and ONEW used their latest solo projects to share the music that inspires them at their core as artists and let listeners settle into sonic worlds they’ve developed. Meanwhile, artists like IVE, SEVENTEEN, Kim Sejeong, TOMORROW X TOGETHER and BTS’ Suga as Agust D used their projects to show their range as artists whose inspirations run deep and varied, offering satisfying surprises for audiences. Meanwhile, the likes of JOOHONEY, (G)I-DLE, Stray Kids and NCT DREAM used their projects to speak to the topics most important to them and their fans.

#1 – ONEW, Circle – The 1st Album

While it’s somewhat criminal to think that 15 years after ONEW’s debut with SHINee in 2008 we only just received his first full Korean album, the singer-songwriter himself would say that now was the perfect time for Circle. A musical journey unlike anything released this year, ONEW shared that he had attempted to record the album’s title track before dropping his Dice EP in early 2022, but felt it wasn’t at the level of perfection it deserved and held onto the song. ONEW then involved himself in every aspect of Circle‘s production process, from meticulous mixing and mastering to tuning, beats, recording and mastering, attesting to the singer-songwriter’s dedication to artistic expression.

ONEW 온유 ‘O (Circle)’ MV

#2 – V, Layover

Incorporating V’s ingrained love of jazz music (he played saxophone in his childhood), Layover is a considerable departure from any BTS album, presenting the star in a realm all his own. An old soul, V’s first solo record unfolds as a lo-fi soul, jazz, and R&B journey where singles like “Love Me Again” and “Slow Dancing” bring a blend of romantic melancholy, with the commitment to V’s musical vision evident in decisions like an unconventional but lovely flute solo in the latter. At less than 20 minutes, Layover is a succinct, yet immersive, listening experience, becoming progressively smoother and sweeter throughout until it culminates in the falsetto-led finale “For Us” and a piano-based alternative version of “Slow Dancing.”

V ‘Slow Dancing’ Official MV

#3 – WOODZ, OO-L

WOODZ’s OO-LI album is a transformative journey for the artist, marking his first release under EDAM Entertainment as the inaugural musician signed to the company formed for beloved K-pop icon IU. The project commenced with the pre-release buzz single “Abyss,” whose music video opened with a title card promising, “A very personal story by WOODZ.” Setting the intimate and honest tone for the project, the sincerity extends beyond the touching lyrics and delivery of “Abyss” to the gospel-infused main single “Journey,” undoubtedly reflecting WOODZ’s venture into a new chapter with EDAM. Venturing deeper into his love for rock, standout B-sides like “Drowning” and “Busted” showcase WOODZ’s vocal power over production that takes inspiration from punk and metal.

[MV] WOODZ(우즈) _ Journey

#4 – aespa, My World: The 3rd Mini Album

aespa’s My World: The 3rd Mini Album had high expectations after unveiling four excellent new tracks (“Salty & Sweet,” “Thirsty,” “I’m Unhappy” and “‘Til We Meet Again”) at their first-ever solo concert Synk: Hyper Line in February. The album starts with the majestic “Welcome to My World,” a synth-pop marvel with a captivating, curious “feature” from the mysterious AI being within aespa’s lore, Naevis. While lead single “Spicy” delivers aespa’s signature sonic booms, its music video showcases the group’s more human side as the cool girls ruling their school. — J.B.

#5 – ATEEZ, The World EP.Fin : Will

Not only is it ATEEZ’s longest album to date at 12 tracks, The World EP.Fin : Will is also the group’s most ambitious—and confident—endeavor. Listening to ATEEZ albums is akin to embarking on a cinematic journey, and Will is no exception, capturing the listener’s attention with the declarative intro “We Know,” where the guys speak directly to all enemies and nonbelievers: “You better run…/ My mic is on.”

ATEEZ(에이티즈) – ‘미친 폼 (Crazy Form)’ Official MV

#6 – SEVENTEEN, 10th Mini Album: FML

SEVENTEEN’s landmark 10th Mini Album: FML (which stands for either “F–k My Life” or “Fight for My Life,” depending on which interpretation you take), signifies the group’s largest chart triumph (its their biggest sales week in the U.S. yet) and showcases the group at a new pinnacle of creativity. The tightly packed EP deftly balances SEVENTEEN’s signature blend of genres, emphasizing their versatility and musical maturity by going from the group’s most subdued single yet on “F*ck My Life” before moving to their intense heroic anthem “Super,” where the guys declare, “I love my team, I love my crew!”

SEVENTEEN (세븐틴) ‘F*ck My Life’ Official MV

#7 – (G)I-DLE, I Feel

Living up to their name as a self-producing group, (G)I-DLE wrote nearly everything on their I Feel EP with members Soyeon, Minnie and Yuqi taking lead roles in songwriting, composing and production. Perhaps more than ever, the girls’ personality is felt as the outfit moves through a range of everyday perspectives: “Allergy” lists all-too-real anxieties around hating social media, pressure to snag name brands and keeping up with your peers in the latest #challenge (“She’s so pretty, yeah, so lovely / Shе got everything, why am I not her?”) while “Queencard” is about comedically embracing your inner queen bee (“Queencard, I’m hot/ My boob and booty’s hot/ Spotlight, look at me/ I’m a star!”). 

(여자)아이들((G)I-DLE) – ‘퀸카 (Queencard)’ Official Music Video

#8 – Agust D, D-Day

ntroduced by an eye-opening Disney+ documentary and brought to life through a world tour, D-Day emerged as a poignant, intimate glimpse into Suga’s captivating mind. In the third project under his Agust D moniker, Suga delves into his most personal reflections on record, exploring loneliness, freedom and letting go of the past. Beyond the lyricism revealing Suga’s innermost thoughts, the emotional weight of discussing his health and family in the standout track “Amygdala” are heightened by deft production decisions like Suga’s singing and use of Auto-Tune. D-Day also pays tribute to one of Suga’s personal musical heroes, as the gorgeous and haunting “Snooze” features legendary Japanese composer and producer Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well WOOSUNG of The Rose.

Agust D ‘Haegeum’ Official MV

#9 – Stray Kids, 5-STAR

Stray Kids continued to dominate the U.S. with their summer full-length album 5-STAR, securing their third consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and their most successful sales week to date in America. Not too surprising given the 12-track project acts as a testament to the meticulous attention the group pours into each composition, with Stray Kids’ production unit of 3RACHA (a.k.a. Bang Chan, Changbin and HAN) boasting songwriting, composition and production credits across every track. 

Stray Kids “특(S-Class)” M/V

#10 – ENHYPEN, Orange Blood

Throughout ENHYPEN’s Fate World Tour this fall (which landed the boy band on this year’s overall Top 100 tour ranking), the septet hyped up November’s Blood Orange album as “the comeback of the year” and their excitement was well warranted. Not only was lead single “Sweet Venom” one of 2023’s smoothest disco-pop offerings to date, but standout B-sides like the surging “Blind” mark some of ENHYPEN’s best vocal performances while “Orange Flower (You Complete Me)” sounds prime for a viral crossover like the guys’ TikTok hits “Polaroid Love” and “TFW (That Feeling When).” 

Click Here To Get the Full Details of all 25 Albums @ Billboard.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *