The Best K-Pop Music Videos of 2023, Part Two
A ranking and review of the top 25!
#25: NewJeans, “Super Shy”
With “Super Shy,” NewJeans abandon complex storylines and focus on color and choreography, although the video is not entirely devoid of meaning. Under the bright blue sky, while rocking chic and sporty outfits, they join a group of synchronized dancers without missing a beat. Perfectly matching the song’s tone, which is quiet but insistent, the video shows both timidity and boldness. The members do dance in public, but they blend in as members of a large dance crew. They simultaneously put themselves out there and enjoy being alone in a crowd. “Super Shy” is more than just another dance-heavy K-pop video, thanks to both this layered disposition and the dancing group’s constant relocation. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#24: JUN, “PSYCHO”
JUN questions who the real freaks in this world are while unleashing his own inner freak, and he wonders which norms need to be destroyed while literally destroying things! He effectively acts out the song’s themes in subtler ways too. There is an unsettling, mad gleam in his eyes as he unleashes a maniacal laugh that makes the line between laughs and screams feel comically flimsy… he decides to embrace his inner madness, choosing screaming/laughing instead of clinging to apathy, like he once did while walking on a treadmill, just going through the motions of daily life… JUN shows the seismic impacts each individual can have on an environment, how easy it is to redefine go-to behaviors and attitudes, and how jumbled one’s feelings can get upon unleashing that potential. Read more here!
#23: COOING, “The Milky Way”
“The Milky Way” is one of the most aesthetically pleasing music videos of 2023. There are celestial scenes, technicolor ones, and some that keep the attention on cryptic symbols, like red flowers that become black feathers and tiny orbs that provide pops of color. The visual stunners collide at times, like when COOING floats through outer space wearing black wings that are on fire and when a blue butterfly enters a colorful, flower-filled space. Backgrounds and props aside, COOING captivates with her outfit choices and the color contrasts they correspond with, including a silver ensemble worn in a white room and a black outfit worn in front of a green glow. Yet another way COOING keeps the viewing experience stimulating is with an optical-illusion-style moment, when planets appear either trapped in a picture frame or behind a window.
#22: Dreamcatcher, “BONVOYAGE”
This video has plenty of Easter eggs in it to please superfans but plenty of different visual spectacles to keep more casual viewers engaged. Dreamcatcher play a cross between witches and superheroes, using their powers to give a newly-accessed dimension a makeover! There are countless sights to soak in, some simply pretty (like flowers and butterflies), and others suspenseful plot points (like explosions and force fields). Read more about the corresponding album here!
#21: IVE, “Kitsch”
From a self-portrait mural to wings on fire, this video makes the most out of a minimal amount of props. IVE also make statements less ambiguously, including “YOU’RE SO WEIRD, DON’T CHANGE” in neon lights and “Rock, not guns. Culture, not violence” on the backs of their varsity jackets. “Kitsch” is both catchy and eye-catching, especially because the members are pros at interacting with the camera. They shine in individual scenes, transfixing viewers with confident stares and smiles, and they then shine even brighter in scenes where they dance as a confident collective. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#20: KIM SEJEONG, “Voyage”
KIM SEJEONG looks and acts as darling as a Disney princess! She walks through a wardrobe with a village on the other side of it, and the merry villagers treat her as the guest of honor. They shower her with love and attention and keep her at the center of their endless festivities. The fiddle-filled instrumental is the perfect musical accompaniment to her whimsical day in this magical town, and her gorgeous gowns and flower-adorned hairstyles cement her role as a warm, approachable main character. “Voyage” also impresses for the remarkable contrast it draws with this era’s other main single, “Top or Cliff.” “Top or Cliff” is a gritty, gory mini-movie in which she plays a sinister assassin. “Voyage” depicts a utopian fairy tale, and its sharp juxtaposition to the “real-world” “Top or Cliff” makes the escapism even more appealing. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#19: Jimin, “Set Me Free Pt.2”
Literally and metaphorically, Jimin’s backup dancers can be interpreted as guiding and elevating him, but they can just as easily be seen as trapping and holding leverage over him. The lyrics attest to this tension, while the German poem on Jimin’s shirt voices a commitment to never giving up trying to get unstuck… Like Jimin sings in “Like Crazy,” he wants to be “lost in the lights” forever, and realizing this is impossible both “sets him free” and terrifies him. FACE lays bare Jimin’s attempts to make sense of the messiness of life, and he impresses with how he distills that messiness into a concise song and dance. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#18: SUNMI, “STRANGER”
When just listening to the EP, SUNMI appears to tell a story about a single character she plays… But across a series of videos, SUNMI plays multiple characters: the creator, the Frankenstein-like creation, and some bit parts, like a mansion’s cleaning staff. When SUNMI is playing which role is murky at times, like when she seeks inspiration from getting struck by lightning, which alters something in her brain and makes her movements appear mechanical, and when she finds the monster’s missing screw and takes it for herself while dressed as a maid. The roles besides “FrankenSUNMI” seem to be making themselves more and more like “FrankenSUNMI,” highlighting the ways creators and their creations, even their most monstrous ones, are not so different after all.
Another perspective through which to analyze this story is the monster’s. She goes on strange and spooky adventures with a mystery man over whom she’s grown smitten. Meanwhile, her creator is back at the mansion, panicking over her creation going missing. SUNMI is worried about what another SUNMI is up to, a return to the overall message of this era about people having to reconcile that, at the end of the day, every version of themselves is ultimately still themselves. Read more here!
#17: CHUU, “Howl”
The mascot for Howl is a friendly, CGI monster who comforts CHUU in the title track’s music video. CHUU sings about feeling powerless to change the whole world, but with the monster’s help, she converts despair into hope and realizes that she can at least change her tiny corner of it. The monster’s presence is enough to strengthen her. Whenever the monster cannot be by CHUU’s side, his palm-sized sidekick takes his place, ensuring CHUU never feels alone. Besides the moral of the story (that bravery is easier to see within oneself with a little help from one’s friends), “Howl” is also just plain fun! The gentle giant and his miniature helper do not just protect CHUU, like when she walks around at night, but take her on adventures, like a magical boat ride! “Howl” is a tribute to companionship, and its emotional effectiveness is thanks to CHUU’s acting. She goes from on the verge of sobbing with fright, prior to getting to know the monsters, to appearing as serene as can be, smiling at her companions while soaking up the sunshine and bright blue sky. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#16: PURPLE KISS, “Sweet Juice”
In a fictional universe where a group of witches nicknamed “Purky” fend off evil forces, everyone must stay on high alert. Warnings to not look behind the doors and to not pick up the phone are loud and clear. But the “Purky” show a naive degree of confidence, causing their battles against the evil spirits to persist. They have the upper hand in some moments and appear victorious, with their cold stares and entrancing vocals. But in other scenes, they are literally pushed around and taunted by the invisible spirits. The “Sweet Juice” music video has many twists and turns and keeps the fate of “Purky” a mystery. The sinister story further impresses with its specific aesthetic. The group’s wardrobe combines preppy and prom-ready styles, shimmery makeup, and, naturally, a deep shade of purple. Their carefully-curated visuals keep their characters consistent and sink viewers deeper into the action.
#15: TAEYEON, “To. X”
To. X does not shy away from the most gut-wrenching aspects of a negative relationship, but it pays attention to the light at the end of the tunnel too. A blink-and-miss-it moment in the “To. X” video symbolizes that glimmer of hope: TAEYEON turns into a 2D, upside-down character with butterfly wings. This flicker of hope hidden inside of a dark story hints at the inner strength TAEYEON has to emerge from the “cocoon” in which her ex has forced her to stay trapped for so long. By the story’s end, TAEYEON can spread her wings and become the “butterfly” she has been all along. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#14 and #13: WOODZ, “ABYSS”...
“ABYSS” speaks volumes with its library/bookstore setting: In a place dedicated to sharing others’ stories and interacting with others, when do the people facilitating the sharing get to do the sharing? WOODZ spends his days giving others what they want and need, both materially and emotionally, but it is not reciprocated. There are many ways to interpret the music video and many other aspects of it that are worth pondering, making this single pack as powerful of an emotional punch as any longer release can. Read more here!
… and “Journey”
Picking up right where the “ABYSS” video leaves off, WOODZ wanders through the same building, but with a new level of self-awareness. Previously, he succumbed to literal darkness, lying in a dark and empty room, all the fight taken out of him. Now, he roams all over the place, indoors and outdoors, diamonds dropping in his wake. “ABYSS” visually represents feeling trapped, and “Journey” does not necessarily depict the opposite. Rather, “Journey” portrays newfound resolve to stop feeling trapped, to value oneself enough to give oneself permission to explore without a clear destination in mind. WOODZ gives himself grace to not have a clear answer, which allows him to soak in his journey. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#12 and #11: KISS OF LIFE, “Bad News” and “Nobody Knows”
KISS OF LIFE’s “Bad News” music video paints their characters as purely vindictive, but the “Nobody Knows” video adds thought-provoking context. The bad behavior in “Bad News” turns out to not have been unprompted: The one who dumped a drink on someone’s head did so because that audience member was on her phone during her live performance; the one who aggressively pelted a ball at someone during gym class did so in retaliation for that person’s previous bullying of a peer; the two members who got into separate physical fights did so in self-defense. The fact the girls stay on the run at the end of the story, fearing legal repercussions, and the fact they appear on security camera footage mid-robbery show that explanations for their behavior are not the same thing as excuses for it. They are not off the hook, but the additional context behind their behavior remains crucial for understanding them at a deeper level. The story is much more nuanced than one of heroes versus villains… Depicting something on screen is, of course, not equivalent to endorsing that behavior, and this story is less focused on what people “should” do than why they do it… The lack of a tidy ending lets the audience contemplate questions about human nature. Read more here!
#10: TXT, “Sugar Rush Ride”
The magical island in which the “Sugar Rush Ride” video is located is absolutely breathtaking, but it has hidden gems too, specifically the ways it brings to life the deeper context of TXT’s corresponding, Neverland-themed concept album:
“The ‘Sugar Rush Ride’ music video features the members reveling in picturesque spots on the island, letting the world become a carefree, colorful blur around them, where nothing seems to matter and the passage of time is a non-issue. Their worries float away like the colorful butterflies that surround them. But TXT know enough by now to not fully fall for the mirage. Deep down, they recognize the deception within this utopia. Their moment of bliss is just a moment, a temporary ‘sugar rush’ of tantalizing, sweet freedom…”
#9 and #8: (G)I-DLE, “Allergy” and “Queencard”
(G)I-DLE indulge in the aesthetic realm of nineties and early-aughts teen comedies but rewrite the endings to be refreshingly real. “Allergy” and “Queencard” are two parts of the same story, the former ending with SOYEON ready for plastic surgery and the latter showing her suddenly running away, deciding she doesn’t need it. The story could have stopped there, as just a straightforward “from insecure to secure” narrative. Instead, they opt for a messier ending: SOYEON does realize she is beautiful as she is, but she does not completely fall in love with herself either. (G)I-DLE gain confidence, but they are playing characters at the end of the day. Behind the scenes, as their song lyrics attest, they continue to crave admiration and feel compelled to cater to society’s standards. Unlike in the movies, where characters’ decisions can seem detached from the world in which they live, (G)I-DLE do not deny the social factors that influence them. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#7: ENHYPEN, “Bite Me”
“Bite Me” is certainly alluring, but its regal wardrobe, magical powers, and flirty dance moves are only parts of the appeal. As always, ENHYPEN’s video is a must-watch for reasons deeper than aesthetics. They use a naturally attention-grabbing premise - vampires with an elaborate backstory and ongoing quest - to explore themes ranging from desired legacies to intertwined love and loss. With embellished attire, smooth moves, and superpowers including levitation, “Bite Me” effectively stokes interest in the characters behind the arresting imagery. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#6: ENHYPEN, “Sacrifice (Eat Me Up)”
This video makes the group’s supernatural story come alive. As detailed in previous 17 Carat K-Pop podcast episodes and articles, ENHYPEN’s music video world involves everything from mythological references to vampire characters lost in thought about the concept of immortality. The thought-provoking, complex story is done justice by this visual marvel, which depicts the characters’ movements throughout the Heaven-to-Hell spectrum. Smart symbol usage (like the porch swing that represents tying someone down, rather than the expected representation of freedom and joy) keeps the interest of fans who are emotionally invested in the narrative, while the stunning visuals also keep the interest of more casual viewers.
#5: AB6IX, “LOSER”
Even when the purposes of the decor and props in the “LOSER” music video are hard to nail down, their presence is worthwhile for at least aesthetic reasons! A vibrant purple sky, bursts of dark smoke, a coffin, and stained-glass church windows create a haunting but beautiful atmosphere. The scenes are also filled with symbols of light and hope, including glowing butterflies and newly-blossomed flowers. The video has engaging twists and turns, the most clever one being their spin on a voodoo doll concept. One of the members appears trapped in a life-size maze, but it turns out to just be a tabletop diorama. What the normal-size members do to the tiny one affects the normal-size version of him. The video’s other puzzles include a billboard that says “Lost & Found” and blocks the end of a tunnel. The members run toward that exit, getting closer to what they’ve been looking for, but it is a dead end at the same time. The coexisting feeling of being stuck and being close to a reprieve matches the juxtaposition of “LOSER”’s upbeat sound and bleak lyrics! AB6IX sonically and visually embody being lost but knowing that the future is still theirs for the taking.
#4: tripleS LOVElution, “Girls’ Capitalism”
In “Girls’ Capitalism,” tripleS play the role of “Mad Money Club For Sad Girls” members and act out both examples and counterexamples of following a list of rules for life… More often than not, the answer to “Do they follow this rule?” is more complicated than a “Yes” or a “No.” When they seem to thumb their noses at the rules, they also still seem to take their cues from them, and when they seem to embrace the rules, they also seem to surreptitiously disobey them… By seeming to lower money’s value to them financially, they enrich its value abstractly, enhancing each misadventure with the repurposing of it. The girls reduce money to a mere plaything, and this can be seen as both a critique of the value placed on money and a view of it as a necessity in every aspect of life… The “Girls’ Capitalism” music video tells a Barbie-like story about girls’ mission to find and love their true selves within the confines of a capitalist system and despite social-class-related stereotypes. Read more here!
#3: Agust D, “AMYGDALA”
The “AMYGDALA” video, named after a part of the brain that processes traumatic memories, visually represents the process of unpacking those memories. Agust D separates parts of himself, sending one on a mission to reenact past incidents while the other stays safe indoors. The former starts the process, recreating the circumstances of Agust D’s real-life bike accident. He suddenly aborts that mission when sensing trouble back home, and sure enough, the Agust D who’s indoors is in a mentally harmful place. The freshly-unsealed memories are making his mindset worse before it gets better, and the indoor Agust D tries to create distance from his own mind back in that room. He sprints toward the exit, and not only is it locked, but his odds of opening it decrease in real time. The floor becomes more and more slanted, harder and harder to climb, and a downpour blurs his vision. He eventually gives up and simply lies there on the slanted floor, the other Agust D leaning against the other side of the door.
The video’s ending can be seen as tragic, since Agust D’s attempt to expunge trauma from his mind has faltered and he never reunites with his other self. But there is reason to see a glimmer of hope: The outdoor Agust D never abandons the indoor one, staying as close to his side as he can get. Plus, indoor Agust D manages to stay where he is, rather than sliding back down to where the climb started. His therapy is far from over, but it is premature to say it has failed; he is farther along than he used to be, and he knows he can overcome future periods of pressing “pause” and soldiering on if he continues to be his own biggest supporter. Being the opposite of his own worst enemy makes an arduous process manageable. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#2: SEVENTEEN, “Super”
The “Super” music video’s grand scale makes SEVENTEEN’s synchronization even more mind-blowing than usual! In addition to synchronizing with more background dancers than ever, the video wows with its attention to detail. They incorporate many subtle but powerful meanings into their moves, one being a “cloning” effect, an homage to a scene from Journey to the West. The collective moves as if in response to JUN’s arm movements. Other choices reinforce specific lyrics, like when WONWOO says, “I looked at the ground and kept going to the top” just after WOOZI is seen on a high perch. SEVENTEEN treat everything from camera angles to choreography as part of a package deal, making “Super” a testament to their thoughtful, peerless creative vision. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#1: SEVENTEEN, “God of Music”
“God of Music” is an inclusive invitation to join SEVENTEEN’s carefree jam session in whichever ways people see fit. The people in the music video rock out in different outfits, places, and formats, but they all sing and chant along to the same song. Even little creatures get the chance to rock out with everyone: WOOZI offers an ant a miniature microphone to go with its mini-guitar, and later, a snail wears headphones! Music is a gift that connects people irrespective of background or language, and “God of Music” is SEVENTEEN’s expression of gratitude for that gift… The “God of Music” video makes sure no one of any shape or size misses out on the fun!
While giving “God of Music” first place on this list comes with obvious bias, all who watch it hopefully see the ways it is objectively well-done! The video’s effervescence encapsulates what SEVENTEEN have always been about: talking about peace, love, and the power of music. “God of Music” is a colorful, celebratory gift with charms from which no one is immune!
Learn more about these picks through the corresponding podcast episode!
Check out the best songs of 2023 here!