The Best K-Pop Music Videos of 2023
A ranking and review of the top 50!
Note: Some of these videos were discussed previously in this newsletter, hence the ellipses, quotation marks, and “Read more here!” links.
#50: aespa, “Better Things”
aespa make abundantly clear that they have moved on from toxic people, bluntly singing about being “sure [their] energy is just too precious to waste” and having “better things to do with [their] time” now. They also make themselves clear in other ways: The chill, tropical instrumental and playful, aquatic adventures make it obvious that they have moved on and have zero lingering regrets about it! While the empowering message is not new for aespa, the delivery of it is, and the fun upgrades include beautiful hair makeovers and a new-to-them choreography style.
#49: MAMAMOO+, “dangdang”
Moon Byul and Solar have such a natural and endearing chemistry that the sense of their music video endeavors being staged appears not as corny fakery, but intentional theatricality. They are on the same page and both in on the joke, knowing they look silly as they don rabbit ears and sport serious expressions. Many “dangdang” music video moments bring to mind a sitcom theme song because of the ways they engage with the camera and make a big show of their surroundings. An adorable montage features playing in a ball pit, dancing in a flower field, having a tea party, and more fun playdates. This duo’s unique synergy and childlike demeanors leave no doubt as to their likability.
#48: STAYC, “Teddy Bear”
Naturally, this video is filled with teddy bears and nonstop cuteness! Relatable moments, like gushing about scoring concert tickets with a friend, are part of the story, but so are inexplicable ones, like turning a subway car into a disco dance party! The group gathers for a ritual that is the opposite of dark magic, involving a game of Telephone, hand hearts, and teddies. They know the ritual has succeeded after generating purple sparkles. As if all this wasn’t adorable enough, the video also features tutus, bear mascots, and animated finishing touches.
#47: TWICE, “MOONLIGHT SUNRISE”
“MOONLIGHT SUNRISE” has many charming details, from glowing butterflies to adorable dance moves. Other cute and very on-brand elements: the way the lights in the windows of a city building form the shape of a heart, the flowers that suddenly bloom in a pastel-painted room, and the building that resembles a heart-shaped locket! The cute hairstyles deserve a moment of appreciation too, from SANA’s crimped hair to NAYEON’s braided, looped pigtails. Read about the corresponding album here!
#46: Stray Kids, “S-Class”
The members resume key roles and return to key symbols and themes in their music video universe… Several new plot twists enter the picture in the “S-Class” video, however, including a giant sea monster and teleportation! The twists are anything but random and seem to have been hinted at in hindsight; Stray Kids add onto pre-existing premises in fortunately bizarre ways! Read more about the corresponding album here!
#45: PARK JIHOON, “Blank Effect”
“Blank Effect” is PARK JIHOON’s most climactic music video yet, filled with blood, fire, animated snakes, and strangers closing in on him. The most intriguing moments are when images abruptly turn 2D and then 4D again, like when his face becomes a 2D, flaming skull. Elsewhere, a glitch causes cartoon snakes to take his place. “Blank Effect,” fittingly, requires viewers to fill in the blanks about what is implied by the “blink and you’ll miss it” moments.
#44: SEVENTEEN, “F*ck My Life”
SEVENTEEN pay homage to The Truman Show in ways that make viewers realize similar motifs have been in the group’s music videos since day one! The “show within a show” premise is obvious with the hindsight prompted by watching “F*ck My Life.” A lot of pieces click into place while watching, providing both clarity and a reconsideration of everything people thought they knew about SEVENTEEN’s years-long narrative! The Truman Show is meant to prompt viewers to consider what makes something “real,” and “F*ck My Life” has a similar “Woah…” factor! Read more about the corresponding album here!
#43 and #42: NewJeans, “Cool With You” and “Get Up”
NewJeans tell a very ambiguous and intriguing story through this two-part video. The premise is difficult to succinctly summarize, but here are five aspects through which its meaning can be assessed.
#41: DINO, “Wait”
While DINO waits for his order number to be called, he finds numerous ways to depict the feeling that time is moving too slowly. His impatience is made palpable through serious facial expressions, group choreography that is the opposite of chill, a fast piano instrumental, and the ways his surroundings seem to mock him. For example, opening the blinds creates shadows that resemble the lines on a crosswalk, and that crosswalk’s lines also turn into the infamous “Loading” circle on a computer screen. That “Loading” symbol returns after DINO himself spins in a circle, one of the many times his movements are linked to other visual indicators of his inability to distract himself from how slow time is moving. Other details that emphasize how eternal waiting feels include his flower wilting and becoming his flattened bookmark. Also, the tiny dots that indicate an incoming text extend far beyond the end of his phone screen! Overall, the attention to detail for a release with such a clear-cut premise is impressive; who knew the concept of waiting could be this interesting?!
#40: NTX, “Holy Grail”
“Holy Grail” contrasts scenes in a sci-fi city with some in front of a beautiful, painting-like background of the sky. The city scenes involve topsy-turvy camerawork, lasers, and technicolor flashes. In contrast, the scenes with the lovely background have steadier camerawork and a more polished dress code. The video ends with a return to the futuristic, discombobulating city setting, and the members dramatically fall from the clouds, as if Zeus’s electric-blue lightning strikes are forcing them back to Earth. The dual worlds in “Holy Grail” make for a maximalist adventure with mythological subtext, and the story’s breadth equals that of the genre-combining album.
#39: Billlie, “EUNOIA”
“EUNOIA” is the kind of video worth watching more than once to catch all of the references in it to previous music videos. Now, they complicate their story by declining a call from Billlie Love, the missing girl around which their entire mission is centered. Do the members really want to find Billlie Love? Are they scared to confront someone they have implied they previously mistreated? Are they delaying the inevitable, or is the missed call a mere technical issue? “EUNOIA” both revisits preexisting premises and raises new questions, expanding their fictional world’s elements of mystery both quantitatively and qualitatively. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#38: KINGDOM, “Dystopia”
There is no shortage of beautiful things to look at in the “Dystopia” music video, from cherry blossom trees to kimonos. The members fully stay in character, performing powerful choreography that incorporates scarves and swords. The dance scenes further stun in the moments when a full moon appears behind them and when they wear all-white outfits in the snow. The wardrobe, setting changes, and uses of light and color earn an A+ for aesthetics. The video also does justice to the song narratively, ending with an ominous scene in the desert that aligns with the lyrics about a paradise that has disappeared.
#37: TAEYONG, “SHALALA”
The “T or Y” teaser videos have a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format; viewers are directed to a different video depending on which letter they click after watching the first one. TAEYONG also considers alternate storylines by cosplaying as four different characters from four different eras in the “SHALALA” video. He considers the ways things would have or could turn out differently, by traveling through space and time while framing uncertainties as possibilities. He asks himself, “Who was I?,” “Who am I?,” and “Who do I want to be?,” making SHALALA and its visual components feel like not just his diary brought to life, but his vision board too. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#36: KAI, “Rover”
While paying homage to Billy Elliot, KAI contemplates who he truly is and tries out many alter egos, even using different fake IDs. Thoughtful details add to his image as an uncertain but determined voyager, like his ripped, weathered jeans, a dance move that resembles moving luggage, and his many facial expressions while in a wig department. He reveals hints of fear between periods of cockiness, subtle expression changes that prove his knack for acting. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#35: JISOO, “FLOWER”
“FLOWER” is about gracefully parting ways with a lover and focusing on one’s relationship with oneself instead, emphasized by JISOO ripping off a necklace that has come to represent her former relationship. She also proves to be her own biggest fan by treating herself to an exquisite wardrobe and luxurious travel. She has fun on her own, shows off dance moves that mimic a flower blooming, and dresses as the epitome of elegance. “FLOWER” is all about JISOO blooming on her own terms.
#34: DAWN, “Dear My Light”
“Dear My Light” is refreshing for the ways it highlights what many hidden facets of lasting love resemble. The video shows DAWN posing as if he is an art exhibit, displaying one form after another of what it really looks like to still care about someone after that person has left one’s life romantically. Continuing to love someone after setting that love free does not just resemble a peaceful smile or obvious pain. It looks like running in slow-motion (back to or far away from something is up to interpretation). It looks like lying on a stretcher, leaning over a sink, being attached to a harness (again, whether the harness symbolizes a chance to fly or a puppeteer’s strings is up to interpretation). It looks like being stuck in a daze during a press conference. It looks like standing alone in the freezing cold. The list goes on and on, and DAWN’s variety in how he conceptualizes his emotional state makes for a thoughtful and honest portrayal.
#33: Stray Kids, “LALALALA”
There is intentional confusion about who is “acting” in the “LALALALA” teaser and full-length video, since the members give ominous voice-overs in the former but become main performers in the latter. In other words, “LALALALA” goes from talking about characters about to take the stage to turning the whole world into a stage! It is more accurate to describe Stray Kids’ behavior as not switching roles - from all-seeing observers to protagonists - so much as blurring the lines between them. After all, the elementary-aged musicians preparing backstage for their concert while Stray Kids narrate can be seen as younger versions of themselves! In ways too numerous to list here, there are lots of other ways to read into this story’s layers, including interpreting one character as an imaginary friend.
The “MEGAVERSE” concept that allows Stray Kids to blur the lines between passive and active participants in the unfolding events proves to perfectly suit them… ROCK-STAR focuses on asking, “What brings you pleasure?” and letting the audience pursue whatever that is. The album and its videos portray the world as what people make of it, as a limitless “MEGAVERSE” in which people can have a carefree blast, singing “LALALALA” and giving new meaning to “making a scene”! Read more here!
#32: Epik High ft. Hoshi, “Screen Time”
In “Screen Time,” people keep checking their phones no matter what, ignoring the people around them in casual and dire circumstances alike. Even if part of them wants to try a digital detox, it is physically impossible: Rectangular light follows them everywhere, resembling their phone’s glow even when actual phones are not present. From motorcycle lights to Tablo’s empty hands, a phone-like glow lingers. The video ends with a battery life reaching zero and an abrupt time-loop restart; Hoshi is back to where he was at the beginning… There does seem to be a way to wriggle out of a phone addiction’s hold, since the video shows street signs marked “PAST” and “PRESENT” and the members move in the direction of the latter. But that path is far from a walk in the park, as symbolized through the sources of a tunnel’s light being just the phone-screen-type glow and cracks in the walls. Arguably, what makes “Screen Time” the most effective are the roles Epik High and Hoshi play in the music video. The song is not a finger-wagging towards phone-addicted people; they, too, have fallen under the digital world’s spell. In other words, what could sound preachy just sounds relatable, since they do not treat themselves as above the problem. Read more here!
#31: BSS ft. Lee Young Ji, “Fighting”
SEVENTEEN’s usual theatrical flair is front and center in this subunit’s music video. The whole town gets in on the fun, making the premise a cross between a flash mob and an attempt to get all the citizens to turn their frowns upside-down. The members send their message through details that bring to mind a stage performance, like a car that is later revealed to be just a stationary prop. Confetti blasts, bursts of sparks that emerge from a drink, and a racetrack setting are extra fun details, even if not also intentional nods to previous SEVENTEEN videos! Read more about the corresponding album here!
#30: NCT DOJAEJUNG, “Perfume”
The “Perfume” choreography is flirty and playful, with extra emphasis placed on the best lyrics through facial expressions - JAEHYUN’s grin while he says “Yeah, that’s me!” is particularly priceless! The video also maintains swoon-worthiness in other ways, as the members rock both casual attire, when playing the role of boys-next-door, and formalwear, when filling the role of confident, suave dates. Plus, there are subtle finishing touches that add substance to the dreamy visuals, including the members’ mugshot numbers being their birthdays and the flier they put up indirectly nodding to Marcel Proust, author of In Search of Lost Time. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#29: aespa, “Drama”
The “Drama” music video starts with the following advice on the screen:
1. “Look back immediately when you feel a presence in the dark.”
2. “If your reflection in the mirror tries to shake your hand, do not let it.”
3. “Light can blind your eyes. Run away at full speed.”
4. “All of the above is false. The only way to escape is by doing the opposite.”
Not much more needs to be said to entice people to watch! They do indeed bring the drama, saving each other from falling off of skyscrapers, encountering mysterious shadows, and flexing swordsmanship. The video is a larger-than-life, action/adventure/thriller mini-movie, and it has chic outfits to boot!! Read more about the corresponding album here!
#28: BIG Naughty, “ICN > YVR”
BIG Naughty turns into a younger version of himself, still wearing an adult-sized suit. He goes on a date with a girl who is just as young, and they pay shocked adult onlookers no mind when they request a table for two at a fancy restaurant and clink their milk jugs together! They then go on a drive, go to the park, and move in together. An extra layer is added to the story when present-day BIG Naughty interferes in the youngsters’ dates. For example, he makes and flies a paper airplane that moves past their car. Later, he reaches his hand through their TV set, climbing out the other side and into a toy-filled bedroom. What starts out as just reminiscing about puppy love turns into a more complex story about trying to take an active role in influencing that love. BIG Naughty tries taking matters into his own hands to revive that first-love feeling, and whether or not he succeeds remains questionable. Present-day BIG Naughty never actually interacts with the younger versions of himself and his crush, but he does alter the past’s surroundings. He does not affect the ultimate course of the relationship; the young lovers continue to happily date, so his efforts can be seen as ignorable. The lack of a happy ending for his present-day self can be read into in several ways, but one overarching takeaway ought to be that there is nothing quite like first love, no matter how much one attempts to recapture its magic.
#27: LE SSERAFIM ft. Nile Rodgers, “UNFORGIVEN”
LE SSERAFIM go beyond maintaining an uncompromising self-presentation and dare to get even bolder! They rock Wild-West-approved outfits and dance on saloon tables. The party gets even better when they switch into coordinating, denim outfits and perform choreography that involves cute hand-holding. They show themselves as fine with being “UNFORGIVEN” for having a party wherever they go, and they then make sure others know they too can have fun as unapologetic, norm-breaking misfits! They dress like outlaws to prove there can be fun in being outcasts, and they embrace an outsider image through prioritizing friendship over fitting in. Read more about the corresponding album here!
#26: NCT 127, “Fact Check”
One of the many themes of “Fact Check” is “Everything is not what it seems.” MARK can be described as either falling from the sky or just flying through it. HAECHAN appears to be crawling at times, but then the camera tilts to make him appear to be scaling the side of a skyscraper. JOHNNY jumps out of a helicopter that suddenly turns into a miniature toy. At any moment, another magic trick can happen, symbolized perfectly through the silver sheet that is dramatically pulled off of a historic building in front of which the group dances. Their intense choreography follows a grand unveiling. They keep a commanding presence in subtler ways too, like through transitions consisting of blink-and-miss-it, zoom-in-then-zoom-out scene swaps. “Fact Check” is a must-watch whirlwind!
Check out the best songs of 2023 here!