As each year passes, K-pop develops in new directions, with key moments and moves defining not only the year but also the future. In 2022, long term and newer acts made waves, with music and business decisions impacting what’s to come in 2023 and beyond.

New adventures for BTS
When BTS announced in June that they’d be taking a bit of a break from group activities, it felt like a pin drop could be heard around the world before a tumultuous questioning of their future. Initially misconstrued — or mistranslated — as a hiatus, it later became clear that it is more of a directional shift, with members pursuing solo ventures and beginning mandatory enlistment in South Korea’s military.
Along with a bevy of other activities, including holding a widely-watched concert in October, J-Hope became the first member to release his solo album, July’s “Jack in the Box,” followed by RM’s December release, “Indigo.” Jin became the first member to enlist December 13, but not before he released the October single, “The Astronaut.”

The return of Blackpink
Nearly two years since their prior most-recent album, October 2020’s “The Album,” the quartet returned in September with their “Born Pink” album, kicking off the largest world tour ever by a K-pop girl group, which will continue through summer of 2023. Their biggest coup may have been topping the charts in the U.S. and U.K. simultaneously, something no girl group has done since Destiny’s Child in 2001.
The members also continued to gain recognition as celebrity influencers, representing some of the biggest fashion houses in the world. Acting also became a major venture for Blackpink in 2022, with Jisoo starring in the Disney Plus historical (and controversial) drama “Snowdrop,” and Jennie taking part in the Weeknd-starring upcoming HBO series, “The Idol.”

Hybe dominates
With a multi-company roster featuring K-pop teams BTS, Seventeen, TXT, Enhypen, Le Sserafim, and NewJeans, plus other subsidiaries and Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Records, Hybe Corp. spent much of 2022 launching new projects and musical releases to solidify its place. A relative newcomer to the scene, Hybe (born out of Big Hit Entertainment, now Big Hit Music), rapid expansion has made it the highest-valued entertainment company in South Korea.
Hybe also looked to develop its US-based holdings more, and spent much of 2022 investing in developing Hybe America. 

SM Entertainment reassess business relationship with founder
The home to many popular K-pop acts with years of success under its belt, this powerhouse is up for some changes after investors raised concerns about an expensive business contract with founder Lee Soo-Man’s production company, Like Planning. Ultimately, the SM Entertainment board decided to cancel that contract. Lee remains the largest shareholder of SM, and maintains a working relationship with the company and artists.

New female groups rise
This year was undeniably a successful year for the women of K-pop. Notably, it was newer teams that debuted in the last two years like IVE, Le Sserafim, NewJeans and Aespa, who were the purveyors of some of this year’s biggest K-pop hits.

2NE1 reunite at Coachella
No singular moment of excitement was greater for K-pop watchers than when 2NE1, active from 2009-2016, reunited at Coachella during CL’s solo set. It was the first time all four members of the act performed publicly since 2015, showcasing their synergy and charisma with a historic performance of their 2011 hit anthem, “I Am the Best.”   

Legacy female teams thrive
Though 2NE1 reunited for a one-off performance and raised hopes for new music from them someday, several of their generational counterparts also returned in 2022 after several years of absence, bringing albums and hits with them.
Girls’ Generation and Kara each reunited to release special commemorative 15th anniversary albums. Girls’ Generation returned with their “Forever 1” LP in August, their first album since 2017, while Kara returned in November with the “Move Again” EP, their first album since 2015. Both teams garnered hits in South Korea, commemorating their groundbreaking careers.

NewJeans arrives
NewJeans, the first act from Hybe subsidiary Ador, arrived suddenly in July with a series of singles garnering interest both for being produced by respected K-pop creative Min Hee-Jin, and for their abrupt appearance rather than a typical long promotional cycle. Since then, their first EP, “New Jeans,” resulted in a series of viral singles.

GOT7 paves new path for K-pop groups
Last year, boy band GOT7 left long term company JYP Entertainment, and said they’d be back. This year, they returned with their self-titled EP in May. While a boy band releasing an album is par for the K-pop course, “Got7” is notable for showing a seamless shift from being an idol group under a South Korean entertainment company to self-managed artists. It set a new standard for the industry, diverging from the contract disputes or artistic rebranding that other now-independent K-pop groups have faced.

Tours and festivals return
K-pop concert tours began again in earnest in 2022. This year witnessed some of the biggest-ever K-pop concert series’ and K-pop-focused festivals in many countries. In the U.S., more artists also performed at bigger venues than prior to the pandemic, including BTS taking over Las Vegas for a duo of weekends, and Twice performing at one of Los Angeles’s stadiums, the first-ever K-pop girl group to perform at a stadium in country. K-pop acts also became a mainstay at music festivals and award shows in the US, with the likes of CL, and 2NE1, and aespa appearing at Coachella, J-Hope of BTS and TXT at Lollapalooza, and Blackpink debuting “Pink Venom” at the MTV VMAs.