Under The Radar: 2023 K-Pop Releases That Deserve a Revisit

Benni Bradford

With spring weather right around the corner, it’s time for the K-pop industry to give us endless warm-weather bops and rookie debuts. But before we all get swept deep into 2024 and 2023 becomes a complete afterthought, let’s take a look back at a few projects that went under the radar last year.

Whether it was less-than-stellar promotions or plain old bad timing, here are some 2023 K-pop comebacks that didn’t see much reception, but are worth a revisit. 

1. Whee In’s IN the Mood Album

Mamamoo’s Whee In gave us an easy-listening solo album in mid-October that was delightful from start to finish. A full album that has 11 songs and is over 30 minutes long? Practically unheard of these days.

Admittedly, IN the Mood has a breezy sound that’s more fit for gearing up to wear sunglasses at the park than bundling up for chilly weather so the timing of its release may have been off. But that just means that right now is as good a time as any to pick it up. Whee In’s vocals are heavenly, and the songs range from dreamy to uplifting to perfect for dancing in your kitchen. At this point, circling back to this album is for your own good.

Wheein Embarks on 1st World Tour WHEE IN THE MOOD [BEYOND]

2. DAWN’s Narcissus EP

For fans of the former Pentagon and Triple H member and now-established soloist, Narcissus was Dawn’s long-awaited EP after leaving (surviving?) CUBE and then P Nation until ending with At Area, GroovyRoom’s label under Jay Park’s H1gher Music. Company changes aside, DAWN’s quiet nature likely played a part in the subtle and quick announcement of this EP. His first Instagram post about it was on August 31st with the simple caption, “My next album coming soon.” Followed by promos starting September 4th, just 11 days before the September 15 release.

While “Star (feat. 10CM)” likely had people thinking this EP was full of beautiful heartbreak ballads about his break up with 2nd gen queen, HyunA, DAWN actually blessed us with 8 genre-fusing that explore the intricacies of love… in a fun way! 

The songs range from ballads to slightly retro sounds with a bit of 80s keyboards here, a touch of Maroon 5-esque acoustic guitar there, the staples of classic pop, and vibey R&B. The sound of the project was unlike anything DAWN’s done before, and fairly unique for a K-pop soloist with an idol background. 

Not even a month after the release, DAWN announced he’d be completing his mandatory military service in an understated manner. But, he is still one to watch if you aren’t already, and Narcissus is a can’t-miss EP.

3. Chuu’s Howl EP 

(Former) Loona member, Youtuber, and inventor of the biting heart pose, Chuu, released her first solo EP after the turbulent legal battle between Loona and their company, Blockberry Creative. Being under a new startup company as a new soloist releasing a new album is a lot of newness especially when it comes to generating noise about a release so this one may have gone under the radar, especially for non-Orbits. 

The October EP is made up of 5, free-spirited songs that give the distinct feeling of going through hard times and coming out of them stronger. Chuu’s crystalline, ethereal vocals pair well with the stripped-down and spacious production of the songs. She’s definitely giving us “girl who’s going to be okay” vibes while tapping into the optimistic energy that late 00’s/early 2010s pop gave us. (Think: Natasha Bedingfield's “Unwritten” and Sara Bareilles’s “Chasing the Sun.”)

[Photo Gallery] CHUU in New York was a Howling Success

4. Jun’s “Psycho” Single

Some may wonder how the solo project of a member of the iconic boy group Seventeen went under the radar (or even debate it), but 2023 was an incredibly busy year for Seventeen. Within 6 months, the group released 3 albums in April, August, and October. And right in the middle at the start of July, Jun gave us his second single. 

Jun proved he’s a force to be reckoned with as a soloist in 2022 with his single “Limbo” and made sure to hammer this home with “Psycho.” Fair warning, the song is only 2:17 in length which should be a crime, but the thumping EDM sound will transport you to a club dance floor on a fun night out making it worth hitting replay. Not to mention the music video is a little dark and maniacal while being well-styled and showing off Jun’s performance skills perfectly. 

5. Oh My Girl’s Golden Hourglass EP

If you’ve been finding yourself saying you miss the quintessential K-pop sound of the 2nd and 3rd generation, I’m happy to tell you that it still exists! Oh My Girl delivered their EP, Golden Hourglass, last July after more than a year without new music. The fact that it’s perfect summer music is just a bonus.

If you’re familiar with Oh My Girl’s discography, or even their biggest hits like “Dolphin” or “Dun Dun Dance,” this album is not too far off from the group’s signature sound. Full of hi-hats on the drums, uplifting messages about celebration and standing up for yourself, and even some unexpected rap-centered sections, this EP is fun! You might just leave your listening session feeling like you were in a soda ad by the ocean.

This is Oh My Girl’s first project after member Kim Jiho left the group in May 2022 to pursue different dreams. She is thoroughly missed, but the 6 members did well by her by sticking to their sound and showing off their seasoned vocals with ease. 

6. VIXX’s Continuum EP

5 years after their last album, VIXX graced the masses and their fanbase ST☆RLIGHT with their album in November 2023. The 4 member crew managed to capture a familiar pop sound with 5 timeless, heartthrob hits. 

But what really makes Continuum a must-listen in the new year is their ability to show the kids how it’s done. With complete control over their vocals and an intimate understanding of their range, they easily showcase their personality and skill. I want to hear all of these songs live and acapella ASAP.

7. fromis_9’s Unlock My World Album

fromis_9’s June 2023 project, Unlock My World, definitely didn’t go under the radar for their fanbase, flovers. However, the same likely can’t be said about the general public. Rapid changes in their management from being co-managed by Stone Music and Off the Record Entertainment to being managed by Pledis Entertainment which recently got acquired by Hybe Entertainment have been rough. 

Not to mention, member Jang Gyuri left the group in July 2022 followed by nearly a year of low activity from the group. Unlock My World seeing the noticeably weak promo for the five-year-old group of now 8 members was certainly not what we wanted to see for fromis_9.

But, we can not just let an album full of pop excellence fall by the wayside. With 10 songs reaching over 30 minutes in play, this is another great option for listeners missing full-length albums and songs over 3 minutes in length. Upbeat choruses, fromis’s distinct flavor that shines as much as the members’ vocal talent, and bridges you’ll want to rewind again and again await you. 

And if you’re a fan of performances, fromis_9’s elegance, synchronicity, and musicality are on full display yet again for the live stages of the lead single, “#menow.”

8. (G)I-DLE’s Heat EP 

Still riding the high of leading tracks “Queencard” and “Allergy” which came out not even six months before on their EP, I feel, it’s likely the masses weren’t ready for (G)I-DLE’s first full English EP. However, with certified bangers, “I Do,” “Eyes Roll,” and “I Want That,” it would be a disservice to leave Heat off the list of projects to revisit.

Many groups tend to play it safe when releasing a foreign language album, but (G)I-DLE went full throttle and displayed their distinct flavor while managing to show listeners a new side of themselves over the course of 5 songs. 

Heat is sassy, at times earnest in its heartfelt songs, and certainly hot. Taking a look back to October 2023 is worth it for this quick and flavorful treat.

9. OnlyOneOf’s seOul cOllectiOn EP

OnlyOneOf (OOO) still goes viral every couple of months for their “libidO” choreography and may be more known for their support of the LGBT+ community or their dynamic as a group than their discography. But it’s time to put the spotlight on their music. 

seOul cOllectiOn came out in March 2023 and illustrated just how far OOO has come since their debut in 2019. Their sound is distinct with the members leaning more into their huskier and deeper tones vs. the traditional falsettos and high notes you usually see in K-pop. And it wouldn’t be an OOO project if the group wasn’t supported by stellar production. The 7 songs are almost cinematic in ways, making you feel like you’re watching a suave action movie or like you’re in a movie. 

But most importantly, nothing about the music or avant-garde creativity feels forced. OnlyOneOf isn’t trying to be anything or anyone else and it makes this EP (and all of their works) an exciting listen.

10. Weeekly’s ColoRise EP

Weeekly made one of the most jarring concept changes in 2022 when, after lead singles “Tag Me,” “After School,” and “Holiday Party,” they released their single “Ven Para.” The transition was unexpected and likely lost listeners who came and stayed for that upbeat, teen-fresh concept that cut through the girl crush wave.

With the release of ColoRise on November 1, 2023, they doubled down on the statement that they are no longer the group that rides skateboards on stage… and I think we should hear them out.

While they’re still trying to find their unique sound in this new era, ColoRise gives us a good sense of what’s here to stay for the 6 member group. The synthy, more mature sounds from “Ven Para” and the Play Game: AWAKE project are present, but they also reach back to their early years by having bright and fresh songs. What’s new? Surprisingly, it’s an unexpected retro undertone in the same vein as city pop.

Whether you’ve been missing the Weeekly you used to know or you’re looking for a fluid album with great vocals and upbeat bops, it’s worth not letting ColoRise stay under your radar.

[Exclusive Interview] Weeekly + Balance Game

Do you agree with this list of K-pop releases of 2023 that deserve a revisit? Most importantly, did I miss anything that flew under my radar? Share in the comments below. 

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