It’s a good thing that I don’t actually make any money as a music critic, because I spent the bulk of 2022 as a terrible music critic. I listened mostly for comfort and familiarity, and so I ended up listening to the same songs (or background playlists, or SomaFM channels) over and over and again. My Spotify Wrapped data was… unimpressive.
But I do have a few new songs to bring to y’all’s attention. You’ll notice that this year’s list, remarkably, is Ninety One-free. This is largely because the guys have been talking about releasing a new album all year but haven’t actually done it yet, and none of the singles they released in 2022 rose to can-recommend-to-the-non-obsessed status. (Did I listen to “Bata” five hundred times, and watch the video another six hundred? Yes. Can I recommend in good conscience that you do something similar? No.) Besides, earlier this year I reviewed every Ninety One song they’ve released so far on Tumblr, so those opinions are close at hand, if you want them. Here we shall pretend that my horizons expanded a bit. Songs below are listed in alphabetical order by title.
I’m not the biggest Swiftie; I was tired of Taylor Swift as endless cultural fixation back when the fixation was on “Look What You Made Me Do,” and I didn’t particularly enjoy Midnights. And I wouldn’t put “Anti-Hero” up yet with my favorite Swift songs (“Style,” “New Romantics,” and “Cardigan,” of late). But there was no way a song whose chorus begins with, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me,” wasn’t making this list.
At some point I will tell y’all the story of how I spent part of last year following OnlyOneOf, and then realizing that that was a terrible idea, in part because the group’s hard turn towards a BL-focused marketing strategy raises all kinds of questions of consent and worker rights (yes, that was me ranting at Kpopalypse while at the vet; my dog turned out to be fine). But even in my disillusionment I have to admit that member KB, who co-wrote this, put together a groovy little song that somehow manages to keep its momentum all the way through.
It was a good year for My Biases From Korean Idol Groups With Better-than-Average Musical Track Records Releasing Solo Songs. I’m not particularly nostalgic for the pop-punk era; I probably wouldn’t even have given this a listen had I not been fond of Dami starting from the “You and I” era. But it’s well executed. It sounds exactly as fun as it’s supposed to sound, which is a lot.
Speaking of Korean idol groups with better-than-average track records: 4Minute may be long dead but former member Jeon Jiyoon has moved on to better things, such as the side group PRSNT (she also records solo, under the name Jenyer). “Crazy Driver” was apparently not a single, I can’t even find footage of them performing it, and it’s a damn shame: it is an absolutely delightful combination of ’80s pastiche, including a low grating synth, and Jiyoon’s charisma. I mean if I tell you there’s a rollicking song with Jiyoon saying, “Hello, everything’s going to be awesome,” and that furthermore said song was produced with Jiyoon as independent artist getting to choose her own projects, then I don’t see why you don’t jump to that.
Her hair is fabulous, but honestly I hadn’t seen the video until I looked it up for this list; I think I found the song via some Spotify workout playlist. Her delivery is even more fabulous than her hair.
A friend of mine fell in love with the Thai gay-sex-bedecked Mafia soap KinnPorsche, and, in true Tumblr fashion, I never got around to watching the show, just enjoyed the memes and Jamie’s writing. And the theme song. Arguably the Thai version is better, but either way you’re getting some excellent, excellent, compelling drumming and an enjoyably soaring bridge.
I mean, the subtitle doesn’t lie. It is a happier song. Also I am nonsensically fond of “We went to bed in France and we woke up in Japan.” I wasn’t paying enough attention to the State of the Music Industry in 2022 to tell you why this wasn’t a bigger hit, or why Post Malone’s album release (and the Weeknd’s, for that matter) seemed to come and go without much attention paid, but I hope this song ends up having some legs. I want to be able to do a genderswapped karaoke duet with somebody to this one day.
This needed another element or two to be truly great; the chorus is too sparse. But I spent most of this year giving occasional listens to Korean idol groups and shrugging: even well-received songs couldn’t get me out of my discomfort with the industry. For whatever reason—maybe because I know Taeyeon’s been through what she’s been through, there’s (hopefully) not much more the industry can throw at her that she’s not equipped to survive—this broke through.
This turned out to be the last song I reviewed for the Jukebox before it shut down in September. So there’s an element of sentimentality here. But I do think the song is beautiful without that, both catchy and melancholy without either facet getting in the way of the other.
So I had free Sirius XM in my car for about a week, and the Québéçois radio stations had apparently upped their games for the occasion, because I listened to a surprising amount of catchy stuff in that week, including this. I can juuuuust barely understand the French (the first line is “I got a couple of grams of pot but yo, I don’t carry an ounce of malice”) and the references are flying over my head, but Calamine is fun to listen to even if you can’t fully appreciate her intelligence.
If I have a Song of the Year it’s this. It’s so good! It’s both relaxed and inventive. (My husband walked in while I was playing it but couldn’t see my screen, and immediately said, “G-Funk, huh?”) And on top of that, it’s got a thoughtfulness to it: it manages to be optimistic without being sappy, or giving the impression of trying to trick the listener into ignoring the darker aspects of life. The worst thing I can say about it is that whoever wrote the English subtitles was trying a little too hard.
I randomly discovered this guy via r/kazakhstan, and I still don’t know much about him, but he is delightful. Fair warning that the actual song doesn’t start until about 2:56 in the video above, and no you are not getting subtitles for that skit, prayer circle for more translators for Kazakhstani pop in 2023. So skip ahead for the bop. His songs are relatively simple in composition, and he doesn’t hit every time, but this one deserves the hype.