Self-love takes center stage at Golden Disc Awards, 20 tracks to vie for best song

Girl group (G)I-DLE nominated for its dance track "Queencard" [CUBE ENTERTAINMENT]

The musical year of 2023 was filled with love — sweet and adoring passion, not only for others, but also sincere affection and deep devotion to oneself and one's life.

This year’s Korean pop music scene was a competition between self-positivity and casual love songs by K-pop acts, but this was also a year where solo singers from popular K-pop groups stood out on their own. Ballad and R&B singers saw their songs sit high on domestic music charts and karaoke playlists as always.

Twenty of the most iconic tracks have come face to face to fight for Digital Song of the Year at the upcoming Golden Disc Awards.

The 38th Golden Disc Awards, organized by the JoongAng Group to honor Korean artists and their achievements, will be held on Jan. 6 at the Jakarta International Stadium (JIS) in Indonesia. Twenty acts each were nominated in the Digital Song of the Year and Album of the Year categories, while 10 artists are up for the Rookie Artist of the Year award.

K-pop and pop music acts (G)I-DLE, aespa, AKMU, DK (December), Fifty Fifty, H1-KEY, IVE, Le Sserafim, NCT Dream, NewJeans, STAYC, Pac Jae-jung, BSS, Seventeen, Woody, Lim Young-woong, Jungkook of BTS, Jimin of BTS, Jisoo of Blackpink and Taeyang of Big Bang were nominated in the song category.

Of the 20, seven songs are about loving oneself — “Queencard” by (G)I-DLE, “Spicy” by aespa, “Rose Blossom” by H1-KEY, “I AM” by IVE, “Unforgiven” by Le Sserafim, “Fighting” by BSS and “Super” by Seventeen. Five are casual love songs by K-pop bands — “Love Lee” by AKMU, “Cupid” by Fifty Fifty, “Candy” by NCT Dream, “Ditto” (2022) by NewJeans and “Teddy Bear” by STAYC — and eight by solo artists — “Heart” by DK (December), “Let’s say goodbye” by Parc Jae-jung, “Say I Love You” by Woody, “London Boy” by Lim Young-woong, “Seven” by Jungkook, “Like Crazy” by Jimin, “Flower” by Jisoo and “Vibe” by Taeyang.

Girl group IVE nominated for "I AM" [STARSHIP ENTERTAINMENT]

Love thyself

While the subject of romantic love has always been universal and touching when it comes to music, the surge of self-validating songs in K-pop has been most vivid in 2023, especially with the idea settling down in Korean soils in recent years.

Girl groups, especially, have been leading the way with different approaches to loving and approving of oneself. Rather than a subtle or shy endorsement, girl groups have been bringing their self-positivity to the next level — to where denying it is no longer an option.

(G)I-DLE shouts “I’m a star” in “Queencard,” while Le Sserafim becomes an “Unforgiven” villain filled with pride and reassurance while defying the judgmental gaze of society. aespa, in “Spicy,” praise themselves for being a cut above the rest, a “ten out of ten” and “too spicy for your heart,” and “Super” is Seventeen's ode to the strength of its team amid cutthroat K-pop competition.

Girl group H1-KEY performing during a showcase held on Aug. 30 at the Bluesquare concert hall in central Seoul [NEWS1]

Some songs are specifically aimed at heightening listeners’ self-esteem with lyrics that tell them they’re stronger and more precious than they think.

IVE’s “I AM” came as a continuation of its self-loving motif, but this time includes the listeners in its journey with the words, “I hope you’d be someone’s dreams come true.” BSS’s “Fighting” is a direct message of fighting — a Konglish phrase used to cheer someone on — to everyone struggling with everyday battles.

One particularly interesting name on the list is H1-KEY.

H1-KEY’s “Rose Blossom” was one of the biggest TikTok hits this year. It went viral for its encouraging words — that I am a rose that blossomed between the skyscrapers that will keep on growing until everyone recognizes me — and catchy melody that captured online users’ hearts. It was even more meaningful to see a girl group that had debuted relatively recently, in January 2022, from a small agency, singing about the importance of keeping fit and healthy in today's era.

Girl group NewJeans nominated for "Ditto" [ADOR]

Love is all you need

As always, upbeat dance tracks about love have been the most widely listened to this year. But this year’s love songs are more laid-back and easier to sing along to than they have been in previous years, which were dominated by powerful, masculine boy band songs.

NewJeans’ 2022 hit dance track “Ditto” has been sweeping not only domestic music charts and music awards, but also Song of the Year lists from some of the biggest magazines around the world.

Fifty Fifty’s “Cupid” shot the girl group straight to the top of the global charts with its immense popularity, just as STAYC’s “Teddy Bear” did in the online world. Though the future of Fifty Fifty remains unclear with, only one of the original four members still signed with the agency, the popularity of “Cupid” has been unmatched in K-pop, especially considering the fact that it came from a newly-founded agency with little power over its competitors.

AKMU's “Love Lee” brought the sibling duo back to domestic charts with its signature playful vibe that fans and other listeners have missed in recent years. Another song that evoked nostalgia was NCT Dream’s remake of “Candy,” a 1996 dance track by H. O. T reborn through one of the hottest boy bands in town.

Jungkook of boy band nominated for "Seven" [BIGHIT MUSIC]

Alone but not lonely

With boy band members starting military duties and girl groups facing imminent contract termination, 2023 saw singers from popular K-pop acts release solo songs and shine just as brightly on their own stages.

While all members of boy band BTS have released solo songs, members Jungkook and Jimin have especially stood out with “Seven” and “Like Crazy,” both of which topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts and saw more than a million copies of their albums sold within a week.

Jisoo, a member of girl group Blackpink, also saw her solo dance track, “Flower,” sweep music charts in and outside of Korea as the final member of the quartet to release solo music. Taeyang also released his solo song “Vibe” in collaboration with BTS’s Jimin, signaling a new start after the Big Bang member welcomed a baby boy into the world back in 2021.

Jisoo of girl group Blackpink nominated for "Flower" [YG ENTERTAINMENT]
Jimin from boy band BTS nominated for "Like Crazy" [BIGHIT MUSIC]

Ballad and R&B singers, while perhaps less known to the global audience, have always had a strong push on the domestic charts — and are often sung in the karaoke rooms that are abundant in Korea.

Two of the most popular karaoke songs, according to TJ Media, were ballads from male soloists: “Let’s say goodbye” by Parc Jae-jung and “Heart” by DK (December), which are both slow-tuned, emotional serenades to a bygone lover. Woody’s “Say I Love You” also held firm on listeners’ playlists with its soft and casual confession to a shy man’s lover.

Lim Young-woong’s name may not ring a bell to an international audience, but he started off as a trot singer on the 2020 Chosun TV audition program “Mr. Trot” and has since become the biggest household name in Korea for both his singing skills and gentle manner on-screen. His rock-slash-ballad song “London Boy” also saw immense popularity in 2023 despite being slightly different from his earlier works of trot.

Boy band Seventeen nominated for "Super" [PLEDIS ENTERTAINMENT]

Twenty of 2023

The Golden Disc Awards celebrates songs and albums released between mid-November of the previous year and early November of the current year. Rookies are chosen from the pool of bands who debuted during the same period based on their album sales and online song streams.

The Album of the Year category is essentially a competition of who has the largest and the strongest fan base, since it's largely fans who spend money on physical CDs in this digital era. Digital Song of the Year, on the other hand, is measured purely by number of streams, and thus celebrates songs that were most widely received and loved by the general public over the course of the year.

Fans can take part by voting for the Most Popular Artist award, which is divided into Most Popular Female Artist and Most Popular Male Artist categories, using Favorite, a new fan platform created in collaboration with streaming platform Bugs and the JoongAng Group. Voting for the Most Popular Artist award closes on Dec. 27.

Separately, Celeb Confirmed, an entertainment news and community platform run by the JoongAng Group group's English newspaper arm, Korea JoongAng Daily, is offering a free ticket to the ceremony packaged with a one-day accommodation in Jakarta. The event runs until Dec. 17. Guidelines on how to participate can be found in Celeb Confirmed's community section.

To find out more about the 38th Golden Disc Awards, visit Celeb Confirmed