If the music video is the conceptual and visual centre of a K-pop artist’s comeback, the choreography is the lodestone of the live performance. Amidst a sea of choices, dances that creatively interpret the song’s lyrics, build the artist’s identity, and showcase excellent delivery tend to stand out.

In this Mid-year Review discussion, Qing and Siena come together to discuss their top five choreographies that rose above a large crop of dances with similar style influences.

Qing: Watching more than 50 choreography videos across two days, I noticed that the dances this year relied even more heavily on hip-hop dance moves. That’s probably why choreographies that drew from other dance styles stood out more. What was your experience while making your shortlist, Siena?

Siena: Qing, you’ve captured the exact experience I had choosing my picks, only my less articulate way of putting it was “Everything looks the same!” Choreography in K-pop gets harder every year, and I think at a certain point there are only so many ways to do a super hard dance, thus the uniformity. Like you, I was therefore drawn to dances with unique styles, and also dances that seemed tailored to their song rather than simply reaching for maximum difficulty.

My fifth pick, Kwon Eunbi’s “Glitch,” is a good example of this. It’s a relatively straight-forward choreography, with moves that I believe draw on tutting and voguing, but it suits the elegant, confident mood of the track perfectly. I do wish the final dance break was as electric as the musical breakdown that accompanies it, but otherwise, I adore this simple yet delightfully witty dance.

Dreamcatcher have long had unique choreography. What made “Maison” earn a place on your list?

Qing: “Maison” draws from a street dance style commonly seen in K-pop choreography, but Dreamcatcher make subtle, interesting differences. The dance begins with Dami drawing her encircling members inwards, rather than a burst of movement outwards; the main action in the first verse happens on the lower level, instead of the standing members, with Jiu leading the vocals while half kneeling. 

The formations, especially in the pre-chorus, also draw out the song’s message. When Siyeon sings of breaking through a forest in pursuit of the light, she does just that, despite the members trying to hold her back like a tangle of branches.

“Maison” offers a powerful dance to match a powerful song. Still, it placed fifth because it didn’t fully tap into the emotive potential of the lyrics, which convey a plea and a promise to protect the natural habitats that humans and creatures call home.

Billlie‘s “GingaMingaYo” (A Strange World)” has an interesting message too. What did you like about the choreography? 

​​Siena: “GingaMingaYo” (A Strange World)” is one of my favorite releases of 2022 so far, period, and the track’s choreography is a big reason why. Much like the song itself, the dance blends hard and soft, as well as cute and forceful elements into a totally unique package. I particularly love the choreography’s melding of playfulness and athleticism. There are witty touches everywhere, like when the members follow Sheon during her rap, making hilariously exaggerated expressions of surprise and curiosity. But right alongside these light-hearted details are startling moments of speed and sharpness, particularly during the song’s quirky but hard-hitting choruses.

This choreography also excels in providing great moments based on formations (like when Billlie literally dance out the lyrics “left and right” and “X or O”) as well as strong individual moves highlighting how much charisma this young group have. The only asterisk I have is that there are a couple moments that feel adjacent to K-pop’s notorious Orientalist mockery/appropriation habit. However, with no questionable styling or other major red flags, I’m willing to call this more appreciation than appropriation (though I’m also open to being corrected on that). For now though, I’m delighted by this choreography’s innovation, and very excited to see what’s next for Billlie.

Another dance with a compelling mix of styles is Kim Yohan’s “Dessert.” Watching it, I was really intrigued by the choreography’s simultaneous fluidity and angularity. What made “Dessert” your third pick?

Qing: Amidst aggressive dances characterised by sharp, quick moves, “Dessert”‘s languid sensuality instantly stood out. As you noted, there’s a duality: there’s the fluid style that seems to draw from disco and even voguing, emphasising expressive arm and hip movements, and the angular moves from familiar styles of locking and hip-hop. 

This contrast effectively expresses the sexual tension in the lyrics, and the dance further incorporates a memorable point move of Yohan popping a cherry into his mouth. The choreography makes full use of feminine movements, including intricate finger movements and slow shoulder rolls, that are sadly rare in the dances of male K-pop artists. This unlocks a full range of expression, creating a texture that brings out the deep sensuality of the song. It also establishes an identity for Yohan distinct from the cheerful image of his group, Wei.

Pentagon‘s “Feelin’ Like” is more lively and funky, but it also has a sensuality to it. What stood out about it?

Siena: If I had to pick one adjective to describe “Feelin’ Like,” it would be smooth. There’s a fluidity to the dance that remains even in its more bouncy and sharp moments, giving the choreography a languid confidence that really sticks out among the other 2022 dances I’ve seen.

I also think that execution plays a role in how highly I think of “Feelin’ Like.” Pentagon aren’t necessarily a group renowned for their dancing skills, but I think they should be. This dance in particular shows the level of individual precision and group coordination they are capable of, the latter being especially impressive given there’s an approximately 23 cm height difference between their tallest and shortest member. The dance also gets extra kudos for elevating a fairly forgettable track to something intriguing through sheer strength of choreography.

You also have a boy group in your fourth spot, Kingdom. What about “Ascension” caught your eye?

Qing: “Ascension” taps on one of my favourite trends—the blend of traditional and modern. It combines the expressive, fluid movements of talchum—a folk dance performed while wearing masks—with the speed and power of hip-hop.

“Ascension” doesn’t just borrow from talchum’s visual elements, such as its use of sleeves and its distinct bow-legged leaps. It also draws from talchum’s narrative qualities—the dances often depict social issues or the frustrations of common people towards the elite. The movements in the verses tell a tale of despair, while the chorus shows Kingdom breaking free of these emotional burdens. Highlights include the use of white ribbons that the members become entangled in but overcome, and the use of black overcoats to bring out the line “The broken soul swallowed himself”.

Based on the dance’s full use of props, backup dancers, and various formations to craft a narrative, “Ascension” would have topped my list. As you noted, however, execution is important. While Kingdom nailed the hip-hop segments, their delivery of the traditional movements was rather stiff. This is perhaps a constraint of their hip-hop/ street dance training (see this explanation for why). This limited the overall expressiveness the choreography could have achieved. 

​​Siena: Alongside execution, musicality is another main thing I look for in choreography, and it’s here that StayC’s “Run2U” excels. Every move seems to be directly inspired by an element of the track, from arm movements mirroring vocal rhythms, to strong beats manifesting in popping moves. Not only does this approach make “Run2U” incredibly cohesive, it also makes it delightfully playful. This is furthered by the occasionally quirky, even awkward moves sprinkled throughout the dance that the StayC members pull off with aplomb. Last but certainly not least, “Run2U” has the most satisfying dance break I’ve seen in 2022, so major bonus points for that!

Qing: Responsiveness to musical details is also a key strength of Ily:1‘s “Love in Bloom“, which likens growing feelings of love to a flower blooming. Despite the simplicity of the song’s message and metaphors, the performance delights with its clear sense of direction regarding the story it’s telling, and the joyful mood it wants to create. 

It opens with a beautiful flower bud formation that bursts into bloom, introducing the main message. The point move, a hand gesture that turns a heart into a flower opening its petals, is simple but memorable. These formations and movements aren’t new to dances of this pure, upbeat variety, but in combination, they become refreshing and dynamic.

The members nail the expressiveness of the choreography. I especially liked their fluid arm movements that show the warmth of sunshine and the gentleness of the breeze, and the knocking gestures that portray the excitement of love. 

Likewise, WJSN Chocome‘s “Super Yuppers” proves that simplicity can be a strength. The space theme of the dance not only fits WJSN’s cosmic concept, but is also an adorably literal take on the message, “I’ll be there for you in a heartbeat.” 

In action-style movements, Chocome twirl magical girl-style, send out space signals, and use their hands to form space guns. These immediately recall Sailor Moon, and are fitting for the song’s charming old-school lo-fi synth pop style. The dance may look like silly fun—Chocome bust out their best funky chicken moves, and act coy by tucking their hair behind their ears—but upon scrutiny, you’ll notice that the moves are not only responsive to the lyrics, but also the rhythm of the music.

Even I was surprised by “Super Yuppers” placing top on my list; I scored each dance on my shortlist based on a few indicators, then sorted them for the rankings. It may not be the most technically challenging, but it delivered consistently on all fronts with a dance that’s responsive to the lyrics and the music, builds the artist’s identity, and that the artist delivered with finesse.

What secured Enhypen‘s top spot on your list?

​​Siena: I began this conversation by bemoaning how the endless stretch for more difficulty in choreography has sapped K-pop dances of their individuality… and yet here I am, putting the most stereotypically difficult dance ever at the top of my list. Am I a hypocrite? Perhaps! But I would argue that Enhypen’s “Blessed-Cursed” is my top pick because all rules deserve to have an exception. While this dance certainly embraces bone-crunching difficulty (there are so many kicks, jumps, and squats, it makes my knees hurt just watching it), it also has great musicality and is executed near-flawlessly by Enhypen.

“Blessed-Cursed” is a song that actually suits bombastically tough choreography. Its angry, blaring, rock-influenced sound is complimented, and indeed enhanced, by the dance’s intense moves. Those moves are performed with brutal confidence by Enhypen. The group has always had innovative choreography, but they have reached a new level of collective dance prowess in their most recent comebacks, allowing them to fully unleash the potential of their choreography. “Unleashed” is exactly the feeling that “Blessed-Cursed” exudes, making for an intimidating, exhilarating, and unforgettable experience. 

Ultimately, something exciting and memorable is what I look for in the best of K-pop choreography. So far in 2022, despite the trend of overly similar styles we touched on, the dances on our lists and many more continue to deliver exactly that.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]. Images via. Lyrics via KGasa. MK Sports.)