In the first half of 2023, K-pop continued to top itself in choreographic ingenuity and complexity. Among the many standout dances, our writers Cheska and Siena were especially impressed by choreographies that complimented, and indeed enhanced, their songs through musicality and conceptual commitment.

Cheska: It’s interesting to see how diverse our picks are, beginning with your list composed of only groups. NewJeans’ “OMG” was one of my runner-up choices along with another group, The Boyz. Both our third choices are extremely popular dances on TikTok, so I wonder what was on your mind while making your list, Siena?  

Siena: I’m as surprised as you that my picks are all groups! Several soloists were on my shortlist, and my final cuts were two standout duos: Taeyang ft. Lisa’s playful “Shoong,” and the sharp yet smooth “Madness” from Moonbin & Sanha. Honestly, I would have been happy chatting about any of my top ten or so. However, what my final three do share is intense musicality (with the choreography feeling like an intuitive yet creative interpretation of the song itself), fabulous highlight moves, and a lack of dance filler: even calmer parts have intentionality. 

OMG” is a great example of this. The iconic choruses, which prove that a dance can indeed be ‘catchy,’ capture a certain mellowness in the song through smooth, almost slow-motion movements. Meanwhile, the choreography’s startlingly fast footwork and bouncy quality match the frenetic undertone of the track. Playfulness can be found everywhere, bringing life to calmer dance sections. I especially love the choo-choo train formation in the final bridge, it’s so fun! Overall, the dance brings forward the charms of a song that, I’ll be honest, didn’t strike me as special on first listen, and showcases NewJeans at their most infectiously energetic and endearing. 

As you noted Cheska, your third pick also has viral point choreography! What about “Flower” impressed you?

Cheska: Much as I share the same criticism with Lo in her review on the MV, the choreography for “Flower” highlighted Jisoo’s strength—delicate femininity. Let’s face it: Jisoo is not the most powerful dancer. However, what magnetizes me is the use of back-up dancers. Instead of merely being in the background, I think they share the same spotlight as Jisoo!

Much of the choreography is centered around the hands, with the flower in the palms, which is a nice touch. It pulls you in to focus on the point choreography, which hits the nail on the head when thinking about a flower. Other than the clever use of the hands, the formations also mimic the movements of a flower. In the beginning of the song, the female dancers surround the Blackpink member, then open up like a bud that is set to bloom. There are also other parts of the song wherein it looks like as if a flower is moving along with the wind. I love looking at these details and it’s an intelligent use of back-up dancers for a solo act.

I admit that I have a difficult time following NCT’s releases, so I looked up the dance practice video of “Ay-Yo” and two words immediately came into my mind while watching: swag and control. What else about “Ay-Yo” made it land second place?

Siena: I think those two words are really spot on! They point to something I’m noticing as I review my picks, which is that I’m drawn to dances that blend hard and soft elements. In “Ay-Yo,” that shows up through intriguing shifts in speed. Despite the choreography’s complexity, a lot of the dance is executed relatively slowly. The choruses exemplify this, with a variety of x-shaped moves danced in a deliberate way that allows the choreography’s unique shapes to hit, and does indeed scream confidence. But then there are also these insanely sharp bursts of footwork, or quick formation changes. As a viewer, it keeps you a bit off-kilter, which is really interesting and suits the mood of the song itself. 

Something I also love about “Ay-Yo” is how well NCT 127 dance as a unit, showcased through both bold and subtle choreographic touches, from the exquisitely timed opening, to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it head nods and shudders that emphasize musical beats. NCT 127 and NCT as a whole have always been excellent dancers, but now that some of the permanent units like 127 have had years to develop their performance teamwork, they’ve leveled up. “Ay-Yo” is a testament to that growth, and to the experimental and captivating dance style NCT have cultivated over the years. 

Cheska, you also have a SM Entertainment artist on your list. Key’s “Killer” has been one of my most replayed songs of 2023, but I have to admit I had overlooked the choreography. Looking at the dance video, I thought there was a lot of fun concept interpretation. What made “Killer” your number two pick?

Cheska: Key is a master craftsman in interpreting concepts, and I love how he always has a clear, consistent, and coherent vision of himself apart from being a member of Shinee. His Bad Love album is one of my favorite albums of all time, and he continues to amaze with “Killer.”

In contrast to his earlier release, “Gasoline,” “Killer” intends to create a descriptive narrative. Key sings of being haunted by guilt and regret after a painful breakup. He feels trapped from the pain he caused, and the choreography centers on the struggle to move on. There’s a lot of pushing, pulling, and grabbing, and the back up dancers have done an amazing job adding that layer of drama.

You’ve got to give it to the choreographer for wonderfully interpreting the song. In the chorus, Key’s fingers creep up his arm and transform him into a monster. Consumed by his feelings, he thinks of himself as a monster, with his hands like claws and his movements zombie-like. What’s also fun to see is that the choreography is a clear ode to Michael Jackson and other popular dance movements in the 1980s. And if you think about it, it solidly fits into his ‘retro trilogy’ concept all the way from his 2021 album, Bad Love.

My love for retro concepts and the 80s synthwave could go on and on, but I have to stop here and talk about our first place picks. I consider Dreamcatcher’s “Bon Voyage” a light and spirited release, especially compared to their earlier hard-hitting songs. What is it about “Bon Voyage” that made it your top pick? 

Siena: “Bon Voyage” came onto my shortlist as a dark horse. I spotted the dance while reviewing the track for our May 2023 Unsung Artists piece and was immediately intrigued. The graceful yet athletic style reminded me of GFriend’s early signature, but I liked the rock-spin Dreamcatcher added to make it their own. That was enough to make me consider it, and what eventually landed “Bon Voyage” at the top of my list was its rewatch value. Every time I saw it as I went through round after round of viewings, narrowing down my list, I saw more thoughtful details, noticed more deceptively difficult moves, and gained a clearer appreciation of the choreography’s stunning musicality.

That musicality is what makes “Bon Voyage” shine most. The dance embodies and enhances the blend of sweet ballad and fierce rock influences in the song. It does this not only by pairing soft moves with soft verses and powerful moves with powerful choruses, but also by adding soft touches to the choruses and vice versa. For instance, sharp shapes bring an edge to a delicate verse formation, and a delightful, almost flirtatious side-strut lends lightness to heavier choruses. There’s so much intentionality everywhere, like stylized walking to maneuver formations and a plethora of ripple effects, with a move starting from one member and then passing through them all. This attention to detail is fantastic within itself, but it’s even better because of its overall effect.

“Bon Voyage” is a song with a very singular mood, something I can best describe as empowered poignancy.  By employing thoughtful details to capture that tone perfectly, the choreography achieves a rare feat: it has emotional power (or at least it makes this cold, cold heart feel something!). That’s why it’s my top pick, and why despite watching it so many times in the course of working on this discussion, I genuinely can’t wait to see it a few dozen times more.

Cheska, your top pick was actually one of the very last dances I cut from my list. I don’t think anyone can deny the bravura of Seventeen’s “Super,” but what made it your favorite dance of 2023 so far?

Cheska: Every time Seventeen make a comeback, I always ask the question: How will their choreography top their previous release? It just seems that with every title track, the choreography becomes more complex. In an interview, they shared that “Getting Closer” was their most difficult choreography to date. But now with “Super,” Seventeen exceed expectations, performing flawlessly with a mega crew. The ability to invoke surprise and amazement—even knowing Seventeen are already top-notch performers—is what made me solidify “Super” as my top pick. I get goosebumps every time I watch their performances!

There’s so much to unpack here—the razor sharp transitions, the explosive yet controlled bursts (especially during The8’s solo), and multidimensional formations—all these we are seeing the first time by Seventeen along with 200-plus dancers. Even with 28 dancers joining them in music shows, the seamless synchronization remains a magnificent feat.   

What also amuses me is the creative reference to Sun Wukong (Monkey King) of Journey to the West and Son Goku of Dragon Ball, which Qing encapsulated in her review. I always love when choreographies tastefully infuse cultural references and give them a modern twist. You can tell how much the choreographer did his research and paid close attention to every single detail from beginning to end. The opening shot of Woozi (rightfully) seated on the throne, the dancers speedily creating mountains behind Mingyu, and the power pole growing in size and the allusion of rising flood waters in Joshua’s solo—these are all meticulously crafted to give each of the members moments to shine.

There are little to no moments to breathe in this dance, and you will have to watch the performances over and over again to capture every bit of movement (To borrow Na PD’s comment on the choreography, “It has like 16 moves in one beat.”). So to Seventeen’s next comeback, I will ask again the same question: How will their choreography top their previous release?!?

Readers, what are your favorite dances of 2023 so far? And what are you hoping to see from choreography in the rest of the year? Let us know in the comments!

(YouTube[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]. Images via Dreamcatcher Entertainment, HYBE, Pledis Entertainment.)