February was full of major comebacks and debuts, from Babymonster‘s vocal-driven second single, to Le Sserafim‘s laid-back, hip hop-inspired comeback, to various NCT projects (Ten, Taeyong, and the newly debuted NCT Wish). Twice returned with two uplifting songs, and IU‘s much-anticipated comeback involved multiple singles with cinematic music videos.

There were, however, many other notable releases from outside of the big companies. Some of these tracks solidified the artist’s signature sound, while others offered an intriguing shift from the style that listeners expect.

IChillin’ – “Demigod”

IChillin’ have released title tracks in various genres since their 2021 debut, but “Demigod” and their previous digital single “Bite Me” have both made exciting choices in production. “Demigod” leans into hip hop, with each member rapping, and main rapper Jackie delivering her own self-composed verse. The 808s grab one’s attention from the beginning, and the song layers instrumentation, such as swelling strings over the drumbeat in the pre-chorus. The anti-drop chorus surprises with its choppy beats and stuttering delivery of “demigod.” Such switch-ups make the song an absorbing listen.

As the title implies, “Demigod” brags about the group as more powerful than ordinary humans. Ironically, the MV depicts the members working in a fried chicken restaurant. Moments like Jackie enthusiastically biting an onion like an apple, or Chaerin unsheathing a knife with a carrot attached instead of a blade, establish the MV’s quirky humor early on. While the MV is tongue-in-cheek, the members bring self-assurance to their performance. The contrast in tones lead “Demigod” to be far more compelling than most girl group anthems about self-confidence.

Bibi – “Bam Yang Gang”

The title of Bibi’s “Bam Yang Gang” refers to sweet chestnut red bean jelly. Fittingly, the song seems sweet (a word not typically associated with Bibi’s vibe). In particular, Bibi’s lilting vocals and the spare piano and drum arrangement pair together to create a jazzy, but also waltz-like rhythm.

Written by Jang Kiha, who also stars in the MV, the song portrays a breakup, in which Bibi’s ex-lover tells her, “You always want far too much.” Bibi, on the other hand, states that she was not seeking a whole feast, but simply “the one delight I’ve always longed to savor”: the bam yang gang. This gap in perceptions brings more poignant layers to a seemingly cute and whimsical song. During the breakup scene, the MV showcases Bibi’s superb acting: one can see her feeling anger, desperation, and sadness while also attempting to suppress these emotions.

As a whole, however, the MV delves into fantasy, with Bibi also playing a witch who helps her brew bam yang gang herself. The variety of animation styles (CGI mice, collage elements, hand-drawn objects), particularly in the instrumental interlude, create a playful, dreamy, and surreal feeling.

The complexity and emotional vulnerability of the track is likely a major factor in the success of “Bam Yang Gang” on Korean charts, where the song is only the second this year to achieve a Perfect All Kill.

Moonbyul – “Touchin & Movin”

Groovy dance pop song “Touchin & Movin,” from Moonbyul’s first studio album Starlit of Muse, feels like a funky 80s throwback, but also sounds fresh. In particular, the inclusion of brass and sax adds flair to the synth-driven beat. While she is known as a rapper in Mamamoo, as a soloist Moonbyul highlights her vocal abilities: her voice sounds full and confident throughout the song.

The energy of the upbeat track never lets up, and even elevates further with a change to a higher key in the final chorus. Too many K-pop songs nowadays forego conventional song elements like a instrumental break, bridge, or an outro — “Touchin & Movin” demonstrates how satisfying those elements can be.

The MV mostly consists of Moonbyul dancing in several indoor locations. Its cinematography reinforces the song’s energy, with the camera consistently (but not distractingly) moving. Creative transitions, such as zooms into sunglass lenses or the bell of a trumpet, also maintain the MV’s dynamic feel. With the MV enhancing the song’s exuberance, one can’t help but want to move as well.

Tri.be, “Diamond”

Returning to the world music inspiration of their earlier releases, Tri.be’s “Diamond” aspires to infuse Afrobeats into K-pop (with some Latin influence and even a handful of Spanish lyrics). A thumping, danceable beat accompanies the mid-tempo track, which refreshingly utilizes the members’ lower registers to create a memorable hook.

Lyrically, the song portrays struggle (“I miss my mama when things get harder”), which is also seen in visible cuts and scratches on the members in the MV. In that context, the insistent beat and the repetition of “Ma like, ma like, ma like, ma like a diamond” suggests someone motivating herself to persevere. While upbeat and ultimately uplifting, the song is beautifully affecting and sentimental.

Heartbreakingly, legendary producer Shinsadong Tiger, who formed the group and produced this song, passed away on February 23. “Diamond” adds to his legacy as a songwriter and producer who created some of K-pop’s most noteworthy hits.

A.C.E – “My Girl”

A.C.E (with all members except Yuchan) came back with their first album since 2021. Title track “My Girl” is a catchy, breezy retro pop song, though it lacks the genre-crossing inventiveness that A.C.E has shown in the past. Nevertheless, “My Girl” shows off the members’ vocal talents well, particularly their falsetto and ad-libs in the final chorus.

The humorous MV revolves around an office concept at fictional start-up company Petflix with the slogan “We are Professional.” The A.C.E members, however, fumble through their repetitive, demeaning office jobs until they throw off their IDs, venture outside, and smash through lettering reading “PROFESSIONAL.” The MV’s parting message is a quote from Charlie Chaplin: “That’s all any of us are: amateurs.”

Initially, the MV feels disconnected from the song’s romantic lyrics. “My Girl,” however, also works as a song for fans, considering that the full album title is My Girl: My Choice, the name of A.C.E’s fandom. With a drone shot sweeping over 50 Choice dancing behind the group, the climactic final chorus conveys the immense joy that A.C.E and Choice find in their journey together.

Bobby feat. Chanmina – “Harmless”

“Harmless,” the title track from Bobby’s album Sir. Robert, could be more accurately called “Weightless.” The song lyrics, as well as the spare music video, dramatize rising above criticism. Bobby repeatedly rails against the “horse sh–” he encounters, peppering his verses with comparisons of haters to chihuahuas: yapping but inconsequential. Bobby’s fierce delivery and his multiple, complex flow changes effectively counter any disparagement of his talent. As he says, “my jealousy is in the mirror.”

Japanese-Korean rapper Chanmina features on the track, with a verse in English, Japanese, and Korean, underscoring her line that she can make “yen, won, dollars.” Chanmina shows her versatility, not only unleashing fiery raps, but also sing-talking and piercing rock vocals.

In spite of its title, “Harmless” often sounds harsh and confrontational. The refrain “throw shhs outta window” is backed by hard EDM beats and screams of “Ape sh-t!” The chorus feels smoother, with danceable beats, but still projects propulsive energy. Fueled by both anger and self-confidence, “Harmless” can hype up listeners and provide cathartic release.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6]. Lyrics via Genius [1][2][3]. Image via Feel Ghood Music).