2022 In Review: Day 3 – Album of the Year – hellokpop

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul (Jan. 17)
5. Rock and Alternative (Jan. 18)
6. Rap and Hip-hop (Jan. 19)
7. Dance and Electronic (Jan. 20)
8. Pop and Ballad (Jan. 21)
9. Folk and Country (Jan. 22)
10. Jazz and Blues (Jan. 23)
11. Crossover and World (Jan. 24)
12. Best Collaborative Work (Jan. 25)
13. Rookie Artist of the Year (Jan. 26)
14. Artist of the Year (Jan. 27)
15. Other Recognition (Jan. 28)
16. Concluding Remarks (Jan. 29)
Following up the Song of the Year is a presentation of our Album of the Year and the runner-up. Album of the Year is perhaps our most important distinction, recognizing the best overall body of work held in a coherent collection of songs. The R&B and hip-hop scenes were big contributors in 2022, accounting for six of the top twelve albums on their own.
Again, the next-best ten albums are ordered alphabetically to avoid genre-category winner spoilers. (Most of these contending albums will get more detailed treatment in the genre category posts.)

A.Train – Private Pink
I am hard-pressed to recall another album that is as wholly introspective, as singularly focused on the self, as Private Pink is. A.Train addresses all but one track in this sprawling 15-track album to himself, either reflecting on a personal story or bottling some kind of message. Out of these brutally bare and intimate tales, another curiosity emerges: there is so much grace in this album.
We listen to A.Train tell himself that “I’m still here / And alive pretty well / So that’s enough, my own self” (“Pink Comedy”); “There’s a long way to go, I have to grow taller / Little winds will never sway me / Submerged halfway I’ll still take root” (“Paintree”). These reflections – arising from his formative memories, a deep love of family, and even searingly powerful tributes like “Plant” – are colored by jazzy piano, verdant strings, and folksy arrangements that brim with life. (The cello, winds, rapping, and more from a genre-crossing cast spanning Lang Lee, E Hyeji and ChoiLB would make a highlight album on their own.)
Private Pink is far from indulgent gloating, and it’s not wallowing in self-pity. But time and again, A.Train mends himself in little patches, illuminating the people and life he is made of, allowing himself grace; a restorative kindness that reflects back into the world. In a world where “self-care” is so touted yet not always so substantive, a man clad in pink mutters, “But still, maybe I’m a pretty decent person.”

Qim Isle – Some Hearts Are for Two
Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak is the easy comparison for this autotune-drenched, mellow-toned collection of emo hip-hop and spoken word. But Some Hearts Are for Two forges its own path soon enough. Though a capable rapper, Qim rarely raps in this album and doesn’t always sing either, often content to let the din of scratchy synths and ambient pads to overpower language with their groans.
And while the writing is intriguing, often dense, and grants the album its dreamlike character, it’s the rapturous instrumentals that truly elevate the experience. Nancy Boy’s billowing beats and the alt-R&B touches of Jclef, Xin Seha, Mokyo and others create an experimental and unpredictable slate. Some exquisite moments ensue including “BALA”, a middle-of-the-night stupor where clarinets peek curiously and brass croons warmly, and a soaring ode in “Some Hearts Are for Two”.
I still don’t really know what this is. It’s a creative expression of anxiety or elation, it’s a leisurely foray into ambient electronica from a rapper who’s always been whimsical, it’s a story that could only take this form and no other. But there was nothing else like it this year.
250 – 뽕 (Ppong)
Bibi – Lowlife Princess: Noir
GongGongGoo009 – ㅠㅠ (UU)
Haepa – 죽은 척하기 (Playing Dead)
Heo Hoy-kyung – Memoirs
Kim Doeon – Damage
Lee Hyun-jun – 번역 중 손실 (Lost in Translation)
Mulgwaumm – 잠재적 초점 (Latent Focus)
Rad Museum – Rad
The Black Skirts – Teen Troubles
Lyric translations by author. Artist profile and album cover images from Bugs Music.
Read our past series:
2021 In Review
2020 In Review
2019 In Review
2018 In Review
2017 In Review
2016 In Review
2015 In Review
2014 In Review
2013 In Review
2012 In Review
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