Year-End Review: Dreamcatcher Evolves Their Individual Talent And Music In 2023

K-Pop's resident rock/pop girl group matured further and achieved more in 2023 as one of 3rd generation's most well-regarded acts.

Year-End Review: Dreamcatcher Evolves Their Individual Talent And Music In 2023
Dreamcatcher takes a group picture after their 3rd overall music show win and first in front of a live audience during "BONVOYAGE" era. Source: hf_dreamcatcher

In an often volatile and competitive industry like K-Pop, it can be sometimes a challenge to keep your success and/or sustainability going, especially if you're not from one of the "big 4" K-Pop companies (HYBE, JYP, YG, or SM). For Dreamcatcher, who have overcome a bunch of factors that would normally spell the end for many other groups, this is business as usual - I've often said over social media this past year that they're working the K-Pop industry on Hard mode, with fewer company connections, smaller South Korean general public popularity, and a non-traditional music type as part of their core.

That said, in 2023, as Dreamcatcher rolled into the year armed with a brand new negotiated contract renewal with their membership intact, people wondered what the group, now in their sixth year, would have in store for their fans to keep things going. The answer, I believe, seemed to be in evolution, a next step on a variety of levels as they entered the latter portion of their time together. But it was also a year of more achievements and incremental markers of success for one of 3rd generation's most active girl groups. As I've always done for the past three years, let's take a look at some of the highlights!

Dreamcatcher took bold steps in their musical style and concept, showing the next stage in their development.

With it being about four years since "Deja Vu", a comeback era which I believe was a milestone in terms of Dreamcatcher developing their musical style, and with the departure of long-time co-producer LEEZ, the group was due for a change. 2019 saw them begin hybridizing pop genres with core rock sound, and 2023's music seemed to go a bit further, retaining that same hybridization but playing and experimenting with things. Remaining producer Ollounder worked with both old and new faces to take things to the next level, and that impact was certainly felt this year.

"BONVOYAGE", though perceived by many to be a bit more of a return to more "rock"-ish form, had plenty of fresh elements. The dark concept that had been the base for Dreamcatcher's identity took a rare backseat for the title track, replaced by an uplifting, emotionally sad, but ultimately hopeful song.

Other songs, like free-wheeling B-side "DEMIAN", gave off the darker vibe Dreamcatcher fans were used to but went in directions that were vastly different than prior B-side work. Having the choreography helped with this, as the song's presentation was a big part of what was trying to be expressed in its lyrics and musical genre - and provided an opportunity for Main Dancer SuA to show just how much she'd learned since her last B-side choreography stint three years ago with "Red Sun".

But it wasn't until late in the year, with 9th Mini Album "VillainS" title track "OOTD", that I think this notion of Dreamcatcher evolving their sound really hit the fanbase. Sure, "BONVOYAGE" was perhaps the brightest-sounding title track since way back in 2017 with "Fly High", but musically it felt comfortable - even a sort of return to rock form even if that form was quite a bit different. But "OOTD" seemed to defy even the non-traditional convention Dreamcatcher had set for itself, and I think that on many levels it subverted expectations. The song's heavily-spoken 4th-generation-style chorus, narcissistic undertone, and unique structure were very much different than anything the group had done before. And even though there was hard rock comfort food in B-side "Rising", there were even more big swings at different music with "Shatter".

These musical shifts and evolution have generated a ton of dialogue in the Dreamcatcher fan community, and while everyone is obviously respectful and appreciative of the continuing release of Dreamcatcher music, there has been a debate about what the group has put out this year is close enough to be a part of the identity that has drawn fans to them since 2017.

My opinion is that even though some of the songs this year certainly drifted further from Dreamcatcher's base rock sound than others, this is still quintessentially Dreamcatcher. Part of that may be the fact that I tend to judge K-Pop songs for their "full package" presentation - music, choreography, story, and styling, but it's also me feeling that A)music evolves over time and no musical identity stays static so this is, whether or not people prefer to listen to it or not, Dreamcatcher's style and B)if anyone has earned the right to experiment with their music, it's the girl group who made non-traditional and alternative K-Pop music styles like rock acceptable/sustainable. As long as the group is happy and the company treats them well, that's really all I can ask for and I can choose to judge how much I like their current songs versus their historical catalog.

Dreamcatcher began building on each member's individual identity through formal solo and subunit activities.

A K-Pop group's history oftentimes highlights or showcases individual members or subunits, but many times these seem to be secondary to the group's main content, or, in the case of live stream broadcasts, reserved for special occasions like birthdays, concert stages, or incidental solo chat and video sessions with fans. But it's another thing entirely to have a focus on that individual/subunit activity, and that's what I noticed Dreamcatcher Company doing for its members in 2023.

Every Dreamcatcher member had an opportunity to work within a subunit or on an individual basis this year, and what we got with this media are more detailed, deeper looks into each member's activity preferences, personality, and style.

These productions allowed for each individual member to shine on their own, and get used to being the focus of content they felt they had ownership over. Gahyeon, to me, seemed to lead this charge between multiple traveling engagements and becoming a big, first-pitch-throwing baseball fan, but there were also bits of content that I hadn't expected, such as the above series of videos for Siyeon's SingCarLive, where she ferried fans traveling into Seoul to their hotels and interviewed them. Even as a veteran Dreamcatcher fan, I felt like I learned new things about each Dreamcatcher member as I watched their content.

Of course, in some cases I managed to continue to validate why I find Dreamcatcher entertaining. SuA predictably has tried just about everything this year between zookeeping, martial arts, camping and more while also being endlessly energetic and funny, Yoohyeon flexed her gaming skills (or that failing her hilarious failures) on livestream again, Handong built on her radio experience with a brief yet valuable stint on TBS eFM's Akdong Seoul, and Dami had a predictably chill set of episodes where she sat in her studio and talked about various topics of interest. But by far the most entertained I was this year by individual content was with JiU's "What-JJYU" series, where Dreamcatcher's leader finally got to formally be the foodie that she's exhibited in countless Dreamcatcher videos through visits to various restaurants (oftentimes with other Dreamcatcher members in tow).

Either way, for old and new fans alike, this year's focus on individual and subunit activities was entertaining, while also having the practical direction of setting up the various members of Dreamcatcher for future, post-Dreamcatcher work. It was a noticeable and welcome direction.

Dreamcatcher continued to be the "stair idols" of K-Pop, passing milestones and picking up achievements.

The success of Dreamcatcher has always been gradual, and 2023 was no different. Here's some of the big ones.

After only two music show wins in five years, Dreamcatcher managed to double the number in just one with two hard-earned wins for "BONVOYAGE". The second, on Show Champion, came after a variety of factors, artist, company, and fan effort came together to allow the group to beat juggernauts such as (G)-IDLE, aespa, ENHYPEN, and more.

The group added to their travel and performance achievements, putting Saudi Arabia, Montreal, Toronto and Las Vegas on their list of new places while arena settings in places such as Paris and Manila allowed for Dreamcatcher to show their high-level, memorable performance acumen and stage presence to a larger audience. And were it not for some unfortunate cancellations and postponements, we would have seen even more.

JiU and Yoohyeon teamed up this year to represent Dreamcatcher for exclusive work with other brands and companies, scoring a photoshoot in Thailand for a special photobook release and brand ambassadorship with skincare partner NEOGEN.

The group bookended the year with two more awards, one for Global Artist in North America at the 2022 Hanteo Music Awards show in February and a Best Choice award at the 2023 Asia Artist Awards, both of which they also performed at.

Outside of comeback albums, Dreamcatcher added to their already-extensive discography with 3rd fan song "REASON", an English language version of "BONVOYAGE", and (just under the wire for 2023) Siyeon's second digital single - a remake of Gaho's "Start Over".

Dreamcatcher crosses the 1 million mark for cumulative sales on the Circle (formerly known as Gaon) chart. While a great achievement in and of itself, the fact that they now join MAMAMOO as the only other girl group not from a "Big 4"company to sell this many albums makes this even more impressive, and a testament to their resilience.

All of these achievements and more show that Dreamcatcher is literally the "stair idols" that they have portrayed themselves to be in their "REASON" music video above, which makes it an appropriate song for their 2023. The debut of so many monster 4th generation girl groups (IVE, LE SSERAFIM, NewJeans, to name a few) leading to increased competition, the presence of tour exhaustion (especially in North America), and more means that the landscape of Dreamcatcher's ability to generate sales and revenue is a bit different, perhaps even more challenging. But even if the numbers themselves point to a potential outcome in which Dreamcatcher's growth may have peaked (barring virality or other sudden surge in popularity), these aren't unusual hurdles for the group and the company. They remain, from all accounts, to be sustainable and continue to make music and pick up new opportunities in variety, for performance gigs, and for other places in the industry - and more importantly, they seem happy with what they are doing.

For Dreamcatcher, 2023 was a step further towards continuing to fuel that happiness and passion for performing and making music, something which they are endlessly thankful to their fans for supporting. What they'll do in 2024 is still mostly unrevealed (though the confirmation of a 7th anniversary concert in Seoul and a tour through the EU show the group will be busy for the early part of the year), but they'll no doubt continue to move forward - marching, as they always have, to the beat of their own musical drum. I look forward to keeping everyone up-to-date on their future achievements.

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