The K-pop industry works very differently than its Western counterpart in that some new acts are guaranteed at least a baseline of popularity and interest thanks to being in the "idol" category of pop music; the same one international phenoms like Girls' Generation, BIGBANG, 2NE1, EXO and Wonder Girls all live within.
Every year a slew of new acts, affectionately known as "rookies," debut to huge interest and fanfare. This year has proven to bring one of the most exciting classes in recent history, but who's really proven they've worth the hype? Let's analyze 2015's K-pop rookies and decide who's been working it and, frankly, who needs some work before they can join their seniors at the top of the K-pops.
It was likely no easy task to debut a 13-member boy band—essentially the largest in K-pop today—but Seventeen proved that more really is more. The dudes released some of the catchiest boy-band gems this year, but more importantly, they were self-sufficient creators. For example, member Woozi wrote and produced their addictive debut single "Adore U," while Hoshi created the choreography in the video. Furthermore, this band looks like they could be the next to find a strong following in the U.S. a la BIGBANG, EXO and BTS after their debut 17 Carat EP became this year's longest-charting K-pop album stateside.
What's Next?: The band needs to keep the momentum it has created high by remaining visible on the K-pop scene.
Eight-member female act Oh My Girl got some international attention for being mistaken as sex workers in a U.S. airport, but you'd be foolish to think that's the only reason they're remarkable. With their two singles "Cupid" and "Closer," the group crafted unique compositions when they mixed bubblegum cheerleader chants in the former, then showed off a sensual side on the melancholy "Closer." Furthermore, OMG created some of the most memorable stage performances this year with impressive group formations and choreopgrahies. Not to mention, these girls can slay a Beyonce cover...a cappella.
What's Next?: "Cupid" and "Closer" were some of the best rookie releases this year, but the group needs songs that solidify its identity and lets more members shine while still including strong formations and choreography.
While Fuse's 2015 Breakout Star WINNER was the first boy band to debut under YG Entertainment after BIGBANG, iKON is seemingly being pushed as their official predecessor. The hip-hop based act has found a way to deliver aggressive bangers ("Rhythm Ta," "Anthem"), but also sentimental rap ("Apology," "My Type") that showcase their versatility. Plus, members Bobby and B.I. typically have a hand in writing and producing their songs.
What's Next?: Ensuring that they keep their momentum going, and don't wait too long to release follow-up material.
After being created on a singing competition that cut 16 young girls into the nine-member group before us, Twice is one K-pop's most-anticipated acts in a long time as the new girl group under JYP Entertainment, joining a legacy set by Wonder Girls and miss A. "Ooh Ahh" is one of the happiest pop songs in a minute, but the song structure was confusing and at times made the singers' voices sound alien-like. The music video was confusing as well, as it didn't even show each girl until the 1:30 mark (way late to establish a collective's identity) and the live performances felt like the group was all over the place (granted, it's very tough to make nine people move as one).
What's Next?: More polished releases that includes more cohesive concepts. These girls all look and carry themselves like stars; they just need the material to shine.
Despite also coming from JYP Entertainment, DAY6 are tough to call a K-pop boy band. Not only does the group members play their own instruments, but they don't totally participate in a lot of K-pop performance shows or late-night talk shows that other groups do. Instead, DAY6 has been focused on busking and street performances to cut their teeth in the industry. It's produced some great results, with debut EP The Day standing out as one of the best rookie releases this year, featuring their uplifting single "Congratulations" and the synth-drenched "Colors."
What's Next?: Keep producing their own music, and while the whole no-TV-shows thing is respectable, really, would it kill their manager to book them on a TV show or two? That type of exposure is key for international fans.
While it'd be a tough case to say new boy band Romeo was copying the established male act Infinite, fans cried foul when the septet hit the scene—likely due to their fashion-forward look, synth-pop sound and that "Last Romeo" was the title of a 2014 Infinite single. Whatever their inspiration, Romeo should search for something more unique, as they've hardly been able to make a splash on the scene and differentiate themselves from their K-pop counterparts.
What's Next?: A concept and music that makes them stand out—and avoid anything that recalls Infinite.
These five ladies are the second girl group to debut under Cube Entertainment after international favorites 4Minute, that includes viral star HyunA. While 4Minute has dropped loud, attitude-heavy jams since their start, CLC has yet to find much of a voice. Debut single "Pepe" was an expertly crafted earworm, but since it dropped, the band has yet to establish much of an identity with its music video, promotions, and follow-up releases, essentially delegating the group to be another follower in a new trend of cutesy-leaning girl groups.
What's Next?: Releases that prove why CLC needs to exist in the K-pop sphere. That funky feeling in "Pepe" was great; more of that, please.
If the new girl-groups trend is innocence, the new boy-band trend is hard hip-hop. Monsta X found a passionate following after it was created on the TV singing competition No.Mercy and displayed that show's same fighting spirit. "Hero" sees the group growling over an addictive dance beat, while the excellent debut single "Trespass" is a punch of aggressive rap swirled with addictive pop croons that seem to indicate that there's more to these guys than just hip-hop.
What's Next?: Finding ways to set themselves apart from the other rap-focused groups.
If you don't recognize The Ark by name, you would definitely remember their debut music video. Anthemic single "The Light" told a heartbreaking story of a mother and daughter's tight-knit bond, and what happens when said daughter unexpectedly passes away in a car crash. It's heavy stuff and The Ark found a way to express those tough feelings and the message of always showing love in a mature, positive and accessible way.
What's Next?: The group should follow the path of telling unique stories not usually found in K-pop.
Following in line of K-pop-rock bands like FTISLAND and CNLBUE, N.Flying is the new band under FNC Entertainment that looks to change up the formula created by their seniors by blending hard-hitting raps on their alt-rock compositions. The group contributes to the compositions (with bassist Jin and rapper Seung Hyub taking active roles on all their EPs to date), but their newness shows here.
What's Next?: Their concept is strong and one that is unique in the scene--if the group can continue to sharpen its skills.
Identified as an early artist to watch in 2015 by many media outlets, GFriend is the leader in the new wave of innocent girl groups hitting the K-pop scene, and arguably the most successful so far. Debut single "Glass Bead" is a nostalgic gem that heavily recalls Girls' Generation's earliest work, from the sound to the energetic choreography.
What's Next?: While they've been successful for a rookie act, to truly cement themselves GFriend will need material that carves out an unique identity for them, or they'll risk being nothing but a SNSD tribute act.
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