From Monsta X to Oh My Girl, these are the Korean newcomers who are on their way to superstardom
Already, 2016 is tantalising K-Pop fans with a fresh batch of shiny new acts, known collectively as ‘rookies’. Korea’s most powerful label SM Entertainment is busy readying a boy group who have EXO’s crown in their sights, while Starship Entertainment, home to Sistar, has already began teasers for their new girl group, Cosmic Girls.
Anticipation for groups not even fully announced may seem premature, but let’s not forget the now familiar adage – a year in Korean pop music is the equivalent to two years in the Western industry. This fast moving pace saw around one hundred new idol groups alone debut in 2015 to mixed audience reaction; with some finishing the year with award-winning success, while others faced ambivalence.
Some new groups, such as Seventeen and iKon, made our annual ‘Top 20 K-Pop tracks of 2015’, but as ever, there wasn't enough room for everyone. With that in mind, we take a look at this year’s finest newcomers who should be fixed firmly on your 2016 radar as they edge ever-closer toward K-Pop domination.
Another day, another talent show. 7-member group Monsta X were plucked from South Korea’s ‘No.Mercy’ contest, although halfway through the competition they were already making an impression by featuring on K-hiphop tracks, such as Giriboy’s immense “(0) Young”. Monsta X seemed to slog through 2015, their rise comparatively slow to other talent show groups, but with two mini-albums in six months they've become a polished group treading a similar path to Block B. While debut album Trespass felt a little lukewarm, album two Rush nailed it, offering up a shower of influences as varied as DJ Mustard to fellow boy group BTS. And when a huge song like “Hero” (below) is given only a simple choreographed music video but still manages to be incredible, you know a group is worth looking into.
While not a traditional K-Pop ‘idol’, 22-year-old singer/songwriter Dean has certainly been a part of Korea’s pop mainstream, namely co-writing and producing “Black Pearl” for EXO and “Voodoo Doll” for VIXX. Yet he began as a hip hop kid, working alongside underground rapper Keith Ape while he was still in school, before honing his sound into futuristic, moody R&B reminiscent of Chicago singer Jeremih or Purpose-era Justin Bieber. His rookie year has featured a slew of collaborations that have pushed his profile, including Eric Bellinger, Mila J and Korean rappers Zico and Dok2. Writing in both Korean and English, Dean's crossover appeal is already evident. And if his debut album continues in the smouldering style of “Pour Up” (below) then his spark in the public’s consciousness will become a bonfire.
Like South Korean boy bands iKon and Winner, 9-member, multi-national girl group Twice were formed on a TV talent contest, granting them the advantage of generating their fan base before an official debut. However, the runaway success of first single “Like Ooh Aah” and their award for ‘Best New Female Group’ at MAMA (essentially the Asian equivalent of the Grammys) cemented a popularity that was growing far beyond their reality show beginnings. Avoiding the soft image and matching outfits of their girl band contemporaries, their bold, brash and distinctive charisma has become the thrust of their concept. While mini-album The Story may not have strayed far from the songs featured on the talent show they came from, “Like Ooh Aah”, with its breathy chorus and girl-gang chants, sets up 2016 as theirs to own.
Having skipped the music and variety shows, with their label taking a very non-‘idol’, grassroots approach to success, 6-member group Day6 are a band worth investigating. They gain no creative points for naming their mini-album The Day, but their debut creates a solid foundation from which they have plenty of opportunity to build from musically. While it was the guitar-led, sweetly down-tempo lead single “Congratulations” (below) racking up millions of views with very little promotion, Day6 have a breezy, upbeat style that flits between the American-style pop punk of Walk the Moon and Carly Rae Jepson’s electronic pop magic.
OH MY GIRL
Before getting on the wrong side of Los Angeles immigration officers, 8-piece girl group Oh My Girl were closing out 2015 with a huge amount of interest in their second mini-album Closer, its lead single delving into unrequited love, matched to a beautiful, symbolic video. The band were eclipsed on the numbers game by fellow rookies GFriend, but while they both emanate a butter-wouldn’t-melt vibe, GFriend follow a far more traditional sound whereas Oh My Girl have shown willingness to embrace musical experimentations, with first single “Cupid” borrowing the American marching band roll from Destiny's Child’s “Lose My Breath” and “Closer” surprising listeners with a smattering of ethereal, witch house synth. If this is how they’ve started their career, imagine the possibilities that lie in wait over the next 12 months.