One of the things I look most forward to each year in k-pop is the rise of new rookie groups. 2016 was particularly kind when it came to promising new artists, with a few offering some of the best songs of the year. Unlike the MAMA Awards, I won’t be considering the massively successful I.O.I as a rookie, since they’re effectively a project group and will be disbanding soon. Nor am I including groups like Pledis Girlz or BOYS24, who haven’t really made an official debut yet.
Read on for my top ten rookies of the year — each with links to my reviews of their 2016 single releases.
Their debut was a real clunker — cloying and overly cutesy in the worst way. But then, the group started to take on an edgier sound that suited them so much better. I’m excited to see where they go next.
Though they only released one mini album, it was strong enough to warrant a place on this list. I hope they continue with their edgier, hip-hop-meets-rock concept for the next comeback.
Singles released: Strange
8. COSMIC GIRLS (WJSN)
This group finally clicked with the addition of I.O.I’s Yeonjung in August. I’m still not sure that their music fully warrants such a large number of group members, but both of their 2016 mini albums were totally solid.
They’re the group with the least amount of released material on this list, debuting this month with the ultra-catchy Oh NaNa. But the fact that they’re coed, and seemingly carving a unique musical path for themselves, makes them a group with a ton of potential.
Singles released: Oh NaNa
6. THE EAST LIGHT
Rock music is quite rare in the k-pop idol world. So is a group as young as The East Light, whose average age at debut is just fifteen. They’ve only released two tracks (and a brilliantly fun remix), but their performance skills and raw talent are definitely impressive.
It feels like some of their momentum was blunted by the lack of a music video for their most recent single, but Back Again was one of this year’s best tracks, and they seem to have really found their niche working with Kim Tae Joo, who’s most famous for his production work for Beast.
Speaking of Beast, Pentagon are the latest offering from their struggling former agency, Cube Entertainment. I was hesitant about them at first, especially with the large number of members, but their two mini albums have been very strong and the guys are excellent performers with charisma to spare. Maybe Cube’s not done for quite yet!
YG Entertainment groups are always promising, but I was worried when neither of BLACKPINK’s August singles did much for me. However, their November material more than made up for that, and is enough to move them all the way up to number three. Now that 2NE1‘s disbanded, we need another girl group with this sound. BLACKPINK could fill that hole, as long as YG lets them regularly release material.
This was very close, and NCT may likely end up being my favorite group on this list when all is said and done. They were the most exciting prospect this year, with a seemingly unlimited scope of members and genres. This dizzying potential means we could be in for just about anything next year. I hope that the quality holds up and the group releases a steady stream of music in 2017. I absolutely adore the members we’ve met so far. They’ve been the most promising new variety personalities of the year, and have made what could have been a clinical, focus-grouped concept into something that feels personal and friendly.
If we’re talking about a fully formed group with a strong, fresh concept and consistently solid music, Astro was 2016’s best new arrival. I love that they opted for a bright image, rather than the more common “aren’t we so cool” hip-hop favored by most of their peers. And best of all, the upbeat sound actually seems authentic. They’ve picked the right collaborators in hit-making team Seo Youngbae & Iggy, and have given us three outstanding mini albums. They probably won’t blow up as quickly as NCT or BLACKPINK, but I’m hoping for a steady rise as more fans are won over by their endearing charm.