2019 was a huge year for rookie groups. In fact, I’d say that the year was almost driven by them. So many agencies unveiled new acts, offering a needed jolt to the industry. This makes for a highly competitive countdown, with lots of treasures to discover.
Like usual, this list comes with some caveats. When compiling my top ten, I don’t usually include any kind of temporary or project group. With their relatively long contract time, I debated whether or not X1 fit this criteria. But with scandal possibly cutting their lifespan short, I ultimately decided to leave them off the list. Solo debuts from established acts (Kang Daniel, Park Jihoon, etc.), sub-unit debuts (SuperM) and re-debuts (ONEWE) are also ineligible.
Read on for my top ten rookies of the year — each with links to my reviews of their 2019 single releases!
10. ROCKET PUNCH
Rocket Punch make it on this list by benefit of their agency and the artists that came before them. I wasn’t a big fan of their debut mini album, but I have faith in Woollim Entertainment to bring the goods over the next year. I hope they don’t let me down.
Singles released: Bim Bam Bum
While I haven’t liked everything they’ve released, Sage has become an unexpected grower and represents a great direction for the guys. I think they could be a dark horse for 2020.
ARIAZ only have one mini album to their name, but it’s a strong one. Their sound and collaborators are right up my alley. Their biggest hurdle in 2020 will be the agency that they’re signed to. Star Empire has had a lousy reputation when it comes to promotion. Hopefully they can get it together for these promising girls.
Singles released: Moonlight Aria
I suspect Everglow will have a much higher placement on many others’ rookie lists. I wasn’t as enamored with either of their 2019 singles as most fans seem to be, but I know potential when I see it. They’re quickly carving out their own niche, and if they can continue that growth next year, they may surprise me.
Dongkiz check so many of my musical boxes. I’m always looking for bright boy group songs, and they seem intent on delivering the most upbeat, unabashedly goofy pop that they can. The effort is appreciated, and I’m eager to see where they go next. All they need is a big break.
ONEUS debuted strong in January, and followed up with a series of great mini albums. They slipped a bit in the second half of the year, but Valkyrie and Twilight (along with some dynamite b-sides) more than proved their potential. In many ways, their sound reminds me of classic K-pop — hard-hitting but not unnecessarily angst-ridden or trendy.
I wasn’t completely convinced by AB6IX at first, but they slowly won me over as the year went on. Though their music feels trendy, it has its own personality thanks to the members’ participation in its composition. They’re one of the tightest rookies of the year. Their five members each bring something different to the table. And with most of them known to the public already, AB6IX is as close to a super-group as K-pop gets (minus SuperM, of course!).
I will always love groups who find a signature sound and stick with it. VERIVERY’s new jack swing revival proved to be both addictive and versatile this year, and I’m hopeful that they’ll tread roughly the same territory in 2020 as well. The group has such a refreshing energy, with lockstep choreography and fun, consistently strong material.
ITZY only released a total of five songs this year, but it felt like they took over 2019. They’re such a force already, bounding out of the gate with palpable charisma and the tunes to match. Their quirky, upbeat style pulls from many girl group tropes we already know, but feels uniquely their own. Dalla Dalla and ICY were two of the year’s biggest and best singles, and it’s a crime that the girls weren’t allowed to release more material. But, if JYP’s non-stop promotion of Twice is any indication, ITZY are going to have a packed 2020.
TXT are the definition of a super rookie, flooding the K-pop landscape with material even if they only released two albums. Their placement at the top of this list shouldn’t be any surprise to longtime Bias List readers. I’ve been waiting for a more pop-minded group like this to break out, and I’m delighted that TXT’s melodic, upbeat sound has been embraced by the industry. Their fantasy-like concepts have proven to be highly original and different enough from agency-mates BTS to stand out. Their music, videos and trailers have been incredibly high-quality (and big-budget), and the members are as endearingly personable as they are talented. It’s still early days for the group, but I can already tell that they’re going to be a long-time favorite.