This particular countdown tends to be polarizing. How do you judge a “best artist,” after all? To be clear, this isn’t an objective list. It’s not based on facts and figures. Nor is it a straight-up bias list, though bias definitely plays a big part. My criteria for this category is simple, and encompasses three factors:
- Quality of work
- Quantity of work
- Influence of work on the industry
Of these three, the first criteria far outweighs the next two and, of course, is entirely subjective. That means that some personal favorites are likely to make this list despite criteria two and three not being met as strongly. Hey, this site is called The Bias List for a reason, right?
With that said, I try to select groups that really shaped this specific year for me. Groups that had exciting transformations, or were particularly prolific. 2019 was huge for rookies, but they have their own countdown and won’t be appearing here. This distinction allows me to celebrate twenty acts each year instead of ten. It’s a win/win!
+ Make sure to check out the rest of the year-end countdowns here!
Astro had a very successful 2019, with bolstered album sales and member Cha Eunwoo consistently lodged within the top brand reputation lists. With this success, their core sound started to change. I’m not a fan of this transition to more generic fare, but I can’t overlook how good their first full-length album was. Let’s just call Blue Flame a blip on the radar, because other than that, their 2019 output was solid.
Last Year: n/a
2019 Singles: All Night, Hanasaki Mirai, Blue Flame
It’s never a fair fight with NCT. Between their various units, they release far more material than any other group each year. In 2019, they released two of my favorite singles, and Chinese spin-off WayV had a very successful international debut. The guys’ U.S. push met with more mixed results, but allowed them to tour the States (and Canadian provinces!) and even make a historic appearance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
Last Year: 3
2019 Singles: Dream Launch, Wakey-Wakey, Take Off, Highway To Heaven, Superhuman, Don’t Need Your Love (with HRVY), Boom, Moonwalk, Love Talk, Coming Home
8. OH MY GIRL
Oh My Girl’s first full album was a long time coming, and it didn’t disappoint. This kicked off a watershed year for the group, culminating in their wildly successful stint on variety show Queendom. They’ve always felt on the edge of breaking out with the general public, but as we transition to 2020, they’re in a better position for growth than ever before.
Last Year: n/a
2019 Singles: The Fifth Season (SSFWL), Bungee (Fall In Love)
7. GOLDEN CHILD
Last year’s number one pick would be higher if all of their 2019 activity hadn’t been shoved into the last couple months of the year. It was a long drought for us fans, but it culminated in a stellar album and robust promotions. 2019 was also a breakthrough year for member Bomin, who seems to be on his way to variety & K-drama ubiquity. Bonus points go to the group’s web sitcom, which was way funnier (and more convincingly acted) than it had any right to be.
Last Year: 1
2019 Singles: A Song For Me (Joochan solo), Spring Again, Wannabe
BTS continued to be their world-conquering selves in 2019, though they released slightly less material than last year. However, their 2019 was a case of quality over quantity, with an excellent mini-album and long-lasting hit in the form of Boy With Luv. A legendary performance at this year’s Melon Music Awards sealed the deal, proving that the group won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Last Year: n/a
2019 Singles: Persona, Boy With Luv, Heartbeat, Lights, Chicken Noodle Soup (J-Hope ft. Becky G)
DAY6 expanded their sound in 2019, and a little experimentation turned out to be exactly what they needed. They scored two songs on my Top 50 countdown (though one was from last December), but it was the quality of their albums that really made their year stand out. They are currently the idol band to beat, and I hope they continue to explore new styles in 2020.
Last Year: n/a
2019 Singles: Time Of Our Life, Sweet Chaos
Twice were relentless this year. Between Korea and Japan, it felt like there was always a new Twice single waiting just around the corner. But, it all felt intentional. The group made a slick transition tin 2019, and almost everything they recorded helped to contribute to this transformation. Their Korean albums were more solid than ever, and their Japanese output improved by leaps and bounds. We are truly in the second era of Twice, and 2019 was the perfect way to kick that off.
Last Year: n/a
2019 Singles: Fancy, Breakthrough, Happy Happy, Feel Special, Fake & True
3. COSMIC GIRLS (WJSN)
For me, Cosmic Girls have been rising every year since their debut. This is their highest placement yet, and comes courtesy of three excellent (and varied) mini albums. Their cosmic sound continued to power much of their music, but their For The Summer album was a real surprise. It turns out that the girls are more than ready to secure the “summer queens” label that Sistar used to covet. They’re one of the few groups whose b-sides are equally as good (if not better) than their title tracks, which has steadily built a rock-solid discography.
Last Year: 10
2019 Singles: La La Love, Boogie Up, As You Wish
2. STRAY KIDS
My top rookie of 2018 did not disappoint this year. At the outset of 2019, I would have never imagined Stray Kids’ foray into hard-hitting EDM and psychedelic trance, but the genre experimentation fit them like a glove. Their Clé series turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, offering single after fantastic single. In just under two years, they’ve managed to craft a brand and sound that feels unique to them. And thrillingly, the Stray Kids style is more versatile than you might expect. I never know exactly where their music will head next, which makes it very exciting. They had a few bumps in the road this year, but have quickly positioned themselves at the cutting edge of idol pop, ready to lead this new generation of artists.
Last Year: n/a
2019 Singles: Miroh, Side Effects, Double Knot, Astronaut, Levanter
My mind is blown every time I consider the ambition behind ATEEZ’s 29-track Treasure series. Six of those tracks were released at the tail end of 2018, but the bulk of the project unveiled throughout this year. The words “magnum opus” come to mind. Much of the credit has to go to the group’s incredible producers, but there’s no discounting ATEEZ’s swaggering, intense presence. They enjoyed a major breakthrough in 2019 — the kind of meteoric rise that can only be fueled by excellent music and hard work. The guys were everywhere this year, making multiple comebacks, touring around the globe and working the international scene with nonstop vigor. Their singles were universally great, and the albums that they supported were just as solid. They already have a signature sound and image, but there’s room to switch that up next year with the kick-off of a new era (and hopefully new album series).
Last Year: n/a
2019 Singles: Say My Name, Wave, Illusion, Wonderland, Utopia (Japanese Version)
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I love how ur top 2 rookies of last year ended up as ur top 2 artists of this year (just inverted)! It just makes my nerdy brain go nuts ahah.
But ATEEZ 100% deserve the top spot, they were relentless this year, whilst still releasing some of the best singles and albums of the year. Their Treasure ep3: One to All has to be in my top 3 albums of the year by far alongside Golcha’s reboot. IT’s truly a flawless collection of pop songs.
Looking forward to your album and b-side lists, keep up the great work Nick!
Couldn’t be anyone but Ateez for that top spot, what a stellar year they’ve had
I am sincerely NOT trying to be a Debbie Downer, but after reading your entire article, I was left with three interacting thoughts. First, the criteria (quality, quantity, influence), second, everything that happened in the past year, and finally the personal impact of both of those combined. Only two names stood out for me.
Sulli (Choi Jin-ri)
Born: March 29, 1994 / Died: October 14, 2019 (25)
Industry Years: 2005-2019
Studio Albums: 4
Video Albums: 1
Single Albums: 2
Music Videos: 23
Hara (Goo Ha-Ra)
Born: January 13, 1991 / Died: November 24, 2019 (28)
Industry Years: 2008-2019
Studio Albums: 9
Compilation Albums: 8
Music Videos: 34
I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but these 2 angels have given me more than every other act from 2019 combined. Separately, each has provided both quality and quantity well above anything we could expect. Additionally, they each influenced and inspired everyone that became familiar with them.
However, there was a price attached to all of those gifts from these two women where no debt was due. We had one job! Accept these blessed gifts and shut the fuck up; but we live in a different reality. One where two very talented women gave us so much, but the world wouldn’t leave them alone until they gave up that one final offering; their lives.
For me, 2019 was about 2 Top K-Pop Artists and I miss them, dearly.
Thank you for indulging me. I apologize for taking this post around a dark corner. /headbow
Stray kids and ateez have definitely consistently deliver, so not surprised to see them at the top. I’m hoping for more golcha in 2020, their full album was great!
Stray kids probably surprise me the most this year, they have always come across as…..generic hip-hop boy group to me.
But, this year with their sound evolution to a more “techno” one i’m starting to really dig them again.
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Yay! I love your top 2 pick, Nick. I’m sure that Ateez and Stray Kids will create more bop songs this 2020.