This was a very uneventful year for K-pop rookies. There were no big agency debuts until Xdinary Heroes a few days ago, leaving 2021 to acts who were more under-the-radar.
For me, none of these rookies were consistently excellent. Some released one or two knockout songs, only to follow-up with underwhelming returns. Others are too new to have released much at all! It’s hard to know how a group with only one or two songs under their belt will fare in the new year. So as always, this countdown is half speculation.
Unlike my Top 50 countdown, any group who debuted in this calendar year is eligible. Before I break down my picks, here are few honorable mentions:
Click for last year’s rookie countdown
With only one title track to their name, bugAboo could soar next year. Or, they could crash and burn. But, with producer Ryan Jhun at the helm, I feel pretty confident in their future. The girls themselves have great energy and potential.
Singles released: bugAboo
Luminous have been kicking around for a while, but they finally made their official debut this year. Again, it’s too early to know where they will go, but debut track Run was a highlight that gives me hope they’ll continue to embrace this groovy hip-hop sound.
Singles released: Run
I’m totally into Kingdom’s Renaissance Faire schtick. At the very least, it was refreshing to see a group emerge with an ambitious concept that embraced K-pop’s inherent theatricality. Most of their title tracks haven’t impressed me, but a few strong b-sides point to a brighter future.
Singles released: Excalibur, Karma, Black Crown
Billlie have already set themselves apart from their peers, and that scores major points from me. I wasn’t as impressed by their album as others, but I appreciate its artistic merit and desire to take risks. If the group embraces this energy even further, they will be a 2022 force to watch.
Singles released: Ring x Ring, Snowy Night
When they first debuted, I wouldn’t have imagined adding Pixy to this list. But, the group has gone on to impress me with some great b-sides and the wonderful Bewitched. I like that they bring a darker vibe to the girl group landscape, and I hope their music embraces its electronic influences in the new year.
Singles released: Wings, Let Me Know, Addicted, Bewitched
5. JUST B
Like so many 2021 rookies, Just B dropped the ball on their first comeback. But, their debut stands as one of the year’s strongest. They need to stick with producer Bang Yongguk and embrace their hard-hitting electro-rock sound. They have so much potential and I’m rooting for them to rekindle their spark.
Singles released: Damage, Tick Tock
4. PURPLE KISS
Purple Kiss were one of the more noteworthy debuts this year, hailing from the very successful RBW. In fact, their music was first unveiled in 2020. But, 2021 was their official debut year, and the girls proved themselves quite versatile in sound and concept. I didn’t love everything they released, but I can’t deny their charisma and polish.
Singles released: Can We Talk Again, Ponzona, Zombie, My My
Another inconsistent rookie, Ciipher debuted with a real clunker. But, they totally reinvigorated my interest with their first comeback. If they follow along this path, I can see the guys growing by leaps and bounds. I love their youthful energy and I’ll be interested to see where mentor Rain takes them next.
Singles released: I Like You, Blind
With only one single to their name, it feels almost unfair to place IVE so high on this countdown. But, Eleven is great and the group seems to tick every box necessary for future superstars. Starship Entertainment have yet to disappoint when it comes to girl groups, so I’m expected ample promotions and some great music from IVE in 2022. Their future feels incredibly bright.
Singles released: Eleven
This is an easy number one for me, even if I have concerns about the group’s future. DSP Media has an awful track record for boy groups, and follow-up single Splash already proves they don’t understand what made Mirae’s debut so great. But, the guys released my favorite debut single/mini of the year, and I’m going to keep clinging on to that energy. All they need to do is further develop their futuristic sound and they will have carved out a nice niche for themselves. Please, DSP: don’t let them fall to generic trends. They have all the potential in the world and could make some killer (or Killa?) music next year.
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Surprised you left Lightsum as only an HM: both of their singles got honorable mention on Top 3 of the month.
Yay IVE though 🤩
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Blitzers ROTY. Rock-rap is just always awesome. They make it this high just because they’re one of the only ones who’s actually found a great style and seem to have stuck to it.
2nd place Mirae. Killa was insane good, Splash was insane bad. Both EPs were great though
3rd place Kingdom. Great concept, sometimes good songs. Their musical identity seems very formed through the singles, but they deliver pop much better for some reason, as proven in their b-sides.
Rest all were meh or really didn’t release much (IVE and bugAboo)
Excited for 2022, though.
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Mirae’s name is legit future boys…if these guys don’t embrace it, then I am gonna go on a rampage.
Other than that, JUST B is my favorite rookie group. These guys have incredible vocalists and they have access to Bang Yongguk. So please! I need some K-pop version of KAT-TUN and the description of hard-hitting electro sounds so fricking cool.
If there is one wish I have for 2022..I need Yongguk and Jinyoung (B1A4) To produce for some more groups. It’d be fun seeing Edenary team up with Yongguk lol….
I want that.
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The dissapointment I had when I heard Mirae’s comeback was unmeasurable. They literally had the pathway laid out to be something distinct and interesting but instead we got SPLASH 😕😕😕. DSP got one more comeback for I decide to step in.
Agree for the most part. As a former IZONE fan, I am ready to active my IVE stan card as well. Other than that, Lightsum has a killer lineup, but their singles so far have me worried. Just no real direction thus far, I would hate for them to go down the path CLC did, but it’s early so I’ll have hope. Purple Kiss looks promising so far I like them a good bit. Pixy REALLLYYYY turned things around for me near the end of the year so I’ll keep an eye on them. Billie was already on my watchlist but the addition of the wonderful Suyeon means I’ll probably become a fan of theirs as well.
Ready for the bloodbath that will be 2022 ggs tho… I mean Kep1er, JYPn, potentially 3 HYBE ggs, AND maybe the YG gg…jesus.
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I’m pleasantly surprised and happy seeing Ciipher really high in this list! They have surpassed my expectations with Blind and I would say it’s my favorite rookie release this year. It harnesses the energy that I’m looking for in 4th gen KPOP in a long time. There are still groups doing bright colorful stuff in KPOP right now but most of them felt mild and obligatory or just serves as a promotional b-side (the song usually promoted along with the title track). That’s why I’m so happy we got to witness Blind this year and another plus is that the boys produced the album and I’m happy to know that’s what they really wanted to do! I have a soft spot for self-producing artists who do really good material like Woodz. It’s easy for rookies to be tempted and just follow the current trends happening right now but they really went with something that feels fun and not constrained by any concept. I’m so excited for their future and I hope they continue to have that fresh energy. I’m hoping to see more fresh rookie releases in 2022!
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My personal ROTY are Kingdom and Pixy – mostly going off how much I loved their songs. Ive definitely gives serious competition but I don’t want to compare off a single song.
As debut songs go, my pick for the boys is still Kingdom – Excalibur is THAT debut.For the girls though it is a close competition between Bugaboo and Ive Eleven – two extemely catchy songs executed really well!
Purple Kiss as a group is definitely on top but I still feel they need to get “the song” – something that would really showcase their incredible vocals and performance! But I have immense faith in RBW and so I wait…
JustB and Mirae are KINGS of performance and I’m excited for their future cbs. As for Ciipher, Epex & Lightsum – three groups that caught me only when they went 180° with their cbs; I sincerely hope they continue with their cb style! 🙂
And in final surprising news – Billie Ring Ring finally grew on me 😂😂🔥 I loved the instrumental right from the start – Might even say it is my fave instrumental of 2021 (other competitors were Kingdom Excalibur and TBZ Breaking Dawn 🙃). Overall the song does grows though and I think next year I might pay a bit more attention to them!:)
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I was having a hard time ranking groups with only one comeback so I decided to put them on an honorable mentions list instead. Side note, the only real surprise I had with Nick’s list is that T1419 and Omega X made the honorable mentions.
Kwon Eun Bi
Kim Woo Jin
5. JUST B
3. OMEGA X
1. PURPLE KISS
Ahhh Mirae would be higher up for me if I wasn’t so disappointed by their comeback Splash. I would say purple kiss or IVE are tied for top spot for me. I’m most excited to see where those girl groups go. My most anticipated boy groups are Kingdom and JustB. JustB because their debut song was…too epic. I need them to bring that energy back. And kingdom because their CONCEPT. Their most reason song Black Crown was my favorite title track so far. I hope their discography only gets better.
Oooh, damn I’m late. 😳
Anyways, grumpy ol’ me again. I was having a bit of a laugh a few minutes ago seeing how last year’s TBL Star Rookies have fared, both for me and in general. P1Harmony became Youtube game show stars, Treasure acted more than they sang, TOO technically doesn’t exist anymore (!) and their successor group (🤭) seems to be… uh, rather aimless. Meanwhile, Drippin hasn’t stopped disappointing me ever since Nostalgia (and God is Nostalgia a good song. I always play it in the car on happy sunny days). On the other hand, Ghost9 has lost its shine (pssst, it probably has something to do with the song Seoul, and the fact that now they’re Ghost7 and bad at variety), while Enhypen, a group I used to despise (for I-Land AND Hybe reasons) has managed to get on my good side by dint of sheer consistency (though not performance quality, sadly.) And yet the music I’ve probably listened to the most all the while has been from the 5 boys who came out of nowhere with a silly song about snow or some such almost 2 years ago now.
Verily I say, inscrutable are the ways of the god Kaypop.
(And talking about performances, did anyone else find Wanna One’s MAMA performance rather listless?)
But enough of the olden times. This year for the first time I find THREE groups vying for the much coveted “Rookie the Wacko is Rooting For (And Willing to Spend some Amount of Cash On)” position in my hearteu that used to belong to the first iteration of the World Klassies:
-MIRAE: I’ve sort of adjusted my expectations to them being a sort of Cravity with the ever-worse title tracks but consistently good minis, plus really great at variety. Oh, and I like their voices. As an aside, and contrary to Nick’s evaluation, I find Dingyo… I mean Dongpyo to be (unexpectedly) much less of a factor in their being so entertaining than things like the Sangmin-Junhyuk rivalry, Douhyun, Lian’s laughter and Siyoung simply existing🤔 And all of that’s funny for me because I didn’t put any stock in them when I was seeing their predebut teasers and so on.
-JUST B: or The One I’ve gotten into the bad habit of simply calling “Geonu’s group,” because the name gives me spine-chills of cringe every time I think about it. I suppose that after Damage and Get Away, anything without Bang Yongguk in the credits was gonna smack of failure in my book, but Jesus eff was Tick Tock and its accompanying mini an unmitigated disaster😬 I hope they bring the big man back for their next releases; goodness knows their looks and Limji’s gruff voice lend themselves really well to the BAP style. If not… eh, at least they’re fun in variety; something about (some of) their personalities feels rather unconventional.
-EPEX: I really, *really* don’t know what to expect from them 😵💫 My ears twitch whenever Lock Down comes up because damned Spotify still refuses to obey me, and my eyelids begin to work spastically whenever I watch the Do 4 Me MV (but hey, at least it’s boys in fluo, not pastel, colors), but I like the song, and my sister hates it, so life is good and I love those kids to pieces.
Ciipher. Ciipher, Ciipher, Ciipher. I remain a staunch defender of I Like You, I like Blind quite a lot, and seeing as after the Gang fiasco renaissance-Rain seems to have embraced more fun and playful music styles, I have reason to think he’ll push his bg in the same direction, and we’ll get more songs like those two. However, if Blind gave me hope for them, listening to their main rapper play his/their self-produced songs during a live took it all away in a split second. The amount of vocal processing would make Bang PD blush with secondhand embarrassment and Nick tear his hair out in frustration, and the songs themselves had un certain je-ne-sais-quoi of *un*-goodness to them… 🤷 So yeah, together we pray.
Now about Kingdom, I think I’m the only person I know who was more excited by the actual sound of Excalibur (at least in the teasers) than their concept. Since then… I liked the boyar uniforms in Black Crown. Oh, and the crown. The crown was a neat touch, yes.
So… did I say anything useful in this wall of text? Nah; did I ever?
Did I have fun writing it? You bet.
And so, I bid thee farewell. 🎩
For now. 😈
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Hard agree about Mirae being *excellent* at variety and GHOST9 being… not so much. It’s amazing what a difference that can make. I could watch Siyoung and Douhyun being awkward all day long.
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