seoulbeats_20131106_troublemaker9We K-pop fans understand that when idols showcase themselves for the public, the presentation is key. How else would comebacks and debuts matter so much beyond the music that’s being put on display? We’ve reflected on the best albums, concepts, performances, and songs, but only the terms “comeback” and “debut” encompass the entire package.

In our poll, we gave you the opportunity to reflect on the best debuts and comebacks of the year. A difficult task, as the amount of comebacks and debuts in one year can add up to a staggering number.

The results reflected the diversity of material presented this year, but it also reflects the difficulty of defining a perfect promotion. Comebacks and debuts can work because of concrete things like music or video, but they can also work just because a mix of intangibles add up in the right way. In your quest to find the best of the best, you voted for the strongest, most well-conceived promotions of the year.

The Debuts of 2013

Interestingly enough, 2013 did not seem to be a big year for stand-out debuts. In fact, the top three nominees in the polls were exclusively comebacks. So, why did so many debuts slip through the radar?


There was definitely a different spirit around debuts this year. With established idols like Jea, Jaejoong, Hyorin, Sunmi, and Henry testing out solo ventures for the first timer, it seems that many of the prominent debuts were about idols with a fair amount of industry mileage changing-up from the usual instead of new rookies coming into the fold.

Companies are perhaps assessing resources and only putting the best out to pasture, which may explain why so few rookies grabbed enough attention to stay in the public eye. With two very different types of debuts to keep in mind, let’s reflect on some of the notable ones.

The first, which scored favorably in the polls, is Sunmi’s solo debut with the single “24 Hours.” What makes this debut so special is that Sunmi had disappeared off of many fans’ radar after her 2010 departure from the Wonder Girls to focus on her academics.

Some wondered if she’d ever come back to the music scene or to her group, but JYPE’s announcement that she would return as a solo act was an unprecedented surprise, drawing excitement and controversy at the same time.


But, the shocker of it all is that Sunmi’s debut was strong. “24 Hours” presented strong choreography, visuals, music video, and performances for the entire tenure of her promotions. She proved that she could hold her own, amid much talk about JYPE and the future of the Wonder Girls.

It was the total package from the most unexpected place, and that is why Sunmi’s debut cannot be ignored here. One can only hope her comeback next year (with a full album!) will garner the same electricity.

20130608_seoulbeats_superjunior_henry_trap_albumcoverAlso posting high votes in the poll was Henry from Super Junior-M with his single “Trap.” Henry had established himself as a composer long before his 2013 debut, but the joy of “Trap” was that SM Entertainment was showing a vote of confidence by allowing Henry to do a solo project.

After all, SM has a history of avoiding solos and sticking to groups and sub-units when they want to get creative, so Henry’s debut, as a solo male artist, was unprecedented in a completely different way.

Granted, SM did attempt to add more starpower to the music video by recruiting Taemin and Kyuhyun to sing with Henry, but in the long run, it likely only brought more attention to the debut. Regardless, Henry’s solo was a great moment of success this year and deserves to be counted as a highlight of 2013.

For the more classic debuts, I’m giving kudos to Ladies’ Code. There were many girl groups that popped up this year, but Ladies’ Code entered the scene with interesting voices and a lot of performance savvy for a rookie group with their lead single “Bad Girl” off of their debut mini-album, Code #01. 

What stood out about Ladies’ Code was that they were such capable performers. The girls delivered so many consistently strong performances that I began forgetting that they were rookies, which is the best way to debut.


The Comebacks of 2013

Comebacks were big this year and our poll results definitely reflect that. It was also a big year for the boys, especially with groups like SHINee, VIXX, and EXO hitting the market with multiple releases. There was definitely a focus on the male group comeback, but from it we saw a wide variety of well-planned and thoughtful promotions from established acts.

20131130_blockb_taeil_ceciAdmittedly, there were some duds this year (Awoooo!), but there’s also a lot of comebacks that deserve praise.

Coming in first place was Block B with “Very Good.” What makes Block B’s comeback so distinct is rooted in the background history of the group. The members had their fair share of controversy and legal struggles in the last two years, but Block B gave the image of a group redeemed, idols that had learned from their mistakes and were ready to move on.

There was definitely a spirit of humility and graciousness surrounding this comeback, which stands out compared to some of the other comebacks of the year.

“Very Good” was a very high-energy song endemic of Block B’s style, but I also enjoyed the pairing of it with the more mellow and reflective prequel “Be the Light,” which gave the boys the opportunity to show a more mature side. With Block B under new management and ready for a fresh start, I look forward to more thoughtful comebacks.


Coming in second was SHINee’s very quirky turn with “Dream Girl.” After briefly appearing in 2012 for “Sherlock” promotions, SHINee had to present themselves in a big way for 2013. And what better way is there than to drop an MV completely revolutionary by your agency’s standards, change up the choreography style, and pick a radio-friendly single perfect for springtime? Announcing a second album that would be dropped a few months after also didn’t kill the excitement factor.


Just like in Sunmi’s solo effort, the music, choreography, visuals, and even styling for “Dream Girl” were elegantly synthesized, so much so that no other group could likely imitate it.

While it was only the start of an aggressive year of promotions for SHINee, this comeback threw just about the perfect first pitch. “Why So Serious?” and “Everybody” would not show the same degree of craftsmanship and care that went into all of “Dream Girl,” which is why this is the comeback so favorably reviewed by readers.

The third place winner in the polls was EXO with “Growl.” EXO was in a very interesting position this year, in that their debut with “MAMA” didn’t catch as much attention as SM Entertainment likely wanted, especially after investing so much time, energy, and money in the debut.

This, of course, put a lot of pressure on EXO to really deliver with their next comeback, which explains why the members spent so much time away from the spotlight last year after “MAMA.”

From that we got “Wolf,” which certainly caught everyone’s attention, but failed to really impress the general public due to the continued dependence on excessive gimmicks, despite the accompaniment of a fairly strong album. Cue the quick regroup and repackage with “Growl” and public sentiment completely changed.


EXO got it right with “Growl” because they focused on the basics: giving people unique, reimagined hip-hop choreography over a song with an irresistible beat and throwing in good vocals on top. Then, abandoning all of the big-budget videos of the past and presenting a noticeably dressed down, simple performance video recorded in one take. For EXO it was a recipe for success. And how.

“Growl” is the real milestone for this group, and it’s hard to imagine where EXO would be if they hadn’t had such an explosive comeback. This was truly the perfect storm that no one expected. It’s very easy to understand why it was such a big hit in K-pop and with the voters in the poll.

131011_seoulbeats_kahi1There are also many honorable mentions. VIXX had phenomenal comebacks with “Hyde” and “Voodoo Doll.” Seo In-young had a hit with “Love Me.” 2NE1 got their hit of the year with “Missing You.” Troublemaker, f(x), Girl’s Day, 4Minute, Seungri, and Lee Hyori also deserve kudos for strong promotions in 2013, some for their concept, some for their albums, and some for their performances.

Comebacks are best evaluated in context with the group’s cumulative performance. Most of the time, it’s about presenting the right material at the right moment, both in the market and in the group’s timeline.

The comebacks you loved succeeded in doing just that. They were reflective, sometimes building upon what was done in the past a la SHINee, sometimes turning over a new leaf via a redemption song a la Block B,  and sometimes defying expectations by changing all style and convention a la EXO.

All three methods can be successful, and I only hope the promotions of 2014, whether debut or comeback, reflect the same thoughtfulness.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4], JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment, Seven Seasons, Polaris Entertainment)