Nugu: (noun) Pronounced nuu-gu. K-pop lingo used to describe rookies, especially when few people know their names. A contraction of the formal term “Nuguseyo”, which means “Who are you?”

After three years in K-pop, it seems to get harder and harder to bother too much with new groups. The reasons for this are plenty. A lack of time, established acts having that final bit of polish and too many of new debuts happening at the same time meant it got hard to find out and follow up on debut groups.

Recent things though in K-pop have got me thinking otherwise. Most established acts have begun to fall into the pattern of just being consistent, delivering what fans have expected, but not much more. Also, thanks to cable, it is much easier to watch broadcasts of M! Countdown, Music Bank and Inkigayo, instead of just YouTube snippets of old favourites coming back, which means a lower chance of bypassing Nugus.

The final reason: the potential that new groups could reach, as well as the thrill at being the first few to be on to a good thing. I still remember being reasonably pleased at MBLAQ turning good after their first few weak releases, which seemed to comprise solely of hooks and nothing else, and proudly saying finally I was right about them making it. Also, Beast — after so many almost-there releases, it was encouraging to see their fanbase increase overnight with “Fiction”, while continuing to impress with vocally stable lives.

Or the joy at seeing Secret, proudly rocking the “sophisticated sexy” image in an aegyo-filled girl group scene, and snagging some acclaim in the process. And possibly comfort in how Rainbow have steered away from the horror that was “Gosship Girl” into something approaching decent.

Of course it has not always been smooth sailing. T-ara have managed to please and vex on equal measures, and don’t get me started on Girl’s Day going on aegyo-overload, to the point it verges on parody and lack of taste. And of course, there have been those who appeared to have faded without a trace (Dalmatian and HITT come to mind)

So with a mixed track record, it’s worth taking a look at some new acts, to see if there are any that truly stand out and are worth noting, or if it’s worth sticking with the old favourites.

The Guy Groups:

So far, most of the new acts debuted tend to play it safe, according to how their companies have presented acts in the past. So SM Entertainment’s new group EXO-K bears all the hallmarks of successful groups of SM past: impeccably synchronised choreography, coupled with odd English phrases and epically soaring sounds courtesy of SM tune master Yoo Youngjin.

And one thing never seen in a debut: An epically overdone music video consisting of Gregorian chants, legends of the sun and some truly awful face tattoos.

While the video (and SM in this case) could have been a turn-off for trying too hard, the rest of the song was quite okay. It wasn’t particularly stunning, and the lives do leave some to be desired for stage presence, but at least the song was not annoying or overly hook driven. So for now they sit on the neutral radar. Not particularly worth getting excited about, but not exactly forgettable.

Forgettable is sadly a term to describe BTOB’s debut. Cube Entertainment has done some interesting concepts in K-pop, and their transformation of Beast is something worth giving them credit. Unfortunately, replicating the exact formula that made Beast did not work for me.

The music video for “Insane” had too many things which were seen and heard before in “Fiction”, and the lives did not do anything to help. The guy with blonde hair rocking the bowl cut definitely had shades of Dongwoon about him, and the other one doing that high note definitely evoked thoughts of Yoseob.

It was quite a shame really, and Cube could be blamed for wasting a good opportunity to create two guy groups with distinct identities that could complement each other. However, it is not completely a lost cause, as BTOB still had the Cube hallmark of performing adroitly live, and with a different song, the “Poor Man’s Beast” image faded away slightly. Consider me unimpressed this time round, but maybe like Beast, they could turn the corner after a few singles.

A group that did managed to do something unique for me was NU’EST. Pledis Entertainment always manages to incorporate something unique for every release, ranging from band drumming to tap dancing, and NU’EST was no exception, incorporating a chair into the choreography. Sure it might have been done before by labelmate Son Dambi, but seeing guys work with a chair for their dances has got to be something unique.

The song and music video’s unique message made for interesting watching, and the lives gave just the right feel, with equal levels of swagger to differentiate themselves from the crowd, but not so much that it feels contrived. Consider me impressed so far, and a follower of what they would do next.

However, the Nugu that proved the most interesting so far would have to be… B.A.P. Putting aside the meaning of their name (Best Absolute Perfect), and how “Warrior” seemed to be overdone at first (general thoughts was it was just another concept), their performances are now worth looking forward to.

It is definitely impressive how they have chosen to stick with their bold images and solidifying others’ impressions of them. To them it is not just a concept that can be thrown away when done, it is something that defines them. And because they are in it for the long run, they will definitely work on refining it. Extra points for potential.

Another thing worth commending: their live performances. TS Entertainment for some reason, always has a knack for creating songs that translate better on stage, and their artistes always seem to enjoy working their performances.

Much has been said about them on other articles on this site, and I guess they could be on to a good thing.

Girl Groups:

Sadly these days, girl group debuts have been thin on the ground, partly because of how tricky it is to present something genuinely unique or different. So far there have been debuts banking on various factors ranging from biracialism (Chocolat) to openly mature concepts (Rania). And if there is no real concept, just say that the new group will be the ones to challenge the “establishment” (Chi Chi).

Needless to say most of these groups have not really impressed much, for various reasons such as feeling too overtly gimmicky not living up to their initial promise, or just being plain dreadful.

Which is why sometimes the best concept is… no concept at all. Which as exactly what Spica have done. With consistent vocals, a strong image and reasonable stage presence, it is so surprise they are now the rookies worth watching.

Sometimes to a jaded K-popper, the best selling point is just getting the basics right. Sing well and love the stage, and fans will come.

 

(MNET2011, DSP, CJENMUSIC, SMTOWN, CAPSULEHD21 [1] [2], CAPSULEHD18 [1] [2] , CAPSULEHD13, CAPSULEHD6)