Every year, the K-pop market is flooded with debuts of all sorts — be it boy groups, girl groups, indie groups, or idols from big companies. It is generally agreed upon that there is an over-saturation of debuts in recent years and finding the debuts that are worthwhile can be like finding a needle in a haystack. If you have the patience to look, though, there are some new groups that join the scene that just blow everyone else out of the water. Luckily, if you do lack patience you can simply read this article to discover some of the debuts these Seoulbeats panelists thought were most worthwhile in the first half of 2014.
|Kiss & Cry
Lisa: I feel bad putting Lee Michelle last on the list, but for this initial five I went with sound as a major criteria and while she has a beautiful voice, I didn’t love the sound of the song and want to put it on replay like the rest of the artists I listed. I also wanted to put Billionaire on just for not having a company.
Joyce: Lisa, I know what you mean. The song didn’t stick as well as a debut should, but she’s on my list for making a pretty significant statement relative to the rest of K-pop fare. She’s the perfect advocator for it since it’s practically her life story, so brownie points to her for stepping up to the plate and daring to say her piece.
Camiele: Actually that’s exactly the reason why I put Michelle on the list, Joyce. I think more than just being a great song (which is obviously a point of contention here), and her voice being just pure and beautiful (which I feel we can all agree on), the cultural implication of her debut warrants her being on this list. Though it’s not a giant leap, the likes of Insooni, or probably more relevantly, Yoon Mi-rae, it’s an important step in terms of the idol construct.
The team at DIMA could have played this so poorly, playing up her skin color and heritage as something exotic and foreign, something to be exploited because of its otherness, and could’ve simply made her a stereotypical “Black singer”, of which there are two “types” that most people outside the US even consider: Beyonce or Nicki Minaj. Instead, they tackled the issue head on, claiming that she was beautiful without public opinion or even favor.
Lisa: That was a great explanation, Camiele! I’d definitely rank Lee Michelle as #1 for most important debut. It’s been very disappointing that she had absolutely no live stages–but it’s impressive that she’s made such an impact with only a MV/single.
Lindsay: To be honest, I put Michelle Lee low on my list because she has talent and a good message, but domestically, that isn’t going to get her very far. Every time an innovative singer or group debuts they inevitably fall into obscurity not long after. Piggy Dolls, anyone? Michelle Lee should focus on the international market if she wants to have the most solid career possible without resorting to the typical K-pop tropes. The reason K-pop groups are successful is because they appeal to a mass young audience, but if she really wants to market domestically, the indie scene would probably be more likely to appreciate her voice and message.
Lisa: Moving on, it looks like AKMU are the clear constant on everyone’s lists. For me, their debut was incredibly strong and unique. They have a clear concept and an indie-pop sound that doesn’t surface too often in K-pop, along with obvious talent. They have a lot of charm and personality onstage, and they also had great opportunities to showcase themselves through promotions with three MVs/singles, an entire album, interviews and numerous stage performances.
Lindsay: AKMU made a huge impression on the Korean music charts and released three different music videos; a debut doesn’t get much more impressive than that. All of the MVs were also top quality so they were shared and watched over and over again, which is important for a group to make an impression on the international community. Like you said, Lisa, they have a distinct sound that sets them apart and that has been working in their favor since they were on K-pop Star. They’re from one of the big three entertainment companies but because of their style, they don’t feel over-produced.
The exact opposite is true for GOT7, whose debut was so produced it was almost laughable, but who also made huge waves in the K-pop community. Their debut was an undeniable success in terms of charts, money gained, fans gained, and boy band status. I’m actually surprised no one else included them in their list! I can’t say I like their debut song much personally, but I also know a market success debut when I see one. I think as far as the K-pop industry goes, they are absolutely a “Best.”
Joyce: AKMU actually benefited, in a way, from the unfortunate Sewol ferry incident. Although that meant that they had to stop promoting on music programs, but it pretty much allowed them to rule the charts and music show rankings with the absence of much competition. And whether AKMU’s music is to your taste, you’ve got to admit that they’ve definitely made their presence felt. Whether we’re talking about Chan-hyuk‘s mature compositions, the non YG-like music, their vocal talent, their chart-toppers etc, they struck gold with their debut and got people’s attention.
High4, who only ranks on my list, also benefited from the lack of competition in April. Moreover, IU‘s name brought them heightened notice, to the point where they actually placed 2nd behind AKMU on most digital charts, and even scored a music show win after AKMU won their triple crown. No matter how much talent there is in a group, debuts are all about luck and strategy, and High4 fortunately got it right.
Lindsay: You know, Joyce, I seriously considered putting High4 on my list. I thought their song was charming and sweet and the MV was original. The fact that IU accounted for many of their views is exactly why I didn’t pick them in the end. I did think the debut was great, but the groups that debuted without a famous feature were more on my radar.
I put Kiss & Cry on my list instead because it is so rare that I’m impressed with a girl group. Kiss & Cry have amazingly strong voices, live and recorded, and the energy in their MV was just above and beyond. It was the same way I felt about B.A.P when they released “Warrior”; it didn’t feel like a debut, it was too good. With TROY, I liked how unique their debut felt and I like their concept.
Joyce: Yup, I definitely see what you mean about High4. I guess for me, IU was pretty much what put High4 on my radar, and a lot of other people’s radar. And since a debut is basically just making yourself visible and memorable through whatever means possible, High4 gets a star for enticing people enough to get a second glimpse.
For the others on my list — Mamamoo and 2000 Won — I really appreciate the unique sound they bring, something K-pop does not see enough of. Mamamoo’s debut was just fantastic, from the song, to the live vocals, straight down to the amount of attitude and sass they had on stage. While jazz might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no denying the amount of talent they have. Whether it’s their debut album, or their pre-debut collaborations, they were all well-produced and just top-rated stuff — something pretty rare for a rookie group. 2000 Won had a less hyped-up debut despite finishing in the top four in K-pop Star 2. That said, being a male vocal-rap duo is a rare combination, and their soulful sound definitely make it work. Being such a lean team forces both of them to pull their own weight, and I hope they get to go places.”
I did debate putting Got7 on my list too, and I’m also surprised that they featured only on one of our lists. Like Lindsay said, they are definitely considered successful by industry standards, more so because of the backing of JYP then anything else, so they managed to skip by the whole nugu portion. But I’m looking for something unconventional and refreshing when I scroll through rookie groups, and I don’t think Got7 exactly did that for me.
Lisa: Like Joyce, I’m surprised GOT7 are only on one list, since they were very talked about on Seoulbeats–we could be a rare sample of four writers! Still, I personally didn’t find “Girls, Girls, Girls” to be interesting musically or engaging visually and I only liked one or two songs off their mini. While there’s no denying talent, not liking the music automatically bars them from being one of the best for me.
As for other mentions that didn’t make my list, I’m loving The Barbarettes, a 1950s-styled girl group with a modern twist. Wings almost made my list with the incredibly creepy, well-styled MV for “Hair Short,” but their live stages were comparatively weak and did not impress me.
Camiele: Regarding GOT7, in a way, I’m not totally surprised they only made one list. I’m looking for something original, exciting, something that will actually stick with me where I’ll gladly follow this newcomer’s debut. Unfortunately, while I loved the first teaser for GOT7 and got excited by the prospect, they didn’t deliver for me. There’s nothing really unique about them. And while the argument could be made that “nothing’s original anymore,” my counter would be true; however, there’s a big difference between not being strictly original and being formulaic, only having a few degrees of separation from the group going on stage before you at an awards show.
This is most definitely why Eddy Kim is at the top of my list, and probably why he’s on two people’s lists. His voice is simple, under-exaggerated, yet smooth and beautiful. His compositions are also simplistic, but they’re so lovely, their simplicity doesn’t bother me. Eddy Kim’s work is completely honest and lacking the requisite shine and polish of being produced by a major label. While Mystic89 isn’t a baby label (being the same label of Park Ji-yoon), it’s most certainly not one of the major labels, thus his ability to just produce works that beautiful and full of a bit more integrity.
Joyce: I guess for all of us, our list represents pretty much whose follow-up releases we will definitely be on the watch for, after making a significant blip on our radar for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, they do all get the chance to at least have a sophomore release.
These are just a few of the debuts that occurred in the first half of 2014 – if only we had the time to talk about them all. If you haven’t checked out all of these particular debuts, we suggest you do because they certainly caught our eyes and we’re glad to suggest them to all of our readers. Was there a debut we missed that you thought was particularly stand-out? Tell us about it in the comments!