Each year, more and more rookie groups and artists join the Korean music scene. With so many new faces in the first half of 2017, our panel found it tough to pick their favourites for the Mid-Year Review of 2017’s debuts. Even with the exclusion of sub-unit and solo debuts of already-active idols, there was quite the array artists to choose from, including debuting rappers, big company girl groups, and smaller agency debuts that managed to capture our attention. Check out Camiele, Janine and Lo‘s discussion of the first half of the year’s new faces, and don’t forget to leave your top picks in the comment section!
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Cy: Slim ass pickins for debuts this time around. But let’s be honest, as K-pop continues to expand and gets older, newer groups start to lose their appeal, particularly for those who’ve been into the music for more than a couple years. As the genre gets older, so do the fans who listen to it. There will always be young fans coming to the genre. I think that’s mostly why the debuts that are noticeable don’t exactly impress because, quite frankly, we’re not the intended audience. “Pop” music will never change. What is considered “popular” or “on-trend” always fluctuates, but honestly kids are going to like kid music, and companies are going to mostly bank on what kids are interested in.
That being said, all three of us have a couple commonalities, one of which certainly falls closer into the “pop” side of K-pop. Firstly, what drew you all to Blanc7?
Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to groups and artists, I’m all about the vocals. And this group has it in spades, which is less surprising once you realize four of the seven members had already debuted in different groups (Jean Paul was in BTL, and Teno, Sinwoo, and Taichi were in Mcrown) and collectively they have a lot more entertainment and worldly experiences than “straight from the trainee room” debuts (Spax’s list of accomplishments as a dancer and choreographer are RIDICULOUS, and he’s already served his mandatory military service, not to mention Jean Paul, Teno, Sinwoo, D.L, K-KID, and Taichi have all graduated with college with at least one degree).
The level of maturity in this group is apparent not only in the choice of music, which includes light classical elements, but also in how their entire image is set up: French name, leader of the group also has a ridiculously unnecessary French name, their overall visual appeal is of the elder statesman–gentlemanly garb, suits tailored within an inch of their lives. Their overall aesthetic is that of a group that sits in a Victorian gentlemen’s club, smoking pipes and sipping brandy from snifters. And still, with all of that, they have an incredible vocal awareness. Their harmonies are tightly controlled, and their individual voices are comparable to a lot of second- and third-generation idol groups.
Janine: A few boy groups came out this year that were aiming to make a strong impression (I’m thinking of A.C.E. and MVP) but the styling and concept were not as slick as Blanc7. Their video for ‘Yeah’ is stylish. I think I responded to how confident they seemed. There wasn’t any ambiguity about what they were doing and they were very assured in the way they presented themselves. I liked the production elements in ‘Yeah’; there were a lot of different sounds happening but it wasn’t disorganised. That little rising synth beat drop moment was tastefully executed. It reminded me of a party but a fancy party where nobody vomits.
Cy: You know what? I think that’s sort of what I like about them. Like they’re already above the pettiness. I mean, everybody already calls their bias groups royalty, when they’ve just come fresh out of the trainee practice room. These sirs have already done the job of training, for the group and really in their personal lives. Exuding that confidence and maturity rather appeals to me… HaHa.
Cy: And see, I don’t get that from him at all. I suppose if you have a particular sound you stick to or focus on, something like this isn’t your finger of brandy. Which is fair. The production for DPR Live’s music is a huge part of what turned me on about him. Never mind his style, lyricism, and use of metaphor on this album were top-notch, the composition throughout provided a push-and-pull effect: rapping that’s aggressive with music that’s dreamier, that doesn’t have a central focus, that washes over you. As for music that “makes you listen,” obviously that’s subjective.
The type of sound that entices you and makes you want to listen is going to differ from somebody else. I was hungry for more of this album, wanted to learn about the how and why of its creation. While you were turned off by it, I couldn’t turn away from it. I was invested in every intricacy of the music, including DPR Live’s style.
If you’ve decided already that this isn’t your taste simply because of what you perceive as overdone, no matter where the music goes, you’re not inclined to follow. Same could be said about the oversaturation of pop music that makes liberal use of the whiny synthesizer and same dry thumpa-thumpa or saccharine-sweet composition, the decent but in the end typical/unimaginative vocals, etc. That’s what I hear in most pop music, why most of it bores the hell out of me. DPR Live tops my list because I heard and understood the depth in the music and the lyricism and because of the debuts this year, his didn’t sound exactly the same as every other pop group and debut from the last five years.
Janine: I think I straddle these two extremes. I can appreciate the commercial appeal and escapism of more traditional pop and I love hearing different production techniques that are being used in hip-hop. I chose DPR Live as my top debut because I enjoyed the variety of sounds that he pulled from for his beats; I thought he showed a range of moods while maintaining consistency across the album, and every track was, colloquially speaking, a bop.
Overall I think it was a successful record; showing his artistic trajectory and placing him within the musical landscape. I thought he tried his hand at different moods and showed up well. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the big name features on some of the tracks. I could still feel his presence on songs with DEAN, Loco, and Jay Park. That’s not a small thing for a debut artist to achieve. I was impressed. I thought it was strong.
Janine: One of the factors to deciding my list was definitely who was achieving mainstream success. Pristin did really well with “Wee Woo” and showed a lot of promise for their debut. The song is quality – I cannot get enough of hearing alto voices in upbeat tracks; I think it lends depth and dimension to songs. It’s catchy in a way that isn’t irritating which is a feat considering there are periodic ambulance noises in the background.
I thought the album was a fine effort and knowing that the members had a hand in composing the songs gives them admirable creative credits. All in all I thought they came out swinging and showed a lot of promise for the future.
Cy: Then I suppose that leaves my three. Firstly, Duetto. I know it may seem odd, but I was actually not prepared to hear a classically trained duo singing in both Korean and Italian this year. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a little left of center. And it’s not just that they’re an opera duo. It’s how technically outstanding they are. Coming from a company like Starship, it’s not something I’d expect, and they blew me away. I’ve always loved operas, and adore tenor voices like nobody’s business. So this ranked so high because what company even has the balls to release straight operatic perfection? A member of BTOB (Sungjae, I believe) is a trained opera tenor; however, he sings in an idol group. You won’t hear them belting out ‘Il Mondo’.
Any final thoughts?
Janine: I thought that the beginning half of the year did not have a debut that swept us all away in terms of commercial appeal. I thought there were some solid efforts made creatively speaking but you had to do some digging to find new people about whom to be excited. It took a lot of effort not to end that sentence with a dangling preposition.