It’s the end of the year, and we looked back at what new K-pop acts created excitement for us. Many of these acts brought something different to the table, and are here to evolve on the sound of K-pop. While other acts remind us of what was what brought us to K-pop in the first place. Gaya and Celina go over what artists are pumping us up for the new year.

Gaya: Even with the similarities in each list, I love that there is still some variety here! Before we get to what is different, let’s talk about what is the same — namely, the girl group sitting at the top of both of our lists.

Jeon Soyeon was my favourite girl in season 1 of Produce 101, and considering all the negative comments she was getting for her looks, I was so happy that Cube was investing in her. Even with (G)I-dle’s tough girl crush concept, there is still room for the cuteness that Soyeon exhibited in her PD101 audition as well as everyone else’s. I am also absolutely in love with Yuqi’s deeper voice.

I still think Cube were absolute nincompoops to let 4Minute die the way they did, but (G)I-dle manage to give what was most loved about their senior group while also forging their own identity.

Celina, why did (G)I-dle make the top of your list?

Celina: Wow, yeah! We only differ in our last two.

As for why I chose (G)I-dle, I guess I should start off with what got me into K-pop. I was first introduced to K-pop via girl groups like 2NE1, Miss A, and 4Minute. I enjoyed their amazing dance routines, fun beats, and their overall cool demeanor. Girl groups these days are on the cute side and, while that’s fine, it’s just not my cup of tea.

That’s why I was excited when (G)I-dle hit the scene this year. Their single “Latata” really hit that mark for me. I was impressed by everything: the MV, the song, and the dancing. However, what really solidified them for my top spot was their single, “Hann.” The song and MV blew me away! Soyeon, in particular, stood out when she started off the MV by licking blood off her finger. That scene was definitely not something you’d expect from a cutesy girl group. I’m definitely looking forward to what’s coming next for (G)I-dle and I pray that Cube doesn’t mismanage them like they’ve done with others.

I see we both have Stray Kids and Katie but in different orders. What was it about these two that got them these spots on your list?

Gaya: For my list, I decided to look only at their debut release and not any follow-up music — or pre-debut activities for those created through survival shows. Stray Kids have a dedicated following and multiple releases under the belts, but what drew me to “District 9” was not only their skill but the concept as a whole. There is definitely a manufactured sheen to the group, but the dystopian tropes and lyrics of “District 9” really capture aspects of being young that stike a chord with me. They also have an Aussie in the group, but I swear Felix did not affect my listing process in any way whatsoever.

What did affect me, however, was Katie’s “Remember.” I spent a lot of time thinking if Katie technically even qualified for this list considering how she and Axis Entertainment are eschewing the domestic scene to promote with Genius and in the subway. But I can’t ignore how amazing this song is, as well as the considered attempt to break into the US music scene. We’ll have to see if it will reap any benefits, though the fact that Katie is not directly in YG’s clutches has me a bit more optimistic. Maybe Axis can adopt CL, too?

But coming back to Katie, what about her and Stray Kids’ debuts appealed to you, Celina?

Celina: “District 9” is cool on so many levels and you really touched on the same reasons I have. I liked that they didn’t start off their debut with a typical love song and pushed a more serious topic with an equally hard-hitting MV. In addition, I like how they incorporated a stellar rock chorus into a hip-hop song. They’ve been a group that I’ve been following throughout the year, and I can’t wait for what we’ll see next for 2019.

While Katie did start her debut with a love song, she was still daring by singing about sex and singing in English for a K-pop market. The MV was also aesthetically pleasing with it’s golden color scheme. Not just for looks, the gold also served as a metaphor for power which brought an artistic appeal to the MV.

I’m not really sure what’s happening with her in terms of K-pop, but I hope she continues to release music in both Western and Eastern markets. Much like Stray Kids, I think she brings something new and refreshing to K-pop.

Now that we’ve talked about similarities, let’s talk about our differences. Loona and Iz One are in your last spots. What about them did you like?

Gaya: There are a lot of similarities between the two debuts, but a lot of differences as well.

With all this build up, it felt likely that a full Loona debut would find it difficult to live up to the hype. “Hi High” was exciting to watch as someone who had been following the group’s pre-debut activities, seeing all 12 members together. There is also a charm in the MV’s relative simplicity, especially when compared to flashier fare like Exo’s “Mama.”

Blockberry Creative has sought to give Disney-Marvel a run for its money with the universe it has created for the 12 members of Loona. A lot of groups have subsects, but unlike the somewhat superficial clumping it appears to be, these worldly, cosmic and biblical concepts have been baked into Loona’s mythology through its subunits. Even the oddity of maknae Yeojin not being in any subunit (I don’t want to hear any more about her being the “slash” in Loona ⅓) can be connected to the unique fairytale concept of her MV “Kiss Later.”

As someone who did not watch Produce 48, however, I was surprised by how captivated I was by Iz One’s debut. The MV was also simple, but was visually sumptuous; “La Vie en Rose” is a lovely electropop production, and; the choreography is cohesive and gives a really good sense of the group for those new to them. This is the clincher for me — both groups have interesting choreography with the same number of members, but Loona’s frenetic pace can make it hard to keep up when you are still new to the Loonaverse. Iz One, feels more cohesive and easier to follow on stage.

So, that’s my top 5. How about you, Celina; what about D-crunch and PLT put them over the line for you?

Celina: It was difficult for me to decide in what order to place D-Crunch and PLT. I did a short review of D-Crunch’s “Palace” for August’s Unsung Artists. I was intrigued by their clothing choices. They were dressed in identical all-black outfits in an MV with little lighting. I liked that it focused on the member’s talents as oppose to their visuals, and ultimately that’s why it’s one above PLT. I also enjoyed the heavy hip-hop vibes, and the cocky lyrics. It was a nice change of pace from all the tropical beats I was sick of hearing during that summer.

I also liked PLT for similar reasons. They’re a breath of fresh air with their smooth voices and R&B vibes with “Hocus Pocus.” The MV was just as cool, although simplistic, with its use of pastels and muted colors.  With how chill the song was, it really didn’t need a complicated MV. I’m eager to hear more music from them.

Those are our favorite debuts of 2018. What rookie group or soloist are you excited about?

(Youtube [1] [2] [3] [4]. Images via Cube Entertainment)