Despite it being only the halfway mark of 2022, the K-pop debuts have been pouring in fast and furious. Kicking off our Mid-year Reviews, Celina and Siena discuss the groups that stood out from the pack, whether due to stage presence, strong choreography, a great debut track, a compelling concept, or all of the above!

Siena: Before we dive in, I just have to say that 2022 has been stacked with debuts, and really good ones at that. My short list for this conversation was undeserving of the title “short,” and cutting it down to just three was a nit-picking, agonizing process. This is a great problem to have, though: it’s been a long time since I felt this intrigued by a crop of K-pop debuts. 

When it came to picking my top three, the deciding factors were strength of identity (essentially, whether the group has a unique, well-conceived, and well-executed style) and stage presence. P Nation’s first boy group TNX, our one shared pick, is particularly strong in the latter category. 

I never got around to watching LOUD, the survival show that is TNX’s origin, so I went into their debut without context. Their debut EP, Way Up, is solid but not revolutionary, but, wow, can these rookies perform! My jaw was on the floor after watching a recent Music Bank stage of their aggressive title track “Move,” and TNX are equally charismatic in performances of their groovier b-side “180 sec.” It’s rare for veteran groups to be this individually identifiable yet powerfully cohesive, but here TNX are, performing like total pros days after debut. If this is how they are kicking things off, I have very, very high hopes for their future.

Celina, what made them your 2nd pick?

Celina: Thanks for sharing your deciding factors, and also for the additional information on TNX. I do not watch survival shows, so I had no idea TNX were from one. 

Debuts can be hard to judge for me because sometimes there are parts you like, but ultimately, I had to decide on the overall criteria. For me, debuts should include an introduction to each member along with their signature sound. It was obvious to me that TNX are going to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to choreography. 

There were a few other groups that were similar in concept and music, but overall, TNX just delivered a better performance. There were also a few MVs out there with a futuristic concept, but TNX had a catchy song along with a well-put together choreography. Like you said, each member had their time to shine while also working perfectly together as a group. So far, I’ve been liking how P Nation has been supporting their solo artists, but supporting a group is a whole different beast. It is good to see they did their research, and have started off with a bang. 

I see you have Tempest as your second choice. What about them fit your criteria?

Siena: It’s no secret that K-pop is in a prolonged bad boy phase. Even boy groups who start with a more light-hearted style almost inevitably transition into a tougher image later in their career, such as TXT and The Boyz. While I’m generally all for angsty music, I think the oversaturation of bad boy concepts is getting to me. Perhaps that’s why Tempest’s buoyant debut, “Bad News”, and their equally refreshing EP It’s Me, It’s We feels like such a breath of fresh air. 

What I especially like about It’s Me, It’s We is how it feels like a take on youthful music that is grounded in reality, rather than tied to some infantilizing idea of teendom like so much of K-pop’s cuter music is. The EP is wildly wholesome, but also cheeky, inquisitive, and just a touch introspective. In short, it actually feels like a semi-convincing take on adolescence, calling to mind, at least for me, some of Seventeen’s best early tracks.

The cherry on top is the charm with which Tempest’s members deliver this cheerful message, bringing a sense of genuine fun and exuberant confidence to every stage I’ve seen of “Bad News.” Who knows what the future holds for Tempest: maybe an angsty concept is right around the corner, and maybe it will be good! But for now, I’m fully behind this energetic debut.

Switching gears, I thought I’d done a good sweep of 2022 debuts in prepping for this list, but I have to confess, I haven’t heard of your third pick, Trendz. I’m excited to learn more: what put them on your list?

Celina: I definitely know what you mean. For a while, I was sick of the cutesy concept that every girl group was doing, so right now I am relieved to see a lot of variety with them. However, now it looks like all the boy groups are doing the same concept, which is one of the reasons I had a hard time choosing my final three. There was a lot of similarities, and eventually I made my choices on the performance. TNX hit the mark with their overall execution of the concept. 

Trendz were no exception when it came down to their dance routine. Their initial formation, with the use of shadows and light, created an intro that immediately pulled me in.  I like that the song starts off with slower verses but builds up to a more lively melody. It has a mix of genres that work well together. I also got the chance to see each member deliver their part and give me enough time to see their specialty. Overall, I liked the choreography, energy, and the song itself. I could do with a more interesting MV, but we will see if they expand on that as they progress. As a debut, they gave me the right amount of everything. 

When it comes to elaborate MVs, though, NMixx has the most intense MV here. Is that part of the reason they are in your number one spot?

Siena: If you had told me a few months ago that I would choose NMixx as my top debut of 2022 so far, I would have literally laughed myself into a dangerous state. Like much of the K-pop universe, I was absolutely mystified and a bit horrified by “O.O” when it came out. It’s no secret that JYP Entertainment has a glittering reputation when it comes to girl groups, so to have their newest group debut with, frankly, the Frankenstein song from hell, was an unpleasant shock. To say I was not impressed would be an understatement.

Fast-forward a few months and my outlook has, obviously, totally changed. My opinion on “O.O” itself has only shifted slightly (it’s still an objectively bad song, but I’ve come around to its quirky entertainment value), but what has evolved is my outlook on NMixx as a group. For one, I’m incredibly impressed by their stage presence. Like TNX, their charisma is way beyond what I would expect from rookies; the fact that they manage to nearly sell the absurdity that is “O.O” in their live performances is a testament to this.

I also finally encountered “Tank,” the wildly superior b-side on their single album debut, and not only have I fallen head over heels for this song, it’s clarified what NMixx’s group identity might be. “Tank” is the so-bizarre-it’s-incredibly-cool song “O.O” wishes it was. This unique charm, paired with NMixx’s abundance of talent (their vocals and dance particularly impress), packs a great punch. Some of the stages of “Tank” remind me, dare I say it, of the weird brand of cool my all-time favorite group Shinee specialized in during their early years. So, I feel confident that what NMixx bring to the table in the future will be interesting, and it might just be spectacular.

I’m delighted you have Le Sserafim on your list; they were the final group I cut from mine and it hurt to do so. What earned them your top spot?

Celina: Le Sserafim had my favorite debut song out of the bunch. I kept listening to it on repeat. The soft and whispery approach to the chorus created an appropriately sultry vibe. Conversely, the bridge before the chorus shows off the singers’ strong vocals, giving their technique a chance to shine. It showed me that they have great range and versatility when it comes to their vocals.

Their MV reminded me of Miss A, which was one of my favorite and first girl groups that I encountered in K-pop. It was a simple MV, with a focus on their performance, but it was effective.  I was able to see each member’s individual personality as well as their singing style. 

Even as I got to see their individuality, their choreography was fluid and shows how well they work together. Memorable parts include the beginning which starts off with all of them laying on the ground and getting up like a domino effect. I knew from the first listen that they were going to make my list because their song was great, and their MV gave me everything I could want in a debut. 

I want to give an honorable mention to Class:y. Their MV high school zombie concept was definitely memorable and I am looking forward to seeing more from them. Aside from them, TAN had a cool song, and were also in the running for my final list.

Siena, do you have any others that almost made your list?

Siena: I definitely second your mention of TAN; out of all the debut tracks so far in 2022, “Du Du Du” was probably my personal favorite. I’d also like to highlight a couple of re-debuts, namely Yena and Viviz. Debuting is hard, and re-debuting is harder, but both these artists managed to make an impact with their debut EPs. 

All in all, I’d say that 2022 has been a sterling year for debuts… and we still have almost half the year to go! I’m excited to see what the rookies we discussed will bring to the table in the rest of 2022, and who will join them in making a strong first impression.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]. Images via JYP Entertainment, M25.)