K-pop may be undergoing a generational shift. Many groups that led the Korean Wave’s charge are disbanding, losing members to contract termination and military service, or just generally declining. As they start to fade, more and more groups are entering the idol scene seeking success, hoping to become the next Big Bang or Girls’ Generation. Last year’s series of debuts, both from the biggest companies and from smaller ones whose groups had the talent or attention despite fewer resources, heightened the sense of a shift. Let’s catch up with the ones who’ve made a big splash in the expanding idol pool, and a few that should have but aren’t quite there yet.
(In order of debut)
GFriend is the one girl group to debut in 2015 that hasn’t let me down yet. They’ve brought three memorable singles and accompanying choreographies, and have gained public recognition in the form of topped charts, music show wins, and endorsement deals. Individual members have appeared on TV soundtracks and in features on other pop singers’ songs.
GFriend has room to improve, particularly in the vocal department, but Eunha’s remarkable progress in displacing some of the weight from main singer Yuju suggests that the others can similarly sharpen their skills and cement their reputation for strong performance. GFriend brings new life to classic K-pop visual and musical aesthetics, and their impending summer comeback is already building anticipation.
CLC has a lot of talent, but the quality of their singles has been inconsistent. “Pepe” was an excellent debut, but subsequent songs never quite lived up to the expectations that it set. Members Elkie and Eunbin were added earlier this year, with Eunbin’s participation in Produce 101 bringing more publicity and their latest single, “No Oh Oh” being a large improvement over preceding title tracks. CLC have yet to chart well, and their lack of success might be a consequence of wider company issues like general mismanagement and attention being directed toward milking senior groups like 4Minute and Beast before their contracts expire. Whatever the case, CLC has a lot of potential still waiting to be capitalized on.
The Ark (4/10/2015)
The Ark debuted with promise, but their current status is worryingly unclear. Lead vocalist Yujin reportedly received treatment for vocal chord nodules late last year, and while there has been no official statement from their label, many presume they’ve disbanded. I’m not ready to give up on them, but their company’s done nothing to show that they haven’t done so themselves.
(Still their only single.)
Oh My Girl (4/21/2015)
OMG has endured a lot since last spring. They debuted with the cheerleader-esque “Cupid,” followed up with the dreamlike “Closer,” and have impressed with their performances with every title track. Their subsequent singles have been disappointments in the wake of “Closer,” and the members have been plagued by health issues, offensive audience members, and being detained and questioned at a U.S. airport. OMG has many makings of a great group, but songs like the frustratingly incoherent “Windy Day” won’t be enough to solidify a top position in idol history.
Monsta-X is the group that mosts makes me wonder if I’m out of touch with the mainstream of the K-pop-loving community. They lack visual appeal, haven’t release a great single since “Trespass,” and butchered one of the best title tracks in K-pop history.
Watch at your own risk.
Despite this, their popularity seems to be growing and people are inexplicably enamored with the song and video for “All In.” I found the video an interesting possible prelude to something bigger, but the song is just another product of the generic, mid-tier boyband mold.
Seventeen has the songs, dances, and personal creativity to sustain a successful career. Each album is better than the last, and they gained their first music show win before reaching their first debut anniversary. But exceeding talent is not enough to avoid public drama, like rapper Wonwoo’s past criticisms of Girls’ Generation or members’ repeated usage of a racial slur. The same is true for mismanagement by Pledis Entertainment, which has famously neglected girl group After School and now suspiciously cancelled Seventeen members’ choreography copyrights for multiple songs. But they’re still my favorite of the boy groups to debut in 2015, and their music remains as fresh and energetic as ever.
This group debuted with less buzz than The Ark and managed to release a second single, but they are similarly missing in action with no word of a comeback. Perhaps they will residually benefit from the success of labelmate and former Girls’ Generation member Jessica in the long term, but as of yet Playback has remained firmly on Coridel Entertainment’s back burner. Their self-titled first single is still in my playlist rotation, making me wish they’ll soon return with something comparably bright and catchy, or really anything to succeed their first follow-up, “I Wonder.”
This girl group is from the same company as the legendary KARA and under-appreciated Rainbow, which is so far the only thing that makes them notable. Their songs and performances have been middling, even basic, and their original leader, Somin has already left the group, possibly to pursue a solo career. Nevertheless, April has soldiered on through multiple comebacks, and there’s a good chance they simply have yet to hit their stride.
Day 6 (9/7/2015)
For the most part, Day6 has kept a calm profile amidst the sea of singing and dancing idols splashed across advertisements and TV shows. The affable band seems largely the same budding group we saw debut with “Congratulations,” though they have not gone completely unscathed by perils of idol culture. Junhyuk’s withdrawal and contract termination for “personal reasons” following rumors that he was dating a fan who posted information about the band’s schedules and whereabouts. This incident aside, Day6 seems fairly stable in their popularity as far as the few idolesque bands go, and their last single successfully tugged my heartstrings.
I hear their cringeworthy name a lot, but I don’t remember being impressed by their debut. This year’s “Attention” wasn’t bad, and they’ve supposedly done well enough to attempt expanding into Japanese market. But they haven’t sustained my attention, and their blackface scandal stemming from a TV appearance in China wasn’t exactly appealing.
The good news? DIA’s cute and their songs are nice. The bad news? Their team hasn’t quite gotten everything else right. Members Chaeyeon and Cathy left the group to participate in trainee mega-contest/drama magnet Produce 101, with Chaeyeon making the final cut as a member of IOI. She and Cathy are expected to return with the rest of DIA soon, along with new member Chaewon and in the aftermath of leader Seunghee’s departure. Questions of how Chaeyeon will simultaneously be a member of two groups remain, but perhaps the biggest question is something else entirely: who thought the fandom name “AID,” making their supporters “AIDs,” was a good idea?
As a YG Entertainment group with a heap of reality competition experience and exposure before they even released their first song, iKon has had a abundance of attention and resources available to them. Nevertheless, they lost my attention after debuting to plenty of fanfare but with no singles I ever want to listen to again, including ones like “Dumb & Dumber” which, frankly, sounds like the bargain bin version of a BIGBANG track. The constant attention on the “Double B” duo of BI and Bobby became grating and also made the other members seem unnecessary, and when I did notice the others I was further driven away by their subpar vocals. I’m sure iKon’s readymade fandom and high profile will sustain them, but personally I’ve mostly moved on.
(I’m taking my YouTube search’s word for it that this is their current single.)
JYP Entertainment’s Twice is in many ways the female counterpart to iKon. They’re from a big company and the members’ positions in the lineup were finalized through a reality competition show. Their label has successfully leveraged its own reputation as a Big Three operation and Twice’s pre-debut publicity to make them commercially successful with many K-pop enthusiasts and the general public. But in terms of music and performance, Twice doesn’t come close to living up to the hype. They have appealing visuals but lack stage presence, and they aren’t even the best girl group to perform their own song.
Though hugely popular, they haven’t been able to completely avoid scandal, with the strangest incident involving the youngest member, Tzuyu, being dragged into a political maelstrom around China and her native Taiwan. The situation produced an apology video meant to appease mainland Chinese audiences but only stoked greater dissatisfaction in Taiwan. The most disturbing aspect, though, was JYPE finally treating Tzuyu like a minor needing protection and familial support only when it appeared their commercial prospects in the Chinese consumer market might be imperiled. The rest of the time, both before and since, they have been all too happy to blatantly thrust the “sexy member” persona onto the 16-year-old.
Like many groups featured here, Twice still has time to improve, to be given higher-quality songs to promote, and to convince me that they’re worth my time. It’s not unprecedented for great groups to musically start off unrefined, but for now I’ll just watch the Twice bandwagon roll by from afar.