Every year, K-pop sees more and more acts joining the industry, making their debuts with brand-new music and identities. Like in years past, 2018 — a year that has seen unprecedented amounts of Korean music on the Billboard charts — the debut scene was full of rising talent.
Along with the re-debut of many established acts — like Girls’ Generation, Oh!GG and Yubin, formerly of Wonder Girls — the past 12 months have seen many new names gaining traction with their brand of K-pop.
Here are some of the most promising ones that you should keep an eye on.
10. Kim Dong Han
One of the many new acts to came out of Mnet’s Produce competition series, Kim competed in the 2017 season of the show and was part of the temporary boy band JBJ until April this year. Since then, he’s garnered a fervent following, thanks to his smooth dance tracks and charismatic performances, setting himself up as a soloist to keep watching in years to come.
As much as they sing about love, K-pop idols rarely are upfront about their personal lives, and discussions regarding sexuality are all but taboo. But soloist Holland is an outlier who is hoping to change that as the first out and proud gay K-pop idol. An independent artist, he’s found a space for himself releasing positive pop songs about free love and has built up a dedicated following through his music and videos that offer an alternative to the overwhelming heteronormative slant typically seen in association with K-pop.
8. The Boyz
Technically The Boyz debuted at the end of last year, on Dec. 6, but arriving so late on the scene of 2017, it didn’t truly feel like they were anything but brand-new rookies in 2018. With 12 members, including several who rose to popularity ahead of their debut through television show appearances, the group’s explored funky and tropical pop sounds through four singles this year and rapidly gained a dedicated following for their consistently stellar performances.
An alt R&B songstress, KATIE (Katie Kim) rose to popularity in South Korea in 2015 as a reality competition show winner but was quiet over the past few years while prepping for her career, occasionally appearing on works from other artists. It wasn’t until 2018 when she returned with her lush, English-language debut single “Remember,” captivating through its golden-hued music video and the potential to transcend stereotypes typically associated with young stars in the K-pop industry.
This eight-member boy band, whose name stands for “A Teenager Z,” drew in audiences from their first moments with the release of their Treasure EP.1 : All to Zero EP at the end of October. They debuted on the World Albums chart dated Nov. 3 with the album, fronted by the impactful dual singles “Treasure” and “Pirate King.” Though short, All to Zero showcased ATEEZ’s energy, mesmerizing vocals and a sense of fierceness that set the groundwork for more to come.
After being formed through the television show Idol School last year and releasing the single “Glass Shoes” in collaboration with it, fromis_9 released their first EP To.Heart at the end of January and spent the rest of this year beguiling audiences with a trio of vivacious singles: “To Heart,” “DKDK,” and “Love Bomb.” The first two introduced the nonet through sweet bubblegum pop, but it was with the release of the third in October that fromis_9 truly arrived as one of this year’s most promising acts as they ignited the K-pop scene with excitement over their quirky electro-pop sound.
Like I.O.I and Wanna One before them, this year’s Produce group IZ*ONE made an immense impact with their debut single, “La Vie En Rose,” upon its release in October. A girl group featuring both Korean and Japanese members, the 12 women were handpicked by audiences in Korea and didn’t disappoint with their first single, which dramatically showed off their sweet and powerful sides through a melody that blended atmospheric synths, lilting strings and boisterous beat drops. The elegant music video for it became the most-viewed K-pop debut video of all time on YouTube as audiences around the world grew interested in the act, and the single debuted at No. 6 on the World Digital Song Sales chart dated Nov. 10.
Finally, everyone can stan Loona now that the highly-anticipated group debuted as a whole this year after a lengthy rollout process that saw each of the act’s members have her own time to shine amid a bevy of solo and sub-unit releases since mid-2016. This year was busy between unit yyxy collaborating with Grimes on “Love4eva” and the group finally releasing their first EP, [+ +]. After introducing them as a whole for the first time with their energetic “favOriTe,” Loona’s formal first single, “Hi High,” presented the dozen showcasing a sense of energetic, atmospheric cheer that set the tone for what’s to come from them in the future.
2. Stray Kids
First introduced last year through a reality show of the same name, JYP Entertainment’s newest boy band, Stray Kids, has continuously showed off their rambunctious side throughout the year, during which they released four albums. 2018 started off with January’s Mixtape, which featured songs created through their Stray Kids show, and continued at full speed as the act released their trio of I am EPs –– I Am NOT, I Am WHO and I Am YOU. With each release, the nine-member act further introduced the world to their exuberant brand of introspective hip-pop, which is largely crafted by members of the group and frequently features lyrics exploring youth identity.
Immediately after they arrived on the scene with the moombahton-inspired dance track “Latata” in May, Cube Entertainment’s latest girl group, (G)I-dle — silent “g” — became one of this year’s biggest breakout successes in the K-pop world as they captivated audiences with their fiercely addicting dance tracks and mesmerizing performances. With rapper-songwriter Soyeon driving the act’s sound, the six-member girl group rose to fame rapidly. Their follow-up single “Hann” saw similar success and debuted at No. 2 on the World Digital Song Sales chart dated Aug. 24.
Throughout the rest of 2018, they’ve rapidly grown their following, and South Korea’s Gaon chart recently confirmed that they had one of the 100 biggest digital hits of the year in the country. But (G)I-dle’s success in 2018 hasn’t been limited to the K-pop scene: Soyeon and Miyeon joined Jaira Burns and Madison Beer in voicing virtual girl group K/DA for the League of Legends single “Pop/Star” in November, which went on to become a viral hit.
At a time when K-pop girl groups are increasingly leaning into “girl crush” concepts, (G)I-dle has come to represent not only the trend but also the potential for this generation of self-producing female teams in the Korean music industry. With a whole career ahead of them, they’re definitely the most exciting new K-pop act to pay attention to as we head into the new year.