It's not easy to predict who's going to breakout in K-pop. Backed by one of South Korea's top record labels, twelve-member boy band EXO finally broke big time with "Growl," that helped them compete with established K-pop acts' YouTube views and single sales in America, after more than a year after their debut single. Meanwhile, a silly newcomer girl group named Crayon Pop nabbed the ninth-biggest song of the K-Pop Hot 100 last year thanks to viral hit, "Bar Bar Bar" less than a year after debuting. But based on fan anticipation, past single performance, YouTube views and industry talk, K-Town has selected the five acts who appear best equipped to make a splash on the K-pop scene this year.
On Jan.15, JYP Entertainment (home to Wonder Girls, 2PM, miss A) unveiled their newest act, seven-member boy band GOT7. The multiracial group -- made of B, Jr., Mark, Jackson, Youngjae, BamBam and Yugyeo -- proved to be a YouTube force to be reckoned with as the music video for their debut track, "Girls Girls Girls," amassed more than one million views two days after its release. GOT7 is aiming for global stardom with members speaking multiple languages (English, Korean, Chinese and Thai), martial arts-inspired choreography topped off by their catchy, accessible Southern hip-hop sound heard in "Girls Girls Girls."
With safe-yet-addictive pop singles "Trap" and "I Love You," Canada-bred Henry Lau stepped into the solo spotlight after five years as a member of Super Junior's Chinese splinter group, Super Junior-M. Combining the super support of Super Junior fans plus charismatic Henry's multilingual appeal (he's fluent in English, Korean and Mandarin), he's an easy-to-spot star.
The 24-year-old is also the first male soloist from South Korean super label SM Entertainment in 13 years. Last year, SM successfully propelled boy band EXO to top-tier status. Along with a strong track record for each of its artists (e.g. TVXQ!, Girls' Generation, Super Junior, f(x)), K-Town expects they are adequately investing in the solo singer's 2014.
While WINNER has yet to make to make their official debut, they've already been on an emotional roller coaster with their fans. The quintet is the result of a reality-survivor TV show, "Who Is Next: WIN," where South Korean record label YG Entertainment (PSY, BIGBANG, 2NE1) pitted two potential boy bands against one another for viewers to vote to a proper K-pop debut. With their official first single said to be coming by the end of February, WINNER has managed to rack up accolades like opening for BIGBANG's Japanese tour, snagging a clothing endorsement and appearing on U.S.-based music channel, Fuse.
Beenzino is already a well-known name in the underground hip-hop world, thanks to the release of his widely acclaimed album "24:27" in 2012. His fluid rapping, witty wordplay and an ear for beats has helped the 26-year-old cement a reputation as one of the nation's finest rappers, notably without any major-label backing or TV promotions.
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Since their March 2013 debut, the female quintet dropped three singles -- "Bad Girl," "Hate You" and "Pretty Pretty" -- each gaining more YouTube views than the previous. Blending modern electro-pop and classic throwback elements, plus the girls' powerful vocals (member Sojung rivals the likes of fellow diva newcomer Lee Hi), it shouldn't be long till the group finds a track to cement themselves among other top girl groups hanging out in the Top 10 of the K-Pop Hot 100.