Around 100 idol groups debut each year in South Korea, aiming to make their way in the K-pop world. 2016 saw several top entertainment agencies debut rookie acts that dominated the scene, while a few boy bands and girl groups from less influential companies snuck their way into K-pop’s consciousness. Here’s our list of the 10 Best New K-Pop Groups of 2016.
The Korean reality show Produce 101 introduced 101 potential stars to K-pop audiences, and it was the gift that kept on giving in 2016 when multiple girl groups gained former 101 contestants. Four of Bulldok’s members competed on the show and, with the addition of one more member, released their first single “Why Not?” in October. The music video for the swaggering dance song, which fused hip-hop and electronic beats, ended up being one of the most viewed girl group debut videos of 2016.
The first boy band from Cube Entertainment (BEAST, 4Minute) since BTOB’s 2012 debut, Pentagon garnered a lot of attention in October with the release of the pounding “Gorilla,” a brassy dance track that incorporated hip-hop and funk. Its music video was so popular upon release that “Gorilla” became one of the most viewed K-pop videos in America that month. Their follow-up track, December’s “Can You Feel It,” kept the rhythmic funk of their debut track while featuring more expressive, mellower vocals.
Ending the year with a surprise debut, the project group K.A.R.D released “Oh Nana,” featuring former KARA member Heo Youngji, on Dec. 9. The tropical house single garnered the act a lot of praise, but it’s the group’s formation that makes them unique: K.A.R.D consists of two female singers and two male rappers. As the first co-ed pop group to hit the K-pop scene in several years, K.A.R.D built a lot of buzz and landed in the top five on the U.S. iTunes’ K-pop chart.
Male quintets are a mainstay to the K-pop industry, and no other new act has excelled at being a prototypical boy band than KNK. The group has released several singles and racked up millions of views on YouTube. Their songs, including debut track “Knock” and their most recent release “U,” are powerful dance pop tracks, but the members have also showcased an ability to sing sentimental ballads. After building a lot of buzz and becoming a must-watch act of 2016, KNK’s first EP landed at No. 14 on the World Album chart.
Bigger was definitely better in 2016, and WJSN (also known as Cosmic Girls) with their 13 members lived up to that title. After debuting early in the year with the bubblegum dance single “MoMoMo” and the hip-hop heavy follow up, “Catch Me,” WJSN made their mark on K-pop with the sleek synthpop track “Secret.” The song and its accompanying ethereal music video, which drew on the group’s name to depict otherworldly cosmos, propelled the girl group in the right direction to take home several newcomer honors at Korean year-end awards shows.
February brought Astro, a six-member boy band with a bright, synthpop sound that won over K-pop lovers from around the world. Throughout the year, the act saw three EPs chart on the World Album chart, two of which tied for the No. 6 spot. Their upbeat performances brought the act to KCON LA, where Astro performed for the first time for American fans.
One of the most popular songs in Korea this year came out of the two members of Bolbbalgan4, as “Galaxy” became a surprise hit that overtook music charts. The song’s jazzy instrumentals meshed with slight electric melodies landed it firmly atop Korean music charts, and garnered the music video 14 million views since its release in August. The duo released several singles throughout the year, all of which drew on Bolbbalgan4’s sweet sound and set the tone for what appears to be the start of a successful career.
NCT is a project — not a single group — created by SM Entertainment, the home to top K-pop acts like Girls’ Generation and EXO. NCT consists of separate lineups with different members who promote a variety of songs aimed at different markets. The year saw NCT U, NCT 127, and NCT Dream, each of which landed their respective singles, plus NCT 127’s EP, on multiple Billboard charts. Alternating line-ups are a risky concept for a K-pop group, which often build their fandoms based around the popularity of individual members, but the success of NCT’s first year is undeniable.
After years of promising a new girl group, YG Entertainment’s foursome BlackPink arrived on the K-pop scene in August with their forceful “Boombaya” and the hip-hop tune “Whistle,” both of which landed on the World Digital Songs chart. BlackPink followed up their initial success with their Square Two EP, featuring “Playing with Fire” and “Stay.” YG’s iconic girl group 2NE1 may have disbanded at the end of last month, but BlackPink is more than ready to fill the void.
A bittersweet debut, I.O.I came together through Produce 101 and the 11 members began promoting together in April. After a year of hits (“Dream Girls,” “Whatta Man,” “Very Very Very”) and powerful performances, I.O.I will disband at the end of December and go their separate ways — several members have already joined other K-pop acts. Despite their short lifespan, no other rookie K-pop act could compete with this gaggle of girls in 2016. Success may be limited by I.O.I’s lifespan, but I.O.I had one of the most successful debuts in K-pop history.