After a gradual reawakening from the sleepy winter, K-pop’s annual summer onslaught is well underway. While well-established acts like EXO, Sistar, and INFINITE have releases planned for later this month, the past few weeks have seen a bevy of new music from some of the most promising rookie K-pop acts. These newcomers saw rising popularity since their formal debuts in the K-pop scene in 2015 and are back to claim a place in the competition for the top song of summer.
The end of April kicked off the return of the rookies in earnest, with trending girl group TWICE and the self-producing boy band Seventeen coming back with catchy new songs. The first half of May saw a lull from last year’s rookie K-pop acts but iKON, Oh My Girl, and Monsta X revitalized the second half of the month with some new energy just in time for the end of the summer. Each of the aspiring idol groups brought a different sonic flavor to the mix, taking their sounds everywhere from hip hop ballad to bubblegum cheer anthem.
Seventeen’s “Pretty U”
Seventeen, a boy band with a reputation for partaking in numerous aspects of their career including production and choreography, released two albums in 2015 that appeared in the Top 10 of World Albums (debut album 17 Carat hit No. 8 and Boys Be peaked at No. 1). Their latest album, First Love&Letter peaked at No. 3 on the same chart and also appeared on the Heatseekers chart at No. 5. Lead single “Pretty U” is a happy-go-lucky mid-tempo track that combines a little bit of funk and whimsy in Seventeen’s typical style. The composition emphasizes the 13 members’ versatility, featuring a capella and smooth raps to counter the cutesy lyrics and airy melodies to create a bouncing summer song.
TWICE’s “Cheer Up”
Ever since its release, TWICE have been holding steady with “Cheer Up,” retaining their title as one of the most watched K-pop rookies ever with the music video reaching nearly 40 million views on YouTube in less than two months. The nine-member idol group’s colorful dance-pop song has become one of the first successes of the summer season in South Korea, where the sprightly banger has remained steady in the top 10 on all of Korea’s main music charts since it’s release at the end of April. “Cheer Up” even went viral as a meme in South Korea because of Sana’s cute rendition of the lyrics “shy shy shy” during her solo. The group’s EP, Page Two, gave TWICE their first Billboard top 10, peaking at the No. 6 spot on the World Album chart.
Monsta X’s “All In”
Monsta X energized May on the 18th with “All In,” the single from their latest EP, The Clan, Part 1: Lost, which landed on the World Album chart in the No. 5 position. One of the busiest younger groups in K-pop, Monsta X released four singles in 2015 but “All In” is their first single of 2016. Just as aggressive as their previous hits, the trap song features a thumping beat and furious raps that are typical to the group’s style while skews more melodic than their older singers with an added emphasis placed on the group’s vocals. The music video depicts a dystopian plot that is reminiscent of a summer blockbuster rather than a summer dance track, but “All In” brings a refreshing sound to Monsta X without losing their unique flair and sets them up for future releases related to their Clan series.
Oh My Girl’s “Windy Day”
The title of Oh My Girl’s latest release seems a bit more springtime than summer, but “Windy Day” fits this time of year with it’s quirky spirit. A breezy folk-pop hybrid that draws on acoustic strumming and Middle East-inspired horns, “Windy Day” incorporates an upbeat chorus and high-pitched melodies to showcase the eight members’ youthful vocals. “Windy Day” tones things down a notch for Oh My Girl, but it’s experimental nature falls in line with the group’s general approach to music. In the past the group thrived on hyperactive bubblegum songs, like debut track “Cupid” and March’s “Liar Liar,” and the electro-ballad style of “Closer,” which featured a provoking music video and choreography viewed best from an aerial view that showed a sense of artistry in an industry often accused of taking creativity out of the musical process.
South Korea has a love affair with soothing coffee shop tunes and thumping hip hop beats, and iKON released “#WYD” to combine the two, eschewing the bombast that many of their past seven singles exhibited. (Yes, they released seven singles in 2015 between September and the end of the year.) The jazzy ballad is a throwback to iKON’s first song, the playful downtempo “My Type,” but “#WYD” goes even further to create the group’s most mellow sound to date. With gentle piano, horns, and simple snapping to usher in a sleepy summer, “#WYD” was one of the group’s most well-received songs in South Korea so far and also appeared within the top 10 of iTunes’ K-pop chart.