While K-pop is famous for its boy bands and girl groups, a trend this year has seen various members debuting as soloists, currently taking over the scene. A remarkable amount have taken on the challenge to show fans what they can bring to the solo spotlight after six months into 2015.
Analyzing the trend at the halfway point of the year shows that some have thrived and offered something fresh or unexpected, carving out a new lane in the industry. Others haven’t fared as well and have more or less been unnecessary debuts in the grand scheme of things. So, by considering each act’s promoted single and music video, who ends up No. 1 on our list of the best K-pop solo debuts so far?
11. Crayon Pop‘s Soyul – While Soyul’s debut attempt is a smart move to get listeners to consider Crayon Pop past a silly-cutesy girl group, “Y-Shirt” unfortunately falls pretty flat. It’s an easy-breezy piece, and featured rapper JeongMo offers a nice contrast to Soyul’s vocals, but its charms aren’t enough to make this a standout debut. Not to mention, all the Crayon Pop girls make cameos in the video making one wonder why didn’t they just have a full-fledged group promotion if the members were free?
10. SHINee‘s Jonghyun – The SHINee singer’s solo debut is a bit tricky to judge as his initial debut single “Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)” wound up being overshadowed by his cleverly titled buzz single “Deja-Boo” on the charts — and with good reason. While “Crazy” is more or less a generic pop track (where rapper Iron somewhat steals Jonghyun’s thunder later in the song), “Deja” sees Jonghyun crooning like a playful playboy over slick, funk-driven production. Meanwhile, some of the visuals in the “Crazy” video are incredible, but some come off a little too try-hard.
9. T-ara‘s Eunjung (aka Elsie) – A scandal rocking T-ara in 2012 had led to more solo opportunities for the girls. Eunjung took on the moniker Elsie, looked to re-brand herself as a ballad singer with the duet “I’m Good” featuring K.Will, arguably one of K-pop’s best vocalists. While she holds her own here, K.Will feels more like the star in what could have been Eunjung’s breakout moment.
8. Girl’s Day‘s Minah – “I Am a Woman Too” is a lovely slice of R&B-pop where one gets to heard the Girl’s Day belter emote more than her group’s singles. But by already being a main vocalist in Girl’s Day, the slight genre exploration is really all this solo venture offered.
7. Block B‘s Taeil – “Inspiring” is a splendid ballad, that mostly indicates big promise from the vocalist. While the video is intriguing, it’s a bit distracting overall and begins to feel like the song is being dragged on too long.
6. Beast‘s Hyunseung – After Beast hit it out of the park with two excellent singles in 2014 (includingBillboard‘s No. 1 K-Pop Song of 2015, “Good Luck”), it’s no surprise that “Ma First” is another forward-thinking piece with a sonic-shifting production making the single a musical triumph, not to mention the feature from Giriboy also being on point.
The accompanying video doesn’t make a overly convincing case for why Hyunseung could be a successful solo star, it does prove him to be a charismatic dancer you can’t take your eyes off of — don’t miss that insane dance breakdown.
5. f(x)‘s Amber – At the halfway mark we now have one of the year’s most unexpected solo debuts with Amber. “Shake That Brass” boasts energetic beats that one could imagine Missy Elliott rapping over. While featured singer Taeyeon nailed her section, one can’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity for Amber to showcase her vocal skills — which fans got to hear on her excellent buzz single “Beautiful.” We know Amber slays at rapping and a solo debut should offer something new. Amber earns extra points for her composing this; showcasing herself in a new role of pop producer.
4. CNBLUE‘s Jung Yong Hwa – “One Fine Day” is an awe-inducing ballad and a nice change-up for Yong Hwa. At first, the cut might make fans wonder why couldn’t CNBLUE have released it? The answer is, most likely, the new string and orchestral elements are here that the band doesn’t incorporate, but gorgeously pairs with the singer’s voice. Another point for Yong Hwa for composing the cut.
The video also makes a good case that Yong Hwa would be the best boyfriend ever.
3. Teen Top‘s Niel – “Lovekiller” is a slick piece of soul-pop that grows in intensity as Neil moves from breathy coos to powerful belts. The single is more or less a tribute to Michael Jackson, but what makes it more than a cheesy rehash is how it also sounds like something MJ himself would have released.
But what truly solidifies the unexpected Niel as a solo star? The video. The boy is dancing better than ever here and it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.
2. After School‘s Lizzy – As with all K-pop acts, one needs to find his or her individual place on the scene and the After School member found a sweet spot singing trot — South Korea’s oldest form of pop music. Not only did the singing style fit Lizzy’s tone, but the mix of old-school music with a modern twist made the actual song a knockout too.
The concept even translated to Lizzy’s visuals as she promoted in a fashion-forward-type of hanbok (a traditional Korean outfit) and the music video for “I’m Not an Easy Girl” was an updated take on Korea’s classic ’60s film, Seong Chunhyang. That’s what you call a concept.
1. 15&‘s Jimin Park – While she’s never been overshadowed as part of the duo 15&, Jimin let her talents soar in this stunning, Sia-like ballad. The 18-year-old sings with an emotional gusto and vulnerability unheard in previous 15& tracks and indicates huge promise for the type of vocalist she’ll be as her voice continues to mature.
The accompanying video also shows Jimin as the friend who doesn’t get the guy, putting her in a relatable position for many listeners. Pair that with such a poignant vocal performance and you’ve got one of those ballads that transcend age and musical preference — one feels pure human emotion here and that is something that can connect with anyone and everyone.