The K-pop scene has always been extremely competitive and with a generational shift in its midst, it’s never been more important for new acts to shine brighter than ever and to do so right away.
While these artists have yet to break into the market’s mainstream consciousness, Billboard has picked the five acts who seemed poised to make a splash in 2017 based on fan anticipation, YouTube views, industry talk and what the acts have presented to us already. Meet your best K-pop bets for the year.
1. Pristin (@Pledis_Pristin_)
Twice, GFriend, Blackpink and I.O.I proved that a strong wave of girl groups were ready to take over and Pristin looks next to join the pack’s leaders. The 10-member act has a head start on the competition with two members of sensational rookies I.O.I — Kyulkyung and I.O.I leader Nayoung — as well as a swelling fanbase thanks to monthly concerts since early last year. Previously known as Pledis Girlz during their training stages, the ladies are said to write, compose and choreograph all their material, very similar to their Pledis Entertainment label mates Seventeen who have recently risen to be one of the top boy bands. Get a taste of what to expect from Pristin with their self-composed, sugary-sweet buzz single “We” below. -Jeff Benjamin
2. K.A.R.D (@KARD_Official)
The K-pop scene has yet to see a successful co-ed band, but K.A.R.D is a good bet to change things. The group’s extremely accessible “Oh NaNa” is a slick hybrid of hip-hop and synth-pop and grabbed international attention as a top-viewed video n America and around the world on YouTube last month. While they won’t make their “official” debut until a few more singles in mid-2017, the outfit looks likely to keep the intrigue high with fun singles, connecting with fans on social media, and many fans wondering if a co-ed group can actually work. -J.B.
3. I (@I_WMOfficial)
When the girl-group market is this hot (see above on why Pristin is about to take over), if you’re debuting a solo female star, she better bring it. Luckily, I appears ready to shine all on her own with her debut single “I Wish” showcasing loads of versatility. The young singer showcased a slew of different looks, from fierce (she leads a troupe of male backup dancers in dance sequences) to tender (playing a girl wishing to be a famous singer in other scenes) plus athletic (the girl has moves on the basketball court!). I is in good company coming from WM Entertainment — home to respected acts like B1A4 and Oh My Girl — and getting legendary rapper Tiger JK to drop in for a verse on the glitchy, electro-pop cut is essentially a cherry on top to prove this girl is set to snatch the solo spotlight. -J.B.
4. Woollim Boys & Girls
It’s been three years since Woollim Entertainment debuted Lovelyz and seven years since INFINITE descended onto the K-pop playing field, so it’s just around time that company introduces a new act. And, although there’s little official news, it seems like the music agency is preparing to debut at least one new act in the near feature. Maybe even two! Woollim unveiled its new “W Project” at the beginning of the year and on Jan. 19, trainees Joo Chan and So Yoon released the ballad duet “No One Like You.” Each represents their respective team of trainees, Woollim Boys and Woollim Girls, raising expectations that Woollim will use the buzz to launch two new acts. After the success of INFINITE, Lovelyz, Epik High, and Nell, Woollim’s a small but influential Korean entertainment agency and any groups from them are sure to bring something new to the K-pop scene. -Tamar Herman
5. Hoody (@Hoodykim?)
Soulful R&B comes to life with Hoody, the first female artist signed to the Korean hip hop label AOMG. She’s been around since 2013, but is set to break out at any moment after the release of her EP On and On in December. Her dulcet vocals are simultaneously playful and sultry, which enabled Hoody to explore a wide, yet cohesive, range of musical styles on her first EP. From bright electropop to mellow slowburns, Hoody can do it all. She’s one of the most versatile up and coming Korean vocalists out there, and one big hit in 2017 could propel her to the top of the Korean music industry. -T.H.