After one of the biggest years for K-pop ever, the scene is more competitive — and more exciting — than ever for newcomers to come stake their claim. With that in mind, it’s also never been more important for acts to shine bright and make an impact sooner than later.
As we do every year, here are Billboard‘s five picks for the artists who seem poised to make a major splash in 2018 based on early chart success, industry talk, fan anticipation, material presented so far and critic’s pick. While these acts haven’t yet hit mainstream consciousness, they soon will.
1. Stray Kids (@Stray_Kids)
Despite their official debut said to be weeks away, fans of this promising boy band have already been a journey. The latest act from JYP Entertainment (home to 2PM, GOT7 and TWICE) was set to be formed on the 2017 singing competition show titled Stray Kids where nine competitors worked to survive and earn a spot in the band’s final lineup. At one point it looked like the group would debut as a septet, but ultimately Park Jinyoung, Mr. JYP himself, decided the group was complete as nine. The guys released a “pre-debut” album titled Mixtape that included studio versions of the songs showcased on their reality show, with the tracks highlighting the band’s promising rap styles and production skills. While lots of promising new boy bands look keen to make an impact on the scene (rookies like ONF, Seven O’Clock, MyTeen and A.C.E have all caught our eye), Stray Kids look like the boys to lead this potential new flight of stars.
Notably, even with just their Korean TV show and a YouTube video to promote the song, Stray Kids’ song “Hellevator” hit the top 10 of Billboard‘s World Digital Song Sales chart in October.
2. Loona (@LoonaTheWorld)
In perhaps the most epic lead to a pop group possibly ever, Loona is expected to officially debut in their final, 12-member form after more than a year of revealing the outfit piecemeal. Starting in October 2016, the girl-group project was announced by label Blockberry Creative with plans to debut a new member or sub-unit of members each month. So far, fans have been introduced to 10 members and two units, with two more ladies and potential more splinter groups to be revealed. Despite the long rollout, there have been signs that fans and critics have been getting on board with Team Loona, with the September unit of Odd Eye Circle (consisting of members Kim Lip, Jinsoul and Choerry) landing a Top 10 entry on the World Albums chart and their “Crazy Sweet Love” single snagging a spot on Billboard‘s year-end list of best K-pop songs.
By letting each member’s unique talents and charms shine, Loona looks poised to have a strong fanbase ready to support the 12 women whenever they finally release that group album.
3. DPR LIVE (@_DPRLIVE)
Relying strictly on their ambition and talent, DPR LIVE is a shining example of how artists sticking to their vision can truly pay off in the long run. By hustling and proving quality over quantity, the creative hip-hop collective has garnered admiration from the industry, collaborating with some its best like (like Crush, Jay Park, Dean and Dumbfoundead), and eventually earning their place to be competitive on the scene.
With their first Top 10 entry on World Albums chart with December’s Her EP, DPR LIVE looks set to be the crew to look out and shake things up in the rigid Korean pop industry.
4. The Rose (@Band_TheRose)
It’s rare for rock-leaning bands to make a major K-pop impression upon debut, but The Rose’s gorgeously emotive “Sorry” was able to do that, scoring a spot on Billboard‘s year-end critics’ song list and confirming themselves a multifaceted, new talent on the scene. Follow-up single “Like We Used To” evoked the same stirring melancholy, indicating strong promise from the group that they could break out past the rock scene to follow in the footsteps of FTISLAND, CNBLUE and DAY6.
5. YG Entertainment’s New Girl Group
Despite Blackpink only having five singles to their name, Korea’s super label YG Entertainment has confirmed in late November the plans for a new girl group to hit the scene in 2018. While details have been purposely vague, the explosive debut from Blackpink (where they became the first K-pop act to send their debut singles to No. 1 and 2 on World Digital Songs and nearly earned a Hot 100 hit with “As If It’s Your Last”) along with the history of global curiosity that follow YG artists like PSY, BIGBANG and CL, there’s no doubt many will be talking about these ladies whenever they’re revealed.
Keep in mind, fans may need to be patient as Blackpink was rumored for years before making their 2016 debut, and YG is also reportedly preparing a new boy band to join their roster soon too.