10 Best K-pop Debuts of 2019
From TXT’s introspective take on youth to ITZY’s anthemic celebration of self-confidence and CIX’s sleek and sexy dark pop, here are some of the best debuts of 2019
Korean-American singer and dancer Alex Christine aka AleXa made her much-anticipated debut in October with the single “Bomb.” AleXa is the first artist to debut under South Korean video production company ZanyBros‘ subsidiary ZB Label, so the company started strong with a dark, futuristic concept-the 22-year-old pop star is portrayed as a powerful cyborg, gearing up to take over the world in the wake of an apocalypse. In December the singer dropped a rock version of “Bomb” in collaboration with Korean metallers DIABLO. AleXa is confident, bold and very different from most solo female artists currently in the K-pop industry.
Complete in X aka CIX are a five member boy group which formed under C9 Entertainment. The quintet consists of leader and rapper BX and vocalists Seunghun, Yonghee, Hyunsuk and Bae Jinyoung (formerly of popular boy group Wanna One.) CIX debuted in July with the sleek and sexy dark pop “Movie Star” from the EP Hello Chapter 1: Hello, Stranger and presented a maturity and elegance that’s rarely seen from rookie groups. In November, the quintet dropped a second EP titled Hello Chapter 2: Hello, Strange Place and the lead single “Numb” criticized the pressure society puts on students to succeed in academics and the impact that pressure has on young peoples’ mental health. The group have also been particularly lauded for their in-sync choreography.
“Money” marked a rebirth of sorts for Kim Hyojong. After being booted out of the K-pop group Pentagon and his previous label Cube Entertainment due to his relationship with pop star HyunA in 2018, the rapper signed with “Gangnam Style” hitmaker PSY’s label P Nation and announced that he would be making a second debut in 2019. He dropped his old stage name E’DAWN and took on the moniker of ‘DAWN,’ marking a brand new era as a solo artist. “Money” showcased DAWN’s impeccable songwriting skills as he pondered the meaning of life, and the hold money and earthly possessions have over us as human beings. The entire release was a way for DAWN to break free as the artist he was meant to be–a badass with complete creative control (he’s also a co-producer on the track with PSY)–and made us look forward to what he’s got in the works for 2020.
This six-member group made an impact with the funk-infused dance track “Valkyrie” as their debut, blowing audiences away with their sharp footwork, versatile vocals and confidence. “Valkyrie” was part of ONEUS’ debut EP Light Up, which delivered an impressive total of seven tightly produced tracks. Over the year, the sextet followed the release with two more EP’s, Raise Us and Fly With Us, each one more complex than its predecessor, with the members contributing to the lyricism and production. ONEUS’ absolute highlight release of the year however was their vibrant single “Lit” which paid tribute to the group’s Korean heritage with the use of traditional instruments in the track and cultural symbolism (traditional colors like red and gold, modern hanbok clothing, Korean architecture and dragons) in the music video.
EVERGLOW burst into the K-pop scene in March 2019 with the infectious synth-trap single “Bon Bon Chocolat” from their debut EP The Arrival of Everglow. The single quickly went viral thanks to its outrageously catchy bass-heavy drop and stylish choreography. The group seem to have a penchant for punchy electronica with powerful bass drops, both of which are key features in their anthemic follow-up release “Adios” from their second EP Hush which dropped in August. “Adios” propelled the group to wider audiences worldwide, sitting at an impressive 83 million views by the end of the year. The six members further cemented their status as rookies to watch out for with their first music program broadcast win on The Show with “Adios” in September.
When BigHit Entertainment announced that they would be debuted a brand new boy group, the world held its breath; an understandable reaction, since said group would be BigHit’s second offering since they delivered K-pop titans BTS. There was no need to worry however; Tomorrow X Together, better known as TXT, broke into the industry with a fresh burst of color via the bright pop single “Crown.” Their debut EP The Dream Chapter: Star was a mix of playful hip-hop, crunchy pop and just the right amount of attitude. The five-member group’s artistry focuses on the brighter elements of youth and growing up, and delivers a different take on the subject than the debut of their brother group–a decision that has paid off immensely to help this monster rookie form their own identity. Their second EP The Dream Chapter: Magic which dropped in November, went deeper into themes of youth and saw the members contribute in the songwriting. The album blends Eighties synth pop, rock and hip-hop and is undoubtedly one of the best pop records of the year. TXT swept several awards at the end of 2019, including ‘Best New Male Artist’ at the Genie Music Awards, ‘Rookie of the Year’ at the Melon Music Awards and ‘Best New Male Artist’ at the Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA.)
When JYP Entertainment’s much-awaited new girl group ITZY made their debut in February 2019, they took the K-pop world by storm and rose to the top almost overnight. As the first girl-group to emerge from the company since best-selling artists Twice, audiences and critics were eager to see what direction JYPE would take with ITZY’s concept and whether or not they would have any similarities with their sister group. The quintet’s debut single “Dalla Dalla,” however, stayed away from Twice’s brand of glittery pop to take a more high-energy EDM-trap anthem route, while its accompanying music video was a whirlwind of sleek glamour, trippy color and power-packed choreography. The video hit 17.1 million views within 24 hours of its release on YouTube and broke the record for the most viewed K-pop debut music video within 24 hours (it currently sits at over 168 million views.) The group’s follow-up single “Icy”, which dropped in July 2019, continued to showcase ITZY’s signature high-energy, trippy EDM vibe. At the end of 2019, ITZY won multiple ‘Best New Female Artist’ awards, including those at the Melon Music Awards and at MAMA.
After ex-Wanna One members Daewhi and Woojin announced they would be re-debuting under a newly-formed group, expectations were high. Wanna One’s immense global success meant a lot more eyes on AB6IX’s debut, but the quintet remained the picture of elegance and confidence despite the pressure. They dropped their first single titled “Breathe” in May 2019, delighting audiences with its bright deep house and seductive choreography and impressing critics with its tight production. The track was the lead single off the group’s first EP B Complete and saw Woojin and Daewhi take part in the songwriting and production process. In October, AB6IX became one of the few rookies to release a full length studio album in 2019–titled 6ixense, the 12-track LP is a self-produced treasure trove of hip-hop, tropical house, ballads and deep house. The group won several awards at various end-of-year award shows for their work, including ‘Rookie of the Year’ at the Asia Artist Awards and ‘Next Generation Star’ at the Genie Music Awards.
1TEAM were a breath of fresh air in 2019, presenting a chill-hop trap sound and playful, pastel aesthetic on their debut single “Vibe.” The track was part of the quintet’s three-track debut EP Hello which featured confident self-produced blends of trap, hip-hop, jazz and R&B. Over the course of 2019, 1TEAM showed off their incredible versatility– their second EP Just (July 2019) featured more experimentation with synthwave and tropical hip-hop, while their third EP One (November 2019) explored elegant future bass and deep house. The lead single “Make This” from One was a drastic change from 1TEAM’s previous colorful and chill aesthetic and saw the group take on darker, elegant avatars in a sleek, futuristic, neon-drenched music video.
3YE (pronounced ‘third eye’) debuted in March 2019 year with the single “DMT (Do Ma Thang)”, serving a big dose of attitude and a gritty hip-hop concept. The trio immediately stood out from most K-pop girl groups, going for a rap-heavy concept that channeled energy reminiscent of some of the leading second generation girl groups of K-pop like 2NE1 or 4MINUTE. 3YE blew up even further in September when they dropped the synth-trap hip-hop single “OOMM(Out Of My Mind)” which featured an infectious, breathy dark pop chorus and more hip-hop based choreography. It will be interesting to see if they’ll continue with their grungy, hip-hop image in 2020 as well.