10 Best K-pop Debuts of 2021
Xdinary Heroes, Omega X, Purple Kiss, Kingdom and more, here are our picks for the most stand-out debuts this year
These powerhouse rookies — comprising members Go_U, Juhan, Jinhwa, Sya, Chris, Lutan, and Wooju — made quite an impression with their trap-rock and funk-drenched debut single “Breathe Again” which dropped on May 12th, 2021. The colorful and edgy accompanying music video only strengthened the impression. The track is an anthemic call to keep going and break boundaries, no matter what hardships stand in your way. The group focuses on being a light of positivity and determination, delivering powerful choreography, excitement, adventure and fun. It’s hard not to get the track out of your head and the rabble-rousing chorus lingers long after it’s stopped playing.
In addition to “Breath Again,” their debut EP Check-In comprises five energetic tracks that leap through soft rock, punk and ballads, giving audiences a taste of their versatility and vibrancy. Currently, the septet are teasing a January 2022 comeback with a single titled “Bobbin’.” –Riddhi Chakraborty
Girl group LIGHTSUM made their debut on June 10th, 2021 and aced at displaying various colors of their artistry. Their bubblegum pop single “Vanilla,” was an absolute treat to the eyes. With its bright, pastel color palette, hyper pop-synth composition and lovable visuals, “Vanilla” can best be called a classic K-pop release — one that requires listeners to possess an acquired taste. But then came along their October 13th single “Vivace,” which displayed the group’s talents. Italian for lively and vivid, “Vivace” sees the group choreograph a dynamic and confident performance to support the booming, future bass house soundscape. The group’s fresh, confident-personified concept seems to compliment LIGHTSUM’s rapper, Sangah and vocalist, Chowon particularly well, as they deliver strong performances during their respective parts. All things considered, LIGHTSUM’s effortless switch from hyper pop to energetic deep house paints a picture of a promising and exciting future that lays ahead for the group. –Divyansha Dongre
Formerly known as LIONGIRLS and TRI.ANGLE, TRI.BE debuted on February 17th, 2021, with their first single album TRI.BE Da Loca under TR Entertainment and Mellow Entertainment in Korea. The seven-member girl group comprises Songsun, Kelly, Jinha, Hyunbin, Jia, Soeun and Mire. The group’s name is a combination of ‘TRI,’ an abbreviation for ‘triangle,’ which is regarded as the geometrically ‘perfect’ or ideal shape, and ‘BE,’ which refers to ‘being’ or ‘existence.’ The septet didn’t disappoint with their two-track debut, which features a catchy afrobeat/moombahton dance track “Doom Doom Ta” as the lead single and a synth-pop b-side “Loca.” The groovy music video for “Doom Doom Ta” showcases shots of the members wielding firearms and flaunting an aura of confidence, visibly unfazed while posing next to wild, predatory animals. The track aims to convey the group’s core messages of self love and self belief. TRI.BE has been consistent in putting out music throughout the entire year — following their debut, they went on to release their second single album Conmigo in May, followed by their first EP Veni Vidi Vici in October, and a special winter single “Santa For You” in November. Their most recent project was the theme song for the upcoming Cartoon Network series We Baby Bears titled “The Bha Bha Song.” — Oysmita Majumder
7. Omega X
With their first EP Vamos which released on June 30th, 2021, K-pop boy group Omega X instantly became the talk of the town. Symbolizing constant change and growth, the 11-member boy group served everything you’d expect from a 4th-Generation group on a golden platter. While the track is a common amalgamation of heavy brassy synth and strong electric guitar riffs, the group’s vocal prowess and performance make the track memorable. There’s a sense of confidence and competency in the track; the combination of the two acts is a loud declaration of the group’s arrival in block letters. Notably, the their roaring, gruff vocal performance paired with a vigorous, high-powered dance routine dials up the potency of the track, instantly lifting your spirits right from the start. Omega X kept the momentum going with their first comeback “What’s Going On,” attesting to their ethos and commitment to growth. Produced by AnoTHeR and TRACK 9, the hip hop-based number leaps, presenting a fresh soundscape brimming with powerful guitar sounds. The composition allows listeners to familiarize themselves with the group’s vocal and rap style more than before. With seven tracks to their name, Omega X is currently working towards their second comeback scheduled early next year. –D.D.
MIRAE debuted on March 17th, 2021, under DSP Media with their first EP Killa and a title track of the same name. The rookie group comprises Lee Junhyuk, Son Dongpyo, Khael, Park Siyoung, Lien, Jang Yubin and Yoo Douhyun. The term ‘Mirae’ translates to ‘future’ and the group aims to pave the way for the future of K-pop. With their debut music video gaining over 10 million views, their EP selling more than 26,000 copies within just the first week of release, and becoming the first K-pop debut from 2021 to reach one million TikTok followers, MIRAE have been (rightfully) crowned ‘2021 Super Rookies.’ Their debut track “Killa” is an upbeat electro-house number, complete with a bass synth and an electric guitar solo. Lyrically it depicts the group’s primary desire of creating and sharing their music with the rest of the world–music that shall move, energize and inspire the future. The sci-fi inspired music video visualizes futuristic shots of the members performing the suave choreography and interacting with AI-powered androids, all amidst glitching screens. Following their highly successful debut, MIRAE announced an August comeback with their chart-breaking second EP Splash. Currently, the septet is gearing up for a January comeback with their third extended play. –O.M.
Home to K-pop bosses Monsta X alongside Cosmic Girls and Cravity, comes Starship Entertainment’s six-member girl group IVE. Having made their debut on December 1st, 2021, with the single album ELEVEN, the new group accompanied the release with a glamorous music video for the lead single of the same name. Singing about a girl under the spell of love, “Eleven” quickly became a favorite amongst listeners, racking up over 50 million views in the last three weeks. The dance-pop single strategically plays around with the tempo, dialing it up and down to keep the rhythm lively. The hook undoubtedly lies in the chorus, which ropes in breathy harmonizations contrasted against hypnotic trance to create an earworm. The upbeat soundscape is further supported by the group’s enthusiastic performance, layered with rich, fruity vocals. The careful selection of sonic and vocal elements definitely checked all the boxes, earning IVE first music show win just seven days after their debut performance at KBS2’s Music Bank. Their win at MBC M Show Champion also bestowed upon them the title of the fastest Korean girl group to win a music show award. The group’s debut made quite the noise on international soil with “Eleven” earning the fourth spot on Billboard’s Hot Trending Songs chart. The entry makes IVE the fifth South Korean girl group to appear on the chart, joining the likes of K-pop hitmakers BLACKPINK, TWICE, ITZY and aespa. –D.D.
For long-time fans of BTS and TOMORROW X TOGETHER, South Korean singer-songwriter and producer Adora is no unfamiliar name. Over the last five years, the former Big Hit Music producer employed her musical sensibilities crafting BTS and TXT’s celebrated discography. Today, with years of unmatched experience under her belt, Adora is finally ready to take her voice as a soloist to the next level. Debuting on November 5th with “Make U Dance,” Adora recruited Eunha of VIVIZ (former member of the K-pop girl group, G-FRIEND). The electronic, high-energy, alternate pop single spotlights Adora’s resonant vocal as she expresses a brutally honest outlook on life: “A story that became cruel/ Happiness is all lies/ The law is not obeyed.” Upbeat, quirky and amusingly dark, Adora’s delightfully spunky performance brings in a cool breeze of youthfulness, leaving the industry and fans buzzing with anticipation for her future projects. While the single gives us a tiny peek into Adora’s style as a soloist, seeing Big Hit Music’s former super-producer take the centre stage as a promising soloist brimming with untapped potential was definitely worth the overdue wait. –D.D.
3. PURPLE KISS
Hailing from the label that gave us the K-pop vocal powerhouse MAMAMOO, comes the seven-member rookie girl group, PURPLE KISS. Making their official debut on March 15, 2021, with the EP Into Violet, the septet preceded their debut with the pre-release digital singles, “My Heart Skip a Beat” in November 2020, and “Can We Talk Again” in February 2021. With their debut single “Ponzona,” PURPLE KISS creates a dreamy yet dark atmosphere overflowing with confidence and enchantment. Thanks to the single’s fusion urban hip-hop track, combined with classical violin and piano sounds, the septet successfully carved an artistic space for themselves, delivering memorable rap and vocal performances to match the catchy melody of the track. On a lyrical front, “Ponzona” announces the group’s arrival and dreams of spreading their artistry as far as possible: “Baby PURPLE KISS on bloody top/ The world stained with purple/ Fall in love with me, I have made you addicted/ You better know, you better know. While there’s still a disparity in the number of self-producing female and male groups, having members Swan, Na Goeun and Yuki participate on the lyrical and production front was the cherry on top of a beautifully executed debut release. Also, the fact that the trio worked on the single during their trainee days speaks volumes about the group’s artistic potential. –D.D.
2. Xdinary Heroes
Making their debut on December 6th (and just in time for this list), Xdinary Heroes is JYP Entertainment’s first band to follow the highly popular pop-rock act DAY6 (who debuted in 2015). Although Xdinary Heroes are a rock band like their predecessors, that’s where the similarity ends. The sextet splashed a darker, edgier brand of artistry across the K-pop scene with their pop-punk debut single “Happy Death Day”— a delightfully biting take on the two-faced nature of those who only crawl out to wish you on that one day before turning away again. It’s playful, manic with just the right amount of viciousness, and utterly enthralling. There’s a freshness to their sound that simultaneously brings in the nostalgia of Blink-182 or Green Day, and they’re a perfect fit for the 2000s emo punk renaissance that is upon us. The music video seems like a comeback rather than a debut and the members — guitarists Gaon and Jun Han, bassist Jooyeon, drummer and leader Gunil, and keyboardists Jungsu and O.de — exude confidence and attitude in every single frame. Despite having just released one track so far, Xdinary Heroes are already causing a stir across the music industry with several eyes and ears on them in anticipation of what they will deliver in 2022. –R.C.
No group in K-pop has embarked on a journey quite like this before and perhaps no group ever will again. Making their debut on February 18th with “Excalibur,” the seven members of KINGDOM kicked off a concept that dives into mythology and history with a twist: each member is said to represent a different ancient or mythological king and the group tailors their concept to do their namesakes’ stories justice. According to their fandom KINGMAKER, leader Dann’s stage name is inspired by King Dangun of Korea; vocalist Mujin by Emperor Jinmu, the first emperor of Japan; vocalist Louis by King Louis XIV of France; Jahan by Emperor Shah Jahan from the Mughal Empire; vocalist Arthur by King Arthur; Ivan by King Ivan IV aka Ivan the Terrible; and youngest member Chiwoo by the mythological tribal Emperor Chiyou of China. The septet also represent different elements of the earth and mind, all evident in their music videos.
The stories of each royal are laid out as the group’s History Of Kingdom album series unfolds. In 2021, the rookies dropped three albums — their debut record, History Of Kingdom: Part Ⅰ. Arthur, with vocalist Arthur narrating the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table; their sophomore EP History Of Kingdom: Part Ⅱ. Chiwoo, a striking tribute to the mythological tribal Emperor Chiyou of China; and History Of Kingdom: Part III. Ivan, which outlined the dark and harrowing tale of Ivan the Terrible. All in all, it’s a whopping total of 21 songs–highly impressive for a rookie group’s first year in the industry. KINGDOM experiments with blending traditional instrumentals with modern pop, synth, ballads and hip-hop, pairing it with otherworldly, cinematic music videos to tremendous effect. Each record’s sound and visuals are influenced by the various concepts, shifting to reflect every king’s individual culture and story with respect, all culminating to art that pays tribute to our shared global heritage.
With four albums left in the History Of Kingdom saga and Dann set to take the throne next, we’re eager to see how far these seven kings will go. –R.C.