From virtual idols to full-length sci-fi films, here are five K-pop rookies who are taking things up a notch in 2021.

With the breakneck speed that K-pop produces music, it’s no surprise that it also churns out new acts with the same zeal. In any given year, the industry sees an estimated 30-50 new acts make their debut. Unfortunately, with how competitive K-pop is, not all of them find their way to fame or sustain themselves, but there are some who set themselves apart. 

These rookies are the ones who embark on an upward trajectory from the get-go, tearing down the old rules and making new ones of their own. And while last year’s pandemic may have posed logistical and creative challenges, the unstoppable march of these new acts proves that the show will go on.

So, here are some K-pop rookies who caught our attention in 2020, and whom we are watching closely in 2021. 

Purple Kiss

Okay, writer admits that this is cheating (almost). It hasn’t been long since we were introduced to Purple Kiss (at least musically). The septet released their pre-debut single ‘Can We Talk Again’ on February 3rd, making the cut for the newest act on this list. 

What makes the hype around their debut real, however, is their status as juniors to MAMAMOO. Of course, any K-pop fan worth their mettle is aware of the latter: the quartet that has blazed through the halls of K-pop and established themselves as not only powerful vocalists and performers, but also outspoken champions of female sexuality and confidence. 

So yeah, excuse us for being excited about these ladies. They might have big shoes to fill, but we have no doubt they’re up for the challenge. 

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aespa

aespa’s debut in November last year became a major event in K-pop history. With aespa, K-pop introduced virtual idols to the world, thanks to the avatars of each of the members. While international and domestic fan reaction was divided (and starkly different, when viewed from a cultural lens), their debut put all doubts to rest. 

The technical dreamscape of ‘Black Mamba’ might have gone a tad bit overboard with the iPhone placements, but the track itself was powerful, scintillating and deliciously catchy. What a perfect way to set us up for the immersive universe SM wants to build! 

STAYC

Listen, we know this list is going heavy on the women, but what can we say? The girls are bringing everything to the floor! Which, actually, is a pretty apt description for STAYC. The newly-minted group gave us one of the most memorable retro-pop tracks of 2020: a remarkable feat in itself, considering retro was the flavor du jour of K-pop 2020, with every act coming back with some rendition on the genre. 

STAYC caught our attention thanks to the presence of the legendary Black Eyed Pilseung on their production credits. The veteran duo has produced some of the biggest hits in modern-day K-pop, including Chungha’s ‘Gotta Go’ and Apink’s ‘Dumhdurum’ (still looking for how to tattoo this one on my body). Despite the star power behind them, STAYC proved that it’s performance and commitment that pays off in the end. Boasting stable vocals and even better performances, this is one rookie group that should be on your list. 

Weeekly

Writer must admit, this is one act that I was more or less forced to check out. Oh, I don’t know, maybe it had something to do with the fact that everyone — and I mean everyone — could only talk about Weeekly and their music. Reader, I do not regret it. 

In a year rife with the need for levity and a life lived out on the internet, Weeekly brought with it a youthful exuberance that we not only related to, but craved. Being their agency’s first girl group in 10 years — after the iconic Apink — the pressure was intense on this act, but the members more than rose to the challenge through innovative concepts, self-produced tracks, and cutting commentary of our dependency on social media. Phew, all in a day’s work! 

P1Harmony

As K-pop fans, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to cinematic universes, but you better commit to your mythology the way P1Harmony has, or I don’t want it. Reader, they didn’t have to go this hard, but they did. The only boy-group entry on this list debuted with a full-length sci-fi film, P1H. And we’re not talking an online release, but an actual theatrical run.

The large-scale promotion could have easily equated to a ‘much ado about nothing’ scenario, but P1Harmony proved the hype worth it with their first EP, Disharmony: Stand Out. From the addictive hooks on ‘Siren’, to the knife-sharp choreography, to the clever wordplay in their lyrics (that the members often contribute to), this boy-group not only delivered on their promises, but also left us all wanting for more. Needless to say, we’re all eagerly waiting for a sequel.