Six rookies to look out for in 2013

A debut is one of the biggest milestones for any act, and not just musically. The debut period lays foundations for the future, foundations that these idols will carry for the rest of their careers, whether successful or not. (Though taking off from the debut period is another milestone in itself though.) This also is why it’s so important to put all your eggs in one basket, just this once -- the competition is fierce, and these acts need everything they can get.

Being a rookie in K-Pop isn't a walk in the park, especially now that the relatively small industry is overflowing with acts from agencies of all shape and size. A lot of rookies, more so those from smaller agencies, just fizzle away into irrelevance and never get their chance in the spotlight. But a competition will always have winners. As we've seen from the previous years, there are acts who got through their debut year with flying colors and went on to see even more success, and there are also those who fly under the radar at first but see massive success in the following years.

The acts on this list fall into one of those two categories -- acts who I think did a phenomenal job this year and deserve to get even bigger, and acts who I think have the potential to do well next year. These are the rookies who proved themselves, whether it be in one area or all, and managed to stand out.

Agency: LOEN Entertainment
Debuted: August
First Release: "Vista" (Single)
Follow-Up Release(s): "We Don't Stop" (November, Single)
Previous Review(s): "We Don't Stop"
Other Best of 2012 Appearances: N/A

As far as A&R and image go, FIESTAR have it. They're girly and feminine, but they pack a punch -- just how I like my girl groups. "VISTA" was a strong effort, a pretty good song, and even if "We Don't Stop" failed as a whole song, as far as musical direction goes, it's right on track. They have substance, and they have an agency that can afford to make them look, and sound, nice and sparkly.

If we talk individual talent, that's something they haven't quite yet been able to show off properly, but honestly I think that if they have good A&R and a good agency, it's something their future material will bring out. And as early as now, some of the girls have already stood out vocally.

They kind of crept up on me, but when I was looking through all the rookies this year, Fiestar is actually one of my favorite girl groups. I guess I didn't really feel it like the other rookies I liked because they're still pretty under the radar, and they've only had two singles out, but I really like them. With the little material and exposure that they had this year, they made me curious enough to want to see big things from them next year.

JJ Project
Agency: JYP Entertainment
Debuted: May
First Release: "Bounce" (EP+Single)
Follow-Up Release(s): N/A
Previous Review(s): "Bounce"
Other Best of 2012 Appearances: Top 50 Songs - #23: "Hooked"

JJ Project was really one of my favorite debuts this year, but then again it's so hard not to like them. They're one step away from annoying, but they don't take that step, so what you get is a playful, mischievous act. Take that mischief and give it good material to play around with -- you have JJ Project. They are proof that getting the right material is, without question, one of the most important parts of a debut, because had they not gotten "Bounce" and the other songs on their first EP, they wouldn't have been as effective as they are.

Another thing I really like about JJ Project is that they know how to sell that sound, without forgetting the fact that they are, in fact, making music. They run and jump around stage like a bunch of little boys, but underneath the image, they're actually stable live singers/performers. And what made them even better was the fact that they debuted during a time when all the rookie groups failed to deliver once they got to music shows.

Like I said earlier this year:
The reason why I like them so much is because they’re convincing, because there is as much effortlessness in their execution as there is conviction. See, this is what I mean when I say that execution matters just as much as good material. While good material will take you places, equally competent execution will drive the point home. 
And that effortlessness is really what you need for material as fun and straightforward as the songs on “Bounce”, because what these two guys do is give the otherwise thin JYP material some spring. Save all that soul for Miss A or half of the Wonder Girls -- I like my boybands jumping through hoops and fire like there’s no tomorrow. ... “Bounce” is what I’ve been looking for in a boygroup for a long time now -- effortlessly fun material, complete with literal jumping around stage.

Agency: YMC Entertainment
Debuted: January
First Release: "Heaven" (Single)
Follow-Up Release(s): "Invitation" (November, EP)
Previous Review(s): "Heaven" / "Invitation"
Other Best of 2012 Appearances: 5 Best Albums - #4: "Invitation" / Top 50 Songs - #2: "Shut Up" (With Simon D)

If I had to name a rookie of the year (which technically I'm doing because I'm saying this right now), without a shadow of a doubt it would be Ailee. From the very beginning the thrust of her career has been clear -- she had a gorgeous voice that could quite literally move mountains, and she showed it off for everyone to hear. But of course, there are so many rookies overflowing with talent, which made me scared for her earlier this year. Thankfully I was proven wrong, because "Invitation" followed "Heaven" and I just fell in love with everything about Ailee. What makes her better than everyone else is the fact that she knows how to bring it, and she does it with material that's practically made for her.

I know I sound like a broken record now, but really, Ailee is lightyears ahead of all the other rookies on this list. With Ailee it's not a matter of "I want to see what you do next", or "I see potential in you", it's more like "I want to see how you stay brilliant". Ailee took all of our existing standards for rookies and she bettered them. All of them. Talent, stage presence, material, promotions -- she did them all, and they brought out her strengths. That's really what a debut period should be -- it should be that time where you show everything off with the hope of people liking it.

Lee Hi
Agency: YG Entertainment
Debuted: October
First Release: "1, 2, 3, 4" (Single)
Follow-Up Release(s): "Scarecrow" (November, Single)
Previous Review(s): N/A
Other Best of 2012 Appearances: Top 50 Songs - #37: "1, 2, 3, 4"

Despite finishing second in the first season of "Kpop Star", Lee Hi was the one who set aside my fears of an audition show for idols. Of course there was "Superstar K" beforehand, but the thrust of the show wasn't as clear as "Kpop Star", where they were literally looking for someone to sign to a big three agency. My biggest fear was how these big agencies were going to sustain, or completely change, the images that the contestants had built up during the show, images they had little control over. I found my answer in Lee Hi, and all the success she had amassed in such a short period.

She has the talent, that's pretty obvious given not only her time before her formal debut, but even after. But she also chose the right agency for her -- YG took her strengths and they made her run with it, which she gladly did. And succeeded. But as with majority of the rookies on this list, the question now is -- "what's next?" She's laid the foundations very well, and now she has to start building her identity. If her foundation is anything to go by, I think we'll see great things from her next year. I hope we do.

Hello Venus
Agency: Pledis Entertainment
Debuted: August
First Release: "Venus" (EP)
Follow-Up Release(s): "What Are You Doing Today?" (December, EP)
Previous Review(s): "Venus"
Other Best of 2012 Appearances: Top 50 Songs - #39: "Love Appeal"

In my books, Pledis is notorious for not delivering the right material for their acts -- After School and Son Dambi are testament to that. But for some strange reason, this year they did pretty well, not with their established acts (AS and Dambi had pretty flat comebacks), but with their rookies. NU'EST, although not on this list, had material they could actually sing, and of course, Hello Venus had "Venus". I loved it earlier this year, and I love it now.
I don't ask much from rookie groups, I just want them to deliver their material with competence, conviction and a sense of togetherness, and I want them to show the beginnings of a musical identity. Surprises of all surprises, I found that in "Venus". While their material isn't exactly top-tier or revolutionary or anything, it's solid, again it shows off what they can do, and at the same time it matches their vocals.

And that continued on to their second EP and lead single, which, despite the fact that it's kind of messy, was cute with substance, and actual singing, as opposed to whining or squeaking. You don't have to be sickeningly cute to be effective, they're proof of that.

Hello Venus is textbook girl group, complete with cutesy material and a girly image. But they're proof that it's not always the mould that's the problem when cutesy girl groups go astray, sometimes it's the group themselves. Or the material they get. Or maybe even both. Whatever it is, they remain one of those groups who do cute the way I like it -- with actual singing, and that extra bit of oomph to give them substance.

Agency: SM Entertainment
Debuted: August
First Release: "MAMA" (EP)
Follow-Up Release(s): N/A
Previous Review(s): "MAMA" (EXO-K)
Other Best of 2012 Appearances: Top 50 Songs - #30: "History" (EXO-K) / Top 50 Songs - #29: "What Is Love" (EXO-M)

Despite what a lot of people may think about my views on EXO, I don't completely hate them. I don't because I haven't heard enough from them, and because majority of the things that went wrong with their debut happened because of SM's sloppy and pointless decisions. First they set extremely high expectations -- EXO were supposed to be SM's golden rookies, all new, shiny and ready for the taking. They hype them up like no other, with teasers left and right. And then, they give EXO a song that needs to be carried, as opposed to one that plays on existing strengths and masks flaws in recording, and especially performance. So because of that, they end up either lip-synching, or going all over the place, during their live promotion cycle. "MAMA" wasn't the right song, plain and simple.

But over the course of the year, I had numerous chances to look beyond what SM set up for them, and honestly they're not half bad. I don't see any clear voices that I haven't heard elsewhere, but considering that their debut single was a product of such bad A&R and they've improved immensely since their debut, it won't take long for me to find one.

So why did EXO take the last spot on the list? Because to me, they are the epitome of "potential". Look at everything they have -- the variety of members, the fan base, and of course SM backing. Take all of those, and EXO could possibly go places next year because so much can go right, despite the fact that so much went wrong this year.


  1. Your list is contains also some of my favourite rookies as well! :D

    Hello Venus is one of those cutesy groups that I think I can really like if they continue to play their cards right. Yes they are cute, but it doesn't feel nauseating or forced; its quite friendly and natural. Also they really don't resolve to the stereotypical ageyo, and they have quite a bit of spunk. Kind of like F(x) in their "Chuu" era.

    My top rookies of the year were....

    - B.A.P
    - NU'est
    - EXO
    - Ailee
    - Lee Hi
    - Hello Venus
    - JJ project
    - Spica
    - EXID
    - Busker Busker (although, they're more indie than anything...nevertheless.)

  2. I agree with your rookie choices. Hello Venus was an unexpected surprise this year considering they're from Pledis.
    Two other rookies that caught my eye this year were:

    She'z: While The SEEYA has debuted, I like seeing a vocally focused girl group that doesn't have a "concept" for every song. I'll pretend that "UU" did not exist. They need more of a media push though to register in people's minds.

    Crayon Pop: They're so cheap, it hurts. But they just HAVE to survive till next year because I want to see what other ridiculous clothes/songs they can perform with. They just look like they're having so much fun being this cheesy. They're like what Girl's Day should have been if they stuck with the cutesy route.

  3. I couldn't agree more with this rookie choices if it was for a very pop perspective except for the Hello Venus part as the only standout for me in it was Lime. Fiestar (though I hate their name) is highly justifiable, Lee Hi has charisma, Ailee has the talent, JJ Project was fun and EXO, well, they're well packaged. Others rookies that are in my mind is Juniel and Busker Busker. :)

  4. The rookies who grabbed me:
    - Nu'est
    - D-Unit
    - Lee Hi
    - Ailee (tho her album has yet to grab me)
    - GLAM

    They all have something in common: material that work for them [whether I agree with all of it or not] and they look like they aren't getting amputations (i.e. having fun).

    The rookies who could grab me but haven't:
    - SPICA: I have BEG to satisfy my power house girl group tastes. They're not bad, but why go for the rookie, when the seasoned vets are still around?

    - JJ Project: That song makes me skip to 1:17 cause that's where it gets good for me. I don't like the chorus either. It's polarizing for me.

    - Hello Venus: I'm slow to catch on to groups that are cute, but I haven't ruled them out

    - B.A.P: I like their B-sides more than their promo Warrior-like material [I like Warrior, but Power, etc. just sounds like they're milking Warrior to death]

    May never grab me:
    - EXO: I just never gave a care for them. *shrug* They were given material beyond their capabilities, so we'll see what they're really made of in 2013. Most of SM's material didn't gel for me this year, sans BoA and f(x).

    Waiting for:
    - YG's new group of Su-Pearls members, etc.

    - A SHINee comeback that's a) not a scream-fest (I love you Jjong, but I want you to keep your voice), b) goes through more notes than half an octave, c) gives Minho singing lines he can pull off in that baritone

    Here's to 2013 and another year for Pop Reviews Now!

  5. BTOB make my top rookie list. Not for that dreadful debut mini, but definitely for the 2nd. It was perfect. It was so good I'm willing to forget that the first one ever happened. If Cube don't mess it up by trying to give them more B2ST rejects, they could be great. I just hope they haven't destroyed all hope of relevancy by putting out that boring first mini.

    VIXX also put out great singles this year, maybe next year someone will care.

    SPICA were great, I just want more Russian Roulette less I'll Be There.

  6. Honestly, I think B.A.P has more potential than some of these groups--just because of the fact that they have a bigger fanbase, more substantial material, and the fact that they are rising VERY fast...Hello Venus and those other girl groups didn't really cut it for me.
    Ailee and Lee Hi were definitely outstanding and they deserve their spot on the list.
    EXO? Meh, maybe but B.A.P is the one that made it the biggest out of males so I don't see why they're not on the list but maybe it's personal preference?

  7. honestly, i was looking for b.a.p... seriously even if they aren't ur type, the vocals on stage sound so much better than more than half the idols out there. No actually, they are capable of facing off Shinee.

  8. I think B.A.P. will make it big no matter what. They effortlessly pulled of H.O.T. cover and all the members have talent. Daehyun's vocals are impressive, probably as good as the rest of the male idols out there. They may seem like the "hype b-style" boy band, but they really got the vocals down, in addition to effortless dancing. The rappers actually know how to rap* ... wow that didn't come out right but its true. 2 main vocalists, 2 subvocals who can rap pretty well, and 2 LEGIT (as good as block b zico) rappers. They might just be the next big thing. If you haven't noticed, ALLKPOP has special articles reserved for them as well as their OWN page releases for live performances. Check them out.

  9. nah u dont even have to include b.a.p., they are pretty much gaining success as of now, and they dont seem like rookies.

  10. Can i know why this list does not have Bantang Boys? All of their songs have been daebak since they debut in 2013. Why Koreans does not recognise such a uniquely talented group beats me.


Want to share any of your thoughts on the above post? Drop a comment here! I read all comments and reply occasionally, especially if you have specific questions for me. :D

Note that comments are moderated. Spam, self-advertising (K-Pop-related and otherwise) and overly vulgar submissions will NOT be accepted. If you want me to promote/endorse/follow/link to your site, please e-mail me at instead.


Recent Tweets

Like Pop Reviews Now on Facebook!

Statistics (Since May 2009)

Music - Top Blogs Philippines Follow on Bloglovin

Blog Archive

You're reading an award-winning blog

The K-Pop Writers' Workshop

A workshop for writers of critical pieces on Korean entertainment -- formal reviews, expository essays/Op-eds, and personal essays/Creative Non-Fiction.
Learn from the best in K-Ent writing