The rookie K-pop acts breaking through the clutter and setting themselves up as leaders of the next generation of the genre.

For people who only follow K-pop sporadically, keeping up with the pace of the industry is dizzying. Between comebacks from established groups and exciting debuts that signal the eventual passing of the baton, K-pop keeps us busy. 

Take note, however: being a K-pop rookie is no simple feat. With every year chock-full of releases, there are few chances to break through the clutter and rise to the top of the charts. Those who do, however, position themselves as potential front-runners of a new generation. 

Safe to say, when everything seems doomed, the rookies are keeping us entertained and hopeful. So, here are five K-pop rookies to keep on your playlist, because you’ll soon see them everywhere. 

cignature 

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While cignature’s debut single ‘Nun Nu Nan Na’ (released in February 2020) didn’t quite hit the mark when it came to memorable debuts, follow-up single ‘ASSA’ quickly rectified that. 

Inspired by the Korean slang for “outsider” – used to describe someone not in the loop – on ‘ASSA’, the girls taught us how to have fun despite your “uncool” status. A catchy chorus, precise choreography, and cool-girl white suits offset by laser and neon lighting, ‘ASSA’ was a preview of the element that cignature will well and truly make their own. 

HINAPIA 

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2019 was a painful year for fans of Pristin, budding starlets from Pledis Entertainment. After just two years — during which they debuted on the Billboard Charts — the group officially disbanded following a prolonged spell of inactivity, much to the ire of fans. 

But the Gods up there had decided that this wasn’t to be the end of this promising act and gave us HINAPIA. Comprising four former members of Pristin, plus newcomer Bada, HINAPIA immediately captured attention with ‘Drip’, an exaltation of newfound freedom.

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As the girls take a more mature route on this new journey, we expect great things from them. 

Cravity 

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The nine members of Cravity opened doors to their world amidst growing uncertainty about the COVID pandemic, but that didn’t make their debut any less impactful. With their name derived from a portmanteau of the phrase “center of gravity”, their music served as just that. 

Their debut single ‘Break All The Rules’ might have been about deviating from the status quo, but the contemporary context made it so much more profound. In a time when we were all retreating into involuntary slumber, Cravity told us all to wake the hell up. 

As they compared the defeated looks in our eyes and our dead voices to a crime, a lot of us around the world awakened to the realization that things needed to change. 

Oneus 

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Usually, freshly minted K-pop acts keep things steady, establishing a stable musical ethos that becomes the foundation for their image. Not Oneus, nope. 

Within a year of their January 2019 debut, Oneus had taken us on a dramatic journey that started with rock-leaning ‘Valkyrie’, to the crystal clear hooks of ‘Twilight’, to the grand cultural display of ‘Lit’, which incorporated heavy Korean instrumentation.

Such experimentation and diversity would usually be expected of a more established act, which is exactly what makes Oneus so exciting. Clearly, the members are not about to box themselves in, and it’s this element of surprise that keeps us coming back. 

OnlyOneOf 

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K-pop thrives on immersive world-building. Some acts, like EXO, establish their mythos early on, presenting each member as an alien with the power to control an element. Others, like LOONA (another powerhouse rookie), weave an elaborate phantasmagoria spanning a year to introduce the stories of the members. 

Then, there is OnlyOneOf, who dove into the maze of religious symbolism, temptation, resistance and deliverance,  giving us some of the most conceptually avant-garde releases in just their first year. 

While their debut track, ‘savanna’ dealt with the temptation of the forbidden fruit, ‘Sage’ gave us long-desired salvation after a personal resurrection. The sensual hypnotism was, evidently, too much for us to resist. Following their latest, ‘Dora Maar’, we’re all but waiting for them to resuscitate us again.