Now we are all but done with 2015, it’s time to start looking forward to what the year ahead in K-pop might have in store for us.
What will be hot in the New Year and what will drop out of style? What needs to change and what needs to stay just as it is?
Join us now as we run through a list of 10 potentially game-changing events that would make 2016 even better than ever.
The conditions are just right for a few acts to completely take the charts by storm in early 2016.
First of all, there appears to be space for a boyband to strike big in January/February. BIGBANG will be busy with its World Tour early in 2016, meaning it is unlikely the act will make another comeback until later in the year, realistically speaking. EXO is rounding off Christmas activities, and not much has been heard from 2PM since the excellent (but not very commercially successful “My House”).
This means a window of opportunity is about to open up. A rising boyband could get a relatively unobstructed run at the charts if it decides to release strong music early on.
BTS showed a knack of being in the right place at the right time in 2015. If they repeat this feat in the first half of 2016, they could really push on from here.
Whatever “it” is, BTS showed they have got it in 2015 – possibly no Korean boy band enjoyed a better year. With a rapidly growing international fanbase, continued domestic success, and a slew of high-quality musical releases, Jin, Rap Monster, and co are arguably in a stronger position than any other male group going into the New Year.
Another act who could pummel the charts with a potential early release is BTOB, riding high after a very strong 2015.
At a recent media event, the boys said that 2015 had been “a year to remember” for them. With Sungjae’s drama activities, a sold-out solo concert and the chart-topping “It’s Okay,” it is hard to argue against the fact that this is a group on a fast upward trajectory.
On the girl group front, Hyeri’s recent drama and commercial work has propelled her to superstardom.
With 2NE1 still off the grid and fledgling groups like TWICE still finding their feet, there is room for a massive girl group hit early in the year. If Girl’s Day can fit in time for a new release in the first few months of 2016, they will slay so hard it’ll make your head spin.
Reality show-created acts are flooding the K-pop scene, so any such groups who do not stay extremely active could run the risk of falling behind. This is possibly why WINNER’s January comeback simply cannot come fast enough.
But other non-talent show acts also need to show they are still relevant in 2016. The year 2015 was a relatively quiet one for Secret, ZE:A, and MBLAQ, who all have very popular (and in some cases very active) individual members. They have been around for a while now and will urgently need to remind us all that they are forces in K-pop.
In the case of Rainbow and A-Jax, a new release is so overdue it just isn’t funny. These groups need new material ASAP or they should just put us all out of our misery and disband. As a long-term Rainbow enthusiast, nothing would make me sadder, but even I have to concede things just cannot go on like this.
The elephant in the room is obviously 2NE1. YG has been ramping up its activities of late after a fairly quiet start to 2015, and the fab four’s unexpected appearance at the MAMA event in Hong Kong on December 2 filled Blackjacks with hope of a comeback.
But the girl group scene is changing fast. The time to act is now. The girls need to return to the stage sooner rather than later. Surely the Park Bom controversy has died down enough to make this possible? We can only hope.
In certain cases, there are acts out there who need to realize 2016 is make or break time.
On a similar note to the above, K-pop has never looked a more cutthroat industry than right now. With something in the region of 300-400 supposedly active groups out there, treading water and just getting by is not going to be enough in 2016.
On the boyband front, the likes of Boyfriend and U-KISS used to be at the very forefront of the K-pop scene, but for a variety of reasons in each case, they are not among K-pop’s top earners right now, and things cannot carry on for them this way.
For the girls, the heat is on for acts like Dal Shabet, After School, and 9MUSES. These groups have had major member departures in recent years and although the four-member Dal Shabet is gearing up for a comeback (and 9MUSES are in the midst of their comeback promotions), all three acts have been around for a while now.
In the case of After School, subunit Orange Caramel has staying power, Raina has been quietly getting with her solo work, Nana is as popular now as ever, but does this act still really exist as a full group? If it does, we need proof in the shape of a comeback.
Some long-running acts will disband in 2016, this much is all but certain. The only question is – who?
BEAST and Infinite are two boybands who are noteworthy for their musicality, but both seem to have lost a bit of ground on the rest of the field recently.
In the case of the former, other harder-edged male acts like BTS and Block B seem to have invaded their musical territory somewhat. BEAST has always proved capable of pulling out audio surprises, such as 2014’s electro house belter “Good Luck.” The time is right for something else along those lines.
And in the case of Infinite, new acts like Romeo and Snuper are quite clearly pursuing an Infinite-esque sound. The Infinite boys need to stay ahead of the curve by going somewhere completely different with their next release – perhaps try something funkier, à la SHINee’s “Married to the Music.”
In terms of the girls, there are few bigger acts out there now than AOA, SISTAR, and EXID, but all three are badly in need of altering their music style.
I actually think “Shake It” is one of the best SISTAR releases ever.
However, a lot of net users have pointed out its similarity to “Touch My Body,” and it’s hard to argue. The girls need to diversify their sound.
The EXID girls, as mentioned elsewhere on this site, have hit the top of the charts with three exceptionally similar tracks, but as long-term fans know, they are capable of making more complex music. The current formula is fun, but it does not get enough out of the exceptionally high quality of Solji’s vocals or LE’s peerless rapping.
Meanwhile, AOA’s “Heart Attack” was good, yes, but it wasn’t “Like a Cat” good. Nor was it “Confused” good. As much as I adore their Brave Brothers collaborations, it may be time for the girls to explore other musical avenues.
I cannot remember a year quite as consistently good for music as 2015. The year that was saw an explosion of leftfield dance and rock genres filter into K-pop. We had moombahton, dub, post-rock, synthwave, deep house, and two-step, none of which we had ever really heard before from Korean mainstream musicians.
It may have been said before, but K-pop is really starting to move ahead of commercial American and British music in terms of musical variety this decade. There are nowhere near as many genres of music in the Billboard Top 100 as there are in the Korean charts now.
2016 will be a chance to kick on from here, and to continue bypassing US and UK pop in favor of leftfield electronica sounds.
Styles of music that should be incorporated in 2016 include future garage, chillwave, glitch-hop, all three of which could be a perfect fit for boybands. Imagine instrumental tracks in those genres shifted to a tempo of about 110bpm, perhaps with a few catchy hooks thrown in. Mmmm.
Meanwhile, the rappers also need a change up. Some pretty amazing things have been happening in the UK grime scene of late, and it would be a true test for some of Korea’s top emcees to see if they could switch to a more unconventional rap sound in the year ahead. The conventional American style is getting a tad repetitive.
Let’s say goodbye to dubstep, everybody. The electronica crowd has moved on. The party’s over. For that matter, trap is on the way out, too, so let’s bid that goodbye while we’re at it. No names, no pack drill. Just stop it.
Something else that needs to go is cuss-heavy rap, no matter if the swearing is in Korean or English. The odd swear word here and there can be harmless enough, but it does not befit boyband and girl group emcees to be dropping super-NSFW solo releases and mixtapes.
Again, I won’t name names, but if you listen to K-rap in any form, you know to whom I refer. It comes across as a poor aping of American rap. Get rid of it. And take “diss” tracks with you.
Other styles that it might be a good idea to cut out are 1980s synthpop and 1970s disco – two genres I love and am crazy about.
But as much as I love them, let’s not overuse and wear out these styles. Let’s give them a rest so they sound fresh when someone (inevitably) revisits them in 2017.
K-pop gods, is there any chance that school uniform and other age-fetish clothing can just stay in 2015? Doesn’t the fact that we now have girl guide-themed acts …
..dancing around mock school sets…
…seem a little disconcerting to anyone else?
There is also stacks of faux homoeroticism in K-pop right now. It’s just a thought, but aren’t the likes of Rania and VIXX LR selling themselves a bit short with stunts like this and this? By all means, if an act wants to tackle homosexuality as a serious issue, that would be great, and arguably just what K-pop needs. But let’s stop using it as titillation for straight audiences.
Somewhere in the region of 100 new acts made debuts last year, and there are more in the pipelines. SM looks set to launch a 24-member multinational boyband, CJ E&M is set to debut an 11-member girl group as part of the Mnet “Produce 101” show, and SISTAR/Boyfriend agency Starship Entertainment is about to unleash a new girl group in the form of Cosmic Girls.
There is not enough space in the K-pop arena for everyone. There is not enough space on Korea’s TV music shows for all these acts. Nobody can hope to keep up with this relentless flow of new artists, as well as relentless comebacks from older acts.
Supply is starting to outstrip demand, and if that doesn’t change fast the idol group situation will become untenable. In economic terms, a crash could be on the cards. Something’s got to give.
Diplo with CL was big. As was G-Dragon and Boys Noize. And the potential forthcoming 4MINUTE/Skrillex collaboration could be massive. No Korean girl group lends itself to electronica quite like HyunA and co, so you can imagine that a collaboration with Skrillex, the crown prince of brostep, could result in a tune that will make “Crazy” sound like a nursery rhyme.
Hopefully, this is just a small taste of things to come, however. And hopefully, K-pop artists will start looking beyond the rather stale trap/dubstep scene for future collaborations.
K-pop is exciting and attractive to non-Korean dance DJs, many of whom travel to Korea in the festival season. The likes of Zimmer, Keeno, deadmau5, The Prodigy, The Chainsmokers, and Netsky all visited Korea in 2015, and more exciting names will come in 2016.
Opportunities will be plentiful, but who will step up and make it happen?
Remember Super Junior M rocking the suits back in 2014 with “Swing?”
Or when Infinite got all dapper on us way back when?
And CNBLUE’s recent ad campaign for The Class?
Boybands look the part in sharp suits – fact. It’s high time someone started rocking the formalwear again, maybe with a few 1970s touches like winged collars and so on, as that’s what the fashion gurus out there say is going to be cool in the year ahead.
For the girls, 2015 was all about the ultra-cute concepts, and that is a look that cannot go on indefinitely. Eventually, somebody is going to attempt to bring sexy back, which is fine by me, as the music tends to improve (significantly) when female acts try to get raunchy.
Failing that, how about a classic 90s American RnB girlgroup look, à la TLC, Total, or 702?
Rookies Rubber Soul went with it in 2015. Perhaps a more established group could also give it a shot?
So much for our thoughts, Soompiers, now it’s over to you! What are you hoping will happen in 2016? What do you think your favorite K-pop act’s new year resolutions should be? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electronica, and a hankering for hip hop.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not necessarily represent Soompi as a whole.