As we ring in the new year, it’s also time to take a look back at some of the highlights of 2016, which proved to be yet another exciting year in K-pop. Read on to meet 15 breakout artists who made a splash on the music scene in 2016, and vote for your favorites in the 12th Annual Soompi Awards!
This indie duo made their much-anticipated debut in 2016 after competing on “Superstar K” in 2014. With their unique sound and youthful energy, they’ve turned heads with their debut EP “Red Ickle” and full-length studio album “Red Planet.” We can’t wait to see more from these two!
BTOB enjoyed a successful year in many aspects. They topped the Oricon chart with their Japanese single “L.U.V,” released a new album called “New Men,” and formed their first sub-unit. It’s also been exciting to see the boys experimenting with new styles of music and taking the reins on songwriting and composing.
Since first coming into the spotlight on “Superstar K,” Eddy Kim has been steadily winning over fans with his smooth, mellow voice. In 2016, he released two singles, “Paldangdam” and “My Lips Like Warm Coffee,” as well as OST tracks for hit dramas such as “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds” and “Goblin.”
Not only did Eric Nam do very well with his music in 2016 — he released his second mini album and several digital singles, including his first U.S. release — he’s become one of the most beloved figures on Korean TV, thanks to several hosting gigs and his virtual marriage with MAMAMOO’s Solar on “We Got Married.” And it’s no wonder — who can resist his cheerfulness and endless charm?
GFRIEND racked up win after win with their hit singles “Rough” and “Navillera” in 2016. With 29 combined wins from these two singles, GFRIEND is the reigning girl group with the most music show wins in a year, and the No. 2 group overall in K-pop history. It will be thrilling to see where this momentum carries them in 2017!
Thanks to his appearances on shows such as “Duet Song Festival,” “King of Masked Singer,” and “Radio Star” (and his amazing vocals, of course!), Han Dong Geun enjoyed a surge in popularity in 2016. His song “Making a New Ending For This Story” even achieved a perfect all-kill, two years after its release!
In 2016, rapper Heize dropped a new mini-album and released several singles, including collaborations with artists like DEAN, Vibe, and EXO’s Chen. She achieved a perfect all-kill with her song “Star.” Fans also got a glimpse into her life on the show “I Live Alone”!
iKON dropped their song “#WYD” and their first Japanese single “Dumb and Dumber,” both of which did well on the music charts. The boys also held massively successful tours — one in Japan and one all over Asia. The Japan tour was so successful that YG announced a second leg for 2017!
2016 saw the long-awaited comeback of Lee Hi, who dropped her album “Seoulite” after three years without solo activities. Her hit ballad “Breathe” was written by SHINEE’s Jonghyun and was included in Mnet’s top 30 list for the first half of 2016. Lee Hi also collaborated with Epik High on a song for the “Scarlet Heart: Goryeo” OST called “Can You Hear My Heart?”
This powerhouse quartet has had quite a busy year. At the beginning of 2016 the girls released their first full-length album, with the title track “You’re the Best” becoming their first number-one single and earning them eight music show wins. In the second half of the year, they slayed the charts with their hit song “Décalcomanie.” We can’t wait to continue cheering on these talented beagles in 2017!
This rookie girl group also enjoyed great success in 2016 thanks to their third EP, “Pink Ocean,” which included the hit title track “Liar Liar,” as well as a song called “Step by Step,” written by B1A4’s Jinyoung. Their first solo concert was held in the summer, and it broke the record for the fastest sold-out concert for a rookie group!
Red Velvet continued to gain momentum in 2016, showing their versatility as artists through their spring ballad “One of These Nights” and their peppy fall earworm “Russian Roulette.” Both songs snagged several music show wins. The girls have also been branching out in their solo activities, such as Irene’s stint as a “Music Bank” host, and Wendy’s and Joy’s releases on SMSTATION.
Coming off of a wildly successful debut year, SEVENTEEN kept going strong in 2016 with the release of their first full-length album, “Love & Letter,” which immediately topped several music charts. The title track, “Pretty U,” snagged the boys their first music show win. In the second half of the year, they slayed the charts with their song “BOOM BOOM,” and their third EP “Going Seventeen” debuted at the top of the Gaon Album chart.
I would have a hard time believing you if you said that you went through all of 2016 without having a TWICE song stuck in your head at least once. This girl group has taken the world by storm since their 2015 debut. 2016, two of their music videos hit the 100 million-view milestone on YouTube, with “Like OOH-AHH” becoming the first debut music video for any K-pop group to hit 100 million views and “Cheer Up” becoming the fastest K-pop music video to reach the milestone. Who knows where this momentum will take the girls in 2017?
After spending 2015 focused on solo activities, WINNER made a much-anticipated comeback by releasing their mini-album “EXIT : E” early 2016. They successfully promoted the title tracks “Baby Baby” and “Sentimental.” Before that, they also released “Pricked,” which did well on the charts even without promotions. Although fans were sad to see member Taehyun exit the group, we still wish him the best, and the future still looks bright for WINNER as a four-member group. We’re looking forward to their comeback early next year!
Which breakout artist is your favorite? See all the nominees for the 12th Annual Soompi Awards here:
The 12th Annual Soompi Awards is sponsored by Spottoon, a premium comics library, and held in partnership with American network Fuse and Korea’s top production house ZANYBROS.
minjiya can usually be found writing in a cafe, blasting K-pop dance tunes to motivate herself through long runs outside, or plotting her escape from the midwest. Say hello/send her a gif on Twitter @yaminjiya.