K-pop 2024: A forecast for this year's top Korean acts
Nothing is certain in the capricious K-pop carnival, but some signs may be too clear to miss in 2024: New kings and queens will ascend to the throne, solo stars will shine all on their own and newbies will take the globalness of K-pop to another level.
Trying to foretell the year of what may be one of the fastest-changing markets in the world is basically like trying to read the tea leaves left at the bottom of the cup. But 2024 K-pop has some definite headline acts in the making, especially with the void left after all members of K-pop’s biggest boy band BTS left for their military duties and members of girl group Blackpink opt for different agencies for their solo careers.
Butting heads for the champion boy band belt previously worn by BTS, are Seventeen and Stray Kids. Girl group NewJeans leads the race to succeed the legacy of Blackpink with Le Sserafim and IVE chasing closely behind. Meanwhile, the four Blackpink members start their solo journeys just as three EXO members establish their own label and Big Bang’s G-Dragon joins a metaverse company as his new agency.
Rookie bands that made their debut last year will also be looking to make their marks in 2024, along with the freshest new acts that will be joining them in the months to come.
Seventeen, Stray Kids and the crown
BTS had been sitting firmly on the K-pop throne for a good half of the last decade with each new song it released, but it won’t be until June 2025 that the entirety of BTS makes a comeback after all seven members have completed their military duties. The first member to come back will be Jin, but it will likely take him a couple of months to release music after he finishes in June this year.
Market watchers have been trying to prophesize who would become “The next BTS” since the septet first topped the Billboard charts in 2018 with “Love Yourself: Tear,” but futile efforts have led to a new conclusion: There will be no next BTS, just someone new. The question is, who?
Seventeen is the number one contender at the moment, whose numbers and titles speak for themselves.
The 13-member band sold 16 million total albums in 2023 alone, of which over 6 million came from just one album — its 10th EP “FML,” which was released last April. The album was given the Grand Prize of the Album of the Year category at the 38th Golden Disc Awards earlier this month, as well as the Best Album awards at the 19th MAMA Awards, the 8th Asia Artist Awards and the 33rd Seoul Music Awards.
Seventeen met with over 1 million fans around the world during the 23 performances it held for its “Follow” world tour and “Love” meet and greet in Japan last year. In November, the band became the first K-pop act to give a speech and perform at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, France. The band celebrates its 10th anniversary together in May.
Stray Kids has also made some impressive feats.
The band landed its dance track “ROCK-STAR” (2023) on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart at No. 90 in November, becoming the second K-pop boy band to do so following BTS. Stray Kids also had four of its albums — “Oddinary” (2022), “Maxident” (2022), “5-STAR” (2023) and “ROCK-STAR” — top the Billboard 200 albums chart immediately upon release, which was a feat that had only been achieved by pop stars Alicia Keys and One Direction prior to the band, according to its agency JYP Entertainment.
Stray Kids’ “5-STAR” sold 4.6 million copies within just a week of its release last June, followed by 3.7 million copies of “ROCK-STAR” sold within a week last November. The band has been acclaimed by music charts around the world, becoming the only- or highest-ranking K-pop boy band on organizations including the French record organization Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique (SNEP) and Germany's Offiziellen Deutschen Charts.
The octet's agency announced earlier this month that it will release two albums, hold concerts and open pop-up stores this year.
“One thing that we need to remember is that there will be no ‘Next BTS,’” pop music critic Kim Do-heon said. “Their success was their own, not the success of K-pop. Even if a group becomes just as big as BTS, it won’t be the same as BTS or have the same unique symbol it holds in the market. We should be looking out for the next big group, not the one to replace BTS.”
The new genes of NewJeans, Le Sserafim and IVE
All four members of Blackpink have decided to pick up their solo endeavors anew, outside of the quartet’s agency YG Entertainment. They promised to stay under YG for group activities, but any K-pop follower knows that it may take months, if not years, for a group album to drop once bandmates start going their separate ways.
It’s already been over a year since Blackpink's last album, from September 2022, and in its stead rose a new queen: NewJeans.
The year 2023 was irrefutably the year of NewJeans. The HYBE-made girl group’s songs filled the streets, and the countless awards the quintet received proved its power in the entertainment market.
NewJeans has nabbed some of the biggest awards in and outside of Korea, including the Grand Prize at the 38th Golden Disc Awards’ Digital Song of the Year category for “Ditto” (2022), the Song of the Year and Artist of the Year at the 2023 Asia Artist Awards, the 2023 Melon Music Awards and the 2023 MAMA Awards.
The group’s second EP "Get Up" has sold over 2 million copies since its release in July, becoming the fastest K-pop girl group to hit the double-million threshold. It was also the fifth best-selling album in the United States in 2023.
“IVE and Le Sserafim are also strong contenders,” Lee Gyu-tag, an associate professor of cultural studies at George Mason University, said. “IVE is particularly strong among domestic listeners, but Le Sserafim is expanding on the international stage. The three girl groups — NewJeans, IVE and Le Sserafim — are being referred to as ‘the girl group troika’ in the industry.”
They had strings, but now they're free
Blackpink members had even more surprises up their sleeves when they decided not to renew their contracts with YG Entertainment for their solo activities.
Jennie has already established her own agency, Odd Atelier (OA), and Jisoo is reportedly joining her brother’s company Biomom. Lisa and Rose have yet to declare their paths.
Three members of boy band EXO — Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin, collectively referred to as EXO-CBX — also established their own label named INB100 last year and announced their solo commencement there.
The two groups’ decision follows a recent tradition among K-pop artists in which they part ways with the agency they debuted with after the standard seven-year contract ends, then establish their own companies or join a different company that is more in line with their ambitions, oftentimes acting. The absence of an agency means less systematic support but comes with the liberty of being able to shape their own future.
Artists Psy, Jay Park, Zico, Yubin, Hyolyn, Kang Daniel, JooE of girl group Momoland, Super Junior’s duo Donghae and Eunhyuk, Rocky of boy band Astro, Kim Jae-joong of boy band JYJ, former Loona member Chuu — the list of artists who choose freedom over comfort are aplenty.
“This trend will also accelerate in the coming days,” pop music critic Cha Woo-jin said.
“Since K-pop has expanded into the global market, it’s become easier for artists to make profit from a larger market, compared to when they had to compete in a cramped Korean market with larger competitors. This will mean a new power dynamic between agencies and artists, and companies will have to re-establish the relationship between the two parties if they want to keep the artists signed for a long time.”
Fresh new faces for a fresh new year
Numerous new bands have already announced their grand debut this year.
Boy band All(H)ours held its debut showcase on Jan. 10 as the first band to debut in 2024. It has been promoting itself as the “cousin band of Stray Kids” because the CEO of the agency, Cho Sung-hae, was the vice president of JYP Entertainment.
A six-member boy band named TWS, pronounced "two us," will debut under Pledis Entertainment, home to boy band Seventeen, on Jan. 22. Girl groups I’LL-IT and Katseye will debut under HYBE this year, but the dates have not been fixed yet.
JYP Entertainment’s new girl group VCHA, pronounced "vichwo," will hold a debut showcase on Jan. 26, and SM Entertainment’s newest boy band NCT New Team is set to debut within the first half of this year.
Girl groups Candy Shop, ViV and iii and boy bands TIOT, Waker and NXD are also set to make their debut within 2024.
But, according to Prof. Lee, what’s really exciting to see will be how the bands that came out in 2022 or 2023 such as Riize, BoyNextDoor or ZeroBaseOne will start blooming and bring about a generational shift in K-pop.
“Girl groups have already shifted from Blackpink to NewJeans, from the third generation to the fourth generation, but that’s not the case with boy bands,” he said.
“Seventeen and Stray Kids aren’t that set apart from BTS in terms of their age or years in career, so if a band from the fourth generation can top the charts, then that could truly be called ‘The Next BTS’ in a way.”
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]