Rookie of the Year: New artists big and small vie for award at Golden Discs
Some fads come — and then never go. These fads are what become the new norm.
Ever since the meteoric launch of cable channel Mnet’s K-pop audition program “Produce 101” in 2016, the resulting project bands made up of the TV show winners have time and time again become the hottest groups of the season. Eight years have passed since “Produce 101” gave off the original project girl group I.O.I, and yet it's still Mnet-made groups and audition-winning stars that make the biggest buzz in the K-pop hive.
Ten candidates have been chosen to vie for the Rookie of the Year Award at the upcoming 38th Golden Disc Awards: BoyNextDoor, EVNNE, Fifty Fifty, Plave, Riize, xikers, ZeroBaseOne, LUN8, n.SSign and Hwang Yeong-woong.
The 38th Golden Disc Awards, organized by the JoongAng Group to honor Korean artists and their achievements, will be held on Jan. 6 at the Jakarta International Stadium (JIS) in Indonesia. Twenty acts each were nominated in the Digital Song of the Year and Album of the Year categories, while 10 artists are up for the Rookie Artist of the Year award.
Out of the 10 newbies, four were made from audition programs, four from well-known K-pop agencies and two from newer companies that have managed to compete with its larger competitors.
Contrary to 2022, when fresh new girl groups made headlines each month, 2023 was the year of boy bands from agencies big and small. Nine out of the 10 nominations were taken by male acts. One non-K-pop singer, Hwang, who also happens to be the only solo artist, made it to the list as domestic listeners turned their ears to the uniquely Korean trot genre.
Four acts have risen to fame thanks to different TV channels' audition programs: ZeroBaseOne and EVNNE from Mnet’s audition show “Boys Planet,” n.SSign from Channel A’s “Youth Star” (2022) and singer Hwang from MBN’s trot audition program “Fire Trot” (2022-23).
ZeroBaseOne was formed on April 20 as the winning group of nine contestants from Mnet’s “Boys Planet” and made its official debut on July 10 with the EP “Youth in the Shade.” “Youth in the Shade” sold 1.2 million copies on the day of its release alone, becoming the first ever debuting K-pop act to sell over a million copies of its album in a day, even reaching 1.8 million in a week.
Its second EP “Melting Point” went ever further, selling 2.1 million copies within a week of its release in November.
EVNNE, pronounced even, debuted in September with its first EP “Target: ME,” a self-explanatory album embodying the group’s goals to become a target of the public’s attention. Its seven members were contestants of “Boys Planet” who did not make it to the final debut group but nevertheless stood out during the show.
EVNNE debuted as Jellyfish Entertainment’s first new boy band in four years, after boy band Verivery debuted in 2019. The band sold over 240,000 copies of its debut EP during the first week of release.
n.SSign made its debut on Aug. 9 with the EP "Birth of Cosmo," a title embodying both the cosmic theme of its identity and the birth of Cosmo, its fan club, in tandem with the band's beginning.
Unlike ZeroBaseOne and EVNNE, whose constituents belong to different agencies and will return to their original companies once their project band activities are finished, n.SSign is unique in that the 10 members are here to stay, unbound by the typical project group time limit, even though some members are signed to different agencies.
The band has been particularly popular among Japanese and Asian fans, undoubtedly due to its pre-debut tour held over the course of a year in Japan.
Trot singer Hwang became popular among local listeners after taking part in the MBN audition program last year as one of the strongest contenders of the show. He made it to the final round but stepped down from the show on March 3 this year following rumors of school bullying, for which he later apologized.
Big little guys
Major K-pop agencies roll out new groups once every few years, and two of the largest companies in town made their shots: SM Entertainment with Riize and HYBE with BoyNextDoor.
Riize debuted on Sept. 4 as the newest act rolled out by SM Entertainment, home to some of the biggest boy bands in K-pop such as NCT and EXO. The band was the talk of the town even before its debut, as SM Entertainment revealed its trainees, referred to as SM Rookies, with charming looks and performance skills to match, as the latest addition to the agency's long line of K-pop boy bands.
Its debut single “Get A Guitar” sold more than 1 million copies in the first week of its release, making it the second-most-sold debut album by a rookie band on the first week of its release.
BoyNextDoor debuted on May 30 with the debut single “WHO!” as the first new boy band to come from KOZ Entertainment, a K-pop agency founded by singer and producer Zico in November 2018, with a namesake theme of approaching the public with a casual, friendly and young vibe — like the boy next door.
The band landed its first album on the Billboard 100 albums chart just 112 days after its debut and nabbed Rookie of the Year awards and nominations at major ceremonies in Korea.
LUN8’s agency Fantagio is an agency known to house both actors and singers alike, including Cha Eun-woo and his band Astro, girl group Weki Meki and singer Lee Chang-sub of BTOB.
LUN8 debuted on June 15 with the EP “Continue?” as the first boy band to come from Fantagio after Astro debuted in 2016. Its group name indicates the band's ambition to "brighten up the audience like the moonlight." The band has already rolled out a subunit, LUN8wave, which dropped its digital single “Playground” on Nov. 22.
xikers’ agency KQ Entertainment may not ring a bell at first, but its artist certainly will. The agency’s other boy band Ateez is one of the most well-known acts in K-pop, which also gave the newly-debuted band the push it needed to stand out among its competitors.
The 10-member band debuted on March 30 with the EP “House of Tricky: Doorbell Ringing” and released its second EP “House of Tricky: How to Play” on Aug. 2. The band began its world tour in October, just six months after its debut, and is set to kick off the European leg of its ongoing world tour next month.
Big little miracle
The “little” companies and their artists also had their moment this year, especially girl group Fifty Fifty.
Fifty Fifty was perhaps one of the hottest acts of 2023, for better or for worse.
The group debuted as a quartet on Nov. 18 last year and shot to the top of the charts this year when its dance track “Cupid” went viral online, especially on TikTok. The group was dubbed “the miracle” of its small-scale K-pop agency, which typically struggles to compete with larger companies loaded with money and manpower.
Things took a turn for the worse when the four members filed for an injunction against their agency Attrakt, claiming that the company mistreated them and refused to share the income with the members. In a surprise turn of events, however, the public and the court sided with the agency rather than the members, and three members were kicked out of the agency and the group — with the exception of Keena, who returned to the agency after apologizing to the CEO.
Fifty Fifty is now a one-woman band with Keena as the sole remaining member.
In another surprising turn of events, Plave became the first virtual band to be nominated in the Rookie of the Year section.
Five-member virtual boy band Plave debuted on March 12 with single “Asterum” under Vlast, a virtual character production company that started out as an internal project within TV network MBC and became independent in February 2022.
The band has five virtual, 3-D animated characters who have become immensely popular in the online world, especially among the younger generation. Their voices are still sung by real humans, as opposed to AI.
The band sold over 200,000 copies of its first EP “Asterum: The Shape of Things to Come” within a week of its release in August, an impressive feat even for a human newbie. Its official online fan club has over 74,000 members as of December, and it has 225,000 followers on Instagram.
Twenty of 2023
The Golden Disc Awards celebrates songs and albums released between mid-November of the previous year and early November of the current year. Rookies are chosen from the pool of bands who debuted during the same period, based on their album sales and online song streams.
The Album of the Year category could essentially be regarded as a competition of who has the largest, strongest fan base, since it's largely determined by fans spending money on physical CDs. Digital Song of the Year, on the other hand, is measured purely by the number of streams, and thus celebrates songs that were most widely received and loved by the general public over the course of the year.
Fans can vote for the Most Popular Artist award, which is divided into female and male categories, using Favorite, a new fan platform created in collaboration with streaming platform Bugs and the JoongAng Group. Voting for the Most Popular Artist award closes on Dec. 27.
Separately, Celeb Confirmed, an entertainment news and community platform run by the JoongAng Group’s English newspaper arm, the Korea JoongAng Daily, is offering free tickets to the ceremony along with a one-day accommodation in Jakarta. The event runs until Dec. 24. Guidelines on how to participate can be found in Celeb Confirmed's community section.
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]