This was a bit of a strange year for debuts, to be honest. The rush to debut popular Produce 101 trainees after season 2 aired in the spring meant a serious influx of new boy groups in the latter half of the year, with almost no relevant female projects hitting the scene. The only girl group debuts to make a big impression on the industry were PRISTIN and Weki Meki, both of whom missed the mark for me, but both of whom included former members of I.O.I, the girl group constructed by the first season of Produce 101 last year. The influence of P101 daunting, and if this year’s debuts are any indication, the survival show is changing the industry completely. I can’t pretend that doesn’t worry me, but at the same time, my top 10 debuts list would be very different—and a little empty—without it.
Honorable Mentions: Elris—We, First; KARD—Hola Hola; Rainz—Juliette; 1NB—Where U At.
10. Seven O’Clock, Echo: While “Echo” drew on the same tropical trend that rendered KARD’s “Hola Hola” a little dull, Seven O’Clock’s debut packed in the dynamic highs and lows, giving the track a dramatic impact that other similar songs lacked this year. Hopefully the group will have a chance to make more of an impression with their next comeback after the members’ appearance on survival show MIXNINE.
9. Dreamcatcher, Chase Me: Thank goodness—a girl group debut that outshined some of the boys. Dreamcatcher debuted with an attention-grabbing horror concept and a well-crafted uptempo rock sound, yet they remain mysteriously underrated. It’s a shame that the members who had gone on MIXNINE have left the show, but hopefully their short appearance raised the ladies’ profile enough for them to gain traction in Korea with their next comeback. (Unrelated, but I can’t help it—they’ve got some great covers too, have you seen their “Lucky Strike” video?)
8. ONF, On and Off: This track opens in a quite ordinary realm of standard electronic pop, but as the captivating evolution of the melody unfolds, it becomes a sure standout. This development from repetition to repetition of the multifaceted chorus is supported by crystal clear production and plenty of talent from the members, who also show off their abilities in the rest of the rock-solid debut album.
7. Longguo & Shihyun, the.the.the: This was probably the weirdest debut in the year, both in terms of the song itself and in regards to the unclear status of the project. No one seems to know whether the pair debuted as a temporary project duo, if they are still technically active while Longguo performs as Yongguk with P101-formed project JBJ, or whether Choon Entertainment plans to debut them in a future boy group. Regardless, “the.the.the” was a fascinating electronic-dreampop oddity. The wubbing synths and static dynamics are so viscous that you feel like you’re underwater throughout the song. While I’m still not sure that’s technically a good thing, it is definitely interesting, and very atmospheric, with the result that it’s much more replayable than less unique debuts.
6. TRCNG, Spectrum: The debut of boy group TRCNG (is it pronounced “tracing”? Does anyone know?) took us on a throwback trip, with a bassy, dramatic instrumental and some intense chanting in English that recalls the second generation of K-pop. All this bluster may render the verses a little doubtful at times, but the chorus is terrific, and the talents of the young members, especially the rappers, are striking.
5. Golden Child, DamDaDi: Golcha’s debut had a ridiculous amount of rhythmic and melodic catchiness, plus the instrumental strength to back it up, making it one of the only decent cute-concept debuts of 2017. That’s a remarkable feat given that half of the hook consists of gibberish, but perhaps it’s just this nerve to literally sing the nonsense word “Damdadidamdadidamdadidadidadidam” twice in a row that gives the bombastic, carefree track such staying power.
4. A.C.E, Cactus: Another group with members appearing on MIXNINE, A.C.E has garnered a fair amount of attention for the unique sound of their debut with “Cactus” and following comeback, “Callin.” The galloping triple beat in both tracks is a construction that K-pop almost never touches. The result may be offsetting at first, but quickly turns addicting. I much preferred “Callin” over A.C.E’s debut, but I’ve got to give due credit to the remarkable “Cactus” for laying the foundation.
3. Wanna One, Energetic: Temporary group Wanna One, the final product of P101, has turned the industry upside down this year, as evidenced by the unprecedented number of awards they took home at end-of-the-year award shows despite only having debuted a few months beforehand. Fans of older groups were upset, but considering how hard Wanna One worked this year and the quality of the music that came out of those efforts (not to mention the way they’ve been dominating charts and brand rankings consistently since debut), I think they deserved it. I personally didn’t love their debut song as much as the rest of the world did, but I cannot deny how well-executed the song’s production and performances are. The vocal power and the discerning, careful sense for dynamics in “Energetic” are on a level that is completely unprecedented for rookies.
2. JBJ, Fantasy: Another temporary group that was a byproduct of P101, JBJ hit the scene with a gritty, heavy track at a point in the year when most recent releases had been slick and upbeat. The song is a modern take on the old K-pop trope of the seductive concept, and while it didn’t 100% escape the occasional cringiness of that trope, its sinister allure is mesmerizing. The concept demands an atmospheric instrumental, memorable melodies, and dramatic performances, and “Fantasy” delivers all three.
1. The Boyz, Boy: I called “Boy” the debut of the year with some hesitation in my review a few weeks ago, but now I’m quite confident about what I said. The Boyz have the star power and the production quality behind them to be the next big thing in K-pop. That production quality is what the success of “Boy” hinges on, making audacious but never reckless sonic choices throughout the instrumental. Add the high energy of the tightly-wound, rhythmic phrasing, the use of striking melody to introduce changes in dynamic, and any amount of talent you please, and you’ve got the most powerful debut of 2017.
Listen to these songs in a playlist on YouTube here.
Take a look at rankings for other categories of KAYBOP’s 2017 Best of K-pop here.
Did we miss any great debuts that you would put in your top 10 list? Let us know in the comments!