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Grading K-pop Girl Group Debuts 2021: Part One

Well, I’m back with more K-pop content, who could’ve guessed?

It’s no secret that the K-pop market is … well, frankly, oversaturated. Dozens of new groups and soloists debut every year with the hopes of making it, though sadly, few do. Because I’m always looking for new music and have recently been obsessed with K-pop girl groups, I decided to take it upon myself to listen to the debut songs of every girl group that debuted this year!

And, let me tell you, that’s a lot of groups. Like, more than 25.

What I found was that there was a wide range of quality within the groups, both in terms of vocals and the music videos themselves. While some debuts blew me away and quickly became favorites of mine, others didn’t. So today I’ll be discussing the thirteen groups that debuted in the first half of the year (January through June) with the second half of this article being posted towards the end of December.

I’ll be focusing on vocals only since I don’t really know how to judge the music video qualities, and I’ll be linking the music videos for each group so you can listen to them and form your own opinions on the groups. Each group will get a letter grade that reflects my overall opinion.

Also, a note: I won’t be reviewing fictional groups such as TEAPARTY or Jihadols/underground live idol groups such as Kizuna Simulation, nor will I be discussing children’s groups such as Cookie and subunits such as WJSN THE BLACK.

QODES

Grade: C

QODES, having only four members, debuted on Feb. 1 through EJ Music Entertainment and will therefore be the first discussion on this list. They have a very unique and interesting concept: “The four-members were introduced as Delta, Nu, Lambda and Alpha. In addition, their concept will be PRG video game themed where the creator (company) is the NPC, the members are the in-game characters and fans are the users/players.” That’s definitely a concept if I’ve ever heard one!

It seems like the kind of concept I would at least be mildly interested in, but unfortunately their debut single “$ Better Than X” left … a bit to be desired from me. It was kind of repetitive – if you take a listen, you’ll see why I say that. My mom listened in as well, commenting that it “reminds [her] of strobe lights.” I can definitely see the comparison, but this is for you all to decide. That said, I did enjoy Alpha’s rap part in the song, but overall I don’t think I can give this higher than a C. Production and vocal quality were good, it just wasn’t my style.

QODES has a total of six digital singles out. I haven’t listened to the others, but I think it would be interesting to kind of compare them to their debut.

TRI.BE

Grade: B

TRI.BE (pronounced try-bee, not like the word tribe) is one of the most popular groups on this list. Seven-member TRI.BE debuted under TR Entertainment on Feb. 17. Their single “DOOM DOOM TA” from their album “TRI.BE Da Loca” has more energy than I would normally expect from a debut single, which I think fits their concept perfectly. Actually, it’s almost hard to realize that this is just a debut song, since the music video looks very professional as well.

TRI.BE clearly has the energy to make it in the K-pop industry. This is a group I listened to initially for a personal project I never finished, and I have to say, I was pretty impressed with them. The group has great energy. Perhaps that’s why they’ve already had a comeback with the single album “Conmigo” and, most recently, mini album Veni Vidi Vici.

While they don’t necessarily have the kind of music I usually listen to – it kind of reminded me of a Zumba song – I am interested in seeing what they have in store for the future. Talent like this is to be watched!

…There was a slight controversy because of the group’s name, but that was cleared up in a comment from the company on the above-linked music video, and the group’s fandom page (also linked) states the following as well: “Their name is a combination of the words “Tri” (short for triangle) which symbolizes perfection and “Be” which means being, and together they denote: “perfect existence”.”

PIXY

Grade: C

Six-member PIXY debuted on Feb. 24 through bout ALLART and Happy Tribe Entertainment, and while neither of those companies have produced groups or soloists I recognize, it’s clear that PIXY was a quick hit, releasing two mini albums this year alone. They even have former Cherry Bullet member Mi Rae (now by the name Ella) as their leader!

Their debut song “Wings” reminded me of groups like Dreamcatcher and PinkFantasy with its more mature, dark sound taking what feels to me like a step forward. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the song myself, but I do know that this group’s popularity has really taken off in the past year. My mom also commented on this one, saying she “liked the instruments but not the voices,” though upon further listening we both agreed that PIXY has very talented vocalists. I’m interested in seeing what they’ll accomplish in the future with their already seeming high popularity, having released two mini-albums along with their debut single.

Azer

Grade: A

Seven-member group Azer is a special case in K-pop: they don’t belong to an entertainment company. Rather, the girls are from the K-pop department of Howon University. They debuted on March 4 with “Elegante,” which sounds as elegant as the title suggests. Really, this is a great song with amazing visuals and choreography.

Being from a university rather than an entertainment company, it stands to reason that the training put into this debut was different than that other groups put in. This can be seen in a bit more detail in the article about Azer linked above. This includes the fact that the girls themselves choreographed the song!

I find it interesting that, since they’re university students, they’re technically older than most trainees and debut groups. I think that’s a good thing, since there are a lot of really young trainees and idols out there who are basically losing their childhoods for the dream, and while that can be something to look up to them for, the entertainment business is not always kind. These students at least can recognize that and have made the decision to study K-pop through university.

Clearly they’re very talented, and I’m excited to listen to their newest single, “PIT A PAT.” It’s possible, too, that one they graduate they’ll join the music industry in some fashion, which I would also be excited to see. Wishing them the best!

MAJORS

Grade: B

MAJORS debuted through ANS Entertainment on March 9, having six members. Their concept is clearly a more mature one, which I’m more inclined to appreciate since their youngest member is 17; other groups with mature concepts will have members much younger than that.

Their debut song, “Spit it out,” isn’t bad by a longshot; it’s a really strong debut song with a solid mature concept. The chorus wasn’t my favorite – and in my opinion, the chorus is one of the most important parts of a song, since it’s what’s the most memorable – since it was somewhat bland. With that said, this group has talent, and I’m interested in possibly listening to their other songs; the group already has three digital singles (the other two being released in April and June) with a total of seven songs. It might have to be something I look more into!

PURPLE K!SS

Grade: A

The seven-member group PURPLE K!SS debuted under RBW, the same company that popular group MAMAMOO belongs to, on March 15. Ironically, I steered clear of them at first, since I didn’t think the concept of their debut song “Ponzona” would be appealing to me. It wasn’t until I started a project I never ended up finishing (the one mentioned above) that I listened to their debut mini-album and found I liked it more than I expected.

As is very present in their debut music video, the group has a darker concept than many girl groups, which in my eyes is very refreshing. Not to mention, I think they pull it off very well! While it did take two or three listens for “Ponzona” to rope me in, I’m glad I looked into their other music as well. And, as I recently learned, members Yuki, Goeun and Swan actually helped write their debut song! That’s really impressive.

My favorite songs of theirs can both be found on their debut album: “My Heart Skip a Beat” and “Skip Skip.” “My Heart Skip a Beat” was actually a pre-debut song from the group, though it was re-recorded from the original to include new member Swan.

Currently, the group has two mini albums. I spent one morning in September listening to their newest mini-album, Hide & Seek, which I think is very good! It has a good mix of power songs and ballads on it and has the right theme for Halloween.

HOT ISSUE

Grade: B

HOT ISSUE, a seven-member group, debuted on April 28 through S2 Entertainment. I find it most interesting that this group doesn’t have any official positions except for leader and maknae, which is a bit out of place for most K-pop groups. However, I think it’ll be interesting going in the future to see if that changes and how it affects line distribution.

As my mom said when she listened to their debut song “GRATATA” with me, it’s one that’s easily recognizable. I’m not the biggest fan of the concept, and the chorus is a bit off in my opinion, but I do like the vocals and the verses. This group is definitely talented, one I would expect to be decently popular in the future. They already currently have their debut mini-album and a single album out, the latter of which seems interesting since it looks to be a different concept than the group’s debut.

Magic Girl

Grade: D

Okay. We need to have a bit of a talk about Future Idol Asia first. Future Idol Asia is “a temporary subsidiary idol development and entertainment project branch of Rainbow Company.” They had a project to put out a new K-pop group just about every month this year, and while they did succeed in that, the groups were very … mixed in quality. I personally did not like any of them, for reasons I’ll detail under each group (discounting their boy groups, of course). Now, I guess, onto Magic Girl.

Magic Girl is, I believe, Future Idol Asia’s first group to debut this year, making their debut with nine members on April 29 with their single “Magical Girl.” It was definitely not what I was expecting, to say the least. In my opinion, it had bad mixing, and the vocals and choreography aren’t to the usual standard other K-pop groups are often held to. Depending on how you look at it, that could be a good thing – the potential that the group’s members aren’t being overworked – but it also makes it look like the girls need more training before making an actual debut.

…That’s going to be a common theme with Future Idol Asia groups. While I didn’t grade them as horribly as others – their song was just a bit catchy – I still can’t give it above a D. Sorry to any Future Idol Asia fans reading this.

ICECREAM

Grade: F

11-member group ICECREAM made their debut on May 14, and … Well, I’ll say first and foremost that there’s always room for improvement, both in their part and Future Idol Asia’s. I mean, what company looks at a group of recent trainees and thinks to themselves that their debut song should be titled “Feel Me Up”? Especially since the group members’ ages range from 19 to – get this – 12 or 13. And that’s just based on what’s been released about the members; member Juwon’s birthday and age hasn’t been released, but given that she’s known as the group’s “youngster,” I don’t have high hopes for her age being in an appropriate range for the song’s title.

I just can’t get past what Future Idol Asia must’ve been thinking with that title. I’m so incredibly bewildered, that has to be one of the most unfortunate debut titles I’ve ever seen. Again, this is not the fault of the girls; more often than not, the idols themselves do not have a say in their songs.

Onto the song itself, I wasn’t a fan. It sounded too saccharine, like the group was supposed to sound as young as possible. Normally there’d be an issue with young groups being made to sound, look and act older than they are to fit the “sexy” concept, but this feels like the opposite and frankly felt like the group couldn’t pull it off. I couldn’t find the appeal to the song, since I didn’t like the mixing of it either. Even with the choreography, it looked like some of the members had clearly been trainees for longer and had more experience, and were therefore better dancers. The choreography came off as awkward and not natural because of that. Of course, like everything in this article, this is my opinion, but it’s for those reasons why I gave this debut group a grade of F.

Laonzena

Grade: D

Laonzena, part of FYMM Records, is one of the smallest groups on here, with only three members. They debuted on May 31 with “Stargaze.” While the visuals in the music video are refreshing and relaxing, and the song arguably is as well, the song itself leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s not that the group isn’t talented; they do have good vocals. By all means it was a good debut song, but it still could’ve shown their vocal ranges a little more, really show off what they’re capable of. I even found it a little … boring. Not a lot happened within the song. Still, it’s a relatively good debut, keeping it from getting a grade of F. I think if Laonzena manages to improve throughout their careers, there’ll be no question about their popularity. There’s really not much else for me to say about this group apart from that.

MINIMANI

Grade: B

MINIMANI is the smallest group on our list, consisting of three members who debuted through CMG Stars on June 2. Normally I don’t think I would include trios, but they were listed on the Kpop Wiki as a group, so I added them to the list anyway. I don’t have too much to say about them specifically, so onto their debut single, “STOP.”

I have to say, this song really grew on me. I originally gave it only a C, since it seemed kind of basic, but the more I listened to it, the more I came to like it. It reminds me of the kind of song I would master on games like Just Dance, which I think is incredibly fun. The chorus was incredibly fun and catchy, something that would get stuck in my head easily, thus earning this debut a B. The group also recently released a new single album, which I’ll be promptly listening to.

TOP GIRL

Grade: C

TOP GIRL, another group from Future Idol Asia, debuted with nine members on June 8, making it one of the last debuts on our list today. I … really don’t have much to say about them other than already going over their debut song, “SHOW ME,” since I’ve already discussed my feelings on Future Idol Asia quite a bit.

Once more, this is a Future Idol Asia song that I think has poor mixing; I could hardly hear the members over the instrumentals, though that could also just be my hearing (somehow). This song just wasn’t for me, but I do like it better than the songs from other Future Idol Asia groups, so I’m giving it a C. With more work and training, this group could take off. However, as it stands, this is the least-viewed debut on this list with only 4,334 views as of the day this article was finished (11/30/21).

LIGHTSUM

Grade: A

Nothing like saving the best for last, right? Here we have LIGHTSUM, an eight-member group who debuted June 10 under Cube Entertainment, which is home to groups like CLC and (G)I-DLE. I’m pretty sure I learned about their debut through a Teen Vogue article interviewing them, and their debut single “Vanilla” didn’t disappoint! It was automatically added to my “best of” playlist for the fun vibes and amazing vocals. It’s one of those songs that’s so incredibly catchy that I can’t help but love it.

Recently they had a comeback that I reviewed in pretty fair depth. This is one of this year’s debut groups that I’ve decided to completely follow the careers of; their group dynamic and vocals are really appealing to me, and I’m very excited to see what else they can do in the future. Actually, their debut song might be the most-viewed one on this list with 19,127,618 views as of the day this article was finished (11/30/21).

That wraps it up for the first half of 2021! I encourage you all to take a listen to these songs yourself, and stay tuned for part two!

Nina Fichera

Geneseo '24

Nina Fichera is an avid writer and reader, and can often be found writing somewhere (usually in her room) with her trusty journal. She is working towards an English degree, with the hopes of becoming a Creative Writing professor.
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