This was a very uneventful year for K-pop rookies. There were no big agency debuts until Xdinary Heroes a few days ago, leaving 2021 to acts who were more under-the-radar.

For me, none of these rookies were consistently excellent. Some released one or two knockout songs, only to follow-up with underwhelming returns. Others are too new to have released much at all! It’s hard to know how a group with only one or two songs under their belt will fare in the new year. So as always, this countdown is half speculation.

Unlike my Top 50 countdown, any group who debuted in this calendar year is eligible. Before I break down my picks, here are few honorable mentions:

LIGHTSUM
Blitzers
TRI.BE
Xdinary Heroes
EPEX
T1419
Omega X

Click for last year’s rookie countdown

2021 Year-End Masterpost

10. BUGABOO

Bugaboo

With only one title track to their name, bugAboo could soar next year. Or, they could crash and burn. But, with producer Ryan Jhun at the helm, I feel pretty confident in their future. The girls themselves have great energy and potential.

Singles released: bugAboo

9. LUMINOUS

Luminous

Luminous have been kicking around for a while, but they finally made their official debut this year. Again, it’s too early to know where they will go, but debut track Run was a highlight that gives me hope they’ll continue to embrace this groovy hip-hop sound.

Singles released: Run

8. KINGDOM

Kingdom

I’m totally into Kingdom’s Renaissance Faire schtick. At the very least, it was refreshing to see a group emerge with an ambitious concept that embraced K-pop’s inherent theatricality. Most of their title tracks haven’t impressed me, but a few strong b-sides point to a brighter future.

Singles released: Excalibur, Karma, Black Crown

7. BILLLIE

Billlie

Billlie have already set themselves apart from their peers, and that scores major points from me. I wasn’t as impressed by their album as others, but I appreciate its artistic merit and desire to take risks. If the group embraces this energy even further, they will be a 2022 force to watch.

Singles released: Ring x Ring, Snowy Night

6. PIXY

Pixy

When they first debuted, I wouldn’t have imagined adding Pixy to this list. But, the group has gone on to impress me with some great b-sides and the wonderful Bewitched. I like that they bring a darker vibe to the girl group landscape, and I hope their music embraces its electronic influences in the new year.

Singles released: Wings, Let Me Know, Addicted, Bewitched

5. JUST B

Just B

Like so many 2021 rookies, Just B dropped the ball on their first comeback. But, their debut stands as one of the year’s strongest. They need to stick with producer Bang Yongguk and embrace their hard-hitting electro-rock sound. They have so much potential and I’m rooting for them to rekindle their spark.

Singles released: Damage, Tick Tock

4. PURPLE KISS

Purple Kiss

Purple Kiss were one of the more noteworthy debuts this year, hailing from the very successful RBW. In fact, their music was first unveiled in 2020. But, 2021 was their official debut year, and the girls proved themselves quite versatile in sound and concept. I didn’t love everything they released, but I can’t deny their charisma and polish.

Singles released: Can We Talk Again, Ponzona, Zombie, My My

3. CIIPHER

Ciipher

Another inconsistent rookie, Ciipher debuted with a real clunker. But, they totally reinvigorated my interest with their first comeback. If they follow along this path, I can see the guys growing by leaps and bounds. I love their youthful energy and I’ll be interested to see where mentor Rain takes them next.

Singles released: I Like You, Blind

2. IVE

IVE

With only one single to their name, it feels almost unfair to place IVE so high on this countdown. But, Eleven is great and the group seems to tick every box necessary for future superstars. Starship Entertainment have yet to disappoint when it comes to girl groups, so I’m expected ample promotions and some great music from IVE in 2022. Their future feels incredibly bright.

Singles released: Eleven

1. MIRAE

Mirae

This is an easy number one for me, even if I have concerns about the group’s future. DSP Media has an awful track record for boy groups, and follow-up single Splash already proves they don’t understand what made Mirae’s debut so great. But, the guys released my favorite debut single/mini of the year, and I’m going to keep clinging on to that energy. All they need to do is further develop their futuristic sound and they will have carved out a nice niche for themselves. Please, DSP: don’t let them fall to generic trends. They have all the potential in the world and could make some killer (or Killa?) music next year.

Singles released: Killa, Splash

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Publisher: Nick