Episode 5

2020 Rookie Roundup 5

An Album a Day is my exploration into the Korean music scene. This podcast will cover mainstream, indie and some underground artists within the scene and provide both factual and opinionated commentary. The biggest benefit to sharing my thoughts this way is that it will hopefully expose you to more great music and exploration of your own.

Welcome to the final Rookie Roundup for 2020 Korean idol groups. Today’s lineup consists of nine groups and my top three groups to watch, right after the drop.

You’re tuned into An Album a Day. Show start.

Hey y’all, tomorrow we move along with A-named idol groups but today, we’ve a bounty of new babies and one supergroup to acknowledge. The previous rookies brought a lot of enjoyment to my ears so I don’t think it’s premature to say that more great music is heading our way.

In the previous Rookie Roundup for 2020, I mentioned that Refund Sisters was the follow-up supergroup to another group from the television show Hangout with Yoo. “The Nation’s MC” Yoo Jae-Suk combined forces with sensational soloists Rain and Lee Hyori to create SSAK3, and their music is good. I mean, for those of you who are fans of Korean t.v. series, you’re familiar with Yoo Jae-Suk in an unavoidable way. He’s one of the most well-known celebrities in South Korea, hands down, and absolutely loves music and dancing. I had a brief interaction with him on a t.v. set and was blown away by how he commands space, so pairing up with two other entertainment legends was bound to pull lots of attention. And so SSAK3 did, much to the frustration of some netizens who said they’d have an unfair advantage due to unbridled popularity. Thus, the standard to donate all proceeds from their works to charity was set for both them, and Lee Hyori’s second group, Refund Sisters. 

But come on now, what could they have expected from a group whose name is a play on the Korean word, “to sweep”? These are proven stars and star-quality sound coats their pop projects. Each album builds upon the concept and season of summer and there are other widely popular artists as features on their last album. In short, add them to your warm-weather playlist rotation.

Next up, Star To A Young Culture, a six-member girl group on High Up Entertainment. Making their debut on November 12, 2020, StayC (get it, it’s the first letters of their longer name now stylized as its own name?) was formed by production team Black Eyed Pilseung and has an exciting production style. The group doesn’t have fluffy vocals or the stereotypical vocal softness of many girl groups on their first go-around. Their debut single album has two memorable tracks and I’m excited to hear more from them. Likewise, netizens who enjoy Korean dramas and K-pop are excited too, as member Park Si-eun is a popular actor and the daughter of solo male artist and former actor Park Nam Jung. Her dad invented the L-dance craze in the late 1980s -- I wonder if she’ll be able to innovate a dance with StayC? Side note, you have to YouTube the video of him performing with Super Junior. No other words to say except, “Do it!”

Ten-member boy band TOO has too many people and that’s ridiculous of me to say when I’ve gone over a year with calling SM Entertainment’s NCT my bandmates. Though the group made their debut on April 1, 2020, their journey towards debut began publicly in 2019 on the t.v. show To Be World Klass. There were moments when I had a Stank Face of Approval while listening to their two albums and I am ready for more of whatever it is that Stone Music Entertainment has planned for them. They are really good and having almost a dozen members means that subunits could be the next thing for them.

Speaking of 10- and 12-piece boy group combos, YG Entertainment released a dozen young men, two co-leaders included, onto the scene on August 7, 2020, by the name of Treasure. The reality t.v. show survivors of YG Treasure Box are Korean and Japanese members and dang it, it’s about time. YG Entertainment has never had this much of a Japanese presence not ever for the label’s groups. Artists are taught the Japanese language and entertainment etiquette to expand their catalog into the adjacent country, but YG hasn’t had this much in-house representation before. That aside, Treasure doesn’t have a sound yet. As two units, Treasure and Magnum, fused together now, their influences are wide-reaching and they both can and cannot recreate aspects of their label seniors Big Bang, Winner, and iKon in their own colors yet. Their song “Mmm” is memorable for sure, though.

Let’s bring the group size down now and make history by debuting in Taiwan in 2016, but hold off on the official Korean debut until February 23, 2020. Such is the story of UNVS, a five-member male group in their late 20s and early 30s and a costuming rotational habit of someone refusing to commit to a buttoned shirt if offered the chance. I also don’t know with full confidence how to pronounce their label’s name because nothing is as it seems with names and Korean entertainment, so I’m going to keep on going. The music is not as mature as they are. Not saying they are senior citizens but grown vocals thrive within hardier production styles.

Seven-member girl group Weeekly, whose name just befuddled the spell check on my computer, are the little sisters of Apink because of their label Play M Entertainment but they’ve got their own unique colors and are ones to watch. Their sound is youthful, fresh, and fun and has just a dash of sass. Their single, “Zig Zag,” is the best puberty stress song, too! I hope they have serious longevity.

Six-member boy band Wei have Produce 101 (season 2) alumni and JBJ past members, with both experiences infiltrating the vocal arrangements and vibe of Wanna One. This means that the music is catchy and liable to be stuck in your head, even if you don’t comprehend all of the lyrics. I don’t have too much else to say at this time concerning them except that they are a great introduction into the scene for those who were big fans of Wanna One and/or Just Be Joyful.

NV Entertainment girl group woo!ah!, who originally debuted with six ladies on May 13, 2020. Now a fivesome, woo!ah! is contributing to the intentional movement towards girl groups having a hip-hop flair with more diverse empowerment lyrics. This isn’t a new thing, it’s been happening for several years, but there’s a niche within the niche of young ladies being fine in their singleness, independence, and feeling themselves. Again, this isn’t exclusive to them or newer groups -- female Korean artists have been telling people they’re the bee’s knees for decades -- but having a selection of groups such as these young ladies and others mentioned in this episode is a welcomed mood.

The final group today were once members of the girl group NeonPunch. Being so deep into the alphabet, it will be a lot of time before we reach that disbanded group on A3Day, but for now, we have the trio XUM. “XUM” made their debut September 24, 2020, on A100 Entertainment and their group name is an acronym for “Xumthing Unlimited Move.” Their debut single, “Ddalala” is catchy and the official music video has a platoon of women doing the Cry Baby dance for reasons I just don’t understand! While XUM populates their YouTube channel with dance and music covers to stay in the public eye, I hope that they’ll have a strong follow-up EP to their single soon.

So who are my top three rookies to watch, you ask? I’ll have to go with Cravity, E’Last, and Weeekly. This is my opinion, remember, and not a jab at your newborn faves. Honorable mentions are Aespa, who will undoubtedly rise high because of the machine behind them at SM Entertainment and TOO.

That’s a wrap! All rookies from the hellacious year of 2020 are rounded up and 2021’s rookies will be acknowledged at the start of 2022. As with previous rookies, none are added to the respective playlists, keeping in fairness with providing them time to gain albums under their belts. Check-in tomorrow for more of A3Day! I’ll catch you in the next episode, bye y’all.

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This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

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About the Podcast

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An Album a Day
A Review of Every Album in K-pop

About your host

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Ashley Borjon

Ashley is a content creator, educator, and public speaker. As an authority on the Hallyu phenomenon, she has collaborated on projects and events with various domestic and international companies and brands as a music historian. As the host of An Album a Day, she leads an English-language podcast promoting commentary on South Korean pop music.