The former is the number of debut EP copies sold by girl group NewJeans in the first week of its release, while the latter is the number for boy band Tempest’s debut EP. Each group recorded the highest first-week sales respectively for the debuts of a girl group and boy band this year.
These contrasting numbers summarize that 2022 was indeed the year of girl groups in K-pop.
This year alone saw 18 girl groups debut: Kep1er, H1-KEY, Rocking Doll, Nmixx, ILY:1, Le Sserafim, CLASS:y, Lapillus, Irris, NewJeans, CSR, Girl’s World, We;Na, mimiirose, QueenzEye, Acid Angel from Asia, Artbeat and Fifty Fifty.
Eighteen boy bands also made their debut: Trendz, JWiiver, Black Level, Tempest, TAN, NINE.i, Younite, TNX, BLANK2Y, Superkind, ATBO, n.SSign, Dignity, ABlue, Aimers, WeNU, Xeed, and &Team (also considered a J-pop band).
Nonetheless, many girl groups that did end up debuting amid difficult conditions saw unprecedented success. Not only are their sales numbers high, but many of their songs became widely-sung hits among the general public.
Two girl groups sold over 300,000 copies of their debut EPs in the first week of their releases: Le Sserafim and NewJeans. Kep1er and Nmixx sold more than 200,000 and CLASS:y over 100,000. Including IVE, which debuted in December 2021 and has been sweeping best new artist awards this year, numerous rookie girl groups have quickly garnered success.
Le Sserafim includes members Miyawaki Sakura and Kim Chae-won, who were members of IZ*ONE — a former girl group formed through the Mnet audition show “Produce 48” (2018) which was active until 2021.
The lack of notable male rookies has been continuing for years in the K-pop scene. Among boy bands that debuted in the past two years, Omega X has seen the most commercial success. Its first full-length album “Story Written in Music” released in June sold over 100,000 copies in total but none of its songs were charted on domestic music charts. The group now faces an uncertain future after it announced legal action against its agency for physical and verbal abuse last month. Omega X is currently in a lawsuit to nullify its exclusive contract with its management.
For boy bands that debuted in the 2020s, there has been no action that has become generally popular enough for ordinary listeners outside the fandom to recognize them or their songs.
It has reached a point where end-of-year award ceremonies have been struggling to find a band to win the best new male artist. Starting this year, the Melon Music Awards (MMA) unified the female and male rookie categories into one Best New Artist. Melon did not disclose the exact reasoning behind this decision, but many analyzed that it was due to the lack of outstanding new boy bands eligible to receive the award. Eventually, two girl groups — NewJeans and IVE — took home the 2022 MMA’s Best New Artist.
Boy bands’ weak performances on domestic music charts are evident on Melon’s current top 100. Amongst the top 100 for the month of November, the highest-ranking song by a boy band was Big Bang’s “Still Life” at No. 49. The song dropped in April and the band debuted in 2006. Other than that, only BTS has tracks on the top 100; “Dynamite” (2020) at 54 and its most recent song “Yet To Come” released in June at No. 84.
“There’s an entry barrier to recent songs by boy bands,” said pop music critic Kim Do-heon. “Unless you’re a fan, it’s hard to understand the meaning behind their lyrics or the content they put out.”
“As the domestic K-pop fandom shifted [to favor girl groups], more K-pop boy bands are embarking on tours abroad early on in their careers,” said Kim Hong-ki, founder of Korean music startup Space Oddity. “The poor performance by rookie boy bands this year shows that it has become especially difficult for idol groups from small firms to survive. The standards for the quality of songs and music videos have become so high, and the competition is only getting more intense. It eventually becomes a battle of budgets.”
BY JEON YOUNG-SUN, BAE JUNG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]