These days, with “monster rookies” making their debut songs top the charts like it was the easiest thing, we look back at a number of groups whose debut songs ushered their “arrival” in the K-pop scene. Take note that these songs were released at a time when groups are not commonly a product of reality shows that package idols to instant popularity even before their debut – so having “monster rookies” wasn’t yet an expected occurrence as they are nowadays. But then, despite the challenges, these debut songs caught the public’s attention and went on to make legends out of the groups that sang them.
1. Girls’ Generation — “Into The New World”
Girls’ Generation’s legendary debut song is still holding strong and is a favorite more than a decade after its release. The song is basically the standard all other debut songs are compared to- for girl and boy groups.
The song itself was quite memorable as it showcased the girls’ impressive vocals and dancing skills in the music video, as girl groups then were not really known to have elaborate dance moves and choreography, unlike their male counterparts. Moreover, during the time of GG aka the second generation, it wasn’t that common for groups during that time to gain a lot of recognition to the point of winning music shows with only their debut song. But Into the New World did exactly just that to SNSD, as the group won their first music show trophy on M Countdown more than two months after debuting.
The song, a testament to sweet and young love, and the accompanying music video, which featured the girls pursuing various interests, were devoured by the Korean public. They instantly fell in love with the nine-girl lineup. Years later, somehow, the song was adapted by protestors rallying for various social causes in Korea, including the eventual impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in 2017.
2. 2NE1 – “Fire“
A couple of years after Girls’ Generation made their impressive debut and encountered credible competition from only Kara and Wonder Girls, YG Entertainment took it upon themselves to join the SM Entertainment-dominated niche by introducing the girl version of their highly successful boy group BIG BANG – 2NE1. While the group was initially introduced to the public via a collaboration single with their brother group entitled Lollipop (which became all the more popular because it was used as a promotional jingle for the LG Cyon phone), it was not until a couple of months later that CL, Bom, Dara, and Minzy officially debuted via Fire.
Fire’s release was highly anticipated – it was filled with fanfare and hype as only YG Entertainment can muster. Two music videos to support the song’s release were premiered on the same day – a “space” and “street” version, which exceeded a million views on YouTube within a day of its release. And then, the girls performed their song for the first time live in Inkigayo. Who can forget that staging with the girls getting introduced one by one as an elevator stops on each floor of a building? Of course, when the lift finally arrived on the 21st floor, all hell broke loose, and the girls performed their debut song like they have been doing it for years. Both the music videos and their debut stage were featured in American blogger Perez Hilton’s blog, which earned the group an instant international following. Finally, Korean pop music had its first group that embodied the “girl crush” concept. And in an industry where girl groups would usually be either cute and innocent or downright provocative and sexy, the fierce image that 2NE1 exuded was still uncommon and fresh. No wonder the girls won their first music show trophy only a month after Fire was released, which slashed SNSD’s previous record by half.
And we haven’t even talked about Dara’s palm tree hair.
3. miss A – “Bad Girl, Good Girl“
After SM and YG’s explosive girl group revelations (with SM doing it the second time in 2009 with the introduction of the highly experimental f(x)), the ball was back to JYP’s court. Although JYP had a fierce rivalry with SM via the Wonder Girls – SNSD match-up, they kinda lost steam with their push for WG to make a splash internationally. And with Girls’ Generation, f(x), Kara, 2NE1, and then-monster rookies Sistar dominating the charts while Wonder Girls were still somehow pushed in the US, JYP had no choice but to debut a new group with miss A. And what a solid move it was!
miss A met immediate success with their debut single Bad Girl, Good Girl, which featured a novel concept for girl groups in K-pop – sexy but not overt as Sistar, fierce but not as in-your-face as 2NE1, which ultimately worked for JYP’s new girl group then. The song was and still is hella catchy. After all, this was produced during the time when JYP still had that magic (come to think of it, he still does, but it comes and goes these days, which may explain how he has been inconsistent with ITZY and NMIXX). Alas, that choreography to match the rather haughty lyrics of the song has been what has made it memorable after all these years. All those pointing and kicking when the girls are down to the ground, lying on their stomachs are still pretty much remembered up to this day when idols dance to the song on variety shows. Along with the choreography of Hush, which has Fei, Jia, Min, and Suzy holding on to a horizontal curtain rod, Bad Girl Good Girl tops miss A’s list of memorable songs mainly because of the iconic choreography. BGGG also broke 2NE1’s record by winning for miss A their first music show trophy 21 days after their debut. Too bad the girls had to succumb to the 7-year K-pop curse.
4 & 5. Blackpink – “Boombayah” and “Whistle“
Remember the move YG made when they debuted 2NE1 with not just one, but two music videos for their first release Fire? YG revived this tactic with their second girl group, Blackpink, when they debuted the group in 2016. Only this time, YGE did not just release one song with two music videos but actually released two different songs – Boombayah and Whistle on the same day, August 8, 2016. By that time, the anticipation for the new YG girl group was at its fever pitch since the company’s banner girl group, 2NE1, was on a hiatus following the involvement of Park Bom in a scandal. Thus, by the time August 8, 2016 came, people were just all too ready to gobble up anything Blackpink released.
Alas, fans were blessed with this selection which was a bit different from one another. For those who prefer a steadier, more mellow beat, Whistle was for them, while for those who wanted a high energy track from the first note up to the last, Boombayah was perfect. Whistle is haunting with its minimal beat which remains steady throughout the song, so there’s really no beat drop or any explosive parts of the song. In contrast, Boombayah has all the ingredients of a “typical” YG song, with earworm portions that will stick in your head for weeks, unique choreography for the live performances, and catchy lyrics that fans will sing in the years to come. While Whistle had the repetitive “Make’ em whistle like a missile bomb, bomb”, Boombayah has the iconic line that has become a trademark of Blackpink up to this day – that line about them being in your area. Boombayah also has that line that has made a legend out of Girls’ Planet 101 participant and later Kep1er member Hikaru – the line that goes “I’m gonna go brrrr… Rambo.”
And of course, that Rosé was sliding on the floor on her back below the three girls while singing is the stuff of legends. While they didn’t do this every time they performed the song live, you can just imagine how difficult it was for our main vocal to shoot that scene on the music video, considering that she has to do it without making it look difficult. Rosé has admitted that it was tough for her to film that section of the music video, since her leather attire also caused friction between her and the floor, so it was not easy for her to “slide through” the girls’ legs at all as her own legs had to do a lot of work so it would look like she is “sliding” across the floor. That has also got to result in a lot of skin chaffing, which she did confirm in interviews. Truly iconic.
Legendary Debut Songs Versus Monster Rookies: A Postscript
A lot of new groups these days may achieve instant (or in some points of view, automatic) fame because of the popularity of some of their members. For example, aespa was already popular when it debuted because of the massive SM campaign machinery behind the group. G-Idle, Everglow, IVE, Kep1er, and Le Sserrafim have instant public recognition because they have members that are reality idol contest alumnae – Soyeon, Yiren, Wonyoung, Yujin, and Sakura, Chaewon, and Yunjin, respectively. Even STAYC, which people argue does not have former idol contestants, has Sieun and Saeun, who had already established acting careers prior to debuting as idols.
But then, we can argue that even if these groups have achieved enormous popularity since debuting, their debut songs may not have really served them well. Next Level was what brought aespa to, (pun intended) the next level and not really Black Mamba, which only peaked at #49 in the national charts. Bon Bon Chocolat did a good job in introducing Everglow to the world, but Adios was the group’s breakthrough hit. Eleven was good, but Love Dive is arguably the iconic IVE song. Thus, with the monster rookies we’ve mentioned, only G-Idle (with Latata), Le Sserafim (with Fearless), and Kep1er (with Wadada) are the ones with debut songs that have so far served them really well. And by the looks of it, it seems that Attention is on its way to making New Jeans not just a monster rookie, but a rookie legend.
Featured Image: Youtube Screenshot from Blackpink’s “Boombayah“