22 reasons K-pop will rule in 2022

Written by on 26/01/2022

We’re barely into the new year and K-pop, never one to take its foot off the cultural accelerator, has already given us a lot to listen to, watch and discuss. First up, there was the arrival of GOT The Beat aka Girls On Top – SM’s new female supergroup consisting of aespa’s Winter and Karina, Red Velvet’s Wendy and Seulgi, plus Taeyeon and Hyoyeon from Girls Generation along with soloist BoA – with the divisive “Step Back”. 

We’ve also been blessed with the fact that Kep1er (the girl group formed by survival show Girls Planet 999) made their debut; we got a rock-orientated solo debut from WOOZI (SEVENTEEN vocalist and main songwriter) with “Ruby”; plus releases from MAMAMOO’s Moon Byul and Whee In, P1Harmony, woo!ah!, Drippin, WJSN Chocome, Enhypen’s Y2K banger, and a verified earworm from OMEGA X.

If you’re new to the K-pop community, then the sheer scale of what’s going on might sound slightly overwhelming. The pace of new content is undeniably frantic but also one of the industry’s biggest draws: whether you stan one group or 10, whether you immerse yourself a little or 24/7, you’ll never be at a loss for music, behind the scenes videos, TikTok challenges, or survival and variety shows. Any seasoned stan can attest to the hugely entertaining nature of K-pop, and with the starting gun well and truly fired, we’ve rounded up 22 more moments awaiting fans in 2022. It’s going to be a big one, folks!

1. New BTS album, concert and awards season

The staff at the Guinness Book of Records are probably in stamina training as we speak because the world’s biggest pop group are coming back with a new album and, as we all know, ARMY are all too ready to help their idols make history. No release date has been confirmed but with a Seoul concert scheduled for March, there’s every likelihood that BTS will be using the event to close out this chapter of their career while teasing new concepts and tracks. Additionally, there’s their second set of nominations at the Grammys (Pop Group/Group Performance) and BRIT Awards (Best International Group) which of course comes as no surprise, but means you can expect BTS headlines galore and social media domination in 2022’s first quarter.

2. TWICE are going on tour

Having added extra dates to their US tour in February, proving just how loved this nine-member group is internationally, the question is: will JYP Entertainment finally see sense and send TWICE, who debuted in 2015, to Europe? It’s worth noting that a brand new K-pop festival, K-pop Flex, has been announced for May in Frankfurt, with some mighty acts thus far: Monsta X, Enhypen, NCT Dream and (G)I-DLE. If their label wanted to test a European reception, a festival booking would be ideal. Take the hint, JYP!

3. So are ATEEZ

February is shaping up to be a busy month for K-pop concerts, what with all those cancelled dates having been rescheduled. Potential COVID restrictions notwithstanding, ATEEZ — an incredibly fiery and compelling live act that you need to see at least once — will be honouring their tour plans across the US but, once again, have cancelled their six dates in Europe including Wembley Arena. Considering how big this group has grown since their last UK date in 2019, a second cancellation is a major blow for ATINY (their fandom for the uninitiated) but health first always!

4. BTS’s team are planning to debut new groups

Every new year brings a plethora of debuting groups and Hybe, the parent company of BTS’ Big Hit Entertainment, has some serious plans at the ready. There’s no debut date set yet but for Trainee A, a group with a growing lineup (rapper Jo Woo Chan was unveiled as the latest trainee) and 1.6m TikTok followers, 2022 looks to be their moment. The second season of I-LAND, the survival show that created boy group ENHYPEN, will air in 2022 to create a new Hybe girl group, so get those voting fingers ready! And then of course there’s ADOR, the new sub-label helmed by former SM creative director, Min Hee Jin, who have confirmed they’ll also debut a girl group in 2022.

5. YG will release Treasure’s first album & debut Baby Monster

Anddddd breathe, Teumes! Treasure have finally dropped a teaser and a date for their first mini-album, The Second Step: Chapter One, so be sure to put 15 February in the diary. On the girl group side of YG Entertainment, they’ve confirmed a debut of a new group, and although unofficially known as Baby Monster, their name hasn’t publicly been set in stone. They were first rumoured to debut in 2021 but didn’t, so 2022 is now looking like a real possibility. While many potential members have been floated, Jane Wang and Vicky Wei of the Chinese survival show, Idol Producer 3, are fairly consistent in the lineup speculation. Only time will tell!

6. One to watch: Kep1er

The winners of survival show Girls Planet 999, Kep1er (named, for some reason, after the German astronomer Johannes Kepler) debuted on 3 January with the release of the feisty, fun pop explosion that was “Wa Da Da” and a five track mini-album, First Impact. It’s an apt title — they racked up 180,000 pre-orders and sold 200,000 records within their first week. It looks like Kep1ians (the group’s fandom) aren’t about to let the girls’ hard work go unnoticed.

7. K-pop goes Hollywood… probably

When an LA-based TV talent show from SM Entertainment and MGM Television was announced in 2021, the idea of an all-white version of the K-pop group NCT sparked some savagely funny memes. The reality? The survival show would select a single US-based winner to join the existing 23 multi-national group members. Since the news broke last summer, neither company has released any further information and fans have come into 2022 wondering if the show — rumoured to be called either NCT Hollywood or K-pop Goes Hollywood — still has its green light status. Fingers crossed!

8. You should get a chance to see NCT 127 live

NCT 127’s intention to return to in-person live events is definitely there. A whole run of them were booked before January’s Japan dates got cancelled, while the six 2020 US dates (previously cancelled due to COVID-19) have not yet been confirmed as rescheduled. So let’s do whatever it takes — wear a mask, get boosters — and we may yet see the hugely popular sub-unit in an arena this year.

9. One to watch: IVE

Containing two members (Yujin and Wonyoung) from the girl group IZ*ONE, IVE were guaranteed to have a dedicated fandom before they even debuted. Sure enough, their first single “Eleven”, released December 1, has already racked up 52 million views. The airy yet commanding single and its punchy, pan-pipe flecked B-side, “Take It”, firmly places Yujin, Gaeul, Rei, Wonyoung, Liz, and Leeseo as a major rookie group to watch this year. 

10. JYP’s ‘LOUD’ and the mysterious Blind Package

2021’s survival show LOUD — a JYP Entertainment and P Nation collaboration — produced a boy group for each label, and although everything’s gone a bit quiet, the expectation is that both will debut together very soon. In other news, if you’re one of the 60,000 people who snapped up one of JYP’s “blind packages” — last summer’s marketing ploy that gave viewers a 10-day window to pre-order the first release for their upcoming girl group despite having absolutely zero idea of their name, members or music — then you’re probably already counting down the days to the still unnamed group’s launch.

11. Yet more MNET survival shows

K-pop is loath to drop the fandom-creating TV survival show format. And, well, fandoms are yet to abandon MNET’s shows, despite years of accusations and/or proof around biased editing, rigged voting systems and unfair competition. What we’re trying to say is: get ready for another year of drama, Reddit mega-threads and Twitter fan wars. In December, MNET unveiled the teaser for Boys Planet — the male version of 2021’s Girls Planet 999 — while also confirming a second season of Queendom (this time with Taeyeon from Girls’ Generation as a host) in which established girl groups battle for a literal crown. There’s a lot to be said about K-pop’s over-saturation and the necessity for a physically demanding survival show to help ensure a group’s ongoing career, but watching friendships blossom between groups has become this format’s saving grace.

12. BLACKPINK’S Jisoo might finally go solo

Despite YG Entertainment announcing preparations in summer of 2020, Blinks are still awaiting the solo record from the only member of Blackpink yet to release one. Jisoo’s acting career (she can currently be seen in the controversial TV period romance drama Snowdrop) has been nourishing a hungry fandom for the time being, but we all know YG’s favourite trick of stretching fan patience to breaking point. So will we see Jisoo drop that long-awaited solo before the end of 2022? Here’s hoping.

13. BTS just launched a comic book with Webtoons

This year promises extended storytelling in K-pop, and BTS kicked things off last week with a partnership with Webtoon for a series called 7 FATES: CHAKHO. Described as an “urban fantasy series” inspired by historical tiger hunters, and teased with a live-action short film, we have the soundtrack song on the way (Suga on production, Jungkook on vocals), as well as the first chapters, featuring characters loosely inspired by BTS members. Want more? Why not explore Enhypen’s just-released Dark Moon: The Blood Alter  or TXT’s The Star Seekers.

14. MZMC’S girl group

High-profile K-pop songwriter and producer MZMC made his name by collaborating with SM Entertainment artists, particularly EXO. But since parting ways with the K-pop giant in 2018, in between writing for CIX, Kang Daniel and The Boyz, he’s somehow found time to create a girl group. Rumoured to be debuting this year, the members have been pictured wearing masks, but no other details have been released. MZMC and his songwriting teams know their way around a hit, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on this septet.

15. That long-rumoured BTS x Justin Bieber collab

Every year, we’re blindsided by random international collabs. In 2021, for example, we saw Alesso team up with Stray Kids, Lisa jump on a DJ Snake record, and ATEEZ’s San, Yunho and Jongho collaborate with Pentatonix. The unpredictability is half the fun! However, now that Scooter and Hybe’s PD Bang are cosy in their new partnership venture, the collab between BTS and Justin Bieber that’s rattled around the rumour mill for years may finally make this pop dream a reality in 2022.

16. BIGBANG might return?

The legendary 2nd generation group, fronted by the enigmatic G-Dragon, were scheduled to play the desert festival in 2020, with most expecting a new album (their first since going on hiatus in 2017) to correspond with the show. Coachella was cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021, and whatever music the group were rumoured to be working on never materialised. Coachella just dropped their epic 2022 line-up, and while Korean acts Epik Highand and Peggy Gou are on the line-up, there’s no sight of BIGBANG. Could we still see new music drop?

17. Idols will keep on becoming actors

Idols frequently cross over into acting and 2022 has a growing list of new and returning K-drama series featuring idols for you to curl up with: Big Mouth (Girls’ Generation’s Yoona), Island (Astro’s Cha Eun Woo), Crazy Love (f(x)’s Krystal), Work Later, Drink Now (Apink’s Eunji, Super Junior’s Siwon), Yumi’s Cells (GOT7’s Jinyoung), Office Blind Date (Victon’s Byungchan), Twenty-Five Twenty-One (WJSN’s Bona), and Tell Me Your Wish (Girls’ Generation’s Sooyoung). 

18. One to watch: Xdinary Heroes

The idol band Xdinary Heroes debuted on JYP sub-label Studio J last December. Not only are all six members vocalists as well as musicians, their sound really sets them apart — their first single “Happy Death Day” nodded at late 00s emo. They’ve also recently covered both Bring Me The Horizon and Nothing But Thieves. If the label continues to push the aural boundaries of idol band-dom, Xdinary Heroes will be one of the most intriguing and exciting breakout prospects for this year. 

19. Lots of idols are rumoured to be going solo

There are a number of highly-anticipated but mostly unconfirmed solos that fandoms have been waiting for. EXO’s Lay, Chen, Baekhyun, Suho, Kai and D.O. have all had solo records so far, which means that it must now finally be Xiumin’s turn. Other much-desired solos include V from BTS with his long-awaited mixtape; an EP from GOT7’s Jinyoung following a surprise single drop last summer; anyone (yes, we’re begging!) from TWICE, (G)I-DLE’s Minnie, Red Velvet’s Seulgi or Yeri… honestly, this list is extra-long, let’s just say, 2022 please grant everyone’s wishes!

20. Some of your faves are returning from military service

With military conscription mandatory for all South Korean-born males, at some stage your boy group bias (your fave, for those that don’t speak K-pop) unless exempt, will serve for a minimum of 18 months. Already this year we’ve seen all of the Korean members of ONF enlist together, followed by Day6’s Dowoon mid-January. But there are also returning artists to celebrate! You can look forward to welcoming back: EXO’s Suho, Chanyeol and Chen; rapper ZICO; DAY6’s leader Sungjin; Pentagon’s leader Hui; as well as Winner’s Hoony and Jinwoo. Then of course there’s Taemin, the final member of SHINee to serve, who will complete his term in late 2022, paving the way for a group comeback.

21. One to watch: H1-KEY

It’s not been the smoothest of debuts. During their first ever press conference on this month, H1-KEY faced a rehash of the issue around Thai-member Sitala, whose inclusion had originally sparked backlash because of her late father’s alleged political views. Sitala, to her credit, handled the question with dignity, only for the group receive criticism online for their stage clothes, which served serious 80s Jane Fonda, despite being perfectly in keeping for a single entitled “Athletic Girl”. With a snappy chorus, lyrics that extol the physical and mental power that comes from working out, and a spoken refrain that sounds somewhere between a self-care high-five and a public warning, the four-member group have made a solid debut, and we’re ready for more.

22. Rare K-Pop NFTS are up for grabs

You know… if you actually want them. Last year, a number of major K-pop companies announced a move into NFTs, followed by a huge backlash due to the tech’s terrible environmental impact. The plan for A.C.E. NFTs was scrapped after intensive fan protests, but despite many fandoms taking the same stance, bigger companies like SM, JYP and Hybe are continuing to move into the world of non-fungible tokens. The good-ish news? They’re now endeavouring to use greener blockchains — the power fandoms have! There were fan promises to boycott companies who went through with the venture and, as such, we come into 2022 with plenty of open-ended scenarios: will companies actually listen and pivot their merch? Will fans actually go through with a boycott — whether on the NFTs themselves or the company as a whole — or is the lure of owning a piece of (potentially rare) digital content enough to turn NFTs into just another arm of K-pop’s already hugely lucrative marketing strategy?

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