To most K-pop fans, the end of the year means one of two things – watching and voting for your favourite artistes on the year-end music programmes and award shows.

But even though it’s a busy time for the K-pop scene, it’s always nice to take a look back at the year that was, and think about what to expect next year.

The beginning of 2012 was dominated by boy band debuts, compared to the deluge of female groups – 27, to be exact – that debuted in 2011.

Among these new boy bands were SM Entertainment’s EXO and TS Entertainment’s B.A.P., who both grew very popular as the year went on, even attending events outside of South Korea, something which used to be a distant dream for new groups.

The K-pop industry has definitely seen a lack of new female solo artistes since 2009, when new groups were all the rage. Compared to the likes of BoA and Lee Hyori in the past, there hasn’t been a new female solo act really making an impact on the K-pop charts in the last couple of years apart from IU.

But after the surge of boy bands at the beginning of the year, things started to change, and now the year is being coined as the “golden age” of female solo acts.

Rookies like Lee Hi, Ailee and Baek Ah-yeon have taken the industry by storm with their killer vocals and stunning performances.

American-born Ailee had a rather unconventional “debut”, on the 2011 MBC Chuseok Special Singers and Trainees, a competition where veteran and “trainee” artistes work together.

Ailee was paired as a trainee under R&B singer Wheesung, and she stole the show with an amazing rendition of Beyonce’s Halo. After the show, singer BMK said: “Wherever she goes, she has the potential to be a big star. She definitely has the voice.”

Just six months later, Ailee made her official debut with her first single Heaven. A month later, Ailee attended the Cyworld Music Awards, walking away with the “Song of the Month” and “Rookie of the Month” awards.

Following the release of Heaven, Ailee also was part of the soundtrack for KBS’s Dream High 2 alongside Sistar’s Hyorin and T-ARA’s Jiyeon.

Her latest single, I’ll Show You, featuring MBLAQ’s G.O., also marked the release of her first mini album, the six-track Invitation. Wheesung produced some of the tracks, which included collaborations with the likes of Verbal Jint, Swings and Simon D.

While the single failed to top the charts, it did manage to reach number two and three on the Korean Billboard and Gaon charts respectively.

In the middle of the year, FNC Music, the label that houses boy bands FT Island and CN Blue, introduced Juniel to the scene. The singer had already been performing in Japan and was relatively successful there prior to her Korean debut.

Juniel performed her first showcase in June, coinciding with the release of her first Korean single, illa illa.

The female soloist trend continued with the highly-anticipated debuts of the finalists of reality competition K-pop Star. Baek Ah-yeon and Lee Hi both fought their way through the competition, where participants have to perform in front of representatives from Korea’s “Big Three” labels – YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and SM Entertainment.

The finalists were all guaranteed a debut contract with one of the big three, which has no doubt contributed to the astounding success of their debut singles.
Baek, who joined JYP Entertainment, released a ballad entitled Sad Song, which reached the number one spot on all the real-time charts. Lee on the other hand, joined YG Entertainment and made her debut with 1,2,3,4, which also topped the charts for weeks.

They were, however, backed by two of the strongest companies in the Korean music industry, and already had a strong fan base from their time on K-pop Star.
Nevertheless, both Baek and Lee have exceeded expectations so far.

The amazing reception to this slew of new female singers just shows how much fans are craving for a different generation of K-pop artistes.

Fans are now looking for acts that are not only unique, but also able to deliver the goods live on stage.

The girls who have made their debuts this year are not only talented, but they’re also the full package – charming and beautiful, like your typical K-pop star.

After the influx of group debuts over the past few years, perhaps this is the rejuvenation the K-pop industry needs to further itself within and beyond South Korea.

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