2020 In Review: Day 13 – Rookie Artist of the Year

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2020 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

With the genre and collaborative sections wrapped up, we move on to recognizing the top of the rookie class of 2020.

  • To be considered as a rookie, an artist or group must have released their first album (EP or LP) between December 1, 2019 and November 30, 2020. They are allowed to have released singles prior to that.
  • Work done in compilation albums, audition shows, soundtracks, and featured performances do not disqualify potential rookies. Only full-fledged singles/albums carrying the artist’s billing.
  • Group and band members who debut solo, or form new groups without any actual debuts, are not considered rookies outside of exceptional circumstances.
  • The “Next-Best Ten” is in alphabetical order.

Rookie Artist of the Year 2020

Gwangil Jo

For LP 암순응 (Dark Adaptation); collaborative EP 신세계 (New World) (with Brown Tigger); singles “곡예사 (Acrobat)” and “한국 (Korea)”; and collaborative single “정리해고 (Layoff)” (with Basick)

Perhaps given away in naming our Best Rap and Hip-hop Song of the year, but Jo’s debut really did feel like an event. Boom-bap is far from dead but it’s decidedly non-mainstream now, and speed rapping in particular seemed to be on life support until Jo’s emergence. The young emcee’s tongue-twisting, plosive-baring, double-timing performances didn’t simply return to the scene of 15 years ago: his take emphasized rawness and aggression more than folks like Soul Connection and Outsider did, charging up the finesse naturally associated with this kind of flow, and armed with explosive message for the scene as he sees it today. The shock of “Acrobat” soon gave way to respect for a burgeoning talent as Jo released Dark Adaptation, a surprisingly musically mature piece for a rookie. Though it remains to be seen whether his work will inspire other rappers of his generation, Gwangil Jo’s 2020 was already the freshest breath of air in some time.

The Runner-up

Meaningful Stone

For LP 꿈에서 걸려온 전화 (A Call from My Dream) and single “어른이 된다면 (If I Grow Up)”

There’s a ludicrous number of excellent female singer-songwriters in pop and folk nowadays, but the group of those who develop successful solo LPs early on is a lot smaller. After a couple of singles over three years Meaningful Stone (Kim Ddeut-dol) made a more substantial debut with a crowdfunded full-length album, and a sumptuous one at that. The mix of inventive instrumental ideas and engaging melodies were reminiscent of Fromm’s powerful debut, the nostalgic and dreamlike moods formed a coherent experience, and the album’s impressive range – from the sparkling folk-rock sheen of “A Call from My Dream” to the spunky pop sensibilities of “Treasure Hunt” – signaled deep experience far beyond the artist’s years. While still being unique to Kim’s vision, A Call from My Dream was exactly the kind of album that we saw from today’s great soloists when they were just setting out, and that’s an exciting prospect for a rookie debut.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)


For LP Frightful Waves


For EP Sunbeams including single “Winter Sleep”; and featured appearances with Leellamarz & Panda Gomm and Jeebanoff


For LP Adventure


For EP 최선의 방황 (The Best Wandering)


For LP Neverland; singles “Go Straight to This Way” and “Love, Life, Oye”; and featured appearances with Pullik, Seomingyu, Ravi, Deepflow, Ha Hyeon-sang, VMC, and Jung Jin-woo


For EP ?depacse ohw

Siot and Breeze

For EP 샘 (Spring) including single “살아있는 것들 (Living Things)”, and single “생각 생각 생각 (Thought Thought Thought)”


For EP WWW.III; singles “S n o w” and “LOL”; collaborative singles “Sugar” (with Hitchhiker) and “Genda Phool (Junkilla Remix)” (with Badshah, Payal Dev); and featured appearances with Somdef, Ja Mezz, Ravi, Club 33, Jade, Mic Swg, Will Not Fear, Hookuo, Nuol, Mrshll, Haeil, DJ Wegun & Jay Park, Gemini, Bryn, and Wetvideo


For EP Pond; and featured production credit with Omega Sapien


For LP Thanatoid Butterfly

Honorable Mentions

B of You
Choi Yuree
Desert Flower
Diving Flow
Eunha So
Halim Yi
Hidden Maze
Kingchi Mane
Low Hanging Fruits
Park Jagajang
Shin Hantae and the Reggae Soul
Squash Vines
The Deep
Trinity Force

All artist images from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review