For K-pop stars, going solo is akin to a tradition. Here are 7 artists who successfully created their own identities through their solo work.
If you’re involved with the world of K-pop in any way, you’re well familiar with the tradition of going solo. Whether it’s to keep the group active while some of the members enlist, or to explore a new musical style, or to find their own way in the industry after the unfortunate disbandment of an act, going solo in K-pop is the road most frequently traveled by stars.
Of course, like any other endeavor in K-pop, this doesn’t come without the drama. The solo debut of a member after usually peddling the K-pop act as a unit doesn’t often sit well with fans. Cue the accusations for favoritism and #JusticeForX hashtags.
It doesn’t change the fact, however, that some of our best releases in recent years have come from K-pop stars who did something a little different than what their groups were used to and surprised us in the process. So, here are 7 K-pop stars who successfully transitioned into solo careers:
All of us were left heartbroken when Wonder Girls, the quartet Sunmi was a part of, announced their disbandment in 2017. Riding in on the wave of retro-funk and disco, Wonder Girls had broken records that previously were thought unbreakable.
But if there’s ever been an instance of a star blossoming at the end of the road, it’s Sunmi’s career trajectory once she went solo. She came back with a bang in 2017 with ‘Gashina’ — the song that was covered by a gazillion K-pop stars — and since then has established herself as the campy retro-queen of K-pop.
Writer will admit, she personally has a grudge against survival shows because of how short-lived the consequent groups often are. We rarely get to see every member bloom in survival shows, not to mention the pain you go through as contestants are eliminated or groups are eventually disbanded.
After the sensational success of I.O.I, people had high expectations of the girl group who won Produce 101. Fate, however, had different plans: it took away the unit, but gave us one of the most iconic rising stars of the present generation of K-pop.
Despite having released solo music before, what became Chung Ha’s representative song was 2019’s ‘Gotta Go’. Replacing the softness of her earlier releases was a sultry, confident tune alluding to a Cinderella fairy-tale, which she then followed up with the equally powerful ‘Snapping’. Yep, queen shit indeed.
Most of us have known HyunA from different avenues in her career. Some know her from Wonder Girls, with whom she debuted. Others recall her time with 4Minute, whom she joined in 2009 after leaving Wonder Girls. Most, however, will know her thanks to the instant stardom she received a year after going solo in 2010, with Bubble Pop!
The eponymous title track on the EP took HyunA’s popularity to international borders, becoming one of the most representative singles of 2011. Through her later releases ‘Red’, ‘Babe’ and ‘Lip & Hip’, HyunA established herself as one of the most vocal proponents of sexual freedom and identity in K-pop, veering through baseless criticism with aplomb.
She might have left her agency, Cube Entertainment, in 2018 amidst a public feud about her relationship with fellow label-mate E’Dawn (now Dawn), but we were glad to see HyunA celebrating her colors through ‘Flower Shower’ last year.
Hey, did you hang out on Tiktok at any given point in time this year? Well then, you must have heard Zico’s ‘Any Song’. Aside from having the power to basically do a complete 180 on our moods, Zico stands out as one of the most well-rounded musicians in K-pop with an equally glittering solo career to prove it.
Despite debuting as a K-pop idol with BLOCK B, Zico has never let go of his underground roots. From his involvement in the hip-hop crew Fanxy Child to production credits on some of our favorite songs in recent years, to the groove he brings to his own solo music, you never know what you’re getting with Zico, but you’re always going to be surprised.
Being called a “representative” of anything may come off as exaggeration, but not when it comes to Girls’ Generation. After eight years of ruling the charts with what is one of the greatest girl groups alive, leader and member Taeyeon went solo with the EP I, only to repeat the chart-topping streak.
While Girls’ Generation remains a behemoth in itself, the journey until her latest album, Purpose, helped Taeyeon create an identity for herself that popular acts have seldom been successful at. Despite the eight years she had under her belt before her solo debut, she proved that being a veteran didn’t mean you couldn’t reinvent yourself.
Remember what I mentioned about survival show groups? Kang Daniel rose to fame after finishing first in the second season of Produce 101, a competitive music reality show now embroiled in controversy. Along with the other winners, he became part of the group Wanna One, who promoted for a short year and a half with promising releases.
Following the disbandment of Wanna One, however, Daniel took a six-month break from the industry to focus on his mental health and future. Usually, a stop this early in an artist’s career would have depleted opportunities of a comeback to none. Not for Daniel, though.
In mid-2019, he came back stronger than ever, setting up his own agency and releasing his debut EP Color On Me. When he followed it up with the equally mesmerizing Cyan and Magenta, we knew that experience truly is a number. This is one we will watch closely for the future.
What, you thought this list would end without mentioning the one and only king? When talking about imaginative and innovative artistry in K-pop, all roads truly do lead to G-Dragon.
One of the first pioneers who pushed for artists to have creative control over their music, G-Dragon penned hits like ‘Lies’ and ‘Bang Bang Bang’ for his group Big Bang before releasing his solo EP Heartbreaker. No surprise, the album became the best-selling album by a Korean soloist that year.
While his work with Big Bang is perfectly in tune with the group’s confident, bombastic ethos, his solo work has Kwon Jiyong (his true name) stamped all over it. G-Dragon’s collective solo work reads like a personal diary where he deals with insecurities and pours out the musings in his head, making listening to his music feel like diving back into an old conversation with a trusted friend. Truly, a great.