- Soo Yeon
IS IU THE GREATEST FEMALE SOLO ARTIST IN KPOP HISTORY?
Updated: Dec 28, 2021
dlwlrma over everything.
Kpop has seen its share of leading ladies. Uhm Jung Hwa was the first to reach the peak in Kpop's very first generation, she was Korea's very first 'Diva' and is known today as Korea's Madonna. There was Baek Ji Young and Park Ji Yoon, but they came and went. The former turned into a ballad singer after a scandal and the latter disappeared from the scene all together, later admitting that she hated her sexy image.
Then along came Lee Hyori. The icon is still beloved today and most have come to a consensus that she is the greatest Kpop soloist. We disagree of course, but that is not to say that she is not an icon. No female artist, solo or otherwise - singer or actress, has ever commanded the media the way Hyori did in her prime. When DBSK was off selling millions of albums in Japan, while Jun Ji Hyun's career was skyrocketing, Hyori's gravitation pull on Korea's media never wavered. Regarded as one the two most beautiful idols of all time, other being S.E.S. Yoojin, Lee Hyori was at the very apex of Kpop for a decade . And then like that, she left her crown on her throne and moved to Jeju with her newlywed husband and walked away from it all.
Fans of SM will say BOA was the next great diva but the truth is BoA did not find critical success in Korea after her first album as a singer. BoA was much more successful in Japan and spent a majority of her career promoting there until recently and even then she is often promoting as a judge on variety shows. Most importantly BoA also debuted at the age of 13 in 2000, while Hyori debuted at the age of 19 making BoA not so much a successor but a direct contemporary of Hyori and in that space BoA was vastly overshadowed. Her fame having more to do with her young age and being one of the first Korean singers to find success in Japan than her music.
Following Hyori was a sleuth of female solo talents, from 'Mina to IVY to Son Dam Bi to NsYoonji', none would be able to cement themselves worthy of being named successor to Hyori.
The next generation would be without a solo diva. The algorithms for Kpop had changed, and labels were literally going bankrupt trying to replace Hyori. Today there is but a couple of solo stars, namely HyunAh and Sunmi, the former being the closest to Hyori but her sphere is still nowhere near the solar system Hyori demanded at the Diva's peak. Sunmi is wonderful and we love her but she also can't fill the void left by Hyori. Maybe no one could.
And maybe no one will. That doesn't mean there isn't a great female solo act in the industry. Does a female solo act have to be sexy to be considered great? Does she have to dance and sing quasi hip hop 'girl anthems' to be a diva? Can she simply make great music? Because if it is, and the criteria for a great female solo artist is music and being able to create her own album from scratch, then in fact there is an artist who has inherited Hyori's throne and then some.
If one was to ask who the greatest Diva of all time, it would be Hyori no question. But if one was to ask for the greatest female kpop musician, artist, or just plain female solo singer. I wouldn't hesitate to answer IU. Here's 5 reasons why.
5 IU's 5 albums
IU's discography not only is impressive but is the longest and most successful for any female solo artist. Her five albums have generated four number one albums, over 110 million paid downloads, and have had 28 number one singles making her the highest charting Kpop artist of all time, regardless of gender. Her album 'Palette' also charted number one on Billboard's World Chart. No other singer comes close to that other than Um Jung Hwa, but she was in an era before the internet was widely used and streaming music was but a dream. Hyori's era unfortunately is known as the 'Napster' era when pirating and illegally downloading music was at its peak. Her highest selling album sold 153,000 units which is incredibly low considering her popularity at the time.
4 IU's longevity
IU is the first to concede her debut album was a flop. However in only her second album IU would become a household name. Her album 'Last Fantasy' sold over 130,000 units in 2011 and she has been sailing high ever since. That makes it a decade of being in peak position. The singer would go on to have four number one albums in that time, and she isn't finished yet.
3 She is beloved
IU is easily the most beloved female singer in Korea, other than SNSD Taeyeon. She is famous for her charitable donations that always come to light months if not years after the fact. She has also invested into the arts that have given her so much building a studio for up and coming musicians. She has stated before that her pristine image weighs heavily on her but they say, "heavy is the crown" and she has been wearing it for over a decade.
Her fans are also famous for being one of the best fandoms in Korea and she is known for giving the love right back. Her concerts are famous for having hour long encores and will sing for hours after the official concert ends.
2 She is one of Kdrama's leading ladies
No idol, past or present, has ever made a successful transition as an actor to the degree IU has. The triple threat is a legitimate leading lady in one of the most robust film industries in the world. Her last drama, Hotel Deluna had a high viewership rating of 12.8% on a cable network, to put that into perspective at the time of writing this Song Hye Kyo (Korea's highest paid actress) most recent episode of her drama had a 6% viewership airing on a national broadcast channel. IU has many memorable roles where she has been acknowledged as one of the brightest stars in Korea's film industry, including her role in 'My Ajussi' and 'Producer'.
1 She writes her own music
Kpop's biggest criticism is that the music itself is manufactured and that the artists usually have very little say in the creative process. Which is a fair point. However not when it comes to IU. The singer writes and produces her own music, a rarity in Kpop and in music in general. The only other singer/ songwriter to have even nominal success is Younha but her catalogue pales in comparison to IU's. With her songwriting skills growing each album (Through The Night), and taking into account that she is still only 28 fans can rest easy knowing that she'll be with us for a while longer.