Lee Ji-eun is Best Known For The lead single “Good Day” from her EP, Real (2010), which remained at the top of South Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart for 5 consecutive weeks. Being one of the best solo artists in the K-pop industry with the success of her EPs including Real (2010), A Flower Bookmark (2014), Chat-Shire (2015), and A Flower Bookmark 2 (2017). Winning several awards including Melon Music Award, Mnet Asian Music Award, Seoul Music Award, and Korean Music Award. She also won KBS Drama Award for “Best New Actress” in 2014.
Born Name Lee Ji-eun
Nick Name IU, Nation’s Little Sister, Jingjjang, Gasiyu
Born: May 16, 1993, 25 years and 6 months, Gwangjin District, Seoul, South Korea
Sun Sign Taurus
Occupation Singer, Songwriter, Actress, Voice Actress, Philanthropist
Years active 2008–present
Hair Color Black
Eye Color Black
Height 5 ft 3¾ in or 162 cm
Bust size 29 in / 76 cm
Waist size 22 in / 58 cm
Hips size 29 in / 76 cm
Bra size 34A (US) / 75A (EU)
Genre K-Pop, R&B, Soul
Instruments Vocals, Guitar
Lee Ji-eun graduated from the Dongduk Girls’ High School, Seoul in 2012.
Siblings – She has a younger brother.
While still in middle school, IU auditioned for various talent agencies with ambitions of becoming a singer. She signed with Kakao M (formerly LOEN Entertainment) in 2007 as a trainee and began her music career at the age of 15 with her debut album, Lost and Found. Her follow-up albums, Growing Up and IU…IM, brought her mainstream success, but it was through “Good Day”, the lead single from her 2010 album Real, that she achieved national stardom. “Good Day” spent five consecutive weeks at the top position of South Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart, a joint record along with Psy’s “Gangnam Style”.
With the success of her 2011 albums, Real+ and Last Fantasy, IU established herself as a formidable force on the music charts of her native country and further cemented her girl next door image as Korea’s “little sister”. 2011 also saw her first foray into songwriting with “Hold My Hand”, which was written for the television series The Greatest Love. IU’s third full-length album release, Modern Times (2013), showcased a more mature style that was a departure from her established girlish image, with several tracks reaching the top 10 positions on Gaon Digital Chart. While her subsequent releases, including albums A Flower Bookmark, Chat-Shire, and Palette continued to deviate from the mainstream K-pop style, IU retained her dominance on music charts. Chat-Shire marked the first time she is credited as the sole lyricist and producer of her own album.
IU has released four studio albums and nine extended plays, scoring three number-one albums and twenty number-one singles on the Gaon Music Charts. As one of the best-selling solo artists in the K-pop industry, which is dominated by boy and girl groups, she has been included on Forbes magazine’s annual Korea Power Celebrity list since 2012, reaching a peak ranking of number three in 2012. Billboard recognized IU as the all-time leader of its Korea K-Pop Hot 100 chart with the most number-one songs and the artist who has held the number-one position for the most number of weeks. According to a Gallup Korea survey, she was the most popular idol and artist among South Koreans in 2017.
Aside from her music career, IU has also ventured into hosting radio and television shows, as well as acting. Following her supporting role in teen drama Dream High and minor appearances in several television series, IU starred in You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin, Pretty Man, The Producers, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo and My Mister.
IU was born Lee Ji-eun on May 16, 1993 in Gwangjin District, Seoul, South Korea. At an early age, IU became interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry and began attending acting classes. Soon after her elementary school years, her family’s financial situation deteriorated, and they eventually moved to the nearby Uijeongbu in Gyeonggi Province. She and her younger brother lived apart from their parents in a studio room with her grandmother and cousins for over a year in conditions of great poverty. IU had little contact with her parents over this period of time but felt reassured under her grandmother’s care.
During her middle school years, IU found her passion for singing and decided to become a singer after being applauded for a performance she gave at her school’s sports competition. She attended 20 auditions but failed all of them, and was also scammed by fake entertainment companies. Before joining LOEN Entertainment in 2007, IU trained at Good Entertainment with Uee, Yubin, Heo Ga-yoon, and Jun Hyoseong. After signing with LOEN, IU moved to Bangbae, Seoul. Despite thinking that she might eventually be put into a girl group after three to four years of training, she received ten months of training before her solo debut in 2008. Due to her living conditions at the time, IU stated that she “loved being at the studio”, where she could eat as much as she wanted and had a place to sleep. Prior to her debut, LOEN coined her stage name “IU”, deriving it from the phrase “I and You” to symbolize the unifying force of music between people.
Her burgeoning career led to her decreased attendance at school and declining grades, with the exception of Korean literature. After graduating from Dongduk Girls’ High School in 2012, IU decided not to pursue post-secondary education in tandem with her singing career.
2008–09: Career beginnings
After spending 10 months as a trainee, IU released “Lost Child” as her first single. She performed the song live for the first time on the music program M! Countdown on September 18, 2008, making it her debut performance as a professional singer. Regarding the performance, IU recalled the crowd had hurled insults at her and though she felt discouraged by it, she now considers it a beneficial experience. “Lost Child” is the lead single from her debut extended play Lost and Found, which was released on September 24, 2008. For the album, IU was awarded the “Rookie of the Month” by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in November 2008. However, the album did not do well commercially. During an interview in 2011, IU said, “My first album failed, but I’m grateful for that. If I had become successful as soon as I made my debut, I wouldn’t appreciate my staff members and the popularity that I’m enjoying now.”
On April 23, 2009, IU launched her first studio album, Growing Up, with the lead promotional single, “Boo”. She began her album promotion the next day, performing “Boo” on KBS2’s Music Bank. The song was noted for its stark contrast in musical style to “Lost Child”, which was described as a “heavy” and “dark” ballad compared to the 1980s “retro sound” of “Boo”. Deemed as a “strategic” transformation, the dance choreography, stage costume and hairstyle shown in live performances were used to emphasize her youthfulness and project a “cute” image. Although it drew a favorable response from the public, IU, who was fifteen years old at the time, admitted that the image made her feel awkward. The song was nominated as a number-one contender on the popular music program, Inkigayo. Along with several songs from Lost and Found, “You Know” was also featured in Growing Up; a new rock-style arrangement of the song was released as the follow-up single to “Boo”.
Towards the end of 2009, IU released her second extended play, IU…IM. She began promoting its lead single, “Marshmallow”, on music programs across the three major television networks from November 13, 2009. The song was described as “saccharine” with a style that was a hybrid of the rock-and-roll of the 1960s and “French pop”. Recalling the performances, IU stated on a 2013 episode of Happy Together that she disliked having to wear the girlish costumes and hairstyle fashioned for the song promotions. The performances were well-received and were once again labelled “cute”, reminiscent of reviews for “Boo”.
In addition to her album releases in 2009, IU participated in her first soundtracks via two MBC television dramas, Strike Love and Queen Seondeok. She also collaborated with artists such as Mighty Mouth and The Three Views on their albums. As her popularity began to rise, IU made more frequent appearances on variety shows, performing on Star Golden Bell, Kim Jung-eun’s Chocolate and You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook. Her acoustic covers of other artists’ songs such as Girls’ Generation’s “Gee”, Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry”, and Big Bang’s “Lies” featured in these live performances gained tremendous interest online. In late 2009, she became a TV presenter for the first time, hosting a weekly music chart show on Gom TV, while appearing as a fixed guest on multiple radio programs such as Kiss the Radio, Volume Up, MBC Standard FM’s Starry Night and MBC FM4U’s Best Friend Radio.
2010–11: Rising popularity and acting debut
On June 3, 2010, IU released “Nagging”, a duet which she recorded with 2AM’s Lim Seul-ong. The single debuted at twelve on the Gaon Digital Chart and shot up to number-one position the following week, where it remained for three weeks. Written by Kim Eana and composed by Lee Min-soo, the pop ballad duet was used as one of the theme songs for the second season of the variety show, We Got Married. The song was popular on music programs, where it won the Mutizen award on Inkigayo and was placed first on Music Bank. Soon after, IU released “Because I’m a Woman”, one of the theme songs of MBC’s historical period drama, Road No. 1. The song peaked at number six on the Gaon Digital Chart. IU’s collaboration with Sung Si-kyung on “It’s You” for his album, The First, debuted at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart.
IU’s third EP, Real, was released on December 9, 2010. Produced by Jo Yeong-cheol and Choi Gap-won, Real debuted at number four on the Gaon Album Chart. The lead single, “Good Day”, reunited IU with lyricist Kim Eana and composer Lee Min-soo after “Nagging”, whom she would work with again on the lead singles of her next two studio albums. The uptempo song, as explained by Kim Eana, is about “a shy girl who is nervous about expressing her feelings to the boy she likes.” During the album’s promotional period, IU also topped the charts on the music programs M! Countdown, Music Bank, and Inkigayo. Both Kim Eana and Lee Min-soon considered the main factors of the song’s success to be the use of the word “oppa” in the chorus, as well as the three high-pitched notes that IU sings in semitone increments during the climax of the song. In addition to receiving praise for her vocal abilities, IU’s fan base also expanded to a more varied demographic as compared to other K-pop groups.
To maintain public visibility, IU joined the cast of the variety show, Heroes, which aired from July 18, 2010 to May 1, 2011. Speaking fondly of the show, IU recalled the camaraderie she built with the other regular cast members despite the hectic two-day shooting schedules which only allowed them two-three hours of sleep. Shortly after joining Heroes, IU was cast in teen drama Dream High. Filming ran from December 2010 to February 2011, during which time she remained committed to Heroes and her existing promotions for “Good Day”. In her first acting role, IU played Kim Pil-sook, a shy and overweight school girl who dreams of becoming a professional singer. Admitting that she was doubtful about her readiness to take on acting, IU remarked that she gained confidence in learning that the part would require singing and would later describe the experience as a tremendously enjoyable one. For the series’ soundtrack, she released the single, “Someday”, which achieved number-one position on the Gaon Digital Chart on the week of January 30 – February 5, 2011. By the end of 2011, the single had sold 2,209,924 digital copies and is one of IU’s best-selling single for a soundtrack.
A follow-up extended play to Real was released on February 16, 2011 with the title, Real+, containing three songs. The lead single, “Only I Didn’t Know”, was composed by singer-songwriter Yoon Sang with lyrics written by Kim Eana. Yoon Sang wrote the song for IU after spotting her momentary sad expression on a television broadcast. The ballad’s tone was a departure from her more recent releases, with IU describing it as “dark”, “sad” yet “nostalgic”, which is closer to her music preference. The song performed well commercially, debuting at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart.
IU took on various side-projects after the end of Dream High. On March 10, 2011, IU performed as the opening act for British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae’s first solo concert in Seoul with two songs, before joining Bailey Rae during her performance of “Put Your Records On”. Bailey Rae, whom IU described as her role model, said of IU, “It’s incredible that her voice is so soulful even though she’s young.” In the same month, IU was appointed as one of the new hosts of the music program, Inkigayo, a position which she held until July 2013. For K.Will’s extended play album, My Heart Beating, she starred in two of his music videos alongside Lee Joon and No Min-woo. In May 2011, IU recorded her first self-composed song, “Hold My Hand”, for the romantic-comedy television series, The Greatest Love. Since it was the first time she had written a song not for herself but at the behest of the drama’s producers, IU found the experience difficult as she had to match the drama’s cheerful tone. The song peaked at number two on the Gaon Digital Chart and sold 2,031,787 digital copies in 2011. Between May and July 2011, IU took part in the reality ice-skating competition series, Kim Yuna’s Kiss & Cry, as a celebrity contestant until she was eliminated in the eighth episode. During this time, she also participated in Immortal Songs: Singing the Legend but eventually withdrew after recording one episode due to her overwhelming schedule. On her wide-ranging activities in entertainment, IU remarked that while singing, acting and variety are all difficult, she finds variety to be the most tiring.
IU’s second studio album, Last Fantasy, was released on November 29, 2011 in two editions, a regular retail version and a special storybook edition, of which only 15,000 copies were produced. The Korea JoongAng Daily described the album as one that would “suit all kinds of musical tastes and fans”, while Billboard noted the “cinematic feel” of the album as set by the opening track, “Secret”. Produced by Jo Yeong-cheol, whom IU worked with on Real, the album contains collaborative works with singer-songwriters such as Yoon Sang, Lee Juck and Ra.D. The total number of download sales made from the album’s tracks exceeded 10 million within the first two weeks. Eight out of the album’s thirteen songs debuted in the top ten on the Gaon Digital Chart, while the album debuted at number one on the Gaon Album Chart. The main single, “You and I”, became IU’s most commercially successful single with almost 5.5 million digital copies sold by the end of 2012. It topped the Gaon Chart as well as the newly established Billboard Korea K-Pop Hot 100 chart at the time of release.
Shortly before the release of Last Fantasy, IU signed with EMI Music Japan (now part of Universal Music Japan) as a precursor to her entry into the Japanese market. A selection of her previously-released songs was compiled into an extended play album called I□U that was released in Japan on December 14, 2011.
2012: Japanese debut and first solo concert tour
As promotions for Last Fantasy and its main single “You and I” continued into 2012 in South Korea, IU began preparations for her debut in Japan by playing two shows at the Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo to an audience of about 4,000 people on January 24, 2012. She performed six songs including her debut single, “Lost Child”, and the Japanese version of “Good Day” with the support of either a live orchestra or her own acoustic guitar accompaniment. Subsequent to the concert, both “Good Day” and “You and I” were released as new singles in Japan with translated lyrics to moderate success. According to Japan’s Oricon Singles Chart, the single album of Good Day sold 21,000 physical copies on the first week of release with the single debuting on the chart at number six. On the Billboard Japan Hot 100, “Good Day” peaked at number 5. “You and I” peaked at number four on the Oricon Singles Chart and number eleven on the Billboard Japan Hot 100. In support of her Japanese single releases, IU toured five cities Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka in a mini-concert series called “IU Friendship Showcase – Spring 2012”.
IU embarked on her first solo concert tour, titled “Real Fantasy”, in June 2012. She played shows in six different cities across South Korea, starting with two shows in Seoul. The opening shows on June 2–3 were sold out within 30 minutes of the tickets going on sale on April 17. It was reported that 43.8% of ticket purchasers were between the ages of 20 and 29, while 71% were male, which was considered uncommon for a K-pop concert. The tour continued to Ulsan, Jeonju, Suwon, Busan and Daegu, before returning to Seoul with two encore concerts that ended on September 23, 2012. Guest performers included Ra.D, Lim Seul-ong and Lee Seung-gi.
Due to her commitments towards preparing for her first solo tour, IU was unable to make broadcast promotions for her fifth Korean extended play album, Spring of a Twenty Year Old, which was released on May 11, 2012. The album, named to celebrate IU turning the Korean age of 20, contains three songs with the lead single being “Peach” Self-composed by IU, “Peach” peaked at number two on the Gaon Digital Chart and number three on the Billboard K-pop Hot 100. The second single released from the album was “Every End of the Day”, which topped the Gaon Digital Chart for two weeks and the Billboard K-pop Hot 100 for four weeks. In place of the usual 4–5 minute music video that usually accompanies a single release, a 26-minute-long documentary-style music film was shot in Venice and Burano and released alongside the album, featuring both “Peach” and “Every End of the Day”.
IU returned to Japan on September 17, 2012 to perform one show, titled “IU Friendship Special Concert – Autumn 2012”, at the Tokyo International Forum to a crowd of over 5000 people. With Sunny Hill as a guest act, IU performed a mixture of her own songs and covers of Korean and Japanese songs such as “Juliette” by Shinee, “Friend” by Anzen Chitai and “Aishiteru” from the Natsume’s Book of Friends anime series. Live recordings of “Friend” and “Aishiteru” from the event were later released as promotional digital singles. Nearing the end of her “Real Fantasy” tour and promotions in Japan, IU resumed her hosting duties on Inkigayo after taking a three-month leave due to concert commitments. She also became the host of MBC’s short-lived television quiz show, Quiz Show Q, alongside Park Myeong-su and Sun Bom Soo. On December 29, IU hosted the 2012 SBS Gayo Daejeon, an annual music program, alongside Bae Suzy and actor Jung Gyu-woon. She was selected by the program’s producer for her MC skills that she demonstrated on Inkigayo.
For her accomplishments over the past year, IU won two awards at the 2012 Seoul Music Awards; Last Fantasy was named Record of the Year, while she was among the ten musical acts who were awarded the Main Prize. At the Korean Music Awards, “Good Day” was named Song of the Year and Best Pop Song, while she was named Female Musician of the Year (Netizen Vote). Billboard magazine named IU as one of the hottest musicians under 21 years old in 2012 for her “unique charm and undeniable hits that have made her into a bona fide superstar”.
2013: First starring roles and Modern Times
IU started 2013 by taking on her first leading role in a television series, playing the title role in You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin. The 50-episode weekend series ran from March 9 to August 25 on KBS2. Her character was described as a “loser” who is seemingly average in every way except for her daring and bright personality, which helps her to overcome hardships. Despite the worries of casting someone who is better known as a singer in the role, director Yoon Sung-sik decided to cast IU after seeing her performance in Dream High and thought that she suited the image he had envisioned for the character. Her co-stars Go Doo-shim and Lee Ji-hoon, as well as the production crew, praised her performance, especially during emotional scenes. As the series progressed, IU’s performance garnered positive critical reviews despite early reservations shown about her casting, with the viewership ratings reaching a peak of 30.8%. She was nominated for the Excellence in Acting Award (Best Actress in a Serial Drama) at the 2013 KBS Drama Awards. For the drama, she released a recording with her co-star Jo Jung-suk of her self-composed duet, “Beautiful Song”, which was not included on the official soundtrack.
In the same period, IU released her second Japanese extended-play album, Can You Hear Me?, featuring her first original Japanese songs. Two tracks from the album were released as singles; “Beautiful Dancer” and “New World” peaked at number 66 and 76 respectively on the Billboard Japan Hot 100, ranking significantly lower than her Japanese-translated versions of “Good Day” and “You and I”, which were top 10 releases. Rolling Stone Japan gave the album a positive review, highlighting “Beautiful Dancer” and “Truth” as stand-out tracks. In an interview with Oricon, IU recalled how shocked and touched she was to receive “Beautiful Dancer” and “Truth” from R&B producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Her next Japanese single, “Monday Afternoon”, was released on September 11, 2013, debuting at number 27 on Billboard’s Japan Hot 100 chart and number 9 on Japan’s Oricon Daily Chart.
Almost two years after Last Fantasy, IU released her third studio album, Modern Times, on October 8, 2013. It was described to be “a big shift from the young singer’s K-pop roots” that showcased a “more mature and sophisticated sound and image” than her previous work. IU composed and wrote two out of the album’s 13 tracks, which ranged from swing to jazz, bossa nova, Latin pop and folk genres. The diversity of jazz styles and the mix of collaborative tracks were highlighted in reviews by Billboard, The Korea Herald and Seoul Beats. Billboard described the album as one that features “throwback vibes with a modern twist a la Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics record”, with IU proving to have “musical sensibilities well beyond a typical 20-year-old”. The Korea Herald wrote: “… vintage sounds and modern effects are put together artfully, forming a fresh but familiar compilation of songs. Modern Times has a distinct carefree feel that is reminiscent of jazz during the Roaring Twenties.” Also giving a positive review, Seoul Beats wrote: “With its jazzy, big band sound, IU provided a breath of fresh air to the K-pop scene… The album’s real strength is how seamlessly the tracks flow together.” Modern Times debuted at number one on the Gaon Album Chart, while seven of its tracks achieved top ten positions on the Gaon Digital Chart with the lead single, “The Red Shoes”, placing in the number one position. Similarly, the album debuted number four on Billboard’s World Albums Chart, with twelve tracks in the Korea K-Pop Hot 100 chart.
On the second week of her promotional activities for Modern Times, IU decided to join the romantic-comedy series Bel Ami. She played the “quirky” and “playful” role of Kim Bo-tong, a carefree girl in her twenties who has had an unrequited crush on the male protagonist since high school. The series aired from November 20, 2013 to January 9, 2014 on KBS2 and suffered from low ratings. For her performance, IU was nominated in the Outstanding Korean Actress category at the 2014 Seoul International Drama Awards.
In support of Modern Times, IU held her second solo concert series with three shows which took place in November 23–24, 2013 at Kyung Hee University’s Peace Hall in Seoul and ended on December 1, 2013 at KBS Hall in Busan. Promotions for Modern Times progressed into 2014 with IU performing in Hong Kong for the first time in a solo concert.
A repackaged version of Modern Times, titled Modern Times – Epilogue, was released on December 20, 2013 with two additional tracks: “Friday” and “Pastel Crayon”. Her self-composed track, “Friday”, was originally intended to be included in Modern Times but was later released as the lead single of Modern Times – Epilogue. Described as a “mid-tempo, acoustic swing-pop number”, “Friday” held the number one position on the Billboard Korea K-Pop Hot 100 chart for two weeks after release. The lead single was successful on the Gaon Digital Chart, peaking at number one, and became the 10th best-selling digital single of 2014. Its popularity was also demonstrated by its simultaneous number one ranking on all three of Korea’s major music programs without any live performances.
2014: A Flower Bookmark
IU released her sixth Korean extended-play album and first cover album, A Flower Bookmark, on May 16, 2014. The album contains seven renditions of tracks that hailed from the 1980s and 1990s with a mixture of genres that included ballad, dance, folk and rock. The album came about at the request of fans and due to the positive feedback she had previously received for her cover songs. Three tracks debuted in the top ten of the Gaon Digital Chart on the week of release, with the main single, “My Old Story”, ultimately peaking at number 2. However, it was her collaboration with Kim Chang-wan on the remaking of his 1984 track, “The Meaning of You”, that became the best-selling track from the album and also her best-selling single of 2014. The album was well received by The Korea Times for providing “a pleasant, calming respite from the mainstream music of today’s times”, and praised IU for her reinterpretations: “For every track, IU keeps a careful balance between preserving the song’s original sentiments and altering the original with her own color and arrangements.” Billboard highlighted the track, “Pierrot Smiles at Us”, as the “most ambitious tune she tackled” and one that proved her diversity as a singer. Furthermore, A Flower Bookmark was listed at number three on Billboard’s Best K-Pop Albums of 2014 and was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2014 MelOn Music Awards.
IU’s wish to conduct a more intimate and smaller scale concert was fulfilled in her third solo Korean concert series, “Just One Step… That Much More”. The concert series took place over eight nights from May 22, 2014 to June 1, 2014 at Sogang University’s Mary Hall, which had a capacity of 450 people. Tickets to all eight shows were sold out within 10 minutes of release on May 7, 2014. As well as playing the keyboard for the first time on stage, IU performed all the seven songs from A Flower Bookmark among various new arrangements of her earlier songs. Guest acts included Kim Jong-hyun, Jung Yong-hwa, Hwang Kwanghee, Kim Bum-soo, Lim Seul-ong, Jo Jung-suk, Ha Dong-kyun and Akdong Musician. Profits made from the concerts were donated to the victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster.
Two months after her solo concerts ended, IU made her debut performance in the United States at the KCON music festival held in Los Angeles on August 9–10. IU was the only female act to perform on the first day of KCON and for the event, she performed “The Red Shoes”, “You and I”, “Friday” and “You Know”. In their review, Los Angeles Times opined that IU had a “sprightly stage presence, and as a solo female singer, she’s breaking the molds for K-pop stardom.” The 2014 KCON event was attended by approximately 42,000 people. IU expressed her anxiety performing at the event in her interview with Billboard: “I always get nervous when I’m performing at international shows… I think I need to study English for the next visit to the U.S. It’s suffocating not being able to communicate with fans…”
Throughout 2014, IU’s collaborations with other artists spawned top-ten hits: “Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms”, the debut single of High4, which featured IU as lyricist and vocalist, reached number one on both the Gaon Digital Chart and Billboard Korea K-Pop Hot 100; “Anxious Heart”, recorded by Ulala Session and IU in 2012 but was released more than a year later out of respect for the death of Ulala Session’s lead vocalist, peaked at number four on the Gaon Digital Chart; “Sing for Me”, which was released as part of god’s eighth studio album, peaked at number nine on the Gaon Digital Chart; “Sogyeokdong”, written by Seo Taiji for his Quiet Night album and sung by IU in October 2 release version, debuted at number four on the Gaon Digital Chart; and “When Would It Be”, a duet with her labelmate Yoon Hyun-sang for his debut album, Pianoforte, which also peaked at number nine on the Gaon Digital Chart. After “Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms” topped Billboard’s Korea K-Pop Hot 100 chart, IU became its “all-time chart leader” with five number-one songs and the artist who has spent the most number of weeks at number one since the chart’s creation in September 2011.
2015–16: The Producers, Infinite Challenge, Chat-Shire, and Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
In 2015, two years after her last acting role, IU starred alongside Kim Soo-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun, and Gong Hyo-jin in The Producers, which was named as one of the most anticipated TV series of the year in South Korea. She played Cindy, a diva-like singer who decides to participate in a variety show to improve her public image. Analysing her character’s perceived icy demeanor, IU commented that she could relate to her character’s “biting attitude” and how similar her character was to herself. The series and IU’s portrayal of Cindy were met with lukewarm reviews at the premier but both the viewership and critical response improved over the course of the series, peaking at 17.7% viewership for the last episode. She performed two songs in character, “Twenty Three” and “Heart”, both of which were later included as bonus tracks on her 2015 album, Chat-Shire. While she wrote the lyrics for both songs, she also composed the music for “Heart”, which was released as a digital single on 18 May. “Heart” topped the charts upon its release and went on to become the tenth best-selling digital single of 2015 in South Korea. “Heart” was among a slew of K-pop songs used by South Korea’s Defense Ministry in its propaganda broadcasts to North Korea during the two countries’ tense standoff in August 2015, with the aim of advertising the “South Korean youth culture”. Through The Producers, IU’s popularity in China soared—reportedly receiving offers for several projects from Chinese companies.
After the completion of The Producers, IU participated in the biennial music festival event hosted by the variety show, Infinite Challenge, in which each participating singer-songwriter is partnered with one of the six hosts to create a song for the festival. The preparation process and festival event were aired over the course of seven episodes. She was partnered with Park Myeong-su, with whom she recorded and performed the song, “Leon” (as inspired by the film Léon: The Professional). The live performance event on August 13, 2015 attracted an estimated crowd of 40,000 at Alpensia Ski Jumping Stadium as shown in the final episode, which achieved a 21.1% viewer’s rating on its August 22, 2015 airdate. Subsequent to the final episode’s broadcast, “Leon” was released along with the other songs from the festival as a digital track and on the official festival album. “Leon” reached number one on all of South Korea’s music charts upon release.
IU’s seventh Korean extended play album, Chat-Shire, was released digitally on October 23, 2015 prior to its physical release on October 27, 2015. IU asserted greater creative control on the album, writing the lyrics for all seven tracks (as well as the physical album’s two bonus tracks) and composing the music for five tracks either individually or collaboratively. She was also credited as the album’s producer. The lead single, “Twenty-Three”, topped the national music charts upon release with several of the album’s tracks also ranking in the top ten. The album reached a peak position of number four on Billboard’s World Albums chart. Billboard described the album as a “must-hear” release, containing “some of [IU’s] most personal music yet”, and named “The Shower” as its stand-out track. Seoul Beats also highlighted the “personal quality” showcased in many of the album’s tracks and praised IU’s “growing maturity as an artist” and her willingness to experiment musically.
Despite positive critical reviews and success in the music charts, the album became controversial due to the lyrics of “Zezé” and the audio samples used in the bonus track “Twenty Three” (not to be confused with the similarly-titled lead single). On November 4, the Korean publisher of the novel My Sweet Orange Tree, from which IU drew inspiration for the song “Zezé”, stirred debate in the entertainment industry on freedom of interpretation when it leveled criticisms at IU for her interpretation of the five-year-old protagonist as a “sexual object”. Two days later, IU issued a public statement: “I did not mean to turn Zeze into a sexual object… but I realize that my lyrics have offended many, and for this I apologize.” On November 10, the publisher released an apology for its failure to acknowledge “diversity of interpretation.” For the bonus track “Twenty Three”, voice samples from Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” were allegedly used without permission. Billboard ranked Chat-Shire the sixth best K-pop album of 2015, explaining that “IU knows how to take the sounds of yesterday and update them to stunning results.”
Prior to the release of Chat-Shire, LOEN announced that IU would not be partaking in broadcast promotions for the album and would instead be holding a national tour from November to December 2015. The Chat-Shire national tour began in Seoul on November 21 and continued to Busan, Daegu and Gwangju, before returning to Seoul, where it ended on December 31. In the midst of her concert tour for Chat-Shire in South Korea, IU also increased promotional activities in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, hosting fan-meetings and concerts in various cities as well as releasing a compilation album, Smash Hits, to the Taiwanese market on December 11, 2015. Containing 16 previously-released songs, Smash Hits was published by Warner Music Taiwan and topped the K-pop album chart of Taiwan’s leading online music store, KKBOX, on its first week of release. Tickets to her concert of January 10, 2016 in Taiwan also sold out within two minutes of going on sale. Towards the end of 2015, IU hosted SBS’s annual end-of-year music program, Gayo Daejeon, with Shin Dong-yup. The program’s producers said of their host selection, “IU has been deeply acknowledged for her musical talents, moving beyond the image of ‘Korea’s cute younger sister’.” For her accomplishments in 2015, Ize listed IU as one of the “Persons of the Year”, while GQ Korea named her as the “Woman of the Year”.
In September 2016, IU starred as the lead role, Hae Soo, in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, a Korean adaptation of the Chinese novel Bu Bu Jing Xin.
2017–present: Palette, A Flower Bookmark 2 and My Mister
IU published her fourth studio album, Palette, on April 21, 2017, which she serves as the primary lyricist and producer of. Three singles from the album were released earlier; the lead single “Palette” featuring G-Dragon from Big Bang; as well as two pre-release tracks “Through the Night” and “Can’t Love You Anymore”. Palette debuted atop Billboard World Albums chart (a first for the singer) and topped local charts in both album sales and downloads. Billboard highlighted and complemented IU’s stronger creative control on the album, saying that it successfully allowed listeners to learn more her and ultimately paving way for greater success both in Korea and internationally. Palette was a commercial success, with all three singles from the album peaking at the top of the Gaon Digital Chart, with the main single, “Palette” spending a total of two weeks at number 1. However, it was her first pre-release track, “Through the Night” that became the best-selling track from the album and also her best-selling single of 2017.
Palette was also critically acclaimed and received multiple accolades, including “Best Pop Album” at the 15th Korean Music Awards, “Album of the Year” at the Melon Music Awards, and “Record of the Year (Album)” award at the 27th Seoul Music Awards; IU herself was awarded the Best Female Artist at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. The album also earned IU a “Best songwriter” award at the Melon Music Awards, a “Lyricist of the Year” award at the 7th Gaon Chart Music Awards and a “Producer of the Year” award for herself and her production team. IU also received the “Song of the Year” award at the 32nd Golden Disc Awards for her hit song “Through the Night”. Billboard magazine listed “Palette” at number six on its list of “Best K-Pop Songs of 2017”, explaining “The mellow-dy belies a topsy-turvy world of self-satire, idiosyncratic sound effects and throwbacks to older eras.” The New York Times Magazine also featured “Palette” on its list of “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going”, making IU the only Asian artist to make the list while appreciating IU’s ability as a singer-songwriter to project authenticity in K-pop. Furthermore, Billboard ranked Palette the best K-pop album of 2017, explaining that “An album as impressive and sonically diverse as Palette proves why injecting an artist’s personal experiences into their music can lead to their greatest work yet.” During the promotional period of Palette, IU joined the reality program Hyori’s Homestay.
IU released her second cover album, A Flower Bookmark 2 on September 22, 2017. Like its predecessor, the album contained renditions of tracks released from the 1960s to the early 2000s with a mixture of genres such as folk, retro, ballad and nu-disco. Prior to the album’s release, a single titled “Autumn Morning” was released without prior notice on September 18 to mark the singer’s ninth anniversary. It topped all seven local music charts upon release. The album was originally intended to include Kim Kwang-seok’s track “With the Heart to Forget You”, however, due to recent events surrounding the singer’s family, it was ultimately decided that the track would be removed out of respect for the ongoing investigations. She later went on a tour in various cities around Korea as well as Hong Kong from November to December 2017 to promote the album. IU was also featured in the title song, “Love Story”, of Epik High’s ninth album, We’ve Done Something Wonderful, which was released on October 23, 2017. The song achieved a “Perfect All-Kill”, topping the daily and real time charts of all 6 major Korean music sites. Gallup Korea ranked her the most popular K-pop artist of 2017 (she previously topped the ranking in 2014) and also the most popular K-pop idol of the year.
In March 2018, IU starred in tvN’s My Mister, playing the character Lee Ji-an. The series was commercially and critically successful with peak audience ratings of 7.3% making it one of the highest rated Korean dramas in cable television history, and positive reviews for IU’s performance. IU then contributed her vocals to Zico’s “Soulmate”, which was released on July 23, 2018. Upon release, the single topped the daily and real time charts of all 6 major Korean music sites and claimed the number one position on the Gaon Digital Chart.
To commemorate her tenth debut anniversary, IU released a single titled “Bbibbi” in October 2018. The music video was released alongside the single on October 10, 2018. The following day, Kakao M confirmed that “Bbibbi” had surpassed one million unique listeners on Korea’s largest music site Melon only 16 hours after its release. They stated that by 23 hours in, it had already broken the previous 24-hour unique listener record set by her duet “Leon” with Park Myung-su in 2015. “Bbibbi” went on to record a total of 1,462,625 unique listeners in the first 24 hours of its release. The single peaked at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart, and at number five on the Billboard’s World Digital Songs Chart. IU is set to embark on her second Asian tour in November 2018, IU 10th Anniversary Tour Concert.
Awards and achievements
Main article: List of awards and nominations received by IU
Throughout her career, IU has been nominated for more than 100 awards, winning over fifty of them. She has won ten Melon Music Awards, five Mnet Asian Music Awards, four Seoul Music Awards, and four Korean Music Awards. At the 2018 Golden Disk Awards, IU’s single “Through the Night” won the “Song of the Year”, one of the two grand prizes at the event. She has been honored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for her work as a musician and was recognized as a style icon by the Style Icon Awards in 2008 and 2011, respectively. In 2012, IU was identified as one of the most influential people in South Korea by the Forbes Korea Power Celebrity list, and has since been mentioned five times. IU has also won several awards for her work as an actress, earning the title of “Best New Actress” at the 2014 KBS Drama Awards for her performance in You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin.
Other ventures – Philanthropy
Since February 2012, IU has been an ambassador for South Korea’s National Police Agency in their anti-bullying campaigns in schools; she was made an honorary member of the police force in 2013 before being promoted to an honorary senior police officer in 2014 for a two-year term. In 2015, and later in 2018, IU donated ₩100,000,000 (about US$88,000) to the Green Umbrella Children’s Fund, requesting it be used to assist underprivileged children. She has also volunteered for the organization. IU later established a scholarship at her high school alma-mater in 2016 after regularly donating there for the past several years. The scholarship, dubbed the “IU Scholarship”, is designed to help four graduates from underdeveloped families. In 2018, IU provided ₩20,000,000 (about US$18,000) in financial aid to five college students, helping to cover their room and board. That same year, IU participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, an Internet challenge designed to promote Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) awareness.
IU is one of the highest-earning celebrities in South Korea, with endorsements attributing to a proportion of her income. Over the course of her career, she has endorsed various products that ranged from electronics to clothing and cosmetics. After consecutive hit single releases and increased television appearances in 2010, her growing popularity led to her first endorsement deals with Crown Confectionery’s MyChew candy, Crown Bakery and clothing brand, Y’sb.
Also among her first endorsements were video games. Although considered unusual for a female singer, IU has been involved with video game endorsements since 2010. She served as a VJ on MBC Game’s Star for You and an announcer during player introductions for Global StarCraft II League in 2010. She also helped to promote the Global StarCraft II League in 2011 by performing at the finals. She was chosen for her “simple and innocent image” to endorse the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Alicia: The Story of My Horse and I, in November 2010. In addition to the game’s advertisements, IU also participated in its soundtrack. In 2012–13, IU was a spokesmodel and in-game model for NCsoft’s Aion: Upheaval video game. She was also part of Nexon’s promotions for Dungeon Fighter Online in 2014.
Soon after the release of Real in December 2010, IU became the face of Samsung Anycall and Samsung Galaxy S II for Samsung Electronics, and the endorsement model for clothing brands Unionbay Sportswear and Le Coq Sportif. She also appeared in commercials for South Korea’s largest wireless carrier SK Telecom, Namyang Diary’s Yogurt Bulgaris brand, petroleum and refinery company S-Oil, and retail chain Homeplus. She has been the face of fast-food restaurant chain Mexicana Chicken since 2011. In 2012, she became the endorsement model for clothing brands G by GUESS with Yoo Seung-ho and Elite with Infinite. She was appointed as the face of SK Planet online store, 11st, and appeared in commercials for The Saem cosmetic brand as well as Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun and Hoo Roo Rook products (with Park Bo-gum). Along with Yim Si-wan and Hwang Kwanghee, IU starred in a three-part drama commercial for Samsung Wave 3, titled “20, Start of a Wave”. Additionally, IU was chosen to be the ambassador for Expo 2012 held in Yeosu.
Following the release of A Flower Bookmark in May 2014, IU was featured in commercials for the Chinese cosmetic brand, Qdsuh. Subsequently, she participated in Sony Korea’s promotional campaign for its MDR series headphones with You Hee-yeol and continued to be Sony Korea’s representative and model for its audio products in 2015. In November 2014, soju production company HiteJinro announced that IU had become the spokesmodel for its Chamisul brand: “We are targeting people in their 20s and 30s with an artist who is popular among all generations, even senior citizens.” Her contract renewal was announced in December 2015. In 2014–15, IU became an endorsement model for Sbenu footwear along with Song Jae-rim. IU once again became an endorsement model for Unionbay Sportswear in 2015 with Lee Hyun-woo and was appointed as the new face of cosmetic brand ISOI. Both Unionbay and ISOI sponsored The Producers, a 2015 television series in which IU had a leading role, through product placement.
Often keeps a bang
Beautiful round eyes
Lee Ji-eun is managed by Fave Entertainment (formerly LOEN Entertainment), Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Kakao M (Fave Entertainment)
Universal Music Japan
Warner Music Taiwan
Lee Ji-eun has done endorsement work for brands like Crown Confectionery’s MyChew candy, Crown Bakery, Y’sb, Alicia: The Story of My Horse and I video game, Nexon’s Dungeon Fighter Online, Unionbay Sportswear, Le Coq Sportif, SK Telecom, Namyang Dairy’s Yogurt Bulgaris, S-Oil, Homeplus, Guess, Elite, The Saem cosmetic, Hoo Roo Rook products, Samsung Electronics, Qdsuh, Unionbay Sportswear, ISOI cosmetics, Global StarCraft II League, SK Planet online store, Mexicana Chicken restaurant chain, MDR series headphones, and Sbenu footwear.
She has been the spokesmodel for various brands like
NCsoft’s Aion: Upheaval video game
She was also the ambassador for Expo 2012 held in Yeosu.
On April 23, 2009, her first studio album Growing Up was released with LOEN Entertainment. The album has 16 songs with 2 instrumental numbers.
In 2017, she made a cameo appearance in the Korean film Real.
In 2012, she made her debut as a voice artist in the animation film A Turtle’s Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise (Korean version) as the voice of Ella.
First TV Show
In 2009, she made her first TV show appearance as a host on the MBC Game show IU Star Nutrition.
Lee Ji-eun is known to adopt extreme diet plans to maintain her slim figure. At one point in time, her diet included –
Breakfast – An apple
Lunch – Some sweet potatoes
Dinner – Protein shake
Lee Ji-eun Favorite Things
Number – 8
Color – Purple or light purple
Lee Ji-eun Facts
She grew up in a poor family where her parents struggled financially.
Part of her childhood was spent in Uijeongbu in Gyeonggi Province.
She began her career by going for auditions to various talent agencies while she was still in middle school.
IU got her break in 2007, when she was just 15 years old, after LOEN Entertainment signed her as a trainee and her debut EP Lost and Found was released the same year.
In 2008, she was honored by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism for her work in music.
In 2010, Lee Ji-eun acted as the VJ on MBC Game’s Star for You show and as an announcer, she introduced players during the Global StarCraft II League.
She supports many organizations like Green Umbrella Children’s Fund, to which she donated about US$88,000 in 2015 and 2018 collectively. She has also financially assisted students from underdeveloped families from her high school.
In February 2012, she was chosen by South Korea’s National Police Agency as an ambassador for their anti-bullying campaigns in schools.
In 2013, Lee Ji-eun was elected as an honorary member of the police force and later in 2014, she was given a 2-year term as the honorary senior police officer.
In 2018, she participated in the online Ice Bucket Challenge, to promote awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
For many years since 2012, she had been a constant figure on Forbes’ annual Korea Power Celebrity list.
Lee Ji-eun has been an all-time topper on the Billboard’s chart of Korea K-Pop Hot 100 as the artist who has produced and has managed to hold the most number-one songs for maximum weeks.
In 2017, the Gallup Korea survey listed her as the most popular idol and artist of South Korea.
The song Hold My Hand was written by her in 2011, for the television series The Greatest Love.
Lee Ji-eun also wrote all the 7 songs on her EP Chat-Shire (2015) adding another crown to her career as the sole lyricist and producer of the album.