History of IU: Debut, Success and more
2008-2009: Debut and Rising Popularity
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. "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.
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. The song was nominated as a number-one contender on the popular music program, “Inkigayo”.
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". The performances were well-received and were once again labelled "cute", reminiscent of reviews for "Boo".
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 BIGBANG's "Lies" featured in these live performances gained tremendous interest online.
2010–2011: Good Day 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. 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”.
IU's third EP, “Real”, was released on December 9, 2010. “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. 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 Soo 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.
To maintain public visibility, IU joined the cast of the variety show, “Heroes”, which aired from July 18, 2010 to May 1, 2011. And shortly after joining Heroes, IU was cast in teen drama “Dream High”. In her first acting role, IU played Kim Pil Sook, a shy and overweight school girl who dreams of becoming a professional singer. 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 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."
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.
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 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.
2012-2013: First Concert Tour and Modern Times
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. The tour continued to Ulsan, Jeonju, Suwon, Busan and Daegu, before returning to Seoul with two encore concerts that ended on September 23, 2012.
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.
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 Soo and Son Bum Soo. On December 29, IU hosted the 2012 SBS Gayo Daejeon, an annual music program, alongside Suzy and actor Jung Gyeo 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. 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".
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.
Almost two years after “Last Fantasy”, IU released her third studio album, “Modern Times”, on October 8, 2013. 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. “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 Botong, 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.
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". 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. 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. “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. 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". The 2014 KCON event was attended by approximately 42,000 people.
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 label mate 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.
2015-2016: Infinite Challenge and Chat-Shire
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. 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".
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 Soo, with whom she recorded and performed the song, "Leon". The live performance event on August 13, 2015 attracted an estimated crowd of 40,000 at Alpensia Ski Jumping Stadium. 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 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.
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”. 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.
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. Tickets to her concert of January 10, 2016 in Taiwan 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 Yeob. And 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: Palette and A Flower Bookmark 2
IU published her fourth studio album, “Palette”, on April 21, 2017, which she serves as the primary lyricist and producer of. Three singles were released from the album; the lead single "Palette" featuring G-Dragon from BIGBANG as well as two pre-release tracks "Through the Night" and "Can't Love You Anymore". “Palette” debuted atop Billboard World Albums chart and topped local charts in both album sales and downloads. Billboard highlighted and complemented the singer's stronger creative control on the album, saying that it successfully allows listeners to learn more about the singer and ultimately paving way for greater success both in Korea and internationally. During the promotional period, IU joined the reality program “Hyori's Guest House”.
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 dropped without prior notice on September 18 to mark the singer's ninth anniversary. It topped all seven local music charts upon release. Originally, it was planned for the album to include Kim Kwang Seok's track "Willing to forget", but, due to the events surrounding the singer's family, it was decided that the track would be removed out of respect for the on-going investigations. On October 11, LOEN announced that IU will embark on a tour in various cities around Korea as well as Hong Kong to promote the album.