IU: A colourful palette of everything | Sunday Observer

IU: A colourful palette of everything

2 May, 2021

She officially debuted on September 18, 2008 with the message “I just want to fill the hearts and minds of people who listen to my music”. Her stage name “IU” brings out the combination “I” and “You”, expressing that “You and I are one through Music”.

Only 15 at the time, she strived to be a strong candidate in the K-Pop race. Nevertheless, she was one of the very few girls in the industry to debut solo at a young age. Today, she is one of the breadwinners of the K-Wave, which is taking over the world day-by-day.

Seeing this world for the first time on May 16, 1993, Lee Ji-Eun, or rather “IU”, is a South Korean singer, songwriter and actress. Born in the capital of South Korea, Lee Ji-Eun joined the entertainment industry at a young age, due to the influence of living in the city.

She enrolled herself in an acting class and began attending them regularly. However, her dreams started to shatter after her elementary school years, when her family’s financial state deteriorated unexpectedly. Finally making her move in with her grandma in Gyeonggi Province.

It was still tough for her even after moving, because her grandma lived in a studio room along with their cousin. Although during these times she lived apart from her parents, she had care from her grandmother.

Her turning point started in middle school when she performed at a school sport day, and had the whole audience clap for it. This performance not only gave her courage but also amazingly provided her hope to make her dream come true. Soon she applied for almost 20 auditions, only to fail every one of them.

During this period in South Korea, entertainment companies started to help artists. Nevertheless, like in other countries it too had its own share of scamming. IU was scammed several times by fake entertainment companies disregarding her age, gender and the financial position she was in. Her kind, restless spirit, however, got her to be a trainee at Good Entertainment.

They insisted that she debut along with a girl group. But, IU’s plans were different, wanting to debut alone. Therefore, in 2007 she signed a contract with Leon Entertainment (presently known as “Kakao Entertainment”). She practised and trained only for 10 months before her official debut.


With her hard work and courage Ji-Eun debuted on September 18, 2008, with her debut single “Lost Child”. She first appeared to perform the song as a professional singer on “M! Countdown”, a popular chart show in South Korea.

“Lost Child” was her lead song from her first EP “Lost and found”. Following her debut single “Lost and Found” was released on September 24 the same year.

Even though she worked hard to convince audiences, various ungrateful insults and other bad comments surrounded her. She felt depressed while also feeling discouraged. “Lost and Found” was the singer’s very primary work, it wasn’t well appreciated commercially meaning that life was hard for her.

Even though it wasn’t commercially successful she received the “Rookie of the Month” Award presented by the South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in November.

Her very first studio album “Growing Up” was launched on April 23, 2009. This album did get favourable responses for its song “Boo” which represented a different, retro, cute side of the artist.

IU had often stated the fact that it was awkward for her existence as she was a girl who didn’t like Girlish costumes etc. 2009 was the real beginning of her career, soon after the release of “Boo” which was considered No. 1 contender of the widely popular song program “Inkigayo”.

With the rise, IU was able to release her second EP “IU...IM” with the lead single “Marshmallow”. In addition to these she got the chance to create several songs for Korean dramas like “Strike Love”, and “Queen Seondeok”.

As a result of fast popularity she was named permanent guest on several radio shows. At the same time, by reason of Album promotion plus her work she dropped out of education except Korean Literature.

In 2010, she released “Nagging”, “Because I am a woman”, “It’s you” and “Good Day” which easily peaked the charts of Music Bank, Inkigayo and M! Countdown.

In the year her third EP “Real” was released her popularity increased widely compared to other K-Pop artists. As per her fans demand, she joined the cast of the variety show “Heros”.

Acting debut

With the satisfaction of her casting in “Heros” IU was chosen to play the role of “Kim Pil-Sook” an overweight, shy school girl who had an early passion for singing, eventually making the drama “Dream High” her acting debut.

The drama contained her series soundtrack “Someday” again resulting in a high position in the music charts. Inspite of her busy schedule she still produced her second studio album “The Last Fantasy” which was able to seduce fans of all genre. The album was successful with over 10 million download sales within the first two weeks. It’s main single “You and I” is recorded to be her most commercially successful single with sales of 5.5 million.

Following these achievements, she made plans to debut in Japan where she performed her debut single and six other songs including a Japanese version of “Good Day”.

During April 2012, Lee Ji-Eun announced her first ever solo concert tour “Last Fantasy” which was held in six cities in South Korea, including two shows in Seoul. On 2 and 3 June tickets to her concert were sold within 30 minutes. It was stated that at least 71% of attendees at the concerts were male while 43.8% were aged between 20 and 29, making it stand out in the industry.

Due to popular demand her tour continued to Ilsan, Daegu, Busan and Jeonju. Her next EP release “The Spring of a Twenty-year-old” marked her transformation at the age of 20 while on tour.

The first single and second single “Peaches” and “Every end of the day” were able to top the charts once again. With these landmark achievements in her career she won two accolades at Seoul Music Awards “The Record of the Year” for “Last Fantasy” and “The Main Award” among nine other artists. At the same time at the Korean Music Awards her “Good Day” was named as the “Best pop song” and “Song of the year”.

Lead role

Her response in 2013 and 2014 was immense, she was able to take a lead role in a 50-episode drama for which she was highly praised. For this drama too she released an original soundtrack along with her co-star Jo-Jung Suk.

For her performance, she received “Best Actress in serial Drama” at the 2013 KBS Drama Awards. In the same year, IU released her second Japanese EP “Can You hear Me?” increasing her fan base in Japan. On October 8, 2013 she released her third studio album “Modern Times”. The album was said to consist of ‘Throwback vibes with a modern touch’. With the release she joined a rom-com series “Bel Ami”.

IU’s sixth EP and her first cover album “A Flower Bookmark” was exhibited in 2014. The album covered songs from the 1980s and 1960s, This work came out due to her fans eagerness to see the celebrity sing cover versions of old legends. Ji-Eun was successful in recreating the old songs without harming it.

Second concert tour

In the same year her second concert tour “Just One Step…So Much more” was held, the sales from the tour were presented to the victims of the “Sewol Ferry Incident”. Two months later she made her US debut at the “KCON” music festival in Los Angeles. In this particular year, KCON was attended by approximately 42,000 people. IU said that she was anxious and nervous before she went on stage.

In 2015, she acted in South Korea’s most anticipated drama of the year “The Producers”, she was cast as “Cindy” whose character seemed to have certain similar traits to her. In October the same year, she produced her seventh EP “Chart-Shire”. With the release of her EP she started a tour concert to promote the EP. In 2016, Lee starred as Hae Soo in the famous “Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo” a TV series based on a Chinese novel.

“Palette”, her fourth Studio album was exhibited on April 21, 2017and she was the primary producer and lyricist and collaborated with G-Dragon from Big Bang. For the first time her album topped the world Billboard Album Charts, showing the power of her fandom.

“Palette” received numerous awards such as “Best Pop Album”, “Album of the year”, “Best Female Artist” etc. at several awards ceremonies. In 2018 she was happy to be cast in “My Mister”. She also collaborated with “Zico”.

Tenth year

To celebrate her 10th year in the industry she revealed “Bbibbi”. The following day it was confirmed that the song passed one million unique listeners on the Melon Platform in just 16 hours. The song reached No. 5 on the Billboard digital song’s chart. Also the song was named under the list of “Songs of 2018”.

The start of 2019 marked another perspective of her career, IU debuted as a film artist on Netflix’s Anthology “Persona” where she portrayed four different personalities. In the summer of 2019 she played the lead role of the famous fantasy mystery drama “Hotel Del Luna”.

In January 2020, she starred in the film “Dream” alongside Park-Seo Joon. With it she also did a soundtrack album for the TV series “Crash Landing on You”.

With the rise of Covid-19 she was unable to conduct tours, but had a successful year. She was considered angelic for donating 3,000 pieces of medical protective clothing to the value of ₩100,000,000, about 4,600 cooling vests valued at ₩100,000,000.

On May 6 last year, she collaborated with BTS Suga who featured and produced her song “Eight”. The title is derived from the last digit of both the singers “Twenty-Eight”. In March this year she announced the release of her album “Lilac”. Which was also an all-kill album.

IU has been successful in her entertainment career, but only most loyal know her dreadful beginning of how she was in poverty and the tough decisions she had to make. She often had problems with food, causing eating disorders. She is also considered to have a subtle, weak body due to the suffering she underwent in the past. She once stated, “I liked being in the studio, there I am able to eat as much as I like, do my work peacefully and sleep happily”. IU had to lose everything in order to pursue her dreams.