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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

K-pop idols go solo to keep career alive, and they’re succeeding

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Jimin of boy band BTS performs during the Melon Music Awards (MMA) 2020 on Dec. 5, 2020. [KAKAO]
Jimin of boy band BTS performs during the Melon Music Awards (MMA) 2020 on Dec. 5, 2020. [KAKAO]

When K-pop top dog BTS announced a break in group activities last June, one of the first questions that came to critics’ minds was whether the individual members would be able to succeed on their own.

Almost a year has passed since, and the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

As boy bands face imminent military duties and girl groups’ contracts with their original agencies come to an end, members of big-name K-pop groups are increasingly coming forward with their very own music without the band’s nametag and proving that they’re just as capable of solo as they are when they’re together.

Paving the way is Jimin, the BTS member who topped Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, a first for any solo K-pop star.

“Like Crazy,” the lead track from his first official solo album “FACE,” released on March 24, sat atop Billboard’s updated chart for the week starting Saturday. “FACE” ranked No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, another new high for a solo K-pop artist.

The online cover image for Jimin's solo album ″FACE″ [BIGHIT MUSIC]
The online cover image for Jimin’s solo album ″FACE″ [BIGHIT MUSIC]

The Hot 100 chart is especially meaningful because, contrary to the Top 200 albums chart, which only takes into account album sales, streams and downloads, radio airplay is also calculated in its metrics.

Album sales, streams and downloads are typically considered an indicator of the purchasing power of a star’s fandom, as opposed to radio airplay which takes into account how often a song was played on radio stations and better reflects how much the song has been exposed to general listeners.

With the rise of K-pop’s influence around the world, Billboard has been tweaking its rules to minimize the influence of bulk buyers on its chart system because die-hard K-pop fans are known to buy tens, if not hundreds, of copies of a single album at once.

In January 2021, Billboard said it will count any number of copies bought by a single customer as one unit purchase, as opposed to a maximum of four eligible units before the fix.

Even with the new counting method, “Like Crazy” scored 254,000 points for its CD and download sales, while streams came in at 10 million. Radio airplay counted toward 64,000 points during the week following its release on March 24.

Images from Blackpink Jisoo's dance performance video for her first solo song "Flower" [YG ENTERTAINMENT]
Images from Blackpink Jisoo’s dance performance video for her first solo song “Flower” [YG ENTERTAINMENT]
Images from Blackpink Jisoo's dance performance video for her first solo song "Flower" [YG ENTERTAINMENT]
Images from Blackpink Jisoo’s dance performance video for her first solo song “Flower” [YG ENTERTAINMENT]

Jimin may have set the record on the U.S. chart, but other stars also make their own mark.

Jisoo of Blackpink became the first-ever million-selling woman solo K-pop singer with her album “ME,” selling 1.02 million copies less than a week after its release on March 31.

The previous first-week sales records by women K-pop soloists were held by her bandmates, most recently by Lisa with her solo album “Lalisa” (2021) which sold 730,000 copies during the first week of its release, and before that by Rosé, who sold 440,000 copies of her solo album “R” (2021) during the first week.

Jisoo’s music video for her lead track “Flower” surpassed 100 million views Friday, seven days and 22 hours after its release, and was the most-watched music video in the world during the week of March 31. The song landed No. 38 on the British Official Chart Single Top 100 chart, the highest ever for a woman K-pop soloist.

Recent releases by K-pop artists include EXO’s Kai, who topped the iTunes Top Albums chart in 40 regions with his third solo EP “Rover” last month. SHINee’s Onew rolled out his first full-length album “Circle” on March 6, followed by two Japanese singles on March 22. Mark of boy band NCT released his second solo track “Golden Hour” on Friday, and Park Woo-jin from boy band AB6IX recently released his first solo EP “oWn.”

Onew of boy band SHINee [SM ENTERTAINMENT]
Onew of boy band SHINee [SM ENTERTAINMENT]
Kai of boy band Exo [SM ENTERTAINMENT
Kai of boy band Exo [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

As for upcoming releases, Big Bang’s Taeyang has an album set to drop this month, Highlight’s Lee Gi-Kwang will soon release his first solo full-length album, GOT7’s BamBam will be coming out with his first solo full-length album, and girl group CLC’s Jang Ye-eun and girl group Lovelyz’s Lee Mi-joo are also scheduled to make their solo statements.

While the success of solo artists can be credited to the maturity of K-pop as a genre, which has resulted in the expansion of not only global fandoms of individual singers but the overall awareness of K-pop songs, this may actually be “just the beginning,” according to music critic Cha Woo-jin.

“We call it a solo debut because releasing solo music means their performance will be assessed as solo singers and not as part of a team,” he said. “A good debut is a good start, but that’s just the beginning. Now they have to keep up the work to really prove themselves as capable solo artists, which can’t be done with just one or two hits but must be sustained in the coming years.”

The solo trend will continue with the remaining members from BTS and other members of major K-pop bands. Jimin was the fourth member of BTS to release his own album, following Jin, J-Hope and RM. Suga is up next with “D-DAY” scheduled for release on April 21.

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]