A screenshot of female K-Pop solo artist Sunmi in her MV for the single "Lalalay"

Seven of the Top Female K-Pop Solo Artists Currently Active

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When people think about K-Pop, they usually picture a group—be it a girl group or a boy group, a mega-world famous group like BTS and BLACKPINK or relatively smaller like ONEUS and OH MY GIRL, a group with decades-long experience like GOT7 and APINK or freshly-debuted like IVE and KEP1ER. 

The standard building block of K-Pop always seems to be a group, but that doesn’t mean that the industry is completely devoid of soloists who were able to build successful careers and establish massive fandoms that can very much hold their own against the ones for the group acts.

A gif of Lisa from BLACKPINK performing her second solo debut single, "Money"
BLACKPINK’s Lisa performing “Money,” from her debut EP. (YG Entertainment)

K-Pop soloists either debut as soloists right from the start or have a run at being in a group, and then go solo once the group’s contract has ended. There are also idols who do their solo work while being in their original group—think Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa from BLACKPINK or RM, SUGA, and j-hope from BTS.

J-Hope from BTS in the music video for his solo debut, "More"
j-hope was the first member of BTS to release solo music after the group announced its hiatus. (HYBE)

Down below, you’ll find a list of seven of the top K-Pop female soloists currently active, so you can start exploring this corner of the K-Pop world, as well. I’ve decided to pick idols who are only doing solo work and who are no longer in a group—and of course, a bit of my personal taste has slipped through.

IU

Born in 1993, IU—real name Lee Ji-eun—debuted in 2008 with her solo EP Lost and Found. From there, her career has been a steady climb to the top. Every single one of her releases smashes South Korea’s music charts, and she’s universally considered one of the most beloved and successful celebrities in the country, with a massive list of awards and accolades to show for it.

K-Pop soloist IU performing her single "Eight"
IU performing a live version of her single “Eight”, which was produced by and featured BTS’s SUGA (Kakao Entertainment)

IU’s image has always been that of the fresh-faced girl next door, so much so that one of her nicknames is “Korea’s little sister”—her high, soprano-like vocal range definitely helped with establishing that image. Going beyond the pubic persona, though, it’s undeniable that IU is a truly amazing artist, writing a good majority of her own songs and branching out in other areas of the entertainment industry. She has also established herself as an actress, especially after the success of the 2019 K-Drama Hotel del Luna.

SUNMI

I don’t know if you care, but I’m going to tell you anyways: Sunmi is my absolute favorite K-Pop soloist. I love her, and everything she does, to bits. So don’t be too surprised if I end up gushing about her.

A gif of Sunmi from the music video of her single "Heroine"
Sunmi from the MV of her single “Heroine” (Makeus Entertainment)

Born in 1992, Lee Sun-mi first debuted as a member of the JYP Entertainment girl group Wonder Girls in 2007—where she was bandmates with another artist on this list, it should be noted. She left the group after three years and re-debuted in 2013 as a soloist, moving in 2017 from JYP Entertainment to her current label, Makeus Entertainment.

A gif of Sunmi from the music video of her most recent release "Heart Burn"
Her most recent single, released in the summer of 2022, is titled “Heart Burn” (Makeus Entertainment)

2017 was also the year she released her smash single “Gashina,” a huge success that boosted her fame both in South Korea and abroad and also cemented her image and her music style—which has been named after her becoming known as “Sunmi-pop.” Her songs are known for having upbeat, electro-pop rhythms with double-entendre titles and lyrics, hiding an always-present veil of melancholy and retro nostalgia under it all.

CL

Lee Chae-rin—stage name CL—debuted in 2009 as the leader of girl group 2NE1, one of the most successful of the second generation and pretty much the creators of the “girl crush” concept that has shaped much of the K-pop music industry that we’re currently seeing.

K-Pop soloist CL performing at the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics
In 2018, CL famously performed at the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

While still active with 2NE1—who officially disbanded in 2016 because YG Entertainment will be YG Entertainment—she also released her first solo single, “The Baddest Female.” The track that really launched her solo career though was “Hello Bitches” in 2015.

K-Pop soloist CL in the music vide for her solo debut, "The Baddest Female"
CL in her solo debut, “The Baddest Female” (YG Entertainment)

Her discography might not be the richest on this list, even though after she finally chose self-love and left YG Entertainment in 2019, she released an EP and a studio album in the span of three years—but it has had a massive impact on the image that female idols and female rappers can build for themselves in the K-Pop industry. CL has also always been praised for her stage presence—and, as a side note, is sitting comfortably on her “fashion icon” status, collaborating with the likes of Alexander Wang and Jean Paul Gaultier.

CHUNG HA

One of the youngest members of this roster, but not the youngest—keep on reading to discover who our maknae is—Kim Chung-ha was born in Seoul but lived eight years as a child in Dallas, Texas. Her first appearance in the K-Pop industry was during the Meet survival show Produce 101, where she finished fourth, earning a spot in the temporary group that debuted out of the show, I.O.I.

A gif of Chungha from the music video of "Stay Tonight"
Chungha in the MV for “Stay Tonight,” one of the singles off her album Querencia (MNH Entertainment)

Now, temporary groups being, as the name suggests, temporary, I.O.I. promotions wrapped up in 2017, and that same year, Chungha released her debut EP Hands on Me. Her popularity, though, exploded in 2019, when she released the single “Gotta Go,” which went all kinds of viral and helped her establish herself as one of the most prominent soloists in the industry. Recently, she has been focusing on larger projects, releasing two full albums in both 2021 and 2022: Querencia and Bare & Rare.

TAEYEON

One of the most powerful voices in the entire K-Pop industry, Kim Tae-yeon debuted in 2007 as the leader and main vocalist of a little group called Girls’ Generation. The group continued dominating the South Korean music scene for ten years until 2017, when it went on an extended hiatus—but not disbandment, since the girls did reunite in 2021 and are planning to have a comeback to celebrate their 15th anniversary.

A gif of K-Pop soloist Taeyeon from the music video of her single "Spark"
Taeyeon in the MV for her song “Spark” (SM Entertainment)

But back to Taeyeon, her solo career began while she was still active with Girls’ Generation with the EP I and the single of the same name, which skyrocketed at the top of South Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart. Her popularity has continued rising steadily over the years. She has established herself as one of the most prominent members of the K-Pop subgenre known as K-Soul, which features powerful ballads and vocals.

HYUNA

You can’t have a female K-Pop soloists lists without including Kim Hyunah, one of the idols who has been defining the K-Pop industry since her debut, which happened in 2007 in the girl group Wonder Girls, together with Sunmi—but she withdrew from the group shortly after, due to concerns over her health. She moved from JYP Entertainment to Cube Entertainment (cue the thunder and lightning), and she debuted there in 2008 with the girl group 4Minute.

A gif of K-Pop soloist Hyuna from the music video of her single "Lip & Hip"
Hyuna from the MV of one of her most famous songs, “Lip & Hip” (Cube Entertainment)

While her solo debut officially happened in 2010 with the single “Change,” her true shoot to solo stardom arrived with the release of Bubble Pop in 2011. Hyuna continued to basically carry the entirety of Cube Entertainment on her back—even after the disbandment of 4Minute in 2016—until 2018, when some photos that proved her relationship with label mate E’Dawn from Pentagon were leaked on the Internet. The aftermath of the so-called “dating scandal” resulted in both Hyuna and E’Dawn being kicked out of Cube. The two signed with P Nation, Psy’s label, in 2019 and have continued their solo career there—and they also announced their engagement at the beginning of 2022.

SOMI 

The maknae of this list, Somi—birth name Ennik Somi Douma, since her father is Dutch-Canadian—participated in men’s survival show Produce 101, just like Chungha. And just like Chungha, she ended up debuting in the group I.O.I. She had actually ranked first at the end of the show, and her popularity among the South Korean public was already massive.

A gif of K-Pop soloist Somi from the music video of her single "XOXO"
Somi in the MV for one of her most recent releases, “XOXO” (The Black Label)

At the end of I.O.I.’s promotions, she went back to training under JYP Entertainment, where there were rumors that she was going to debut in ITZY, after having been eliminated from the roster of trainees who had debuted as TWICE. In 2018, however, Somi switched entertainment agencies, leaving JYP Entertainment and signing on with The Black Label, a subsidiary of YG Entertainment.

A gif of Somi from the music video for "What Are You Waiting For"
Somi in the MV of her sophomore single, “What Are You Waiting For” (The Black Label)

Her debut single, “Birthday,” was released on 2019. While her popularity has always been high—even if it did take a bit of a hit with the label switch and the dilated comeback times that are very typical of anything related to YG Entertainment—she enjoyed a new wave of success and fans after the release of the single “Dumb Dumb” in 2021, which went all kinds of viral.

That concludes our list, so now it’s up to you: Who are your favorite female K-Pop soloists?

(featured image: Makeus Entertainment)


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.