Lee Ji-eun (Korean: ; born May 16, 1993) is a South Korean singer-songwriter, record producer, and actress better known by her stage name IU (Korean: ). She signed as a trainee with LOEN Entertainment (now Kakao Entertainment) in 2007 and made her singing debut at the age of fifteen with her first extended play (EP), Lost and Found (2008). Although her subsequent albums, Growing Up and IU...IM, achieved mainstream success, she did not achieve national stardom until the release of "Good Day" (Korean: ), the lead single from her 2010 album Real. "Good Day" went on to spend five weeks at the top of South Korea's Gaon Digital Chart, and it was ranked first on Billboard's list of the "100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s" in 2019.
With the success of her 2011 albums, Real+ and Last Fantasy, IU cemented her girl next door image as Korea's "little sister" and established herself as a formidable force on the music charts of her native country. Her first foray into songwriting came in 2011 with "Hold My Hand," which she wrote for the television series The Greatest Love. Modern Times (2013), IU's third studio album, featured a more mature musical style that marked a departure from her earlier girlish image, with several tracks reaching the top 10 on the Gaon Digital Chart. Billboard's list of the "25 Greatest K-Pop Albums of the 2010s" ranked the album second. IU eventually gained more creative control over her music, with Chat-Shire being the first time she was credited as the sole lyricist on her own album. Palette (2017), IU's fourth studio album, became her first to debut at number one on Billboard's World Albums chart. While her subsequent albums, Love Poem and Lilac, deviated from mainstream K-pop styles, exploring and mixing various music genres, IU maintained her dominance on South Korean music charts. Her 2020 single "Eight" was her first to top the Billboard World Digital Song Sales chart.
IU has dabbled in acting and hosting radio and television shows in addition to her music career. She was cast in leading roles in television drama series You Are the Best! (2013), Pretty Man (2013-14), The Producers (2015), and Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo after appearing in supporting roles in teen drama Dream High (2011) and minor appearances in several television series (2016). IU's performance as a desperate office worker in My Mister (2018) earned her her first Best Actress in Television nomination at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards. In 2019, she appeared in the anthology film series Persona as well as the fantasy television series Hotel del Luna, which earned her her second Best Actress nomination at the Baeksang Arts Awards. IU appeared in Hirokazu Kore-film eda's Broker in 2022, alongside Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, and Gang Dong-won.
IU has released five studio albums and nine EPs, five of which have charted at number one on the Gaon Album Chart, as well as thirty number-one singles, making her the South Korean artist with the most number-one singles. IU became the first solo female K-pop act to perform at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena during the Seoul leg of her 2019 Love, Poem concert tour, as well as the first Korean female artist to hold a solo concert, The Golden Hour, at Seoul Olympic Stadium in Seoul on September 17 and 18, 2022. In a 2023 ranking, Rolling Stone ranked her as the 135th greatest singer of all time. Since 2012, she has appeared five times in the top ten of Forbes magazine's annual Korea Power Celebrity list, reaching a high of number three that year. Billboard named IU the all-time leader of its K-pop Hot 100 with the most number-one songs and the artist with the most weeks at the top of the chart in 2014. In 2014 and 2017, she was named Gallup Korea's Singer of the Year.
On May 16, 1993, in Songjeong-dong, Seoul, South Korea, IU was born Lee Ji-eun. IU expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry at a young age and began taking acting classes. Her family's financial situation deteriorated after her elementary school years, and they eventually relocated to nearby Uijeongbu, in Gyeonggi Province. For over a year, she and her younger brother lived apart from their parents in a studio room with their grandmother and cousin in abject poverty. IU had little contact with her parents during this time, but felt safe in the care of her grandmother.
IU discovered her passion for singing during her middle school years and decided to pursue a career as a singer after being applauded for a performance she gave at her school's sports competition. She went to 20 auditions but didn't get any of them, and she was also duped by bogus entertainment companies. She later studied with Uee, Yubin, Heo Ga-yoon, and Jun Hyo-seong at Good Entertainment. She relocated to Bangbae, Seoul, after signing with LOEN Entertainment in 2007. IU stated that she "loved being at the studio" because she could eat as much as she wanted and had a place to sleep at the time due to her poor living conditions.
With the exception of Korean literature, her burgeoning career resulted in decreased attendance and grades at school. IU decided not to pursue post-secondary education alongside her singing career after graduating from Dongduk Girls' High School in 2012.
2008-2009: Beginnings of a Career
IU made her debut in 2008 under her stage name, conceived by LOEN to mean "I and You become one through music," after ten months of training. On September 18, 2008, she made her debut as a professional singer by performing her debut single, "Lost Child" (Korean: ), live for the first time on the music programme M Countdown. IU recalled the audience hurling insults at her during the performance, which she initially found discouraging but now sees as a learning experience. The lead single from her debut extended play (EP), Lost and Found, was released on September 24, 2008. In November of that year, IU was named "Rookie of the Month" by South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism for the album. However, the album was not a commercial success. IU stated in an interview in 2011: "My first album failed, which I am grateful for. I wouldn't appreciate my staff members or the popularity I have now if I had become successful as soon as I made my debut."
Growing Up, IU's first studio album, was released on April 23, 2009, with the lead promotional single "Boo" as the lead single. The next day, she began promoting her album by 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 "retro sound" of "Boo" from the 1980s. The dance choreography, stage costume, and hairstyle shown in live performances were deemed "strategic" transformations that were used to emphasise her youthfulness and project a "cute" image. Despite the positive public reaction, IU, who was fifteen at the time, admitted that the image made her feel awkward. Several songs from Lost and Found appeared on her debut studio album Growing Up, including "You Know" (Korean: ); a new rock-style arrangement of the song was released as the follow-up single to "Boo". IU...IM, her second EP, was released near the end of 2009. On November 13, 2009, she began promoting its lead single, "Marshmallow" (Korean: ), on music programmes. In a 2013 episode of Happy Together, IU stated that she disliked having to wear the girly costumes and hairstyles designed for the song promotions. The performances were well-received and were labelled "cute," a la "Boo" reviews.
As her popularity grew, IU began to appear on more variety shows, including Star Golden Bell, Kim Jung-Chocolate, eun's and You Hee-Sketchbook. yeol's Her acoustic covers of other artists' songs featured in these live performances, such as Girls' Generation's "Gee," Super Junior's "Sorry, Sorry," and Big Bang's "Lies," drew a lot of attention online. In late 2009, she made her debut as a television host, hosting a weekly music chart show on Gom TV while also appearing as a regular guest on numerous radio shows such as Kiss the Radio, Volume Up, MBC Standard FM's Starry Night, and MBC FM4U's Best Friend Radio.
Rising popularity and acting debut in 2010-2011
IU released "Nagging" (Korean: ), a duet she recorded with 2AM's Lim Seul-ong, on June 3, 2010. The single debuted at number twelve on the Gaon Digital Chart before rocketing to number one the following week, where it remained for three weeks. The pop ballad duet, written by Kim Eana and composed by Lee Min-soo, was used as one of the theme songs for the second season of the variety show We Got Married. Soon after, IU released "Because I'm a Woman" (Korean: ), which served as one of the theme songs for MBC's historical drama Road No. 1. On the Gaon Digital Chart, the song peaked at number six. The song "It's You" (Korean: ) by IU and Sung Si-kyung from his album The First debuted at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart.
Real, IU's third EP, was released on December 9, 2010. Real debuted at number four on the Gaon Album Chart, produced by Jo Yeong-cheol and Choi Gap-won. After "Nagging," the lead single, "Good Day" (Korean: ), reunited IU with lyricist Kim Eana and composer Lee Min-soo, with whom she would collaborate on the lead singles of her next two studio albums. According to Kim Eana, the uptempo song is about "a shy girl who is nervous about expressing her feelings to the boy she likes." IU also topped the charts on M Countdown, Music Bank, and Inkigayo during the album's promotional period. Kim Eana and Lee Min-soo both attributed the song's success to the use of the word oppa (Korean: ) in the chorus, as well as the three high-pitched notes that IU sings in semitone increments during the song's climax. In addition to receiving praise for her vocal abilities, IU's fan base grew to include a more diverse demographic than that of other K-pop groups. Billboard magazine ranked "Good Day" at number one on their list "100 Greatest K-pop Songs of the 2010s".
To stay visible in the public eye, IU joined the cast of Heroes, which aired from July 18, 2010 to May 1, 2011. IU recalled the camaraderie she developed with the other regular cast members despite the hectic two-day shooting schedules that only allowed them two-three hours of sleep. IU was cast in the teen drama Dream High shortly after joining Heroes. 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 portrayed Kim Pil-sook, a shy and overweight high school student who aspires to be a professional singer. IU admitted that she was unsure about her readiness to take on acting, but she gained confidence after learning that the part would require singing, and she later described the experience as a tremendously enjoyable one. For the series' soundtrack, she released the single "Someday," which peaked at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart from January 30 to February 5, 2011. By the end of 2011, the single had sold 2,209,924 digital copies, making it one of IU's best-selling soundtrack singles.
Real+, a follow-up extended play to Real, was released on February 16, 2011, and contained three songs. The lead single, "Only I Didn't Know" (Korean: ), was written by Kim Eana and composed by singer-songwriter Yoon Sang. Yoon Sang composed the song for IU after observing her sad expression on a television broadcast. The tone of the ballad was a departure from her more recent releases, with IU describing it as dark, sad, and sentimental, which is more in line with her musical tastes. Commercially, the song did well, debuting at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart.
On June 29, 2011, IU performed at a Disney Channel and Disney Junior launch event in South Korea.
Following the conclusion of Dream High, IU embarked on a number of side projects. 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". IU's role model, Bailey Rae, said of IU, "It's incredible that her voice is so soulful even though she's young." IU was appointed as one of the new hosts of the music programme Inkigayo in the same month, a position she held until July 2013. IU recorded her first self-written song, "Hold My Hand" (Korean: ), for the romantic-comedy television series The Greatest Love in May 2011. In 2011, the song reached number two on the Gaon Digital Chart and sold 2,031,787 digital copies. Between May and July 2011, IU competed as a celebrity contestant in Kim Yuna's Kiss & Cry, a reality ice-skating competition series, until she was eliminated in the eighth episode. She also took part in Immortal Songs: Singing the Legend during this time, but withdrew after recording one episode due to her hectic schedule. IU commented on her varied entertainment activities, stating that while singing, acting, and variety are all difficult, she finds variety to be the most exhausting.
Last Fantasy, IU's second studio album, was released on November 29, 2011. 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". The album was produced by Jo Yeong-cheol, with whom IU collaborated on Real, and features collaborations with singer-songwriters such as Yoon Sang, Lee Juck, and Ra.D. Within the first two weeks, the total number of download sales from the album's tracks surpassed 10 million. The Gaon Digital Chart saw eight of the album's thirteen songs debut in the top ten, while the Gaon Album Chart saw the album debut at number one. "You & I" (Korean: ) became IU's most commercially successful single, selling nearly 5.5 million digital copies by the end of 2012. At the time of its release, it topped both the Gaon Chart and the newly established Billboard K-pop Hot 100 chart.
As a precursor to her entry into the Japanese market, IU signed with EMI Music Japan (now part of Universal Music Japan) shortly before the release of Last Fantasy. On December 14, 2011, a collection of her previously released songs was compiled into an extended play titled IU, which was released in Japan.
2012: Debut in Japan and first solo concert tour
As Last Fantasy and its main single "You & I" continued to be promoted in South Korea into 2012, IU began preparing for her Japanese debut by performing two shows on January 24, 2012, to an audience of approximately 4,000 people at the Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo. She sang six songs, including her debut single "Lost Child" and the Japanese version of "Good Day," accompanied by either a live orchestra or her own acoustic guitar. Following the concert, both "Good Day" and "You & I" were released as new singles in Japan, with moderate success. According to Japan's Oricon Singles Chart, Good Day's single album sold 21,000 physical copies in its first week of release, with the single debuting at number six. "Good Day" peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100. "You & I" peaked at #4 on the Oricon Singles Chart and #11 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100. In support of her Japanese single releases, IU performed a mini-concert series called IU Friendship Showcase - Spring 2012 in five cities: Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka.
In June 2012, IU embarked on her first concert tour, Real Fantasy. She performed in six different cities throughout South Korea, beginning with two shows in Seoul. The first two shows on June 2-3 were sold out within 30 minutes of going on sale on April 17. According to reports, 43.8% of ticket buyers were between the ages of 20 and 29, with 71% being male, which is unusual for a K-pop concert. The tour went on to Ulsan, Jeonju, Suwon, Busan, and Daegu before returning to Seoul for two encore shows on September 23, 2012. Ra.D, Lim Seul-ong, and Lee Seung-gi were among the special guests.
IU was unable to make broadcast promotions for her fifth Korean extended play, Spring of a Twenty Year Old (Korean: ), which was released on May 11, 2012. This was due to her commitments to preparing for her first solo tour. The album, which was named to commemorate IU turning the Korean age of 20, contains three songs, the lead single of which is "Peach" (Korean: ). "Peach," written by IU, reached number two on the Gaon Digital Chart and number three on the Billboard K-pop Hot 100. The album's second single, "Every End of the Day" (Korean: ), topped the Gaon Digital Chart for two weeks and the Billboard K-pop Hot 100 for four weeks. Instead of the typical 4-5 minute music video that usually accompanies a single release, a 26-minute documentary-style music film shot in Venice and Burano and released alongside the album, featuring both "Peach" and "Every End of the Day," was created.
On September 17, 2012, IU returned to Japan to perform one show, titled IU Friendship Special Concert — Autumn 2012, in front of a crowd of over 5,000 people at the Tokyo International Forum. IU performed a mix of her own songs and covers of Korean and Japanese songs, including "Juliette" by Shinee, "Friend" by Anzen Chitai, and "Aishiteru" from the Natsume's Book of Friends anime series, with Sunny Hill as a guest act. The event's live recordings of "Friend" and "Aishiteru" were later released as promotional digital singles. As her Real Fantasy tour and promotions in Japan came to an end, IU returned to Inkigayo after a three-month hiatus due to concert commitments. She also co-hosted MBC's brief-lived television quiz show, Quiz Show Q, with Park Myeong-su and Sun Bom Soo. IU co-hosted the 2012 SBS Gayo Daejeon, an annual music programme, with Bae Suzy and actor Jung Gyu-woon on December 29. The producer of the show chose her for her MC abilities, which she demonstrated on Inkigayo.
IU received two awards at the 2012 Seoul Music Awards for her achievements in the previous year: Last Fantasy was named Record of the Year, and she was one of ten musical acts to receive the Main Prize. "Good Day" was named Song of the Year and Best Pop Song at the Korean Music Awards, and 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 have made her into a bona fide superstar".
2013: First appearances and Modern Times
IU began 2013 by playing the title role in You're the Best, Lee Soon-shin, her first leading role in a television series. Her character has been described as a "loser" who appears average in every way except for her daring and bright personality, which aids her in overcoming adversity. Despite reservations about casting someone better known as a singer in the role, director Yoon Sung-sik chose IU after seeing her performance in Dream High and believing she matched the image he had envisioned for the character. Her co-stars, Go Doo-shim and Lee Ji-hoon, as well as the production crew, lauded her performance, particularly during emotional scenes. Despite early reservations about her casting, IU's performance garnered positive critical reviews as the series progressed, with viewership ratings peaking at 30.8%. At the 2013 KBS Drama Awards, she was nominated for the Excellence in Acting Award (Best Actress in a Serial Drama). For the drama, she recorded a duet with her co-star Jo Jung-suk called "Beautiful Song" (Korean: ), which was not included on the official soundtrack.
During the same time period, IU released Can You Hear Me?, her second Japanese extended-play album, which featured her first original Japanese songs. Two singles were released from the album; "Beautiful Dancer" and "New World" peaked at 66 and 76 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100, respectively, ranking significantly lower than her Japanese-translated versions of "Good Day" and "You & I," which were top 10 releases. Rolling Stone Japan praised the album, citing "Beautiful Dancer" and "Truth" as standout tracks. In an interview with Oricon, IU described how surprised and moved she was to receive the songs "Beautiful Dancer" and "Truth" from R&B producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Her next Japanese single, "Monday Afternoon," debuted at number 27 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100 chart and number 9 on Japan's Oricon Daily Chart on September 11, 2013.
On October 8, 2013, IU released her third studio album, Modern Times, almost two years after Last Fantasy. It was described as a "significant departure from the young singer's K-pop roots," with a "more mature and sophisticated sound and image" than her previous work. IU wrote and composed two of the album's thirteen tracks, which ranged from swing to jazz, bossa nova, Latin pop, and folk. Billboard and The Korea Herald both praised the variety of jazz styles and the mix of collaborative tracks. 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". According to the Korea Herald: "...vintage sounds and modern effects are artfully combined to form a new but familiar collection of songs. Modern Times has a carefree vibe that reminds me of jazz in the Roaring Twenties." Modern Times debuted at number one on the Gaon Album Chart, with seven of its tracks reaching the top ten on the Gaon Digital Chart, including the lead single, "The Red Shoes" (Korean: ). Likewise, the album debuted at number four on Billboard's World Albums Chart, with twelve tracks charting on the K-pop Hot 100. Billboard's list of the "25 Greatest K-Pop Albums of the 2010s" ranked the album second.
During the second week of her Modern Times promotion, IU decided to join the romantic comedy series Bel Ami. She portrayed Kim Bo-tong, a carefree girl in her twenties who has had an unrequited crush on the male protagonist since high school. IU was nominated for Outstanding Korean Actress at the 2014 Seoul International Drama Awards for her performance. IU held her second concert tour in support of Modern Times, which began on November 23-24, 2013, at Kyung Hee University's Peace Hall in Seoul and ended on December 1, 2013, at KBS Hall in Busan. Modern Times promotion continued into 2014, with IU performing in Hong Kong for the first time in a solo concert. On December 20, 2013, a repackaged version of Modern Times titled Modern Times — Epilogue was released, with two additional tracks: "Friday" (Korean: ) and "Pastel Crayon" (Korean: ). "Friday," her self-composed song, was originally intended to be included in Modern Times but was later released as the lead single of Modern Times — Epilogue. "Friday," described as a "mid-tempo, bossa nova number," topped the Billboard Korea K-pop Hot 100 chart for two weeks after its release. The lead single charted at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart and was the tenth best-selling digital single of 2014.
A Flower Bookmark for 2014
On May 16, 2014, IU released A Flower Bookmark (Korean: ), her sixth Korean extended play and first cover album. The album includes seven renditions of songs from the 1980s and 1990s in a variety of genres such as ballad, dance, folk, and rock. The album was created in response to fan requests and 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 first week of release, with the lead single, "My Old Story" (Korean: ), eventually peaking at number two. However, her collaboration with Kim Chang-wan on the remake of his 1984 song, "The Meaning of You" (Korean: ), became the album's best-selling track and her best-selling single of 2014. The Korea Times praised the album for providing "a pleasant, calming respite from today's mainstream music," 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 colour and arrangements." "Pierrot Smiles at Us" (Korean: ), according to Billboard, was the "most ambitious tune she tackled" and demonstrated her versatility as a singer.
The third solo Korean concert series, "Just One Step... That Much More," fulfilled IU's desire to conduct a more intimate and smaller scale concert. From May 22 to June 1, the concert series was held over eight nights at Sogang University's Mary Hall, which seats 450 people. All eight shows sold out within 10 minutes of going on sale on May 7, 2014. IU performed all seven songs from A Flower Bookmark, as well as various new arrangements of her earlier songs, as well as playing the keyboard for the first time on stage. Kim Jong-hyun, Jung Yong-hwa, Hwang Kwanghee, Kim Bum-soo, Lim Seul-ong, Jo Jung-suk, Ha Dong-kyun, and Akdong Musician performed as special guests. The concert proceeds were donated to the victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster.
On August 9-10, two months after her solo concerts concluded, IU made her US debut at the KCON music festival in Los Angeles. IU was the only female act to perform on the first day of KCON, and she sang "The Red Shoes," "You & I," "Friday," and "You Know" for the occasion. The Los Angeles Times stated in their review that IU had a "sprightly stage presence, and as a solo female singer, she's breaking the moulds for K-pop stardom." In an interview with Billboard, IU expressed her fear of performing at the event: "When I perform at international shows, I always get nervous... I believe I will need to study English for my next trip to the United States. It's oppressive not to be able to communicate with fans..."
IU's collaborations with other artists produced top-ten hits throughout 2014: "Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms" (Korean:,, ), the debut single of High4, which featured IU as lyricist and vocalist, peaked at number one on both the Gaon Digital Chart and the Billboard Korea K-pop Hot 100; "Anxious Heart" (Korean: ), recorded by Ulala Session and IU in 2012 but released more than a year later out of respect for Ulala Session' After "Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms" topped the Billboard Korea K-pop Hot 100 chart, IU became the chart's "all-time leader" with five number-one songs and the artist with the most weeks at number one since the chart's inception in September 2011.
2015-2016: Further acting success and EP releases
In 2015, two years after her last acting role, IU co-starred in The Producers with Kim Soo-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun, and Gong Hyo-jin, which was named one of South Korea's most anticipated TV series of the year. Cindy, a diva-like singer, decides to take part in a variety show to improve her public image. IU commented on her character's "biting attitude" and how similar her character was to herself while analysing her character's perceived icy demeanour. The series and IU's portrayal of Cindy received lukewarm reviews at the premiere, but both viewership and critical response improved throughout the series, peaking at 17.7% viewership for the final episode. She sang two songs in character, "Twenty Three" and "Heart" (Korean: ), which were later released 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 on May 18 as a digital single. "Heart" debuted at the top of the charts and went on to become the tenth best-selling digital single in South Korea in 2015. "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". IU's popularity in China skyrocketed thanks to The Producers, with the university reportedly receiving offers for several projects from Chinese companies.
Following the completion of The Producers, IU took part in Infinite Challenge, a biennial music festival event hosted by the variety show, in which each participating singer-songwriter is paired with one of the six hosts to create a song for the festival. The festival preparations and event were broadcast over the course of seven episodes. She collaborated with Park Myeong-su, with whom she recorded and performed "Leon" (inspired by the film Léon: The Professional). As shown in the final episode, which aired on August 22, 2015, the live performance event on August 13, 2015, drew an estimated crowd of 40,000 at Alpensia Ski Jumping Stadium. Following the broadcast of the final episode, "Leon," along with the other festival songs, was released as a digital track and on the official festival album. When it was released, "Leon" topped all of South Korea's music charts.
Chat-Shire, IU's seventh Korean extended play, was released digitally on October 23, 2015, ahead of its physical release on October 27. IU asserted more creative control over the album, writing the lyrics for all seven tracks (plus the two bonus tracks on the physical album) and composing the music for five tracks either individually or collaboratively. She was also listed as executive producer on the album. When the album was released, the lead single, "Twenty-Three" (Korean: ), topped the national music charts, with several of the album's tracks also ranking in the top ten. On Billboard's World Albums chart, the album peaked at number four. Billboard called the album a "must-hear" release with "some of the most personal music yet," naming "The Shower" (Korean: ) as its standout track.
In July 2016, IU attended a fansign event.
Despite receiving positive critical reviews and chart success, the album became divisive 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 levelled criticisms at IU for her interpretation of the five-year-old protagonist as a "sexual object". "I did not intend to turn Zeze into a sexual object... but I realise that my lyrics have offended many, and for this I apologize," IU said two days later. On November 10, the publisher apologised for failing to recognise "diversity of interpretation." The bonus track "Twenty Three" allegedly used voice samples from Britney Spears' "Gimme More" 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 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. Toward the end of 2015, IU co-hosted Gayo Daejeon, SBS's annual end-of-year music programme, with Shin Dong-yup. "IU has been deeply acknowledged for her musical talents, moving beyond the image of 'Korea's cute younger sister,'" the program's producers said of their host choice. Ize named IU one of the 2015 "Persons of the Year," and GQ Korea named her the "Woman of the Year" for her achievements.
IU starred as Hae Soo in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, a Korean adaptation of the Chinese novel Bu Bu Jing Xin, in September 2016.
Palette, A Flower Bookmark 2, and My Mister in 2017-2018
Palette, IU's fourth studio album, was released on April 21, 2017, with her serving as primary lyricist and executive producer. The album's lead single, "Through the Night" (Korean: ), featuring G-Dragon from Big Bang, as well as two pre-release tracks "Can't Love You Anymore," were released earlier. Palette (Korean: ) debuted at the top of the Billboard World Albums chart, a first for the singer, and also topped local album sales and download charts. Billboard praised IU's greater creative control on the album, saying it successfully allowed listeners to learn more about her, paving the way for greater success both in Korea and internationally. Palette was a commercial success, with all three singles from the album reaching number one on the Gaon Digital Chart, with the main single, "Palette," spending two weeks at the top. However, it was her first pre-release single, "Through the Night," that became the album's best-selling track as well as her best-selling single of 2017.
Palette received critical acclaim and numerous awards, 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)" at the 27th Seoul Music Awards; IU herself was named Best Female Artist at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. The album also earned IU a Melon Music Awards "Best Songwriter" award, a Gaon Chart Music Awards "Lyricist of the Year" award, 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". "Palette" was ranked sixth on Billboard's list of the "Best K-Pop Songs of 2017," with the magazine explaining that "the mellow-dy belies a topsy-turvy world of self-satire, idiosyncratic sound effects, and throwbacks to older eras." The New York Times Magazine included "Palette" on its list of "25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going," making IU the only Asian artist on the list and praising IU's ability as a singer-songwriter to project authenticity in K-pop. Furthermore, Billboard named Palette the best K-pop album of 2017, stating, "An album as impressive and sonically diverse as Palette demonstrates why injecting an artist's personal experiences into their music can lead to their greatest work yet." IU appeared on the reality show Hyori's Homestay during the Palette promotional period.
On September 22, 2017, IU released her second cover album, A Flower Bookmark 2. The album, like its predecessor, featured covers of songs from the 1960s to the early 2000s in a variety of genres including folk, retro, ballad, and nu-disco. Prior to the album's release, a single titled "Autumn Morning" was unannounced on September 18 to commemorate the singer's ninth anniversary. The track "With the Heart to Forget You" by Kim Kwang-seok was originally planned for the album, but 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. From November to December 2017, she went on tour in various cities throughout Korea as well as Hong Kong to promote the album. IU also appeared in the title song, "Love Story," from Epik High's ninth studio album, We've Done Something Wonderful, which was released on October 23, 2017. Gallup Korea named her the most popular K-pop artist of 2017 (she previously topped the list in 2014), as well as the year's most popular K-pop idol.
In March 2018, IU appeared as Lee Ji-an in the tvN drama My Mister. 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, the series was both commercially and critically successful. Following that, IU contributed vocals to Zico's "Soulmate," which was released on July 23, 2018. Upon its release, the single topped the daily and real-time charts of all six major Korean music websites, as well as the Gaon Digital Chart.
In October 2018, IU released a single titled "Bbibbi" to commemorate her tenth anniversary of debuting. On October 10, 2018, the music video was released alongside the single. Only 16 hours after its release, Kakao M confirmed that "Bbibbi" had surpassed one million unique listeners on Melon, Korea's largest music site. They claimed that it had already surpassed the previous 24-hour unique listener record set by her duet "Leon" with Park Myung-su in 2015. In the first 24 hours after its release, "Bbibbi" received 1,462,625 unique listeners. The song reached number one on the Gaon Digital Chart and number five on Billboard's World Digital Songs Chart. "Bbibbi" was ranked 87th on Billboard's list of the "Best Songs of 2018," with the magazine explaining that "the single not only comments on IU's experiences in public life, but it doubles as a universal empowerment anthem, knowing and acknowledging one's worth and personal rights." The single was also listed at number 4 on Billboard's list of "The 20 Best K-pop Songs of 2018". On October 28, 2018, IU began her first Asian tour, titled IU 10th Anniversary Tour Concert. IU appeared two months later on Kim Dong-"Fairytale," ryul's which peaked at number four on the Gaon Digital Chart.
Hotel del Luna, Love Poem, and Lilac (2019-2021)
IU made her film debut in the Netflix anthology series Persona on April 11, 2019. She played different characters in each of the four short films written and directed by Lee Kyoung-mi, Yim Pil-sung, Jeon Go-woon, and Kim Jong-kwan, all of whom have received critical acclaim. In 2019, it was the sixth most popular show on Netflix in Korea. IU starred in the Hong Sisters' fantasy mystery drama Hotel del Luna over the summer. She also performed "Happy Ending," a song from the soundtrack. The drama was a commercial success, recording the highest ratings in its timeslot throughout its run. IU was set to release her ninth extended play, Love Poem, on November 1. However, she decided to postpone the EP's release to November 18 following her close friend Sulli's death. Her single "Peach" (2012), inspired by Sulli, re-entered charts as a tribute to the late singer. The EP's eponymous lead single was released as planned, subsequently peaking at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart, and at number nine on Billboard's World Digital Songs Chart. IU began her second Asian tour, Love Poem, in Gwangju on November 2, 2019. Her two-month tour, which included stops in ten cities, drew nearly 90,000 fans.
IU appeared on a soundtrack album for the first time in nine years, with the song "Give You My Heart" from the hit romantic comedy Crash Landing on You. It debuted at number 71 on South Korea's Gaon Digital Chart, 2020 on February 15, 2020, rising to number one the following week. On May 6, 2020, IU released the single "Eight," which was produced and co-written by BTS's Suga. It is the follow-up to IU's previous singles "Twenty-Three" (2015) and "Palette" (2017), which form part of her "coming-of-age" series. The title of the song is derived from the last digit of both artists' Korean ages (twenty-eight). IU released the song "Into the I-LAND" as the signal song for the survival reality show I-Land on June 19, 2020.
On January 9, 2021, IU won Song of the Year at the 35th Golden Disc Awards for "Blueming," becoming the first female soloist in the award show's history to win two grand prizes. While accepting her award, she hinted that she would be back soon with a new single titled "Celebrity," which would have a refreshing and cheerful pop sound. Edam Entertainment confirmed her return with the pre-release single "Celebrity" on January 27, 2021, two days later. Lilac, her fifth studio album, was released on March 25 to immediate commercial success; the album debuted atop the Gaon Album Chart, and all tracks simultaneously charted in the top 30 of the Gaon Digital Chart. IU announced in October that her digital single "Strawberry Moon" would be available on October 19. IU later teased the release of a special album titled Pieces, which was released on December 29.
The collaborative single "Ganadara" with Jay Park was IU's first project of 2022, and it peaked at number one on both the Gaon Digital Chart and the Billboard K-pop Hot 100. Pieces:29th Winter, her first documentary, was supposed to be released on March 16 but was later pushed back to March 23.
The following month, IU appeared in the film Broker as So-young, a single mother who initially decides to leave her newborn at a baby box but later changes her mind and attempts to retrieve her child. After seeing IU's moving performance in My Mister (2018), director Hirokazu Kore-eda felt she was the only actress who could embody So-character. young's Broker was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or and had its world premiere at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. "It is K-pop singer-turned actor Lee Ji-eun who leads the ensemble down its path of brilliance as she performs her heart out, she is the soul of the film," wrote film critic Ben Rolph of IU's performance. At the 27th Chunsa International Film Festival, she was nominated for Best New Actress for her performance.
It was announced on July 27, 2022, that IU would perform The Golden Hour: Under the Orange Sun at the Seoul Olympic Stadium on September 17 and 18, 2022, becoming the first Korean female artist to do so.
Projects in the works
It was announced on January 3, 2020, that IU would star in Lee Byeong-Dream, heon's a comedy drama about a group of people competing in the Homeless World Cup. On April 13, 2022, filming in Hungary was completed. In response to the experience, she stated: "It was my first time shooting a feature film. It has accumulated more memories than any other work, and I believe it will stay with me for a long time." It was announced on January 27, 2023 that IU would appear in Lim Sang-upcoming choon's television series.
Also consider: IU's songwriting credits
Over the course of her career, IU has been credited with writing over seventy-two songs, including music for her solo career, songs for other performers, and various songs for film or drama. Yoo Seung-"Believe ho's in Love," which she featured on, for the compilation album Road for Hope, and "Alone in the Room," from her third extended play (EP), Real, were the first two songs for which she received songwriting credit. In 2011, her first self-composition was "Hold My Hand" for The Greatest Love. Given that she wrote the song not for herself but at the request of the drama's producers, IU found the experience challenging because she had to match the drama's upbeat tone. IU began to take more creative control over her music on her second studio album, Last Fantasy, writing six of the thirteen total tracks. Her next studio album, Modern Times, and its re-release, Modern Times - Epilogue, were also mostly written by IU and South Korean lyricist Kim Eana, who had previously written several tracks for Last Fantasy. With the exception of one song on the latter, IU wrote the lyrics to every track on her subsequent releases, Chat-Shire and Palette, and served as executive producer on both. The lyrics on her fifth EP Love Poem were entirely self-written, and she received composition credits on two tracks, "The Visitor" and "Blueming". IU wrote the lyrics for every song on her fifth studio album, Lilac. Additionally, she helped compose two of the album's singles, "Coin" and "Celebrity". IU has also written and performed numerous songs for South Korean films and dramas such as The Producers, My Mister, Bel Ami, and Hotel Del Luna. Sixteen of IU's songs have been released as singles, with eleven of them topping the Gaon Digital Chart, including "Through the Night" and "Friday," the third and fifth best-selling singles in South Korea, with over six million and five million sales, respectively.
According to The Korea Herald, one of the core themes explored in IU's music is consolation, most notably in "Through the Night" and "Dear Name," both songs from Palette.
IU has a soprano vocal range, thanks to acoustician and professor Myung-jin. When writing an article comparing her voice to Hyun Bin, Bae expresses her range as having mezzo-soprano qualities. Her vocal abilities are frequently complimented. IU could quickly transition from a "sweet" voice to "hit powerful notes," according to Monique Danao of the South China Morning Post. Bae used "Good Day" as the basis for his vocal analysis in a 2011 academic paper co-written by Doo-heon Kyon at Soongsil University, stating that when IU reached the highest note (F5) in the three-note increment, her frequency stability showed a lengthy duration with abundant lung capacity, and commenting that she "expresses well beyond the highest range required by the soprano [voice type]".
Awards and accomplishments
The main article is: IU has received the following awards and nominations.
IU has received over 200 award nominations and has won over 100 of them since her debut in 2008. She has 21 Melon Music Awards, sixteen Gaon Chart Music Awards, five Korean Music Awards, eleven Mnet Asian Music Awards, seven Seoul Music Awards, and eight Golden Disc Awards to her name. IU has also won several acting awards, including "Best New Actress" at the 2014 KBS Drama Awards for her performance in You're the Best, Lee Soon-shin.
IU has received ten Daesang (grand prize) awards from various award shows, including five from the Melon Music Awards and three from the Golden Disc Awards. She was named to the Forbes Korea Power Celebrity list in 2012 as one of the most influential people in South Korea, and she has been mentioned five times since then. IU was also recognised for her influence and success in the music industry at the 2015 Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards, which were held by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. In 2022, she received the CJ ENM Visionary Award, which recognises talents in the Korean film and television industries for their contributions to "leading trends and spearheading innovations."
Other business ventures
IU has donated a total of 4.3 billion since her debut, with over 1.5 billion donated in 2022 alone. Since 2011, IU has donated all of the proceeds from her fan meetings. IU has been an ambassador for South Korea's National Police Agency in their anti-bullying campaigns in schools since February 2012; she was made an honorary member of the police force in 2013 before being promoted to an honorary senior police officer for a two-year term in 2014. IU donated $100 million to the Green Umbrella Children's Foundation in 2015, and again in 2018, 2019, and 2020, with the request that it be used to help underprivileged children. She has also helped the organisation by volunteering. After donating to her high school alma mater for several years, IU established a scholarship there in 2016. The scholarship, dubbed the "IU Scholarship," is intended to assist four graduates from low-income families.
In 2018, IU gave $20 million in financial aid to five college students to help with room and board. The same year, IU took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge, an Internet challenge to raise awareness of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Following her role as Lee Ji-an in the hit drama My Mister the previous year, IU donated $50 million to the Deaf Senior Citizens Support Center in 2019, inspired by her role in which she had to learn sign language. She also donated 10 million through the Seocho District Office to vulnerable social groups and elderly living alone, 100 million to commemorate her 11th anniversary, and another 100 million at the end of the year to the Korean Foundation for Senior Citizen Support. Her philanthropic efforts earned her a spot on Forbes' "Asia's 2019 Heroes of Philanthropy: Catalysts For Change," where she was the youngest person on the list.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Korean Medical Association reported that IU donated 3,000 pieces of medical protective clothing worth $100 million, as well as approximately 4,600 cooling vests worth $100 million for nurses. In August 2020, she will donate $100 million to the Korea Disaster Relief Association to assist flood victims.
She will donate $10 million to Yangpyeong County in May 2021 to help single parent families and grandparents raising grandchildren. On her birthday, May 16, 2021, she will donate $500 million to the Korea Pediatric Cancer Foundation, the Korean Single Mothers and Families Association, the Comprehensive Support Center for Elderly Living Alone, the Child Welfare Association, the Yeouldol Association, and the Purme Foundation to fund the treatment of children and adolescents with rare diseases, as well as to support single-parent families, the elderly living alone, and children in difficult financial situations. She donated 850 million products for the 13th anniversary of her debut on September 18, 2021, ranging from winter coats and bedding sets to water bottles for 20 COVID-19 clinics in Seoul. The Green Umbrella Children's Foundation announced a $100 million donation from IU on December 24, 2021. The funds will be used to support tuition for prospective college students from low-income grandchild and single-parent families through the Dream Tree Scholarship.
IU donated $100 million to the Hope Bridge Disaster Relief Association in March 2022 to assist residents affected by the Uljin and Samcheok wildfires, and her donation will support temporary housing for forest fire victims. In honour of Children's Day, Indiana University donated $100 million to the Green Umbrella Children's Foundation, which will be used to support children from low-income single-parent families and grandparents, as well as to renovate children's facilities. IU donated a total of 210 million on her birthday, May 16, 2022, to The Snail of Love, Korean Single Mothers Family Association, Eden Iville, and Changwon Social Welfare Corporation. In May, IU donated $10 million to Yangpyeong-gun to "empower the children of the low-income and vulnerable classes" in honour of Family Month. IU donated $100 million to the Hope Bridge Korea Disaster Relief Association in August to assist those affected by the South Korean floods in 2022. In September, she donated $100 million to the Asan Social Welfare Foundation and the Seoul Metropolitan City Welfare Association under the name IUaena, a combination of her and her fandom's names. IU will donate a total of $200 million to Yeouldol, a non-profit organisation that assists children with rare diseases, the Korea Child Welfare Association, and the Babsang Community Briquette Bank in December 2022. By donating through The Love Briquette Collecting Campaign, IU donated $10 million to Yangpyeong-gun to provide heating and insulation aids to vulnerable groups and low-income earners at the end of the year.
IU was featured in the charity song "One Step" to promote disability awareness in January 2023.
IU is one of South Korea's highest-paid celebrities, with endorsements accounting for a portion of her earnings. Throughout her career, she has endorsed a variety of products ranging from electronics to clothing and cosmetics. Her first three endorsement deals were with Crown Confectionery's MyChew candy, Crown Bakery, and clothing brand Y'sb in 2010. Video games were also among her first endorsements that year. When Ntreev Soft chose IU to endorse MMORPG Alicia: The Story of My Horse and I, they stated that her "simple and innocent" image complemented the game's vibe, and she was featured in the soundtrack. IU announced the Global StarCraft II League's player introductions; she later performed at the league's finals in 2011. She was a spokesmodel for Aion from 2012 to 2013, and an in-game model was created in her honour.
Throughout 2018-19, IU has been featured in advertisements for products such as Anycall, Galaxy S II, Wave 3, and Samsung Card. In late December 2019, Samsung also added a feature to have her voice for the Celeb Alarm. IU was also the ambassador for Expo 2012, which was held in Yeosu. Following the release of A Flower Bookmark, she collaborated with You Hee-yeol in Sony Korea's promotional campaign for its MDR-series headphones, and she continued to be a representative for the brand's audio products until 2015. Since 2011, IU has modelled for Unionbay and Le Coq Sportif, as well as SK Planet online store 11st, G by GUESS with Yoo Seung-ho, Elite with Infinite, SBENU with Song Jae-rim, and J.Estina jewellery. Gucci appointed IU as their brand ambassador for South Korea in February 2020, and later as their global brand ambassador in March 2022. She has appeared in numerous editorials wearing their clothing. Later that month, in July 2021, New Balance announced IU as their global brand ambassador and began collaborating on its "We Got Now" campaign. IU has endorsed The Saem, Qdsuh in China, ISOI, and CNP Cosmetics as cosmetic brands. Following IU's return to endorse Unionbay with Lee Hyun-woo in 2015, and ISOI's selection of her as a model for two years, the two entities sponsored The Producers, in which IU played a leading role, through product placement.
Woori Financial Group, owner of one of South Korea's four largest banks, chose IU as an advertising model in April 2022 for her influence across multiple generations. During the same month, its MAU (monthly active users) increased by 100,000, reaching 5.8 million. The following month, it surpassed 6 million users, an increase of approximately 500,000. Woori's spokesperson stated that they believed it was a result of IU's endorsement. Other endorsements include S-Oil, Homeplus, Nongshim's products, Mexicana Chicken fast-food chain, and Jeju Samdasoo and Binggrae Banana Flavored Milk, both of which will be available in mid-2020. HiteJinro announced in November 2014 that IU had been appointed as the spokesperson for Chamisul soju. In December 2015, they extended her contract.
According to the South China Morning Post, her net worth is between US$31 and US$45 million, making her the wealthiest female Korean idol singer. On December 31, 2022, it was revealed that IU had been in a four-month relationship with actor Lee Jong-suk. Their respective agencies both confirmed the rumours.
Main article: IU discography
See also: IU videography and List of songs written by IU
Main article: IU filmography
Main article: List of IU concert tours