When a K-pop group disbands, many of its artists often decide to fly solo. Some members also choose to leave their groups when their individual popularity surpasses that of the group’s.
Sometimes, idols are also forced to leave when they get entangled in scandals, but eventually manage to make a successful comeback nonetheless.
No matter what their reasons for going solo might be, there are significant challenges to making it as a soloist in the K-pop industry. While it may seem like being popular is the trump card in this career, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Here, we take a look at the trajectories of some female K-pop idols who managed to attain success despite leaving their group.
SUNMI, HyunA and CL: K-pop idols who transitioned into their solo careers successfully
SUNMI debuted in 2007 as part of Wonder Girls, a popular K-pop girl group which broke multiple records in the industry. However, she left the group in 2010 to pursue higher education. She was not one of the front-runners of the group but in 2013, with her songs 24 Hours and Full Moon, she made a dynamic comeback as a solo artist under JYP Entertainment.
Both the songs established her as a force to be reckoned with.
She announced in 2015 that she would be resuming her activities with Wonder Girls until they disbanded in 2017. However, she mentioned that she felt like a frog in a well with no scope of progress in the company.
She wanted to learn and experience new things and thought JYP Entertainment was too systematic and could not provide her with enough freedom of expression as a solo artist. This led her to sign with Abyss Company, under whom SUNMI released her viral song, Gashina, in 2017.
This elevated her status as a soloist to watch out for, and increased her popularity not only in South Korea but all over the world. The idol has been releasing hit singles ever since.
HyunA has debuted in countless groups but still managed to maintain her own unique charm. She first debuted as a member of the K-pop group Wonder Girls in 2007. However, she left the group due to her health concerns.
She debuted again in 2009 with CUBE Entertainment’s girl group 4minute and officially made her solo debut in 2010 with the song Change. In 2011 she also released her smash-hit song Bubble Pop! that made her a household name in South Korea. In 2011 she also debuted in a duo called Trouble Maker with male idol Hyunseung, and they released their iconic hit song Troublemaker.
She returned with her solo song Red in 2014 which consolidated her popularity and status as an ace soloist. In 2016, even though 4minute disbanded, HyunA’s popularity was sky-rocketing.
She debuted in a trio called Triple H with her now fiancé DAWN and PENTAGON member Hui.
Even after leaving CUBE Entertainment, she managed to retain her fame and fans, and came back stronger than ever under P Nation with her single I’m Not Cool.
CL was the leader of YG Entertainment’s legendary K-pop girl group 2NE1. Right from their debut in 2009 with the song Fire, the group received praise and accolades for being a trailblazer, paving the way with their unique girl crush concept for other girl groups to come.
CL debuted as a soloist in 2013 with her fierce song The Baddest Female. As her group went on hiatus, she made her American debut in 2015 with her smash-hit song Hello Bitches and her 2016 single Lifted, established her as a global star. She was the first female Korean soloist to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
Unfortunately, the group suddenly disbanded in 2016, but that did not dim CL’s light. She stayed at YG Entertainment for a while but left the company when she realized that they were not focused on her solo career.
CL signed with SuneV and released multiple singles such as +Hwa+ before finally releasing her debut solo album Alpha in 2021. The pre-release single, Spicy, became a dance-anthem all over South Korea.
CL has collaborated with the majority of the big names in the music industry and is one of the most globally recognized Asian artists.
It’s not easy to make it as a solo artist in a fast-paced industry like the K-pop music industry. However, the aforementioned ladies survived and came out on top, paving the way for others to follow.