The K-pop idol industry has often been considered a manufacturing factory of talent. By training prospective idols from a young age, the infrastructure prepares them to sing, rap, and dance, but rarely how to deal with the attention accompanying celebrities.
With idols debuting in their early teens, there is barely any time for them to get accustomed to the highly competitive and sometimes unforgiving world that K-pop can be. Over-sexualization of minors, age-inappropriate music, and the pressure to do well can take a toll on these young singers.
5 K-pop idols who debuted in their early teens: SHINee's Taemin, ENHYPEN's Ni-ki, and more
Entering the world of K-pop allows younger singers more of an exposure to the industry, which means that they are able to create a good framework for their music in the future. They are also able to forge stronger bonds with group members.
On that note, here are five K-pop idols who debuted at the age of fourteen or younger.
1) BoA (solo artist), age 13
Among the best-known singers from the first generation of K-pop, BoA debuted in 2000 when she was only thirteen. She was among the first idols to find major success abroad due to her albums in English, Japanese, and Mandarin in addition to Korean.
Her most well-known songs include Valenti, Only One, and Hurricane Venus, the latter was released in 2010 and marked her return to K-pop after a brief hiatus. BoA has served as an inspiration for many singers in the industry and continues to offer her guidance at various idol reality shows to assist to-be idols.
The 35 year-old singer is particular about the kind of songs that aspiring idols perform, saying that it should suit the age of the person onstage. Perhaps debuting at a young age made her more vigilant about public perceptions and therefore protective over younger artists.
2) Taemin (SHINee), age 14
SHINee's illustrious maknae, Taemin, is yet another idol who debuted young. This second-generation K-pop group debuted in 2008, when Taemin was just 14-year-old. The group made waves with their first song, Replay, and has since produced hits such as Ring Ding Dong, Lucifer, and Don't Call Me.
The 29-year-old even launched a successful solo career that allowed him to explore different genres and push boundaries as a performer. Move, Danger, and Advice are some of his most famous songs that took the world by storm.
In the past, Taemin has talked about the amount of pressure he faced as he debuted as an early teen. He was going through puberty, which caused his vocal chords to suffer, and when SHINee debuted, he could not sing at all. As a result, the singer always tells those who become K-pop idols young to make good friends who are of the same age.
3) Wonyoung (ex- IZ*ONE and IVE), age 14
Back in 2018, after participating in Mnet's Produce 48 and finishing first, a 14-year-old Wonyoung debuted as a part of IZ*ONE. The group went on to release hits such as La Vie en Rose and Panaroma before disbanding in 2021. Wonyoung later re-debuted as a K-pop idol with IVE in 2021.
Aged only seventeen presently, she is the host of SBS' Music Bank with ENHYPEN's Sunghoon, and has had several advertisements and endorsements to her name already.
4) NI-KI (ENHYPEN), age 14
ENHYPEN's NI-KI made his K-pop idol debut in 2020 after participating in I-LAND. He was just fourteen when ENHYPEN's final line-up was announced, although he had some experience being on stage due to his time as part of a dance troupe called SHINee Kids.
Being from Japan, Nishimura Riki (NI-KI's birth name) has it tough since he has to stay away from his parents for long periods of time, and could not visit them during short vacations unlike the other members.
Additionally, NI-KI was the shortest in ENHYPEN for a while before he hit a growth spurt, so he worried about standing next to his team-mates.
5) Hyein (NewJeans), age 14
Debuted in August of 2022, NewJeans' youngest member, Hyein, is fourteen years old. The group's debut, Cookie, was immensely popular but laced with controversy because of the lyrics, which seemed to be inappropriate for minor K-pop idols. The following lyrics are an example to this:
"Made a little cookie/ Come and take a lookie/ Only at my house, Come over and play/ I'll bake it for you daily"
The creator of the group, Min Hee-jin, was also known as the creative director of concepts in SM Entertainment groups like Red Velvet's Ice Cream Cake and Taemin's solo debut album Ace. These concepts were also deemed to be oversexualized and inappropriate for young K-pop idols to perform.
The recent success of groups with young K-pop idols raises an important question about the kind of songs that teens and young adults are singing and performing. When minor idols perform concepts they do not fully understand, one has to ask who the songs are catered towards.