No matter how successful a K-Pop idol may be, it is often difficult for those who debuted through groups to go solo. The real reason as to why has to do mostly with the business priorities of labels, which can be frustrating for many fans since all artists deserve the freedom to pursue their own creative projects.
Many of the most famous solo artists in K-Pop are members of hugely successful groups, such as EXO‘s Baekhyun, who became the first idol to become a million-seller as both a soloist and as a member of a group. Yet, despite his great success, it took Baekhyun nearly a decade to debut as a solo artist.
Similarly, TWICE‘s Nayeon is set to make her long-awaited solo debut on June 24, and while ONCE has been extremely excited for it, there is a sense that this solo debut has been a long-time coming.
For one, this is due to the fact that the K-Pop industry has changed in recent years. Speaking to The Korea Times, music critic Jung Min Jae explained that the new international reach of K-Pop has made it possible for groups to have a much longer lifespan than they used to.
The exponential growth of K-pop’s global fandom has extended the life span of most K-pop groups over the last few years. Surviving for more than seven or eight years was a daunting mission for them in the past, but today, the majority of them can enjoy popularity for more than a decade thanks to their solid international fandom and the diversification of platforms where they can showcase their music and content.
— Jung Min Jae
What this means is that it is now even more favorable for labels to delay the solo debuts of its idols. Even when the idols are unquestionably talented, labels perceive it as more of a risk to give them a solo debut because they won’t all have the same backing from fandoms as the groups do.
Even if K-pop labels come up with a decent solo material for a popular group member, this does not guarantee them success because not all fans of the group will give unwavering support to that member.
— Jung Min Jae
K-Pop labels also expect soloists to be all-rounders. If not, it’s harder for the label to find the ‘right’ songs or concepts.
When launching a group, a label can combine different members with different knacks to appeal to people, but when it comes to a solo artist, he or she should be an all-rounder excelling in both singing and dancing. This makes it more difficult for a company to decide on the songs to include and which concept to try.
But of course, even when the artists are ‘all-rounders,’ it far from guarantees them a solo debut. For example, GOT7‘s Youngjae recently explained that GOT7 left JYP Entertainment because they felt there was no space for the members to shine individually while under the company.
The members are all people who could have shone a lot brighter but we just didn’t have that opportunity. When performing as soloists, they do.
And yet, it’s not like that with every label.
In the case of BLACKPINK, YG’s effort has led all members to establish a loyal fan base as an individual, allowing them to go solo faster than other K-pop stars.
— Jung Min Jae
Still, YG Entertainment‘s artists, and BLACKPINK in particular (Jennie made her solo debut within 2 years), tend to be the exception. Most idols who debut as part of a group likely will still have to wait much longer to make their solo debut.
All artists in the industry are more than talented enough to lead solo careers, which is why it can be frustrating for fans that so many are not given the chance. And when they are, they have to wait a long time to see it happen. But thankfully, fans are always there to support their artists, and will continue to be there through thick and thin!