Many people, especially non K-Pop fans (or “muggles”), are under the impression that the career of a K-Pop idol is short and sweet. There’s this negative impression that K-Pop stars rise to fame in a heartbeat, and then fall off the grid in the blink of an eye. This notion is especially more widespread among female K-Pop idols, as girl groups historically have shorter careers than prominent boy groups backed by a tight-knit fanbase.
From K-Pop fans' perspectives, such negative beliefs just should not be true. So how can K-Pop stars maintain a steady career even after their “peak” fame?
Here are some top female celebrities of today who may have the answer!
1. Lee Jung Hyun
Debuted at the young age of 16 as a rookie actress, Lee Jung Hyun’s career “peak” is known by the Korean public to be from 1999~2006, where she reigned as the “techno queen” of K-Pop with her living legendary hits like “Wa” and “Change”. After entering her thirties, she shifted her focus completely toward acting. Particularly in recent years, she is being recognized as one of the most versatile top actress in the Korean film industry, earning praise for her roles in ‘The Battleship Island’ (2017), ‘Peninsula’ (2020), etc. The singer/actress also announced her marriage last year at the age of 39 to her non-celebrity husband.
2. Seo Hyun Jin
A popular example of a female SM-idol whose career took flight after her girl group promotions, Seo Hyun Jin continues to promote as a prominent actress long after her debut in M.I.L.K in 2001. Immediately after M.I.L.K’s disbandment in 2003, Seo Hyun Jin carried on the life of a normal university student. In 2005, SM Entertainment suggested that she continue her entertainment career through the musical ‘Sound of Music’. After her departure from SME, Seo Hyun Jin’s acting career took off in the 2010’s, establishing the beloved star of ‘Let’s Eat 2’, ‘Another Miss Oh’, and more.
3. Hwan Jung Eum
Now a top actress in her thirties and the mother of a 3-year old son, Hwang Jung Eum actually started out as a member of girl group SUGAR from 2001-2004. However, due to the overwhelming popularity of one member over the other three in SUGAR at the time, Hwang Jung Eum felt pressured to step away from her idol career and seek a new path for herself. Even after her transition from an idol to an actress in 2004, her rise to stardom wasn’t easy. She returned to the spotlight in 2009 through the sitcom ‘High Kick Through The Roof’, after which she went on to create a “Hwang Jung Eum” brand of dramas including ‘Listen To My Heart’, ‘She Was Pretty’, and most recently, ‘Mystic Pop-Up Bar’.
The original “visual fairy” of 1st-generation K-Pop. Also well-known for her background growing up in Guam, Eugene’s early career in S.E.S as the visual center and English-speaker of the group is very reminiscent of many K-Pop girl group members today. After S.E.S’s successful career from 1997-2002, the ladies parted ways to focus on their solo promotions afterward. To this day, the group has no history of any conflicts or controversies surrounding the team’s disbandment. After 2002, Eugene steadily built up a career not only as an actress, but also as an MC, influencer, and even author. Eugene’s career model represents a clean example of a K-Pop idol visual center who never managed to stop being “relevant” in the industry. Nowadays, her entire family including husband/actor Ki Tae Young and her two daughters represent a picturesque model of a beautiful celebrity family.
5. Jung Ryeo Won
Some of you may not know that singer/actress Jung Ryeo Won is Korean-Australian. She grew up in Australia since elementary school, and was street-cast (by Lee Sang Min) while studying in Korea as an exchange student. In 2000, she debuted as a member of Chakra with very little training experience, but quickly gained popularity as the team’s visual center. 2-years after her idol debut, Jung Ryeo Won began her acting activities and quickly decided that acting was more for her than signing and dancing, resulting in her departure from Chakra in 2004. It wasn’t long before her acting skills proved that she was widely-accepted as one of the original, successful 1st-generation idol-turned-actresses.
6. Jang Na Ra
Singer/actress Jang Na Ra was considered to be one of the highest-paid celebrities of the early 2000’s in Korean entertainment. Her debut album in 2001 failed to garner attention due to her agency’s lack of promotions; however, she then succeeded in garnering a huge fanbase thanks to her casting in the popular sitcom, ‘New Nonstop’. With this tight fanbase backing her promotions in both singing and acting, Jang Na Ra quickly went on to top numerous song and album charts throughout 2000’s, sweeping year-end awards in both music and acting. Her immense popularity also led to a “Jang Na Ra CF boom” from 2002~2005, but some consider the late 2000’s to be a critical downward point of Jang Na Ra’s career, as her agency began promoting her largely in China, therefore “undermining” her Korean fans. But in the 2010’s, when she returned to her Korean promotions focussed in acting, she had no trouble reestablishing her status as one of the most sought-after lead actresses of romantic comedy dramas.
7. Lee Hyori
An undisputed, legendary female icon in Korean entertainment, Lee Hyori proved yet again just how passionate she is about her music in 2020 through SSAK3 and Refund Sisters, 22 years after her debut in FIN.K.L. Since her early entertainer days, Lee Hyori was recognized as the main dancer of FIN.K.L. About 5 years after her group debut, Lee Hyori went on to release her 1st solo album ‘Stylish….E’, containing her mega hit title song “10 Minutes”. Most people know what the brand of “Lee Hyori” came to symbolize for women afterward - the definition of “female abs”, the original sexy queen, a fashion icon and trendsetter, not to mention literally the epitome of a “down to earth” girl who isn’t afraid to speak her mind whether on TV, in public, or where ever. Outside of music, Lee Hyori also boasts a Daessang award in variety programs for ‘Family Outing’ and is a popular variety star in her own right. But another aspect which boosts Lee Hyori’s status as an iconic voice and figure is her activity in animal rights (She is also pescatarian). Lastly, the unique marriage life she has shown on TV with her husband Lee Sang Soon and her beloved dogs and cats serves as yet another model example of an ideal future for currently promoting girl group members in a very realistic frame.