The art of going solo – JYP edition

The k-pop world is dominated with groups, synchronised dance steps and personalities have helped the industry to grow each year. It seems that as a solo artist it is hard to stand out unless you offer something completely different from the status quo e.g. IU and Juniel.

Unlike groups such as The Wanted or One Direction where members are set, k-pop allows for movement. Case in point T-ara, these overworked girls have seen their group dynamic change with the addition of two teenage members. Their company CCM claimed that it was needed to keep things fresh for their fans. Another group which has seen their dynamic change over the years is After School, granted they operate the ‘graduation system’ for members leaving the group.

You could say that the group doesn’t always allow for the individual to shine. Fundamentally members must make sure that they fit into the mould created for their group by the company.
However there comes an opportunity for an idol when they get to showcase their skills and talent.
Ladies and gentleman this is the solo project.

Companies either choose the most talented or the most commercially viable member of the group to go solo. They know that they can earn even more money from music sales and other endorsements that their stars undertake after their solo project.

Unlike the West when a group member going solo leads to accusations of friction in a group, the k-pop world allows for members to slip in and out of their group activities.

Going solo in the k-pop world doesn’t always provide the individual the fame that they would want and can be a double edged sword. It can bring fame and individual success for the artist but could lead to friction in the group as other members can become overshadowed.

Although 4minute is a five member group, member Hyuna has become larger than the group itself even though she is not the leader. With her instant charisma and beauty she stands out and it seems that her company marketed her as the ‘sexy’ one in the group. Following on from her solo activities in 2010 she has become instantly linked with this image and the controversy caused by her video for her single ‘Bubble Pop’ summed this up.

The video made many men smile but caused outrage for her overtly sexual dance moves and outfits. This image seemed to stick with her during her stint as part of the sub-unit group Troublemaker with label mate Hyunseung of boy group Beast.

Granted she gained a lot of fame through this portrayal it seems that everything she does is seen through the lens of being Hyuna the ‘sexy one’. Even when 4minute returned with their single ‘Volume Up’ eyes were instantly drawn to Hyuna and her effortlessly charismatic and sexy image.

Another key solo project is that of G Dragon of Big Bang. His first album was received with praise and exclaim for his composing and producing of most of the tracks. He is the leader of Big Bang and is responsible for most of their songs but G Dragon has created an image for himself outside of his Big Bang identity. The same can be said for Taeyang, his debut album earned him a lot of praise not just in South Korea but overseas. His talent for dancing and heartfelt songs and voice showcased his abilities and reinforced the notion that he could be just as successful if he wasn’t in Big Bang.

With these examples, it is clear to see that these members have something strong to offer. They are characters within their groups but have that x-factor that helps them to pursue solo activities with success.

Recently JYP has released solo projects for Jo Kwon of 2AM and Wooyoung of 2PM and this is certainly an interesting turn of events. 2AM and 2PM represent a different part of the industry. 2PM are the ‘beastly’ idols who have upbeat pop songs, whilst 2AM are ballad focused.

What makes these recent solo debuts interesting is the choice of members from the groups. Jo Kwon is a memorable figure in 2AM. He is something of a diva and is perfect for the variety TV circuit providing humour and interesting antics. Wooyoung on the other hand has never really stood out in 2PM.

When I think of 2PM my mind instantly thinks of Nickchun, Taecyon and Junsu. Nickchun stands out for not only being the foreigner in the group but also for his wholesome appearance. He seems like the kind of guy that could win the hearts of countless ahjummas. Taecyon on the other hand stands out for his chiselled physique. This chiselled physique has seen him chosen to model and take part in countless CF’s (adverts) with a strong focus on his body or his athleticism. Junsu is known for his excellent vocals and this was further illustrated in his solo work. It is clear when listening to 2PM’s songs that Junsu’s voice stands out and seems to hold most of the songs.

Wooyoung on the other hand seems to fade into the background along with his band mate Chansung. To me, he is representative of youthfulness and the carefree humour that comes with it. But his vocals or his stage presence has never left me wanting to hear more of him; he is certainly one of the key members in 2PM. Junsu released one single which gained rave reviews; it would make sense for JYP to release a Junsu mini album. But who wants to go with the safe option?

On the other hand a solo album from Jo Kwon was a given. He seemed to be to be somewhat stifled amongst his 2AM members and his character shone throughout all of their media appearances and stages. He has a stronger voice than label mate Wooyoung and with the added ‘diva’ presence seems to have the right ingredients to make an impact.

Judging their initial releases you could argue that they are both going for the strong dance and synthesised sound. Wooyoung performed his debut stage with the single ‘Sexy Lady’ at the MNET 20’s Choice Awards and although he gave it his all it was clear to see that this was very much a debut stage. Unfortunately due to the wet ground he and his dancers skated around the stage and seemed to be trying hard to maintain their balance. This took away from the performance but even with this he caught my attention. He is no longer in the background, this is the perfect opportunity for him to shine and show the K-pop world what he is made of.

Jo Kwon and his fabulous heels have definitely made an impact. He is a flamboyant character and the song choice for his first single ‘I’m da One’ reinforces this. Watching his performances on the music programs it was clear to see he was having a lot of fun. It as if the weight of being in a ballad only group has been shaken off and he is free to truly express himself and dance the night away. Although I am not blown away by the rest of the album Jo Kwon has certainly made a name for himself. Wooyoung is still closely linked to 2PM and has not made as much of an impact, I see Jo Kwon being his own identity and brand outside of 2AM.

Why JYP has chosen to put these two against each other and the big names of 2NE1 and Super Junior is for another discussion. Wooyoung stands to be overtaken by the might of these two super groups whilst Jo Kwon in my opinion can hold his own.

So what can Wooyoung do to make more of a name for himself?

Take the concept that he has been given (it is clear to see JYP’s influence in his styling and presentation) and try to make it his own and begin to create an identity. He also needs to develop a strong charisma that takes him away from his usual role of being the lovable goof in his group.This identity need to be strong and mature, letting the world know just who he is.

Jo Kwon on the other hand needs to channel his diva status and natural charisma and turn it into something unique but also palatable for a mass audience. Granted he has fans already, he needs to make sure that his solo doesn’t take him too far away from 2AM. Fundamentally the group has been his ticket to fame and in the K-pop business solo activities do not always last forever. Eventually he will return to 2AM and would need to fit into the group dynamic once again. Jo Kwon needs to ensure that the solo artist and the group member each have their own place and can coexist peacefully.

It is still too early to know who has more of a chance at being successful, but at the moment Jo Kwon is leading the pack.

Unlike the everyday stage that most K-pop artists work on, they are not protected by other members of their groups. The solo stage can be seen as a way of separating the men from the boys and the talented from the talentless.

The art of going solo is to make sure that your presence outside of your group is felt without distancing your position in a well-established group.

There are only a small number of acts that have stood on the solo stage and reinforced their talent and with the ever changing nature of the industry I am sure that there will be more to come.

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