However, barely anyone in South Korea would fail to recognize the name IU, because this remarkable woman has simply done it all.
Once dubbed “Nation’s Little Sister,” IU is best known for her superb musicality and a unique voice. In fact, she’s frequently compared to fellow singer-songwriter and America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift.
Whether you’re new to IU or a long-time fan, this ultimate guide to her career and discography covers everything you need to know about the singer.
- IU’s Early Career
- IU In Her Dream
- Age Twenty and Onward
- IU: A True Performer
- The Spring of Her Twenties: The Coming of Age Series
- New Records and Heights in 2020
- IU Complete Discography
IU’s Early Career
Born May 16th, 1993, Lee Ji-eun was brought up alongside her brother and two other cousins by their grandmother in a one-bedroom studio apartment, on the brink of poverty.
Nevertheless, when the young Ji-eun found her passion in performing, her grandmother remained supportive. She even sold small accessories at a market to help fund her granddaughter’s dream.
Within the span of a year, Ji-eun auditioned for about 20 companies, including JYP Entertainment, but failed each one.
To make matters worse, some of those so-called entertainment companies scammed Ji-eun out of what little money she had.
While the experience left her disheartened, Ji-eun endured thanks to her grandmother. Finally, in 2007, she signed with LOEN Entertainment (now Kakao M), who provided her with better living conditions.
Afterwards, Ji-eun trained for 10 months before she was introduced to the world as “IU.” Her stage name literally means “I” and “you.”
On September 18, 2008, IU debuted her first song, “Lost Child.”
The EP gained IU the Rookie of the Month award by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. In 2009, she made her breakthrough with her pseudo rock-n’-roll song, “Marshmallow.”
IU In Her Dream
The following year, IU teamed up with lyricist Kim Eana and composer Lee Min-soo for “Nagging,” which gave IU her first music show win.
What’s even more amazing is that on June 2010, the song made history by inventing “Perfect All-Kills” (PAKs), which occur when a song reaches #1 in all major music chart categories.
On December 9 of that year, the K-pop music industry was forever changed with the release of “Good Day.”
The song, which showcased IU’s insanely wide vocal range, debuted at #1 in the South Korean singles chart, where it held the record for the most weeks spent at #1 until 2018.
Both songs eventually won major music awards, such as the 25th Golden Disk Awards and the Mnet Asian Music Awards.
In 2011, IU released her first self-composed and self-produced song, “Hold My Hand,” for the drama The Greatest Love.
On November 29, she released her studio album Last Fantasy, with the lead single “You & I.”
The clockwork-themed song eventually became IU’s most successful single, selling more than 6 million copies digitally by 2016.
Additionally, it claimed the top spot in the Gaon Digital Chart.
With this came her Japanese debut in 2012, which extended her platform beyond her homeland.
Age Twenty and Onward
IU continued to grace the world’s ears with each subsequent record. Celebrating her 20th birthday was The Spring of a Twenty-Year Old, which included “Every End of the Day” and “Peach”.
In 2013, she released her third album, Modern Times, a fusion of genres like jazz and bossa nova.
This departure from IU’s trademark sound, and the subsequent shift into a more sophisticated image, earned the artist praise and even more acclaim.
The album featured prominent figures in the industry, as well, like veteran Choi Baek-ho and the late Jonghyun of SHINee.
Before the year ended, the repackaged album, Modern Times – Epilogue, was released with two new songs, including the award-winning bestseller, “Friday.”
This era made IU even more appreciated, as both a lyricist and a composer.
IU: A True Performer
Soon, IU’s excellence led to older artists entrusting her with remakes of their own hits.
In 2014, IU released her remake EP, Kkot-Galpi (A Flower Bookmark) 1, a collection of 80s and 90s covers with her own unique flavor.
Her second remake EP, Kkot-Galpi (A Flower Bookmark) 2, released in 2017. This nostalgic album contained six songs, some of which were used in the hit drama, Reply 1988, in their original forms.
On her 10th anniversary, IU claps back at haters with her self-written single, “Bbibbi.” The colourfully made song pokes fun at negative comments that have plagued her career.
Further silencing the trolls: the track went platinum on the Gaon Music Chart by early May, 2019.
Love Poem, released on November 18, 2019, coincided with IU’s second Asian tour of the same name.
As the title implies, Love Poem was IU’s love poem to her career. Each track symbolized a key point in her life, particularly “Blueming” and the title track, “Love Poem.”
Additionally, “Blueming” went on to become a huge success. It won the digital daesang at the 35th Golden Disk Awards.
The Spring of Her Twenties: The Coming of Age Series
When IU turned 23, she made sure that everyone knew about it. On October 23, 2015, IU released her fourth EP, CHAT-SHIRE.
CHAT-SHIRE showcased IU’s never-ending ability to adapt musically. Naturally, it received recognition as one of the Best K-Pop Albums for that year.
IU’s 4th album, the colourful Palette, released in spring of 2017. She served as main lyricist and producer.
Promoted as her coming-of-age song, the lead single, “Palette” (featuring Big Bang’s G-Dragon), was a testament to her current life.
Its fresh, laid-back feel pulled new listeners within her orbit, making it the most viewed music video by a Korean female soloist in 2017.
The entire album was just as successful, in fact, as it received Album of the Year in the 2017 Melon Music Awards and the 2018 Seoul Music Awards.
New Records and Heights in 2020
On May 6, 2020—just 10 days before her 28th birthday—IU released the single, “eight,” co-written with El Capitxn and BTS’ Suga, who lent his voice in the rap verse.
The beautiful song shot up the charts, and even won Best Collaboration at the 2020 Mnet Music Awards.
IU’s fifth studio album, LILAC, was released on March 25, 2021. The album became the second highest selling album by a Korean female soloist within its first week.
Even more impressive, all its tracks charted on the Gaon Digital Chart…just mere hours after the release.
The bold take on escapism and acceptance made the album well-loved by fans and critics alike, earning LILAC a solid 81% on Beats Per Minute.
On March 29, IU made history yet again, when the lead track “LILAC” scored a PAK, making her the first artist to have 20 songs scoring a PAK in their career.
Beyond the achievements and critical acclaim, it is IU’s words that give essence to LILAC, having penned all tracks by herself.
IU Complete Discography
As of 2021, IU has released five albums and nine EPs, in addition to her single releases and OST contributions.
Lost and Found
Release Date: September 23, 2008
Marking her debut is the 6-track, easy listening EP, Lost and Found, which flaunts the mature vocals of the then-fifteen-year-old IU, especially through her debut song, “Lost Child.”
The album kicks off with the calming acoustic guitars of “ugly duckling” and is followed by the power ballad, “Lost Child,” which leaves the listener dumbfounded through its breathtaking orchestral instrumentation and IU’s power vocals.
Release Date: April 23, 2009
As IU’s first full-length studio album, Growing Up heads in a completely different direction from its predecessor, and therefore changes IU’s image.
The album begins with the soft bubblegum pop title track, “Boo,” which showcases the lighter, cuter side of IU’s voice.
“Pitiful” is a sweet, lullaby-like track, accompanied by relaxing guitar plucking and the hum of violins.
Each track to follow is different and unique, perfectly demonstrating the artist’s ability to pivot and explore creatively.
Release Date: November 12, 2009
This album includes IU’s breakthrough track, “Marshmallow.”
The album opener, “Love Attack,” is a perky electro-pop song, which sings of the lovesickness of a first crush.
Things then slow down for a short while, with the piano ballad “Taking a Train,” but the energy goes right back up with high-spirited “Marshmallow.”
What’s more, it features an uncredited rap by block b’s Zico, and a catchy chorus sure to ring in your ears for days on end.
Release Date: December 9, 2010
Arriving a full year after its predecessor is the EP that made IU into the Nation’s Little Sister: Real.
The album opens with the synth-pop heartbreak song, “This Is Not What I Thought.” It evokes the culture of the 80s, and includes a striking violin that beautifully emphasizes the deeper tone of the song.
Release Date: November 29, 2011
In 2011, IU released her second studio album, Last Fantasy.
This album starts off strong with “Secret,” an awe-inspired track complete with a superb instrumental, and a chorale to give it that spectacular finale that one seldom gets from a first track—let alone a non-single.
I U (Japanese EP)
Release Date: December 14, 2011
IU now sets her foot in Japan with her first Japanese EP, containing remastered versions of her Korean releases.
This EP includes two title tracks, “Good Day” and the upbeat, lovestruck single, “Nagging,” among others.
Spring of a Twenty Year Old
Release Date: May 11, 2012
Spring of a Twenty Year Old contains twin hit singles “Every End of the Day” and “Peach.”
The former includes a 26-minute music video, while the latter—a relaxing acoustic track—was written and arranged by IU herself, in honor of her good friend Sulli.
Can You Hear Me? (Japanese EP)
Release Date: March 20, 2013
Can You Hear Me? includes 5 new tracks in Japanese, one of which is written by IU herself.
The dreamy lead track, “Beautiful Dancer,” is a motivational pop dance song, made for an easy listening session at night.
Meanwhile, R&B-infused “Truth” is reminiscent of early 2000s hits, complete with IU’s distinct vocals.
Release Date: October 8, 2013
Later that year, IU shook the K-pop industry when she came forth with her third studio album that contained no trace of her former image. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however.
Revolving around the Roaring 20s, Modern Times experiments with multiple genres such as jazz, swing, and bossa nova, masterfully combining them into one of IU’s best albums yet.
Modern Times – Epilogue
Release Date: December 20, 2013
Two new tracks are included in Modern Times – Epilogue.
First is “Friday,” a warm and cozy acoustic track fearturing Jang Yi-yeong of HISTORY. Following that is “Crayon,” the lyrically romantic track that really heightens this album to new realms of sophistication.
Kkot-Galpi (A Flower Bookmark)
Release Date: May 16, 2014
A Flower Bookmark is IU’s first cover album.
It includes 7 tracks hailing from the 80s to 90s, each managing to retain the song’s original beauty, while showcasing IU’s unique talents and interpretations.
Release Date: October 23, 2015
Commencing the coming-of-age series is the wonderland of an EP, CHAT-SHIRE, which IU executively produced and released to celebrate her 23rd birthday.
CHAT-SHIRE begins with the up-tempo track “Shoes,” which flawlessly sets the mood of the entire album. What’s more, it paves the way for the groovy blues track, “Zeze.”
The unique second track was made more special by the impressive inflections that IU did in the chorus, making fans crave more—as always.
Release Date: April 21, 2017
Palette is IU’s most personal full-length album.
It opens on a playful and childlike tone with “dlwlrma”—which is actually IU’s name, when you type it using an English keyboard.
The title track, a soft pop song, sings of simple joys as the singer gets reassurance (from both herself and G-Dragon) that she’ll be fine.
Following up on “Palette” is the heartbreaking ballad “Ending Scene,” an emotional number that carries right into “Can’t Love You Anymore.”
Kkot-Galpi (A Flower Bookmark) 2
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Following the success of Palette is IU’s second cover album, A Flower Bookmark 2. Like the first one, this features handpicked hits from past decades.
Release Date: October 10, 2018
The quirky soft pop, lo-fi track “Bbibbi” celebrates IU’s nonchalant side-eye and subtle clapbacks, in response to her haters and critics.
Release Date: November 18, 2019
Highly-anticipated Love Poem proved to be IU’s most personal one yet, with all of the songs being penned by herself for the first time.
Love Poem begins with the jolly piano of “unlucky,” in which IU tells fans to face the bad days head-on and take their time.
Bewitching jazz track “The Visitor” follows, rich with guitar work and and IU’s sultry voice.
Eight (Feat. SUGA of BTS)
Release Date: May 8, 2020
IU sure loves her significant numbers. With “eight,” she adds more meaning to her coming-of-age series on the eighth of May—just eight days before her 28th birthday.
The pop-rock drive song sings of the bittersweet memories of days past. Sadness laces every word in “eight,” sure to leave listeners with lumps in their throats.
With her twenties winding to a close, IU releases her fifth studio album, LILAC.
This ode to her youth and the testament to her coming into full-bloom, LILAC is a multi-genre, brilliantly cohesive record.
All 10 tracks are penned by IU herself, and serve as the fruitful completion to her coming-of-age series.
IU has broken records and amassed fans worldwide since her debut. Most impressive, perhaps, is how the singer continues to grow as an artist. She’s continuously exploring new genres and tapping into her own experiences.
As the singer prepares to enter her thirties, fans can look forward to a new season in her career and life…and even more beautiful, innovate music than before.