K-Pop Rising Stars: How multi-talented 12-member girl group Loona made an impact even before their debut
Loona is a 12-member singing, rapping, dancing act comprised of songwriters, choreographers and more. The group debuted in 2018 following pre-debut activities that began in October 2016 and stretched over 18 months with each member getting to release an individual single album as part of their solo introduction and overall group promotion, all of which culminated in the group's official debut in August 2018 at their concert 'LOONAbirth' which coincided with the release of their first mini-album, '[+ +]' (read as Plus Plus). As the girl group continues to take more steps towards making their mark on the global music industry, we take a quick look at their humble beginnings as a K-Pop idol group and their journey towards becoming an expansive and widely talented act that covers a wide range of genres and styles.
Loona was first introduced by their agency, Blockberry Creative, as 'Idarui Sonyeo' or 'Girl of the Month', a concept that was built around 12 members, each representing a different style. The group's English name was derived from the syllables of their Korean name, which, when rearranged, resembled 'Loona' in the Latin alphabet. Beginning in October 2016, the group's members were revealed one by one, with HeeJin, HyunJin, HaSeul and YeoJin each releasing a single album consisting of a solo track and one additional track performed with the other revealed members. In March 2017, the group's first sub-unit Loona 1/3 was revealed, featuring HeeJin, HyunJin, HaSeul and a new member, ViVi. The unit released the EP 'Love & Live' and a single of the same name and began promotions for the release on SBS' Inkigayo.
The group's interesting concept already began generating buzz, owing in part to the individual members each getting solo features right off the bat. But additionally, with each reveal, audiences began to note that the group's talents extended beyond singing, rapping and dancing: this group also featured multi-instrumentalists, songwriters and choreographers, several of whom were also multilingual. Right from the beginning, this seemed like a group destined to make waves in the industry. With an extensive pre-debut promotional run that prompted wild fan theories, Loona had already sealed themselves as one of the more impactful rookie groups before they even debuted.
Between April and 2017, ViVi, as well as new members Kim Lip, JinSoul and Choerry, all released their single albums. As an extension of their promotional activities, HeeJin, HyunJin and HaSeul auditioned for JTBC's reality show 'Mix Nine', with HyunJin making the Top 18 and HeeJin placing fourth in the finale. Around the same time the group's second sub-unit, Loona Odd Eye Circle, was revealed which included JinSoul, Kim Lip, and Choerry. The unit dropped their EP 'Mix & Match' and appeared on Mnet's M Countdown to promote the album, further releasing an English version of the track 'Loonatic' and extending their growing fanbase. Solo single albums for Yves, Chuu, and Go Won soon followed, along with a digital single titled 'The Carol 2.0' with Yves, Vivi, and Choerry.
The group's final member, Olivia Hye, dropped her solo single album in March 2018, rounding out the group and completing their pre-debut solo promotional activities. The group's third sub-unit, 'Loona yyxy', was also revealed with the release of the EP 'Beauty & the Beat' which included the single 'love4eva' featuring Canadian musician Grimes. An accompanying music video followed. With the group's completion, it was time to reveal Loona as a whole and in August 2018, the group dropped the pre-debut single 'Favorite' along with a video that focused on their choreography. Not long after, their debut EP '[+ +]' or ‘Plus Plus’ followed, which included the tracks 'Hi High' and 'Butterfly'. The release featured an electro-synth-pop sound that would go on to become the group's signature style. The album proved to be a hit among fans and helped put Loona on the map. By 2019, their fanbase had already grown worldwide and they soon found themselves making their first appearance in the United States performing at KCON 2019. The group, evidently touched by their fans' dedication, dropped a single called '365' in their honor.
This year saw the group dealing with a minor setback when Blockberry Creative announced that their leader, HaSeul, would be taking a mental health break owing to symptoms of intermittent anxiety. While the news caused concern to fans, what stood out about it was the company as well as the group's choice to put their idol's health first. The K-Pop industry has been known to force idols to work under harsh and often unsafe conditions and mental health has only really become topical in recent years, particularly following the increase in idols speaking out about it as well as the tragic deaths of a few idols at a very young age following their struggles with mental health issues. The decision to give HaSeul some breathing room was met with support from Loona's fans. The group returned with another EP in the interim titled '[#]' (read as Hash) accompanied by the title track 'So What'. Despite her absence, HaSeul was still featured on several tracks on the album.
Following an extensive four years of hard work, Loona was finally awarded their first music show trophy in 2020 for 'So What' on Mnet's M Countdown.
What stands out the most about Loona is that beyond their wide range of skills and talent, they are, essentially, a concept project. They have the range to tackle as many themes as they might want to and have a freeform structure that allows them to break away into sub-units when a concept requires it. But with each member individually getting to shine, Loona proves that large girl groups do not have to suffer from the age-old criticisms of favoritism, most often brought up when it comes to line distribution and how much space each member gets to occupy in visual content. Instead, Loona functions more like a collective of gifted individuals, with each one getting their moment to shine.