IU comes into her own with career comeback
K-pop cutie IU bounces back from photo scandal to top charts and make waves with a new mature sound
Her name was associated with K-pop boy band Super Junior member Eunhyuk in 2012, and they were embroiled in a photo scandal.
Today things are very different.
K-pop's doe-eyed sweetheart IU is now her own woman and on top of her game in a competitive field of female soloists.
The 21-year-old - who is often called South Korea's "little sister" as she made her showbiz debut at the tender age of 15 - has mounted the mother of all comebacks.
Last month, IU earned the title of Billboard's Official K-pop Chart Queen after her breezy ditty, Not Spring, Love Or Cherry Blossoms, gave her her fifth K-pop Hot 100 No. 1, effectively making her the US chart's all-time K-pop leader.
In the same month, her new track, My Old Story, achieved the rare feat of a "perfect all-kill", which happens when an individual song tops all of South Korea's major music charts.
Not bad for a young artist who, a year and a half ago, saw her career teetering on the brink of destruction.
M looks back at IU's path to superstardom...
APOLOGISE AND MOVE ON
In November 2012, IU's clean-cut image took a hit after she posted an intimate photo of herself and fellow K-pop idol Eunhyuk on Twitter. It showed the Super Junior star shirtless and leaning against IU, who was in her pyjamas.
Even though the photo was removed within minutes, it was potentially damaging, especially in an industry with perfectly-packaged stars.
Loen Entertainment, IU's management agency, swiftly released a statement denying that the two were a couple, stressing that their relationship is strictly between "sunbae (Korean for senior) and hoobae (Korean for junior)". The pair have never officially confirmed whether they are dating.
Meanwhile, IU suffered the brunt of vicious comments, including some who called her "fake". According to HelloKpop.com, there was a brief "I Hate IU" petition on iPetition.com.
After lying low for half a year, IU finally broke her silence on Korean TV channel SBS and admitted her mistake.
On variety show Incarnation, she apologised profusely to Eunhyuk, her loved ones and fans for her moment of folly: "I'm so sorry to everyone for everything."
She appeared sincere and genuine, and all seems to have been forgiven.
Perhaps in a bid to ditch her angelic image, IU's third studio album, Modern Times, released last October, saw her exuding maturity in both her physical appearance and her work.
Unlike her previous dance numbers, her tunes on Modern Times boast a wide range of genres, including big band, swing jazz, electronica, bossa nova, folk and Latin pop.
Image-wise, she also chose to sex it up, wearing slinky pants and sporting seductive, smoky make-up in teaser clips for her songs Love of B and Everybody Has Secrets.
"While it might be awkward for now, I want to become a singer whose transformation can be naturally accepted by the people who wonder what new sides (of myself) I can show," she told Korean media at a press conference last October, reported allkpop.com.
In A Flower Bookmark, IU's first EP of covers released last month, she re-imagines seven classic Korean tracks, interpreting them with her pristine vocals, using unique musical instruments like the accordion and throwing in some 80s disco flavour.
IU's versatility as a singer has never been fully fleshed out till this album, which will bring forth a wave of nostalgia among older folks who grew up on the hit numbers she has picked.
In an interview with Soribada, a Korean file sharing platform, IU called the album "an unexpected present" to her fans.
"Like the title suggests, it is akin to the type of flower people would stick in their books in the past. Someday, when you're flipping through the pages, you'll find the flower again! At that moment, you'll feel as if you've received an unexpected gift and memories will resurface."
Three's a crowd
LEE HI, 17
This fresh-faced powerhouse scored her showbiz break after emerging runner-up in reality TV singing competition K-pop Star in December 2011.
Two songs, It's Over and Rose, from her two-part debut album First Love (2013) were mega successes, peaking at no. 1 on all the South Korean pop charts.
Instead of receiving brickbats and backlash, Korean-American pop star Ailee saw her popularity surge after nude photos of her were leaked online in November last year.
The Denver-born R&B diva has the ability to belt out big numbers with conviction, as exemplified in her latest female-empowering hit Singing Got Better.
While IU continues her swift ascent to the top of the K-pop hierarchy, M checks out her closest rivals on the scene...
While she is unable to match up to her peers vocally, Canadian-Korean singer G.NA beats them all in the physical assets department - she boasts a D-cup chest.
The bosomy star, whose labelmates include boy bands Beast and BTOB, is known for her bouncy, summery songs like Pretty Lingerie, Black & White and Oops!.