IU decided to become a singer when she was 14 after singing at her school's sports competition, as she felt happy receiving the audiences' applause. She started to attend auditions, but failed all 20, and she was also scammed by fake entertainment companies. When IU was in her seventh grade, her family started to have financial problems due to the failure of her father's project. IU had to live apart from her parents in a studio room with her grandmother, younger brother and cousin for a year and a half, in conditions of great poverty.
IU debuted on Mnet M! Countdown on September 18, 2008 with her debut single "Lost Child". It was later released as the title track for her debut mini-album Lost and Found on September 24, 2008. However, she did not gain mainstream popularity until her follow-up and debut studio album Growing Up.
2009: First studio album, mainstream success, and other activities
On April 16, 2009, IU launched her first full album, titled Growing Up, with the lead promotional number "Boo". Within three weeks, "Boo" went up to the No.1 contenders for SBS Inkigayo, and her name also went up twice on Take 7 together with other notable artists like SG Wannabe and Younha. The song also did well on KBS Music Bank K-Chart, on Mnet M! Countdown chart, and on various online music charts.
In 2009, IU sang the ending title song, "Araro", as well as the song "Wind flower" for the acclaimed MBC drama Queen Seon Duk. IU was recommended by the director, Sam Kim, citing her "clear tone and her lyrical sensibility". IU was also featured in Mighty Mouth's album Love Class in the song "희망사항". In late 2009, IU recorded MC Mong's song "Love Letter to You" featuring SHINee's Key as the rapper.
2010: Nagging for We Got Married and third mini album
IU recorded the song "잔소리" (Nagging / Scolded) with 2AM's Seulong for the TV show We Got Married. On June 27, 2010, IU won her first award since her debut on SBS Inkigayo for "Nagging". On July 2, 2010, she won another award for that song on KBS Music Bank K-Chart. Soon after, IU was chosen to sing the main OST song for the MBC drama Road No. 1 titled "여자라서" (Because I'm A Woman). IU's other collaborations include duets with Yoo Seung-ho ("사랑을 믿어요" (Believe in Love)), Sung Si-kyung ("그대네요" (It's You)), and Big Bang's Seungri ("I Know").
IU worked with some of South Korea's most famous musicians and producers for her third mini-album, Real, released in December 2010. Lee Min Soo and Kim Eana, the creators of IU's previous hit "Nagging", helped produce her award-winning song "좋은 날" ("Good Day"). IU received three SBS Inkigayo Mutizen Song awards for her performances of the song (on December 18 and December 26, 2010, and January 2, 2011), three awards from KBS Music Bank K-Chart (on December 24 and December 31, 2010, and January 7, 2011), and one award from Mnet M! Countdown on December 23, 2010.
2011: Rising popularity, Dream High, Real+ and Last Fantasy
IU at Disney Channel and Disney Junior launching event in South Korea, on June 29, 2011
IU often covers other pop artists' songs with her guitar and features her friend Thunder from MBLAQ, most notably renditions of SHINee's "Juliette", Big Bang's "Lies", Super Junior's "Sorry, Sorry" and Girls' Generation's "Gee".
IU starred in KBS2's drama, Dream High as Kim Pil-sook from 3rd January to 28 February, with a special episode on 1st March.
In January 2011, IU's song "Someday" from KBS's drama Dream High was released. Netizens immediately noticed a similarity to "To My Man", sung by Ash, and accused songwriter Park Jin-young of plagiarism. Songwriter Kim Sin-il filed a lawsuit against Park for plagiarizing "To My Man", in which he eventually won.
Soribada, an online music service provider, combined the music downloads and streams from January 1 to March 30, 2011, to name IU's song, "Good Day" as the number one song of the first quarter. "Someday" and the ballad "Only I Didn't Know", from her Real+ mini-album, placed 4th and 7th place, respectively – showing that IU took 3 of the top 10 digital spots for the first quarter. Her first original composition, "Dreaming" was used in the drama Dream High, but it was not released officially.
On June 18, 2011, IU held her first official fan meeting and mini-concert at AX-Korea. It also marked the 1004th day since she debuted.
IU also sang a self-composed OST called "Hold my Hand" for drama series The Greatest Love.
On November 29, 2011, IU's second full-length album Last Fantasy was released and achieved an ‘all-kill’ as all 13 songs immediately swept most of Korea's charts. The track list was revealed on November 22, 2011.
2012: Japanese debut and Spring of a Twenty Year Old
On January 24, 2012, IU held a live showcase at Tokyo's Bunkamura Orchard Hall. At the time of the showcase, it was noted that she was the youngest Korean singer ever to perform at the Hall. On March 1, she released a promotional video for the Japanese version of "Good Day", the title track of her Japanese single album. The album, which includes DVD footage from the showcase, was later released on March 21, 2012.
In early April, it was announced that IU will be holding her first solo tour, "Real Fantasy", starting in June. The tour features performances in six different cities across South Korea, including Seoul and Busan.
On May 11, IU released a single album, Spring of a Twenty Year Old. The album contains three songs, one of which was self-composed by IU. This song, entitled "Peach", was digitally released before the album, on May 4. A 26-minute-long documentary-style music video film was released alongside the album, featuring the album track, "Every End of the Day", and several interviews with IU that showcased her personal thoughts and experiences. This film contained footage of IU's vist to Venice, Italy. Due to her commitments towards preparing for her first solo tour, she was unable to make broadcast promotions for the single. Additionally, while touring, she had to leave her hosting job at SBS' Inkigayo, though she returned upon the tour's completion
You & I, IU's second Japanese single, was released on July 18. In December, IU's entertainment company, LOEN Entertainment, announced that IU will be having a comeback in 2013. The album, which is expected to have a mature theme in opposition to the "Nation's Little Sister" image that IU has presented on her previous work.
On December 29, IU hosted the 2012 SBS Gayo Daejeon, an annual music program, alongside Miss A's Suzy and actor Jung Gyu-woon. She was selected for her "stable emceeing skills as she had served as the MC for Inkigayo".
2013: You're the Best, Lee Soon-shin, Modern Times and Pretty Man
IU performing "The Red Shoes", on October 16, 2013.
IU starred in the weekend drama You're the Best, Lee Soon-shin from 9 March to 25 August on KBS2 Network, portraying a seemingly unlucky girl who remains courageous and bright.
On April 1, EMI Music Japan was completely merged into Universal Music Japan as a sublabel by the name EMI Records Japan as a result of Universal Music's purchase of EMI in September 2012. All the artists from EMI Music Japan will continue releasing material at Universal Music Japan while still maintaining the catalogue code (TOCT).
It was announced that IU will be performing in Singapore for the first time in her career for the 2013 MBC Korean Music Wave concert in Singapore which also comprises SHINee, EXO, 2PM, 2AM, F.T. Island, B1A4, TeenTop, B.A.P, Kara, Sistar, Miss A and 4Minute, with "mystery superstars" set to be emcees for the night. However, the event was cancelled 10 days before it was due to be held.
On September 16, LOEN Entertainment revealed two teaser images for her upcoming 3rd full album, Modern Times. The album included tracks of various genres ranging from jazz, Bossa Nova, to swing and Latin pop. The full album was released on October 7 and quickly topped several Korean music charts as well as Korea's major music programs.
On October 21, IU was confirmed as a part of the cast of Pretty Man, IU would be taking on the role of Kim Bo Tong. The Wednesday-Thursday Drama aired from 20 November 2013 to 9 January 2014 on KBS2 Network.
A repackaged version of Modern Times, with two additional tracks("Friday", and "Crayon"), was released on December 20. Her self-composed title track, "Friday" achieved a perfect all-kill on the South Korean music charts. This was IU's second perfect all-kill of the year, following her success with 'The Red Shoes' in October. Also, "Friday" reached number one on all three of Korea's major music programs without any live performance.
2014: Hong Kong showcase, A Flower Bookmark, collaborations
Following her first appearance in Hong Kong on 23 June 2012 at Music Bank in Hong Kong with other K-pop idols, IU brought her Modern Times Showcase to Hong Kong on 23 March 2014. She also collaborated with the new vocal group High4 for their debut song, "Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms", which was released on April 8. Having reached No. 1 on May 10, 2014 in Billboard's K-pop chart with this song, IU became Billboard's official K-pop all time chart leader with 5 No. 1s since K-pop Hot 100 was introduced in September 2011. IU is also the holder for most weeks at No.1 (14) in the chart.
On May 4, Kiscover, an Asian-based discovery platform added IU as one of their dedicated streaming channels.
On May 16, she released A Flower Bookmark, a remake album of seven old Korean songs, IU held a small concert, titled "Just One Step... That Much More", at Sogang University Mary Hall from May 22 to June 1, in which all the seven new songs were included in the live presentation. The track, "My Old Story", reached the perfect all-kill status 3 days after the album's release.
On July 1, the digital single "Summer Love", sung by Ulala Session and IU, was released. Its release was postponed until now as the leader of Ulala Session died after the song was recorded in 2012. IU was then featured in the song "Sing For Me" (translated) in the G.O.D.'s 8th album released on July 8, 2014.
On August 9, IU performed for the first time in the U.S. at the KCON 2014 event held in Los Angeles, U.S.A. Excerpts of the concerts in the event, which included 9 other K-pop artists/groups, was later broadcast in Korea on August 14, 2014 by Mnet as a special program named "M! Countdown 2 Nights in L.A.". She was also interviewed by Billboard.
On October 2, IU released her version of the song "Sogyeokdong", part of a collaboration project with Seo Taiji.
On October 31, IU's collaboration with labelmate Yoon Hyun Sang for his debut song and music video, "When Would It Be", was released.
2015: The Producers
On March 9, it was confirmed that IU will be one of the leading female cast of KBS2's The Producers, where she will play a diva-like singer.
On May 17, IU released her self composed song "Heart" as a gift to her fans, which achieved an all-kill the next day. The song was first revealed in the drama The Producers, however it wasn't included in the OST album. This song will be included in the special edition of the album as a special track.
- Growing Up (2009)
- Last Fantasy (2011)
- Modern Times (2013)
- Modern Times - Epilogue (repackage) (2013)
- Palette (2017)
- "Telecinema Project Vol.6" (2010)
- "Love Request" (with Yoo Seung Ho) (2010)
- "It's You" (with Sung Si Kyung) (2010)
- "Ice Flower" (with Kim Yuna) (2011)
- "Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms" (with HIGH4) (2014)
- "Summer Love" (with Ulala Session) (2014)
- "Sogyeokdong" (2014)
- "Can't Love You Anymore" (with Oh Hyuk) (2017)
- "Dream High OST Part.1" (2011)
- "The Greatest Love OST Part.4" (2011)
- "Good Day" (2012)
- "You & I" (2012)
- "Monday Afternoon" (2013)
- My Chew (2010)
- Shu Uemura (2010)
- Mayijju (2010)
- SK Telecom (2010)
- Unionbay (2011-2015)
- 4G LTE (2011)
- Samsung Galaxy S (2011)
- T-Store (2011)
- Mexicana Chicken (2011-2014)
- Home Plus (2011)
- S-Oil (2011)
- Samsung Galaxy S2 (2011)
- SKT 4G LTE HD (2011)
- Bulgaris (2011)
- Le Coq Sportif Summer Collection (2011)
- G by GUESS (2012)
- The Saem Cosmetic (2012)
- Nongshim’s Hooroorook Noodles! (2012)
- Lemona (2012-2013)
- SK Telecom 11st (2013)
- Suddent Attack (2013)
- Nexon Dungeon & Fighter Knight (2014)
- QDSUH (2014)
- Sony MDR (2014)
- SBENU (2014-2015)
- Hite Jinro Chamisol Soju (2014)
- ISOI (2015)
- Hyundai HCN (2016)
- Dewdrops (2016)
- Cable TV (2017)
- My Home (Kakao Game) (2017)
- Kyung Dong Pharmaceutical (2017)
- Gnal-N (2017)
- Exorcist (Kakao Game) (2017)
- Sony Korea (2017)
- Maxim Coffee (2017)
- Nature Collection (2018)
- CNP Cosmetics (2018)
- New Balance (2018)
- Lotte Mongshell (2018)
- Samsung Card (2018)
- Ghana Chocolate (2018)