Nowadays, we see a lot of idols who are very much active in music and also taking acting jobs, appearing in some very popular dramas. Just in the recently-concluded shows, there are several – you have three in Business Proposal (solo artist and formerly IOI and Gugudan main vocalist Sejeong, former Dal Shabet’s Woohee and Victon’s Byungchan), one in Twenty-Five, Twenty-One (WJSN’s Bona), and one in Forecasting Love and Weather (Girls’ Day’s Yura). Unfortunately, a lot of idol actresses these days are constantly lambasted for their lack of acting skills, with some opining that they are getting hired only because of their looks and popularity and that they’re stealing jobs from more talented actors who are struggling to get acting gigs.

But then, here are some actresses who have hurdled the challenge of being known for being “just idols” and have since proven that they have what it takes to be considered legit actresses:

Kwon Nara

Since 2017, Nara’s acting career has been on a roll, with her essaying major roles in hit K-drama series such as Suspicious Partner (as the ex-girlfriend of male lead Jiwook, played by Ji Changwook), My Mister (as the love interest of the male lead’s younger brother), Your Honor (where he played the girlfriend of the male lead played by Yoon Shiyoon), Doctor Prisoner (as a  psychiatrist who joined forces with the male lead played by Namkoong Min in his revenge plans), Itaewon Class (as Park Seojoon’s initial love interest), Royal Secret Agent (where she shared lead status with Infinite’s L and Lee Yikyung), and Bulgasal (as a human being who used to be immortal). Her string of successes on TV has even landed her on Forbes’ Korea Power Celebrity List in 2020. But not too many k-drama addicts may remember that before her stellar TV acting career, Nara was actually not only an idol but a girl group member. 

Nara, along with seven other girls, debuted in 2012 as Hello Venus under Tricell Media, a joint venture between entertainment companies Pledis and Fantagio. The girls actually enjoyed moderate success even during their rookie season, as their debut single Venus charted as high as #35 in the Gaon single chart, a rare feat for any debut group.   The group lost two members in 2014, but continued to release popular tracks such as What are You Doing Today, Would You Stay for tea, and the iconic Wiggle Wiggle. The group unfortunately disbanded in 2019, but at that time, Nara was already successfully establishing herself as an actress. After all, she opted to sign with Fantagio instead of Pledis when the joint venture fell through. As expected, Fantagio, being primarily an actors’ agency, was more successful in supporting Nara’s acting career. 

Min Hyorin

For those who were fans of the first season of Sister’s Slam Dunk, you may remember the dream project of TV actress and BigBang wife Min Hyorin of being in a girl group. While the show was actually successful in realizing Hyorin’s project when the Unnies debuted with Shut Up, this was not actually her first brush with the music industry. Long before debuting with Ra Miran, Kim Sook, Hong Jinkyung, Jessi, and Tiffany, she had already debuted as a solo artist in 2007. 

Yes, you read that right. Min Hyorin, wife of Taeyang and erstwhile k-drama actress debuted as a soloist in 2007, only a year after her husband’s group debuted and more or less the same time her Unnie’s member Tiffany debuted with her first group, SNSD. Her debut album, RinZ had the lead single Stars, which at that time she promoted on music shows. Close to a year later, she released the digital single Touch Me, which actually received some measure of popularity because the song was used as the song for the ad for LG Cyon’s Viewty Pink mobile phone.   

Unfortunately, this was the end of Hyorin’s music career as she hasn’t released new material since then, save for her participation in Unnies. She has since then transitioned into acting in film and television, with her notable work in Sunny, The Grand Heist, Triple, and Persevere, Goo Hae-ra. Of course, she had also made appearances in variety shows, the most notable of which is Sisters’ Slam Dunk.

Four of Five Former Baby Vox Members

Alas, we have a first gen idol! Well actually, we do have a lot of idols, male and female from the first generation who have shifted from singing to acting. After all, it can’t be denied that pop music is pretty much a field where the tastes and preferences of the younger crowd – teenagers and college students dictate what’s in and what’s out. Thus, the careers of idols can be quite limited in terms of shelf life — as soon as your loyal fans get older and develop lives outside of idolizing pop singers and matinee idols, the idol’s singing career heads off into the sunset, with the idol looking into other ventures that may stretch his 15 minutes of fame. SES’ Eugene and Uhm Junghwa come to mind.

Along with the aforementioned SES and FIN.K. L (aka Lee Hyori’s group), Baby Vox dominated the girl group scene in the late ‘90s up to the mid-2000s, after which Kim E-Z, Heejin, Minyoun, Eunjin, and Eunhye decided to call it a day and disband. Out of the four +1 remaining members (with Eunjin actually leaving the group a year before the group went on hiatus in 2005 before the eventual disbandment in 2006), only the leader Kim E-Z actually did not pursue an acting career. Fresh off her early departure from the group, Eunjin appeared in the rather controversial movie Jenny, Juno  which was about a teenage couple who gets pregnant, pretty much the Korean Juno. She was last seen in the 2021 idol drama (yes, that’s a genre – dramas about idol groups and the idol life) Imitation, where she essayed the role of a reporter. 

Heejin took the route of musicals and stage plays before finally debuting as a TV actress in the 2011 drama It’s Okay, Daddy’s Girl. She was last seen in Penthouse 3, where she made a cameo appearance. Meanwhile, Miyoun made a splash in the Chinese market before appearing in the Korean movie Nana’s Rose War in 2010. She also acted in a number of dramas such as Moorim School, Missing 9, and Hit the Top. She was last seen on TV in the variety show Goal Girl (aka Kick a Goal, where celebrities train to be soccer players) last year.

Finally, let’s talk about Eunhye, perhaps the most successful former Baby Vox member when it comes to acting.  As soon as she started her acting career, she immediately bagged leading roles in very successful dramas such as Princess Hours, The Vineyard Man, and Coffee Prince. After a string of successive hits, Eunhye again starred in another hit drama, My Fair Lady, although she was harshly criticized for her weird dialogue delivery. People wondered why after having led three wildly popular shows, it seemed Eunhye’s acting skills regressed. Two years later, she returned to being favorably seen by the public in the drama Missing You. Two years later, she participated in a Chinese reality competition Goddess Fashion, where she had to design clothes. She was a subject of controversy once again as she was accused of plagiarising her designs. Although she never admitted to the accusation, she had repeatedly apologized for the controversy years after. Her last acting role was in CGNTV’s Go Go Song in 2019, although she participated in another reality competition, this time a cooking show — Cooking – The Birth of a Cooking King in 2021. 

Ahn Sohee

Finally, we have a Wonder Girl! The legendary second-gen girl group also has a contribution to this list – their erstwhile main dancer and face of the group Sohee, as in the girl who was in the Wonder Woman costume in the Tell Me music video! 

But even before debuting with the Wonder Girls, Sohee and during her time with the group, had already appeared in a couple of movies and TV series. Before she quit the group at the end of 2013 to focus on her acting, she had her first acting lead role in the KBS drama special Happy! Rose Day. She continued doing guest appearances in TV shows like Heart to Heart and Entourage before snatching a major movie role in the 2016 zombie thriller Train to Busan. That single role may have cemented Sohee’s reputation in the acting field, as she continued to appear in drama series such as Welcome to Waikiki 2 and Missing: The Other Side. Her latest acting gig is in the JTBC drama Thirty-Nine, where she played the sister of the romantic male lead.   

Unfortunately, since getting lead roles, Sohee has consistently been embroiled in controversy regarding her acting skills and her inclusion in major TV series and movies. A lot of netizens expressed their wonder as to why Sohee gets cast in major roles when her acting skills don’t really measure up to expectations. These critiques have followed her as recently as her appearance in Welcome to Waikiki 2. Train to Busan director Yong Sangho defended his decision to cast Sohee, who played the role of a carefree high school and cheerleader student in his movie.

He said, “I absolutely didn’t regret it.” He continues, “The idea that Sohee’s acting is bad didn’t even occur to me. All these talks about her bad acting, I don’t know where they are coming from. Although I think talks about Sohee still having the strong image as Wonder Girls are going around, but in the movie, I think there’s no problem. It’s not like there’s no problem at all but she did well.”

For her latest appearance in 39, Sohee did get some good reviews for her portrayal. The show during its early episodes did get some flak for what people considered to be a very dated storyline and skewed values. In the drama, Sohee plays a pianist whose adoptive father wishes to banish, forcing Sohee’s character to take a job in a nightclub as a bar girl. Viewers thought the character’s employment options are highly questionable since she graduated from Julliard. Viewers also thought the character of Hospital Playlist alum Jeon Mido is rather immoral for pursuing a relationship with a married man, albeit it being non-sexual. Despite these negative assessments, the show went on to get an increase in ratings. Well, that’s the power of Son Yejin. Also, at least Sohee wasn’t criticized much for her acting abilities, as the brunt of negative comments at the start were directed towards the show’s storyline and not the performances. 

See? These seven (plus Uhm Junghwa and Eugene) have proven that indeed, you can have idols that can act! But this list isn’t exhaustive. You also have Rainbow’s Jaekyung (who’s set to be in Lee Joongi’s My Life Again), all three leads of Work Later, Drink Now (Apink’s Eunji, JQT’s Sunbin, and Secret’s Sunhwa). All hail these multi-talented queens!

Featured Image: Screengrab of Yoon Eun Hye from My Fair Lady Ost video