When one talks about project girl groups nowadays, it is inevitable that we will mention Iz*One. The Korean-Japanese girl group that started on Produce 48 went on to become a record-breaking group with members who are well-loved by both Korean and international fans.  They were loved despite that all-too-big elephant in the room: Their involvement in one of the biggest scandals in Korean TV history. 

Let’s go on a trip down memory lane and review the group’s career trajectory.

Not-so-humble beginnings

It all started with Produce 48, the third season of the reality competition show Produce 101, which by that time was THE standard for what would now be referred to as “idol survival” shows. As with its predecessors, the public is supposed to have the biggest say in the girl group that the show will produce as they will be voting for members out of a pool of 96 contestants. What the “twist” of this edition is that a good number of “trainee” contestants will be from Japan, and in fact, will be from the J-pop idol mega group AKB48 and its various clusters in numerous Japanese cities. The final group, whose name will also be determined by the public, will be composed of 12 contestants this time and its composition will not be capped according to nationality. Although as with Produce 101 Season 2, only Korean viewers were given the chance to vote for their favorites. The group will be promoting in both Korea and Japan for two years and six months.

The number of Korean and Japanese trainees staying in the program and getting included in the top 12 were more or less equal. In fact, going into the finals, there were eight remaining Japanese trainees as opposed to the 12 Korean trainees, which isn’t too bad, considering the two contestants who occupied the top two spots were Japanese (Sakura and Miho). Episode 11 of the show had 7 of the twelve spots occupied by Japanese. 

However, in true MNet style, things went weird when during the announcement of the final 12 members (which coincided with the revelation of the group’s official name), during the show’s finale on August 31, 2018. Miho (ranked 2nd in Episode 11), Miyu (ranked 6th in Episode 11), Miru (ranked 8th in Episode 11), and Miu (ranked 10th in Episode 11) all disappeared in the final lineup, joined by former After School member Gaeun (ranked 5th in the previous episode), to be replaced by Yuri, Yena, Yujin, Chaewon, and Minju). Granted that the “one account, one vote” policy MNet always implements on the final episode of the Produce shows affected the results drastically, it still comes as a shock that a contestant can rise 15 places (Yuri) and someone who was in the top 12 in the previous episode would come dead last in the finale (Miru). Not to say that fraudulent things were happening, but these things feel sketchy, to say the least. But just like other Mnet reality shows that have the tendency to leave a bitter taste on the viewers’ mouths, things are swept under the rug as buzz for the winning group’s debut intensify.   

The attack of the monster rookies

Following the footsteps of the show’s earlier groups, the highly experimental I.O.I and the phenomenal WANNA ONE, Iz*One was expected to debut big, and debut big they did. The group’s debut EP Color*Iz was released two days short of two months after Produce 48’s finale, with “La Vie en Rose” as its lead single. Their debut showcase concert held at the Olympic Hall, tickets of which were sold out within a minute of being on sale.  Their music program debut happened on Mnet’s M Countdown in November 1 and after a week, they got their first music program on the same show only 10 days after their debut. This means they became the fastest girl group to win in a music program.

34,000 units of the EP sold in its first day of release, which set a new record for the highest number of albums sold on the first day of a girl group’s debut release. The music video for the La Vie en Rose was viewed more than 4.5 million times within the first 24 hours of its release on YouTube, which made it the most-watched debut music video by a Korean act in 24 hours at the time. As expected, Iz*One won the “New Artist of the Year” category at the several awards ceremonies, including Mnet Asian Music Awards, Golden Disc Awards, and Seoul Music Awards. Billboard Magazine named Iz*One as one of the best K-pop debuts of that year. 

Overseas Boom and a Scandal Erupts

Iz*One started 2019 by debuting in Japan, holding their Japanese debut show-con in Tokyo Dome City Hall on January 20, where they performed their debut Japanese single Suki to Iwasetai for the first time. Five days after the event, the music video for the song was released, and the single itself was released on February 6. The single charted at number 2 on both the Oricon Singles Chart and the Billboard Japan Hot 100, with more than 200,000 copies sold on its first week alone. A month after, it was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) with more than 250,000 unit sales, which was also Iz*one‘s first Platinum certification.

After a successful Japanese debut, the girls went back to Korea in April to release their second EP entitled Heart*Iz and the lead single Violeta. The EP’s domestic pre-orders went over 200,000 copies and over 130,000 copies were added in the first week of its sale, which gave the group another new record. The EP went on to receive a Platinum certification on October 10 in Korea by the KMCA after selling more than 250,000 shipment figures. Violeta peaked at numbers 18 and 5 on Gaon Digital Chart and Billboard K-pop Hot 100 respectively and won its first music program trophy on SBS MTV’s The Show on April 9. The song went on to win six more times on M Countdown, The Show, Show Champion, and Music Bank, the last being what people consider to be their only “legit” music show win, as the others are music shows in cable channels.  

Two months later, the group released their second Japanese single, Buenos Aires, which this time topped both the Oricon Singles Chart and the Billboard Japan Hot 100. On July 6, the group debuted in the US by participating in the annual KCON, on that year held at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. Another two months went by and by the end of September 25, Iz*One released their third Japanese single titled Vampire. The girls topped on both domestic charts in Japan with its first week sales exceeding 200,000 copies. It is also the group’s only Japanese release to chart on Billboard K-pop Hot 100, peaking at number 52.

As it was clear that the group was as successful in Japan as they were in Korea, Oricon declared them the country’s best-selling new artist for the first half of 2019, earning an estimated ¥510 million (₩5.5 billion or USD 4.5 million) of total sales in Japan in just six months (December 2018 to June 2019).

By that time, the group weren’t really embroiled in any major controversy and it may seem that the public, especially rabid K-netz, have forgotten their earlier misgivings about the group, particularly about their lineup. Their debut single, La Vie en Rose, was already recorded by active group CLC, which had a number of fans smarting, knowing that CLC is a group of Cube Entertainment, whose contestant Han Chowon ranked 13th in the final episode of Produce 48. People also questioned why a song that would have guaranteed a hit for struggling group CLC had to be given to Iz*one

Fans also noted a bit of a discrepancy in the quality of music videos of the group’s Japanese releases with their Korean MVs, claiming that the latter were too “staged” and had the girls in less photogenic and flattering shots. Finally, nitpicking fans have pointed out that despite her second place finish, Sakura has never been allocated substantial lines in their songs, whether it’s Korean or Japanese releases. 

But those controversies were quite minor, considering the extent of the success the girls have experienced until that time. That is, until the mother of all scandals broke. 

Iz*one was scheduled to release their first studio album on November 11, 2019. However, the release was postponed due to an investigation that was launched over allegations of vote manipulation in the Produce shows. The initial investigation started with Produce X, as ordinary fans noted that there is a pattern in terms of the differences of votes contestants got. The investigation went on to include all other seasons of the Produce series as well as the other Mnet-produced idol survival show Idol School, which produced fromis_9 and also featured Jang Gyuri and eventual Iz*one member, Jo Yuri. 

Investigations revealed that the Produce 48 producer Ahn Joon-young had selected the twelve members of Iz*One from the top 20 just before the airing of the finale. Meaning, the contestants who were not in Producer Ahn’s list but were voted by the “public producers” were excluded from the group. These contestants, who were unjustly “kicked out”, were later revealed to be Pledis’ Lee Gaeun and Cube’s Han Chowon, who apparently placed 5th and 6th.

What was not revealed, of course, was who were pushed into the group that caused Chowon and Gaeun’s displacement. Although the investigations clearly revealed who these contestant are, the courts chose not to reveal the identities of the contestants who benefited from the scam. For the rest of 2020, Iz*One‘s activities were either were cancelled or postponed.

The final act before disbandment

2020 started great for Iz*Ones as CJ ENM and the agencies of the members agreed that the group would resume their activities until their contracts ended. In February, the much-awaited first studio album of the group, Bloom*Iz and its single Fiesta was finally released. The lack of activity at the tail end of 2019 worked to the group’s advantage, as the album broke the record for the highest first-week sales on Hanteo (actual unit sold versus Gaon’s actual units shipped) for an album by a girl group with 356,313 copies. Bloom*Iz is also the first album by a girl group to surpass the 300,000 copies mark in Hanteo’s history. If that wasn’t enough, Bloom*Iz also topped Oricon Overseas Album Chart, following their previous two EPs.

Five months after Fiesta, Iz*One released their third EP, Oneiric Diary, and its lead single Secret Story of the Swan. Oneiric Diary peaked at number 2 and has recorded over 510,000 sales on the Gaon Album Chart. The group garnered another record as the EP became one of the first two albums by a girl group to be certified Double Platinum by the KMCA.

Despite the pandemic, the group did not put any breaks to their activities as they inched closer to their disbandment date. On October 21, the group released their first Japanese studio album Twelve, which debuted At #1 on the Oricon Albums Chart. Before the year ended, Iz*One released their fourth EP, the Korean release One-reeler / Act IV, accompanied by its lead single Panorama. The EP brought the girls back to the top of the Gaon Album Chart, where they debuted at #1.

On April 29, 2021, Iz*One officially disbanded after the end of their contract. The official fanbase of the group, WIZ*ONE, started an initiative called Parallel Universe on April 21, 2021, in an attempt to prevent the girls from disbanding. The initiative raised ₩1,000,000,000 (roughly USD900,000), which was successful considering it was the goal of the initiative; however, Iz*One still disbanded as planned. CJ ENM confirmed that negotiations were underway to potentially relaunch the group, in consultation with the agencies which manage the members, but as of July 6, and the group’s re-debut has been cancelled.

The aftermath: Where are the girls now?

As with I.O.I and WANNA ONE, there is a mix of the activities and career paths for the 12 members of Iz*One after their disbandment. Some have launched solo careers, while some will be in groups with their mother agencies. Here is a rundown of their current and future activities:

Yuri: Known as the group’s man vocal who miraculously ended Produce 48 at number 3, Yuri is actually a “veteran” of the idol survival show genre, as she participated in Mnet’s Idol School where she finished in 15th place, six places short of being included in fromis_9. After Iz*One, Yuri contributed to a couple of OSTs, namely My Love for SBS’s television series Do You Like Brahms? and Story of Us for JTBC’s Monthly Magazine Home.

On September 23, Jo released Autumn Memories, a collaboration song with Lee Seok-hoon, who was a mentor in Produce 101 Season 2 and Produce X 101. On October 7, Yuri finally released her first single album titled Glassy with lead single of the same name. The album peaked at number 5 in the Gaon charts, selling more than 84,000 copies.

Eunbi: After Iz*One‘s disbandment, Eunbi and labelmate and groupmate Chaewon returned to Woollim Entertainment as trainees. She started a career on TV as a presenter as she became the new host of FashionN’s beauty program Follow Me along with Ha Sung-woon, Pentagon’s Kino and Freesia. She was featured in her labelmate Rocket Punch’s debut Japanese album Bubble Up! as a composer and producer for the track Let’s Dance.


On August 25, Eunbi was finally launched as a solo artist with her first extended play Open, the lead track of her EP, Door, peaked at number 3 in the Billboard US World singles chart, while Open peaked at number 8 in the Gan Albums Chart, selling more than 58,000 copies. 

Hyewon: Known as the contestant who frustrated everyone, fans and trainers included, with her blank expressions and seeming lack in drive and variety, Hyewon went on to become one of Iz*One‘s visuals. She has further surprised a lot of people when she guested in some variety shows with her members and showed her quick with and academic intelligence, showing that she’s not as slow and ditzy as most regarded her. 

While the group disbanded, Hyewon returned to 8D Entertainment, her original agency. She is set to star in My K-Star Family, a new variety show with Super Junior’s Yesung, BTOB’s Eunkwang, former I.O.I leader Lim Nayoung, and AB6IX’s Lee Dae Hwi, among others. The show’s format is to form virtual “families” among the idols in various combinations.

Yena: Known as the lively vitamin of the group and even during her stint in Produce 48, Yena has since then been very active as an actress and variety show personality. She was still in Iz*One when she embarked on her first variety show, tvN’s Prison Life of Fools, with Lee Soogeun, Seventeen‘s Seungkwan, and Got7‘s JB, among others. The show was basically the cast playing a more elaborate version of Mafia on every episode and in prison. She was also one of the cast members for mystery variety show Girls High School Mystery Class, TVING’s first original content variety show that ran from December 2020 to January 2021. 

Yena also participated in King of Mask Singer before Iz*One disbanded. She was confirmed as the sole MC of Studio Waffle’s web variety show Yena’s Animal Detective, which started airing on August 24. She also became one of the cast members for TVING’s Idol Dictation Contest, which reunited her with her Prison Life of Fools castmate Seungkwan. She has also been part of the fixed MC panel for tvN Story’s Fireworks Handsome. Finally, she is preparing for her debut as a solo artist. 

Chaeyeon: Known as Iz*One‘s main dancer, Chaeyeon is also another veteran in the idol survival show genre after participating in JYPE’s Sixteen with her sister, Chaeryeong. While her sister opted to stay with JYP Entertainment and later on debut with Itzy, Chaeyeon moved to WM Entertainment (B1A4, Oh My Girl) and represented the company in Iz*One

After Iz*One, Chaeyeon’s next high profile appearance was in the dance survival show Street Woman Fighter, which was another Mnet production. The show became a trend as it featured all-female dance crews being all sassy with each other, as what you would expect from street dance crews in dance battles. She was eliminated in the 6th episode with her dance crew WANT, placing 7th out of 8 participating groups. Her stay in the show was marked with controversy, as many contestants voiced their disagreement with her participation in the program, citing that she was an “idol-dancer” and not a legitimate dancer. She was usually challenged into dance showdowns and had a noticeable loss record. Mnet’s character development angle was utilized on her to the max, although everyone is in agreement that she may not be a true-blue dancer, her dancing skills are definitely a cut above your generic idol.  

Chaewon: As noted earlier, Chaewon returned to Woollim Entertainment with her labelmate Eunbi after Iz*One‘s disbandment. However, while Eunbi continued to flourish under Woollim, it seemed Chaewon wanted to break away from her company as months later, her profile was removed from Woollim’s artists website. Her agency being listed as Woollim has also been removed from her Korean website profiles. 

Soon enough, news about her moving to Source Music (former agency of GFriend which is now under HYBE) has been reported in more news outlets. No official statement has come out from HYBE, Source Music, and Woollim have been released. 

Minju: One of Iz*One‘s members known for having arresting visuals, Minju has always leaned towards an acting career. While she was still with Iz*One, she already starred in a film entitled The Fault is Not Yours, released in 2019. Even before that, she played the role of the young version of one of the main characters in MBC’s drama Tempted, a drama based on the French novel Dangerous Liaisons. She also appeared in the talk show Happy Together in 2019 as a special host. 

As of the moment, Minju can be seen in MBC’s Show! Music Core as one of its main hosts with SF9’s Chani and Stray Kids’ Hyunjin. She was also host of MBC’s variety program Save Me! Rooms and is actually listed in her agency, Urban Works as an actress. Fans have speculated that she was one of the factors that delayed the reboot of Iz*One under Source Music/HYBE because she has expressed her intention to pursue an acting career rather than continue her career as an idol-singer. 

Nako: The smallest member of Iz*one has since returned to Japan and with her HKT48 group after the Korean group’s disbandment. She has even appeared in a Japanese TV drama Kao Dake Sensei. However, things lately haven’t been super rosy as just in November, various news items have sprung up regarding the poor treatment Nako has been receiving from her HKT48 groupmates. 

Recent social media videos and posts have pointed to her being made fun of by her Japanese groupmates when she posted content on her social media accounts in Korean for her WIZ*ONEs. Another video allegedly showed Nako finding her lost airpods in a trash can. No official statements addressing the matter have yet been released by her Japanese agency.     

Hitomi: Hitomi has returned to promoting with AKB48’s Team 8 after Iz*One‘s disbandment. Since her return, she has participated in two AKB48 singles – the A-side single Nemohamo Rumor and the B-side Seikoutoutei, both in 2021. She has also launched her own cosmetic beauty brand named NOTONE in October. 

Wonyoung and Yujin: Two of Iz*One’s visuals, Yujin and center Wonyoung have returned to their mother agency, Starship Entertainment after their group’s disbandment. Wonyoung has been a widely sought-after endorser and model for local and international fashion brands and is currently the host of KBS’ Music Bank with ENHYPEN’s Sunghoon. On the other hand, Yujin shares main host duties in Inkigayo with Treasure’s Jihoon and NCT’s Sungchan. Both are very busy for the debut of IVE, Starship’s newest girl group. 

Sakura: Finally, we have Iz*one’s Japanese center, Sakura! After the group’s disbandment, Sakura returned to Japan with Hitomi and Nako. However, rumors of the Japanese members pursuing idol careers in Korea were loudest with Sakura, with rumors of her leaving HKT48 complicating her Japanese comeback. But alas, she confirmed the rumors herself when she announced the schedule for her graduation concert on June 19. The short version of the music video of her graduation song, Omoide ni Suru ni wa Mada Hayasugiru was released on YouTube on June 14 and she staged her final performance with HKT48 on June 27.

Despite the end of her connection with HKT, Sakura has continued to be very visible in public, bagging modelling gigs for international brand such as Kerastase and the Chinese cosmetics brand Flower Knows.

Finally, on November 1, 2021, Vernalossom, the company that manages AKB members’ careers, announced that her contract with them has ended. This makes a lot of sense because since May, it has been reported that she has already signed up with Source Music (GFriend’s former agency), a company now under HYBE Labels (aka BTS’ company that also houses Pledis of NU-EST and Seventeen). This means that the new Source Music / HYBE girl group will have her and Chaewon (as mentioned above) as possible members.

With all of these exciting developments, we are super happy for the girls and we can only hope to see all 12 girls in a reunion stage in the future! 

Featured Image Credit: Official Iz*one Twitter