Here’s Why Rising K-pop Girl Group IVE Are Hailed as the ‘Wannabe Icons of Gen MZers’

IVE, a rising girl group known as being “complete” from the time of its debut and now hailed as the “wannabe icons of the Gen MZers,” are now leading the contemporary K-pop scene.

The six members of IVE are: Yujin (19, former leader of IZ*ONE), Wonyoung (18, another popular former IZ*ONE member), Gaeul (20), Liz (17), Leeseo (15), and Rei (18, hailing from Japan). The name of the group is the contraction of “I have” and is based on the concept of showing what “I have” to the audience with confidence. Confidence is the key word of the  group.

As the first group to launch after IZ*ONE’s disbandment, IVE attracted much attention from before its debut. When the girls released their debut single “ELEVEN” in Dec. 2021, it became a smash hit overnight. The six members give a captivating and graceful performance over exotic melodies for this number, and the accompanying music video showcases the girls’ beauty as well as the quality of their confident performance throughout, from the choreography to facial expressions led by the two experienced members. The group’s first album launched with 150,000 copies, the most among all acts that debuted in South Korea in 2021, and the single went on to win first place on music shows in the country 13 times. IVE is now one of the leading acts of the so-called fourth generation girl groups, following ITZY and aespa.

IVE has proven that its hype isn’t temporary. The group has released three singles — “ELEVEN,” “LOVE DIVE” (Apr. 2022), and “After LIKE” (Aug. 2022) — that have all become the group’s signature songs after recording long-running hits in South Korea and abroad. All three tracks are currently charting on the Billboard Japan Hot 100 dated Oct. 5, with “After LIKE” at No. 23 (peak position: No. 13), “ELEVEN” at No. 71 (No. 16), and “LOVE DIVE” at No. 79 (No. 8). 15 of the 100 songs on the list are K-pop, including three each by BTS and TWICE, and two by BLACKPINK, so IVE’s achievement is remarkable considering that the group hasn’t officially debuted in the country yet.

Over on Billboard U.S.A.’s Global 200 list, “ELEVEN” charted for ten weeks after peaking at No. 68, “LOVE DIVE” for 26 weeks (No. 15), and “After LIKE” for 5 weeks (No. 20), all consecutively. In particular, the ongoing record for “LOVE DIVE” is the longest streak for any K-pop song released this year.

Why is IVE achieving such amazing results globally? The first reason is the outstanding quality of their music. The three songs released so far can be described as being captivating, mysterious, and sentimental, respectively, each displaying a different side of the group without limiting it to a single color. Additionally, while the instrumentation and vocals for each song have been meticulously arranged, each features a simple structure — first verse, second verse, chorus, last chorus — familiar to K-pop and J-pop listeners, making them easy to listen to for the group’s core fanbase.

Each of IVE’s songs have distinctive points. In the debut song “ELEVEN,” there’s a bridge leading up to the chorus after the quietly beating first and second verses, in which Rei and Leeseo take turns singing “I didn’t know that my heart was so colorful” in the Korean version and “It’s a colorful suggestion from this point on” in the Japanese. This part where the girls slow down to belt out this line is one of a kind and fans love to sing along when the song is performed live.

“LOVE DIVE” was composed by creators from outside the girls’ native countries, and is a stylish number with a simple, bold rhythm and a deeply reverberated chorus refrain that radiates a sense of mystery. In the latter half of the song, a breath-like voice repeats “hold your breath and LOVE DIVE,” building up to the drop that sonically expresses the concept of “diving into love” through the dreamy sound.

In contrast, “After LIKE” is a danceable pop-house track, sampling Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 hit “I Will Survive” in the interlude. The song gives an EDM twist to the disco sound from the ‘70s and ‘80s, creating a nostalgic, sentimental feel that has led to the track’s popularity among older audiences. The lyrics feature clever wordplay that seem to express the way Gen Zers enjoy romantic relationships. While the members often perform with cool expressions on their faces, they are all smiles in the music video accompanying this song, again showcasing the breadth of their performance as a group.

While IVE’s music shows such wide range, the group’s dance is consistent in that it mostly features elegant choreography that makes the most of the curves of the body. The dancers’ upper body snakes from the waist up and their hand gestures also often ripple from the arms to fingertips. Even “After LIKE,” IVE’s cutest song so far, brims with the group’s signature grace. What’s more, the height of all six members average 169 cm (5’6) — Wonyoung is the tallest at 173 cm (5’8) — so this aspect is another feature that makes their dancing stand out.

All the songs feature lyrics about girls with high self-esteem heading straight into love. “ELEVEN” depicts how a girl’s heart becomes saturated with fantastical colors when she falls in love. In “LOVE DIVE,” she encourages her love interest to make the first move, to “jump in without fear if you dare to love,” and in “After LOVE,” she honestly expresses her feelings: “I don’t just like you, what’s ‘After LIKE’?” The protagonists in every song have inner strength, but the way they struggle with love is endearing. IVE’s way of expressing a girl’s crush is to display a confidence from within, rather than making an appeal through strong words and sounds.

Thus, the sonic variety of the group’s songs, the consistent stance of the protagonists depicted in the lyrics, the girls’ outstanding dance performances and their absolute good looks generate synergy that is powering the group’s skyrocketing popularity.

This year alone, 16 K-pop girl groups have debuted by the end of September. Among the particularly strong lineup of newcomers, IVE is considered a strong contender for Newcomer of the Year awards in its home country. The girls are set to debut in Japan on the 19th with the Japanese version of “ELEVEN,” taking the next step towards global recognition. 

–This article by Maho Kakei first appeared on Billboard Japan

Katie Atkinson