Last week, news broke that plans are under discussion that I.O.I will have an exclusive reunion during the latter half of 2019. Rumored plans* include KCON LA, an album, and end-of-year concert. To netizens’ surprise, Jeon Somi opted out while Chungha agreed. Public sentiment has expressed that Chungha built up a stable enough career to reject the offer, though others have banked on her love for the group. Meanwhile, delays in Somi’s debut has had netizens concerned with her lack of promotions.

The two artists’ careers moved in different directions ever since I.O.I debuted in 2016 – Chungha worked with her newly signed agency (MNH Entertainment) to debut as a solo, while Somi worked with her home agency to secure variety appearances on Sister’s Slam Dunk season two.

Despite having trained under JYP Entertainment for three years, Chungha surprised the public by signing with a smaller agency for her solo debut.

Particularly as the only solo to emerge from I.O.I at the time, netizens have wondered how Chungha would fare in the industry, as compared to Somi being housed under a “Big 3” company. Nonetheless, Chungha continued to promote as a singer as Somi worked on a variety of projects throughout 2017-18.

Though for Somi, her anticipated debut later went through drastic changes that may have wrought on public uncertainty. Even while she was signed under JYPE, fans have grown increasingly restless with her delayed debut, particularly in regards to other I.O.I members’ progress. There was the ongoing notion that a celebrity’s image either “runs out” too fast, or is easily replaceable in due time. Though Somi carried out other projects – such as her collaborations with Eric Nam, Unnies, and Jun.K throughout 2017, as well as casting for KBS’ Idol Drama Operation Team – her debut as a solo or idol member remained in debate.

In August 2018, fans received news of a contract termination with JYPE. The next month then brought news of YG Entertainment’s The Black Label, along with a May debut plan. Fast forward to the present, where Somi has had to choose between I.O.I and her solo career.

Chungha and Somi’s choices also reveal a deeper context of the unique role of a solo artist – specifically, the career implications that differ from idol groups. The outcome of idol members (from Cosmic Girls, DIA, Gugudan, Pristin, and Weki Meki) reuniting with I.O.I will be distinct from Chungha and Somi choosing likewise.

This is largely due to the difference in allocated responsibility for solo versus group members. Idol groups share the responsibility and contribution to one group, while as a solo artist it is solely up to them to maintain their “brand.” So, whether one has built up a successful career or not will be secondary to the fact that Chungha is solely moving her career back to I.O.I for the time being. Meanwhile, members from those groups will have a “safety net” to fall back towards following the reunion.

On that note, reflecting on Chungha and Somi’s implications brings to light their separate career trajectories in the first place. For Chungha, choosing to participate in the reunion adds a unique fluidity in her career – a rare ease with promoting as both a solo and an idol. Plus, by reviving her role as a member of I.O.I, Chungha’s fans can experience a nostalgic season that can be beneficial in securing future support. Although her participation may delay a solo comeback, fans will witness how far she’s come from her first debut.

Above all, it fulfills what Chungha has long spoken of in previous interviews. During an interview back in January, Chungha revealed, “Should there be a chance, I wish we can meet [the fans] altogether. We all think about reuniting onstage every time. I even told my agency that we must reunite if we can because I think we can have even more fun next time around.”

On the other hand, Somi has opted to prepare for her May debut. Back on the 1st, Somi uploaded her first debut teaser on Instagram, alluding that it will happen “real soon.” Though the original date planned by her label was May 1, fans can expect to wait a little longer for it to occur. Notwithstanding, her priority in devoting herself entirely to solo promotions juxtaposes against Chungha’s decision to accept the role of an idol member – largely (though not limited to) timing and personal choice.

Itzy | It’z Different

Somi has already surprised the public by signing with The Black Label in February, as opposed to debuting with Itzy. However, she further confirmed the notion of debuting as a solo artist, actively awaiting a new start and image.

Besides, she had made it a personal point to take her time. Somi had previously uploaded an Instagram story with the intention of reassuring her fans – telling them to “not think that I’m too far away” and “Every day is exciting and I want us to join together soon. Even if you’re tired or sad from waiting day by day, don’t think that way!” Talking in a friendly, casual tone, she further expressed, “There’s no need to rush. I just want to make everything perfect, so please wait a little longer.”

Thus, I.O.I’s possible promotions reflect a turning point for both artists, as one awaits a reunion and another a debut. As the sole representatives of their own “brand,” their split decisions prove to be simultaneously weighty and promising in its implications for the rest of this year. For Chungha, she will be returning as an I.O.I member that shares her color to the mixed palette of the group; meanwhile, Somi will be debuting as a solo to claim her own stage someday soon. As the only solo artists to debut from I.O.I, both continue to face unique circumstances from the same roots.

Truthfully, it may be hard for fans to accept Somi’s absence in I.O.I, particularly as the center and first place winner of their season. Similarly, other fans may want Chungha to remain solo as a means to further grow her own career. While opinions can clearly be split, it remains true that both artists are simply prioritizing what is meaningful for them within their context. For Somi, this year is anticipative of her long-awaited debut, following a year and a half of variety appearances and occasional singles. Her choice to solely focus on launching her career is reasonable in regards to her previous hiatus.

But while most netizens cited Chungha’s ongoing career as a means not to go, it may be all the more reason that she can, if she so desires. One could see her participation as reuniting with another part of her fanbase, which must consist of overlapping fans in the first place. Plus, if anything, it can be an opportunity for all onlookers to witness a newer side of Chungha as she nonetheless promotes onscreen throughout the year.

It is new but it can be good, as long as both projects turn out well (not only for sales, but for the artists’ personal satisfaction). And although the reunion can’t include everyone due to schedule conflictions, it has posed unique opportunities for both Chungha and Somi to further redefine their careers as solo artists. Disregarding the split public sentiment here’s to hoping that both will succeed in their respective paths during the rest of this year.

*Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story stated I.O.I’s reunion was announced. I.O.I’s reunion plans are still under discussion by the agencies involved.

(Billboard, Chosun Ilbo, JTBC, Korea Herald Pop, KPOP HERALD, MBN News, MNH Entertainment Official Website, Nate [1], [2], Sports Chosun, Yonhap News, 10 Asia; Images via JYP Entertainment, MNH Entertainment, The Black Label, YMC Entertainment)