K-pop idols have to go through rigorous training before their debut. Talent management companies sign children as young as ten years of age and then train them in various areas like vocal lessons and choreography practice, and at times include other skills such as stage presence and language learning. Being a child trainee ensures that idols receive plenty of training before their debut and that they remain in the industry for a longer time. Also, younger K-pop idols resonate more with equally young fans. It is kind of surreal to believe that when normal people like you and me were worrying about school assignments, some K-pop idols were gearing up for their debut! Here are the top 10 K-pop idols who debuted as minors.
Chrystal Soo Jung, professionally known as Krystal, is an American-born South Korean singer and actress. Krystal was a trainee under SM Management for three years. In 2009, she debuted in the girl group f(x) as its maknae (youngest member) and vocalist at the age of 14 years. Even though Krystal joined SM in 2006, she could have joined the company at the age of just 5 years! An SM scout approached her and her sister and both were extended an offer to be a K-pop trainee, but their parents refused stating that the girls were too young.
SM Entertainment signed Lee Tae Min as a trainee in 2005. There he trained in singing and dancing along with fellow trainee member Kai, who debuted in the boy band EXO. In 2008, Tae Min debuted in the boy band Shinee as Vocalist, Main Dancer, and Maknae. At the time of his debut, Tae Min was just a couple of months shy of his 15th birthday. He made his solo debut with the extended play (EP) titled Ace. In 2017, SM Entertainment announced the formation of a “supergroup” consisting of seven members which consisted of idols from groups SHINee, EXO, NCT, and WayV. The band was called “SuperM” with Taemin as one of the members.
Boa, real name Kwon Bo Ah, is affectionately termed the “Queen of K-pop” due to her longstanding and successful singing career. Her older brother was a music video director and when she accompanied him to a talent hunt stint in 1998, was scouted by SM Entertainment. Many believe that the norm of minors debuting as K-pop idols started with her. After training for two years, she debuted in 2000 as a soloist. Since then she has made quite a name in K-pop and J-pop and has extended her fandom as far as in America. Her skill of being able to sing in four languages (Korean, Japanese, English, and Mandarin) helped her reach recognition beyond her domestic base.
South Korean Girl Group NewJeans debuted in 2022 with their single Attention. The member line-up consists of five members Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin, and Hyein. The latter joined the group as the last member when she was just 14 years old. Before NewJeans, Hyein under the stage name U.Jeong., was a member of the children's music group U.SSO Girl which debuted in November 2017. In December 2020, she joined the music group Play With Me Club, and parted from the group in 2021. Hyein became the brand ambassador of luxury brand Louis Vuitton in the same year as her debut.
Wonyoung was a member of the girl group IZ*ONE. In 2018, she was a contestant in the reality television show Produce 48. She won first place in the show and debuted in 2018 with fellow band members Ah Yu Jin and Cho Ko Yeon. She was 14 years old at the time of her debut. After IZ*ONE disbanded in 2021, Wonyoung began as a trainee under Starship management and joined another girl group IVE the same year.
Kim Hyu Na, mononymously known as HyunA, is a South Korean singer-songwriter slash rapper, who was initially under the girl group Wonder Girls. Her debut with the band came when she was 14 years old. Citing health reasons, HyunA left Wonder Girls just a couple of months after her debut. After a two-year hiatus, she rejoined the industry with the girl group 4Minute. In 2020, she made her solo debut.
SoHee is another formal member of Wonder Girls who debuted as a minor. Selected through auditions, she became a trainee under JYP Entertainment in 1992 when she was 12 years old. After completing two years of training, SoHee debuted in Wonder Girls with the group’s single “Irony”. When her contract with JYP expired in 2013, she chose not to renew it and parted ways with the group and her management company. She went on to become an actor after her singing career came to an end, with acting credits in projects like Train To Busan, Welcome to Waikiki, and Thirty-Nine.
Boy band NCT DREAM’s member Jisung was the youngest male K-pop idol to debut. Before being in the singing industry, he worked as a child artist in commercials, films, and dramas. He also served in dance crews and as a backup dancer for other artists. At 14, he debuted in NCT DREAMS with the sub-unit’s lead single Chewing Gum.
Ni-Ki is a South Korean idol of Japanese descent. He’s currently a member of the boy band ENHYPEN. Ni-Ki has shown interest in dancing since the age of 3 and hosted regular workshops at his family-owned dance studio LEAD Entertainment. In 2019 he traveled to South Korea to partake in the reality competition show I-land at the age of 13 years. He placed 4th in the show and became eligible to be a trainee under BE: LIFT. After eight months of training, Ni-ki debuted as the maknae of ENHYPEN in 2020.
Born Shin Yu Na, South Korean singer Yuna (stage name) is the youngest member of the girl group ITZY. While in attendance at a music festival in 2017, she was approached by a JYP Entertainment talent scout and was extended an offer for a trainee audition. She passed the audition and trained under JYP for three years. She debuted with the group ITZY in 2019 at the age of 16 years. The membership went to her when another ITZY group hopeful, Somi, left JYP. If Yuna wasn’t an ITZY member, she likely would’ve been a member of another JYP-backed group NMIXX.