KPop is a heavily saturated market and as a result, there are many KPop groups that fail to gain recognition. In this series, I will be examining a nugu artist that, for one reason or another, has dropped off the radar. I will also explore their activities, both as a group and individually, to determine what their future as a group looks like (i.e. Is there a possible disbandment on the horizon?).

One such group is UNIQ, which consists of three Chinese members: Zhou YixuanLi Wenhan and Wang Yibo, as well as two Korean members: Kim Sungjoo (Jin Sheng Zhun) and Cho Seungyoun (Cao Cheng Yan). They were the first boy group to be produced by Yuehua Entertainment, the premier Chinese agency for the production of idols. In 2014, the five members received a lot of hype as they were trained exclusively under YG Entertainment, in collaboration with their agency. After their training period was complete, they left YG to stay solely under Yuehua. They debuted simultaneously in Korea and China on the 20th of October 2014, with the single ‘Falling in Love‘.

In 2015, UNIQ released their first and only mini-album ‘EOEO‘, which consisted of five tracks including their title track ‘EOEO‘. They also found themselves nominated for first place on Korean music shows, eventually gaining their first and only win on SBSMTV’s ‘The Show‘. During this period, the group was substantially active across mainland China, guesting on multiple variety shows, holding fan meetings across Asia, with Korean member Sungjoo even becoming a fixed cast member in the Chinese variety show ‘Youth Over Flowers China‘.

However, after the Korean Government approved the use of THAAD (1), an American-built missile detection and defense system for use in South Korea, The Hallyu Ban (2) was implemented across Mainland China in 2016. Due to this situation, UNIQ, who were focusing the majority of their group promotions in China, have been unable to perform together within the country. With Yuehua looking like they didn’t want to spend money on a Korean comeback (which would most likely have them operating at a loss), the members began to partake in occasional solo activities separate from the group.

The Korean members of UNIQ were particularly affected by the sudden cut in group activities as they were now banned from Chinese broadcast, through no fault of their own. Currently, Sungjoo is still based in China, with sporadic promotions due to the effect of the Hallyu Ban. He went from being a fixed cast member on popular Chinese variety show to having almost all of his activities cut, as the majority of UNIQ’s solo promotions, at the time, were also based in China. In 2017, he was a supporting cast member of the Korean Drama ‘The Liar and His Lover‘ alongside Joy (from Red Velvet) and Lee Hyun-woo. He also recently released a single ‘你懂就好了‘ at the end of October, and streams on YY (a Chinese streaming platform) from time to time.

Seungyoun, while on hiatus from UNIQ, has relocated back to South Korea, where he has been producing music, both for himself and other artists, such as It’s OK! for the finale of the Chinese survival show ‘Idol Producer‘ (season 1). He debuted as a soloist under the pseudonym ‘Luizy‘ on July 29, 2016, with the single ‘Recipe‘, a collaboration with Flowsik, whom he met after a short stint as a contestant on ‘SMTM5Seungyoun would continue to have sporadic collaborations and singles during 2017, eventually changing his stage name (for his solo activities) to ‘WOODZ‘ in early 2018, with ‘Luizy‘ now being used for his production credits. in 2019, Seungyoun participated in the Korean survival show, ‘Produce X101‘, the fourth season of M-net‘s Nation’s Producer show, where members of the public produce a KPop group through multiple rounds of online and mobile voting. He placed 5th in the final line-up, and debuted as a member of X1 on August 27, 2019, with the mini-album ‘Emergency: Quantum Leap‘. However, it has since come out that the producers (and some of the trainees’ agencies) behind ‘Produce X’ have been involved in a large-scale vote-rigging scandal since season one of the series, and that all of the members of X1 were rigged, in some way or another, throughout the season of ‘Produce X’M-net has since released a statement explaining that they will reveal to the public, whether or not X1 and IZ*ONE (the resulting group from the previous season, ‘Produce 48‘) will disband or not. The key producers behind the vote rigging scandal are currently undergoing a criminal investigation.

The Chinese members, on the other hand, have enjoyed a much more packed schedule when compared to the two Korean members. Wenhan participated in the Chinese survival show ‘Idol Producer‘. He placed 1st on the program, thus securing a position in the group UNINE, who debuted on the 6th of May 2019 with the album ‘Unlock‘. Prior to this, he was mainly focusing on acting in minor productions, up until his participation in ‘Idol Producer‘.

Promotion material for ‘The Untamedtaken from this poster

Yibo is probably the most successful and active of the five members of UNIQ. He recently shot to fame in 2019, through ‘The Untamed (陈情令)‘, a Tencent web-drama adaption of the mega-hit Chinese Danmei (BL Web-Novel) ‘Mo Dao Zu Shi (魔道祖师)‘. Yibo starred opposite to XNINE member and China’s new IT Boy Xiao Zhan. As a result, he gained multiple brand endorsement deals with high profile companies such as Audi and Shu Uemura. In November, he participated in the ‘The Untamed Concert‘ in Nanjing, performing both ‘Bu Wang‘ and ‘Wuji‘ (with Xiao Zhan) from the original sound track of ‘The Untamed, and performed at the ‘Hunan TV gala‘ (similar to that of the KBS/SBS/MBC ‘Gayos‘ that air in South Korea). He is also set to star in the Drama adaption of the web-novel ‘Legend of Fei’ (written by popular Danmei author Priest), opposite popular Chinese Actress Zhao Li Ying. Aside from acting, Yibo has been a host for the Chinese variety show ‘Day Day Up (天天向上)‘, participated in his first professional motorcycle race earlier this year and was a dance mentor for ‘Produce 101 China‘ (Season 1).

Yixuan, like Seungyoun, is heavily involved in the music production portion of the entertainment industry, with multiple production credits under his name. This does not just apply to UNIQ, but to other artists as well, such as NEX7‘s ‘Open Your 爱’. in 2019, he also participated in the Chinese survival program ‘All For One‘, where he placed first in the competition, securing a position in New Storm that debuted on May 27, 2019. He recently appeared as a supporting character in the sports drama ‘Boys To Men’ and has made a recent appearance on the singing variety show ‘Sing or Spin‘ as a contestant (while Yibo was a guest). However, he did not make it to the final round.

The last promotion that UNIQ undertook as a group was during the 2019 ‘Yuehua Family Concert‘ in June, where Sungjoo, Yixuan and Yibo performed together. This was during the airing of ‘Produce X‘, therefore Seungyoun, who was still in Korea at the time, was unable to participate. Wenhan was also contracted as a part of UNINE, however he watched the performance in the audience and met the other members backstage.

Is there a chance for a UNIQ comeback?

It is unlikely that Yuehua has any plans for a group comeback any time soon. Two of the five members are currently promoting with other groups, with Yixuan also in New Storm, however his group seems to not be as active as Seungyoun and Wenhan’s groups. Due to the uncertainty surrounding both Yixuan and Seungyoun‘s groups (Yixuan’s group is somewhat inactive, and Seungyoun’s group is experiencing backlash from the M-net ‘PD101’ vote rigging scandal), Yuehua may choose to use the members’ newfound individual popularity to bring the group back together (sans Wenhan), in a last-ditch effort, prior to the expiration of their contracts in 2022.

(1) THAAD stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and is an American built defense system that detects and shoots down high-altitude missiles, specifically those that are heading down to hit a target, not as they go up. The Chinese government sees this system as a threat, as there is surveillance technology built into the system and the missile surveillance radar encroaches into a substantial portion of Chinese territory, stopping just east of Beijing. According to the Chinese Government, the system poses a security risk to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the missile detection system could be used as a surveillance device for the United States (US) government to gather intelligence on Chinese defence activities and could raise tensions in a segment of the Asia-Pacific that already has major issues with missile activity. It can also be seen as a US power grab and an attempt to instate their authority within East Asia, which has begun to be a Chinese dominated territory within the past two decades, as seen through the export statistics of South Korea. China is South Korea’s largest exporting partner, paying a colossal $149 Billion USD for Korean products.

(2) The Hallyu Ban is an unofficial ban on all content and pop-culture, produced by South Korea, from being broadcasted in any way across China. This includes (but is not limited to) Korean music, Korean Dramas (along with KR/CHN co-productions, such as Legend of the Blue Sea), the holding of large-scale KPop fan-meetings and concerts, blocking KPop artists or Korean actors from appearing on any form of media across the country, and the complete nullification of contracts between Korean artists and brands over endorsement deals.

Where to find ‘Mo Dao Zu Shi’, ‘Legend of Fei’ and ‘The Untamed’:
– ‘Mo Dao Zu Shi‘ by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu
– ‘Legend of Fei‘ by Priest
– ‘The Untamed (陈情令)‘ is available on Youtube, Netflix, Viki or WeTV