K-Pop Special — Five Years Of Dreamcatcher

Five Years Of Dreamcatcher: JiU’s Journey From “Pink Princess" To “Charismatic Leader”

Dreamcatcher’s eldest member has matured into a leader that holds the seven-member group together, while also showcasing her own individual growth as a K-Pop idol.

JiU from 2017–2021. Source: Dream Catcher Company

This article is part of a series celebrating five years of K-Pop group Dreamcatcher, and my opinions in these are based on personal observations of their outward-facing appearances over the past five years. Dreamcatcher’s debut anniversary date is January 13th — be sure to congratulate the group on their social media when the date arrives!

In an already demanding and hard-charging industry like K-Pop, members in a group who are designated as the “leader” have even more responsibility beyond normal practice, performances, and other obligations. Aside from leading greetings and goodbyes and framing many discussions about the group’s work in interviews, leaders in K-Pop groups are tasked with providing an example, organizing and corralling the group, and helping with any issues or concerns, either from the management or from fellow members. It’s certainly not an easy task and requires more than what is already asked for in terms of normal K-Pop artist work.

JiU at a BOCA video fansign in 2020. Source: Dream Catcher Company

Considering the outward appearance of Dreamcatcher being a cohesive group that has been able to weather any issues with honesty and trust, and many interview comments saying as such, eldest member JiU appears to have been successful as their leader. Facing the daunting prospect of helming a group needing to re-debut with a non-traditional concept, JiU’s seemingly steady hand with the group has no doubt led to their current success. As someone who has been placed in leadership positions before, one of the things you learn is that there are many leadership styles, but one of the best ways to lead is to be adaptable and change to the situation. Ultimately, this is how a leader gains respect and charisma — the latter being that interesting personal x-factor that can help in many situations where its lack can make things more challenging.

JiU (right) and Siyeon (left) in 2021, BEcause promotions. Source: Dream Catcher Company

Even as JiU has settled in as a respected leader, she has, like the other members of Dreamcatcher, gone through her own development as a performer as well. This makes me doubly respect her — juggling leadership responsibilities, which are a group-focused obligation, while also ensuring you yourself get your own individual opportunities to shine is a hard balance to achieve. But JiU, with her growing songwriting credits and memorable Special Clips (among other things), has done this in spades.

Here are five thoughts on how Dreamcatcher’s JiU has evolved and changed as a leader and artist from debut until now.

JiU in full “Pink Princess” mode with Dreamcatcher in 2017. Source: Fact iN Star

JiU’s on-camera evolution from “Pink Princess" to “Charisma Rabbit" set the tone for Dreamcatcher’s own evolution in individual presentation.

While individual personalities and charms are part of the appeal of the somewhat parasocial relationship K-pop artists seek with their fans, in a group it feels like the leader has to set the bar for how those change and evolve as time goes by. Long-time fans have seen Dreamcatcher’s members go through changes in the way they exude their individuality, and I feel JiU’s own journey from cutesy “Pink Princess" to today’s bright and mature “Charisma Rabbit" has helped set the bar for the group’s charm.

One of Dreamcatcher’s earliest interviews on “Kiss the Radio”, and one of JiU’s first self-introductions as the “Pink Princess”. Source: Deurimkeichyo

In the beginning, perhaps as a slight carryover from the charm of her days in MINX, JiU presented herself off-stage as a “Pink Princess", with color preferences to match and a smiling, happy personality. JiU’s early claims to “aegyo/cute" talents coupled with her confident, noticeable stage presence served as the basis for the duality that Dreamcatcher’s members would charm fans with. Dreamcatcher would claim an on-stage seriousness and fire to match their dark, horror-like concept, coupled with an off-stage brightness and humor that has often been called “chaotic" and unafraid of breaking the somewhat-prim-and-proper idol image — and JiU’s presentation of herself would contribute to this significantly.

JiU’s early interviews in places like Fact in Star and on MOMO X, among others, utilized this “Pink Princess" personality to charm fans with a somewhat more traditional offstage idol presentation, and may have contributed to the eldest member’s high marks in places like MixNine, where several Dreamcatcher members participated. But over the years, JiU’s growth and maturity gave way to a more nuanced personality in the form of the “Charisma Rabbit" nickname.

JiU speaks about happiest moments of being Dreamcatcher in the “Between Dreamcatcher and Me” series. Source: Dreamcatcher official

Though still bright and smiling, gone for the most part were the affinity for pink (replaced by a preference for darker colors like black) as well as some of the primarily “cutesy" claims to fame (though JiU still had her moments here, earning a “fake maknae" nickname among fans for her tendency to act younger than she actually was). In its place was an optimistic, more thoughtful idealist JiU that charmed you not just for the fact that she was bright like the sun, but that she remained so even through recognized hardships and trials.

Dreamcatcher’s “Deja Vu” MV, featuring JiU in a prominent, seemingly emotionally intensive role. Source: Dreamcatcher official

This was the JiU who tackled more serious or multi-faceted presentations as an artist, whether as a betrayed and resurrected character in the “Deja Vu" era or as a self-sacrificing rescuer in collaboration music video “R.o.S.E BLUE". It was also a JiU who transferred her hopes and dreams into her songwriting for Dreamcatcher’s more recent albums, from fandom love letter “Dear", wistful remembrance “4 Memory", and citypop experiment “Alldaylong". Don’t get me wrong — JiU never stopped being that early era “Pink Princess" on many levels — but in my estimation her “Charisma Rabbit" nickname reflects a layering of that youthful exuberance with the maturity of age and years. It’s a trend that all of Dreamcatcher would follow in their own presentations to fans, and one that JiU appears to be more than happy to lead from the front on.

Idol Picknick’s “Truth or Dare” game, in which JiU explains how she’s had the members handle conflict. Source: IDOLLIVE

JiU’s leadership pillar of success #1: Be adaptable to others’ personalities, and pull them up with you rather than keep them below your level.

Over the years that Dreamcatcher has been active, we’ve become privy to JiU’s leadership style, and it can be boiled down to two pillars that appear to contribute to her success in this area. The first of these is the subscription to the leadership strategy of being adaptable and perceptive to the group’s varying personalities and act accordingly, and thus, to celebrate their successes with them rather than take credit for or direct them.

Whether it’s acting just as energetic as a boisterous SuA on vLive, as chill but dangerously charismatic as a calm Dami when performing Sunmi’s “Full Moon” for a concert, as invested in and passionate about music as main vocal Siyeon, and more, there is a reason why some of the most memorable vLives, subunit performances, and Special Clips involve JiU in some way. She’s been able to adapt to each member’s talent and slot in as necessary — and she’s made them each successful by helping in this way.

JiU and Handong perform one of the more memorable subunit songs from their South America tour with “Trouble Maker”. Source: Kpidols

When I was thinking of good Dreamcatcher material for this set of articles, many of them involved JiU in some way or another, and that’s no coincidence. One of JiU’s best traits as a leader has been to be able to have good chemistry with just about anyone, as well as to make any situation pleasant and enjoyable. There’s been plenty of times where JiU hasn’t been afraid to play the fool around her fellow members just to increase the humor of the situation or otherwise not act like she’s above their level as the leader of the group, and that’s a trait that can’t be understated when it comes to garnering charisma and respect among them.

JiU and the rest of Dreamcatcher get up-close-and-personal with fans during KCON LA 2018. Source: Sand Seas

JiU has cultivated a down-to-earth attitude and genuine care for her fans that endears them to her for its kindness and warmth.

There’s probably a reason that JiU has had to create three whole secret letter mailboxes on the Dreamcatcher fancafe because she’s hit the message limit multiple times — that being a pleasant, welcoming attitude from Dreamcatcher’s leader that puts them at ease. Multiple accounts from fans who have been fortunate enough to get into fansigns with the group report that JiU remembers most if not all people who she regularly gets to talk to, is warm and welcoming even if you’re a first-timer, and always ensures you feel comfortable and made to feel like she’s grateful for your support. Much of JiU’s behavior in public appearances where she’s had a chance to talk to an interact with fans, such as at KCON LA in 2018, tracks with this impression.

JiU’s Daily Life VLOG from 2018. Source: Dreamcatcher official

Some of the few vlogs we’ve seen JiU do also reflect how casual she is in public and in her daily life. It certainly helps that Dreamcatcher is a smaller, perhaps less-recognized group in public, but in particular, JiU hasn’t been afraid of showing that she does makeup, shops, and (most commonly) eats as much as the average person does. It’s certainly true that making K-Pop artists seem relatable is all part of the job, but I’ve always felt that JiU in particular has had a natural talent for doing so, mostly because the impression I get is that it is very much genuine.

JiU talks to her family on Idol Ground. Source: NADOL

It’s certainly possible part of this attitude comes from her family life, which from interviews and from public conversations, is a healthy, loving one. Between her many pictures and interactions with her dog Cherry, her family being so caring and supportive, and of course, the fact that she lets fans see this small portion of her life to begin with, JiU turns out to be one of the easiest members of Dreamcatcher to relate to. It’s no wonder that her popularity over the past five years has been so high when taking this into account.

JiU makes macarons for her fellow Dreamcatcher members on her birthday. Source: Dreamcatcher official

JiU’s leadership pillar of success #2: Be selfless and caring of your fellow members as you lead them.

If you’re familiar at all with Dreamcatcher compilation videos from fans over the past few years you’re likely aware of the many “JiU being a mom to Dreamcatcher”, “JiU taking care of her kids”, etc. type content out there. That’s because aside from being adaptable and supportive, the other leadership pillar of success that JiU has adopted in her position in the group is to ensure she cares for her fellow members. Whether it’s introducing a game to the others to play together (only to have them humorously last longer than her by getting hooked on it), making macarons one year and cellphone cases on another on her own birthday for the other members, or more, JiU has always seemed to want to ensure the other members are doing well and feel like they’re getting opportunities within the group.

Behind-the-scenes of JiU and SuA’s Special Clip “Switch To Me”, which JiU recruited SuA for. Source: Dreamcatcher official

This kind of selfless attitude on the part of Dreamcatcher’s leader is honestly a force multiplier in the group, as the example JiU’s sets in caring for them spreads to other members as well. JiU offering to pay for something expensive Siyeon wanted for her birthday once led to Siyeon doing the same for SuA for hers. JiU offering to go first for a rhythm game during an “Idol Ground” appearance for a nervous SuA led to the group managing to win the prize for overall score.

The kinds of moments that are introduced by JiU being selfless, such as saying she’ll buy a one-piece Gahyeon likes in the above vLive are memorable, and lead to things like Dreamcatcher trying to be generous to one another (with hilarious results) trading each other’s clothes on a broadcast. As such, these sorts of giving interactions lead to a reassuring impression by fans that the group is in harmony with one another on a personal level. That likely becomes more challenging without the caring attitude of someone like JiU, something which has only grown over the past five years.

JiU takes an MBTI test for the benefit (and testing) of her fellow Dreamcatcher members. Source: 7DreamSubs (translation) / THE K-POP (original)

JiU has become the glue that holds Dreamcatcher and its fans together through her emotional investment and care.

Overall, the past five years have seen, for me, JiU become a leader who has become the solid rock around which the group and its fans have been built. In many ways, a K-Pop group, with its aggressive scheduling and highly competitive nature in the industry, needs a solid foundation to be able to rely upon. Oftentimes that is the leader of a group, and from the beginning, as she’s led from the front in explaining their unique concept and musical style, JiU’s always talked about Dreamcatcher with a sense of importance and value. That means that inevitably there’s a great deal of emotional investment made in the relationships and personalities of both the group and its fans.

JiU’s birthday fan meeting in 2018. Source: Dreamcatcher official

Out of all the members in Dreamcatcher, I’ve gotten the sense over the past five years that JiU’s emotional connection with her fans and members is among the highest, and I don’t find that to be a terribly huge surprise. People such as JiU, who are good at ferreting out and being keen to their friends/family/fellow workers’ emotional states can themselves find a similar connection to them as a result. That can be a double-edged sword — after all, if negative emotions sometimes float up to the surface they can certainly have an effect on the person, but if that’s happened to JiU, we’ve only known or seen glimpses of it. For the most part, we’ve seen JiU as a person who continues to be bright, hopeful and encouraging to both fans and their fellow members, and it’s very likely a testament to the resilience she possesses.

Dreamcatcher’s 1st Generation Fanclub meeting in 2019, during which JiU is overwhelmed with emotion. Source: Dreamcatcher official

The few flashes of intense emotion we do see from JiU are from joy and a realization of their hard work paying off. One obvious example was a sudden outburst of tears from JiU during their first-generation fanclub meeting in 2019, as she explained how envious she was of other groups getting to have fanclub meetings, only to be so happy at Dreamcatcher finally getting to have one of their own. Other similar expression of emotion from JiU came about as the result of letters from fans, or from being overcome by emotion seeing her fellow Dreamcatcher members also wrought with feelings over letters they wrote to each other for a recent online concert. These, however, just reflect the amount of care that JiU exhibits (and likely has always exhibited) for her fellow members and the Dreamcatcher fandom — a solid core of empathy and kindness for one another that the group has built around.

JiU in her Old West Wasteland styling for 2021’s Halloween Midnight Circus concert. Source: Dream Catcher Company

It’s for these and many reasons that JiU is, like the other members, an essential part of why Dreamcatcher has been as successful as they are as they move into their 5th year. What the future holds for the group is anyone’s guess, but with a caring, strong, and talented leader like JiU at the helm, they’re sure to be going in the right direction.

Stay tuned for more Five Years of Dreamcatcher content as we roll toward their 5th anniversary in January — clap, follow, and signal boost this content to your fellow fans so that more people can read about how and why Dreamcatcher remains one of K-Pop’s most interesting and sustainable groups with a great story in the industry!

Want to read the rest of the series? Check out the rest of the members in the Five Years of Dreamcatcher series of articles!

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Frank Sanchez

Lifetime geek dual-wielding in the tech and games industries for over a decade. Builder of walls of text. Shameless Asian pop lover.