Soo-Young rose to stardom in Seoul as a member of the K-Pop group Girls' Generation, but has recently proved her talents as an actress as well, landing roles in major Korean television dramas and citing Jennifer Lawrence and Friends as her inspirations. She always wanted to be an actress, but was discovered for her voice at a young age and focused on that instead. In 2012, however, she was cast in The 3rd Hospital — the Grey’s Anatomy of Korea — after five years in the girl group. Choi is still trying to juggle both careers, but finds there’s still a taboo in her country regarding K-Pop stars venturing into other creative domains. Somehow, she also makes time to fit in fashion as well, and sat front row at Coach last season in New York and has done collaborations with Seoul-based designers. And as for her future in acting, “Working in the U.S. has always been a dream of mine,” she said.
As it turns out, the path to R&B superstardom in Korea isn’t that different than it is in America. Gain traction by singing hooks for well-known rappers, and eventually you’ll be rewarded with a shot at a solo career to call your own. That’s how it worked for Zion.T: The 27-year-old singer first guested on songs by acts like Dok2, Crucial Star and G-Dragon before releasing his debut album Red Light in 2013. Rarely seen without one of his many stylish pairs of sunglasses on his face, the crooner now makes fans scream all on his own with his brand of syrupy downtempo ballads. Just check his latest music video for “No Make Up” for proof.
One of Korea's favorite expat artists, Hae-gue Yang, who was born in Seoul but who's been based both there and in Germany since the 90's, has acquired a stunning international reputation. The 45-year-old artist's work has been shown at the Venice Biennale, the Tate Modern in London, Documenta in Kassel, Germany and the New Museum in New York. She's become perhaps best known for her installations addressing her immigrant experience, and especially for her use of colorful Venetian blinds, which reference, of course, the permeability of boundaries. She would know.
The singer-dancer Luna isn’t far behind, with 1.2 million Instagram followers (@hermosavidaluna), the 23-year-old pop star born Sun-Young Park is best known as the lead singer of the girl group f(x). Yet she’s also cultivated quite the solo career: She has appeared in Korean productions of Broadway musicals like In the Heights and Legally Blonde, and she released her solo debut earlier this year. Judging by both her Instagram and her Youtube channel, she’s also an avid baker and dog lover with quite the sweet tooth. And she’s a twin.
Lee Ha-nui, who aptly goes by Honey Lee, holds the title of “most well known vegetarian” in South Korea — a rarity in a bbq-loving country. She was also deemed a “gayageum prodigy” by the prestigious Kumho Art Center for her skills on the traditional Korean string instrument. And she’s even gone on to play at Carnegie Hall in New York. Honey Lee is truly a multi-hyphenate talent though, and was crowned Miss Korea in 2006. Plus, she’s a successful actress as well, and has starred in numerous Korean television, film, and musical theatre productions. She even has her own show called “Lee Ha-Nui's Vegan Recipe.”
Two years after she won the third "Korea’s Next Top Model" in 2012, Sora Choi, 24, started her rapid ascent to supermodel status as one of Nicolas Ghesquière’s picks to walk the Louis Vuitton Resort 2015 show in Monaco. Since then, her ghostly, ethereal look has made her one of the most in-demand faces for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Prada, Alexander Wang, and, of course, Vuitton (where she’s walked countless shows and starred in multiple campaigns). Amid it all, she makes time for a few extracurriculars: She’s an avid manga reader, RPG-er, and anime binge-er with a penchant for Instagram filters. (She seems to favor the animal kingdom.)
Lim Sung-bin, who goes by his stage name, Beenzino, is a 29-year-old Korean rapper who signed to Illionaire Records in 2012. His style and music icons include Theophilus London, A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, and Young Thug, although he admits to loving Babyface as a child. Like his idols, Beenzino is outspoken about personal and political issues. “Age is really important to people in Korea, and it blocks everything,” he said in frustration. “You can’t suggest new opinions.” He’s also currently “locked up” here because of the country’s mandatory military service time of two years. “I’m going to spend all my money and go crazy,” he said of one-day venturing beyond Korea’s borders. For now, he’s got his German model girlfriend, Stefanie Michova, to school him on the ways of the world.
Best known in Seoul for its celebrity owner and co-founder, the Korean actor Yoo Ah-in, Studio Concrete is a creative collective comprised of six members who are photographers and artists. In 2014, they opened a space in a remodeled an old house with a gallery and café on the first floor and a workshop on the second. Here, they host art shows and display capsule collections by emerging Korean designers. In this way, they hope to expose the public to new minds and support the future generations of Korean creatives.
Kim Yu-jin always wanted to be an actress, but the pesky task of being a pop star got in the way first. Picking up the stage name Uee, she got her first break in the entertainment industry in 2007 as a member of a string of girls groups (Five Girls, After School and 4Tomorrow). Her big solo break, however, came in 2011, when she scored supporting roles on two television shows. Since then, she’s gone on to become one of Korean drama’s leading ladies. Roles have included everything from a small town caddy striving to become a professional golfer to a period princess. Her acting career remains red hot, but Uee manages to balance it with appearances on variety and reality shows, as well as her continued involvement with After School.
Tae Yong is one of the seven lead singers and dancers of NCT 127, the K-Pop boyband based in Seoul with members whose ages range 16 to 22.
Haechan is one of the seven lead singers and dancers of NCT 127, the K-Pop boyband based in Seoul with members whose ages range 16 to 22.
Mark is one of the seven lead singers and dancers of NCT 127, the K-Pop boyband based in Seoul with members whose ages range 16 to 22.
Taeil is one of the seven lead singers and dancers of NCT 127, the K-Pop boyband based in Seoul with members whose ages range 16 to 22.
Jae Hyun is one of the seven lead singers and dancers of NCT 127, the K-Pop boyband based in Seoul with members whose ages range 16 to 22.
Yuta is one of the seven lead singers and dancers of NCT 127, the K-Pop boyband based in Seoul with members whose ages range 16 to 22.
Winwin is one of the seven lead singers and dancers of NCT 127, the K-Pop boyband based in Seoul with members whose ages range 16 to 22.
The dynamic hip hop duo XXX, comprised of producer FRNK and rapper Kim Ximya, had quite a summer. They busted out of the gate with their impressive debut single, "Yves," a furious swirl of energetic production and fast rhymes released by the Parisian hitmaker clothing brand Maison Kitsune. They followed that up with "Flight Attendant," a blend of contemporary American hip hop influences — trap sounds, synthy backdrops — and Kim Ximya's Kanye-like venom on the verses. Their first full album is out now in Korea, but be ready to hear them on overseas charts soon.
It’s not every designer who gets a co-sign from 2NE1 frontwoman CL. Since the 32-year-old Bajowoo established his label 99%IS in 2012, he’s earned fans like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and 2NE1 labelmates Big Bang, who have adopted his punkish inclinations into their stage attire. In 2010, the Seoul native decamped to Tokyo, where he founded 99%IS; the label was inducted into the official roster for Tokyo Fashion Week for its Spring 2014 collection. Bajowoo’s relationship to the underground punk scenes of London, Seoul, and Tokyo isn’t limited to designs alone, though. He briefly moved to London on a Sex Pistols-inspired whim, where he DJ-ed and hosted parties for bands before launching his label. In fact, Bajowoo is a nickname, a vestige of his underground club kid days.
The 26-year-old South Korean supermodel Sung Jin Park got his big break in America in 2012 when he walked for Marc by Marc Jacobs and Tommy Hilfiger during New York Fashion Week. He’s since gone on to land a Dazed & Confused cover, campaigns for Calvin Klein and John Elliott, and last season walked for Fenty x Puma, amongst other big names like Ovadia & Sons this season as well. In Seoul, he’s not just a menswear model, however — he’s both an icon and an emerging designer. Park has his own line called Silencion, which he started last season and is quickly gaining a following for its fashionable yet functional streetwear.
Tae-ri Kim is an actress who got her start on television as a commercial model, but was thrown into the spotlight this year for her lead role in Park Chan-wook's romantic drama “The Handmaiden,” which has made its way to the States. Despite her lack of experience, she was picked out amongst a crowd of approximately 1,500 others who auditioned. It’s clear that she’s has that special something.
After he was eliminated early in the fourth season, the rapper BewhY dominated the fifth season of South Korean rap competition series "Show Me the Money." He passed through the nine rounds of the competition — including a diss battle, an a cappella performance, and a collaboration — to emerge victorious in July. In the process, he’s racked up nearly 600,000 Instagram followers, who follow both his solo exploits and those of his rap crew $exy $treet. Bewhy’s solo work tends to be infused with religious imagery — he’s a staunch Christian — but he also frequently collaborates with the runner-up in "Show Me the Money 5" (and his friend since high school), CJamm.
The artist Gwon Osang is well known in Korea for combining two traditional methods of representation — photography and sculpture — into one. He uses isopink, a new type of styrofoam, to create the form of each sculpture, over which a photograph is laid. This way, there is none of the flatness of a photo, nor the heaviness of a sculpture.
In 2010, at age 26, the Korean-born, Paris-trained designer Goen Jong claimed the second season of "Project Runway Korea" with her expressive use of texture and color — something that continues to define her work even now. From there, the designer was virtually unstoppable: She launched her label Goen.J the next year; by 2012, Rihanna was spotted wearing her designs. If you haven’t already spotted her ruffled bombers and skirts on the streets of fashion week, you’re about to.
As a member of the R&B-tinged group Shinee, one of Korea’s biggest boy bands, Key has made the requisite forays into acting (on both television and onstage in musicals) and reality show roles, but his signature — his clear passion — is for fashion. Considered one of the best dressed men in the country, Key has turned his style into a bustling side hustle. He’s scored a gig as a fashion director for the band’s label S.M. Entertainment and is responsible for the band’s styling (in a way, he’s both the Beyoncé and the Tina Knowles of Shinee). He’s also been named a special editor for Korean Elle, contributing his regular column "Key Story" to the magazine.
Since breaking through in 2005’s Blossom Again, the 33-year-old actress has been the romantic lead of choice for directors working in both comedy (My Dear Desperado) and drama (Come, Closer), while also establishing her acting rep in critically acclaimed films like The Crucible.
Like many among the current generation of artists in Asia, the media artist is working to bridge tradition and modernity in his videos and short films. He shot one short, Night Fishing, with his brother, the celebrated filmmaker Park Chan Wook, entirely on iPhones back in 2011, when it was not yet considered a realistic filmmaking tool. At the same time, his subject matter is often derived from a concern over the loss of heritage in contemporary Korea. And he is willing to tackle the North-South Korea divide in his work, an area few of his peers tread upon.