9 Asian Canadians in the K-pop World

From Mark Lee to Wendy Shon, eight Canadians who are making a name for themselves in the K-pop world.

From Mark Lee to Wendy Shon, eight Canadians who are making a name for themselves in the K-pop world.

by Samantha Lui
January 21, 2024

Welcome to The K-pop Chat, a monthly column dedicated to all things K-pop. In collaboration with the bunni pop newsletter, join writer Samantha Lui as she rolls out lists, content and interviews to keep you updated on the latest from the K-pop industry. For more K-pop content in your inboxes, subscribe to bunni pop for weekly posts.

It’s no secret K-pop has taken the world by storm through addictive songs, elaborate stage performances and colourful music videos. 

Part of that success is the industry’s goal to seek talent from around the world to debut as the next big Korean superstars. But while it’s rare to make it as a singer in this fast-paced and competitive industry, there are a surprising number of Canadians who are killing it right now. 

So without further ado, below are nine Asian Canadians who have made a name for themselves in the K-pop world. 

1. Mark Lee from NCT

Mark Lee is known for being an all-rounder as a singer, rapper and dancer, performing in the boy band NCT and its respective sub-units NCT 127 and NCT Dream. Unbeknownst to some, his is early years were spent in Toronto and Vancouver. In 2012, Mark became a trainee after passing an audition for SM Entertainment in Vancouver. Since then, he and his band mates have sold millions of albums, toured the world and co-written many of his group’s biggest hits including “Sticker” and “Cherry Bomb.” 

In 2019, Mark shared his love of his home country during NCT 127’s Neo City – The Origin tour, where they had stops in Vancouver and Toronto. “I was born in Canada. Through this tour I visited Canada after a long time. It was…healing to my heart after a long time. The fans also welcomed me in a special way. The fans in Canada also cheered me up, so I have a great memory from it,” he said during an interview on SBS PowerFM.

2. Wendy Shon from Red Velvet 

Since Red Velvet’s debut in 2014, they have been praised for their catchy hooks, vocal harmonies and unique concepts and storylines in their performances and music videos. A big part of Red Velvet’s vocal prowess is Wendy, who serves as the band’s main vocalist. And she was able to gain a love of music and exercise her powerful voice while spending much of her youth living in Richmond Hill, Ontario – just outside of Toronto. While there, she was part of the school’s show choir called Vocal Fusion. 

Wendy originally did not intend to audition for SM Entertainment, but was cast by the company when she accompanied a friend to an audition for SM Entertainment in Canada in 2012. In an interview, she remembers singing Kim Gun-mo’s “Moon of Seoul” and passed the try-out.

In 2019, she returned home for a concert, in which her family, former classmates and a teacher attended. “I was just a little girl studying here in Toronto and I became a singer coming here to perform for you guys. I feel like I’m dreaming right now,” she said during the show.

3. Keeho from P1Harmony 

P1Harmony has been quickly becoming a K-pop group to watch with its flashy performances and energetic songs. But what has helped the band gain a solid fan base are their fun TikTok dance challenges and classic Gen Z sense of humour. Much of the latter can be attributed to P1Harmony’s leader Keeho (or Stephen Yoon), who grew up in Markham, Ontario. He’s since shown his bandmates Theo, Jiung, Intak, Soul and Jongseob around his hometown and Toronto, touring sites like Kensington Market, CN Tower, Canada’s Wonderland and Main Street Unionville. 

Last April, Keeho went on a livestream and shared his love of singing and performing was instilled in him while attending his first concert at Toronto’s Rebel, a night club formerly known as Sound Academy. It was there an 11-year-old Keeho saw Ariana Grande perform during her debut tour The Listening Sessions. Then in July, the Canadian singer had a full circle moment as P1Harmony took the stage at Rebel for a headlining show in front of family, friends and fans. 

“It’s really like a full 360,” Keeho said before shedding a tear before the crowd. “Because this venue meant so much to me, it was kind of the reason why I wanted to start performing and singing.”

4. Kevin Moon and Jacob Bae from The Boyz

The Boyz is a rare group that features two Canadian members: Kevin Moon and Jacob Bae. Hailing from Vancouver and Toronto, the pair have often talked about their home country on livestreams, including Canadian culinary specialities like BeaverTails, Nanaimo bars and ketchup chips.

Though being from two different sides of Canada, the duo have sometimes debated which side is better – east coast or west coast. But most funny of all, Canadian fans will never forget when Vancouverite Kevin made fun of Torontonian Jacob for consuming milk from bags as opposed to plastic jugs. “This is why Americans think we’re weird! But why?!” Kevin asked during a livestream. “It’s actually much more comfortable,” Jacob responded. “It’s always a hassle carrying it in the grocery store.” (As a fellow Ontario resident, I concur) 

But above their hilarious dynamic, it’s clear to see just how Jacob and Kevin find comfort and support with one another as fellow Canucks.

5. Tablo from Epik High

For more than two decades, Epik High has been widely credited as pioneers in bringing rap and hip hop into the mainstream South Korean music scene, as well as tackling themes such as mental health and depression in their songs. Epik High’s groundbreaking lyricism can be largely attributed to the group’s leader Tablo, who spent much of his youth growing up in Vancouver. 

But while many performers have shared fond memories of growing up in Canada, Tablo has been open about his mixed feelings about the country. When I spoke to him for Complex Canada in 2022, he acknowledged that his childhood in Vancouver was pretty miserable as he attended boarding school there while his whole family was split up between Korea and the United States. However, Tablo told me being alone in his dorm room was where he started developing his voice as an artist.  

“I think that’s where I sort of became who I am. That’s when I started writing a lot. My memories of Vancouver are very, I mean, it’s a rainy place to begin with. But even if it wasn’t, it would be raining for me.” 

6. Junny 

Junny (born Kim Hyung-jun) has collaborated with some of the biggest names in K-pop including IU, NCT, Chungha and Jay B as a songwriter. But the Vancouver artist is also an emerging singer himself. In August 2022, he released his debut studio album Blanc and embarked on a North American tour, which included a stop in his hometown of Vancouver. During a roundtable interview, Junny told me that most of the songs he writes are in English, then translated to Korean. He added that music allows him to connect with his Korean-Canadian roots. “You know, I think that’s my goal to be good at both,” he said.

Though despite his success, he never forgets where he came from. He often gives his hometown shoutouts during interviews. “The best thing about Vancouver [is] the fresh air that you can feel the moment you go outside,” he said in a video on his YouTube channel.

7. Jeon Somi

It isn’t always easy to make it as a soloist in the K-pop world, but Jeon Somi (or Somi) has transitioned from girl group to independent artist swimmingly. From competing on reality competition shows like Sixteen and Produce I.O.I, the singer has made a name for herself through singles like “Birthday”, “Dumb Dumb” and the smash summer hit “Fast Forward.” Despite her success, Somi has never forgotten her Canadian roots. Born to a Korean mother and Dutch father in Windsor, Ontario, Jeon has often talked about being biracial in the K-pop industry. 

“Some people don’t know this, but I actually have three nationalities,” Somi said during an interview at KCON in 2016. “Korean, Canadian and Dutch. I am very proud of all three of them. I think it also helps me to understand the world more. And well, I’m very thankful and proud to be Korean, I’m very thankful and proud to be Canadian and Dutch. My dad says this to me a lot of times, but I’m not an apple or an orange; I’m just something a bit different. It’s hard to explain exactly, but it’s good.” 

In a less serious note, Somi has also shared her love of Lay’s ketchup chips in the First We Feast YouTube channel, which she said makes her feel in touch with her Canadian side. “My roots are here,” she says, while patting the bag. Can’t argue with that!

8. Seok Matthew from ZEROBASEONE

No group had a more successful start than ZEROBASEONE in 2023. Formed through the reality competition show Boys Planet, the band has since sold millions of albums and won several Best New Artist and Rookie awards at the Asia Artist Awards and MAMA Awards. 

Part of the nine member act is Vancouver’s Seok Matthew, who spent his years developing his love of dance and performance in Canada while attending Earl Marriott Secondary School. On Boys Planet, Seok Matthew competed against 98 trainees from South Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States to win a spot on ZEROBASEONE. Seok Matthew proudly represented Canada and came in third place, ultimately granting him a spot in the K-pop group.

Now with the group’s growing fanbase (known as ZEROSE), here’s hoping Canadians can see a ZEROBASEONE show sometime soon! 

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