- Asela Lee Kemper
Shining Their Own Spotlight: Pinoy Artists in K-Pop
There is no denying that K-Pop is globally well-known. K-Pop, which stands for Korean Pop, is a music genre mixed with pop, hip-hop, R&B, and dance, sung in Korean. It was introduced during the 1990s with first generation artists such as Seo Taiji and The Boys, H.O.T, and BoA. K-Pop then expanded to Japan and China and was also introduced in South Asian countries including the Philippines. The Korean wave, or the Hallyu Wave, was introduced in the Philippines by Korean dramas airing in the early 2000s, which sparked the public’s interest in theme songs from the dramas and eventually the music genre.
In 2018, over 50 K-Pop songs including contributions by BlackPink and BTS placed in weekly charts, tripling from the year before with only 14 K-POP songs. From BlackPink’s empowering anthems to BTS’s record-breaking tracks, K-Pop has opened doors for more Asian representation. In fact, Korean entertainment companies are scouting talents outside of Korea. In 2005, Han Geng, an upcoming artist at the time, debuted in the popular boy group Super Junior as their first Chinese member in K-Pop. Now, more Korean companies are slowly debuting multinational groups and artists from various Asian backgrounds, including Filipino artists.
So why is it important to bring that same level of appreciation for their contribution in K-Pop? Why highlight Filipino artists and community in K-Pop?
Highlighting Filipino artists adds new perspectives through the genre. One of the most notable artists who came from the Philippines is Sandara Park, better known by her stage name Dara, from the famous girl group 2NE1. Dara was originally from South Korea, but she spent most of her life in the Philippines. She rose to fame as a contestant on the talent show Star Circle Quest in 2004, where she had a successful acting and singing career before she returned to Korea three years later to train and become a member of 2NE1. For a while, Dara was well-known in the K-Pop industry for being from the Philippines. Today, there are more Filipino artists representing the music genre. While the pool is small, Filipino artists are rising both on and off stage as the music genre is now globally known.
There have been artists who performed on Korean shows before becoming breakout stars years later. Before they made a huge impression on The X Factor, girl group 4th Impact competed on Korea’s popular singing competition show Superstar K where they went by the name MICA. Although they finished in eighth place on the show, 4th Impact went viral for their rendition of “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen and recently released their first single, “K(NO)W MORE.”
Kriesha Tiu was a runner-up on another singing competition show called K-Pop Star 6. In 2017, she made her successful debut as a soloist under the stage name Kriesha Chu. Speaking candidly about being a Filipina American singer in Korea, she told an interviewer from MYK, “There's a lot of things that I had to deal with, not only being a foreign K-Pop artist but also as a foreign solo artist. It's kind of like a very hard position.”
Despite this, Tiu continues to show the public that an artist like her can lead a successful career in Korea.
Filipino representation also can be found in genres just outside of K-Pop. In Korean Hip-Hop, rapper Lee Joon-Kyung, also known as Dok2, bears Korean, Spanish, and Filipino heritage. Although he identifies more with his Korean heritage, Dok2 acknowledges his Filipino and Spanish side from his father.
Since K-Pop is growing more popular every day, Korean companies have established groups that are marketed to a more international audience. Boy group SB19 was formed under a Korean agency and has since spread their K-Pop inspired music, known as Pinoy Pop, or P-Pop. Recently, they landed both Billboard Social 50 and Emerging Artists after receiving massive support from international fans. Their new album Get In The Zone! features their lead single “Go Up” and focuses on their growth as artists and individuals. Their music has a strong K-Pop influence with its bright sound and infectious dance, but they are able to establish a unique genre of P-Pop.
Another group making an impression on international K-Pop fans is a group called Z-Stars. Korean company Zenith Entertainment scouted artists from different parts of Asia to create the music project and created two respective units, Z-Boys and Z-Girls. Each member of the group represents their country, including Carlyn Ocampo and Joshuel Bautista, also known as Carlyn and Josh, from the Philippines. Ocampo was originally from a different girl group called Pop Girls, while Bautista was part of a dance crew before joining Z-Stars. Their discography so far is mostly sung in English, but they have filmed variety shows on their YouTube channel and promoted their music in Korea while training and learning the language. Their most recent songs “Streets Of Gold” and “Holla Holla” are garnering attention from international music and slowly getting recognized by K-Pop fans.
While many artists perform on stage, there are also Filipino artists working in songwriting or producing. The most notable artist who has recently garnered attention and fan support is August Rigo. Rigo is a Filipino Canadian songwriter who recently gained attention for co-writing BTS’s hit songs “ON” and “Black Swan” from their critically acclaimed album, Map Of the Soul: 7. Before writing music with one of the biggest K-Pop acts, Rigo previously wrote for artists like Justin Bieber and One Direction. He was also a vocal coach on the popular US reality competition show America’s Got Talent.
As a Filipino artist, it was a challenge for Rigo to get his foot into the music industry when he started his career as a singer. He opened up about his early years with Variety, sharing that “...being an Asian kid from Toronto trying to make it in mainstream music was unheard of.” But the challenge transitioned him into songwriting. “[Being] Asian was a real obstacle, but it led me down the path of songwriting. … I was trying to do anything to get my foot into the door and that was my way in.” After “ON” garnered over 134 million views on YouTube and was charted number four on the Billboard Hot 100, Rigo viewed Asian artists thriving as “poetic justice.”
As someone who has been a K-Pop fan for a decade, it is refreshing to see more Asian artists receiving recognition. Discovering new artists who came from the Philippines and found success in the K-Pop industry is a moment of pride for me. It creates a strong bond between the country, the singer and the genre that everyone has come to enjoy. Whether they perform on stage or write hit-making songs with artist sensations like BTS, Filipino artists have forged their way in the K-Pop scene and will continue to show that there is space for Asian artists to thrive.
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Asela L. Kemper - Oregon
Co-Editor Chopsticks Alley Pinoy
Asela holds a BFA in Creative Writing with a minor in Emerging Media & Digital Arts from Southern Oregon University. She holds many positions including poetry reader for Timberline Review (also as a copyeditor for poetry), Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and Marías at, “There's a lot of things that I had to deal with, not only being a foreign K-Pop artist but also as a foreign solo artist. It'sk kind of like a very hard position.” Issue, Silk Club: QUIET, Reclamation Mag, and No Tender Fences. Asela uses her passion for creative writing to open conversations on diversity and identity in literature. As an Asian American, she uses her platform to engage and uplift underrepresented Asian American artists. She resides in Oregon, USA with her family.