In this exclusive: We trace the evolution of Kevin Woo from the emergence and rise of K-pop, the shifting of his sound, and the focus on his growth.
Just like many of us. Kevin Woo did the inevitable and relented to the lure of TikTok amid the pandemic. While in isolation last year, the Korean American singer, host, and actor began documenting everything from his adventures of making Dalgona coffee, attempting the #wipeitdownchallenge, and even a funny TikTok duet with Jennifer Lopez. While it was fun and all, nothing was quite as entertaining as his series called, Evolution Of K-Pop Idols. (The Butter version alone is a treat.) Here, he illustrates the growth one charts from audition, being a trainee, and finally, the debut. As quick as it may be, it also is vastly enlightening to the process of discovery to phenomenon, proving that the stars we look up to and listen on repeat are truly worth our while.
No stranger to the pop culture shift and unequalled domination that is K-pop, Kevin Woo has not only seen it all, he was part of its emergence and rise. “Although I knew it was just a matter of time until K-pop captured global recognition, the speed at which K-Pop rose to popularity never ceases to surprise me,” he says. “I feel extremely proud to have paved the way for future generations of K-pop and I want to continue to advocate Korean music and artists to the world. As a Korean-American being familiar with both Eastern and Western cultures, it’s a surreal feeling to see K-pop all over global charts, TV shows, billboards, and more. What a historic phase in music history; a momentous achievement for K-pop.”
For the uninitiated, Kevin Woo is what the kids these days would call an OG in K-pop. Since his debut with the boy group, XING, in 2006, to his eventual assimilation with U-KISS in 2008. Since then, the South Korean boy band reached enviable success, with sold-out concerts, entries at the Billboard World Albums Chart, and adoration from Asia and the rest of the world. So, yes, he knows what he is talking about for sure.
All About Kevin Woo
“Not only has it innovated modern music, but also the way fans engage with their favorite artists. Fan engagement is essential to K-pop, as the fans support every aspect of the artist’s journey. Fans and artists are connected now more than ever through the power of social media and global fanclub communities,” Kevin Woo continues, taking us through a veritable history lesson in all things K-pop, straight from the source as they say. “It feels amazing to see how far K-Pop has come and that people all over the world resonate with good music regardless of the language or cultural backgrounds.”
Just as K-pop has grown in epic proportions, Kevin Woo has traced an evolution of his own. In between his time with U-KISS, and even following his departure in 2017, he has made a name on his own as an actor and a host, starring in dramas and musicals, as well as hosting After School Club and KCON. “Not only as an artist, but as a human being, I am constantly evolving and discovering new sides to myself and that’s the biggest joy of what I do,” he reveals. “I think of my career as a marathon and it’s essential for me to constantly challenge myself to push my limits. My fans have been following my journey for quite some time ever since my U-KISS days up until now and I want to continue to show my growth and transformation.”
A stronghold in Korean entertainment, Kevin Woo is determined to expand his reach, further reaching into moments that he wants immortalized in among many things, music. Being able to look at his journey so far, he gets incredibly real, which is refreshing, especially since many of the stars we look up to still hide under the image of engineered perfection.
“Being in the spotlight from an early age, I’ve always had a mentality to please everyone. Whether it was the general public, industry workers, friends and family, etc. It took a toll on me later down the line when I started to feel emotionally and mentally drained,” he says candidly. “As I grew older, I realized that it is impossible for someone to please everyone. I’ve slowly learned the art of focusing on my goals and passion over what others think and this practice has really helped me grow into the independent artist I am today. I can take full control of my creativity and I am eager to show the world more of who Kevin Woo is.”
This time, Kevin Woo is honing his sound, one that is completely of and by him. “Before, I was quite busy, going on tours and performing, but I really wanted more time to learn more about the whole music-making process. When we were all just kinda forced to stay home, I was able to really work on my craft as an artist, which allowed me to tap into my artistry in a new way,” he shares in an interview with American Songwriter. “Coming from that more personal space allows me to grow a stronger connection with my songs. Telling my story gives me freedom, creatively. So, I’m really proud and happy that I can allow my fans to have a decent look inside me.”
Opening up even more than before, the trilingual artist and performer is letting us in on his head and heart space. Getting even more personal, he is really diving deep into the process of creating, starting with the 80s and 90s hybrid retro boyband bop that is Got It. “First of all, Got It is the first song I wrote myself along with an amazing team of talented people. I was aiming for a more mature tone with my love for R&B and dance music while keeping my K-Pop essence,” explains Kevin Woo. “I wanted to capture honest emotions that we all have when it comes to feelings we can’t control. I want the audience to vibe out to this song while driving or even just chilling at home.”
Not quite a slowed ballad, but powerful nonetheless in its progression and pristine production, Got It is that track you will want to play when you want to slow things after a long day or just indulge in a little guilty pleasure every now and then. There is a lot to enjoy from the song, breathy vocals, bouncy orchestrations, and a build-up that allows you to dance to the beat. Following its release, the accompanying music video premiered, bringing the music to life in a neon-lit synergy. The only thing missing? A live performance.
“I really missed the energy and excitement that I share with the audience. I feel like live music and connection will heal our souls and mind after this pandemic,” he says the rest of the world slowly shakes the dangerous dregs of the global crisis and inch closer to a semblance of new world normal. “I’m looking forward to seeing fans dance, sing, and enjoy themselves with me.”
The Asian Experience
Despite all the good things coming his way, Kevin Woo is not taking his position and platform lightly. In fact, over the course of the past year, his resolve to not only represent but strengthen his repsonsibility to his Asian heritage. “I’m proud of my heritage and of being Asian. I want to continue to use my platform to spread awareness and share my story to the world so people can relate to and empathize with everyone,” he says, especially in the context of great suffering, injustice, and violence. “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given and I’m forever indebted to my parents and family for providing opportunities for me and allowing me to have a good upbringing.”
Through his music and his many avenues to reach out and speak up, Kevin Woo wants the world to know the struggles and sacrifices of Asian families. “Being a minority comes with deep hurts and pains for all types of experiences. In our day and age, I think it’s important to unite as humans and show empathy for everyone in these difficult times,” he says. Visibility is not only a motivating factor in the movement, but it is also one that matters for those who are coming to terms with their cultural identities. As something he has experienced in his formative years, Kevin Woo wants to be one of that figures of representation and reflection for others just like him.
“Growing up as an Asian-American, I didn’t get to see much Asian representation on screen or in the public eye. That’s why it means so much to me that I can be a role model to future generations,” Kevin Woo shares. “Now that technology has advanced, we can all showcase our talents on a global platform easier and faster than ever before. I want people to be confident and embrace their uniqueness to share their story with the world because that’s what people genuinely want to see and hear.”
There is definitely a lot more to Kevin Woo than it seems. While he was for a long time known as just part of a whole, he has worked his way out of the shadows of a great chapter of his life. Now, with a focused mindset where no limits exist, he is introducing to man he really is. “I would define myself as a young soul who enjoys the small things in life and never takes anything for granted. I’ve always had a passion for music and performing and it’s my fans who keep me motivated,” he says of the definitive Kevin Woo beyond the reputation that precedes him as an all-around entertainer.
At the end of the day, one of his certain goals is to always smile, one that he consciously and consistently works at no matter what. “What makes me smile at night is thinking of the accomplishments I’ve made that day. In the morning, getting exercise and good food is what makes me smile. I would say, reminding yourself each day of what you are thankful for and knowing that you’re enough, helps one thrive.” Get it? Got it. Good.
Photography RAEN BADUA
Stylist TIFFANY BRISENO (The Only Agency)
Grooming SONIA LEE for Exclusive Artists using Oribe Haircare
Photo Assistant ANGELO AGOJO
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