Crossing Borders: Chinese Idols in K-Pop - K LIFESTYLE

Celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year with tikoy and acclimate yourself with the Chinese members of some of the biggest groups in K-pop

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EXO’s Lay Zhang 

Lay, whose real name is Zhang Yixing, is the only Chinese member of the boy band EXO. Born in Changsha, Hunan on October 7, 1991 (making him 30 years old), Lay auditioned and was accepted into SM Entertainment during their global auditions in 2008.

He made his debut with EXO in 2012, actively promoting with the group at large, and with EXO-M, the subgroup that was focused on the Chinese market. During EXO’s early years, the group’s concept included powers, and Lay had the power of healing.

Reaching successful heights with the group (EXO’s first album, XOXO was the first to sell more than a million physical copies in South Korea in 12 years), Lay has also had a successful solo career in China.

His digital album Honey, released in 2019, is the highest-selling digital album in China, with 4,809,822 copies sold (Lit, released in 2020 is number 4 on the list, selling 2,710,952 units). In addition to singing, he has also appeared in several acting projects (his first at the age of six) that have earned high ratings.

Lay is also a brand ambassador for luxury brands like Valentino, Chaumet, Calvin Klein, and MAC Cosmetics. In October 2020, he officially up his own entertainment company, Chromosome Entertainment Group.

Seventeen’s Jun and The8

Seventeen is a 13-member Korean group, sometimes broken up into units, with two Chinese members: Jun and The8. Wen Junhui, known as Jun, was born on June 10, 1996, in Guandong.

A child actor, he was accepted into Pledis Entertainment in 2012 and debuted with the group in May 2015. His position is that of lead dancer and is part of the Performance Team unit.

The8, real name Xu Ming Hao, was born on November 7, 1997, in Liaoning. Having trained in Wushu since he was five years old, The8 is also adept at nunchucks. He joined Pledis in 2013 and is very good at b-boying.

Because of the pandemic, it has been very hard for foreign members of idol groups to travel home to their home countries. In 2021, Jun and The8 were the exceptions, being able to return to China for activities and to spend time with their families.

The group’s last comeback was the only one both members weren’t part of, but they have now returned to South Korea to be with the group for future music releases.

NCT Dream’s Renjun and Chenle

Along with fellow member Haechan, Renjun and Chenle make up the vocal powerhouse trifecta of NCT Dream. Huang Renjun was born on March 23, 2020, in Jilin, China, auditioning for SM in 2015, before debuting in NCT Dream in 2016.

NCT Dream’s Renjun, Chenle, Mark and Jisung on Eric Nam’s podcast

Because he attended a Korean ethnic school in Jilin, his acclimatization and language skills in Korean were probably the best of all the Chinese trainees (it’s a common joke within NCT Dream’s fandom that Renjun is, in fact, more Korean than the Korean members, due to his knowledge of Korean idioms and random Korean pop culture).

You have probably already heard of Zhong Chenle before you knew he was a member of a K-pop group. Born on November 22, 2001, he went viral for his audition in China’s Got Talent in 2010, when at the age of 9, he sang Memory, from the musical Cats.

He followed that up with a performance at the Golden Hall of Vienna singing the same song (making him the youngest performer there). He released two albums as a child and in 2016 was personally scouted by SM Entertainment: a company representative called his family and asked if he could join the company.

He initially refused but was convinced by his dad, who told him it would be a good experience. He formally joined the company in March of that year, and debuted (with Renjun) in August, making his trainee period one of the shortest (if not the shortest) in SM history.

In 2021, NCT Dream’s first full album Hot Sauce was one of the highest-selling that year.

Renjun and Chenle are an important part of NCT’s firmament, not just due to their singing skills but funny personalities: Renjun is an active part of the group’s variety content, and Chenle is known as one of the most realistic idols in K-Pop (he is known to dish out advice, telling fans not to love him too much, but also sharing group gossip about certain members’ cooking skills).

They have both had stints as radio DJs at Akdong Seoul, a Chinese-language broadcast in South Korea and China.

Renjun and Chenle teaching their fellow members Chinese

aespa’s Ningning

The latest in SM Entertainment’s long history with Chinese idols (the very first Chinese, and first foreign idol in Korea was Super Junior’s Han Geng, who now has a successful career in China) is aespa’s Ninging.

Her real name is Ning Yizhuo, born on October 23, 2002 (making her, the youngest in the group, the maknae) in Harbin. Joining SM in 2016, she trained for four years before debuting with the group in 2020. She currently has a funny internet gaming rivalry with Chenle: they’re always arguing about who is better at gaming.

aespa is currently one of the rising female groups. Their song Next Level was one of the biggest songs of 2021, which won the quartet awards during the last round of Korean music awards. They also performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

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