1. Amber (f(x))
From her 2009 debut until now, this superstar singer-rapper has faced ongoing criticism for her androgynous visuals.
Amber even created this comedic viral video that calls out netizens for leaving hate comments about her body.
Female androgyny is not a concept that generally does well with Korean audiences, but Amber’s look isn’t a “concept”; it’s part of who she is.
For the last nine years, Amber has stayed true to herself despite all the opposition she faced.
In fact, instead of conforming to K-Pop’s beauty standards, Amber pushed the boundaries even further by getting a facial piercing and tattoos, neither of which are mainstream in the Korean entertainment industry, especially for women.
Amber’s perseverance, genuineness, and her journey to self-acceptance have gained her a supportive fan following. She is particularly popular with international fans, but her recent body positivity work with Nike received support from Koreans as well.
By sharing her personal struggles, Amber has inspired her fans to love themselves for who they are, and has proved that you don’t have to fit the mold to achieve success.
In January, Holland forever changed the K-Pop world when he debuted as Korea’s first openly gay idol. In Korea, homosexuality is not widely accepted and coming out can negatively impact one’s career, especially if that career is in the public eye.
Holland originally wanted to debut as part of an idol group, but being true to himself and providing fans with LGBTQ+ representation mattered more to him. As such, Holland was unable to find an agency that would support him. Fortunately, that didn’t stop him from launching his career on his own.
In January, Holland dropped his first single “Neverland”, which explores his struggles as a gay man searching for a place where he can love freely. Although the video received much praise, it also received a 19+ age restriction for its chaste same-sex kiss between two men. This restriction was later revoked.
Holland continued to push boundaries with his comeback music video for “I’m Not Afraid”.
This video features several kisses, including a steamy makeout session between Holland and a male actor. Again, his video received a temporary age-restriction, but also support from his growing fanbase.
To get to where he is today, Holland has had to overcome ongoing bullying from his peers and even fellow idols, but his perseverance is paying off.
In June, Holland topped this year’s “Dazed 100” list of cultural change-makers after receiving over 30,000 votes from the public. The Dazed 100 features 100 people and collectives whom Dazed feel are shaping the future of youth culture.
By blending his activism with his music, Holland is paving the way for future idols who wish to go public with their sexuality too.
3. Jo Kwon (2AM)
Jo Kwon has never tried to hide his flamboyant personality, despite facing plenty of criticism over the last decade.
This bold star has done gender-bending pictorials…
…danced in Jeffrey Campbell’s heel-less hoof shoes during live stages…
…and took part in the Korean adaptation of the musical Priscilla, playing the dual roles of Adam and Felicia.
Jo Kwon has chosen to keep his sexuality private, but that hasn’t stopped critics from attempting to tear him down by accusing him of being gay. Fortunately, Jo Kwon has no problem putting haters in their place, when necessary.
Instead of trying to change his “effeminate” traits and behaviours, Jo Kwon has used them as his strengths, especially on variety shows. Jo Kown puts on incredibly entertaining shows that have made him one of the most memorable personalities in K-Pop.
4. Jay Park
This popular rapper went from disgraced idol to CEO of his own company. Jay Park faced a lot of controversy and turbulence after leaving 2PM back in 2010, but even though his idol life had ended, his life as a self-made producer-rapper was just getting started.
Following his 2PM departure, Jay Park uploaded a cover video of B.o.B‘s hit “Nothin’ on You” to YouTube. The cover, which featured his own rap and lyrics, went viral and reached over 2,000,000 views in less than a day.
Jay Park went on to re-debut as a solo artist under SidusHQ, and quickly rose to fame on his own terms. In 2011, his first mini-album, Take a Deeper Look, went multi-platinum in Korea and he went on to win multiple awards, such as “Record of the Year” at the 2011 Golden Disk Awards.
Since then, Jay Park has done nothing but hustle. He founded his own successful hip-hop label, AOMG, and also a global label, H1GHR Music.
Along the way, Jay Park has stayed true to his unique style, gaining a loyal fan following that will support him in all his future endeavors.