Megan Lee talks about going from K-pop to ‘Make It Pop’

May 28, 2015
Megan Lee 3, Make It Pop

A scene from Nickelodeon’s “Make It Pop.” (Courtesy of Nickelodeon)

Lee, 19, has gone from YouTube sensation to K-Pop idol to now a starring role on Nickelodeon's teen musical sitcom, "Make It Pop." (Courtesy of Megan Lee)

Lee, 19, has gone from YouTube sensation to K-Pop idol to now a starring role on Nickelodeon’s teen musical sitcom, “Make It Pop.” (Courtesy of Nickelodeon)

By Julie Carlson

“Now it’s a new day, new life, now it’s a new way, new light…”

Megan Lee’s K-Pop song “8dayz” may be about love but the lyrics also hit the right notes with her own story.

Lee, 19, has gone from YouTube sensation to K-Pop idol to now a starring role on Nickelodeon’s teen musical sitcom, “Make It Pop.” Fans have watched her grow from a cutie newcomer in pigtails to a stylish and confident adult.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Lee, whose Korean name is Lee Haelin, has had her heart and eyes set on one ultimate career goal — the entertainment industry. Singing and acting has been the only thing she’s ever thought of pursuing.

Through dogged determination and her unwavering faith, Lee’s star is on the rise.

“It has been a dream to use my talents to make people happy and influenced in positive ways,” Lee said.

Since a young age, music and performing has always been a big part of her life. Lee was bitten by the acting bug at 10 years old.

She remembers her first gig was a food fight and having to pretend she was dead for a music video. She also appeared in commercial spots from McDonald’s to Verizon to speaking out against bullying and violence toward Asian Americans for a public service announcement — something she’s all too familiar with.

Growing up Korean American, Lee experienced her own share of Asian stereotypes from derogatory names to people assuming she was Chinese.

“Although, with these stereotypes and name calling I became inspired to use those stereotypes as a tool to help make a difference in the world by representing the Asian American community,” Lee says.

Another thing Lee found was that not all doors and roles were open to her on American TV, but this was soon about to change. She went on to gain small parts in short films and TV shows, like Nickelodeon’s iCarly; Disney’s Get Connected; and on the TV adaptation of the film Crash, acting alongside veterans Dennis Hopper, Tom Sizemore and Kelvin Han Yee.

Around this time, Lee decided to showcase her musical talents to a broader and upcoming audience on YouTube.

Giving it a shot, she posted clips of her singing the National Anthem in L.A and singing cover songs of her favorite artists. Lee also picked up the guitar, but shortly gave it up believing her fingers too small. Through YouTube she explored K-Pop and fell in love with the genre, posting more cover songs — this time by Korean groups and in Korean.

In 2010, at the impressionable age of 15, Lee made another big step in her career. She auditioned for the first season of MBC’s “Star Audition – The Great Birth.”

Despite not being fluent in Korean, Lee was able to bravely pull it off. Her passion for music and her infectious smile, not to mention her stellar talent won over the judges.

Her heart bubbling with enthusiasm, Lee traveled to Korea to participate as a contestant, awaiting the new experiences Korea had to offer.

Unfortunately, Lee was eliminated, but she took everything in stride.

“It was a great experience,” Lee says. “I definitely learned a lot and I feel so blessed to have met so many great people and mentors. Because of the show I was able to develop a better understanding of my heritage and new respect for its culture and music.”

The experience opened her eyes to life and training in the Korean entertainment industry. She went back home to continue pursuing her passion. Making use of her time, she continued posting cover songs and even performed duets with fellow YouTubers and friends Ray Lee, Arden Cho and Jason Chen.

Megan Lee 2

Through her role on “Make It Pop” Lee feels the show will inspire younger viewers to follow their dreams. (Courtesy of Nickelodeon)

Two years later, she returned to Korea to give MBC Star Audition another shot, and this time, Lee proudly finished in the top ten of the competition.

Liking Korea, Lee decided to stay on in Seoul. She  once again picked up the guitar and expanded her training in singing, dancing and acting. Lee also became more proficient in Korean.

For young people interested in getting into acting and singing or even foreigners interested in entertaining the K-Pop scene what kind of advice does she give?

“Being open to the experience is the key,” Lee says. “Speaking Korean or having someone translate is also very helpful. When it comes to singing and acting, I say, practice makes perfect so if you can focus and never give up I think that anything is possible.”

In 2013, Lee signed with the Korean independent label Soul Shop Entertainment, run by Kim Tae-woo of the K-Pop male group g.o.d. Over the next two years she released her debut track “8dayz” featuring Yong Jun-hyung of B2ST and an English version, along with an MV.

Lee also got to perform on “MCountdown!” and SBS Inkigayo.

One of the highlights of her career was singing “Ready for Love” on the critically acclaimed hit K-Drama “Fated to Love You.” Songwriter and musical director Oh Joon-sung approached Lee to record the song.

“I have never sang on an OST before so it was an incredible and honorable experience for me,” Lee said. 

Lee ended her contract with Soul Shop in November 2014 and left Korea to return home to L.A. It wasn’t without controversy, but she says she relished the time she spent there and is open to performing K-Pop again if the opportunity arises.

“The streets are so bright, busy and, of course, clean,” Lee said. “The convenience of how things are available at any time of day, it’s like a city that doesn’t sleep. I absolutely loved living in Korea.”

For now, Lee is looking forward to the new days ahead of her. She’s happy to be back in California, enjoying the nice weather, free-spirited environment and the good food. Oh, and snagging the coveted role of pop diva, Sun-Hi, on Nick Cannon’s K-Pop inspired “Make It Pop.”

Lee is “super stoked” to be on a series where she can showcase singing, dancing and acting. She stars along side Louriza Tronco, Erika Tham and Dale Whibley.

Many diehard K-Pop fans were worried the teen show would make less of the K-Pop music and the idols they longingly admire. But fandoms should fear not. “Make It Pop,” set in a fictitious MacKendrick Prep, is about the love of all kinds of pop music, the importance of being a team and friendship.

The eye-popping and fashion forward program, featuring an EDM beat, premiered in April and features diverse characters, and Lee is eager to spread the word.

“Hollywood has definitely opened doors to Asians and I think that is so encouraging in many ways,” Lee explains. “I hope that the entertainment industry can continue to be more diverse to not only just Asians of course, but to all races.”

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