'Make It Pop' Star Megan Lee Talks K-Pop & Diversity on U.S. TV, Status of Career
Nickelodeon hit the casting jackpot for the lead of their K-pop-inspired show Make It Pop. The series snagged Korean-American Megan Lee whose resume boasted singing credits on Kidz Bop albums, cameos on Disney show, along with a full-fledged pop career in South Korea. Playing one of three female boarding school students who come together to create a pop group, Lee's helped deliver strong, consistent ratings in Nick's young demographic for the Nick Cannon/Thomas W. Lynch-produced show.
Ahead of the first season finale on May 1, Billboard chatted with the 19-year-old (whom Cannon tells Billboard was a "blessing" for the show) about its main inspiration, diversity on television, her wild ride in the entertainment world and more.
Can you talk about the difference between Make It Pop being a show about K-pop and it being inspired by K-pop?
The producers of the show made it very colorful, fun and very bright K-pop imagery -- like some concepts by Girls' Generation and f(x) -- and they added that on the show fashion, hair and makeup and things like that.
You won't see it in every part of the show, that it's inspired by K-pop, but [when] you can see it, it's obvious. Some production numbers we have outfits inspired by actual K-pop stars. There's this one outfit like f(x)'s "Rum Pum Pum Pum" video outfit. There's this whole plaid, red and white concept and we actually got inspired by that. You can see that as an obvious inspiration to K-pop idols.
What's been the best part about being on the show?
Well, it has been my dream since I was very little to be able to sing, dance and act all in one project so in Make It Pop I was able to do that all that.
What's the difference in working on Korean television versus working on American TV?
Well, of course, there's the language. I have more experience working in the Korean industry, but compared to English, Korean is not as comfortable.
Of course, there are different cultures which took some adjusting to at first. Like, there's the whole you have to bow in front of your elders, you have to show lots of respect and it's all about being very, very humble to appeal to Korean audiences. So, I definitely had to stay very grounded and, of course, no matter where you go you have stay humble and stay grounded, but in Korea they really look at that as so important when it comes to an artist or an actor so that was the biggest thing to adapt to versus the American industry.
You've had a sort of wild journey. From starting on Korean TV and debuting as an idol to having a lawsuit against your label and joining an American TV show. How are you feeling after everything?
It's been a really crazy roller coaster for me. Um, going to Korea felt so surreal. I've always wanted to go to my mother country, be closer to my heritage and learn the language and everything like that. So, I mean, being back here in the States, it feels the same way. I feels awesome coming back to where I was born and raised and working on an amazing TV show. I came back as a new person, I think. I would think so. When I went to Korea I was 15. I'm 19 now, I grew a lot as a person, as a musician, as an artist. I learned so many things and I met so many great people so I felt like, coming back here to L.A., I feel like a new person. I feel ready for the upcoming projects that I'm working on. I feel more mature, more prepared for other things.
There was initial concern about how K-pop was going to be portrayed on the show and you made some early remarks. Why was it necessary for you to talk about it?
As a K-pop fan myself, I completely understand from where they were coming from and what they mean. Of course, because it's not Korea and this is America, people can portray K-pop in different ways. I see how they are worried that is K-pop going to be, you know, shown to other people in a different way, in a negative way. I completely understand what they mean. That's why I made a few YouTube videos saying this is not a K-pop show and we're not trying to represent K-pop in any way. The show is inspired by K-pop and I'm trying to say like whatever outfits we wear, whatever kind of music that we do, the way we act, we're not trying to say "This is what K-pop is all about, this is how K-pop fans act." I just wanted to clear that up.
Some were also critical about the lack of a male lead on the show too in a time where shows like Fresh Off the Boat have Asian leads and have performed well.
I'm so glad to see more diversity on television, not only for Asians, but for all ethnicity in general. I hope everybody takes the steps to see more diversity in the future.
As for the Asian male lead, I heard some things about that and some people kind of misunderstood and got slightly offended. We do have Asian male characters in the show, I want to make that clear, we might not have an Asian male lead, but that was not specifically cleared out that way. We're not trying to exclude Asian males in any way. The casting kind of went that way. It was an open-ethnicity casting call. It was not even meant to be three Asian female leads either. It was all open ethnicities and, from what I've heard, whoever portrayed the role right got the part. It's not specifically "This is a Caucasian role, this is an Asian role, this is a whatever role."
What's the status of your career in Korea? Do you think you'll return any time soon?
I would never say I never really left Korea or left the Korean industry. I just simply here to work on this show and, you know, I feel like I belong in both places because I am Korean-American. So, if there's a chance for me to do that, I would love to if there's work for me. I'm always open to going to different places and working worldwide. That's always been my dream since I was young. So, yeah! I would love to go back to Korea and work on music or acting.
I have to ask too, what are your best memories from working with Beast's Junhyung and g.o.d?
Oh gosh, it was a huge honor. I was a newbie and to have Junhyung to be featured on my single, it was a huge honor. I feel like his rap really pumped up the song a lot.
And, of course, g.o.d I've been a fan of ever since I was very young and to be able to feature on one of their title tracks, it was a huge, honorable experience for me. I will never forget it.
Who would you be your dream K-pop guest star?
Oh my gosh, that is the hardest question ever! There are so many K-pop groups that I love. Of course, my all-time favorite group is 2NE1 so if they could somehow guest star in our show that would be amazing.
Make It Pop airs weeknights on Nickelodeon at 7:00pm EST.