June is Pride Month, marking 30 days of celebrating love and advocating inclusiveness and understanding. But for K-pop fans, there’s not a whole lot to talk about. Due to immense cultural taboos, only a small number of South Korean entertainers are open about their LGBTQ+ identity, and none of the biggest music labels have publicly out artists signed to their rosters.
But things are changing in 2018 in a big way: After years with hardly any LGBTQ+ representation, this year alone has seen the first two gay singers break into the local music scene.
Below, find four Korean artists to watch during Pride Month.
Even before signing with a label, R&B crooner MRSHLL drew attention when he came out in a Time Out magazine interview in 2015. Los Angeles born and raised, Marshall Bang is the first out and proud singer the South Korean music scene has embraced. Signed to Feel Ghood Music, the entertainment label headed by Korean hip-hop icons Tiger JK and Yoonmirae, MRSHLL has worked with numerous other artists and also appeared on one of South Korea’s most popular television shows, Show Me the Money. He released his first EP Breathe on Tuesday (June 5). It features six smooth alt R&B tracks, (including the single “Come Over”) which exude confidence and sensuality as he, and numerous featuring artists, wax sentimentally in both Korean and English.
— MRSHLL (@marshallbang) June 5, 2018
Long before K-pop rose to international prominence, Harisu made waves in South Korea as the first transgender entertainer. She released her first album Temptation in 2001, the first of several techno-flavored releases, and gained recognition as one of that year’s most prominent new artists. Her popularity even inspired a short-lived transgender group Lady, which was active from 2005-2007.
Harisu most recently released the single “Shopping Girl” in 2012 to commemorate her 11th anniversary in the industry.
Choi Han-bit of Mercury
A multi-talented entertainer, transgender model-actress-singer Choi, known mononymously as Han-bit, rose to fame after partaking in a 2009 modeling contest sponsored by South Korean broadcaster SBS. After releasing the song “Not My Style” in 2015, she became part of four-member girl group Mercury in 2016 and released two singles: “Don’t Stop” and “Let’s Party.”
The first gay K-pop idol, Holland released his first single “Neverland” in January. He’s gained a sizable following in just half a year despite his music video receiving a 19+ rating (the equivalent of R in the States) for featuring a same-sex kiss between the singer and another man. A vocal advocate of LGBTQ+ love, he is immensely active on Twitter and has been teasing fans that new music is imminent.