K-Pop and K-Drama Stars Born for Variety Shows

We all know those celebrities, the ones that started as singers or actors but struggled in their primary field. Then one day, they go on a variety show, and – BAM! – suddenly, they are one of the most popular celebrities in the Korean entertainment industry. Here are some success stories that really stuck with me.

Kwang Hee

variety kwanghee

Sure, now everyone knows who Kwang Hee is. As an extension, everyone has at least heard of ZE:A now too. (ZE:A is the idol group Kwang Hee is a member of.) But at the time Kwang Hee first started getting popular, many people had not even heard of him.

Kwang Hee gained his popularity through his shocking honesty… about his plastic surgery. In a field where plastic surgery is relatively taboo and definitely no one outright talks about which parts of the face they got work on, many people found Kwang Hee’s bluntness refreshing and admirable. Add on top of that honesty a sassy, over-the-top personality that’s rare in K-entertainment, and Kwang Hee was easily a new character that the audience ate up.

Now, we see less of him on variety shows. In fact, his bandmate Park Hyung Sik had taken the spot with his appearance on “Real Men.” Nevertheless, Kwang Hee was a trailblazer for a new kind of lovable variety character, for idols and non-idols alike.

Check out his appearance on “Happy Together” below! (With english subtitles!)

Song Jae Rim

variety sjr

Bring it closer to today and Song Jae Rim is the first actor-turned-variety star to pop into a lot of people’s minds. It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually watch “We Got Married” because if you are on social media of any sort, video clips of Song Jae Rim being cheesy, gross, slightly perverted, and completely ideal will pop up on your feed.


(For the whole dance, click here.)

I’ll be honest; I didn’t know who Song Jae Rim was until “We Got Married.” I had watched “Moon that Embraces the Sun” but never even identified him as Woon. I only watched “Surplus Princess” after I found him on “We Got Married.” (I highly recommend both!) “We Got Married” opened up a whole new wonderful world for me, a world with Song Jae Rim in my life. Thank the person who convinced Song Jae Rim to come over to the variety side, because he is thriving.

[tv]Watch Moon that Embraces the Sun on SoompiTV[/tv]


variety kangnam

The final example for male celebrities is also recent: Kangnam from M.I.B. I knew M.I.B before Kangnam became popular, but I can’t say the same for many of my Korean friends. And I definitely did not know a single member’s name. Kangnam changed that with his variety show appearances.

I know Kangnam became popular with his role in “Let’s Go to School” (and currently “I Live Alone”), but besides short clips, the only time I saw him was on “Running Man” (with Song Jae Rim!). And boy, I could tell why he was popular. He fits into a category of k-celebs I have titled “4-D foreign celebrities” – celebrities who are not from Korea and have a distinct 4-dimensional personality, a unique, almost eccentric, and absolutely hilarious kind. Henry from “Real Men” fits into this category. GOT7’s Jackson from “Roommate” fits in as well. Park Joon Young from g.o.d, also from “Roommate,” is the father of this category.

Kangnam is quirky in the cutest way, says stupid things in the most endearing way, and most of all, everyone can tell just from watching him that he puts in so much effort to make others laugh. In other words, he’s a bubble of happiness. And who doesn’t enjoy that?

(I apologize for the lack of english subs, but he’s still so precious! For a full episode of Kangnam in “Hello Counselor” with english subs, click here.)

Song Ji Hyo

variety jihyo

We can’t let the boys have all the fun on variety shows, can we? Song Ji Hyo is a great example of a female celebrity whose fame and popularity grew exponentially through a variety show (“Running Man,” specifically). Before joining the “Running Man” crew, she was most well-known for her role in “Princess Hours” but never gained the popularity that she is enjoying now.

On “Running Man,” Song Ji Hyo is fun, strategic, smart, cool, and everyone’s best friend. She’s exceptionally skilled, landing her the nickname “Ace.” In fact, I’d say she’s a good contender for any of the male members of the team.


(Falling asleep on top of a tower as if it was her bedroom: the male members were freaking out.)

Since “Running Man,” Song Ji Hyo has starred as the female lead in “Emergency Couple” alongside Choi Jin Hyuk. However, nothing will surpass her popularity on “Running Man.” (As a fan, it is my personal wish that the next drama or movie she stars in is an absolute hit.)

[tv]Watch Princess Hours on SoompiTV! It’s a classic.[/tv]


variety hyeri

Let’s bring the girls up-to-date as well, and the most recent hot female star in the variety field is Girl’s Day‘s Hyeri. Her popularity comes from these specific two seconds though.


(Here’s the original video.)

The source, “Real Men: Female Soldier Edition,” got so popular that they just recently started airing the second part to it. I dare say, though, that a majority of that popularity is from Hyeri’s aegyo, as shown above. It went absolutely viral; I remember seeing it on a number of my various feeds for days and weeks after it aired.

Despite the fact that Girl’s Day was already popular before Hyeri’s appearance, and that she has only been on “Real Men” as a temporary member, Hyeri is an example of how one good showing on a variety show can change the winds of your celebrity life dramatically. The amount of love she has received is proof of it.

There’s a valid reason so many actors and singers move on to variety sometime in their career; many of them know their primary occupation will not sustain them forever (especially idol singers). On the other hand, variety can keep you going for a long time. Also, with variety done right, many singers and actors get more opportunities to go back to their primary field with a wider audience once they are more popular.

Bottom line: we should root for all of our favorite idols, singers, and actors to go on more variety shows. It’s a wonderful chance to see a different side of them, and they might even become the next big thing.

I end with these questions: Who would you add to this list? Who’s your favorite singer/actor-turned-variety star? And who are your favorite celebrities you wish would go on more variety shows?

How does this article make you feel?


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