Meet the Korean-Mexican Hearthrob Topping The K-Pop Charts
Meet Samuel Arredondo Kim — or Samuel, as he’s better known in South Korea where he’s currently a K-pop idol. Yes, you read that correctly. There’s a Latino K-pop idol.
While there have been other half-Latino figures in Korean entertainment industry in the past – like the Korean hip-hop pioneer Carlos Galvan (Mexican/Korean-American) of the ’90s group Uptown and Tia Cuevas (of Puerto Rican descent) from the now defunct K-pop girl group ChoColat – Samuel is the most prominent and only current figure since Hallyu (Korean wave) exploded worldwide.
Born in Los Angeles to a Korean mother and Mexican dad, the 15-year-old made his solo debut this past August with the electro bubblegum pop jam “Sixteen” and gave us major Justin Bieber “Baby” era vibes.
Korea calculates age differently, making people one or two years older depending on the month they’re born. That’s why Samuel sings about being 16.
The singer speaks English, Korean and poquito Spanish.
However, he has said he feels weird speaking English since he’s lived in Korea for so long.
Since he was very young, Samuel exuded star potential. He got his start making extremely cute commercials for a Volkswagen dealership in Bakersfield, which the internet speculates is owned by his family.
And because all that talent couldn’t be wasted, Samuel moved to Korea at 11 years old and started training to become a K-pop idol at Pledis Entertainment.
He was initially part of the original lineup of the now very successful boy band SEVENTEEN, where he was the maknae, or the youngest member of the group.
SEVENTEEN trained for many years together, gearing up for debut as a 17 member band. However, the wait was long and some members ultimately left, including Samuel, citing personal reasons.
But this wasn’t the end of the road for Samuel. He soon joined another Korean company, Brave Entertainment, and debuted as the hip-hop duo 1Punch.
He performed under the moniker Punch along with another member, One. He was 13-years-old and One was 20.
While cringey and hella problematic, “Turn Me Back” and “Nightmare” gave us the first results of his training. The boy had not only grown in dance, but was also singing and rapping. 1Punch didn’t last long though, and One soon left to join YG Entertainment, the entertainment giant home to acts like PSY, Big Bang and 2NE1.
Punch gave it another go, though, and released an East-meets-West collaboration with the “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” singer Silentó.
Even though the song won the Global Collaboration Award at the Seoul Music Awards earlier this year, “Spotlight” didn’t lead to much success for Samuel. And yet, he persisted.
Samuel joined the second season of the competition show Produce 101 in early 2017.
On Produce 101, participants competed against each other through a series of performances in hopes of making it into the 11-member supergroup lineup. The participants were all trainees of different South Korean entertainment companies, and most (though not all) had yet to debut. Viewers served as “producers” and voted for their favorites to make it onto the top 11. By the end of the show, the group Wanna One was formed. Because the show turned out to be a smash hit, they group is the most popular K-pop act of the moment.
Throughout the show, Samuel was considered as one of the top contenders for the win. He immediately gained attention for his dance skills and the fact that he co-choreographed most of his teams’ performances. Samuel continuously placed within the top spots and was among the most popular trainees.
But in an unfortunate twist of events, he ended up placing at number 18 on the final and didn’t make the group. Fans were livid, especially the ones outside of Korea who weren’t allowed to vote, and even set up a petition seeking justice.
International fans were especially invested in seeing Samuel win, in part, because they wanted to see a Latino thrive as a K-pop idol.
But not making the cut actually turned out to be a blessing for the singer. Within days of the show’s ending, the head of Brave Entertainment released a statement announcing his solo debut, “Sixteen.”
Upon release, the first batch of physical albums sold out, with many of the copies being shipped overseas. “Sixteen” reached number one on the iTunes worldwide albums chart in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, and placed within the top 10 in Singapore, Thailand and other countries.
The K-pop industry is oversaturated and cutthroat, so the fact that Samuel is still standing and thriving at such a young age is nothing short of amazing. Hard work pays off, and after a successful debut EP, Samuel will be coming out with a full album in October. And if it’s anything like “Sixteen,” we’re surely in for a treat of pristine pop perfection.