From TWICE‘s Sana, Momo, and Mina to NCT‘s Yuta and PENTAGON‘s Yuta, there are numerous Japanese stars in the K-Pop industry. However, it’s much rarer for Korean-born aspiring singers to seek out stardom in Japan. This month, one young starlet has broken that mold: Lee Siyeon, the newest member of NMB48.
Even if you don’t know much about J-Pop, NMB48 may sound familiar to you. Based in Namba, Osaka, NMB48 is the second sister group of AKB48—arguably the most well-known Japanese idol group around the world. While the 48 Groups have much in common with K-Pop, there are also numerous stark differences.
For one, NMB48 and its fellow groups operate on the concept of “idols you can meet”—singers and dancers who perform shows at their own theater every week and hold regular “handshake” events where fans can meet the members. The groups’ creator, Yasushi Akimoto, also once famously stated, “AKB48 girls are ‘unfinished.’ In other words, they’re still not very good at singing or dancing.” While shows like Produce 48 has proved that many idols from these groups have great talent, it’s believed that the members’ developing skills make them more endearing to the public.
With its rigorous standards, worldwide famous groups, and catchy music, K-Pop has long been attractive to aspiring singers in Japan. But now, it seems the charming and unique nature of J-Pop is catching the eye of Koreans too. Last week, NMB48 surprised many fans when the group revealed its newest member: Lee Siyeon, a girl from Korea.
21-year-old Lee Siyeon (known as Li Shien in Japanese) was born on May 16, 2000, in South Korea. Announced as a new NMB48 member on August 14 this year, her future dreams are to become an actress and model. For now, she likes eating (especially rice, donuts, and Japanese sweets) and singing 48 Group songs, while her special skills are the 48 Group intro quiz and speaking Japanese.
Lee Siyeon originally auditioned for NMB48 back in 2020 but couldn’t attend her final audition due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. However, that didn’t deter her; this March, she auditioned again and won her way into NMB48’s 7.5th generation. After making her debut appearance, Lee Siyeon revealed that she’s loved the 48 Groups since she was young, which is what inspired her to learn Japanese and try her luck at becoming a member.
I knew I wanted to be in NMB48. I’m aiming to be at the top of the group.
— Lee Siyeon
Nicknamed Siyomin, Lee Siyeon is currently a kenkyuusei (research student), which means she’s still in training. However, in contrast to K-Pop, 48 Group trainees perform on stage with their group like regular idols during their training period. Lee Siyeon joins 51 active members of NMB48, 13 of whom are also kenkyuuseis.
With just two Twitter updates so far, she’s already racked up 12,000 followers and counting on the platform in three days, with both Japanese and international fans excited to see what she has to show. So far, she’s performed just one stage: NMB48’s 19th single album B-side “Yume wa Nigenai” at the NMB48 LIVE 2021 in Hatsu Natsu concert last week.
李 始燕（イ シヨン）ちゃん
— ❤︎あいぴ❤︎ (@O9vnX) August 14, 2021
So far, Lee Siyeon is only the second Korean idol to ever debut in a 48 Group. Coincidentally, another starlet named Siyeon was a member of SDN48. She joined the group (which differed from its sisters with an 18+ concept) in 2011 at the age of 28, graduating when the group disbanded in early 2012. She later returned to South Korea to pursue acting.
While it’s still rarer for Korean idols to join Japanese groups than the opposite is, this could mark the start of more trainees from Korea venturing into J-Pop.