When I talk with Megan Lee on the phone, it’s a Friday afternoon and she greets me with a warm and excited hello. A singer-songwriter and actress, Megan essentially grew up in the industry. Acting since she was 10, Megan’s career expands about 12 years now and includes acting in multiple shorts, a music career in both America and Korea, and a breakout role playing Sun Hi Song in the groundbreaking musical comedy Make It Pop on Nickelodeon. Now 22, Megan has her eyes set on continuing to pave her way through the industry and showing the world a side of herself she hasn’t yet–starting with participating in one of her biggest dreams: NBC’s The Voice.
“I’ve grown just so much–both physically and mentally–all through my craft. There’s still so much I have to learn,” Megan reflects on her time being an artist professionally. “I definitely think there’s a huge difference in acting when being a child actor and being a grown up now and there’s still so many things that I need to learn and adjust to keep growing.”
Referencing her 2016 single “Stronger,” I ask her how she’s managed to grow stronger throughout her career. With such a strong work ethic and a passion for what she’s doing, Megan’s strength comes out of her dedication and resilience. “Going through daily life experiences, I learn a lot of things every day through friends, family, people that I meet, and being in the industry. I think the moments I feel strongest is learning to endure the hardships in the entertainment industry and learning to learn and grow from them and working hard to become a better artist,” she explains.
I think the moments I feel strongest is learning to endure the hardships in the entertainment industry and learning to learn and grow from them and working hard to become a better artist.
Working on Make It Pop for two seasons, Megan played the free-spirited, star on the rise Sun Hi, a member of the girl group XO-IQ. “I think I was able to showcase myself as human as an artist in different ways. Because when you’re playing a character on television, you’re showing one dimension–one side of me. And it’s not completely me, playing a character, you know? But, being on The Voice, I was able to really showcase my artistry and a side of me that many of my fans from Make It Pop haven’t seen before.”
Getting to sing different genres on The Voice that was closer to her own personal style, Megan admits that being on The Voice had always been one of her dreams but she wasn’t old enough in the beginning. After working on her career in Korea and then returning to the states to work on Make It Pop, Megan had time to breathe and look at all the things she wanted to accomplish. “It was a very humbling experience,” Megan says. “I have done a singing competition when I was 15. This was for a Korean show [so] it was basically going full circle: go out and do a competition show and going from level 1 to learning again.”
“So yeah, it was a really cool experience and I got to meet a bunch of really cool people. Getting to work with Alicia Keys was amazing. And yeah, showcasing a different side of me on television which was really cool,” she adds.
As the industry slowly changes and becomes more inclusive in the mainstream, KPOP has made a name for itself in American pop culture that introduces the genre of music to people who haven’t grown up listening to the genre for years. “I feel really, really proud. I grew up listening to KPOP and after having experience in the KPOP industry, it’s coming back full circle and it really makes me really happy and really proud to see that bridge and the gap between Korean pop music and American pop music combining and opening doors,” Megan reflects. She adds, “It makes me have a lot of hope that the entire world and all of the cultures can just combine together without any sort of wall. And it just really proves that music is universal like regardless of the language it can really speak to people and that just makes me really happy.”
With KPOP holding popularity and the slow acknowledgment of Asian American artists in the industry, there’s a hope that Asian Americans can receive roles and make music without the expectation of being boxed in by stereotypical portrayals or assumptions on who they are based on connotations of what it means to be Asian American. Megan explains that the industry and public opinion isn’t there yet. “I’m 5’1, a very small Asian girl so I feel like a lot of time–like before they hear me sing–they already have this stereotypical image of what kind of artist I would be just based on my image. Which isn’t a bad thing; I do love pop music and I think I really do have a diverse genre and style. There’s a lot of different kinds of music that I love to sing and write.”
[It's] also why I wanted to be on The Voice, to be on a show like ‘Hey, there’s an Asian girl that can also be a soul singer and can also do R&B.’ So I was able to represent my community in that way and that was really, really cool.
“But, it’s interesting how a lot of people tend to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t expect that voice to come out of you.’” Megan did her blind audition for The Voice singing the classic “Killing Me Softly” by Fugees which resulted in her getting picked by Alicia Keys for her soulful and passionate voice and approach to a song that has helped define modern R&B/soul music. She notes that getting to be on that stage and ‘surprise’ viewers with a different image than what they may have had for her was important to her, “[It's] also why I wanted to be on The Voice, to be on a show like ‘Hey, there’s an Asian girl that can also be a soul singer and can also do R&B.’ So I was able to represent my community in that way and that was really, really cool.”
Gladly taking on the title of being a role model, it’s something that she’s always been aware of and cared about. “Especially at a very young age, I was very lucky to have a lot of mentors around me especially within the community and the entertainment industry. It takes a village they say,” she quips. “Besides my mom, I had many, many people that I look up to and I took a lot of really great advice from. So growing up in the industry, I kind of wanted to be that role model that maybe kids don’t have in their lives and I think that’s really important to me and very powerful. And I hope to continue to be that role model, always.”
“My mom specifically, she’s my rock and the greatest source of support that I have received my entire life.” Having such a close relationship with her mom, Megan has spoken a few times about the sacrifices her family had to make so she could be an artist. “I think for her, she’s always told me that she just wants me to be happy in what I do which is why she supports me and just sacrifices so much for me. We’re kinda like one person so whenever I go through something or she goes through something, we kind of both feel that same kind of pain or any kind of emotion that we go through.”
The two of them work together in that way where they find themselves stronger together. “Even looking at the family as a whole, I think the most important thing that gets us through everything is our unity and the fact that we can stick together and believe in a better future,” she expresses.
So growing up in the industry, I kind of wanted to be that role model that maybe kids don’t have in their lives and I think that’s really important to me and very powerful. And I hope to continue to be that role model, always.
When it comes to any doubts, struggles, or hardships in her career, Megan continues to go to her mom for assurance and advice looking at her mom as both a manager and a mentor as well. “When we first started out, we both didn’t know anything about the entertainment industry so we kinda grew and learned together,” she laughs a little. “But she’s so wise like I’m not even just saying that as her daughter, she’s so wise and so knowledgeable about so many things that she’s my first go to person whenever I kinda approach a problem or some kind of situation where I would need some advice or help.”
Uploading her first Youtube video when she was around the age of 13, Megan has also gained attention creating covers of songs on her channel. “Most of the time it’s the song that I have stuck in my head or I tend to be singing a lot around the house or something,” she explains how she picks the songs she’ll cover. “I started off Youtube as a hobby because I just wanted to sing and somehow use a platform to gain an audience and if people liked it, I’d sing more.” She explains her process as essentially picking the songs that she likes, singing it, and hoping her fans will like it as well.
Megan just released a cover of BTS’ “DNA” in collaboration with Kurt Hugo Schneider, but she’s also currently working on her EP and creating more original music potentially planned for release at the end of the year. While she says that the genre seems to be leaning towards pop, just like her own personal music taste, her original music will be a fusion of different sounds.
Most of all, focus on you and your craft and make sure you can be the best, whatever you want to be.
In terms of acting, she jokes that the role of her dreams is a “very cliché” one that a lot of actors want to do: playing a superhero or a villain. “Something fantasy where I’ll have superpowers, that has been my dream for the longest time. Like I would love to be on grips and, like, fly and stuff.” Later on in the interview when I ask her if there’s anything she’d love to speak into existence, she thinks for a moment, a ton of wishes in her mind, and she decides what she wants to speak into existence is an opportunity for Asian Americans to get their inclusive Black Panther-like milestone. “I think I would like an Asian American version of Black Panther. I would want that to happen. Like our version of Black Panther.”
“That would be awesome. Like a Black Panther for all communities,” she adds. “Something really cool,” she continues when we talk about her dream role. “But also, portray really strong female characters. It’s been coming the past, like, 1 or 2 years so yeah,” Megan notes wanting to not just work on amazing projects but be able to play amazing, multifaceted characters and protagonists/antagonists in those projects.
“I think the one [piece of advice] that stuck with me the most is about confidence. This can apply to many different things, but a lot of times you would always be your harshest critic, right? And that can get in the way with many, many things,” she reflects. “And even with your craft and your work, there’s a lot of times where I criticize myself too much and got in the way and delayed things. So, one thing that really stuck with me is just not over think it. Just going with your first instinct is the best way to go.”
Winding down our interview, I ask Megan if there is any advice that she wants to give people who are interested in pursuing music or acting which is similar to the advice she’s been given. “If you’re interested in music or acting, definitely do as much research as you can. Know where to start and find a good community and people to work with,” she advises. “Most of all, focus on you and your craft and make sure you can be the best, whatever you want to be,” she closes out with a laugh.
(photo cred: NBC/The Voice)