Check out those crazy heels!
In an industry and a nation that tolerates androgyny in pop culture—as long as it doesn’t go too far—Jo Kwon has sashayed right past every boundary to push his gender-fluid agenda on centre stage, and his large and diverse fan base loves him for it.
Like many other K-pop stars, Jo Kwon emerged from obscurity as a young teen to audition for and then train at a large entertainment company.
After seven long years, he participated in a 2008 music competition show and won a spot as one of four members of the ballad group 2AM. The quartet was active for seven years, but Jo Kwon also freelanced during that period.
His biggest success: a wild Lady Gagaesque dance track called “Animal” that has gained millions of views in recent years because it features a lively rap break performed by global superstar J-Hope a year prior to his debut with BTS.
Jo Kwon is a stage star as well, having performed as King Herod in a Korean production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and as Adam in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
After his mandatory military enlistment ended in 2020, he came back to star in the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, playing the role of Jamie New, a 16-year-old high school student who aspires to be a drag queen but has to battle bullies and hostility to achieve his dream.
“When it comes to musicals about queers or drag queens like ‘Jamie, ‘Priscilla,’ ‘Kinky Boots,’ or ‘Hedwig,’ I wish my name would always be mentioned right alongside those titles,” he said in an interview at the time. “I want people to say, ‘Of course, Jo Kwon has to be in this musical.’”
But above all else, it’s the heels. In a 2020 TV appearance, Jo Kwon said, “I only think about wanting to live as who I am, and something that wakes another persona inside of me is high heels,” adding that after he slipped them on he “gained confidence and dignity that were as high as the heels were, and I felt like this is why I became a singer.”
He may have even inspired others to take the plunge, most notably N.O.M, a trio of extremely good-looking 30-somethings who sing pumping dance pop while they strike sexy poses in the highest of heels.
So is Jo Kwon gay? He’d rather not say.
Instead of making a definitive declaration, he has positioned himself as “genderless,” a pragmatic way to navigate around the frustratingly intransigent homophobia that still pervades much of Korean society.
“Being genderless is my weapon,” he said in an interview last year. “In the past, I was afraid of having a neutral image. If people said I looked like a girl, I would pretend that wasn’t true. But now, I’m okay with it. I’ve come to accept who I am. I have a weapon that will help me keep on going for a long time, ahead of the genderless era.”
He isn’t going on that journey alone.
With 1.2 million Instagram followers at last count, his message, charisma—and heels—have plenty of fans who will walk alongside him as he struts into the future. A 2AM reunion is peeking over the horizon, and Jo Kwon has promised to fill his social media channels with more singing, dancing and posing, not to mention lots of photos of his two dogs, one of whom is named, you guessed it, Gaga.