[Exclusive Interview] In Conversation with Kylie Haasz and Paul Seungbin Lee from K-POP Series "Gangnam Project"

Ciera Reeves
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Photo Courtesy of CBC Gem


Gangnam Project follows the journey of Hannah Shin, a Canadian-Korean teen aspiring to become a K-pop star and reconnect with her Korean heritage. Accepting a job as an English tutor at an elite K-pop training school in South Korea, she finds herself immersed in the world of K-pop.


Despite challenges tutoring a top student, Chan-Mi, Hannah's impromptu performances catch the attention of the school's owner, leading to her own enrollment as a student. Amid singing, dancing, and Korean lessons, and interactions with the students she meets along the way, drama unfolds as Hannah uncovers her father's past as a K-pop star. 


The series, developed with CBC Kids and produced by Pillango Productions and Aircraft Picture, celebrates K-pop culture with an original soundtrack by August Rigo who has written songs for widely known artists such as BTS ('ON', 'Black Swan') and SEVENTEEN ('SUPER'). Co-showrunners Sarah Haasz and Romeo Candido lead the production, which involves financial support from Shaw Rocket Fund and the Canada Media Fund, with Federation Kids & Family managing worldwide sales. 


Gangnam Project trailer 



KpopWise was able to chat with two of the stars of GANGNAM PROJECTKylie Haasz who plays Mina and Paul Seungbin Lee who plays Auzzy to discuss what it was like preparing for the series and their thoughts about K-pop. 


Gangnam Project delves into the journey of becoming a K-pop artist. What attracted you to this project and your respective roles?


KYLIE: The K-Pop world keeps on growing and growing, gaining more attention in not only Korean culture but everywhere. It was so exciting to see Gangnam Project come out and the story behind a biracial girl just like myself and her journey in becoming a K-Pop artist. What attracted me to the role of Mina was how motivated she was to accomplish her goals. Since she is considered the mean girl, it was fun to get into character and become Mina.


PAUL: The K-Pop world has always been something important to me growing up in Canada as a Korean citizen. The music culture in Korea is something that was always important to me so I was obviously drawn to this role as a means to connect deeper with that culture. My character Auzzy is someone that I resonate with as he is driven and passionate for music, and I have always felt the same way. 


Characters in Gangnam Project undergo a significant transformation as they chase their goal of becoming K-pop artists. Can you share some insights into portraying this evolution on screen?


KYLIE: Mina is a character who is not afraid to push anyone out of her way to get what she wants. Mina’s dream was always to become an idol at OME and when she sees Hannah, Mina sees her as new competition she has to outshine. Becoming an idol is all she wants and Mina will do anything to make that happen even if it means bringing others down. In one scene, Hannah is with Auzzy and Sun Hee where they are watching a video of Hannah's dad as an idol. Mina hears all of this information and knows she can use this to her advantage. Later while stretching for dance class, Mina calls Hannah out in front of all the trainees saying she's just a trainee because Ken is doing it as a favor. Hannah then decides to prove she is deserving of her spot as a trainee but it doesn’t turn out how she expects…


PAUL: Auzzy is always someone who’s more shy and reserved, and he struggles to really open up to anyone about anything until it’s literally forced onto him. Near the end, he has a song called “Butterfly” which he wrote and sang to Hannah. I think the butterfly image is something that Auzzy goes through as he kind of blossoms into this beautiful and explosive personality as the show goes on. I portrayed this a lot through his tone of voice and body language. I tried to make changes to the way Auzzy talks and interacts with the other characters and develops more confidence as he become stronger in all fields and more comfortable with everyone. Auzzy really finds himself and for that, I wanted to make his confidence shine near the end. 


What challenges did you face in preparing for your role in Gangnam Project, considering the unique world of K-pop and the demands it places on its artists?


KYLIE: Gangnam Project was the best experience and also took a lot of preparing. For Mina’s role, I had to get into the role of playing the mean girl. I'm a very bubbly person and like to smile a lot, so in order to get into the role of Mina, I had to turn off my bubbly personality and switch into her character. I would watch movies and TV shows with mean characters in them and see how they were able to get into character and change their attitudes and expressions. This being my first mean girl role, I was so excited to play Mina and experiment with her character.


PAUL: Honestly, Gangnam Project is my first time acting in anything at all so that was my biggest hurdle. On-screen and on-set acting is insanely different than anything I’ve ever done in the past, so that itself needed a lot of preparations. In terms of the K-Pop world, trainees have to learn how to sing and dance intensely, all while keeping composure and looking good for the cameras. Learning how to even portray a fraction of that was difficult so I would say trying to imitate within a couple months what others hone for years was an extremely challenging aspect for me. 


What aspects of K-pop culture did you find the most fascinating or surprising while working on Gangnam Project?


KYLIE: Gangnam Project did an amazing job showing insight into K-Pop culture. I learned so much more about K-Pop culture while working on Gangnam Project which was so exciting and fun every day working on set. Recording the music, seeing the fashion, and learning K-Pop choreography were the most fascinating parts of working on Gangnam Project for me. Seeing everything that goes behind creating music, choreo and the outfits was such an amazing experience and I got to learn so much!


PAUL: I feel like Gangnam Project does an amazing job of providing insight on the behind the scenes that happens within K-Pop, especially for kids. Recording music, learning choreography, filming videos… these are all things that I never thought about. I’m used to seeing the final product when it comes to K-Pop media consumption so seeing the background work represented and the amount of people needed to make a K-Pop project happen was super awesome to learn and experience.


Photo Courtesy of CBC Gem

Gangnam Project offers viewers a glimpse into the rigorous training within the K-pop industry. How did you approach portraying the intense pressure your character faces?


KYLIE: Mina wants to be the best and is willing to do whatever it takes. Mina’s dream is to become an idol and she faces this pressure that if she doesn't become an idol, then what happens next? She is dedicated and works hard motivating herself to always do her best. To approach portraying this intense pressure, I related it to myself. Although Mina and I have more differences then similarities, one of the similarities we share is our desire to reach our goals. I face pressure when trying to achieve my goals just like Mina. It's important to stay determined and follow your dreams but Mina does this in a different sort of way…


PAUL: Auzzy is a character who’s been in the OME for a while. He’s someone who grinds in silence and lets his results speak for themselves. My approach to his image and the pressure he faces came from my own personal experience. I don’t really like showing off anything I’ve done until I can say it’s perfect and it feels complete, and I think Auzzy operates the same way. A lot of it felt natural than artificial to me since we’re so similar in that respect.




K-pop is known for its elaborate choreography and stunning visuals. Can you tell us about your experience learning and performing dance routines for the show?


KYLIE:  I always knew I loved to dance from dancing around my house, to dancing to the theme songs of my brother's video games, to putting on small dance routines for my whole family. I knew it was something I was passionate about. I started dancing when I was three years old doing ballet. From ballet, I started doing jazz and hip hop then started dancing competitively for 8 years. Dance was my whole life. Dancing in the studio to when I'm not in the studio, dancing at home trying to improve my dance skills, has always had a very special place to me. Within the 15 years I have been dancing, K-Pop was never a style I grew up learning in my studio. As K-Pop is so huge in my culture, I was so excited to work with Pyro, our choreographer, and learn more about what K-Pop dance really is. I had so much fun learning all of the routines and was able to incorporate techniques I grew up learning in my dance journey and applying them to the K-Pop style. I have always been used to performing on stage but performing on stage with my Gangnam cast family was the best experience. 


PAUL: Before this show, my dance skills consisted of maybe 1 or 2 TikTok dance challenges that I learned in my bathroom at 3 AM. Going into this, I was really scared that I would fall too far behind from the rest of the cast and would never be able to reach a level where it would be acceptable for the show. I was honestly afraid that I would ruin whatever dance scene they put me in. But when it came down to it, seeing everyone being so good with dancing already made me want to work 200% harder at it than everyone else. It was great because being around the cast motivated me and they were always so cheerful. Another person I really want to give shoutouts to is Pyro. I learned a lot from Pyro who really taught me, guided me throughout the whole process, and supported me as a first time dancer. Dancing is something that I’m still not absolutely comfortable with but that’s why I’m planning on working even harder at polishing my movements. 


K-pop has a global fanbase with diverse audiences. How do you think Gangnam Project will resonate with viewers from different cultural backgrounds?


KYLIE:  What I love about K-Pop is that it can be for everyone. I think Gangnam Project is so much more than just K-Pop. It's about a story, finding yourself, chasing your dreams and ambitions, creating friendships, teamwork, and so much more! There is so much our viewers can resonate with, expanding more and beyond just K-Pop. 


PAUL: I hope it does resonate with all our viewers. I feel like the message itself of chasing your dreams and doing your best is something everyone should hear and I hope we can inspire even just 1 person to put themselves out there and move without limitations or fear. The characters are all so unique so I think there’s definitely a character within the show for each person to resonate with. I think the viewers from all over the world will resonate well with the series and I hope they can relate. The show might be focused on Korean people, but I think the message and everything that the show stands for is universal. 


What were some memorable moments or experiences from the set of Gangnam Project that you'll always cherish?


KYLIE: While working on the set of Gangnam Project, every day was so special - creating new memorable memories I will always keep with me. I was so lucky to work with the whole cast and create lifelong friends. To pick just one memory is so hard. I would have to say one of my favourite memories was filming the final dance song on stage. You could feel the excitement and energy on stage and performing that dance was so special for me.


PAUL: While shooting the finale episode, there was one moment in the show where the cast was waiting backstage before “Ken” announced the winners. While filming this scene, we were all very tired and exhausted but something about being mentally more laid-back had made us laugh more. And because we kept laughing behind the stage, it actually energized us as a whole, so we were able to end the day in a very fun way.


Photo Courtesy of CBC Gem


What do you hope viewers take away from Gangnam Project regarding the challenges and rewards of pursuing one's dreams, particularly within the K-pop industry?


KYLIE: The K-Pop industry is a very tough and demanding industry. I hope viewers see that even though following and chasing your dreams may seem crazy, you should do it and try. Even though there may be obstacles along the way you may face, your dreams can always come true. It was Hannah's dream to become an idol and she thought it could only happen in her dreams but with hard work and motivation, she was able to make her dreams come true. The story of Hannah's journey is a truly inspiring journey and along the way, she created friendships and learned so much about finding herself.  


PAUL: I hope that viewers can take away the idea that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. It just depends on your mindset and ideology to keep pushing through even if the path you chose is something that may not seem realistic or seems too difficult. Hannah’s story can happen with anyone, and it might not be easy (definitely was not for her) but it was her dedication and mentality that pushed her through. Also, I want this show to stress the importance of friendship. Hannah is tough but having a good circle of friends by her side definitely helped. You never walk alone in this and I think that’s something so important to understand.


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Gangnam Project became available on CBBC and BBC iPlayer from Monday, February 26th, 2024 and on CBC Gem on Friday, March 8th, 2024.


Connect with Gangnam Project


Gangnam Project Instagram

@gangnamprojectofficial


Paul Instagram

@paul_seungbin_lee



Special thanks to Kylie Haasz and Paul Seungbin Lee for interviewing with us. 

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