From child actor to K-pop star, Lee Jin-hyuk reflects on his unique career

Lee Jin-hyuk, winner of Celeb Confirmed's June birthday vote [CELEB CONFIRMED]

In the galaxy of talented stars that shine in K-pop, birthdays are one of the best opportunities for fans to get together and remember just how much they love their favorite artists. To add to the celebration, the Korea JoongAng Daily’s entertainment brand Celeb Confirmed will take votes from fans on their favorite stars born in each month and dive into their careers, achievements and more in the newest series — Birthday Bios.

Lee Jin-hyuk was named No. 1 among June-born stars in this month’s Celeb Confirmed K-pop birthday poll.

Many will know Lee Jin-hyuk best as a former member of the boy band UP10TION. But he's worn many more hats than that: those of a producer, audition program competitor, solo performer and even actor. As he celebrates his 28th birthday, Lee hopes to grow even further into an all-around artist who shines in his own colors.

“Thank you so much, V-DAN, for making my birthday so much more meaningful,” Lee said in a text message to Celeb Confirmed and the Korea JoongAng Daily in late May. V-DAN refers to Lee's fans.

“I hope I get remembered as an artist with a distinct color and a human being who can shine with his own colors.”

Lee was born on June 8, 1996, in Seoul, with the birth name Lee Sung-joon. He worked as a child actor before kicking off his life as a K-pop idol. The artist starred in multiple television commercials, including advertisements for online education platform Mbest, outdoor clothing brand Nepa, Pokémon trading cards and SK, to name a few.

Lee eventually joined TOP Media in 2011 — an agency that he would stick with until 2023. He first joined the company as an actor but eventually changed his career path and remained under the label as an idol trainee for five years — the longest training period of any UP10TION member.

UP10TION made its debut on Sept. 11, 2015 with Lee as a member, under the stage name Wei, a nod to both the Chinese word for large or great and the English word “way.” The boy band has been hard at work since its debut, releasing five EPs in just over a year. Lee and his bandmates helped write the lyrics of their sixth EP, “Star;dom,” with Lee credited for “True Love” and “Hot Blood.”

The lead track "Runner" was one of three songs nominated on "Music Bank" (1998-), but didn't manage to win any music show trophies.

It wasn't until Lee joined Mnet’s boy band audition program “Produce X 101” in 2019 — after changing his real name to Lee Jin-hyuk — that he began to gain nationwide popularity. He was one of the most experienced trainees to appear on the show, alongside bandmate Kim Woo-seok. And he gave the competition everything he had, guiding fellow trainees, writing lyrics and creating choreography to achieve No. 2 and No. 3 finishes on the show's later episodes. Despite those efforts, Lee was not named one of the 11 finalists who would go on to debut as the boy band X1.

“I was just very happy,” Lee said in a handwritten letter after the final episode aired, despite his apparent failure to make the cut. “I got to realize that all the stages that I’d performed so far were not worthless.”

It was later revealed that Lee had actually placed seventh in the final episode and, per the show's criteria, should've been included in the final 11. Produce 101's producers would later receive prison sentences for manipulating the rankings of all of four of the show's seasons in order to favor specific trainees — a scandal that shattered Lee's dreams.

But the artist kept busy. He kicked off both his solo career and acting career in 2019, when he would release his first solo EP, “S.O.L.,” star in MBC drama “Find me in your memory” (2020) and appear in webtoon-based sitcom drama “Hanging On” (2020) as well as hold his first solo fan meetings, dubbed “T.Y.F.L,” in Seoul and other cities in Asia.

After releasing five solo albums and appearing on many drama series, Lee officially left TOP Media and UP10TION in early 2023 and signed with Bill Entertainment that March.

Lee dropped his sixth EP, “New Quest Jungle” in April — more than 1.5 years after the release of his previous album — and starred in JTBC drama “Frankly Speaking” in May, signaling his return as both singer and actor. He is set to appear on the Netflix drama “Billionaire Island” later this year.

“I started working on the drama and my solo EP last year, and it feels bittersweet to have them all released already. I’m glad that a lot of people have enjoyed the works that I put a lot of effort into,” Lee told Celeb Confirmed.

And as the final episode of “Frankly Speaking” aired on June 6, Lee can celebrate his birthday with his family and fans.

“I plan to do a livestream on my birthday to communicate with my fans, but other than that, I think I’ll just spend a normal birthday with my family,” he said.

“I’ve already fulfilled the things I wanted to do in the first half of 2024, so I still have to think about what I’ll do for the second half of this year,” Lee said. “While I can’t fully confirm at the moment, I am thinking of meeting my fans, so I am preparing for an overseas fan meeting event.”

Lee added that he hopes for his fans “to stay healthy,” “to love each other” and to “stay with each other for a long time to come.”

To find out more about Lee Jinhyuk, visit Celeb Confirmed!