The Asian popstar factory puts its superstars through the ringer. It’s perfected the Disney system of courting young talent with a lot of potential—often in their teens—and then guiding them to the peak of their careers in their early 20s. Fame and success that early can burn out even the most promising artists—remember Justin Bieber just a few years ago? It’s almost ridiculous that at just 23, the global star has already taken a “redemption tour” to atone for the perceived mistakes of his youth, even though he’s far from a full-fledged adult.
That’s the same paradigm Kris Wu has worked in for most of his life—not just because he’s also Canadian. At 27-years-old, he’s already an international star who’s earned countless awards and undying fandom across Asia. Now, he finds himself in the position of having to reinvent himself as an artist. Between 4 years of training and two years with extremely popular South Korean band EXO, Wu has kept a hectic schedule, flooding mainstream Asian entertainment.
Jumpsuit: 3.1 Phillip Lim, T-Shirt: Uniqlo, Sneakers: Pierre Hardy, Jewelry: Mr. Greg Yuna, Audemars and Artist Own
With a flurry of hit singles, variety shows, and other featured appearances similar to any other pop-mega-star in the western world, life in the group was surely both physically and mentally tolling. Soon enough, Wu felt the need to step outside of his comfort zone, leaving EXO in 2014 to forge his own path, essentially pulling a Kyrie Irving before it was cool.
Jokes aside, basketball might have more of an impact on Kris Wu’s career than most might realize. As a young baller himself, Kris Wu was captured by the undeniable swagger of Allen Iverson. The basketball icon’s unapologetic attitude appealed to young Kris, and so he turned to the culture that inspired his idol: hip-hop.
Jacket: Gucci, T-Shirt: John Elliot, Sunglasses: Gucci, Jewelry: Diamond Mr. Greg Yuna and Artist Own
As a Chinese kid growing up in Vancouver, Kris Wu was physically removed from any major hip-hop markets. But just like any other child in the Millennial generation, that didn’t keep him from digging deeper into the culture. Thanks to the permanent connectivity of the Internet, and its endless archive of streamable history, hip-hop has blossomed into a global community so that artists like Snoop Dogg and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony can still find a way to inspire a new generation with their blend of lyricism and melody.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Wu’s career has led him to work with equally young, promising talent like Travis Scott, whom he collaborated with for the single and music video, “Deserve.” Together, they’re creating a new energy through channeling the O.G.’s.
Coat, Shirt and Pants: Sies Marjan, Shoes: Vans, Jewelry: Mr. Greg Yuna and Artist Own
We first meet Kris Wu in the midst of NYC’s first snowfall, hardly realizing he had come in until unbundling himself from the blizzard outside. He is polite and easygoing as he sips an Americano, and at first it feels just like any other shoot you might walk into on a snowy Saturday morning. One could hardly imagine that this quiet young man has starred in a string of multi-million dollar movies in China with a legion of dedicated fangirls throughout the East.
This youthful Internet-era energy shines through the nuances of Wu’s personality throughout our meeting. As we get into the shoot, he loosens up as “XO Tour Lif3” is queued up on the playlist, mouthing the words and subtly dancing along with the same sort of “Rolex-on-my-wrist” moves you might see your friends doing in their Instagram story at a club on Friday night. When we capture a couple of looks outside, we cross a man walking his husky, big as a Game of Thrones direwolf, and he gets just as excited as anyone else as any 20-something would, taking a short break to meet the dog and his owner, ultimately inviting them to the shoot.
Coat: Raf Simons, Sweater: Calvin Klein 205W39NYC
Later on, we sit down and talk about his career progression. He talks about how a fledgling Internet culture has ushered in a quiet new wave of hip-hop in China, a situation where he sees himself as a leader. He speaks with a tone of responsibility, looking to act as a bridge for street culture in China and show that artists from the East do not need to limit themselves to the region. In a way, what he’s trying to do for eastern artists is exactly what the Internet did for the world: create a culture that is smaller and more connected.
Through a chance meeting with departing Burberry creative director Christopher Bailey at The Met Gala, Wu recently collaborated with the storied London label on a 19-piece capsule collection inspired by his personal style. So we couldn’t help but ask him if he has any plans to continue working in fashion. While he’s currently preoccupied with releasing projects both in Asia and the U.S. he doesn’t totally discount the idea. The timing and project just have to be right.
Coat, Sweater and Pants: Thom Browne, Socks: Tabio Japan, Shoes: Opening Ceremony x Vans, Jewelry: Mr. Greg Yuna and Artist Own
Trying to show love on one side of the globe while to building a reputation in another is definitely a feat in itself, but the young artist’s sense of timing seems to be a strong suit. With Asian artists of different stripes making waves in the West in the past year, now is a better time than ever to try to cement the musical bridge between East and West, and Wu is already ahead of the game with some big name collaborations in the last few months alone—and he has all the time in the world to do it his way.
Jacket, Shirt and Pants: Acne
For more Kris Wu, check out this video where he explains more about his origins and relationship with hip-hop and basketball:
Now, check out these two exclusive tracks we’re premiering today, both remixes of “Deserve” featuring Travis Scott.
For more K-pop style inspiration, check out our list of 12 stylish Korean rappers.