Bling Empire’s Kevin Kreider continues to create a safe space for Asian men to speak freely about their struggles and reclaim their true authentic selves.
“Stereotypes are powerful,” declared Kevin Kreider in his now viral Ted Talk.
Delivered with candor and charm, the talk focused on redefining Asian masculinity while narrating the journey of The Bling Empire star. Kreider started off as a young Korean-American adoptee who was bullied in a largely white community but grew up to be an empowered advocate against harmful racist tropes.
It’s hard to imagine the model and actor as someone who was once self-conscious about his looks given how self-assured he is onscreen. But despite growing up in a loving adopted family, he is vocal about the challenges he experienced both professionally and in his personal life.
“I was an aspiring actor and model since 2008, and I failed miserably at both because of a mix of things, bad timing to enter an industry that [wasn’t] accepting of Asian Americans yet, and also losing my health in 2013 from Alopecia Areata,” he shares.
Losing your hair from a stress-induced autoimmune disorder was clearly not a good look for a model, leading Kreider to reevaluate his life. One thing he did was to open up and to create a safe space for Asian men to talk about the challenges they faced.
“I spoke about how Asian men were unjustifiably emasculated and made fun of with racist portrayals,” he says. “I stood up for the Asian community, and Asian men, who were told not to speak about it because it was made up or was seen as unmasculine to even speak about it.”
This message resonated loudly with other Asian Americans, including the producers of Bling Empire, which he shares he didn’t audition nor ask for. “I attracted it. Instead of promoting myself, [I spoke about] something that people were feeling and experiencing but were too afraid to talk about,” Kreider explains.
He shares that some of the producers have had “similar experiences, or family members who were Korean [and] adopted, and [who] wanted their nephews and family members to have a leading example.”
Recognizing the power of media in shaping perceptions about ourselves and others, he has endeavored to gradually reclaim the narrative, and to only “accept roles that are leading men material,” according to his website. Tired of the Asian guys being portrayed as weak or unattractive and never getting the girl or guy, the actor is set on quashing unconscious biases. He is focusing on projects that allow him and his community to tell their own, real empowered stories.
In fact, the 38-year-old has just wrapped up filming Asian Persuasion in New York, an upcoming romcom centered around the Asian-American experience. It’s directed by award winning Fil-Am producer Jhett Tolentino, and has a stellar, largely Asian-American cast and crew which also includes KC Concepcion.
“I think I get to play the Asian romantic lead that I’ve always wanted to,” he admits. “No stereotypes and I can just be myself. And I think it’s groundbreaking in that sense because even in today’s TV and film, you don’t get to see too many full Asians who are romantic leads, so I think this will be really good for the community.”
His identity as an Asian-American is clearly something he is passionate about. “Being Asian-American has its own meaning [than] just being Korean, or any other race. It’s like our own race,” Kreider says. “I see myself as more American-Korean if I were to be honest. I do feel more American in what I grew up with, especially with white parents, but also Korean in being proud of where I was born, and the accomplishments and mindsets.”
The more he explored his Korean roots, the more he discovered how he belonged and the more he had felt secure with himself.
Keeping it real
While Kreider is a man who wears many hats, a lot of us would naturally associate him with his breakaway role in reality TV success Bling Empire. The show for the uninitiated, follows the lives of a group of affluent Asian Americans living in LA. The cast is a mix of trust-fund heirs and heiresses, and rich Moms with closets filled with French couture and haute joaillerie, and whose lives are dotted with lavish parties, and impromptu trips to Paris.
Then there’s Kreider, whose refreshingly “normal” take on luxury is a stark contrast to how casually the other cast members partake in extraordinary abundance. While many would be blown away by the affluence, he prefers to “keep it real” so to speak. “I play the everyday person and the voice, who isn’t the crazy rich Asian,” he elaborates.
Viewers see this by how honestly he interacts with the cast, sometimes being a bit unsure about their obvious expressions of wealth. He often says what many of us are thinking.
And while he appears perfectly comfortable navigating this world, Kreider is also not taken over by it. Ironically, by not being a part of the one percent, his refreshingly genuine take gives this reality TV show a good dose of actual reality.
Nonetheless, it’s a message Kreider thinks may sometimes get lost in translation. If you strip away all the finery, you can see why the show is such a global hit; Despite appearing superficial, it is anything but.
In Season One, we see how Kreider, who is open about being adopted from South Korea, goes on a journey of self-discovery as he tries to trace his roots. He, along with Kane Lim, also tries to help Kim Lee to find her birth father. In Season Two, we see him being very honest about where he had come from and committing to his sobriety.
He’s also often the one trying to be the good guy, encouraging his friends to patch things up, or in some cases, stop snooping. Despite not being clad in exclusive designer duds, he has a way of captivating the audience.
He’s also not pressured to live the same way as his friends. “I never feel the need to conform for conforming’s sake, nor do I ever need to rebel just for rebelling’s sake. I’ve learned from years of wanting to conform for the approval of the Western world in my past, that being authentic to myself is what makes me happy because I don’t need to pretend or keep up to an appearance that isn’t myself.”
To him, luxury isn’t necessarily about fancy things. “Luxury to me is having freedom, doing things when you can and want to, that isn’t for just yourself that is. I think there’s a luxury to that,” Kreider shares. “And to be able to comfortably pursue something that’s meaningful to you that you [want to] do”, referring to his undertaking of reinventing perceptions of Asians in the media.
He elaborates, “Luxury is to be able to enjoy finer things, but not let it define who you are.”
Then there is of course the question of what happens between him and Kim Lee after Season Two of the show. While viewers may have been at the edge of their seats in this “will they or won’t they” scenario, Kreider remains tight-lipped. When quizzed about whether or not he is still pursuing a romance with Kim, he simply answers, “that’s for you to find out.”
Aside from successes in TV and film, Kreider isn’t resting on his laurels and is clearly set on trying to build his own empire. He has also capitalized on his background in fitness and exercise science, launching his own supplement brand called Be More Matcha. It’s a pre-workout drink that marries East and West, aiming to boost metabolism and enhance mental focus through matcha, Korean Panax Ginseng, and cognitive-enhancing nootropics.
Behind the scenes, Kreider enjoys watching documentaries, jump rope and is keen on starting to skateboard again. He also loves to cook and regularly hosts potlucks with his friends in LA, letting them try out his take on Italian cuisine and chili. He shares how his intimate gatherings are a way to “get good people together, and curate like really deep meaningful [conversations].
Guests get to bond as each of them gets a turn answering thoughtful questions like “What was your childhood dream growing up?” or “What did you learn from your biggest regret?”.
He’s also the CEO of his own production company called Taejin Entertainment, which he uses to promote his undertaking of fostering and improving Asian representation in mainstream media.
But the fact Asians are getting so much traction in the media now as compared to before, is proof that things are getting better. “There’s been more opportunities for Asian Americans to be acting, modeling, and [being a] part of the conversation. Leading [males in romances] are now half Asian and half white… Asian women are now getting lead roles and it’s more than the sexy Asian girl who gets oversexualized. We are now celebrated, Asians have a place in reality television in America… Heck, here I am shooting a cover for the Philippines and having a show on Netflix. That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t see a movie become profitable and explode,” he continued, referring to Crazy Rich Asians.
And while he appreciates how things have improved, he recognizes that it can still get better. “If we want more Asian lead actors, we now have to give our attention to those TV shows and movies,” he says. “It’s our opportunity to gain or lose, but we have to stop fighting each other for the limelight and realize that a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Text MARIANE PEREZ
Photography FILBERT KUNG
Videography LORRETO JONES
Sittings Editor CANDY DIZON
Creative Direction MARC YELLOW
Styling SKY NAVAL
Grooming BONG BUAN
Shoot Coordination MAE TALAID, ERICA LUNA, and MJ ALMERO
Shot on Location OUTDOOR CANYON OASIS with POOL & GUEST HOUSE, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA