Ex-K pop star set to crack the US

Story highlights

Kris Wu got his start with the popular Korean-Chinese pop band, EXO.

The Canadian-Chinese artist starred in multiple movies, including "xXx: Return of Xander Cage."

Kris Wu's latest single "Deserve" rose to No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes Top Songs Chart.

CNN  — 

His face is plastered across billboards in China, but when Kris Wu participated in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Basketball Game in Toronto last year, fellow stars had no idea who he was.

“Toronto is obviously Drake city,” said Wu about the popular rapper and team coach. “It’s his hometown, but I had more fans than him … so pretty much everyone was like who is this guy?”

Terrence Jenkins of Team USA and Kris Wu of Team Canada during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game in 2016 in Toronto.

The Chinese-Canadian artist is hard to miss these days. After getting his start in the very popular Korean-Chinese pop group EXO, the 6-foot-plus star has gone solo, starring in multiple movies in China and Hollywood, modeling for such brands as Burberry and judging a popular Chinese reality show.

Now he’s casting for a complete crossover, working on a new English-language album set for next year. Collaborators include Houston rapper, Travis Scott. The two just released “Deserve,” a club-banging single which rose to No. 1 on the US iTunes Top Songs Chart within three hours of release in October.

“I always wanted to be a youth influencer,” said Wu, 27. “Working with Travis, I felt like we had a similar vision …. We kind of clicked right away because of it.”

Wu also worked with mega-producer Pharrell Williams. Wu and Williams will be performing at Alibaba’s 11.11 Countdown Gala Celebration in Shanghai on Nov. 10, which leads up to the tech company’s online shopping festival on Nov. 11. The red carpet event will be live-streamed on Alibaba’s Taobao app and broadcast on Chinese television.

“When they ask who is your biggest influence, I always say Pharrell, whether it is music or fashion, I’m a big fan,” said Wu, who talked by phone on the third night of working with Williams in Los Angeles.

Wu is no stranger to fashion himself, promoting such brands as Burberry, Bulgari, Beats by Dre, Mercedes-Benz and American Express. A Barclays’ luxury goods analyst even suggested that Wu boosted sales for Burberry last year.

According to Tamar Herman, who covers K-pop for Billboard.com, Wu has the perfect set of attributes in an industry increasingly looking to drive profits beyond national boundaries.

“He acts, he sings, and he does each with just the right amount of ‘fusion’ flair, so-to-speak, that he seems like the perfect crossover candidate,” said Herman, who cited Wu spending part of his youth in Canada, debuting in the K-pop industry, and becoming a visible young artist in the Chinese entertainment world, as proof of his mass appeal.