A hit in the west, mukbangs started at the Korean table

By Nadine Kam I

If you follow Korean culture, you’ll eventually arrive at the mukbang.

Mukbangs started out true to the meaning of the word that translates as “eating video,” based on early variety TV shows that had hosts following guests on eating adventures. They took off in South Korea because of its highly social culture. In the absence of friends or family, people found they were a comforting way to vicariously enjoy a meal with others.

These days, mukbangs have become more commonly associated with the trainwreck spectacle of watching people gorge on massive piles of food on par with competitive eaters.

Food is one of the first subjects people tend to think of when they hear the word “Korean.” When I mention K-pop, people often start making associations and talk about K-dramas and how they make them hungry because the characters are always eating. That is part of Korean branding. Its democratic government knew South Korea would never achieve power through might, so they pushed soft power, winning people over with their food, music, entertainment and culture. It worked as interest in such soft subjects has boosted South Korea’s economy through interest in its electronics, food and beauty products, its tourism industry and enrollment in Korean language schools.

K-pop stars have to continuously come up with ways to keep fans entertained and one of them is through eating segments on their live feeds, travelogs or video diaries. BlackPink’s Rosé is one of the cutest eaters, maybe because of her chipmunk cheeks. I need to watch and learn from her!

I am constantly in restaurants because I write about them for a living, so mukbangs were a natural extension of what I was already doing. Bringing them back to their original form, the intent is to introduce some of Hawaii’s new restaurants, popular and trendy places, holes-in-the-wall venues that people may miss, and high-end restaurants that some may not be able to afford but still want “to experience” through the camera lens before deciding whether or not to commit their hard-earned dollars to a firsthand visit.

My latest was a visit to Don E Don restaurant at 919 Keeaumoku St., which is best known for red pepper pork spareribs and sea salt spareribs, differing from many Korean restaurants that tend to focus on beef.

It’s a relatively small space that tends to fill up quickly at peak lunch and dinner hours, but worth checking out.

Dance Diary: BTS ‘Black Swan’

By Nadine Kam I

I wanted to dance BTS’s “Black Swan” choreography ever since they debuted it in the United States on James Corden’s “Late Late Show” on Jan. 28.

After putting in my request at our beginner K-pop dance class, I finally had the opportunity to learn the last chorus during a Hawaii Dance Bomb class on Feb. 10. I was hoping we could get to the end of the song but unfortunately we couldn’t. I was hoping for a follow-up class, but that looks unlikely.

We took so much time to learn just a brief segment that we ran out of time to record the dance as a class as usual. Afterward I wanted to film a reaction to the video with one of my friends in the class, and when we finished we decided to give the dance one more try and see how much of it we could remember. It’s funny how so much is forgotten the minute we walk out the door, and after no more than a half hour we struggled to remember which parts came next.

👁 We tried a little bit of the last chorus at the end of this vid:

Anyway, because BTS performed the dance barefoot, I went barefoot the whole class—which was pretty typical every time I took a modern or contemporary dance class—and continued to dance it barefoot on the concrete outside.

I was afraid it might be painful but because it is more of a modern dance piece there were no jumps that might have caused pain. A few weeks ago I tried to learn Dawn’s “Money” by myself, and even on a wood floor it became painful because of all the jumps he does.

👁 BTS “Black Swan”

Just watching the dance ahead of time, I knew it would be painful in other ways, such as trying to match their wide and low stance. The flexing of their backs made me realize it was an area I had to work on because my back is too stiff to get the arch and flow of their swanlike stretches. I spent about three days trying to stretch and flex my back without the help of an exercise ball, which I really should get. I also kept up my plies and tendus, adding squats, just to prepare for a few minutes of dance! Even though classes are an hour long, about 15 minutes is spent in warmup and socializing, and much of the time we are walking through the moves. We are only dancing at 100 percent for about 10 to 15 minutes.

This dancer outlines differences between major Korean entertainment company dance styles. I favor sexy SM style and Big Hit (BTS) style, but this explains why I feel so tired and hurt so much every time after dancing BTS! Turn on subtitles.

Yet … a day after class my muscles were aching, from my core to back of my thighs. I mean, BTS puts a lot of rigor into the dance but I hadn’t felt pain after a dance class in a long time so I thought I had done enough prep. That just shows how grueling BTS choreography continues to be. I haven’t hurt for a long time after many of the other boy dances that call for a lot of powerful and rapid movements. When I look at the video of myself, I see I’m putting in a quarter of the energy BTS puts into their performances.
I know the millions-strong ARMY already respects and admires BTS, but if they tried their dances they would respect them even more.

Dance Diary: SF9 ‘Good Guy’

By Nadine Kam I

On Jan. 30, 2020, I took on chorus choreography for SF9’s “Good Guy” during my weekly K-pop dance class. Even when it looks fairly easy and doable, it never is because of the speed of these songs.

In this video, I wanted to show more of the process and the false starts as we make our first few attempts at the dance at 100 percent speed. We generally start at 50 percent, and move up to 75 percent before taking on this challenge.

I wanted to show this because the bane of one of my former hiphop and heels—and perhaps every—dance teacher is encouraging new students to try a class. People who have watched my videos—no matter how sloppy we look—nevertheless are intimidated and tell me they don’t think they could ever do the moves shown.

I tell them I am just as uncoordinated as they believe they are, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. Because I always love a challenge, I see it more as fun than intimidating.

What may have boosted my attempts from the beginning was that I didn’t listen to K-pop at all, and wasn’t even sure what K-pop dance was. I approached these classes more as fitness than dance classes. I think that if I started with the idea that I wanted to master dance, I may never have started, because I think people always assume that one must start dance at an early age and toil for years to gain proficiency. I’ve found that’s not true at all. One can start at any age and mastery comes with effort and discipline, not any prescribed length of time.

At the time, I just wanted to move, I hate exercise, and this seemed more like learning an artform than a rote workout. Even so, it didn’t take long for me to really get into it and want to improve, so that’s when I went from a single class to nine a week in many styles to gain more technical skill: ballet, hiphop, heels, Afro-Caribbean, jazz, modern, body mechanics, etc.

Yes, of course, during my first year of trying to learn to dance (I enter my second year at the end of this month, February 2020) I stepped off the floor during the filming. No one wants to be looked at and judged. But one thing dance has given me is some fearlessness. Of course beginners are going to make mistakes, but it isn’t the end of the world, and even though I am not particularly gifted, so what? I am learning every day and it allows me to enjoy dance performances with a whole new level of understanding.

Tao encounter reveals a form of racism

By Nadine Kam I

Recently, former EXO member Tao (Huang Zitao), got into hot water with some BTS ARMY members when he became agitated after some girls in Iceland—who believed he was “somebody” but didn’t know for sure—asked him if he was a member of BTS.

He explained he had been in EXO, information that drew a blank.

After the girls left, he went on a rant to his cameraman, telling him to cut out that part because it was embarrassing to be mistaken for another group’s member, and how EXO was much bigger than BTS at the time he was in the group, but now all of a sudden he was assumed to be a member of BTS simply because he was Asian. It didn’t help that he is isn’t even Korean, but of Chinese descent.

👁 Tao’s encounter:

ARMY was riled by his rant, but let’s look at the situation from Tao’s point of view for a moment.

I get that there are times when people say you might look like so-and-so if you happen to actually resemble a certain person, but in this cases, no, Tao doesn’t resemble any member of BTS, not even if you squint or are partially blind.

Anyone who’s woke would be agitated by the racism at play here.
It happens when K-pop groups promote themselves in western countries. There are videos of groups passing out fliers in L.A. and New York, with people asking them if they are BTS. When they answer no, the people are suddenly disinterested and walk away. So rude.

Huang Zitao
Former EXO member Tao has sharp, hard, distinctive features that have little in common with any BTS member.

The take-away when these kinds of things happen is that there are people who think all Koreans, or Asians in general, look alike, and these people can’t be bothered to really look at them and take note of their individual features, personalities and charms.

To these kinds of people, BTS is not Jin, J-Hope, Suga, RM, V, Jimin and Jungkook, but a featureless mop-topped Asian mob that descends in unison down red carpets and onto their small screens.


I’ve seen this in my friends as well, who cannot even distinguish the members of a much smaller group like Shinee, with only five members who look drastically different. One friend said she could only recognize them by hair color and I had to explain that is no basis for recognition because K-pop stars change their hair color all the time.

BTS, from left: V (Kim Taehyung), Suga (Min Yoongi), Jin (Kim Seokjin), J-Hope (Jung Hoseok), RM (Kim Namjoon), Park Jimin and Jeon Jungkook, don’t resemble former EXO member Tao at all.

Is it really that hard to just look at a person? Granted, South Korea does have a largely homogenous society, and combined with rampant plastic surgery, many of their features are more similar than that of a multi-cultural nation like the United States. But failing to look beyond ethnicity makes someone less of a person, and more of a curiosity or object to be ignored. And maybe that is the insult Tao was really reacting to.

A friend thinks all Shinee members look alike. They don’t. From left, Lee Taimin, Onew (Lee Jinki), the late Kim Jonghyun, Key (Kim Kibum) and Choi Minho.

Dance diary: Taking on Zico’s ‘Any Song’ challenge

By Nadine Kam I

I couldn’t resist taking a stab at Ziko’s any song challenge. It’s such a fun song and the choreography is supposed to be simple enough to allow anyone to take him up on the challenge.

Even though the choreography is pretty easy, I still had my challenges. First of all this was my first time trying to dance solo, and just to be different from the thousands of other found videos online, I decided I needed a different backdrop. In Hawaii, heading to the beach is a no brainer because everyone loves to see blue sky and blue ocean.

The only problem was I was heading to the Big Island so I needed to do it quickly and it was on a holiday and everyone was at the beach.

So, in addition to trying to remember the sequence of the choreography, I had the additional challenges of sun in my eyes, wind whipping my hair into my face, and hundreds of people walking by, including those so oblivious as to pass behind me while the camera was rolling. Doh!

There’s a lot of pressure when people are walking by which made it harder than it would’ve been if I had stayed home.

👁 Zico and Mamamoo’s Hwasa show the challenge choreography:

In fact, it would have been easy to stay home and not do this at all, but I love this song and was compelled to be in the moment. Perhaps it’s 2020 energy at work, which is about tackling your fears before you can attain abundance. It’s supposed to be a momentous year for those willing to take action toward achieving longtime dreams.

Plus, I can relate to a song about getting older and feeling tired and bored but recharging by putting on any song and dancing any way you want.

It’s such an upbeat, fun song that earned Zico the honor of creating the first all-kill song of 2020, meaning it topped six major Korean music charts.

👁 The official video:

In spite of the public situation I put myself in, and my inability to smile where necessary due to those conditions, I got through the dance and survived, so I await the next challenge!

Note: For the sake of having a personal archive of dances, I said I would be posting my beginning dances from last year but I have at least 52 since last March. And I’m definitely more excited about what I’m doing now, so going forward, I think I will start posting those videos with the theme “On this day last year” until I’m all caught up. I will start to post those older videos in mid-March.

Chen’s future in question with marriage news & fan reactions

By Nadine Kam I

I thought I had said all I was going to say about Chen’s marriage announcement on Jan. 13, but just wanted to elaborate a little more on the different reactions East and West.

In the West, fans seem mostly chill, but in Korea and Japan there is anger, talk about withdrawing their support for Chen, and demands that SM Entertainment oust Chen from EXO.

For SM and EXO, there are financial repurcussions from the announcement. Yesterday, Nature Republic announced that it will not renew EXO’s contract to represent Nature Republic in their ad campaigns after a 7-year relationship. That could be simply be a matter of the group reaching it’s 9th year and the members getting older. Certainly, there are a plethora of fresh faces that would make good candidates to sell beauty, such as star rookies TXT and other groups making an impact such as NCT Dream (if they were to stay with SM), Stray Kids and Ateez.

The announcement could just be a coincidence, or the announcement may simply have reinforced feelings that, like EXO, EXO-Ls have aged out of the market for Nature Republic, which is more of an entry-level beauty brand.

So, I just did a reaction video with a friend from Japan, who could help explain from her perspective why fans in Japan and Korea have given up on Chen. We also talk about the likelihood of him being kicked out of EXO as some fans are requesting.

It really doesn’t help that his fiancée lacks the judgment and maturity to keep their personal life private. What is fueling fans’ ire even more are the photos she has posted on her Instagram feed of their home, the bed they share and stacks of Hermés boxes, which some fans are assuming are gifts from other fans, even though Chen announced last summer that he would no longer accept gifts from fans.

Comments translated by Allkpop include: “His girlfriend is making a scene trying to become famous” and “She must be super happy that all of her newlywed furniture was paid for by fans.”

👁 Some background as to how Korean fans have felt about EXO dating in the past:

BTS launches ‘Connect,’ a global art project

By Nadine Kam I

BTS is not only a music phenomenon, but a cultural phenomenon, and one reason for the group’s popularity has been its use of its influence to foster optimism and forward thinking around the globe. This time, they’ll be doing it through art, with a new global project called “Connect, BTS,” a series of large-scale art projects involving 22 artists and five cities on four continents.

Experience the sights and sounds of a first via Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s “Catharsis,’ at https://catharsis.live

The intent is to connect people across continents, via art. The first work, an immersive audio-visual forest experience titled “Catharsis,” by Jakob Kudsk Steensen, opened yesterday at the Serpentine Galleries in London. Other works will be unveiled Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, and New York through spring.

Kim Taehyung is the group’s resident art lover and painting enthusiast, and during tour downtimes is known for seeking out museums and galleries. He has surprised gallerists around the world by walking into their galleries and openings unannounced, and leaving with purchases.

You can read more about the project at the links below:

Art News: https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/bts-art-project-1202675373/
BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-51106206

BTS’s V (Kim Taehyung) is known for his love of the arts and has been known to introduce himself abroad as Vincent Van Gogh.

While BTS is once again building bridges around the world and spreading their brand of positivity, inclusiveness, culture, artistry and intelligence, it made me think of their detractors, for whom BTS seems to be a trigger for their xenophobic and homophobic sentiments.

BTS’s army of fans has a history of going after such detractors, and in doing so, amplify their rants. Two of the biggest trash talkers have mocked Army for doing just that, and in so doing only spread the negativity and increased the audience of those pot-bellied buffoons with dinosaur-age thinking.

RM at a museum in Vienna.

They think of Army as no more than “a bunch of teen-age girls,” but already those “teen-age girls” are a force to be reckoned with and will be the ones wielding political might in the future. Yes, they pool their resources to do some pretty fangirl things, like buying billboards in Times Square, newspaper ads and subway ads to celebrate their favorite K-pop stars’ birthdays, but following BTS’s lead, they’ve also used their numbers and resources to build wells in Africa and fund humanitarian projects around the globe. Connected through a love of BTS, they’re able to mobilize for good causes.

Jin (Kim Seok Jin) in a key scene from the “Blood, Sweat & Tears” music video.

So, going forward, I am not naming those major detractors in favor of suggesting a new tack. That is, just ignore the naysayers. The impulse of Army has always been to protect and defend BTS, but for the most part, the antis are nobodies who want attention. So, don’t give it to them. Don’t give them a voice so they can just go back and crawl back under the rock from which they emerged.

Kim Taehyung in a key scene from the the “Blood, Sweat & Tears” music video, with a painting attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” in the backdrop. Just analyzing the artwork in this video could be the subject of a college course!

The ones most vocal in the west most only reveal themselves to be intellectually inferior, racist homophobes. History will have no place for them, but BTS is already in the pantheon of greats as musicians. As a force for change, fostering peace and diversity, they are doing much more than politicians. Imagine if they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize sometime in the future. Then the whole world would have to pay attention.

And based on some early numbers, there are more who want to hear their messages. Today their management company Big Hit Entertainment announced that “Map of the Soul: 7” has sold a record 3.42 million preorders in its first week of availability, making it likely that the album to be released Feb. 21, will top sales of last year’s chart-topping “Map of the Soul: Persona,” which sold 2.685 million preorders in its first five days.

BTS ‘Map of the Soul: 7 Shadow: Interlude’ shows Suga’s power

By Nadine Kam I

HONOLULU — In my corner of the world, people seem to need three weeks to recover from the holiday season, as slowly the social calendar is beginning to fill up with events.

But K-pop never rests, and in my anguish over the terrible treatment of X1 and their disbandment and the excitement of Treasure being liberated from its prison at YG, I overlooked the Jan. 7 announcement that BTS will drop the next chapter of its “Map of the Soul” series on Feb. 21.

Pre-orders for “Map of the Soul: 7” is going on now, and two days later Big Hit Entertainment released a beautiful comeback trailer, “Interlude : Shadow,” featuring Suga (Min Yoongi). This song makes me feel really sad to think of all that he and BTS have been through to get where they are, only to find how lonely it is at the top.

Ah, it’s so good, but I’m glad I didn’t know this was going to be out ahead of time. I probably would have tried to record a reaction video and end up crying as soon as his singing kicked in.

So instead, check out this explainer from DKDKTV’s Danny Kim on the Jungian perspective that defines the “Map of the Soul,” and a music producer’s perspective on the song.

Byeongkwan’s star on the rise with ‘Pops in Seoul’ gig

By Nadine Kam I

Congratulations to A.C.E.’s Kim Byeongkwan, who became host of Arirang’s “Pops in Seoul,” a K-pop music and news program on Jan. 6, taking over for Stray Kids’ Felix Lee (Lee Yong Bok), who had held the position since last July, but is leaving on a world tour with his group.

Byeongkwan should do well because he has such an outgoing personality and as the main dancer for A.C.E, he’ll be able to keep up the K-pop dance lessons that became so popular when Samuel Kim and Felix were hosts.

I’ve been seeing a lot more of Byeongkwan lately, after having wondered how well he was doing after finishing in fourth place on the K-pop survival show “Mixnine.” The show was to create a debut group out of the top nine finishers from either a girls- or boys-only team, but the debut never happened. He was really talented but one can only follow so many people, and because I arrived at “Mixnine,” going backward in time after having watched YG “Treasure Box,” I continued following the YG participants, Choi Hyun Suk, Lee Byoung Gon and Kim Jun Kyu.

I was reminded how outrageous Byeongkwan can be when he and A.C.E’s Wow released a cover music video of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” last month, which is so awesome.

I’m really going to miss Felix’s Aussie accent, but looking forward to what Byeongkwan will show us in the months ahead.

👁 A comparison of Byeongkwan and Felix’s dance lessons:

Chen first from EXO to announce marriage plans!

By Nadine Kam I

Yesterday came the shocking news that no stan ever wants to hear, that is, Chen (Kim Jongdae) from EXO is getting married. Not only that, it’s probably because his fiancée is knocked up!

He was my second bias, after my forever bias Jonghyun, but since then I’ve moved on and I’m not really that shocked. We never know about the personal lives of K-pop stars because their companies don’t want to risk alienating fans who want to believe their idols are available. But I did see some photos circulating of Chen with his alleged girlfriend from time to time, and thought well, why wouldn’t he have a girlfriend? He was my bias because I saw his good qualities as a person who over time has taken good care of EXO members, and would make a great husband and father one day because he’s so kind, caring, humble, capable of doing man chores (in spite of having everything done for him as an idol), and good with kids.

👁 Other EXO members are not that helpful so cooking chores often fall to Chen and D.O. This episode was funny, when the meat he was cooking blew off the grill and he looked so sad, but he was able to rescue some:

Even though EXO is one of the biggest groups in the world, he never came off as being arrogant or egotistical.

After the news broke, someone asked me how I thought fans would respond and while this kind of news is usually met with vitriol from stans who claim ownership over idols, I think Chen, being who he is, has a calmer fandom who will be more happy about the news than bitter.

There was a time when Exols begged EXO members not to date until after the age of 50 (usually idols wait to announce the news after military service when at 30 they are considered over-the-hill). At the time Chanyeol quipped, “Then we will date just before we die!”

But Exols are getting older themselves, and with lives of their own, I hope they can be more understanding of idols’ private lives than younger fandoms.

Also, Chen never put himself out there as being flirtatious or available. He’s really reserved, so he probably never had the kind of rabid, immature followers that someone like BTS’s Jimin has, because Jimin is so blatant in his courting of Army.

👁 EXO Chen & Xiumin on “The Return of Superman”:

Following is a translation of Chen’s letter to fans, breaking the news:

It’s just sad that Chen had to be so stressed and worried about putting the word out there, but I think his sincerity and heartfelt love for his fiancée will win the day and win fans over to continue to support him in his group and solo projects.

👁 EXO Showtime Haunted House episode, in which Chen was the kind one who gave heat packs to the cold “ghouls”:

Of course I am speaking from an American perspective and things are a little different with fans from Korea and Japan who are really angry and are not only giving up on following him but asking him to leave EXO, rather than taint the group.

A friend from Japan explained Japanese thinking by comparing it to revering their emperor as a god. Just like an emperor, there is a mythology surrounding idols and the Japanese don’t regard them as ordinary human beings. They must be above human frailty. These fans also pay a lot of money to support these artists and in return demand a certain degree of loyalty from them by giving the appearance of being “perfect,” single and therefore, obtainable. Even my friend who is able to be rational and cognizant of the illogical behavior of fans, says it is hard to escape that mentality drilled into them from childhood.

So now in Japanese (and Korean) social streams many are saying they won’t support Chen, knowing the money they spend on music, merchandise and concert tickets will flow to his wife and child. I’m really sad to hear that in Asia he is getting death threats and several of his fan sites have closed down, as people who had claimed to love him are abandoning him.

That raises questions about his future with EXO if he were to become a stain on the group’s future activities because most of their financial support comes from Japan fans. EXO is SM Entertainment’s biggest cash cow and they really have no replacement as newer group NCT hasn’t begun to match their success.

👁 Chen was No. 4 on iHeartRadio Ellie Lee’s rundown of sexiest men in K-pop, 2017:

Chen is one of EXO’s main vocalists, and would be sorely missed since other vocalists Xiumin and D.O. are now serving in the military, and as a ’91 liner, Suho should be announcing his enlistment some time this year, leaving Chen and Baekhyun as the only main vocalists. Baekhyun cannot carry EXO by himself with vocal duties that can’t be filled by rappers Chanyeol and Sehun, and dancer Kai.

So I don’t know how SM will take the demands for Chen’s removal. I can see where it will be a problem for sponsors such as Nature Republic, if fans refuse to purchase anymore items related to Chen.

The best news would be to see him following in the footsteps of Hyuna and Hyojong, who are showing there are second acts in K-pop for those strong enough to stand up for themselves and their relationships.

If others are brave enough to come out, people in Asia will slowly have to accept the idea that idols are not gods but only human. It may take a generation, but hopefully at some point in the future they won’t have to hide their relationships. I think it’s better to be honest up front then to hit us with a surprise later. Isn’t that true of any good, honest relationship?