Dance diary: BTS ‘Idol’

By Nadine Kam I

We spent an hour learning BTS’s “Idol” during our beginner K-pop dance class at Star Fitness Hawaii on Feb. 9, 2019. It is the most high-energy dance we’d done so far, and after dancing it at 100 percent about five times, we wanted to collapse.

Now I understand why I’ve seen BTS also collapse on the floor after performing nearly 4 minutes of this choreography. When I saw it happen I was wondering why they would be so exhausted after one dance because they often perform several of their dances in succession during live shows.

I have to admit it scared me to see them, especially Taehyung, breathing so hard when they are so young.

After doing this dance, I now know why. We only learned about 40 seconds, so would have only done 2-1/2 minutes of the dance at 100 percent and it is way more exhausting than we make it look. The song is nearly 4 minutes and they are dancing that whole time. It’s all the jumps that make it so exhausting.

BTS choreography is actually much easier than most K-pop dances. It’s not that they can’t do sharp moves, but they sacrifice detail for high energy that is exciting for people to watch and more engaging during a live performance. It also makes it much more fun to dance. An EXO dance, for instance, is so intricate that it’s hard for me, as a beginner, to escape into the mood or feeling of the song. Every second is spent thinking about the small technical details that make it more stressful than fun.

? ? BTS “Idol” dance practice:

BTS makes history on SNL stage

By Nadine Kam I

BTS made history April 13 as the first Korean group to perform on “Saturday Night Live” in its 44 years. It was a big night for both parties, and my feeling is that SNL needed them more.

After telling all my friends to watch the show for BTS, I actually fell asleep for about 15 minutes while waiting for them to appear. Part of it was the result of being in a food coma from having dinner at GEN Korean BBQ’s official grand opening Pearlridge Center. The other part was that the rest of the show hosted by Emma Stone was soooooo boring. It just reaffirmed why I stopped watching the show a year ago after discovering K-pop.

Here’s a quote from that echoes my sentiment:

“While an SNL performance is usually a big deal for musical artists, this episode marked the rare occasion that getting a particular musical guest seemed to actually be a big deal for SNL. It’s not every week that SNL ends up being the top trending topic in America, and the group’s presence seems to have brought a whole new audience to the show that may not usually stay up to watch live.”

?: How I ate that sent me to sleep

I was able to catch the performance of “Mic Drop” but it’s an old one for them. I guess they chose to perform that song because it’s one they haven’t performed on any of their American award show appearances, and their last album, “Love Yourself: Answer’s” most powerful group song was “Idol,” which they’d performed a lot in this country. Much of the album was filled with solo songs from each member that help to give the group a rest from strenuous choreography during their live shows. While one is on stage, the others can take a breather.

I was able to catch their performance of “Boy With Luv” online after the show, and over two days probably watched it about 30 times. I loved seeing how happy and relaxed they were on stage. I loved seeing Taehyung’s (blue hair) smiles and expressions, and of course Jimin (orange hair) was as sexy as expected. They were all in such a good mood.

In a previous post I mentioned that I was really looking forward to hearing Halsey on the new BTS song. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by how small her vocal part was in the music video, but she does get a verse in the recording. I believe they downplayed her vocal because they don’t want audiences to get accustomed to hearing her voice and miss it when she’s not there during their concerts.

With 74.6 million views in one day, the MV for “Boy With Luv” broke the record for the biggest 24-hour debut, that was set by compatriots Black Pink just one week ago for “Kill This Love.” That video had 56.7 million views in 24 hours.

Although fans loved the colorful MV, they seemed to enjoy the SNL performance even more for the same reasons I did. It was trending at No. 2 on YouTube for two days, topped only by the new “Star Wars Episode 9” trailer.

? ? “Boy With Luv” video and explainer by DKDKTV

… and then there was one, SHINee off to serve its country

By Nadine Kam I

April 15 is a miserable day anyway, the day in the United States when our income tax returns are due, and I ended up sending $8,500 away, just like that, blip, gone. It almost didn’t hurt that much when I was working a full-time job in the newsroom, but now that I’m free-lancing, it all feels like blood money.

It was extra miserable for me, as a fan of SHINee, the day that Choi Min-ho reported for service in the Korean Marine Corps. I knew this day was coming, and as the others left prior to him, first Onew (Lee Jin-ki) in December, and Key (Kim Ki-bum) in March, I just accepted it as part of life in South Korea, where men must enlist in the military, the latest at age 28.

One by one, Shawol have watched the members of SHINee depart for the military. Bottom, left to right, Key, Onew, Taemin and Minho at Onew’s send-off, followed by Key in March and on April 15, Minho.

But it hit me really hard when I woke up the previous morning to check my IG feed and saw the photos of Minho in the barber’s chair. It made me so sad to think this was the end of an era for Shawol, SHINee’s fandom who had grown up with the band over a decade. I couldn’t help thinking about all they had gone through in that crazy, whirlwind decade that whisked them from their small towns to stadiums around the globe.

I still cry when I think of them in the words they reference in their song, “Our Page,” as those green boys of May 2008, debuting into a world of unimaginable success, only to be touched by tragedy just before their 10th anniversary with Jonghyun’s suicide.

It seems like yesterday when the newly formed SHINee still walked Taemin to middle school

I only got to know them over the past year, learning about them only after the news of Jonghyun’s death. With YouTube, it was so easy to follow their career through variety and music shows. As Jonghyun once said of their relationship, SHINee started as a business but they became a family. He spoke of them as five strangers sharing a common destiny that they all thought would never come to an end. Moreso than many of the K-pop groups, they were funny, savage, but loving brothers. Today, only BTS seems to fit that template set by SHINee five years before them.

From boys to exceptional young men.

Korean military service generally lasts 21 months, so it will be about two years before we see their return. At that time, they will have four years remaining on the contract they renewed with SM Entertainment last year. What they plan to do is anyone’s guess. It’s often hard for K-pop groups to make a comeback after their military service because their fans move on. By then they will likely also be in their 30s, settled into careers and starting families. Younger music lovers seek out their contemporaries. Even before Onew left for the military, people were calling him “old man Jinki.” If senior citizens would like to think 50 is the new 30 in the United States, 30 is the new 60 in South Korea, which is even more ageist than America.

A big difference from colored hair and trendy stage apparel.

All this leaves one member, Taemin (Lee Tae-min), the youngest at 26 (25 in the United States) to carry on his solo career. It will be two more years before he needs to enlist, and although fans would have liked to see him go at the same time so that all of SHINee can come back sooner, I don’t think SM would have allowed him to go because he is one of the company’s money makers. As a dancer, too, he undoubtedly feels the pressure physically. In three years, he may not be able to execute moves as smoothly as he does now.

Taemin, out there on his own.

It makes me sad to think that as little as two years ago he was saying that it’s lonely to promote solo when he grew accustomed to sharing the stage with four others over nine years. As glamorous as their lives appear to outsiders, they live very lonely lives after being cast as pre-teens and made to live together for years. Because of busy schedules, they aren’t given much time to visit family or meet with friends so they become very isolated, with only each other for company. Taemin has said that since he was about 12, he never spent one Christmas with his family.

We must support him now. I’m sure he’ll do well. He’s very ambitious, but this maknae is no Seungri.

? ? SHINee appreciation over the years. ‘Replay’ was its first MV. Babies!? To men seven years later.

This MV was sung in Japanese language because SHINee
was actually created for the Japanese market. I love the stylishness of this video. There is also a white version with a storyline, and Korean language performance versions.
Taemin is on the road promoting his latest mini album “Want,” now.

Dance diary: Black Pink’s ‘Ddu-Du Ddu-Du’

On Feb. 2, 2019, we danced the chorus of Black Pink’s “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” during our beginner K-pop dance class. As I’m still catching up on the past after starting this dance blog, the timing is good in light of the quartet’s debut yesterday, April 12, at the Coachella music festival in Indio, Calif.

I’m happy about their reception in this country because back in September I said on Facebook that Black Pink is likely to be the next K-pop breakthrough act in America. Why? I said so because of racism in this country. It’s been the case in entertainment since the 1920s that this country has been willing to support only one major Asian-American star at a time because some non-Asians think we all look alike. So whenever an Asian role comes up, the chosen one typically gets cast over and over again, from Anna May Wong to Bruce Lee, Nancy Kwan up until today’s Margaret Cho and her successor Awkwafina.

In K-pop world, the band of the moment in this country is BTS, but because they’re men, there is room for an act people can recognize apart from that group of seven Koreans, that is, a group of women.

Black Pink is certainly deserving, and at that moment were arguably the hottest girl band in South Korea, prior to the arrival of Itzy.

? ? Black Pink’s music video

At any rate, “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” is a really catchy song, and so is the dance created by American choreographer Kyle Hanagami, who is based in L.A.

Usually in class, we just dance in a line, but on this day we tried the moving formation. It was really fun, but Black Pink tends to be sexy and I am so not.

Dance calls for a lot of acting, but I grew up without movement, so it feels like an awkward lie.

Around this time I started thinking that there is so much more to dance than people realize. Non-dancers think of it as merely a physical act, but there’s a lot of psychology behind it, and just as there are sports psychologists who help athletes perform better, I feel as if I need a dance psychologist.

When I mention this to my dance instructors, they don’t really understand. They are instructors likely because they moved naturally and started dance lessons in early childhood, so they’re not likely to understand the trials of someone starting as an adult.

I would go as far as saying dance is 40 percent physical, and 60 percent mental, just because I am not a great mover, but can certainly follow along and pick up the choreography. Making it look good is still a problem, but my mental blocks are even harder to overcome.

BTS x Halsey a dream come true

We are hours away from the release of BTS’s new release, “Map of the Soul: Persona,” and I’m extra excited that it will contain collaborations with Halsey and Ed Sheeran.

While Sheeran is better known, I’m really looking forward to hearing the Halsey collaboration because I love her breathy, resonant vocals. In fact, last November I mentioned on Facebook that I would really love to see her collaborate with BTS, and just a day before the announcement of the collaboration, I was in my car driving when a Halsey song came on. In that moment I tried to imagine what her voice would sound like with Taehyung’s equally deep, sexy vocals, and I thought of making a video mashup of the two together. I’m so glad that it will really happen!

? ? Listen to Taehyung and Halsey separately, imagine their voices together

I always thought BTS needed better collaborators than Nicky Minaj, whose lyrics in “Idol” were asinine. And Jungkook also sang “We Don’t Talk Anymore” with Charlie Puth, who the Army found problematic because of his racist, right-wing views.

Army was also up in arms over an interview he gave in which he said of BTS, “They’re massive, I want that social following…Me and Shawn Mendes are like how do we get that kind of fanbase? I’d love to collaborate with them,” implying he wanted to use their popularity to boost his own career. That kind of opportunist position irks BTS fans, who have the boys’ best interests in mind, and don’t want to see them used.

I understand that BTS also wants to raise its profile in the west by working with western artists, but at what cost? I feel like they don’t understand their own worth. Based on the size of BTS’s fanbase around the globe, and their social presence, all Western artists need them more than vice versa. At this point, I believe their only competitor in that realm may be Ariana Grande. Past social star Justin Bieber lost his hold on the spot to BTS two years ago.

Working with Halsey and Ed Sheeran are steps in the right direction. Remember to catch BTS on “Saturday Night Live” April 13!

? ? The teaser “Boy in Luv” video

Dance Diary: Happy birthday Jonghyun!

April 8 is Jonghyun’s birthday and I was hoping that one of my K-pop dance teachers would be able to teach me how to dance his “Hallelujah” in recognition of the occasion.

Alas, one teacher left the studio, and another doesn’t feel as comfortable dancing to male songs as female, so as I catch up on updating our past practices, the next one to pop up was SHINee’s “Ring Ding Dong” from Feb. 2, 2019.

It was a little bit of serendipity to come up with SHINee, though at the same time it’s probably my least favorite song of their catalog.

As always with SHINee, there are sharp hand movements used in combination with precise leg movements that bring the knees together and out. It takes a lot of coordination, and none of us are doing particularly well at getting all the movements in.

I hope I will be able to dance “Hallelujah” to mark his birthday next year … and make it look good.

? ? Here’s a look at “Hallelujah,” which he wrote about a beautiful woman, but for me might was well be about him.

A K-pop takeover of Billboard Music Awards social artist category

By Nadine Kam I

Once again, BTS has been nominated for the Billboard Music Awards Top Social Artist award, which they’ve already won the past two years. But what’s new this year has fans elated.

For the first time, the group is nominated for the Top Duo/Group award, winning recognition for their music, not just their social presence. Also up for the award are Dan + Shay, Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5 and Panic at the Disco.

And in the Top Social Artist category, their competition includes compatriots EXO and GOT7, in addition to Ariana Grande and Louis Tomlinson.

EXO, from left, Xiumin, D.O., Chen, Baekhyun, Kai, Suho, Sehun and Chanyeol, is BTS’s biggest rival in South Korea, where warring fandoms have helped to spur the protective instincts of Army and EXO-L members.

The Koreans will be difficult to beat in the social category when the winners are announced May 1 because of their fervent fanbases. The fans post, tweet and share all of the bands’ accomplishments, and create special hashtags to make sure their favorite groups are constantly trending and at top of mind.

I’m imagining a complete takeover of that category one day because K-pop groups inspire cult-like devotion and loyalty. I started this blog, in part, to figure out why that is. It just confounds me because don’t have a follower mentality and would be the least likely to fall prey to any cult or cult figure, but I became totally caught up in this culture. My friends know this is so not me. My feeling about anything popular is normally to run in the opposite direction because I associate the popular, the hive mindset, as being indicative of the lowest common denominator. But in this case, the legion of BTS and K-pop followers are the ones woke.

BTS struggled for five years before breaking through to popular and critical acclaim, Because of the hardship they endured, up until early this year, they considered disbanding.

In this day and age, when we’re all connected online, the fandoms wield immense power. That’s why BTS routinely thanks their Army of followers for helping to propel them forward. You don’t get that heartfelt sense of gratitude from Western artists who, once they become famous, seem to instead feel a sense of entitlement. There is little to inspire loyalty there.

The various music award committees know how sizable BTS’s audience is, and fans cynically believe that many award shows have nominated them for so-called booby, or popularity, prizes, just to gain an audience, rather than taking them seriously for music awards.

This year marks a turning point. Even if they manage only to get their feet in the door and don’t take home the top prize this year, no doubt they’ll be back next year for their work on “Map of the Soul: Persona.” That album won’t be released until April 12, but based on the comeback trailer, I have a good feeling about it.

GOT7 is also nominated, and the three groups nominated for Billboard’s Top Social Award come from three different entertainment companies in South Korea. GOT7 is from one of the Big Three companies, JYP Entertainment. EXO is from Big Three SM Entertainment. BTS is represented by Big Hit Entertainment, which, until this spring’s Tomorrow X Together (TXT) debut,
was only representing BTS.

April brings new releases from Chen and BTS

By Nadine Kam I

I’ve been waiting for April to get here. It’s an exciting month for Kpop, if you happen to stan BTS, set for another record-breaking year with the debut of a new concept following the group’s phenomenally successful “Love Yourself” trilogy that started with “Love Yourself: Her” in September 2017, leading up to “Love Yourself: Tear” in May 2018, and “Love Yourself: Answer” in August 2018.

Already, fans are trying to decode the messages behind “Map of the Soul: Persona,” based on the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who divided the psyche into the conscious and unconscious—the persona, or image of ourselves that we present to the world, vs. our shadow selves, the hidden anxieties, repressed thoughts and unpleasant memories we try to bury and hide from the world and ourselves.

BTS’s music and videos are always full of references to art, history and philosophy, linked to their experiences and personal battles. No matter how far we progress, human beings are destined to live through the same torments, trials and tribulations as every individual since the beginning of human existence. We learn and grow only through the firsthand process of experiencing joy, fear, sadness, pain, that no one can escape. In illuminating their own experiences, good and bad, they aim to provide comfort by suggesting no one endures these battles alone.

BTS Map of the Soul Persona concept image 4
This is Big Hit’s Concept Image 4 for BTS’s “Map of the Soul: Persona.”
At the top of the page is Concept Image 1.

The group’s agency Big Hit Entertainment teased fans with the tantalizing release of four sets of concept photos that have the boys showing the bright personas they present to the world, then later dripping with jewels and holding up bunches of grapes and fruit. The first image has Taehyung with a serpent bracelet, perhaps a suggestion of forbidden fruit and the eternal battle against temptation as they become more successful?

Taehyung in “Map of the Soul: Persona” Concept 4.

I am so excited for this release that I imagine will be the group’s most mature work to date.

“Map of the Soul: Persona” drops April 12, and to make sure it gets attention beyond the BTS Army stateside, the group will perform on “Saturday Night Live” on April 13.

Here’s DKDKTV’s analysis of the pending release if you have time for a psychology lesson.


?: Chen’s “Beautiful Goodbye,” his first solo effort beyond K-drama OSTs

Also this month comes the first solo mini album, “April and a Flower,” from Chen (Kim Jongdae) of EXO.

He is one of the best singers in the industry and the first song and MV to be released is a tear-jerker, “Beautiful Goodbye.”

He sings with so much emotion, and I’m so glad he can get this recognition outside the nine-member group.

It’s still unusual for K-pop band members to make solo recordings because Korean society values group endeavors that build camaraderie and community, as opposed to the strong individualistic culture of the West.

This has long been his dream. While other members of EXO pursue film, television and modeling jobs, Chen is dedicated to music, and this path toward a solo career was already cleared at SM Entertainment by the successes of SHINee’s Taemin and the late Jonghyun.

Jonghyun’s birthday is coming up April 8, and I am hoping to commemorate it in a special way.

Dance Diary: IU’s ‘BbiBbi’

By Nadine Kam I

On Jan. 19, 2019, in our beginner K-pop class, we danced part of IU’s “BbiBbi.” It’s a cute, lazy-looking dance that actually sends a serious warning to gossips and haters.

Her greeting, “Hello stup-I-D,” refers to the anonymous trolls hiding behind made-up IDs to leave hateful messages for their targets online.

In her gestures in the dance she draws a line that should not be crossed and wards off haters with a yellow card, referring to warnings used in soccer games.

I really like the strength she shows in singing this song. Korean entertainers are subject to a lot of scrutiny and nasty criticism for everything from the way they dress to the smallest of so-called infractions that veer from the mean.

They are constantly apologizing for any behavior that results in criticism, so it’s nice to see IU stand up for herself, because Korean society is particularly hard on women they expect to conform to a strict code of feminine behavior and appearance. Through this song, she shows she’s no one’s easy target.

IU’s music video

IU’s dance practice

Dance diary: 8 secs of SHINee’s ‘Lucifer’

By Nadine Kam I

On a previous dance post I talked about SHINee’s “Everybody” and the robotic, mechanical movements of dubstep.

On Jan. 13, we revisited SHINee, but this time going back to the year 2010 and “Lucifer” choreography incorporating tutting, stylized hand movements associated with the rendering of human figures in ancient, hence the “King Tut” reference.

Our limbs don’t naturally form those poses, so the gestures require a lot of mind-body coordination, and it’s difficult to perform them cleanly and clearly at the high speed of K-pop dance. I continue to be amazed by how fast the moves are when performing them vs. simply watching, when they seem like they have all the time in the world to make those moves.

Which is why, after an hour, we only learned this 8-second bit. I was sad that we didn’t get to do the much easier iconic part of the dance that involves the spreading index fingers and the electric shock move, but I’m always happy to dance SHINee if it helps to keep Jonghyun’s legacy alive.

? Watch: The whole MV

From left in both videos, Key, Onew, Taemin, Jonghyun and Minho.

? Watch: SHINee’s dance practice