Nizi Project audition for girl group coming to Honolulu

By Nadine Kam I

In pursuit of growth, the South Korean entertainment industry is increasingly looking overseas to create global-oriented groups to sing in the language of their native countries. Now JYP Entertainment (Twice, 2PM, GOT7, Stray Kids, Itzy) is coming to Hawaii to host auditions for its next girl group, a Japanese-oriented act and TV show to be created in collaboration with Sony Music.

Auditions for the Nizi (meaning “rainbow”) Project will take place in Japan (Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka) and Okinawa this summer, before ending in Honolulu Aug. 8 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Hotel, and Los Angeles Aug. 11 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. The application deadline for the U.S. auditions is 5 p.m. Aug. 1. To apply, visit http://niziproject.com and fill out the “Entry” form.

👁 Watch: J.Y. Park talks introduces the Nizi Project

During the auditions of females ages 15 to 22, 20 people will be selected for six months of training which will be filmed for a reality show airing in October 2019. More important than singing and dancing ability (though potential will be weighed) is fluency in the Japanese language. The final group lineup will be revealed in April 2020 with a tentative debut scheduled for late 2020.

The success of JYP’s Twice set the template for a “glocalized” group comprising members from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan who perform mostly in Japan in the Japanese language.

Nizi Project is similar to JYP’s recent Chinese boy group debut Boy Story, which involved the agency collaborating with TME and Tencent to create the pre-teen boy group.

The project, part of JYP founder J.Y. Park’s (really, all of K-pop leaders) “Globalization by Localization” strategy, is causing controversy at home.

Koreans sensitive to the fragile political relationship between South Korea and Japan are asking why would a girl group that consists of Japanese members singing in Japanese be called K-Pop when the genre implies songs are written in the Korean language. This argument will be coming up more and more as the K-pop industry pushes into the rest of Asia, Southeast Asia and even America, with homegrown, non-Korean talent.

We in the Zone debuts with Hawaii member Eson

By Nadine Kam I

Hawaii is blessed with artistic and musical talent. Per capita, we have more people who make a living from the arts than in most states. I recently researched this for another article I was writing about the Hawaii State Art Museum and found Hawaii ranked No. 6 among states on the National Endowment for the Arts 2005 report—the only time the study was made—of artists per percentage of the population, at 84.1 artists per 10,000 people. Topped ranked New York has 101.1 artists per 10,000 people.

Part of it comes from living in a melting pot culture of people from all around the world. When at a loss for words, people who came together on the plantations and city of Honolulu in the late 1800s to early 1900s found they could communicate through song, dance and pictorial language.

With visionary leaders and training centers, I could imagine once having the opportunity for Hawaii music to reach the status of K-pop in the world. Well, we don’t have that, but we do have talented youths and inevitably, some would cross the ocean to make it in K-pop.

Following in the footsteps of Bekah Kim (After School) and Huening Kai (TXT), the latest K-pop star from Hawaii is Eson (Jason) a rapper, songwriter from Choon Entertainment’s We In The Zone. The group just released a mini debut album that includes the fun title song, “Let’s Get Loud.”

Eson is the group’s leader, joined by bandmates Joo An, (Im Ji Myoung), Min, Yoon Kyeong Hoon and Kim Shi Hyun, who was formerly part of “Produce 101” season 2 and Under Nineteen.

👁 🎧 You can watch the video here:

All eyes on ‘Produce X 101’ for next K-pop sensation

By Nadine Kam I

For every K-pop success story like BTS there are dozens of groups that never make it.

Even BTS had a rocky start, struggling for years in South Korea, as a hybrid rap-idol group that drew criticism from both sides, being considered too glossy to be taken seriously in the rap underground, yet too ugly to be idols.

Lucky for them they were from a small start-up agency, Big Hit Entertainment, that had little to fall back on, and whose founder/producer had a bigger vision of redefining what an idol could be. A larger agency might have cut its losses after one or two years without giving the group a chance to prove themselves and grow an audience.

The large number of groups that never make it suggest that for all the scouting and training the entertainment companies do, they are at the whim of a fickle public, so one template for band creation is to simply let the public decide. If the public votes members into a group, the assumption is they will form a loyal fanbase around that group.

You can watch this concept in action with the latest “Produce 101,” this time with an “X” attached to denote that mysterious X-factor that eludes producers and talent managers, but captures an audience’s heart. The series started airing on MNET four weeks ago but don’t worry if you have to play catchup. The process of whittling down the 101 candidates to 11 to create the next big boy band is a slow one.

It was much more manageable on “YG Treasure Box,” when 29 candidates from YG Entertainment’s Korea and Japan training centers competed for spots on what would eventually become the 13-member group Treasure, and sub-unit Magnum.

It was fairly easy to get to know all 29 Treasure competitors within the first episode. This time it’s much harder to get to know them because not all of them have been getting screen time. It’s only now that they just completed their first group performance covering famous K-pop bands that I am beginning to see their individual talent and potential.

One of my early picks is Kim Yo Han, right, who has a look similar to Treasure’s Ha Yoon Bin. They are considered extremely handsome by South Korean idol fans. In the West they are probably considered ordinary. International fans and Korean fans are often at odds when it comes to survivor show outcomes.

Going into this, I knew I didn’t want to get overly invested in the candidates because I became super angry and agitated while watching “Treasure Box.” The sad part of these shows is that if you become attached to any of the trainees who don’t make it, you may never see them again. I didn’t want to feel that way again, but I was curious to see who is out there because past “Produce” shows have resulted in popular hit-making acts such as iZ*one and Wannaone.

Before the show even started airing, videos of all the competitors were placed online so that people could get to know the candidates and start picking their favorites, usually one or two. One of my friends went as far as picking his Top 10. I told him I would do the same, but after watching about six videos I realized that there was no way you could gauge their full talent. Some sang, some danced, and some just showcased their personalities; it wasn’t an even measure, so I stopped and waited for the season to begin.

Yun Seo Bin got the boot for high school bullying. Former classmates snitched and revealed photos of him smoking and drinking as well. That is not idol behavior. He was also kicked out of JYP because the agency set a strict code of conduct for its artists.

I knew only three of the candidates going into the series because they were part of “YG Treasure Box.” One of them, Lee Mi Dam, left that competition and company because the pressure was too intense for him, so I was shocked to see him back for another survival show with even more competition than from within his agency, which he left to join the Aap.y agency. The other two are from Japan and Taiwan, respectively Hidaka Mahiro and Wang Jyun Hao. I think both are too green to go very far although Jyun Hao has the brightest smile and that counts for something.

In the beginning, the other competitors were intimidated by the YG, SM and JYP presence, but they quickly found the SM candidates came from their modeling agency and didn’t have much musical ability, and JYP’s candidate Yun Seo Bin was not only kicked off the show but kicked out of the agency when he was found to have been a bully in high school, a character flaw unforgivable to the South Korean viewers. I didn’t like the way he challenged Mi Dam for the No. 1 chair so wasn’t surprised by the bullying accusation.

I’m still not overly invested in the competitors the way I was with Choi Hyun Suk and Keita Terazono in “Treasure Box.” It’s not wise to do so because in the process, I found out that my international taste and the South Korean taste in visual and ability really differs. The South Koreans prefer a really doughy, soft look in their idols. I prefer sexy cute. And when it comes to their behavior, I don’t know what it is but the people I like turn out to be the ones that the Koreans really hate!

In profile, Kim Min Seo’s look is similar to BTS’s Kim Taehyung.

That being said, during episode four I finally took note of a couple of people who stood out. One is Kim Min Seo from the Urban Works agency (note there is another Kim Minseo in the show), who went blond for “Produce.” His voice is amazing, clear as a bell and as pretty as an angel’s. From certain angles, his look reminds me of BTS’s Kim Taehyung. I think it was probably a mistake for him to go blond; I think he would have more appeal to the Koreans with dark hair. But he would stand out to an international audience as a blond. At any rate, I think he is a one-of-a-kind talent, but I’m not sure he will get enough votes to win because his visuals are so different from what the Koreans would vote for.

The second one who stood out is Kim Yo Han, a taekwondo elite student who gave up a scholarship and career in the martial arts for a chance at idol stardom. He considers himself a singer, but is turning out to also be a pretty good rapper. He actually stood out in audition as well, but his dancing ability was questioned. What also got my attention is that he is a ringer for YG’s Ha Yoon Bin, who I am well familiar with because he was the one the Koreans wanted in place of my Choi Hyun Suk in Treasure (both made it). 

Yo Han has the visuals that the South Korean fans love so I’m sure he’ll go far as long as he doesn’t mess up any performance.

👁 🎧 Watch: Kim Min Seo performs Nu’est’s “DejaVu” with his team

I will try to lock in my top 10 next week, although it’s just an exercise that doesn’t attempt to pick who will win. That would be a totally different list. I generally know my picks will be longshots because my international taste varies so much from the Korean point of view. But it’s fun to think what a band I would assemble would look like.

As for that 11th place in the show, it’s reserved for that person who might be overlooked by the judges throughout the season, but one who possesses that mysterious X-factor loved by the public. It’s the only way to explain how someone like Lee Eugene is already so popular with public voters, though he hasn’t shown any special skill. He is already recognized as an actor in South Korea, but has little talent for singing or dancing. Maybe the training they are getting will pay off. I don’t know whether voters really like him or are just familiar with his name.

The Koreans also love Jellyfish Entertainment’s Kim MinGyu because they think he is so handsome, but I don’t agree. On top of that, he has very little musical talent, but they are voting for him.

👁 🎧 Watch: Kim Yo Han performs NCT U’s “BOSS” with his team

The other 10 spaces will be decided by a mix of judges’ votes and viewer votes. New episodes air on MNET Friday nights (Thursdays in the United States).

👁 Watch: Kim Yo Han’s first ranking audition with judges

Top photo: Wannaone, top of page, was formed via “Produce 101.” The group had only a one-year contract under the show’s terms, and disbanded earlier this year.

Happy 11th anniversary SHINee!

By Nadine Kam I

The 11th anniversary of SHINee should be a joyous time, but being new to the K-pop and Shawol community, the two anniversaries since I came on board last year have been bittersweet occasions.

Last year, it was about marking the milestone 10th anniversary—forever for a K-pop group, many of whom struggle to debut or survive more than five years—without Jonghyun, who killed himself on Dec. 18, 2017. In spite of their mourning, the rest of SHINee—Onew (Lee Jin-ki), Choi Minho, Key (Kim Kibum) and Lee Taemin—came back strong, delivering a healing “Story of Light” trio of mini albums plus an Epilogue, which channeled their grief into several songs in memory of Jonghyun.

“1 of 1” era SHINee, from left, Onew, Taemin, Jonghyun, Key and Minho.

The strongest of these was “Our Page,” in which the members’ shared their thoughts and love for Jonghyun. The lyrics reflect their feelings about a relationship that continues until the last page of their story is written. In their words they sing: 

“Can you feel it? 
We’re connected
By our hearts that are transparent like invisible string
When I stand again on the road we walked on together
There are five overlapping hands, tears and memories
It’s so clear, I don’t want to forget, I can’t forget.
We are facing each other, we are still the same, we’re still the boys who are dreaming.
The pretty words you left behind become a poem, become a song.
Our voices are flying, we know it’ll reach you wherever you are.
If a star vanishes, well everything be forgotten?
I’m holding the precious you in my arms. I want to fill the pages of the story that isn’t over until the very end.”

I made a compilation video that features the song to share their origin, the hard-work ethic that have them practicing in all conditions so that they became considered the most stable live vocalists in K-pop, and their growth from green boys to men who command the stage. For Shawol, SHINee will always number five.

This year feels empty because Onew, Minho and Key have started their mandatory 21-month service with the South Korean military. Its leaves only the youngest, Taemin, on the outside to pursue his solo career while guarding and promoting SHINee’s legacy. One of my friends was in Japan recently and sent me a text saying SHINee was on television there. She’s not into K-pop, so didn’t know his name is Taemin because he was identified in captions only as SHINee.

SM Entertainment is marking the occasion with an exhibition, “SHINee Day — ‘You’re my word, my sentence, my entire language!’’ that went on view May 23 and will be up through June 2 at the SM Entertainment Celebrity Center in Seoul, at 423, Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu. I’m not able to make it but I hope others will go if they have the chance.

👁 🎧 Watch: The debut stage

👁 🎧 Seven years later Jonghyun and Key became emotional singing this song


School of K-pop & J-pop at University of Hawaii-Manoa

By Nadine Kam I

Never in my life did I dream that K-pop would be a subject worthy of college level study, but why not for the politics, history, psychology or sociology student who wants to know how popular culture shapes a society, or the business or economics student who wants to know how a multibillion dollar industry was built from nothing? Which is where K-pop was in 1992 when Seo Taiji and the Boys took to the Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. stage on April 11 with their hiphop act and lost the evening’s music competition but won enough fans to change the way music is made in Korea.

It was only five years after South Korea became a democracy, and people were finally free to emulate their Western counterparts regarding music and fashion. Prior to that, they had lived under autocratic rule similar to North Korea today, where personal freedom was limited and little things like hair lengths and skirt lengths were strictly regulated.

While Seo Taiji and the Boys took their cues from American hiphop, others flocked to J-pop, and within a year after democracy was established, 10 percent of all music sold in Korea was J-pop. One of the “boys” was Yang Hyun Suk who would later found YG Entertainment, one of the Big Three agencies in South Korea, who professor Jayson Makoto Chun now compares to Darth Vader, having gone to the dark side as someone who once fought for creative freedom, but stifles his own artists.

“ASAN 464: K-pop and J-Pop: Korean and Japanese Popular Music and Society,” led by Drs. Patrick Patterson and Chun, grew out of their respective interest and research into the worlds of J-pop and K-pop. They joined forces because they said there can be no discussion without knowing the countries’ intertwined histories.

Seo Taiji and the Boys: From left Yang Hyun Suk, Seo Taiji and Lee Juno are credited as the pioneers of contemporary South Korean music. After breaking barriers, Yang, who went on to form YG Entertainment, is now accused of having crossed over to the dark side, with full control over his artists.

It made me thank back to a post from last year after BTS appeared at the Grammy Awards show. I remember one commentator wrote of one of their videos rocking out to Dolly Parton’s performance, “Those are the whitest guys I’ve ever seen. That’s what colonialism gets you.”

On the one hand, I was angry about the snarky comment, but at the same time I had to acknowledge that K-pop is essentially American or Western music sung in the Korean language. The course is driving home this point even more as Chun raised the question: “What is Korean about K-pop?” pointing out that most of the songs are written by Swedish or American songwriters; their dances are created by American or Japanese choreographers; their training system is modeled after the J-pop system; and these days group members are increasingly coming from the United States, Thailand, Japan, China and Taiwan as they seek out the best and brightest who may no longer be in South Korea.

Twice members hail from Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. Their look and sound was created to appeal to a Japanese audience, so we were asked what is K-pop about them?

It’s a question that will come up more and more as the Korean music industry itself tries to stay ahead of the pack and are moving into other countries, hoping to replicate the K-pop formula with homegrown talent in countries across Asia and the rest of the world, including this country as SM Entertainment prepares to launch a second Girls’ Generation with American talent to sing in English, and a second NCT comprising Europeans.

Obviously, they have the know-how to create and train groups in countries such as Indonesia or Thailand that don’t have the infrastructure to grow and market their regional talent.

I’ve often thought this about Hawaii, where we have a lot of people with innate musical ability, but lack the vision and training centers to create superstars. Someone like Bruno Mars had to go it alone and blaze his own trail, but what if we had studios connected to L.A. producers who could identify and work with talent from a young age? Mars (born Peter Gene Fernandez) at least had an advantage in having been trained in stagecraft by his musician father.

But the whole idea of the K industry looking elsewhere for talent has me worried about the future of K-pop and Koreans who want to enter the business as the market will become saturated with singing, dancing boys and girls from every country, speeding the decline of this style of music as the audience grows weary of it and moves on to the next big thing.

The overall purpose of the class is to learn the ways the Koreans have managed to hack our brains as we decode the workings of an industry that is shaping the way all music is made.

Professor Patterson compared it to a baseball field in which one action sets every player on the field into action. Although in the scheme of things, BTS is not as big in terms of record sales in America as the perception may be because of their constant news presence, all industry eyes are on them to see what they will be doing next and to crack the code to their success. You can bet there are people hard at work now to reverse-engineer their music and marketing methods to find out why they have managed to captivate so many, irregardless of gender, sexual identity, race and age.

During an earlier talk to raise interest in the course, Chun suggested that suffering is a crucial component of K-pop because fans identify with the struggle and the fact that the group members continue to work hard even after they become successful, unlike their Western counterparts, who often adopt a decadent lifestyle and feeling of entitlement. In contrast, every K-pop star knows he or she can replaced any second by someone younger and more talented. As trainees, they compete every day and are role models for a generation sick of the childish behavior exhibited by our politicians and other adults around them. American adults talk about morals and values but display none of the traits they idealized. On the other hand, K-pop stars are generally trained to act like model citizens as they are sent as ambassadors of South Korea abroad. Fans often call them princes because of the elegance they project abroad.

Another reality is that South Korea is still a relatively poor country and in rural areas, a family’s well-being can rest entirely on their child, which is why they can sign them to slave contracts. It’s why the kids feel incredible pressure to perform well, and adds to their feelings of disappointment and shame when they are unable to debut.

When Chun asked us whether we would have been willing to sign our lives away at age 11, it’s funny only me and the other musician in class raised our hands. “Seven years is not that long,” I whispered to my friend. At their age it covers “wasted” time in junior and high schools.

I already know what it’s like to suffer for one’s career and stick it out for the long haul. I feel like I would have been tough enough, though after watching some of the survival shows I feel as if I—like so many of them—would be crying after every evaluation. It all drives the feeling of empathy and compassion we feel toward them. It was already pointed out in class that after one of our class members related one of the difficulties of her high school years, we sympathized and liked her more.

The same is true of the K-pop bands we stan. The fans are always there to offer up an encouraging rallying cry of “Fighting!” “Save him!” or “Protect him!” when we see them enduring hardships or taunts from other fandoms. Just today there were anti-fans trying to spread the hashtag “TaehyungleaveBTS,” calling him ugly and talentless. Of course Army fought back.

And there’s a reason EXO’s catchphrase is “We are one.” Fans and stars, we are all fighting for their success together, and that makes for an unbreakable bond.

Dance diary: Red Velvet ‘Russian Roulette’

By Nadine Kam I

Did Red Velvet’s “Russian Roulette” twice, once back on March 2 through Star Fitness, and the second time May 11 with Hawaii Dance Bomb at Paradise Park. I went there because I had a feeling she would be teaching BTS “Boy With Luv,” but I was wrong. She had already done it in an earlier class. Oh well. I’m not especially fond of girl songs, and you can kind of see it in my bored expression in the first video.

I often talk about dance as being a mental a game. We don’t even realize how many mental blocks we have until we start something new like this, that puts the focus on our bodies. There are the initial body hangups, and for non-dancers, the embarrassment of being looked at and most certainly, judged. It’s a lot to overcome. It took about 2 months until I decided I could be filmed, and once I looked at said film, I went underground for another three or four months until I happened to take classes from a teacher who would not allow us to escape the scrutiny. Her rationale was that if we were to ever dance in public, we had to grow accustomed to eyeballs, activity around us, cameras and other distractions that could faze us.

As much as I hated looking at those early videos, I did see where I needed a lot of improvement, including amping up the energy level. In dance, if you are giving 100 percent, you look like you’re walking through a park, so you really have to put in 200 percent energy to look like you’re dancing.

Beyond the physical limitations of being a non-dancer, there was more mental difficulties. Dancing requires acting and I am a terrible actress. If I don’t like something, I can’t pretend I do. And I found I really dislike cutesy girl K-pop dances. I just don’t like to project cute because I happen to be short, and all my life “short” has been associated with “cute,” and I have fought that image since I was 5 years old. I always wanted to be perceived as strong and tough, especially in my field of journalism.

Well, K-pop generally sees women two ways, cute or sexy, and when it comes to the sexy dances, it’s hard to project because I don’t view myself as sexy either! So it’s really hard to get into those characters. When we’re doing cute dances, I watch the videos and everyone is smiling and acting cute, and I’m the only one with bitch face.

Luckily, there’s a new generation of girls fighting both images to project strength and sass, so that works for me. For that reason I enjoy doing the boy dances, but when you look at cover dances, most of the dancers tend to pick the girl dances because they look good solo. The boy dances are made to be performed in a group with a lot of formations, so can be weird to dance alone, though I saw one guy do “Fake Love” solo.

Overcoming mental blocks is harder than learning choreography, and there’s definitely something about movement that doesn’t click with me in the same way that it was difficult for me to learn how to play the drums via lessons. It was only when I quit lessons and got off sheet music and started playing with other musicians after a year that it clicked and I was able to play. I am waiting for such a breakthrough with dance.

Meanwhile, there is interesting research going on regarding dancing and the brain, and how it is the one activity that is proving to stave off mental decline and manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

You can read more about dance and brain here:

https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/dancing-and-brain

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201805/the-powerful-psychological-benefits-dance

Dance diary: BTS ‘Dope’ and ‘Not Today’

By Nadine Kam I

In beginner K-pop dance class, we did BTS back-to-back on Feb. 16 and 23, “Dope” and “Not Today” on the respective dates.

Their dances are always energetic and fun. For that reason, more people tend to show up whenever BTS is being taught. That’s how I ended up not appearing in my own video for “Dope,” because I didn’t check to see whether I was in the frame when I positioned myself. Usually the class is small so I stand in my usual spot, but this time I had to go to the far end. So I don’t know how I did. Even when it looks bad, the videos are a good tool for knowing what you did wrong, what you could do better, etc.

As much as I hated to be in class videos a year ago, by now I feel a little more comfortable and around this time started dressing up more for classes, knowing the teachers always want to have videos as part of resume building and to have something to share on social media.

The timing was good to post these in light of my recent post about BTS being a force for good in this world, using their platform to speak about societal issues and deliver hope to their ilpo, or give-up generation, a name given to the current generation of Korean youths who have given up on their dreams due to intense competition for higher education, a high unemployment rate. Without employment, one also gives up hope for marriage, children and home ownership, and with so much sacrificed, it’s a generation that has given up on having a better life than preceding generations.

These are the issues raised in “Dope,” as well as the anti-establishment “Not Today,” that includes lyrics: “A day may come when we lose / But it is not today / Today we fight!” pushing back against corporate and government corruption.

I really enjoy dancing their choreography because it’s fun, and while there are those highly stylized movements that are a signature of K-pop, there are not as much as other groups so you can enjoy more of the song’s vibe without worrying about a hundred small details!

👁 🎧 Watch BTS’s practice and MV

Yoongi and the Dodgers posts shed light on BTS’s power as a force for social change

By Nadine Kam I

The central idea behind Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Batman trilogy is that the Batman exists as a symbol of hope that allows people to wake up every morning in hope that today will be a little better, a little safer than yesterday. Symbols/ideas are important because they live on beyond an individual’s lifespan and transcend geography.

In the music world, BTS was created by Bang Si-hyuk, also known as “Hitman” Bang or PD Nim, to fulfill that need.

That might sound like hyperbole, but consider that Bang, who got his start within the idol-making machine, wanted to fix what he thought was wrong with K-pop. That is, the industry is built on blank slate talents that can adapt to any music trend, whether they like it or not, to serve the need of their puppet-master producers. The result is “artists” that have no control over the style or message of their music.

Bang worked as a songwriter and producer with one of the Big Three companies, JYP, until 2005. He was disillusioned by the lack of personal expression in the music and set out to establish a different kind of company, one willing to support individuals who could express themselves through their art and storytelling. This was the root of Big Hit Entertainment.

In 2010, he began to assemble a rap group reflecting youthful resilience, that he named Bulletproof Boy Scouts to express toughness needed to navigate modern life, along with strong moral character to be a source of sincerity and goodness lacking in public figures ranging from entertainers to politicians. In interviews, he said he thought of BTS as sympathetic role models or heroes for fans who don’t need someone dogmatically preaching at them from above, but is peer who shares similar trials and anxieties, who can empathize and offer words of support.

As underdogs in an industry that did not receive them well, BTS members did not shy from speaking their minds in songs ranging from “Not Today” to “Dope.” They spoke up for a generation that feels powerless in society, reflecting on a wide range of issues, from job insecurity to prejudice and human rights.

Even so, it was still hard for me to imagine BTS as a significant force for greater good. That is probably the cynical journalist in me, thinking that the world is doomed by a larger population of haters and bigots, who are fearful and close-minded, and don’t hesitate to drown out any voice of reason.

But what changed my mind about social change being possible for the next generation is the online exchange that followed Suga’s (Min Yoon-gi) appearance at a Los Angeles Dodgers game, while he was in town for concerts, to support South Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers posted a series of pictures of Suga at the game, that were picked up by ESPN’s social media channels. Harmless sharing, right?

But some sports fans responded with racist, sexist, xenophobic comments such as “Americans don’t like that crap, except pre teen girls,” and, “JUST Another rich Chinese kid,” which set Army into caption to shut down the haters.

I was heartened that Army, once again, was there to take a stand against the haters accustomed to drowning out other voices by sheer show of force and puffery. Clearly, BTS’s message is getting through to the 94,000 who appeared on ESPN’s Twitter page in defense of Suga, with messages like this one from @taeyeol_bts: “Bts teach to love yourself and accept yourself whatever you are. (Haters) please learn to respect and love yourself first. Then you can love and respect other people! I am Army who loves bts with all my heart. I’m proud of BTS.”

I’m proud of Army fighting hate by spreading BTS’s message of love and acceptance.

EXO military exodus starts with Xiumin

It’s been a hard year saying goodbye to some of the idols who introduced me to the world of K-pop. Between December and March, SHINee members Onew, Key and Minho, entered the South Korean military. It was comforting at least to know they all answered the call of duty to country at nearly the same time, making a possible comeback all the more sooner, just two years from now.

All South Korean men who pass physical and mental eligibility tests are required to spend 21 to 24 months in the military between the ages of 18 and 28. The Military Service Act calls for up to three years in prison for those who refuse to serve. South Korean military enlistment laws changed Aug. 1, 2018, cutting the maximum age a Korean male can delay mandatory service by two years to 28 instead of 30. Previously, men could delay enlistment for reasons such as attending graduate school, serving at the same time as a sibling, or being a ambassador for Korea promotions. Famously, Big Bang’s Seungri is delaying his enlistment due to continuing investigations regarding the Burning Sun scandal.

Chanyeol posted this image of Xiumin’s farewell May 7. Leaving in style, perhaps his last luxury for a long time.

I underestimated how sad it would feel because I wasn’t very empathetic when others talked about their groups being gone. I would think, “Oh well, they’re kind of over anyway.” But K-pop often leads to cultish behavior and the feeling of a personal relationship with a particular group because of the facade of constant access via live feeds, travelogues and other constant updates. On any day, you can just check VLive or Instagram to find out what the members are up to. So it really feels like the loss of friends.

Now, it is EXO-Ls’ turn to feel the loss. Xiumin was the first to leave for military service on May 7, and it will take much longer to see a full reunion soon because of their range of ages. For instance, with the return of Kyuhyun from the military just two days ago, it’s taken Super Junior nine years to fulfill their service and perhaps return as a full unit soon.

The need to enlist is considered a societal duty so when politicians floated the idea of exempting BTS from military service because of their valuable status as international cultural ambassadors, the backlash was swift. Even though BTS was not involved with this proposal, angry citizens started circulating petitions last year requesting that they disband because of perceived disloyalty to country who did not like the idea that they were perceived as superior to any other idol group. BTS members quickly responded that they would all serve, but the wound was revealed in their tears during the MAMA )Mnet Asian Music Awards) ceremony in Hong Kong in December. The eldest, Jin, will be 28 in Korean age next year and will likely have to enlist by early 2021.

Surrounded by his EXO family on his last day as a civilian.

People have been asking me what will become of EXO in the meantime, will they need to stop promoting and will they be able to make a comeback? I can’t predict the future, but in a radio interview, Chen said their contract with SM Entertainment has three years until expiration, taking us to 2022.

Moreso than most bands, EXO may be well-positioned for a comeback after service. For a long time, EXO, which debuted in 2012, has been considered the national group of Korea, recognized by the Korean government and serving as honorary Korea Tourism Public Ambassadors.

In the best-case scenario, Chinese member Lay (Zhang Yixing), who appears only occasionally with EXO, will return from his solo promotions in China to augment the group’s vocal, rap and dance lines as he is skilled in all three areas. I am not sure he will do this because he is very ambitious and has some momentum with his solo career. Without him, they may have some trouble in 2020-21, when their main vocals are gone. Although China also has a mandatory military service policy, it has not been implemented since 1949. Because of the country’s large population, it has been able to rely on volunteers. 

Journalists are not known to be good at math, but I have tried to figure this out. Here’s a list of the members birthdays and a possible timeline of members’ enlistment based on their ages, and how it might affect the group’s ability to promote. 

Xiumin (Kim Min Seok): Born March 26, 1990, age 29 (Korean age is one year older, which would make him 30 overseas); vocalist, dancer, rapper.

Suho (Kim Jun Myeon): Born May 22, 1991; leader, lead vocal. He will be 28 by year’s end, so he will go by end of the year or possibly extend into early 2020. He will already be 29 in Korean age.

Lay (Zhang Yixing): Born Oct. 7, 1991, 27; main dancer, vocalist. Korean service law does not apply to him, but he rarely performs with the group.

Lay Zhang, right, who attended the Met Gala on May 6, is the wild card as an EXO member primarily promoting his own work in China and the United States. Whether he will take time off from his solo projects to fill in the group during lean years is a question mark. I think he would do it on a minimal basis, but cannot stop his own work while he has some momentum.

Baekhyun (Byun Baek Hyun): Born May 6, 1992; main vocal. Most fans have been calculating that the ’92 liners won’t enlist until 2021, but with the new age change I am thinking that they will also have to enlist by the end of 2020.

Chen (Kim Jong Dae): Born Sept. 21, 1992; main vocal

Chanyeol (Park Chan Yeol): Born Nov. 27, 1992; rapper, sub-vocal.

D.O. (Do Kyung So): Born Jan. 12, 1993, should be going in 2021.

Kai (Kim Jong In): Born Jan. 14, 1994; main dancer, visual, center, rapper. The ’94 liners should be going in 2022.

Sehun (Oh Se Hun): Born April 12, 1994; lead dancer, visual, rapper. 

If they follow this timeline they will be able to reunite as a full group in 2024, five years from now. Depending on the group’s promotional capability without certain members, some of the members might decide to enlist earlier to reduce the group’s hiatus period. In the best case scenarios, those born toward the end of the year may be able to push their enlistment to early the following year.

A shaven Xiumin.

2019
Seven members, missing Xiumin. Still able to promote well. Although he is a very good dancer, Sehun and Kai can capably fill this void. Xiumin considers himself  to not be the best singer or dancer in EXO, but has a strong presence and provides a vital supporting role that bolsters EXO’s group dynamic. Although he is the oldest, he looks like the youngest in the group and also has the role of “fake maknae,” bringing cuteness to the group’s appearances. The real maknae, Sehun, may have to step up his role in this regard.

2020
Best case scenario: Five members, missing Xiumin, Suho and Baekhyun. Vocals: D.O. and Chen
Rappers: Chanyeol, Sehun and Kai
Dance line: Sehun, Kai
In this case they will be missing one main vocalist, but may still be able to promote well with only Chen and D.O., with Kai, Sehun and Chanyeol contributing more vocals.

Worst case scenario: Three members; missing Xiumin, Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and Chanyeol. 
Vocals: D.O.
Rappers: Sehun and Kai
Dance line: Sehun, Kai
With two main vocalists gone and essentially only one vocal and two dancers outside, they probably won’t be able to promote EXO material. Perhaps they will tailor new material to remaining members. This could work if Lay were to take a more active role the next three years.

During his last concert with CBX in April, Xiumin performed “Don’t Go,” and expressed his desire to meet with fans again one day and requested that we wait for his return.

2021
Best case scenario: Five members. Xiumin will return in spring. Missing Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and Chanyeol. Lay fills in.
Vocals: Xiumin, D.O., Lay
Rappers: Sehun, Kai, Lay
Dance line: Sehun, Kai, Lay
This will give them two vocalists and two dancer/vocalists/rappers, which could sound good with new material tailored to their strengths.

Worst case scenario: Three members (Xiumin, Kai and Sehun) if D.O. leaves.
Vocals: Xiumin 
Rappers: Sehun, Kai
Dance line: Sehun, Kai
It may be impossible for them to promote as EXO, but perhaps Kai will try going Taemin’s (SM label mate and member of SHINee who is promoting solo while the other members are in the military) route as a solo dancer. I don’t know whether his vocals are strong enough to duplicate Taemin’s success. If Kai and Sehun were to leave this year, a year ahead of their mandatory time, the group would also be able to reunite a year earlier, in 2023.

2022
Best case scenario: Six members. Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and Chanyeol return. Missing D.O., Kai and Sehun. Lay fills in.
Vocals: Suho, Baekhyun, Chen, Xiumin, Lay
Rapper: Chanyeol, Lay
Dance line: Xiumin, Baekhyun, Chen, Lay

Worst case scenario: Three members. Suho and Baekhyun return. Missing Chen, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai and Sehun. 
Vocals: Xiumin, Suho, Baekhyun
Rapper: Xiumin
Dance line: Xiumin, Baekhyun
At this point they will have suitable vocals, but will be missing their main dancers, center and visuals. Perhaps they would be able to move forward with more vocal/acoustic style concerts.

Farewell little one, stay safe. We will wait for your return.

2023
Five members. Chen and Chanyeol return. Missing D.O. Kai and Sehun.
Vocals: Chen, Baekhyun, Xiumin, Suho
Rapper: Chanyeol
Dance line: Xiumin, Baekyun, Chen
They are starting to look like EXO again but missing main dancers. Again, Lay’s presence would help considerably, but Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin have proven themselves more than capable as subunit EXO-CBX.

2024
Full reunion with the return of the youngest, Kai and Sehun. At this point, Xiumin will be the oldest at 34.

In the worst scenarios, EXO may not be able to carry on with three members, but with four members they could pull it off if you consider what SHINee has done with only four members, three of whom are not as strong vocalists as most of EXO. In the meantime, I think we can try to be happy and enjoy most of EXO intact for the next two years. After that, it gets tricky for them to perform their material as is. Be strong EXO-Ls! Remember, as the chart below shows, Super Junior fans had it worse, waiting nearly a decade!


Dance Diary: Chung Ha ‘Gotta Go’

By Nadine Kam l

Skipped ahead to March 14, 2019, because I wanted to post this in honor of Xiumin, who danced a bit of Chung Ha’s “Gotta Go” as part of girl group dance medley to entertain fans during his “Xiuweetime” fanmeet May 4, prior to his May 7 departure for the South Korean military.

We danced this during beginner K-pop dance class. The video with Xiumin is followed by another segment featuring more of the dance.

This dance called for bringing out a little sexy, which is not really me. So this is part of the psychology of dance that I always talk about. It really calls for acting and embracing certain feelings, emotions and characteristics that one may not possess.

You have to will yourself to be sexy, strong, cute, whatever the dance calls for. Sometimes I’m really resistant, which makes it hard to perform well. I really hate cute dances because that’s so not me. I think of myself as a strong person and my preference is for strong male dances. When we do cute dances, everyone is always smiling, and I’m the only one who looks really grouchy and serious. I just cannot smile. So these dances really call for a strong will to overcome one’s prejudices and predilections, and embrace the choreography presented.

👁 🎧 The official music video: