They’re baaack: BTS’s self-reflective ‘Map of the Soul: 7’ is breathtaking

By Nadine Kam I

A shot of a 19-year-old woman from Waipahu is one of the first we see in closeup in the new BTS “On” Kinetic Manifesto Film: Come Prima” music video.

She’s Sienna Lalau, a choreographer from The Lab who now resides in L.A. and was also responsible for coming up with the whiplash choreography for BTS’s “Dionysus” and the J-Hope and Becky G collaboration “Chicken Noodle Soup.”

BTS’s “On” choreography was created by 19-year-old Sienna Lalau, from Waipahu, who also appears in the music video.

This time there were many more moving parts as the boys fronted an army of 30 backup dancers and the Blue Devils drum and bugle corps who created a martial vibe for the anthemic song, filling the role of a marching band that, on the recording, was performed by musicians from the UCLA Bruins marching band.

So, are you ready for another BTS takeover of the media? Every release brings a flood of reports from, not only music publications and websites, but the likes of Time and Forbes magazines, the L.A. and New York Times, the Washington Post, the U.K.’s Guardian and Telegraph, and many, many more newspapers and magazines, including many a fashion bible such as Vogue.

This video is so fierce, there were many times that I forgot to breathe,
especially at the dance break.

They already appeared on “The Today Show” on Friday morning, and this is their late-night schedule this week:

Monday, Feb. 24
“The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”: The BTS Special will have them enjoying quintessential New York, from Katz’s Delicatessen, to the subways to Grand Central Terminal, where they will perform “On,” the lead song for their latest full album release, “Map of the Soul: 7.” How they managed to takeover the always-busy train station is beyond me. At 10:30 p.m. Hawaii time.

Tuesday, Feb. 25
“The Late Late Show with James Corden”: During their last appearance of the show, they recorded a carpool karaoke segment. No doubt they’ll be singing some songs off their latest release, but question is, will James be singing the Korean lyrics, or just sticking to English? At 11:30 p.m. Hawaii time.

This comeback is an important one and the number 7 is significant as a representation of the number of members, the 7th anniversary of their debut, and marking their rise from rags to international stardom. The album may also be their last as a septet because the oldest, Jin (Kim Seek-Jin) will turn 28 this year, the tail end of the mandatory age of enlistment for the South Korean military.

👁: Some background on the recording of “On”

While continuing their use of positive messaging, the album is certain to be an emotional roller coaster for ARMYs because of its autobiographical nature, recounting their story since coming together as a group, which every fan knows was not an easy road. In spite of the appearance of seeming overnight success they achieved in the west, it was not the case in South Korea where they were reviled in the underground rap scene, attacked by mainstream K-pop fans and endured so much that up until two years ago, they had considered disbanding. To this date, the average South Korean does not know who they are.

There is a lot of reference to pain and shadows that early on, they had no coping mechanism to deal with, save for their own isolated camaraderie. They have since come to accept that it was those hard times and those experiences that shaped who they are today, their message to fans being that—knowing everyone goes through hard times—you can face the worst scenarios and come out stronger if you refuse to give up.

It’s a story that resonates with millions of fans around the globe and helps to explain the group’s international stardom.

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.