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.

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:

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?

EXO’s second Hawaii photo book on the way

By Nadine Kam I

I thought the EXO in Hawaii chapter was over when the group’s photobook “PRESENT; gift” was released in April.

Now a second 204-page Hawaii photobook, “PRESENT; the moment” is set to be released on Sept. 10.

Chen and Suho inside Kaimuki Laundromat.

SM has already teased a handful of photos. The last outing featured picturesque destinations. The teased photos showed the more mundane, with Chen and Suho pictured inside humble Kaimuki Laundromat, and D.O., Sehun, Kai and Baekhyun standing prettily in silk lei on a residential street. Shades of “EXO Next Door!” If I knew they were on my street I would run out of the house.

I did get a friend’s shared picture when we just so happened to make ourselves useful by hand-delivering bento lunches to EXO while they were at Kualoa Ranch. Unfortunately, they couldn’t hang around because they were headed to Secret Island Beach, and as soon as we got there a staffer grabbed the lunches from us to load onto their boat.

There was only room for a small crew, so they left about 30 other crew members behind. As they were heading out, my friend took a few photos, and below is one of them. I like to say this was the first time my future husband Chen saw me waving him off. LOL!

EXO heads out to Secret Island Beach at Kualoa Ranch, Nov. 30, 2018.

It’s not like I’m a stalker; I just wanted to see what they look like, how tall they are IRL. D.O., Baekhyun and Chen are pretty short. I think they heighten in their bios. Otherwise they look the same as their photos. The only surprise was D.O. I don’t care much for his looks in 2D—of this group Chen is my bias; if you include Lay it would be Lay—but in 3D D.O.’s features just pop and he is really good-looking.

That said, the second book comes along just at the time EXO-Ls may be missing our EXO members in the military Xiumin and D.O., and this keeps them at the top of our thoughts.

Fall will be the battle ground for K-pop’s new supergroups

By Nadine Kam I

Because people know I listen to K-pop they often ask if I also watch K-dramas. I don’t because I’m afraid of getting hooked like I did with the music, because I really didn’t think that would happen.

My leanings were toward ’90s alt and metal so I actually didn’t find much to like on the American music scene in the post-grunge era. Since then I really only liked Jack White and … And You Will Know by the Trail of Dead. Not exactly precursors to K-pop.

I carried my anti stance into K-pop dance classes. Teachers were always curious to know which groups and songs we liked so they could tailor classes to our tastes.

“Whatever,” I’d always say. “I’m just here for exercise.” I didn’t know a single group or song. I found it odd that women my age would gush over groups of teenage boys. They were so fanatical and excitable. “Geez, K-pop lovers are a different breed,” I thought.

Then I became hooked and fell deep into the rabbit hole, so it’s not enough to know which groups are out there and which new song has been released. Now I follow trainees who have not even debuted, plus their companies, all the while trying to second guess their next moves and decisions, an endless chess game as companies strategize the optimal times to debut a group or release an album to beat the competition.

So, Korean dramas? I don’t need it. The world of K-pop is a living soap opera of real characters, raw emotions, heartbreak and immense tribulation, in other words, the kind of drama that hooks anyone who relates to these characters. I think I do because I sang in bands for about 5 years so I understand that strange desire to be on stage.

👁: X1 teaser

Anyway, the drama is really heating up as X1—the “nationally produced” group of 11 members voted in through the reality TV competition “Produce X 101″—prepares to debut Aug. 27 with a mini album, “Quantum Leap. “It’s exciting to see whether or not this band can top the accomplishments of
Wanna One, the last boy band produced in this series. Wanna One charted immediately and had several hits before disbanding when their contract ended after a year.

I was still fairly new to K-pop when they disbanded. I couldn’t believe that producers did not try to extend the contract for such a popular band. Now I realize that because of each member’s obligations to his own management company, such an extension is impossible. The different companies need their talent back to move forward with their own groups.

Because of Wanna One’s success, producers got smart and this time, members of X1 are signed for five years, 2-1/2 years promoting exclusively with X1, under Swing Entertainment management, and 2-1/2 years on joint basis when they will be able to promote with Swing plus their own management companies.

Their debut comes just as BTS is enjoying an expected two-month break from touring and media appearances. That clears the way for fans to cast their eyes elsewhere and X1 has a real mixed bag of types that different people will find appealing.

Usually groups have a uniform concept and members share a similar vibe. Because X1’s members were voted in (there’s continuing controversy over the legitimacy of the final tallies), half the members lean sexy and mature, the others are cute teens. All have their own charms, and fan bases built up through the show.

Interestingly, Billboard recently reported the group ranks at No. 6 on its social chart, without having released any music yet. Of course BTS has topped this chart for three years. Last year the group had competition from fellow Kpop groups GOT7 and EXO. Could it be time for a change, and could X1 be the group to topple the leaders? We’ll see!

>>>>>>>><<<<<<<

👁: Super M teaser

Not to be outdone, SM Entertainment is launching its own super group, Super M, comprising members of its already established male groups SHINee (Taemin), EXO (Baekhyun, Kai) and NCT (Taeyong, Mark, Ten and Lucas.

The group was formed in collaboration with Capitol Records, which likely eyed BTS’s success and wanted a shortcut to similar success. As I said in my previous post, K-pop is still a niche genre and it’s not likely for a typical group to gain the kind of following BTS amassed over six years. So Super M is counting on the combined fandom’s of SM’s three popular male bands to come together to support this supergroup.

Although there is negative feedback concerning SM’s overworking these members, I think they are all hard workers who love the limelight and would love a shot at winning over more Americans. Personally, I like the idea of these talented artists together and can’t wait to see what they will come up with to crack the U.S. market.

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

Starship Enterprise has been promoting its star trainees Ham Won Jin and Koo Jung Mo with some timely back-to-school imagery.

Another result of the fervor behind the trainees featured in “Produce X 101” is fans calling for the formation of a second group, comprising the remaining nine of the Top 20 finalists, who did not make the X1 lineup.
Fans have dubbed this group Be Your Nine (BY9), and most of the agencies have responded positively about considering it.

If this were to happen, BY9 could have success rivaling that of the winning 11 contestants in X1. But I have doubts BY9 will debut with the nine expected, because Up10tion’s Lee Jin Hyuk is on the path to a solo career, and three of the Starship Entertainment trainees—Ham Won Jin (16th ranked), Koo Jung Mo (12th ranked) and Moon Hyun Bin (32nd ranked)—will likely debut in their own group early next year.

Woollim Entertainment will launch its W Project 4 Sept. 2. The lineup, from left, Kim Min Seo, Lee Sung Jun, Kim Dong Yun, Hwang Yunseong, Lee Hyeop and Joo Chang Uk.

Striking while they are at the height of their “Produce” popularity, several other companies involved are debuting project releases by their trainees. Another of the biggest is Woollim, whose Hwang Yunseong finished in 18th place in “Produce,” qualifying him for BY9. But Woollim already confirmed his participation in its latest W Project lineup, along with other Woollim “Produce” trainees Kim Min Seo, Lee Sung Jun, Kim Dong Yun, Lee Hyeop (signed after “Produce” ended), and Joo Chang Uk. Woollim’s W Project 4 will launch Sept. 2.

Whether this “project” encompasses only a few singles, albums and music video releases, or a full debut band is unknown. If it is just on a project basis, conceivably Yunseong could promote with BY9 as well.

Others moving on are MyTeen’s Song Yu Vin and Kim Kook Heon whose company Music Works broke fans hearts with the news that MyTeen would be disbanded and Yu Vin and Kook Heon would be performing now as as a duo.

It’s interesting to see where all this will lead, but clearly, “Produce X 101” has been a major catalyst for getting name recognition for these artists who otherwise might have only gone on to be another face in a crowded field. The one drawback from the show is the ongoing investigation into voting fraud. Already, X1 has lost some sponsors who don’t want to be connected to members whose popularity may be in question because of the voting irregularities.

Super M: Avengers of K-pop coming to America

By Nadine Kam I

Everybody say “Yeah!” On Aug. 7, SM Entertainment formally announced the formation of Super M, a supergroup the company has dubbed “The Avengers of K-pop,” comprising a stellar lineup of SM stars from its established boy bands.

This supergroup, set to debut in October, will feature SHINee’s Taemin, EXO’s Baekhyun and Kai, and NCT’s Taeyong, Mark, Ten and Lucas (WayV). This is a crazy, crazy exciting lineup featuring multiple main dancers, vocalists, rappers and visuals. Wow!

It makes sense because there’s been a sort of “land grab” going on in the music industry as Western companies have finally awoken to the sizable following of K-pop around the globe, and all want a piece of the action. It’s not like they have the capacity to create their own groups so they are looking to Seoul to see who has the most potential to break through. First, Interscope signed a joint agreement with YG Entertainment to manage the global promotion of Black Pink, and this time Capitol Music Group and its independent label service Caroline announced their partnership with SME to promote Super M in the United States.

Members of Super M, top left to right, top to bottom: Taeyong, Mark, Lucas, Taemin, Ten, Baekhyun and Kai.

With BTS commanding so much attention over the past two years, this supergroup is just what SM needs to enter the American market in a meaningful way. Because, in spite of fans’ devotion, K-pop remains a niche market, and most groups are unable to sell out stadiums the way BTS has done. They need the power of many—like how KCON has been able to bring fans to L.A. and New York for concerts with diverse performances.

A lot of people assume people who say they like K-pop support many bands, but it is no different from American music lovers who really only love a couple of groups out of 100. A lot of BTS supporters will say they love K-pop, but really love only BTS. That’s because of the power of the fandoms that make people feel disloyal if they stan another rival group. The rivalry between BTS Army and EXO Exo-Ls is particularly intense, as big as the feud between the Montagues and Capulets of “Romeo and Juliet.”

👁 Check out the teaser for Super M!

By uniting the fandoms of SHINee, EXO and NCT, hopefully Super M will have the numbers needed to support a single act. Not to mention making the most profitable use (this is K-pop after all) of Taemin, Baekhyun and Kai before they are forced to enlist in the South Korean military in the next two years. It makes a lot of sense for Taemin because he is already promoting solo while the three other members of SHINee are serving their country over the next year-and-a-half. EXO’s lineup is also being slowly decimated as each member reaches the outer limit of service age.

The real biggie is that members of NCT 127 speak English. In SHINee, Key was the one English speaker. The others focused on speaking Japanese for the Japan market. EXO had no English speaker after losing its Chinese members, so it made it socially awkward when they tried to give interviews in this country when they could only say stuff like “Yeah,” “Come on man,” or just parrot the interviewer. It was painful to watch.

The move also will strengthen the recognition factor of relative newcomers NCT, guaranteeing a certain amount of fame so these members may also be able to strike out solo or do collaborative work with Western artists when Taemin, Baekhyun and Kai exit.

👁 Let’s see what Taemin has done on his own:

But the fandoms are fickle, and days ahead of the formal announcement, there was already a lot of negativity in the air, from worries about overworking the boys, to the need to promote their current groups better.

A lot of people have been saying that they wish Lee Taemin didn’t have to work so hard, but in his documentaries, his love for the stage is obvious, as well as his compulsion to work hard and further his career. Since his trainee days, he also has always wanted to be in the same group as his bestie Kai and as he reflected on his career during SHNee’s 10th anniversary promotions, he said that he initially did not want to join SHINee and always wondered what would have happened if he had debuted in EXO.

🎧 Let’s listen to NCT 127:


I think things worked out for the best. As a member of EXO, he might have been lost in that initial field of 12. With SHINee he got so much attention. So he can consider this his reboot. He must be so happy to be dancing alongside Kai again.

This push into the U.S. is necessary for the company as South Korea is now engaged in a trade war with Japan, stemming from grievances dating back to the Korean War.

Most recently, Japan targeted South Korea’s electronics industry, restricting the export of materials used in smartphones and chips, and removed South Korea from a list of countries granted preferential trade status. South Korea retaliated by launching a boycott of Japanese goods and services, ranging from cars, beer, travel and patronizing Japanese restaurants. The Associated Press reported that a recent survey showed 80 percent of South Koreans are reluctant to buy Japanese products.

👁 Here’s a Kai focus cam for “The Eve” (green shirt):

Tension between the two nations has been building over the past few years, and we already saw the anger directed toward BTS’s Jimin last fall when a photo of him wearing a Hiroshima atom bomb T-shirt in celebration of Korea Liberation Day resurfaced just before the group’s trip to Japan. A BTS TV appearance on a Japanese TV station was cancelled as a result.

Neither side shows any sign of backing down, and if the trade war intensifies over an extended period of time, it will likely have a negative impact on the K-pop industry. Currently, Japan represents 80 percent of the market for K-pop music. If Japan were to block import of K-pop music, merch and put a ban on concerts, Super M may truly be the Avengers who save SM.

I am really looking forward to seeing them together and seeing what they do come their debut in October.

My only prob is the name of this group. In the U.S., where they plan to promote, it’s gonna sound like sperm! That’s why I think all the Korean music agencies should hire me as an English language consultant. I could fix a lot of their mispronunciations when they’re singing! Some are cute but some are just painfully wrong.


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!


And the BBMA award for faux pas of the evening goes to … Sofia Carson

By Nadine Kam I

It was another history-making moment for BTS at the Billboard Music Awards 2019 on May 1, when they took home their first music prize in the United States, as Top Group, finally breaking that barrier as the first Korean group to do so. As expected, they also took home the Top Social Artist Award for the third year in a row, besting Ariana Grande, Louis Tomlinson, and fellow K-pop rivals EXO and GOT7. 

In the music category, they beat Dan + Shay and such heavy hitters as Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, and Panic! At The Disco. I had seen oddsmakers predict Imagine Dragons to win before the event took place so didn’t want to get my hopes up too high for BTS’s first shot at a music award in this country.

Naturally fans were thrilled, but beyond the two awards, the most talked about moment took place on the red carpet when actor Sofia Carson inserted herself into a photo of BTS. Carson is obviusly too unschooled in the world of K-pop to know she was playing with fire when she grabbed her moment in the spotlight, winning herself a flood of commentary from a livid Army who started to fill Twitter and her IG feed with angry messages. In the two languages I could understand, English and Spanish, the words that came up ran along the likes of describing her behavior as “gross,” “rude” and “disgusting,” with a lot accusing her of “clout chasing,” which doesn’t sit well with Army.

Here’s a link to a story and the video on Koreaboo: https://www.koreaboo.com/news/sofia-carson-gets-backlash-taking-picture-bts/

As it went down, she was ahead of them on the red carpet, and said something along the lines of, “Hi guys, I’m gonna join your guys photo,” and jumped in without waiting for a response. They did say hello, but it was because she had already attached herself to J-Hope.

There were people, including other Armys, who criticized those jumped on Carson, saying what she did was harmless and perfectly fine … that is, if you’re among those who can’t even recognize a lack of manners anymore.

Probably not the way she was hoping to be trending.

Here’s why it was wrong of her to do so.

There’s a right way and wrong way to pursue a photograph at an event like this. People are accusing Army of being immature and jealous, but the reality is that a lot of female entertainers had their photographs taken with BTS that day with no incident. Her behavior stood out because it was perceived as rude, aggressive and disrespectful. Army is sensitive about the specter of people using BTS as “clout” to further their own careers, whether through photo ops or collaborations, even guest appearances on TV shows because their fanbase is larger than any of their collaborators thus far. 

1. The red carpet was their moment, not hers, and she treated them like props, not people. If she had been sincere, she would have waited until they got off the red carpet and properly introduced herself and asked for a photo.

2. She wasted everyone’s time. From my journalist perspective, when this happens on a red carpet it is a waste of time because photographers have to wait for the nobody to leave before they can get their shot, or crop her out of the photo later. The way she placed her hands over Hobi made her impossible to crop out, so that was a wasted shot. 

When this has happened at red carpet events I have photographed, I have yelled at people, “Get out of the picture.” Photographers who did take that photo likely didn’t know who she was, so would have left it for editors to weed out a usable photo. Of course no serious media outlet picked it up because people want to see the red carpet shot of BTS, not BTS plus one nobody with no affiliation with the group. If she were a star of greater or equal caliber, it might have been different. BTS with Madonna? Yes. BTS with Taylor Swift? Yes. The story was picked up by Korean and gossip media who made note of the backlash against her behavior, probably not the kind of attention she wanted.

Army had no problem with Becky G, Halsey and Madonna who got their photos the respectful way:

3. In her defense, some have said, BTS is in America, not Korea, and they didn’t seem to mind.

Since when doesbeing in America become an excuse for not having basic manners and common decency observed in countries around the globe? Oh, I forgot, we are living in the era of Trump rudeness and indecency. 

BTS and every other K-pop band is trained to be ambassadors for South Korea. They are raised at home to be polite, show class and manners, which is reinforced by their companies as they travel the world, often to places more conservative than South Korea. So of course that meant going along with her intrusion to avoid causing a scene.

It is true that the “manner hands” — that is, avoiding touching women out of respect — they employ in South Korea go out the window when they are in this country, they still have conservative values and it showed in V, Suga, Rapmon and Hoseok’s expressions of distaste over her stealing their moment because they do know what is appropriate and what is not.

4. It was not as “innocent” as her defenders are making it out to be. She was not trying to get a personal selfie with her own phone. She knew she was leaving that image behind in hope that media would pick up when they ran photos of BTS on the red carpet. But of course no one bit in a legit context because she is a nobody in context of BTS making history at the BBMAs. Again, only Korean outlets and gossip columns ran with the story of the hate she was getting because Army saw the livestream video. She only succeeded at becoming known as that stereotypical Ugly American around the globe.


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.

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👁: 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.