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

By Nadine Kam I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

👁 The official video:

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

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

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

By Nadine Kam I

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

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

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

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

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

Reaction: Lee Jin Hyuk ‘I Like That’

Wanted to try making a reaction video, and couldn’t think of a better place to start than with Lee Jin Hyuk’s solo debut song and music video, “I Like That.”

I teamed up with my friend, filmmaker Titus Chong, for the video, a 10-year K-pop fan vs. my year-and-a-half status. He sees the big picture of K-pop while I admit I tend to be a solo stan, picking and choosing just a handful of favorite groups and individuals.

For those watching the video, for whom K-pop is a foreign subject, this is Jin Hyuk’s story.

He debuted as a member of Up10tion in 2015, but the group had only moderate success, which led him and Kim Woo Seok to join the cast of the K-pop survival show, “ProduceX101” earlier this year. Although the show is intended to allow the public to “discover” and vote for new faces who would go on to form the group X1, the two among a handful of similarly already debuted individuals whose groups were only moderately successful. Perhaps unfair to newbie trainees, all the already debuted individuals did quite well on the show.

From the beginning of the show, I was a huge fan of newcomers Kim Yo Han from Oui Entertainment, and Song Hyeongjun from Starship Entertainment. Yo Han and Woo Seok quickly became consistent rivals for the Top 2 out of 101 spots.

I didn’t really notice Jin Hyuk until midway through the run, when he knew he had to make a move to get noticed. During one of the battles for position (rap, vocal, dance, X), he took on the difficult X-challenge of having to show skill in two areas. He picked rap and dance.

He expected stellar individuals would be joining his team. But he was wrong. The most talented individuals, who could choose their songs first, opted to play it safe and stick to one specialty. The ones on the bottom had no choice but were stuck with the difficult double-tasks that no one else wanted to risk. So Jin Hyuk was really stuck with the worst performers that he had to train in both rap and dance. At times it looked like he would lose his mind and there was no hope, but miraculously, he pulled it off, and it cemented his place in viewers (voters) hearts, which only continued as he was able to show more facets of his personality as the cameras began to focus on him.

👁 I made this mini video for Jin Hyuk after “ProduceX101″ended:

He even reached the No. 1 spot. So it came as quite a shock to everyone, when after consistent placement in the Top 3 for several weeks, during the finale he fell to 11th place and was eliminated. As I said in the video, it was such a shock that I cried for seven days, as did many others who said they couldn’t sleep.

Sleuthing fans who could not believe the finals results, started adding up the public vote numbers and found quite an anomaly, such that there is a continuing investigation into the allegation of rigged voting that ended up subbing in two to three members illegally because the public had to pay to cast their votes. You can read more about the scandal here.

In previous years, Jin Hyuk would have been the 11th member of the group, but the rule was changed this year to include the “X,” with the 11th spot reserved for the one with the X-factor, someone who didn’t make the top team but had accumulated the most votes through the show’s run. That person was Lee Eun Sang, but I actually believe that Eun Sang did make it to the Top 10 on his own (he was well within the Top 10 weekly during the show’s run), but was rigged to be the X because of his status as a promising newbie, which fit the show’s narrative best. Another top vote getter on looks alone was Kim Min Kyu, but he had little talent, so he might have been rigged to finish outside the X category as well because he didn’t show the same promise as Eun Sang. His votes were dropping toward the end of the show’s run, but I feel he had so much support in the beginning, he might have gotten more votes during the show’s run than Eun Sang.

If I had to guess who was added to the roster illegitimately, I think it’s Lee Han Gyul, Son Dong Pyo and Kang Min Hee. I mean, I adore Min Hee, but he was a longshot. He’s an awkward dancer and his vocals are not trendy, but he’s cute. I believe that if he hadn’t made X1, he might have been dropped from the Starship roster because there’s nothing K-pop trendy about him.

Hang Gyul was nowhere near Top 10, and because of his Western looks, he is more popular with international viewers than Koreans, so I find it hard to believe Korean voters, the only ones allowed to vote, would have voted him in. (Producers formed this group with the intention of enjoying international success.)

Same with Dong Pyo, whose diva antics would have rubbed Korean voters the wrong way. Even now, they call him out for being disrespectful to elders. Also, although trainers loved him from the start and the producers chose him to be their opening center, he never caught on with the public and consistently dropped in the rankings into the high teens over the run of the show. I find it hard to believe he would have suddenly become popular in the final vote.

👁 This video tells more of Jin Hyuk’s story during the “Produce” run:

I, for one, find it hard to believe Jin Hyuk did not make it into the final lineup of X1. I believe it was a case where producers did not want to see two members of Up10tion in the group because again, there likely would have been an outcry from fans who believe the show is about discovering new talent, not debuting those who had already performed for years in one group. If Jin Hyuk and another strong contender, Song Yu Vin, had made it into the lineup, it would have been skewed to include several members who had already debuted, such as Han Sung Woo and Cho Seung Youn.

Anyway, for me this MV represents a promising new beginning for Jin Hyuk. I think he did very well!

Miss Trot coming to Hawaii

By Nadine Kam I

Miss Trot Hawaii Concert 2019
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 15
Where: Hawai’i Convention Center
Tickets: $35 to $250 at eventbrite, Palama Supermarket, Fabric Mart, 88 Supermarket, Tournet Hawaii or call 808.922.1122.

Miss Trot Hawaii is coming to town. It’s a concert featuring Song Ga In (featured in the promotional photo), the winner of the popular South Korean entertainment survival show, “Miss Trot,” plus five runner-ups voted by judges in the “American Idol”-style show. Joining Song will be Jung Mi Ae, Hong Ja, Jung Da Kyung, Sook Haeng and Kim So Yu.

By now you may wondering what is trot. It’s a form of music that originated in Korea in the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule, when elites tried to mimic the latest Japanese styles due to forced assimilation and trot emerged as a melding of Japanese and Western music. As a matter of survival, Koreans had to pretend they didn’t like more traditional forms of art, music and dance. At this time, many Korean elites also adopted Japanese names. It was a sad time in Korean history, and current political friction stems from an inability to forgive Japan for atrocities dating to 1910.

In Korea, trot is known as ppongjjak, recognized by its repetitive rhythm and distinct vocal inflections. It continued to be popular into the 1960s, but became passé with the rise of K-pop, that made it feel like your dad or granddad’s music.

It has a really old-fashioned, dramatic vocal style that sounds its age, at nearly 100 years old, but what makes it interesting and topical is that Miss Trot winner Song Ga In recently collaborated with controversial artist MC Mong on his comeback album, “Channel8,” and she’s come under fire for that association.

🎧 Here’s the MV for “Fame” with Song’s vocal dominating the end:

Mong has been persona non grata in South Korea for eight years because he had pulled out half his teeth to avoid mandatory two-year military service. Apparently, those with poor health, including those without a minimum number of teeth, are exempt from service. For evading the draft, he was sentenced to a six month suspended jail term, one year probation, and 120 hours of community service. To date, his attempts at a comeback has been thwarted by negative sentiments and protests of anti-fans who have managed to block his appearances.

Will this time make a difference?

Well, online comments regarding his latest attempt has been just as negative as ever, with statements like, “All these thugs are the same … they come crawling out like cockroaches once they run out of money” and “Ok. We’ve seen it. You can go back now.”

But perhaps young listeners who don’t know his back story will have more say. His title track, “Fame,” is ranked No. 1 on Melon and “Channel,” featuring Park Bom (who has also come under fire for her participation on his record), is ranked No. 2. 

The fusion of genres in his song, “Fame” (about regret and guilt, with the message to be humble) is really cool so I can see why Song wanted to do it, to reach a whole new audience that otherwise would not be interested in trot. I think the TV show became popular for that reason. Today’s young generation is just not used to hearing that kind of powerful vocal so it sounds fresh compared to the high-pitched, nasally whine of so many K-pop girl groups.

X1 debut marked by record win time

By Nadine Kam I

So my question prior to X1’s debut on Aug. 27 was, are they going to match or top Wanna One, the previous male band formed by the “Produce 101” franchise that disbanded earlier this year after their yearlong contract expired.

Well, considering their first big win, on SBS MTV’s “The Show,” for “Flash,” came five days after their debut, they’re off to a good start. They beat Wanna One, whose first award came nine days after debut, as well as the six-day record on MNET’s M Countdown, for a boy group, held by YG’s Winner after releasing its debut single “Color Ring.”

👁: X1 “Flash” music video

Whether they continue on this way is still a question mark for me because of that cloud over the “Produce” voting process that already prevented them from debuting on KBS2’s “Music Bank.”

It’s also hard for me to be objective about the group’s formation because I was with these members for four months during the “Produce X 101” competition, and feel too attached to some members to watch them as if being introduced to them for the first time.

I like the song and video, but is the song as strong as Wanna One’s “Energetic?” I don’t think so. Because I try to learn K-pop dances, I also noticed there’s no segment in the choreography that’s particularly catchy. So it lacks that dance hook that gets people excited to perform and share cover dances, also a measure of the success of a particular song.

I feel like 11 members is too many for newbies to become close to a group. I mean I’m glad that number accommodates most of my favorites, but I think an ideal group size is five to eight. If I were new to the group, the quick edits and dark styling of the music video for “Flash” would make the members seem intimidating, and it wouldn’t give me enough time to get to know their faces or to sort out who’s dancing or singing at any given time.

Luckily, they have a built-in audience of the millions who tuned into “Produce,” and already picked out their favorites, which for me are center Kim Yo Han and sub-vocalist and X-boy Lee Eun Sang, who I think is a rising star. Only 16 by American age, he has the poise of a young adult and presence to match members of the group who already debuted with other groups prior to joining “Produce.”

He is at the center of this teaser for M Countdown, which has him confessing his fears about the stage, only to be told by the hyung line and Han Seung Woo, that they manage their nerves by taking flash selfies.

Meanwhile the maknae line’s Son Dong Pyo shares that they quell their fears by dancing.

Eun Sang thanks them, then goes off to do his own thing.

Meanwhile, at a press conference for their debut, Yo Han had promised that they would all put their hair up in apple style if they won first place on a music show. On Sept. 3, they fulfilled that promise, which delighted their fandom, called One It! Very cute as you can see at the top of the page.

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

I was also curious to see what the Woollim trainees would come up with for their W Project 4 debut. They have some strength in dancer Hwang Yunseong, vocalist Lee Hyeop and rapper Kim Dong Yun.

But overall their dancing is not as precise and powerful as X1’s, and they have a way to go before they can match those groups in the upper echelons of the K-pop world.

👁: W Project 4 “1 Minute 1 Second”

Dance Diary: Taemin’s ‘Move’

By Nadine Kam I

I wanted to dance to Taemin’s “Move” for a long time and tried to learn the choreography on my own at home.

This is where memory fails me, coz I actually made it through the entire song, but in dancing it could never remember the order of the segments. Just like working out at home, people don’t usually push themselves as much as when risking humiliation in front of other people in a class. So at home I just didn’t do the number of repetitions that would drill the movements in brain and body.

I feel like this is a dance that could be done in its entirety if given three class sessions or so, but I didn’t like the way the segments were chopped when we did this on March 2, instead of staying true to the choreography. It kind of messed me up because the flow of movement was lost.

Oh well, enjoy Taemin in action:


Korean Festival welcomed Ladies Code and eSNa

By Nadine Kam I

It’s rare for Hawaii fans to witness K-pop live. Groups come here all the time, but not for concerts.

Since last November, EXO, Winner, Black Pink and Twice have all been in town for a mix of photo opps and video features. Others have been here as well. In 2017, before they really blew up in America, BTS was on Oahu to film their vacation package “Bon Voyage.” They walked throughout Waikiki and the North Shore unbothered. No one took much much notice of the seven Korean guys in loud aloha shirts.

There have been attempts to stage big concerts here before, but according to promoters, the numbers really didn’t add up. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the market for K-pop is still niche and in Hawaii, it’s difficult to know who’s a fan. Many are closeted.

And although the rest of the world sorts music lovers into fans of K-pop and antis, many of the K-pop fans are anti-any-band-that-is-not-their-fave. Rivalries among fandoms is real, so a BTS fan may not show support for an EXO concert and vice versa.

A BTS fan may say he/she is a K-pop fan, but in truth that person may only like BTS. So BTS distorts the numbers of true K-pop fans—who, just as among Western music lovers—may follow only two or three favorite groups out of a hundred or so that debut every year.

Ashley Choi, left, and Lee Sojung of Ladies Code gave a brief interview before hitting the stage at Victoria Ward Park, Honolulu, for a soundcheck and rehearsal prior to their next-day Korean Festival performance.

So, it was a real treat to see Ladies Code and eSNa in town for a free concert thanks to the Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce, which presents a free Korean Festival annually. This year, the event took place Aug. 10 at Victoria Ward Park on the grounds of the former Ward Warehouse.

About 10,000 people attended the all-day, family event that closed with the 7 p.m. concert, and afterward the women stayed for a meet-and-greet session with grateful fans.

I had the opportunity to chat with the women briefly before they had to go on stage for a soundcheck and rehearsal session.

eSNa, whose stage name is an abbreviated version of her full name, Esther Nara Yoon, is from L.A. and started her music career by uploading cover songs on YouTube. She moved to South Korea in 2010 and became known as a singer-songwriter who has written songs for many in the industry.

She was sidelined earlier this year after she was struck by a car that left her bedridden with a broken collarbone and other injuries. After recuperating, she returned to the stage during KCON New York last month. Her Hawaii appearance is only her second outing since then, and she will perform next at KCON LA, running Aug. 15-18.

She had wanted to try skydiving on this trip, her fifth to Hawaii, but still doesn’t have the OK from her doctor for any extreme activity.

Meanwhile, Ashley Choi and Lee Sojung were here without Polaris Entertainment’s Ladies Code third member Zuny. They had lots of plans to enjoy the outdoors, try a lot of local food favorites such as shave ice and açaí bowls, as well as hit the bars.

On their first trip to Hawaii, they said that the view is something you can’t imagine in Korea and they love the blue sky and fresh air.

I have the uncanny knack for being in places like Shanghai and Seoul when the air is clear and skies are blue, so I have never witnessed the black smog and air pollution that has Seoul ranked near the bottom, out of 180 countries, for air quality in Yale University’s 2016 Environmental Performance Index.

During their rehearsal, Ladies Code was joined by two backup dancers to perform their current comeback hit “Feedback,” as well as one of their debut songs, “Bad Girl,” among others.

They said they would love to be invited back to perform next year, and I’m sure Hawaii K-pop fans would love to see them again.

‘Produce X 101’: A Cinderella story

By Nadine Kam I

Two weeks after the finale of “Produce X 101” I am still processing all that happened on the K-pop survival show.

Overall, I am happy about the final “audience-produced” lineup for X1, the group that emerged out of the competition that started with 101 male trainees, whittled down to the Top 10 plus the X-boy, the trainee outside the Top 10 who accumulated the most votes during the show’s 12-week run.

I’m surprised by how calm I was up until the finale. It’s not like “Treasure Box,” where I was appalled and in a state of anger all season long because of the way YG treated it’s top trainees, who should have received more respect.

This time around, I promised I would not become overly attached because it just leads to disappointment when my favorite trainees are ousted, and with 101 vying for 11 spots, disappointment was to be expected.

X1 debut members from left to right, top to bottom: Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Han Seung Woo, Song Hyeong Jun, Cho Seung Youn, Son Dong Pyo, Lee Han Gyul, Nam Do Hyun, Cha Jun Ho, Kang Min Hee and X boy Lee Eun Sang.

Fortunately, the ones I liked at the beginning of “Produce,” Kim Yo Han and Song Hyeong Jun, not only made it through the entire season but will debut with X1 on Aug. 27.

Yes there was upset along the way, like when Urban Works Kim Min Seo failed to crack the Top 60 because he was never given screen time. Even though he is very talented, I didn’t want to get attached because he is a little weird and I knew that the South Korean audience that was allowed to vote for the group members are not fond of behavior outside their norm. In Korean society, everyone must fall in line.

The biggest disappointment was the elimination of Lee Jin Hyuk, a talented rapper and dancer who had already debuted with fellow member Kim Woo Seok in Up10tion. He wasn’t originally one of my favorites because he initially seemed a little cold and arrogant. But as time passed, he was able to show leadership, plus the soft, playful and brighter side that earned him the nickname Baby Sun. Unfortunately, because the audience did not warm up to him until late in the season, he was not able to debut with X1, even after being in the Top 10 for the last few weeks.

👁 I made this vid because I was sad that Jin Hyuk didn’t make debut team. Click on the YouTube link at the end of the video for details about the EXO song “Don’t Go” that I used:

I really expected him to finish in third place as did many others who were heartbroken when he failed to place, and again when he failed to become the X boy, the trainee who had accumulated the most votes from throughout the season.

Another favorite of mine, Lee Eun Sang became the X boy. I had expected him to be in the Top 10 as well because he had finished there all season long. It’s just that in the last vote, when it mattered most, Lee Han Gyul and Cha Jun Ho came on strong, displacing others I thought were shoe-ins. Kang Min Hee also surprised people by finishing in 10th place when he had never been in the Top 10 before, but I totally expected him to debut. His star had been rising the previous three episodes. Even though he was not the most talented of his Starship family and has a way to go in developing that talent, he has the potential to be a star. His boyish looks and charm are sure to win fans over, and he does work hard to improve.

I really didn’t want Han Gyul or Jun Ho in the final lineup but I am OK with Jun Ho because even though he is devoid of presence, he has a beautiful voice.

But it still upsets me that Han Gyul is in the lineup because he is such a poor singer and when I look at the group now, I still hate that he’s there. I don’t even want to look at him because I feel that he took the spot that should have gone to Jin Hyuk, who would have been a perfect complement for this group in looks, talent and stage presence.

Through all this, I have to wonder if the audience is played into thinking they really had their say in the making of this group. Like, how is it that the producers put all their focus on Yo Han from the beginning, making us love him, and surprise, he finishes in the No. 1 spot, though he too has a way to go in becoming the perfect performer.

The more I study him, the more I feel that Yo Han is me. Don’t laugh, I really believe he is the quintessential everyman, someone who came in from outside the industry to rise to the top. He was a taekwondo champion who decided to try fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a K-pop idol. With only three months of music and dance training, he showed that he could compete with the best of them, including trainees that had already debuted and performed professionally for four years.

A lot of good songs came out of this season of “Produce,” but I thought “Boyness” was the best. I had other favorites during the run, but it’s been a different experience to see the songs performed and to now be listening to them in my car without bias and visuals. The song was written by Flow Blow with Pentagon’s Hui, the same team who wrote Wanna One’s debut hit ”Energetic.” I just wonder why Hui doesn’t keep the really good songs for Pentagon??!! I don’t feel that they’ve had a hit on the scale of “Energetic.” Unfortunately, the center here, Song Yu Vin didn’t make the X1 debut team either.

His was a Cinderella story, and everybody loves a Cinderella story, right? K-pop is full of them. In watching these trainees, I think everyone who dreams of a career on stage can feel that with dedicated practice, they can be standing there too. I am often shocked how poorly the trainees perform. I can sing better than 90 percent of them. I can’t dance, but in my advanced age I am trying to learn. I only dance two hours a week, but what if I danced 11 to 16 hours a day as they do? They make everything seem possible to every kid who wants to be on stage. I wonder whether this was MNET’s storyline from the start.

There was also focus on cute Hyeong Jun, and the person South Koreans considered most handsome, Kim Min Kyu. Whoever the cameras focused on became the top vote getters. Was this coincidence or contrived, as if producers were pointing a finger toward the desired outcome. I think most people expected Min Kyu to become the X boy, but he clearly needs a year or two of training to get up to par. I am so happy that Eun Sang got in. For once, talent won over visuals. Eun Sang is considered handsome as well, but not as much as Min Kyu. But Eun Sang has so much potential, at only 16, but able to hold his own against seasoned competition. He fit right in with sexy concepts, alongside trainees and debuted artists in their 20s.

My K-pop professor told our class not to believe anything we see because show business is an industry that relies on fantasy and manipulating audiences.

How was it that so many could not sleep and cried for weeks after Jin Hyuk lost? How did we end up caring so much for this person we didn’t initially support? Because I expected him to be in the Top 3, I was devastated to learn he would not debut, even though he wasn’t one of my biases in the show.

Some conspiracy theorists proceeded to take a look at the number of votes and found that the difference between many of the rankings was the same number 29,978 votes. That is so fishy and MNET refused to comment on the matter. In addition, the agencies involved all agreed they were satisfied with the outcome. But there may be a legal showdown coming, because Netizens are claiming fraud and are relentless when it comes to protecting the interest of their boys who may not have made it due to such manipulations. Stay tuned to this continuing story.

If deals were made behind closed doors, then the trainees are just pawns in the game. You could see from the looks on their faces, the elation and tears, that none knew what the outcome would be.

The proposed lineup for Be Your Nine (BY9), left to right from top to bottom: Lee Jin Hyuk, Kim Min Kyu, Koo Jung Mo, Keum Dong Hyun, Tony, Song Yu Vin, Ham Won Jin, Lee Se Jin and Hwang Yun Seong.

The trainees have since gone back to their lives. Fans are pushing to have a second group, Be Your Nine (BY9), comprising the top 12th to 20th finalists. That would be Jin Hyuk, Min Kyu, Keum Dong Hyun, Hwang Yun Seong, Koo Jung Mo, Ham Won Jin, Song Yu Vin, Tony and Lee Se Jin. Fans really want this to happen:https://www.instagram.com/p/B0usaL9FHw_/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

But I don’t think this will happen because Jin Hyuk is so popular he already has a number of commercial projects to consider, some have groups to return to, and the bigger agencies are able to debut their trainees with others in their companies. Jung Mo and Won Jin’s company Starship is rumored to have plans to debut a boy group early next year, and both are certain to be in the lineup if that happens.

Yet, fans continue to dream of what could be or could have been. As do I. That’s K-pop.

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.