Dance Diary: Red Velvet’s ‘Psycho’ & the psychology of costume

By Nadine Kam I

On Feb. 13, 2020, took a second stab at Red Velvet’s “Psycho.” We had started with the lead-in to the chorus on Jan. 9, but didn’t get to complete the chorus and ran out of time to shoot a class video after that session.

I kind of felt I did better the last time because my head was in a better place. This time, we were supposed to learn Everglow’s “Dun Dun,” but our teacher forgot she had taught all she was going to teach of that dance the previous week, when I couldn’t attend.

So I showed up dressed for “Dun Dun,” and as a beginning dancer, switching gears messed with my head a little. As I mentioned in my last post, I feel that costume contributes to my confidence level. I suppose there’s a similar kind of psychology at play when athletes don’t want to enter the field/arena without their “lucky” underwear, socks or whatever ritual they perform to get themselves psyched up for a game/match.

The she took requests and I wanted to finish up BTS’s “Black Swan” but the kids wanted to do “Psycho” so I was outvoted. Oh well.

I love the boldness of Seulgi’s black lipstick in this image.

The costuming for “Dun Dun” and “Psycho” are totally different. “Dun Dun” is a more powerful dance, and “Psycho” has a femme fatale quality, so it just felt wrong dancing “Psycho” in sportswear!

I love the Victorian, romantic, bewitching, dark and unbalanced vibe of Red Velvet’s music video, wardrobe and makeup, and just to get a little of that essence, I showed up to the first class with black lipcolor.

This time I didn’t have the clothes or makeup, so it just didn’t feel right and I couldn’t get into it.

👁 Here are the videos:

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?

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:


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.


Happy 11th anniversary SHINee!

By Nadine Kam I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

👁 🎧 Watch: The debut stage

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


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 then there was one, SHINee off to serve its country

By Nadine Kam I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From boys to exceptional young men.

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

A big difference from colored hair and trendy stage apparel.

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

Taemin, out there on his own.

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

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

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

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