Byeongkwan’s star on the rise with ‘Pops in Seoul’ gig

By Nadine Kam I

Congratulations to A.C.E.’s Kim Byeongkwan, who became host of Arirang’s “Pops in Seoul,” a K-pop music and news program on Jan. 6, taking over for Stray Kids’ Felix Lee (Lee Yong Bok), who had held the position since last July, but is leaving on a world tour with his group.

Byeongkwan should do well because he has such an outgoing personality and as the main dancer for A.C.E, he’ll be able to keep up the K-pop dance lessons that became so popular when Samuel Kim and Felix were hosts.

I’ve been seeing a lot more of Byeongkwan lately, after having wondered how well he was doing after finishing in fourth place on the K-pop survival show “Mixnine.” The show was to create a debut group out of the top nine finishers from either a girls- or boys-only team, but the debut never happened. He was really talented but one can only follow so many people, and because I arrived at “Mixnine,” going backward in time after having watched YG “Treasure Box,” I continued following the YG participants, Choi Hyun Suk, Lee Byoung Gon and Kim Jun Kyu.

I was reminded how outrageous Byeongkwan can be when he and A.C.E’s Wow released a cover music video of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” last month, which is so awesome.

I’m really going to miss Felix’s Aussie accent, but looking forward to what Byeongkwan will show us in the months ahead.

👁 A comparison of Byeongkwan and Felix’s dance lessons:

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!

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.

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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”

A Kaneohe Bakery is home to the surprising K-pop sandwich

By Nadine Kam I

If you’re ever in Kaneohe, you might want to check out the Korean bakery Ono2Guys for its unique “croissant Korean-style sandwich,” also known as the Idol or K-pop sandwich ($4.76) because of its link to K-pop stars.

One of the two guys behind the bakery, Ewa Kim, spent more than a decade as a director at SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System), which hosts the weekly music show “SBS Inkigayo,” starring popular and rookie music artists. Only celebs and staffers of SBS had access to a fourth-floor cafeteria where one of the most popular items was an egg sandwich with coleslaw and the one ingredient that sets it apart from your typical savory sandwich, strawberry jam.

The K-pop sandwich is a Korean samsaek, or tri-color sandwich. At the SBS Studio cafeteria, the sandwich features a combo of yellow egg salad, red strawberry jam and green lettuce. Kaneohe bakery Ono2Guys makes it with the pink and red of ham and strawberry jam, yellow of cheeses and green of lettuce and cucumbers.


By Western standards, it’s an unusual combination, but Kim said he grew up eating similar samsaek, or three-color, sandwiches made by his mom.

Because he said some people consider egg to be stinky, he swaps it out at his bakery with ham and Swiss and American cheeses, to which he also adds the crunch of cucumbers. He also substituted the usual white bread for a croissant, and the combination is divine! I’m not sure why it works, but it does, and he said it must be strawberry jam. He’s tried many other flavors, but said none work as well.

Another reason for the sandwich’s notoriety? Just as the Chinese used mooncakes to relay messages of rebellion against 14th century Mongol rule, the idols use this particular food item to carry more sociable greetings.

Also available at Ono2Guys are sausage pizzas, individually wrapped and ready to go.

According to the website Soompi, former Big Bang member Seungri said idols, whose contracts often forbid dating, would slip notes and phone numbers under the plastic wrap and gift the sandwich to someone else without their managers’ knowledge of the extra ingredient.

Ono2Guys is also home to a range of savory and sweet buns such as those with curry potato filling or chocolate custard cream, cupcakes and Crazy Loaf breads filled with Korean sweet potato, sugared chestnuts or red beans. Always the music lover, Kim said the loaves are named “Crazy” because that’s the song that was playing while he initially experimented with the loaves.

Ono2Guys is at 45-773 Kamehameha Highway. Call 808.762.3111.

‘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.

‘Produce X 101’ finale picks

By Nadine Kam I

That time has come. After 12 weeks, the finale of “Produce X 101” is upon us, airing on Vlive Thursday eve.

The top photo represents my attempt to guess who will win a slot on the debut group. The popular ones are already clustered at the top. It’s the ones on the bottom half of the list that makes predictions difficult, but I put Kan Min Hee on the list because his star has been on an upward trajectory over the past few weeks and I believe viewers have a soft spot for this boy who didn’t shine as much as his peer at the beginning of the broadcast, but put in the hard work to improve himself.

I’m thinking that Son Dong Pyo, the original center for the “X1-MA” theme song, will end up being the X boy 11th member because although he started off on a high note, the voting public never quite responded to propel him into the high ranks. But he has been a constant vote getter since the start of the competition.

The only other X boy would be the visual favorite Kim Min Kyu if he fails to place in the Top 10. But I don’t think his fans will let him down.

My personal list of faves is unlikely to become a reality on the lower end: From top, left to right, Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Lee Jin Hyuk, Han Seung Woo, Nam Do Hyun, Song Hyeong Jun, Lee Eun Sang, Kang Min Hee, Song Yu Vin and Lee Se Jin.

Photo 2 is the unlikely scenario of who I actually want to see win. Lee Eun Sang has been the biggest surprise to me. The ones I liked since the beginning, like Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Lee Jin Hyuk and Song Hyeong Jun have enough charisma to outshine all the rest so I didn’t notice Eun Sang at all until he joined the “U Got It” team, although in rewatching the earlier episodes to see trainees I’ve come to know but missed in the getting-to-know-you phase, he was there all along. He has turned out to be a real charmer in a low-key, goofy way … as well as talented of course. I stan talent! That’s why, even though he’s popular, I didn’t want Min Kyu on my personal list.

When Up10tion’s Kim Woo Seok and Lee Jin Hyuk walked in at 0:51 they have charisma and presence that couldn’t be ignored.
“U Got It” team: Eun Sang focus.
Imagine Eun Sang and Woo Seok’s chemistry when they debut together! It must happen!

Nizi Project audition for girl group coming to Honolulu

By Nadine Kam I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.


Dance diary: SHINee’s ‘Everybody’

By Nadine Kam I

Through Jonghyun, SHINee is the first group that brought me to K-pop and on Jan. 5, the boy group dance we learned was SHINee’s “Everybody.”

It’s a dubstep-electro house-complextro song, so comes with all the mechanical, industrial sounds of a roomful of machinery and robots.

The song, released in October 2013, was accompanied by a dance and music video that had the boys performing as wind-up mechanical toy soldiers, at times gone haywire.

It’s a fun dance to watch, and I wish I could learn the whole dance, but alas we only spend an hour on each song, spliced together here to include some of the most iconic parts of the dance, so it doesn’t sync fully with the actual choreography. It would have been great to start with the intro of waking up and winding up though.

SHINee “Everybody” is a fun dance and the moves have stuck with me.

Compared to SHINee, it looks like we have low energy when dancing it, but trust me, we put everything into it and it was FAST. All the K-pop dances are extremely fast, and if you don’t think so, I dare you to come out and try it. The dances leave little time to think about what move comes next.

We usually start the dances at 50 percent speed, then go up to 75 percent, when it actually feels like 100 percent. By the time we get up to 100 percent, it feels like the song is sped up!

It was during this session that, after watching the video—never mind that I lagged at the end—I decided that if people were going to video each class, I’d better start dressing up in more than boros. So these days, if I know what dance we’re learning, I will try to dress appropriately. It’s a little hard because we do one boy and one girl song back to back, often with totally different vibes.

Whenever we dance SHINee songs, I think, Jonghyun did this!

👁 The official video:

👁 The beauty of SHINee live: