Treasure finally to be let out of the box

On the same day we heard the sad news of X1’s disbandment came happier news that Treasure, the group formed by YG Entertainment via the survival show, “Treasure Box,” will finally debut after a year spent locked in YG’s Treasure Box.

I don’t know whether YG’s CEO at the time, Yang Hyun Suk, had any plans to actually debut the group. He had an alleged history of taking easy money from survival shows and gambling it away, leaving his groups in the lurch. He was forced to resign last year after a series of scandals.

Since then there have been some changes to the Treasure concept, with the boys finally being allowed to write their own music. The group, originally to be called Treasure13, a combination of the two units formed from the show, Treasure and Magnum, will now consist of one 12-member unit called Treasure.

Ha Yoon Bin’s profile photo from May 2019. He left YGE last month to pursue a solo career.

Members of the original Treasure unit are Haruto, Bang Ye Dam, So Jung Hwan, Kim Jun Kyu, Park Jeong Woo, Yoon Jae Hyuk and Choi Hyun Suk,

Members of the original Magnum unit are Mashiho, Kim Do Young, Yoshinori, Park Ji Hoon, Asahi, and Ha Yoon Bin, a rapper who left the company last month to launch a solo career.

Treasure is set to debut this month. Looking forward to seeing what they will come up with.

BlackPink’s summer diary in Hawaii available in pre-sale

By Nadine Kam I

BlackPink was on Oahu in mid-July to film various activities over a few days for a travelog, “BLACKPINK Summer Diary: In Hawaii.” At the time, I wrote a story for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about their activities.

Group members Jennie Kim, Jisoo Kim, Rosé (Park Chae-young) and Lisa Manoban posted dozens of photos from the Kahala Hotel, where fans also spotted and photographed them swimming with dolphins.

This image of Jennie kissing the dolphin Hua appeared on her IG account.

Well, YG Entertainment just announced the release of a photobook package, “2019 BLACKPINK’s Summer Diary (In Hawaii),” with photos and videos of the group vacationing in Hawaii (they’re always working vacations) after completing their first world tour. It must be noted that they kept smiles on their faces (mostly) even though some weren’t feeling well.

Rosé was feeling ill and posted these images to her IG, referring to, “A sick balloon for a sick Rosie.”

The photo book is available for pre-order through Sept. 8 KST on Amazon.com for $62.99. It will be officially released on Sept. 9.

YG artists regularly release winter season films and photobooks. This project marks its first summer season product.

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.

School of K-pop & J-pop at University of Hawaii-Manoa

By Nadine Kam I

Never in my life did I dream that K-pop would be a subject worthy of college level study, but why not for the politics, history, psychology or sociology student who wants to know how popular culture shapes a society, or the business or economics student who wants to know how a multibillion dollar industry was built from nothing? Which is where K-pop was in 1992 when Seo Taiji and the Boys took to the Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. stage on April 11 with their hiphop act and lost the evening’s music competition but won enough fans to change the way music is made in Korea.

It was only five years after South Korea became a democracy, and people were finally free to emulate their Western counterparts regarding music and fashion. Prior to that, they had lived under autocratic rule similar to North Korea today, where personal freedom was limited and little things like hair lengths and skirt lengths were strictly regulated.

While Seo Taiji and the Boys took their cues from American hiphop, others flocked to J-pop, and within a year after democracy was established, 10 percent of all music sold in Korea was J-pop. One of the “boys” was Yang Hyun Suk who would later found YG Entertainment, one of the Big Three agencies in South Korea, who professor Jayson Makoto Chun now compares to Darth Vader, having gone to the dark side as someone who once fought for creative freedom, but stifles his own artists.

“ASAN 464: K-pop and J-Pop: Korean and Japanese Popular Music and Society,” led by Drs. Patrick Patterson and Chun, grew out of their respective interest and research into the worlds of J-pop and K-pop. They joined forces because they said there can be no discussion without knowing the countries’ intertwined histories.

Seo Taiji and the Boys: From left Yang Hyun Suk, Seo Taiji and Lee Juno are credited as the pioneers of contemporary South Korean music. After breaking barriers, Yang, who went on to form YG Entertainment, is now accused of having crossed over to the dark side, with full control over his artists.

It made me thank back to a post from last year after BTS appeared at the Grammy Awards show. I remember one commentator wrote of one of their videos rocking out to Dolly Parton’s performance, “Those are the whitest guys I’ve ever seen. That’s what colonialism gets you.”

On the one hand, I was angry about the snarky comment, but at the same time I had to acknowledge that K-pop is essentially American or Western music sung in the Korean language. The course is driving home this point even more as Chun raised the question: “What is Korean about K-pop?” pointing out that most of the songs are written by Swedish or American songwriters; their dances are created by American or Japanese choreographers; their training system is modeled after the J-pop system; and these days group members are increasingly coming from the United States, Thailand, Japan, China and Taiwan as they seek out the best and brightest who may no longer be in South Korea.

Twice members hail from Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. Their look and sound was created to appeal to a Japanese audience, so we were asked what is K-pop about them?

It’s a question that will come up more and more as the Korean music industry itself tries to stay ahead of the pack and are moving into other countries, hoping to replicate the K-pop formula with homegrown talent in countries across Asia and the rest of the world, including this country as SM Entertainment prepares to launch a second Girls’ Generation with American talent to sing in English, and a second NCT comprising Europeans.

Obviously, they have the know-how to create and train groups in countries such as Indonesia or Thailand that don’t have the infrastructure to grow and market their regional talent.

I’ve often thought this about Hawaii, where we have a lot of people with innate musical ability, but lack the vision and training centers to create superstars. Someone like Bruno Mars had to go it alone and blaze his own trail, but what if we had studios connected to L.A. producers who could identify and work with talent from a young age? Mars (born Peter Gene Fernandez) at least had an advantage in having been trained in stagecraft by his musician father.

But the whole idea of the K industry looking elsewhere for talent has me worried about the future of K-pop and Koreans who want to enter the business as the market will become saturated with singing, dancing boys and girls from every country, speeding the decline of this style of music as the audience grows weary of it and moves on to the next big thing.

The overall purpose of the class is to learn the ways the Koreans have managed to hack our brains as we decode the workings of an industry that is shaping the way all music is made.

Professor Patterson compared it to a baseball field in which one action sets every player on the field into action. Although in the scheme of things, BTS is not as big in terms of record sales in America as the perception may be because of their constant news presence, all industry eyes are on them to see what they will be doing next and to crack the code to their success. You can bet there are people hard at work now to reverse-engineer their music and marketing methods to find out why they have managed to captivate so many, irregardless of gender, sexual identity, race and age.

During an earlier talk to raise interest in the course, Chun suggested that suffering is a crucial component of K-pop because fans identify with the struggle and the fact that the group members continue to work hard even after they become successful, unlike their Western counterparts, who often adopt a decadent lifestyle and feeling of entitlement. In contrast, every K-pop star knows he or she can replaced any second by someone younger and more talented. As trainees, they compete every day and are role models for a generation sick of the childish behavior exhibited by our politicians and other adults around them. American adults talk about morals and values but display none of the traits they idealized. On the other hand, K-pop stars are generally trained to act like model citizens as they are sent as ambassadors of South Korea abroad. Fans often call them princes because of the elegance they project abroad.

Another reality is that South Korea is still a relatively poor country and in rural areas, a family’s well-being can rest entirely on their child, which is why they can sign them to slave contracts. It’s why the kids feel incredible pressure to perform well, and adds to their feelings of disappointment and shame when they are unable to debut.

When Chun asked us whether we would have been willing to sign our lives away at age 11, it’s funny only me and the other musician in class raised our hands. “Seven years is not that long,” I whispered to my friend. At their age it covers “wasted” time in junior and high schools.

I already know what it’s like to suffer for one’s career and stick it out for the long haul. I feel like I would have been tough enough, though after watching some of the survival shows I feel as if I—like so many of them—would be crying after every evaluation. It all drives the feeling of empathy and compassion we feel toward them. It was already pointed out in class that after one of our class members related one of the difficulties of her high school years, we sympathized and liked her more.

The same is true of the K-pop bands we stan. The fans are always there to offer up an encouraging rallying cry of “Fighting!” “Save him!” or “Protect him!” when we see them enduring hardships or taunts from other fandoms. Just today there were anti-fans trying to spread the hashtag “TaehyungleaveBTS,” calling him ugly and talentless. Of course Army fought back.

And there’s a reason EXO’s catchphrase is “We are one.” Fans and stars, we are all fighting for their success together, and that makes for an unbreakable bond.

Dance diary: A walk through Black Pink’s ‘As if it’s Your Last’ and BTS Home Party

By Nadine Kam I

Through this dance class, dated Jan. 12, 2019, I wanted to share the process of learning and creating a formation to show that it’s not a scary endeavor at all and to encourage any closet dancer to come out and take a chance on learning something new.

For a year, I’d been inviting some sedentary friends to come keep me company and get some fun exercise, but a little aerobics is one thing and dance is another. Dance tends to make people feel intimidated. And videos are the bane of dance teachers. On the one hand, they love to show their work and accomplishments, partially as a way of enticing people to come out and dance. But when people see the end result, their first thought is, “I can’t do that.”

It’s the same way I feel at the start of each class. Every time I’m shown the K-pop videos, I think, “I can’t do that.” But rather than stopping there, my second thought is, “Oh well, let’s give it a try.”

Each teacher, here Sarah Replogle, is able to break the dances down into bite size chunks, so non-dancers will be surprised how much they can actually do when taking it slowly. K-pop dance is one form in which anyone with no dance background can jump into without risk of injury.

Alas, I used to invite friends to also join me in beginning ballet, modern and jazz classes, but it’s weird to say that even though I’m still a novice in all these forms, I’ve advanced in a year to the point that they could not join me in the same classes, at risk of hurting themselves without a foundation in technique.

The one thing I’ve learned through ballet is that the exercises never end. Even the pros continue to perform the same exercises as we do as beginners to maintain their form and balance, and build strength.

This video shows how slowly we walk through the moves to get to the end.

A slow walk-through of Black Pink’s “As if it’s Your Last” chorus after about 30 minutes of learning the choreography. I don’t care that I’m lagging in this first attempt at a formation.

👁 Watch: Black Pink “As if it’s Your Last”

Around this time, because of all the modern dance I had been doing, I was feeling more confident and when I watched this BTS Home Party dance practice video featuring J-Hope, Jimin and Jungkook, and other of their raw practice videos, I felt like if I were in the same room with them, I would be able to pick up choreography just as quickly as they do with their 10-plus years of dance and stage experience, often putting 11 to 16 hours a day into rehearsals vs. my four or five hours a week. Of course they are far more brilliant in their presentation than I am as a beginner much older than them, but their process is the same and watching them helps me set goals.

I am in no way a natural dancer. I move in strange ways and am totally uncoordinated, but I always felt as if anyone could learn choreography. It’s looking good doing it that’s the problem. It takes a lot of strength and technique to achieve the long, clean lines, posture and balance that Jimin maintains, plus a lot of flexibility to arch and flatten your back.

I didn’t have much of a problem with flexibility when I was taking nine classes a week and stretching daily, but now that I’m down to about four classes weekly, weighted toward the end of the week, I can feel how the body contracts and stiffens in the downtime. I don’t know how I lived 20 years as a couch potato when I feel the difference now after just three days of non-movement. Lol!

Because I never moved since childhood, and had no dance training, all the moves felt unnatural a year ago, but over time, movement grows on you. When I watch casual, personal videos of the K-pop stars, I notice they are always a second away from showing dance moves or dance hand gestures. I’ve noticed the same thing happening to me when I sit down to eat and hear music. Movement is starting to come more naturally as a matter of everyday life.

Anyway, I’ve pretty much done every move BTS does in this dance video, including hitting the floor with the kick in the air, but the longest segment of choreography I can commit to my brain is 1 minute. Dance is a challenge of memory as well as physicality. I am working to build new neural connections. In a way, I guess you could say if your strengths are elsewhere, dance makes you smarter.

Seungri scandal is not a K-pop scandal but systemic in Korea

By Nadine Kam I

You can’t call yourself a K-pop fan without having heard about the Seungri (Lee Seung-hyun) and spycam sex scandals.

To make a long story short, the youngest member of Big Bang is being investigated for charges of incidents of prostitution, drug use and bribery that took place in a nightclub, Burning Sun, where he claimed to be a publicity director, although it has been reported he is a part owner.

Due to the investigation, he recently announced his retirement from the entertainment industry, and has severed his ties with Big Bang and the agency that represented him, YG entertainment.

As if all of this wasn’t sordid enough, the investigation also ensnared other entertainers accused of drugging and raping women, as well as employing spycams to capture other sexual encounters without the womens’ knowledge.

Seungri in better days, on left, with fellow members of Big Bang
before they enlisted in the South Korean military for mandatory service.

What I hate most about all of this is that the whole scandal is being framed in the media as a K-pop sex scandal. It is certainly not limited to a single industry but instead puts a spotlight on depraved, misogynistic conduct that permeates South Korean society. The scandal is widening to include investigations into police bribery and collusion among high-ranking politicians and businessmen.

Meanwhile, everyone acts shocked, when prostitution is part of the art of the deal, standard business practice throughout Asia, if not the world, as the matter of what happened with our own United States president in a Russian hotel room is among topics of investigations at home.

It may be most visible when public figures get caught, but while tongues wag, let’s not forget it happens throughout society. Consider the prevalence of sex travel adventures set up for those who can afford to pay for boys or girls, or whatever their fetish may be, outside the watchful eyes of their own societies.

It happens wherever there is an imbalance of power between men and women, and where the rich and poor meet, as long as there are people willing to do anything for a shot at fame and money, and people willing to pay.

These are typical Hollywood casting couch stories, and would likely be more pervasive in the United States if we had the same technology as Korea. It can affect anyone as perpetrators in Korea record footage on their phones using selfie sticks up stairwells or held close to the ground to record up women’s skirts, or from cameras installed in bathrooms. Footage is then uploaded and shared on social media and porn sites.

The kind of incidents reported are every day occurrences and Seungri and his friends just happen to have been famous, and caught. They make easy scapegoats and gossip fodder. Among the fallen are actor Jung Joon-young who was let go from several productions, Choi Jong-Hoon of the group FT Island (charged with police bribery after a drunk driving incident from 2016, revealed in chatroom conversations) and Yong Jun-hyung, a rapper the K-pop group Highlight, who both announced their retirement from show business. Lee Jong Hyun of CNBLUE was also part of the shared video network, but is currently serving in the South Korean military.

It’s all the more disrespectful when considering Jung, who admitted to making videos involving 10 women in 10 months, is a star who could probably get a woman anytime without resorting to drugs and rape, making all this seem just like a game to him and his friends.

In the past, the investigation might have ended with only Seungri and his friends taking the fall, but this has wider ramifications for Korean society. For one thing, it has reignited a #MeToo movement that started last year yet amounted to little change about workplace sexual harassment of women.

Little has changed in the way business is conducted in South Korea a decade after actress Jang Ja-Yeon committed suicide following years of sexual abuse.

The investigations have also sparked a “Justice for Jang Ja-yeon” campaign 10 years after the actress took her life after writing a 7-page suicide note detailing being pimped out by her agent to 31 entertainment executives, politicians, CEOs and journalists. None of their names were ever released and her agent was sentenced only to one year in prison. Although Jang had gone to the police and prosecutors several times over the years, it was always her word against that of powerful men, so her allegations went nowhere. It’s worth noting that three other actresses from her company also are reported to have committed suicide attributed to depression.

The industry did not change following Jang’s posthumous revelations, but citizens are now demanding the names be revealed, and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in reopened her case on March 18. We can only hope that in this time of greater transparency that justice is served, that the powerful can no longer buy their way out of trouble, and that the men in South Korea heed the warning that enough is enough.

Then try repeating the message stateside. But as I said, human depravity is limitless and has been with us since the beginning of time. Things may quiet down for a while, but Seungris abound, likely even living next door.

The timeline: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/8503818/burning-sun-scandal-timeline-seungri-jung-joon-young

Jang Ja-Yeon: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/apr/01/south-korea-entertaiment-jang-jayeon

BlackPink on the rise

By Nadine Kam I

When watching BTS as presenters tonight on the Grammy Awards show, let’s not forget that there are dozens of K-pop artists equal to the task of conquering America. BTS has worked hard to get to its place of recognition on the American music scene, but this is an exciting time for K-pop in general.

Red Velvet kicked off its first solo American concert tour Feb. 7 and 8 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. And EXO’s Chinese member and solo artist Lay Zhang (Zhang Yixing) is also attending the Grammy show.

But most significantly, girl group BlackPink made its American debut during Universal Music Group’s pre-Grammy Showcase concert yesterday. The group will also perform on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Monday night, Feb. 11, and fans can wake up to the group’s appearance on “Good Morning America” on Feb. 12.

EXO member Lay Zhang at the Grammys.

K-pop artists have been trying to crack the American market for 30 years, with the blessing of the South Korean government, hoping to use the soft power of music to spread love for Korean culture around the globe. The groups picked up fans worldwide, but in the United States the Hallyu Wave stopped far from shore, a niche market at best.

BlackPink members, from left, Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa.

The entertainment companies, with government financial support, did their best to package group shows, and band members often stood outside venues passing out free tickets. But the timing wasn’t right to support a bunch of Asians singing in a language few Americans understood.

The future of K-pop in America brightened last year with BTS’s phenomenal success in topping the Billboard charts, and appearing at top American award shows, major magazine covers and talk shows. They also spoke up for youths and human rights at the United Nations. The message sent back to the South Korean music industry was, “This is finally our time.” It all seemed to re-energize the industry and they put renewed focus on conquering America.

👁 Watch: BlackPink’s hit “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du”

I sensed this back in September, when addressing an anti on my Facebook page. I assured her the Koreans were coming and the next group likely to make it big is BlackPink, a women quartet, part of the YG Entertainment family in Korea. They have it all, the ability to sing and dance, the looks, the style and the attitude. This is an important point because in the past, South Korean girl bands met a Korean male producer’s fantasy of the dichotomy between madonna and whore. These groups were packaged to be either sickeningly saccharine cutesy, or slutty playthings for men. I find both extremes obnoxious, and likely, so would most women in the United States.

Today, groups like BlackPink and Mamamoo are projecting a new ideal, of women who can still be beautiful and sexy, but also strong and independent.

Just one month after my prediction, BlackPink signed with Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records, which means more promotions outside of Asia for the group, already slated to be the first women’s K-pop group to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California on April 12 and 19.

We’ll see whether a majority of the United States truly has become more open to outside cultures. In the past when it comes to Asians in the mainstream, it’s been demonstrated that Americans can only tolerate one or two minority actors at the same time, one woman, one man, because in mainstream eyes, sadly, all Asians look alike.

What’s different today is there’s a younger generation who grew up with the world in their palms, and thanks to social media, groups that would have been obscure in the past are finding a way to reach a global audience and seduce adoring fans by showing up and sharing their abundant talent.

👁 Watch: BlackPink Jennie’s “Solo”

Some are speculating the deal will mean a possible English-language release from the group. That’s quite possible considering Lalisa (Lisa) Manoban is hapa Thai and Caucasian and grew up in Thailand fluent in both Thai and English languages. Rosé (Park Chae Young) was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and raised speaking English and Korean in Melbourne. Jennie Kim was born in South Korea, but lived in Auckland, New Zealand, for five years and is also fluent in English and Korean. Only Jisoo (Kim Ji Soo) speaks no English.

Having the English speakers will be very helpful for the group because interviews with K-pop bands in the past have been few and awkward because of the language barrier. This makes media more open to have them as guests and interview subjects.

Taemin is studying English, having set his sights on the United States.

👁 Watch: Taemin’s “Danger” dance practice

I’m hoping there will be a place for SHINee’s maknae Taemin (Lee Tae-min), who’s pursuing a solo career while his hyung Key (Kim Kibum) and Minho (Choi Minho) join Onew (Lee Jinki) the South Korean military in March. His solo album “Want” drops Feb. 11 (10th in the Western world).

And everyone’s waiting to know what Big Hit’s TXT (Tomorrow X Together) will sound like when they debut March 5 (4th in the West). There’s a lot of buzz surrounding this band, only the second from Big Hit, the company that spawned BTS.

👁 Watch: Mamamoo’s “Egotistic”

‘Treasure’ saga dragged on but saved fan-favorite Mashiho

By Nadine Kam I

The YG Treasure Box saga finally came to an end four days ago, when the entertainment company finally revealed the last six of it’s new boy group lineup.

We thought it was the end in late January, when the lineup for the seven-member group was revealed. On Jan. 27, I wrote that I wished YG would introduce a second group, particularly to debut Mashiho, the Japanese trainee who proved so deserving on its TV competition.

To my relief, Mashi was the first member named to the second group, which has been dubbed Magnum. (Stupid name.) Like the last few members of the prior group, the announcements of the members came days apart, prolonging the agony of fans who wanted to know whether their faves had made it.

Here’s the lineup for Magnum. For the original Treasure 7 lineup,
please see my post from Jan. 27.

I was rooting for another Japanese trainee, Keita, but as days passed, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen because he is a rapper, and two other rappers had been named.

In the meantime, many were rooting for the “Silverboys,” the oldest of YG’s Korean trainees, who were part of the company’s A-Team, including Lee Byoung-gon, Kim Seung-hoon, Park Ji-hoon and Kim Do-young. The latter two made it, and in the aftermath, Byoung-gon and Seung-hoon left the company.

Kim Sung-hoon, left, and Lee Byoung-gon left YG after
failing to make the Treasure teams.

They are already 19 and 20 (20 and 21 in South Korea) and the sad reality is that ideally, debuts will come at or before age 18, so the company can make money off the boys for a full decade before they are required to enter the military. Contracts are generally for seven years, so 21 would be the absolute cut-off age.

Sadly, Keita didn’t make it either, and I wonder what his future holds as a five-year trainee.

The 13 members will debut as Treasure 13, then break off into subunits of Treasure and Magnum as needed. I am thinking Magnum may have been created to appeal to the Japanese market because the group is split evenly into three Korean members, and three Japanese.

👁 Watch: Keita (in red shirt) performing with Haruto, who made it to Treasure 7.

Love’s outlaws Hyuna and E’Dawn find haven with PSY

By Nadine Kam I

Even if you’re not into Kpop chances are you may have heard about the saga of Hyuna and Kim Hyo-jong (introduced by his stage name E’Dawn at the time).

Their story made headlines around the world, including the New York Times and the paper I work for, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which I can tell you has very little interest in K-pop. They made news because they were fired from their agency Cube Entertainment for the sin of dating. Gasp!

Hyuna and Hyojong don’t shy from PDA, a no-no in conservative South Korea.

It was shocking in the west because dating who we want, when we want, is a basic freedom. In certain jobs it can become an issue when a person in a position of authority in a company dates a person in a lower position, because of the imbalance of power or accusation of favoritism that might arise from such a situation.

But in this case they were peers let go because of Korean society’s pressure on idols to conform to fans wishes that they be single and seemingly available, no matter how fantastical that may seem. As such, idol trainee contracts often have “no dating” clauses, although some may date in secret.
This was the case with Hyuna and Hyo-jong. They had been dating for two years by the time Hyuna ‘fessed up.

👁 Watch: One of Hyuna and Hyo-jong’s dance practices, from his IG feed. https://www.instagram.com/p/Bq_53h4l16I/

The backlash from Knetz—Korean netizens as they’re called—was so swift and severe that Cube felt pressured to let go of both artists, Hoyong first because he was the lesser known artist who had only recently debuted as a member of Pentagon. It was harder for Cube to let go of Hyuna, who had been one of its top earners for several years.

👁 Watch: Hyo-jong plants a kiss, or whatever that is, on Hyuna’s cheek. https://www.instagram.com/p/BrN1FO5loXa/

After their dismissal, international fans took over in chastising Cube, so much so that within a few days the company announced that it had all been a misunderstanding and the couple’s employment was reinstated. But the damage had been done and the couple left on their own, continuing to feed fans with their individual Instagram feeds showing them together, happily traveling, take a leisurely walks and continuing their dance practices. They didn’t shy away from PDA in a society that frowns on any public intimacy.

Typically, K-pop stars would have been expected to cower in the face of such controversy, apologized and gone silent on their social media, so it was refreshing to see Hyuna fighting back by comically addressing her attackers through her feed.

When they accused her of being fat, she got on a scale and posted her weight, at 5-foot-6 and 95 pounds. She went “bowling” with friends as human pins representing Cube and critics.

People were curious to see what they would do next, and the answer came Jan. 27, when the pair signed a contract with “Gangnam Style” star PSY’s new label, P Nation. Can’t wait to see what will come with the partnership, as both Hyuna and PSY are artists known to test boundaries. This will be interesting to watch in conservative Korean society.

PSY hugs Hyuna and Kim Hyo-jong after signing them to his new label, P Nation. PSY left YG Entertainment in May 2018, after eight years with the company.

YG’s Treasure 7 revealed

By Nadine Kam I When I started watching “YG Treasure Box I had no intention of getting completely sucked in by it. I assumed it would be like any other American talent competition in which I never formed any kind of attachment to the contestants.

I just thought it would be interesting to watch the process that trainees go through en route to Kpop stardom. I knew it would be brutal, but intensity of the TV competition also turned out to be downright cruel, especially when friends teamed up because they thought they would be performing as a duo, only to find out later they would be in a competition with each other to stay or leave.

I’ve become quite accustomed to crying over the trials of idols I already know, but it was new to be crying over and worrying about these strangers I got to know over 10 weekly episodes.

The difference between the Korean and American shows is that in this country, there is the feeling that there is an element of luck involved in becoming a successful performer. You can work hard, but unless you get that lucky break or meet the right person, you may continue to work in obscurity. But you will be able to find work. There is also the feeling that if you don’t make it, you can find success on some other path. In Korea, these individuals train toward their goals from childhood, like elite athletes who give up friendships, love, normal schooling and other activities to make it in the industry. Because they give up so much, there is a feeling that they can’t reclaim that time or change course easily if they don’t succeed. Their destiny rests in only a handful of entertainment companies and the pain and anxiety they feel is palpable.

There were 29 candidates up for what would become seven spots in YG’s next boy band, and they were all so talented.

A couple were obvious choices who made it to the final team, such as the sweet voiced six-year YG veteran Bang Ye Dam, and the YG Japan team’s Haruto, a baritone rapper who sounds like YG’s rival to BTS’s Kim Taehyung, known throughout the industry for his deep, sultry voice, unusual in the high-pitched world of Kpop.

Many people were rooting for Treasure J’s Mashiho, who is shown in this video
wearing a pastel sweater. Now that I watch this video again, 
maybe his voice is too close in tone to Ye Dam’s for them to be in the same group.

Along the way I appreciated the talents of the Team J’s Keita and Mashiho, and prayed there would be a spot for talented rapper, singer, dancer Choi Hyun Suk, who seemed to get verbally pounded by the main producer Yang Hyun Suk at every turn. It made me sad to see this bright boy crying so much.

Seeing Hyunsuk cry is so heart-breaking.

I thought my ordeal and the suspense over who would make the final team would be over when the program ended Jan. 18. But to keep the attention and hype going, The company took a week longer to announce the winners one at a time, every other day. The waiting was killing me because I was so invested in seeing Hyun Suk, a three-year trainee win a spot.

When the show ended, we were left with four winners: the expected Ye Dam and Haruto, Junkyu, and unbelievably to fans, newer trainee So Jung Hwan, who beat out much more polished Team A treasures, called the Silverboys. They are talented individuals who had spent the most time as YG trainees.

How fans felt about YG producer Yang Hyun Suk due to the show’s outcome.


Even then, all hell was breaking loose for YG, with friends calling for the agency to debut all the Silverboys they had been rooting for since the start of the competition and calling for #justiceforsilverboys.

The first of the post-show winners to be announced was another young trainee, Park Jeong Woo. There were few quibbles over his selection. Though green, he has a pretty voice and the kind of sweet disposition that drives fans to want to take care of him. Plus, there were two spots left for my favorites, Hyun Suk and wildly popular Mashiho.

Baritone rapper Haruto had an easy victory, performing here as a team
with Park Jeong Woo.

But all hope was dashed with the next unpopular announcement of Soon Jae Hyuk. Nobody could see what he could contribute to the team. He was ranked last in the first assessment of the competition. Even toward the end, he had trouble singing the right notes. And although a lot of the other trainees thought he might have been selected as a visual, I don’t consider him good looking at all, and neither do most international fans from what I have read in IG and Twitter comments.

Choi Hyun Suk rap battle against his friend Jung Jun Hyuk.

By this point I had nearly lost hope that Hyun Suk would make it because the producer seemed to be favoring younger, newer trainees. I thought if the choice came down to him or Mashiho on this basis, Mashiho would win. The only case for Hyun Suk would have been his status as a rapper in a lineup that at that point only had one rapper. I crossed my fingers.

As soon as Jaehyuk was named the sixth member, the pleas for Mashiho flooded YG’s IG feed. Oh there was plenty of venom too. Edited images of the YG building going up in flames, and the burning of Yang’s photo, etc. They threatened to abandon YG and the Treasures and vowed to follow Big Hit’s new boy group TXT instead.

Sadly, Team J’s Keita (in blue) was sent home all too soon because he chose to take on the No. 1 rank singer Bang Ye Dam. He thought there was no honor
in the easy victory of challenging weaker members.

I hope there is a secret plan to debut two bands at the same time. Certainly the Team A treasures are all so deserving and were a tight, ready-to-debut ensemble before the series ever started.

Finally, the last announcement came yesterday and Choi Hyun Suk was named as the last member. I was so happy and stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch them come together and talk about their experience on Vlive. By the time I went to bed an hour-and-a-half later, they had generated 1.1 million views and more than 10 million hearts, phenomenal numbers for a group that has yet to debut.