I couldn’t resist taking a stab at Ziko’s any song challenge. It’s such a fun song and the choreography is supposed to be simple enough to allow anyone to take him up on the challenge.
Even though the choreography is pretty easy, I still had my challenges. First of all this was my first time trying to dance solo, and just to be different from the thousands of other found videos online, I decided I needed a different backdrop. In Hawaii, heading to the beach is a no brainer because everyone loves to see blue sky and blue ocean.
The only problem was I was heading to the Big Island so I needed to do it quickly and it was on a holiday and everyone was at the beach.
So, in addition to trying to remember the sequence of the choreography, I had the additional challenges of sun in my eyes, wind whipping my hair into my face, and hundreds of people walking by, including those so oblivious as to pass behind me while the camera was rolling. Doh!
There’s a lot of pressure when people are walking by which made it harder than it would’ve been if I had stayed home.
👁 Zico and Mamamoo’s Hwasa show the challenge choreography:
In fact, it would have been easy to stay home and not do this at all, but I love this song and was compelled to be in the moment. Perhaps it’s 2020 energy at work, which is about tackling your fears before you can attain abundance. It’s supposed to be a momentous year for those willing to take action toward achieving longtime dreams.
Plus, I can relate to a song about getting older and feeling tired and bored but recharging by putting on any song and dancing any way you want.
It’s such an upbeat, fun song that earned Zico the honor of creating the first all-kill song of 2020, meaning it topped six major Korean music charts.
👁 The official video:
In spite of the public situation I put myself in, and my inability to smile where necessary due to those conditions, I got through the dance and survived, so I await the next challenge!
Note: For the sake of having a personal archive of dances, I said I would be posting my beginning dances from last year but I have at least 52 since last March. And I’m definitely more excited about what I’m doing now, so going forward, I think I will start posting those videos with the theme “On this day last year” until I’m all caught up. I will start to post those older videos in mid-March.
BTS is not only a music phenomenon, but a cultural phenomenon, and one reason for the group’s popularity has been its use of its influence to foster optimism and forward thinking around the globe. This time, they’ll be doing it through art, with a new global project called “Connect, BTS,” a series of large-scale art projects involving 22 artists and five cities on four continents.
The intent is to connect people across continents, via art. The first work, an immersive audio-visual forest experience titled “Catharsis,” by Jakob Kudsk Steensen, opened yesterday at the Serpentine Galleries in London. Other works will be unveiled Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, and New York through spring.
Kim Taehyung is the group’s resident art lover and painting enthusiast, and during tour downtimes is known for seeking out museums and galleries. He has surprised gallerists around the world by walking into their galleries and openings unannounced, and leaving with purchases.
You can read more about the project at the links below:
While BTS is once again building bridges around the world and spreading their brand of positivity, inclusiveness, culture, artistry and intelligence, it made me think of their detractors, for whom BTS seems to be a trigger for their xenophobic and homophobic sentiments.
BTS’s army of fans has a history of going after such detractors, and in doing so, amplify their rants. Two of the biggest trash talkers have mocked Army for doing just that, and in so doing only spread the negativity and increased the audience of those pot-bellied buffoons with dinosaur-age thinking.
They think of Army as no more than “a bunch of teen-age girls,” but already those “teen-age girls” are a force to be reckoned with and will be the ones wielding political might in the future. Yes, they pool their resources to do some pretty fangirl things, like buying billboards in Times Square, newspaper ads and subway ads to celebrate their favorite K-pop stars’ birthdays, but following BTS’s lead, they’ve also used their numbers and resources to build wells in Africa and fund humanitarian projects around the globe. Connected through a love of BTS, they’re able to mobilize for good causes.
So, going forward, I am not naming those major detractors in favor of suggesting a new tack. That is, just ignore the naysayers. The impulse of Army has always been to protect and defend BTS, but for the most part, the antis are nobodies who want attention. So, don’t give it to them. Don’t give them a voice so they can just go back and crawl back under the rock from which they emerged.
The ones most vocal in the west most only reveal themselves to be intellectually inferior, racist homophobes. History will have no place for them, but BTS is already in the pantheon of greats as musicians. As a force for change, fostering peace and diversity, they are doing much more than politicians. Imagine if they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize sometime in the future. Then the whole world would have to pay attention.
And based on some early numbers, there are more who want to hear their messages. Today their management company Big Hit Entertainment announced that “Map of the Soul: 7” has sold a record 3.42 million preorders in its first week of availability, making it likely that the album to be released Feb. 21, will top sales of last year’s chart-topping “Map of the Soul: Persona,” which sold 2.685 million preorders in its first five days.
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:
Wanted to try making a reaction video, and couldn’t think of a better place to start than with Lee Jin Hyuk’s solo debut song and music video, “I Like That.”
I teamed up with my friend, filmmaker Titus Chong, for the video, a 10-year K-pop fan vs. my year-and-a-half status. He sees the big picture of K-pop while I admit I tend to be a solo stan, picking and choosing just a handful of favorite groups and individuals.
For those watching the video, for whom K-pop is a foreign subject, this is Jin Hyuk’s story.
He debuted as a member of Up10tion in 2015, but the group had only moderate success, which led him and Kim Woo Seok to join the cast of the K-pop survival show, “ProduceX101” earlier this year. Although the show is intended to allow the public to “discover” and vote for new faces who would go on to form the group X1, the two among a handful of similarly already debuted individuals whose groups were only moderately successful. Perhaps unfair to newbie trainees, all the already debuted individuals did quite well on the show.
From the beginning of the show, I was a huge fan of newcomers Kim Yo Han from Oui Entertainment, and Song Hyeongjun from Starship Entertainment. Yo Han and Woo Seok quickly became consistent rivals for the Top 2 out of 101 spots.
I didn’t really notice Jin Hyuk until midway through the run, when he knew he had to make a move to get noticed. During one of the battles for position (rap, vocal, dance, X), he took on the difficult X-challenge of having to show skill in two areas. He picked rap and dance.
He expected stellar individuals would be joining his team. But he was wrong. The most talented individuals, who could choose their songs first, opted to play it safe and stick to one specialty. The ones on the bottom had no choice but were stuck with the difficult double-tasks that no one else wanted to risk. So Jin Hyuk was really stuck with the worst performers that he had to train in both rap and dance. At times it looked like he would lose his mind and there was no hope, but miraculously, he pulled it off, and it cemented his place in viewers (voters) hearts, which only continued as he was able to show more facets of his personality as the cameras began to focus on him.
👁 I made this mini video for Jin Hyuk after “ProduceX101″ended:
He even reached the No. 1 spot. So it came as quite a shock to everyone, when after consistent placement in the Top 3 for several weeks, during the finale he fell to 11th place and was eliminated. As I said in the video, it was such a shock that I cried for seven days, as did many others who said they couldn’t sleep.
Sleuthing fans who could not believe the finals results, started adding up the public vote numbers and found quite an anomaly, such that there is a continuing investigation into the allegation of rigged voting that ended up subbing in two to three members illegally because the public had to pay to cast their votes. You can read more about the scandal here.
In previous years, Jin Hyuk would have been the 11th member of the group, but the rule was changed this year to include the “X,” with the 11th spot reserved for the one with the X-factor, someone who didn’t make the top team but had accumulated the most votes through the show’s run. That person was Lee Eun Sang, but I actually believe that Eun Sang did make it to the Top 10 on his own (he was well within the Top 10 weekly during the show’s run), but was rigged to be the X because of his status as a promising newbie, which fit the show’s narrative best. Another top vote getter on looks alone was Kim Min Kyu, but he had little talent, so he might have been rigged to finish outside the X category as well because he didn’t show the same promise as Eun Sang. His votes were dropping toward the end of the show’s run, but I feel he had so much support in the beginning, he might have gotten more votes during the show’s run than Eun Sang.
If I had to guess who was added to the roster illegitimately, I think it’s Lee Han Gyul, Son Dong Pyo and Kang Min Hee. I mean, I adore Min Hee, but he was a longshot. He’s an awkward dancer and his vocals are not trendy, but he’s cute. I believe that if he hadn’t made X1, he might have been dropped from the Starship roster because there’s nothing K-pop trendy about him.
Hang Gyul was nowhere near Top 10, and because of his Western looks, he is more popular with international viewers than Koreans, so I find it hard to believe Korean voters, the only ones allowed to vote, would have voted him in. (Producers formed this group with the intention of enjoying international success.)
Same with Dong Pyo, whose diva antics would have rubbed Korean voters the wrong way. Even now, they call him out for being disrespectful to elders. Also, although trainers loved him from the start and the producers chose him to be their opening center, he never caught on with the public and consistently dropped in the rankings into the high teens over the run of the show. I find it hard to believe he would have suddenly become popular in the final vote.
👁 This video tells more of Jin Hyuk’s story during the “Produce” run:
I, for one, find it hard to believe Jin Hyuk did not make it into the final lineup of X1. I believe it was a case where producers did not want to see two members of Up10tion in the group because again, there likely would have been an outcry from fans who believe the show is about discovering new talent, not debuting those who had already performed for years in one group. If Jin Hyuk and another strong contender, Song Yu Vin, had made it into the lineup, it would have been skewed to include several members who had already debuted, such as Han Sung Woo and Cho Seung Youn.
Anyway, for me this MV represents a promising new beginning for Jin Hyuk. I think he did very well!
Miss Trot Hawaii Concert 2019 When: 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 15 Where: Hawai’i Convention Center Tickets: $35 to $250 at eventbrite, Palama Supermarket, Fabric Mart, 88 Supermarket, Tournet Hawaii or call 808.922.1122.
Miss Trot Hawaii is coming to town. It’s a concert featuring Song Ga In (featured in the promotional photo), the winner of the popular South Korean entertainment survival show, “Miss Trot,” plus five runner-ups voted by judges in the “American Idol”-style show. Joining Song will be Jung Mi Ae, Hong Ja, Jung Da Kyung, Sook Haeng and Kim So Yu.
By now you may wondering what is trot. It’s a form of music that originated in Korea in the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule, when elites tried to mimic the latest Japanese styles due to forced assimilation and trot emerged as a melding of Japanese and Western music. As a matter of survival, Koreans had to pretend they didn’t like more traditional forms of art, music and dance. At this time, many Korean elites also adopted Japanese names. It was a sad time in Korean history, and current political friction stems from an inability to forgive Japan for atrocities dating to 1910.
In Korea, trot is known as ppongjjak, recognized by its repetitive rhythm and distinct vocal inflections. It continued to be popular into the 1960s, but became passé with the rise of K-pop, that made it feel like your dad or granddad’s music.
It has a really old-fashioned, dramatic vocal style that sounds its age, at nearly 100 years old, but what makes it interesting and topical is that Miss Trot winner Song Ga In recently collaborated with controversial artist MC Mong on his comeback album, “Channel8,” and she’s come under fire for that association.
🎧 Here’s the MV for “Fame” with Song’s vocal dominating the end:
Mong has been persona non grata in South Korea for eight years because he had pulled out half his teeth to avoid mandatory two-year military service. Apparently, those with poor health, including those without a minimum number of teeth, are exempt from service. For evading the draft, he was sentenced to a six month suspended jail term, one year probation, and 120 hours of community service. To date, his attempts at a comeback has been thwarted by negative sentiments and protests of anti-fans who have managed to block his appearances.
Will this time make a difference?
Well, online comments regarding his latest attempt has been just as negative as ever, with statements like, “All these thugs are the same … they come crawling out like cockroaches once they run out of money” and “Ok. We’ve seen it. You can go back now.”
But perhaps young listeners who don’t know his back story will have more say. His title track, “Fame,” is ranked No. 1 on Melon and “Channel,” featuring Park Bom (who has also come under fire for her participation on his record), is ranked No. 2.
The fusion of genres in his song, “Fame” (about regret and guilt, with the message to be humble) is really cool so I can see why Song wanted to do it, to reach a whole new audience that otherwise would not be interested in trot. I think the TV show became popular for that reason. Today’s young generation is just not used to hearing that kind of powerful vocal so it sounds fresh compared to the high-pitched, nasally whine of so many K-pop girl groups.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Bring the soul” is the third in a series of BTS films, this time documenting the Korean super group’s “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” tour last fall, which took them from Seoul to the United States and Europe.
The film opens and closes with the group enjoying an intimate dinner party on a Parisian rooftop at the end of the tour, and press materials promised members would share “their own stories as never heard before.”
That promise of intimacy is what lured me in, but the film didn’t deliver in that regard. There is more intimacy in their VLive self-cameras and “Run” episodes than in this film. I would have appreciated more insight than I already know, and less of the fast-paced montages that fill up time without adding to fans’ knowledge of the group. The films, to me, always feel like an introductory calling card for non-fans who want to understand the BTS phenomenon that Army is already well aware of.
That said, I went with a super fan who doesn’t hesitate to fly off to their concerts, sang along with each of their numbers and on Day 2 of the film’s release, was watching it a second time. I think it’s safe to say she loved it.
Like “Burn the Stage” and “Love Yourself in Seoul” before it, the film contains a mix of concert and behind-the-scenes footage. In between performances we see a lot of them eating, sleeping and working out. I’m pretty sure fans feel some relief in seeing them sleeping because in addition to providing constant joy, they bring out the nurturing instinct in fans who worry about their health because we understand their drive to push themselves to their physical and mental limits to put on their best performances for their millions-strong Army.
This point is driven home from the start when, all smiles on stage, maknae Jungkook bursts into tears off stage after the initial Seoul concert because his voice cracked during a song and felt he didn’t show his best. RM shrugs off that minor incident, saying he missed two verses of a song.
Fans will feel a roller coaster of emotions, from the exhilaration of their high-energy performances to the pain of seeing how much the boys suffer for their art and for their audience. It really hurt to see Jimin in a leg brace, and it reminded me of hearing in real-time last fall incidents in Europe when Jungkook’s heel injury prevented him from dancing. There was reference to Jimin’s inability to perform in London a day after Jungkook’s injury, but the film didn’t show him in the back brace on his birthday, when he suffered severe muscle spasms.
In light of the severity of their ailments, much less attention was focused on Hoseok and Taehyung’s illnesses which were brought to light here. I recalled hearing Taehyung was sick, but it’s more visceral to see it, and again, their heartbreak when they are unable to be at their best for fans. I actually cried when I saw him unable to sing on stage, but mouthing his lines, with the fans filling in the gap with their own vocals. Of course they know every line.
Backstage, he starts crying but even then must smile for the cameras because press photographers are waiting, which has to make fans wonder how many times they are forced to smile through tears.
I know there are a lot of anti-fans out there, and people who just don’t understand the devotion people feel toward this group. Antis and the oblivious seem to think of them as just a trivial, lightweight K-pop band. A typical response among those I know is, “I don’t get it.”
My K-pop professors at the University of Hawaii at Manoa would often say to our class, “Do you believe BTS really loves you? Don’t believe everything you see. It’s show business.”
Yet, fans often mention how BTS helped them get through dark times and how the group saved them with their messages of light, hope and self love. I think a lot of fans do believe in BTS’s sincerity that sets them apart from other groups, both western and Korean. With cameras on them at all times, I really don’t think they can hide who they are. I think most people are smart enough to detect B.S. Even when they do indulge in their share of B.S., other members quickly call them out, letting the audience in on the hilarity of the situation.
You can bet the rest of the music industry is trying to dissect the BTS formula for success. But it can’t be replicated because it is the sum of these particular seven guys: Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Young (Suga), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Kim Namjoon (RM), Kim Taehyung (V), Park Jimin (Jimin) and Jeon Jungkook (Jungkook).
I think about this a lot. Even the casual observer can see their talent. On the surface, they are not much different from any Korean male group. Some would say they don’t even sing or dance as well as others. So, why this group above all their contemporaries?
I think fans look deeper to see them as more than a singing-dancing phenomenon from South Korea. Beyond the obvious, we also see their human dimension, knowing them to be comical, hard-working, often hungry, worried, thoughtful, lonely. While others see the costumes and glitz associated with worldwide fame, we are fed with constant livestreams and news of plane trips that start at night, flying into night, the early morning wakeup calls, the detachment of unfamiliar hotel rooms, the longing for foods from home. It is this part that brings them closer to earth and so relatable. In spite of the joyful facade, we understand the hard work it takes to make it in their tough industry.
Western stars lack this relatable quality because they flaunt their wealth and have an air of entitlement and superiority over fans.
In their words and actions, BTS always makes it very clear they don’t take fans for granted. This film shows how much they put their fans’ hopes and expectations above considerations for their own health and well-being. Because few bands in Korea last five years, they know their time could be up tomorrow, so they make sure they are giving their best today.
In my last post, I wrote about JYP Entertainment coming to town to audition Japanese speaking girls for a K-pop band created for the Japan market on Aug. 8. (Registration deadline Aug. 1)
A few weeks later I was in dance class when a mother and daughter walked in because the teenage daughter wanted to audition and with no dance training, wanted to learn how to dance for a professional audition in a month. Ah, to be young and naive.
Well, at first you might think, “That’s absurd, nobody can learn to dance in a month.” But the reality is that K-pop group members are often cast for looks first, then trained boot camp style to get up to par. Unlike many dance forms, K-pop dance doesn’t really require formal dance training to start. It helps but the industry has a whole battery of trainers who will whip anyone with the stamina, willpower and work ethic into shape.
So, a lack of dance skill is not an insurmountable weakness. You just need to show potential. In fact, for this particular audition, it could even be better starting from scratch because there’s a TV show involved, with the premise of taking raw material, some starting with talent but mixed in with skill-less rubes, one of whom may surprise us and become a global superstar. Everyone loves a Cinderella story right? And K-pop is full of them. The more dramatic, the better.
But here’s the problem. I could already see this girl is not K-pop material because she is a demure weakling who showed up for one class and never showed up again. To make it in K-pop a person needs a body, will and mind of steel or the industry will break you.
At that moment I realized that most parents are clueless about what the industry is about. If they pay any attention to K-pop at all, it’s because their children are obsessed with it and all they see is the glitz and glam of cute, colorfully dressed boys and girls singing perky PG-rated songs of first love and wistful dreams, and think there can’t be anything troubling with this picture. Wrong-o.
Parents who think this way will be shocked to know they are sending their children into a war zone and putting him on her in a lot of danger, physically and mentally. In South Korea it’s done because a lot of the kids grow up in small rural towns and all their parents’ hopes and dreams ride on their success. That’s why when they fail they cry, often not for themselves, but for letting their families down. But in this country we have child labor laws that don’t allow for the kind of abuse allowed in South Korea.
I’m not here to dash anyone’s dreams but I’m just delivering a reality check if your child is intent on auditioning. These are 10 reasons why you may not want your child to be involved in K-pop.
1. The industry breaks people. The specter of suicides in the Korean entertainment industry is real. South Korea overall has the highest suicide rate in Asia, beating Japan, with 26.9 suicides per 100,000 people. Let’s not forget that I arrived at K-pop because of Kim Jonghyun’s suicide in December 2017. Celebrity casualties have been numerous over the years and the pace never seems to slow down. This May, former Kara star Goo Hara tried to kill herself, and on June 29 popular actress Jeon Mi Seon hanged herself in a hotel room.
The industry preys on the weak because agencies need to assert total control over their trainees and they do not want to take in people who are uppity, unruly, disobedient or strong-willed. It’s the meek who can be molded any way they choose, who obey every order and are fine with having no say in the direction of their careers.
This is just one of the causes of depression among Korean stars. As you will see, there are many more.
2. Starvation is a logical method of weight loss. Girl group members often talk about being on a paper cup diet, that is, all the food they can fit into a small paper cup is what they are allowed to eat in one day. To make it more tangible, one trainee said she was allowed only 300 calories a day, a lot less than the 1,600 to 2,000 calories a typical teenage girl needs to stay healthy.
To give you more perspective, a whole mango is about 270 calories. If you ate the two crackers with a thin slice of salami on each, plus a soft drink, you would come close to your day’s limit. Eating this way, even three meals of 300 calories would seem difficult to maintain.
I’ve also read about boy trainees being allotted one rice roll a day, that is, the equivalent of a plain musubi. A 7Eleven Spam musubi has 253 calories, so these boys, also dividing a can of soda six ways, are also consuming fewer than 300 calories, while on their feet dancing for hours.
One of the idols said he was ecstatic if they happened to get a rice roll with a bit of fish in it, and complained that he lingered in practice one day and by the time he showed up to eat, someone else had eaten his rice roll so he starved for the day. The stories about going without food for a day or two are common. And BTS’s Jimin famously ate nothing for 10 days during his trainee period, when he was desperate to shed his baby fat.
If you are not rail thin (and few Americans meet Korean standards of thinness) you will be given even less food than other members and the Knetz, or Korean Internet trolls, will be merciless in their insults and demands for you to quit the group.
3. Not everyone is K-pop beautiful, but plastic surgery assures you will meet the high standard. Fitting into this appearance-driven society is a must in a nation where even “normal” job applicants must submit a photo with their resumes. If you don’t look good, you don’t get hired. This is why South Korea is one of the plastic surgery capitals of the world.
The Korean industry has a rigid standard of beauty that departs from the Western mantra that “everyone is beautiful in his/her own way.” In Korea, your unique personality and physical quirks will not make you beautiful. They want a western nose combined with eyes at just the right slant, lush lips and a sharp V-line chin for both girls and boys. Oh, and a clear, milky complexion helps.
So surgery is not a personal option. It is mandatory if the company deems it necessary and contracts often include a clause that says you will agree to plastic surgery or you will be dismissed.
4. There’s reason the contract you sign is called a slave contract. K-pop contracts generally have a seven-year term. This is down from 10 years because of governmental reforms after concern over fairness of these so-called slave contracts. During this long term, you are beholden to all the company’s demands over both your professional and personal lives as you will see further on.
5. All that glitters is an illusion. Even if you successfully reach the end of your term, you could leave the company in debt. That is because you will pay for everything. If you’re lucky to make a successful debut, you can consider yourself very lucky if you clear $12,000 a year. And yes, I did say successful. Out of 100 groups that debut annually, maybe one or two become successful enough to profit.
Mega successes like EXO (worth about $7 million each) and BTS (worth about $8 million each) are rare, and even over several years they still do not make the kind of money that a western star like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift can make in a matter of months.
That is because the industry does not work the same way as in America where the artist might pay 10 percent to an agent.
In South Korea the agency owns the artist, but makes the artist foot the bill for training, room and board, stylists, recording, travel expenses and more. When you see BTS flying on a private jet, that expense is coming out of their individual pockets.
I was really shocked when I first saw SHINee’s Key coloring his hair in his bathroom sink because, he revealed, his Big Three company SM Entertainment charged him for stylist services. You would think it would be in the company’s best interest to have these stars look their best, but making $$$ is more important. Key said he even begged them to do it once for free because of the frequency of his hair needs, but it was a no-go.
On “Treasure Box,” YG founder Yang Hyun Suk said the company spends 100 million won (nearly $100,000) per trainee annually. It’s not out of the kindness of his heart but represents an investment in talent that needs to be paid back somehow.
A 50-50 split between artist and agency is generous; depending on revenue source i.e. concert, merchandise or recording. Different companies have different terms, but at the worst, the split could be 80-20 in favor of the company, after net. If a lot of expenses were involved in staging a concert, group members may not profit at all.
The company exacts a high price because of the burden of trainees who never make it and are therefore unlikely to be able to pay back the cost of their training. And this is not because of a lack of talent either. They may not debut simply because they never fit into any of the company’s concepts and simply aged out at 20.
6. You will have no time to rest. Yes, you will be caught up in a whirlwind of activity that may be exciting in the beginning but you will quickly find it is a carnival ride you can’t exit.
If you find it hard to get motivated for school or work or exercise, this is not for you because you’ll be working or practicing 11 to 16 hours a day, at minimum. The truly motivated will put in an additional four hours of practice on their own. And what do you do if you see your trainee competition practicing and getting ahead of you in building their skill set? You keep practicing too.
Sleep deprivation is also a factor leading to depression. Jonghyun said that he got no more than two hours of sleep nightly for a decade, and this is fairly common because of late-night schedules and early morning wake-up calls. This is because, in addition to practice, idols have to put in time filming Vlive segments and making appearances on variety shows to keep building their fanbase.
And, after all that practice you might think that they would treat their tired bodies to a massage. But, no. Remember the company doesn’t pay for any extraneous services and on one episode of “Celebrity Brothers,” BTS’s Kim Taehyung revealed while getting a massage, that it was only his second professional massage since starting his idol journey three years prior. Once again, I was shocked. I only dance about 3 to 4 hours a week and I need a massage at least once a week because of it. I can’t imagine how much pain they must be in during on a regular basis.
7. Say goodbye to dating. Idols must be wholesome, clean-cut, virginal and available. You can’t be that if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Contracts often have no-dating clauses because the major pretense of idoldom is that you are the boyfriend or girlfriend of each fan because that is what they want to believe.
That is why most of the stars decline from being photographed with people on the street. The last thing they need is for such a photo to get out on the Internet with some false relationship claim. Any time any male idol appears with a girl in a photo, whether sister, stylist, dance coach, the claws come out and comments typically read, “Who’s that girl? I hate her.”
Once the fans and companies find out, the relationships are typically terminated.
8. You will be cut off from family and friends. Trainees are often forbidden to participate in social media and their cell phones are taken away, so your world will revolve only around the company.
Even if you do get to keep your cell phone, it will be subject to frequent inspections to make sure you are not getting text messages from any love interest.
Because of this isolation, many K-pop stars talk about loneliness and depression. Outside friends and families are powerless to help because they receive no information.
Some stars have said that family members have been turned away when trying to visit on their birthdays. Just before SHINee’s 10th anniversary, Taemin said that he hadn’t spent any Christmas with his family in a decade because of his busy schedule, and the holidays are a prime time for performance showcases. He left his family at 11 for a life on stage.
9. You will cry every day. I never knew of Jonghyun before he committed suicide. When I went back to watch his old videos, I couldn’t help but notice that he cried a lot. At that time I had no idea how the industry worked so I wondered why they all cry a lot.
I was starting to think these idol wannabes are such wimps coz if I have a goal I will work to achieve it without complaint. But after watching my first survival show, “Treasure Box,” I realized that if I were in their shoes I would probably be crying every day too because of the brutal criticisms from the trainers and managers.
The trainees are subject to monthly evaluations in front of everyone, so everyone can see your strengths and weaknesses, and can listen in on the criticism. At this time all trainees are ranked from top to bottom and if you are anywhere below top three that can seriously mess with your self-esteem. You are not immune from humiliation even if you’re ranked No. 1 or improving daily because the whole staff knows someone younger and/or more talented than you can walk into the door at any time.
While in the United States we measure people on the basis of accomplishment, in South Korea they judge people in terms of how much they are lacking, breaking it down into percentages.
10. You can’t date but your company might pimp you out if they can profit from it. The rumor is that many of the celebrities who have committed suicide were pimped out by their agencies in the interest of furthering their careers.
The most infamous incident was the case of Jang Ja-Yeon in 2009. She left behind a letter claiming that her agent had regularly beaten her and forced her to have sex with a string of VIPs, including directors, media executives and CEOs in order to get jobs. The case was ignored, then reopened earlier this year following the Seungri Burning Sun scandal, before being dismissed again likely because of the high profile of those she had named.
Even if not forced into prostitution, companies can often send trainees and idols, both male and female, out as dates or escorts to entertain the rich and powerful. How far does this go in South Korea society? One blogger recently called out the rich on this matter after being propositioned by a chaebol daughter who offered him $20,000 for one night together.
So that’s it for now. Hope this has been illuminating as to why fans of K-pop respect the idols so much for all they are able to endure.