EXO’s second Hawaii photo book on the way

By Nadine Kam I

I thought the EXO in Hawaii chapter was over when the group’s photobook “PRESENT; gift” was released in April.

Now a second 204-page Hawaii photobook, “PRESENT; the moment” is set to be released on Sept. 10.

Chen and Suho inside Kaimuki Laundromat.

SM has already teased a handful of photos. The last outing featured picturesque destinations. The teased photos showed the more mundane, with Chen and Suho pictured inside humble Kaimuki Laundromat, and D.O., Sehun, Kai and Baekhyun standing prettily in silk lei on a residential street. Shades of “EXO Next Door!” If I knew they were on my street I would run out of the house.

I did get a friend’s shared picture when we just so happened to make ourselves useful by hand-delivering bento lunches to EXO while they were at Kualoa Ranch. Unfortunately, they couldn’t hang around because they were headed to Secret Island Beach, and as soon as we got there a staffer grabbed the lunches from us to load onto their boat.

There was only room for a small crew, so they left about 30 other crew members behind. As they were heading out, my friend took a few photos, and below is one of them. I like to say this was the first time my future husband Chen saw me waving him off. LOL!

EXO heads out to Secret Island Beach at Kualoa Ranch, Nov. 30, 2018.

It’s not like I’m a stalker; I just wanted to see what they look like, how tall they are IRL. D.O., Baekhyun and Chen are pretty short. I think they heighten in their bios. Otherwise they look the same as their photos. The only surprise was D.O. I don’t care much for his looks in 2D—of this group Chen is my bias; if you include Lay it would be Lay—but in 3D D.O.’s features just pop and he is really good-looking.

That said, the second book comes along just at the time EXO-Ls may be missing our EXO members in the military Xiumin and D.O., and this keeps them at the top of our thoughts.

Super M: Avengers of K-pop coming to America

By Nadine Kam I

Everybody say “Yeah!” On Aug. 7, SM Entertainment formally announced the formation of Super M, a supergroup the company has dubbed “The Avengers of K-pop,” comprising a stellar lineup of SM stars from its established boy bands.

This supergroup, set to debut in October, will feature SHINee’s Taemin, EXO’s Baekhyun and Kai, and NCT’s Taeyong, Mark, Ten and Lucas (WayV). This is a crazy, crazy exciting lineup featuring multiple main dancers, vocalists, rappers and visuals. Wow!

It makes sense because there’s been a sort of “land grab” going on in the music industry as Western companies have finally awoken to the sizable following of K-pop around the globe, and all want a piece of the action. It’s not like they have the capacity to create their own groups so they are looking to Seoul to see who has the most potential to break through. First, Interscope signed a joint agreement with YG Entertainment to manage the global promotion of Black Pink, and this time Capitol Music Group and its independent label service Caroline announced their partnership with SME to promote Super M in the United States.

Members of Super M, top left to right, top to bottom: Taeyong, Mark, Lucas, Taemin, Ten, Baekhyun and Kai.

With BTS commanding so much attention over the past two years, this supergroup is just what SM needs to enter the American market in a meaningful way. Because, in spite of fans’ devotion, K-pop remains a niche market, and most groups are unable to sell out stadiums the way BTS has done. They need the power of many—like how KCON has been able to bring fans to L.A. and New York for concerts with diverse performances.

A lot of people assume people who say they like K-pop support many bands, but it is no different from American music lovers who really only love a couple of groups out of 100. A lot of BTS supporters will say they love K-pop, but really love only BTS. That’s because of the power of the fandoms that make people feel disloyal if they stan another rival group. The rivalry between BTS Army and EXO Exo-Ls is particularly intense, as big as the feud between the Montagues and Capulets of “Romeo and Juliet.”

👁 Check out the teaser for Super M!

By uniting the fandoms of SHINee, EXO and NCT, hopefully Super M will have the numbers needed to support a single act. Not to mention making the most profitable use (this is K-pop after all) of Taemin, Baekhyun and Kai before they are forced to enlist in the South Korean military in the next two years. It makes a lot of sense for Taemin because he is already promoting solo while the three other members of SHINee are serving their country over the next year-and-a-half. EXO’s lineup is also being slowly decimated as each member reaches the outer limit of service age.

The real biggie is that members of NCT 127 speak English. In SHINee, Key was the one English speaker. The others focused on speaking Japanese for the Japan market. EXO had no English speaker after losing its Chinese members, so it made it socially awkward when they tried to give interviews in this country when they could only say stuff like “Yeah,” “Come on man,” or just parrot the interviewer. It was painful to watch.

The move also will strengthen the recognition factor of relative newcomers NCT, guaranteeing a certain amount of fame so these members may also be able to strike out solo or do collaborative work with Western artists when Taemin, Baekhyun and Kai exit.

👁 Let’s see what Taemin has done on his own:

But the fandoms are fickle, and days ahead of the formal announcement, there was already a lot of negativity in the air, from worries about overworking the boys, to the need to promote their current groups better.

A lot of people have been saying that they wish Lee Taemin didn’t have to work so hard, but in his documentaries, his love for the stage is obvious, as well as his compulsion to work hard and further his career. Since his trainee days, he also has always wanted to be in the same group as his bestie Kai and as he reflected on his career during SHNee’s 10th anniversary promotions, he said that he initially did not want to join SHINee and always wondered what would have happened if he had debuted in EXO.

🎧 Let’s listen to NCT 127:


I think things worked out for the best. As a member of EXO, he might have been lost in that initial field of 12. With SHINee he got so much attention. So he can consider this his reboot. He must be so happy to be dancing alongside Kai again.

This push into the U.S. is necessary for the company as South Korea is now engaged in a trade war with Japan, stemming from grievances dating back to the Korean War.

Most recently, Japan targeted South Korea’s electronics industry, restricting the export of materials used in smartphones and chips, and removed South Korea from a list of countries granted preferential trade status. South Korea retaliated by launching a boycott of Japanese goods and services, ranging from cars, beer, travel and patronizing Japanese restaurants. The Associated Press reported that a recent survey showed 80 percent of South Koreans are reluctant to buy Japanese products.

👁 Here’s a Kai focus cam for “The Eve” (green shirt):

Tension between the two nations has been building over the past few years, and we already saw the anger directed toward BTS’s Jimin last fall when a photo of him wearing a Hiroshima atom bomb T-shirt in celebration of Korea Liberation Day resurfaced just before the group’s trip to Japan. A BTS TV appearance on a Japanese TV station was cancelled as a result.

Neither side shows any sign of backing down, and if the trade war intensifies over an extended period of time, it will likely have a negative impact on the K-pop industry. Currently, Japan represents 80 percent of the market for K-pop music. If Japan were to block import of K-pop music, merch and put a ban on concerts, Super M may truly be the Avengers who save SM.

I am really looking forward to seeing them together and seeing what they do come their debut in October.

My only prob is the name of this group. In the U.S., where they plan to promote, it’s gonna sound like sperm! That’s why I think all the Korean music agencies should hire me as an English language consultant. I could fix a lot of their mispronunciations when they’re singing! Some are cute but some are just painfully wrong.


EXO military exodus starts with Xiumin

It’s been a hard year saying goodbye to some of the idols who introduced me to the world of K-pop. Between December and March, SHINee members Onew, Key and Minho, entered the South Korean military. It was comforting at least to know they all answered the call of duty to country at nearly the same time, making a possible comeback all the more sooner, just two years from now.

All South Korean men who pass physical and mental eligibility tests are required to spend 21 to 24 months in the military between the ages of 18 and 28. The Military Service Act calls for up to three years in prison for those who refuse to serve. South Korean military enlistment laws changed Aug. 1, 2018, cutting the maximum age a Korean male can delay mandatory service by two years to 28 instead of 30. Previously, men could delay enlistment for reasons such as attending graduate school, serving at the same time as a sibling, or being a ambassador for Korea promotions. Famously, Big Bang’s Seungri is delaying his enlistment due to continuing investigations regarding the Burning Sun scandal.

Chanyeol posted this image of Xiumin’s farewell May 7. Leaving in style, perhaps his last luxury for a long time.

I underestimated how sad it would feel because I wasn’t very empathetic when others talked about their groups being gone. I would think, “Oh well, they’re kind of over anyway.” But K-pop often leads to cultish behavior and the feeling of a personal relationship with a particular group because of the facade of constant access via live feeds, travelogues and other constant updates. On any day, you can just check VLive or Instagram to find out what the members are up to. So it really feels like the loss of friends.

Now, it is EXO-Ls’ turn to feel the loss. Xiumin was the first to leave for military service on May 7, and it will take much longer to see a full reunion soon because of their range of ages. For instance, with the return of Kyuhyun from the military just two days ago, it’s taken Super Junior nine years to fulfill their service and perhaps return as a full unit soon.

The need to enlist is considered a societal duty so when politicians floated the idea of exempting BTS from military service because of their valuable status as international cultural ambassadors, the backlash was swift. Even though BTS was not involved with this proposal, angry citizens started circulating petitions last year requesting that they disband because of perceived disloyalty to country who did not like the idea that they were perceived as superior to any other idol group. BTS members quickly responded that they would all serve, but the wound was revealed in their tears during the MAMA )Mnet Asian Music Awards) ceremony in Hong Kong in December. The eldest, Jin, will be 28 in Korean age next year and will likely have to enlist by early 2021.

Surrounded by his EXO family on his last day as a civilian.

People have been asking me what will become of EXO in the meantime, will they need to stop promoting and will they be able to make a comeback? I can’t predict the future, but in a radio interview, Chen said their contract with SM Entertainment has three years until expiration, taking us to 2022.

Moreso than most bands, EXO may be well-positioned for a comeback after service. For a long time, EXO, which debuted in 2012, has been considered the national group of Korea, recognized by the Korean government and serving as honorary Korea Tourism Public Ambassadors.

In the best-case scenario, Chinese member Lay (Zhang Yixing), who appears only occasionally with EXO, will return from his solo promotions in China to augment the group’s vocal, rap and dance lines as he is skilled in all three areas. I am not sure he will do this because he is very ambitious and has some momentum with his solo career. Without him, they may have some trouble in 2020-21, when their main vocals are gone. Although China also has a mandatory military service policy, it has not been implemented since 1949. Because of the country’s large population, it has been able to rely on volunteers. 

Journalists are not known to be good at math, but I have tried to figure this out. Here’s a list of the members birthdays and a possible timeline of members’ enlistment based on their ages, and how it might affect the group’s ability to promote. 

Xiumin (Kim Min Seok): Born March 26, 1990, age 29 (Korean age is one year older, which would make him 30 overseas); vocalist, dancer, rapper.

Suho (Kim Jun Myeon): Born May 22, 1991; leader, lead vocal. He will be 28 by year’s end, so he will go by end of the year or possibly extend into early 2020. He will already be 29 in Korean age.

Lay (Zhang Yixing): Born Oct. 7, 1991, 27; main dancer, vocalist. Korean service law does not apply to him, but he rarely performs with the group.

Lay Zhang, right, who attended the Met Gala on May 6, is the wild card as an EXO member primarily promoting his own work in China and the United States. Whether he will take time off from his solo projects to fill in the group during lean years is a question mark. I think he would do it on a minimal basis, but cannot stop his own work while he has some momentum.

Baekhyun (Byun Baek Hyun): Born May 6, 1992; main vocal. Most fans have been calculating that the ’92 liners won’t enlist until 2021, but with the new age change I am thinking that they will also have to enlist by the end of 2020.

Chen (Kim Jong Dae): Born Sept. 21, 1992; main vocal

Chanyeol (Park Chan Yeol): Born Nov. 27, 1992; rapper, sub-vocal.

D.O. (Do Kyung So): Born Jan. 12, 1993, should be going in 2021.

Kai (Kim Jong In): Born Jan. 14, 1994; main dancer, visual, center, rapper. The ’94 liners should be going in 2022.

Sehun (Oh Se Hun): Born April 12, 1994; lead dancer, visual, rapper. 

If they follow this timeline they will be able to reunite as a full group in 2024, five years from now. Depending on the group’s promotional capability without certain members, some of the members might decide to enlist earlier to reduce the group’s hiatus period. In the best case scenarios, those born toward the end of the year may be able to push their enlistment to early the following year.

A shaven Xiumin.

2019
Seven members, missing Xiumin. Still able to promote well. Although he is a very good dancer, Sehun and Kai can capably fill this void. Xiumin considers himself  to not be the best singer or dancer in EXO, but has a strong presence and provides a vital supporting role that bolsters EXO’s group dynamic. Although he is the oldest, he looks like the youngest in the group and also has the role of “fake maknae,” bringing cuteness to the group’s appearances. The real maknae, Sehun, may have to step up his role in this regard.

2020
Best case scenario: Five members, missing Xiumin, Suho and Baekhyun. Vocals: D.O. and Chen
Rappers: Chanyeol, Sehun and Kai
Dance line: Sehun, Kai
In this case they will be missing one main vocalist, but may still be able to promote well with only Chen and D.O., with Kai, Sehun and Chanyeol contributing more vocals.

Worst case scenario: Three members; missing Xiumin, Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and Chanyeol. 
Vocals: D.O.
Rappers: Sehun and Kai
Dance line: Sehun, Kai
With two main vocalists gone and essentially only one vocal and two dancers outside, they probably won’t be able to promote EXO material. Perhaps they will tailor new material to remaining members. This could work if Lay were to take a more active role the next three years.

During his last concert with CBX in April, Xiumin performed “Don’t Go,” and expressed his desire to meet with fans again one day and requested that we wait for his return.

2021
Best case scenario: Five members. Xiumin will return in spring. Missing Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and Chanyeol. Lay fills in.
Vocals: Xiumin, D.O., Lay
Rappers: Sehun, Kai, Lay
Dance line: Sehun, Kai, Lay
This will give them two vocalists and two dancer/vocalists/rappers, which could sound good with new material tailored to their strengths.

Worst case scenario: Three members (Xiumin, Kai and Sehun) if D.O. leaves.
Vocals: Xiumin 
Rappers: Sehun, Kai
Dance line: Sehun, Kai
It may be impossible for them to promote as EXO, but perhaps Kai will try going Taemin’s (SM label mate and member of SHINee who is promoting solo while the other members are in the military) route as a solo dancer. I don’t know whether his vocals are strong enough to duplicate Taemin’s success. If Kai and Sehun were to leave this year, a year ahead of their mandatory time, the group would also be able to reunite a year earlier, in 2023.

2022
Best case scenario: Six members. Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and Chanyeol return. Missing D.O., Kai and Sehun. Lay fills in.
Vocals: Suho, Baekhyun, Chen, Xiumin, Lay
Rapper: Chanyeol, Lay
Dance line: Xiumin, Baekhyun, Chen, Lay

Worst case scenario: Three members. Suho and Baekhyun return. Missing Chen, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai and Sehun. 
Vocals: Xiumin, Suho, Baekhyun
Rapper: Xiumin
Dance line: Xiumin, Baekhyun
At this point they will have suitable vocals, but will be missing their main dancers, center and visuals. Perhaps they would be able to move forward with more vocal/acoustic style concerts.

Farewell little one, stay safe. We will wait for your return.

2023
Five members. Chen and Chanyeol return. Missing D.O. Kai and Sehun.
Vocals: Chen, Baekhyun, Xiumin, Suho
Rapper: Chanyeol
Dance line: Xiumin, Baekyun, Chen
They are starting to look like EXO again but missing main dancers. Again, Lay’s presence would help considerably, but Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin have proven themselves more than capable as subunit EXO-CBX.

2024
Full reunion with the return of the youngest, Kai and Sehun. At this point, Xiumin will be the oldest at 34.

In the worst scenarios, EXO may not be able to carry on with three members, but with four members they could pull it off if you consider what SHINee has done with only four members, three of whom are not as strong vocalists as most of EXO. In the meantime, I think we can try to be happy and enjoy most of EXO intact for the next two years. After that, it gets tricky for them to perform their material as is. Be strong EXO-Ls! Remember, as the chart below shows, Super Junior fans had it worse, waiting nearly a decade!


EXO in Hawaii: social style

By Nadine Kam  I  The arrival of EXO in Hawaii for filming and photo shoots Nov. 27 through Dec. 1 had local EXO-Ls scouring social media to find them, but they were a moving target showing up in some unlikely places, like filming at a gas station, a sports bar and McDonald’s.

It was funny how other international EXO-Ls warned Hawaii fans to lay off the boys and give them space. Haha. If they appeared in their towns, they would probably be the ones giving chase. And besides, they don’t know Hawaii very well. Like anybody else, we like to gawk at celebs, but we’re laidback enough to give them their space and not get in their face. That would be rude in our dominant Asian culture.

Anyway, here’s how their week took shape:

Tuesday, Nov. 27: Arrived at Daniel K. Inouye airport. Appeared at Safeway Kapahulu and in the evening at Champs Sports Bar & Grill on Waialae Avenue. 

Wednesday, Nov. 28: Three Tables Beach and Haleiwa McDonalds. 

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Chanyeol’s version of the butterfly stroke while in Hawaii.

Thursday, Nov. 28: Shell Gas station McCully, Wet N’ Wild Hawaii water park Kapolei, Ka Makana Ali’i shopping center.

Friday, Nov. 30: Kualoa Ranch. Dinner at New Shilawon Korean Restaurant.

Saturday, Dec. 1: Fly back to South Korea.

While sleuthing around, trying to find their whereabouts, I wondered whether their Instagram feeds would be of any help. They were fun to look at, but I got the best leads from people with ties to the Korean community. 

Here’s a look at their IG styles. Note that missing in action are Chen and D.O. Chen is one of my biases, so I wish he would get with the program, but I know he’s just not the type because he probably doesn’t deem it useful or worth the effort. I was hopeful when his so-called “wife”f Xiumin came online in September, and again when Suho joined on Dec. 5. One by one, they’re coming ’round!

Kai (Kim Jong-in)
On location, Kai is your best bet for giving away their whereabouts because he seems to love a view, including finding beauty in the manmade environment of Wet N’ Wild Hawaii water park, left. The shy one of the group, you could expect him to connect more with nature than with people. On IG since June 5, 2018, @zkdlin. Follows no one.

Baekhyun (Byun Baek-hyun)
He tends to shoot lonely solo photos, but while in Hawaii posted the image at the top of this page, plus a square of perfect blue sky. Somehow I thought he would be the least likely in EXO to be on IG, but he seems to crave attention. On IG since May 7, 2014, @baekhyunee_exo.

Chanyeol (Park Chanyeol)
By the look of his IG feed, Chanyeol’s life can be summed up as work and promotion, interspersed with a few moody street shots. In Hawaii, he gave away the group’s location while hanging off this street sign on Kapahulu Avenue. On IG since May 6, 2014, @real_pcy. He is fairly active on IG.

Sehun (Oh Se-hun)
The maknae of the group has an interesting feed, most notably because it’s full of selfies sans his handsome face. He’s often hiding it behind a camera flash or some other object, giving us only a partial view. He also shows himself from a distance, or as a blur or shadow. He also gave us the image from Kualoa Ranch at the bottom of this page. On IG since May 6, 2014, @oohsehun. He doesn’t follow anyone, not even his fellow EXO members!

Xiumin (Kim Min-seok)
A relative newcomer to IG, he has posted a handful of selfies and portraits. The only time he branched out was when he posted a couple of photos of his cat, Tan. He hasn’t posted since Nov. 2 because he has been rumored to have lost his password. It will be moot when he joins the military soon, when he won’t be able to post anything. On IG since Sept. 9, 2018, @e_xiu_min.

Suho (Kim Jun-myeon)
Having only recently joined IG, it’s too early to tell how his feed will shape up. Even so, it seems like he has found an outlet and has been prolific at posting selfies and other self images, as well as live stories. His first images were candid shots, but he’s started to add on glossy studio portraits. On IG since Dec. 5, 2018, @kimjuncotton. Hasn’t started following anyone.

Lay (Zhang Yixing)
EXO’s last remaining Chinese member rarely appears with the rest of the group while promoting solo projects in China and abroad. He didn’t come to Hawaii, but during a recent Billboard interview said he would love to come to the islands. He’s another of my biases so of course I follow his IG account. Like Chanyeol, he is all about work and promoting. He shows a lot of studio work shots and often posts videos addressing fans with gratitude and in hope that we might take a look at his recent work. Although most of EXO are men of few words or just a single word in their posts, Lay tends to be the most verbally inclined. The image from Paris on the right was accompanied by the caption, “Sometimes you need to take a moment and appreciate the view.” The one on the left read, “Only by going through the forest can I see the light. #nature #thought” On IG since May 8, 2014, @zyxzjs.