Chen’s future in question with marriage news & fan reactions

By Nadine Kam I

I thought I had said all I was going to say about Chen’s marriage announcement on Jan. 13, but just wanted to elaborate a little more on the different reactions East and West.

In the West, fans seem mostly chill, but in Korea and Japan there is anger, talk about withdrawing their support for Chen, and demands that SM Entertainment oust Chen from EXO.

For SM and EXO, there are financial repurcussions from the announcement. Yesterday, Nature Republic announced that it will not renew EXO’s contract to represent Nature Republic in their ad campaigns after a 7-year relationship. That could be simply be a matter of the group reaching it’s 9th year and the members getting older. Certainly, there are a plethora of fresh faces that would make good candidates to sell beauty, such as star rookies TXT and other groups making an impact such as NCT Dream (if they were to stay with SM), Stray Kids and Ateez.

The announcement could just be a coincidence, or the announcement may simply have reinforced feelings that, like EXO, EXO-Ls have aged out of the market for Nature Republic, which is more of an entry-level beauty brand.

So, I just did a reaction video with a friend from Japan, who could help explain from her perspective why fans in Japan and Korea have given up on Chen. We also talk about the likelihood of him being kicked out of EXO as some fans are requesting.

It really doesn’t help that his fiancée lacks the judgment and maturity to keep their personal life private. What is fueling fans’ ire even more are the photos she has posted on her Instagram feed of their home, the bed they share and stacks of Hermés boxes, which some fans are assuming are gifts from other fans, even though Chen announced last summer that he would no longer accept gifts from fans.

Comments translated by Allkpop include: “His girlfriend is making a scene trying to become famous” and “She must be super happy that all of her newlywed furniture was paid for by fans.”

? Some background as to how Korean fans have felt about EXO dating in the past:

Chen first from EXO to announce marriage plans!

By Nadine Kam I

Yesterday came the shocking news that no stan ever wants to hear, that is, Chen (Kim Jongdae) from EXO is getting married. Not only that, it’s probably because his fiancée is knocked up!

He was my second bias, after my forever bias Jonghyun, but since then I’ve moved on and I’m not really that shocked. We never know about the personal lives of K-pop stars because their companies don’t want to risk alienating fans who want to believe their idols are available. But I did see some photos circulating of Chen with his alleged girlfriend from time to time, and thought well, why wouldn’t he have a girlfriend? He was my bias because I saw his good qualities as a person who over time has taken good care of EXO members, and would make a great husband and father one day because he’s so kind, caring, humble, capable of doing man chores (in spite of having everything done for him as an idol), and good with kids.

? Other EXO members are not that helpful so cooking chores often fall to Chen and D.O. This episode was funny, when the meat he was cooking blew off the grill and he looked so sad, but he was able to rescue some:

Even though EXO is one of the biggest groups in the world, he never came off as being arrogant or egotistical.

After the news broke, someone asked me how I thought fans would respond and while this kind of news is usually met with vitriol from stans who claim ownership over idols, I think Chen, being who he is, has a calmer fandom who will be more happy about the news than bitter.

There was a time when Exols begged EXO members not to date until after the age of 50 (usually idols wait to announce the news after military service when at 30 they are considered over-the-hill). At the time Chanyeol quipped, “Then we will date just before we die!”

But Exols are getting older themselves, and with lives of their own, I hope they can be more understanding of idols’ private lives than younger fandoms.

Also, Chen never put himself out there as being flirtatious or available. He’s really reserved, so he probably never had the kind of rabid, immature followers that someone like BTS’s Jimin has, because Jimin is so blatant in his courting of Army.

? EXO Chen & Xiumin on “The Return of Superman”:

Following is a translation of Chen’s letter to fans, breaking the news:

It’s just sad that Chen had to be so stressed and worried about putting the word out there, but I think his sincerity and heartfelt love for his fiancée will win the day and win fans over to continue to support him in his group and solo projects.

? EXO Showtime Haunted House episode, in which Chen was the kind one who gave heat packs to the cold “ghouls”:

Of course I am speaking from an American perspective and things are a little different with fans from Korea and Japan who are really angry and are not only giving up on following him but asking him to leave EXO, rather than taint the group.

A friend from Japan explained Japanese thinking by comparing it to revering their emperor as a god. Just like an emperor, there is a mythology surrounding idols and the Japanese don’t regard them as ordinary human beings. They must be above human frailty. These fans also pay a lot of money to support these artists and in return demand a certain degree of loyalty from them by giving the appearance of being “perfect,” single and therefore, obtainable. Even my friend who is able to be rational and cognizant of the illogical behavior of fans, says it is hard to escape that mentality drilled into them from childhood.

So now in Japanese (and Korean) social streams many are saying they won’t support Chen, knowing the money they spend on music, merchandise and concert tickets will flow to his wife and child. I’m really sad to hear that in Asia he is getting death threats and several of his fan sites have closed down, as people who had claimed to love him are abandoning him.

That raises questions about his future with EXO if he were to become a stain on the group’s future activities because most of their financial support comes from Japan fans. EXO is SM Entertainment’s biggest cash cow and they really have no replacement as newer group NCT hasn’t begun to match their success.

? Chen was No. 4 on iHeartRadio Ellie Lee’s rundown of sexiest men in K-pop, 2017:

Chen is one of EXO’s main vocalists, and would be sorely missed since other vocalists Xiumin and D.O. are now serving in the military, and as a ’91 liner, Suho should be announcing his enlistment some time this year, leaving Chen and Baekhyun as the only main vocalists. Baekhyun cannot carry EXO by himself with vocal duties that can’t be filled by rappers Chanyeol and Sehun, and dancer Kai.

So I don’t know how SM will take the demands for Chen’s removal. I can see where it will be a problem for sponsors such as Nature Republic, if fans refuse to purchase anymore items related to Chen.

The best news would be to see him following in the footsteps of Hyuna and Hyojong, who are showing there are second acts in K-pop for those strong enough to stand up for themselves and their relationships.

If others are brave enough to come out, people in Asia will slowly have to accept the idea that idols are not gods but only human. It may take a generation, but hopefully at some point in the future they won’t have to hide their relationships. I think it’s better to be honest up front then to hit us with a surprise later. Isn’t that true of any good, honest relationship?

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.

A K-pop takeover of Billboard Music Awards social artist category

By Nadine Kam I

Once again, BTS has been nominated for the Billboard Music Awards Top Social Artist award, which they’ve already won the past two years. But what’s new this year has fans elated.

For the first time, the group is nominated for the Top Duo/Group award, winning recognition for their music, not just their social presence. Also up for the award are Dan + Shay, Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5 and Panic at the Disco.

And in the Top Social Artist category, their competition includes compatriots EXO and GOT7, in addition to Ariana Grande and Louis Tomlinson.

EXO, from left, Xiumin, D.O., Chen, Baekhyun, Kai, Suho, Sehun and Chanyeol, is BTS’s biggest rival in South Korea, where warring fandoms have helped to spur the protective instincts of Army and EXO-L members.

The Koreans will be difficult to beat in the social category when the winners are announced May 1 because of their fervent fanbases. The fans post, tweet and share all of the bands’ accomplishments, and create special hashtags to make sure their favorite groups are constantly trending and at top of mind.

I’m imagining a complete takeover of that category one day because K-pop groups inspire cult-like devotion and loyalty. I started this blog, in part, to figure out why that is. It just confounds me because don’t have a follower mentality and would be the least likely to fall prey to any cult or cult figure, but I became totally caught up in this culture. My friends know this is so not me. My feeling about anything popular is normally to run in the opposite direction because I associate the popular, the hive mindset, as being indicative of the lowest common denominator. But in this case, the legion of BTS and K-pop followers are the ones woke.

BTS struggled for five years before breaking through to popular and critical acclaim, Because of the hardship they endured, up until early this year, they considered disbanding.

In this day and age, when we’re all connected online, the fandoms wield immense power. That’s why BTS routinely thanks their Army of followers for helping to propel them forward. You don’t get that heartfelt sense of gratitude from Western artists who, once they become famous, seem to instead feel a sense of entitlement. There is little to inspire loyalty there.

The various music award committees know how sizable BTS’s audience is, and fans cynically believe that many award shows have nominated them for so-called booby, or popularity, prizes, just to gain an audience, rather than taking them seriously for music awards.

This year marks a turning point. Even if they manage only to get their feet in the door and don’t take home the top prize this year, no doubt they’ll be back next year for their work on “Map of the Soul: Persona.” That album won’t be released until April 12, but based on the comeback trailer, I have a good feeling about it.

GOT7 is also nominated, and the three groups nominated for Billboard’s Top Social Award come from three different entertainment companies in South Korea. GOT7 is from one of the Big Three companies, JYP Entertainment. EXO is from Big Three SM Entertainment. BTS is represented by Big Hit Entertainment, which, until this spring’s Tomorrow X Together (TXT) debut,
was only representing BTS.

Let’s talk dance

By Nadine Kam I

If you read my origin story, you’d know that my interest in K-pop started with dance. After being a couch potato for most of my life, I started feeling weighed down, so when a couple of friends suggested taking a K-pop dance class and I said OK.

This was in February 2017. It was like entering an alternate universe where they spoke a foreign language and grownup women were positively giddy about their favorite groups and singers. When my own friends said all of American music sucks compared to K-pop and told me of their plans to move to Korea and marry a K-pop star, I just thought they were crazy and delusional.

EXO dances are challenging because they are very sharp with dozens of details in just a few seconds. Learned a few seconds of “Call Me Baby” up to the point I stopped, on Dec. 13, 2018. Finished up to the music video ending the second week.

I didn’t know any of the groups or their songs, so when ever it was my turn to share which song I wanted to dance to, I was a blank. I would just say “I don’t care, I don’t know anything about Kpop. I’m just here for exercise.”

To make a long story short, I became a super fan of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun four months after his suicide, and that was the start of my spiraling into the cult of K-pop.

And about the dance. As can be expected for someone new to the world of movement, I sucked. I continued flopping around for about three months until deciding I had to go back to the basics. So from one class I moved on to about eight a week, halting K-pop in June and instead taking up more foundational classes of beginner ballet, hip-hop, jazz, modern, Afro-Caribbean and heels dancing.

Then three months ago, with the addition of a new teacher Sarah Replogle to the lineup of Star Fitness Hawaii, I returned to K-pop dance and since I’ve been videoing the dances since that time, thought I’d share my journey here, because it’s been eye-opening.

I probably assumed from the start that dancing was purely a physical pursuit, but it’s also a mental challenge that I haven’t quite figured out. At first I blamed poor memory for my inability to deal with choreography, until I realized that isn’t the entire reason because most of the dances are so quick that if you rely on memory alone you would be left behind. The moves have to be ingrained in the body so that it flows in the same way as singing a song, where I don’t have to pause to remember a lyric. I just always know the next line without stressing or thinking about it, so I can sing while doing anything, yes, even dancing. If I could only get the moves right.

I also relate the experience to my learning to play the drums. I have great rhythm from being a singer, but my drum teacher had me learn by reading notes. Again, in reading notes there’s that pause to make sense of it before the information is relayed from brain to limbs, and I had trouble with that type of momentary synapse lapse. It was only after quitting lessons, ditching the song sheets and playing with other musicians that it came together naturally and my skills rapidly improved.

I’m hoping for a similar miracle with dance because teachers haven’t been able to help me with that mind-body-visual connection. They can’t understand my difficulties because dance teachers tend to be naturals, who started at an early age and never had difficulty moving. So how can they be expected to understand the trials of a non mover?

It’s not easy, but I’m hoping anyone interested in dance can identify and share any tips and advice or commiserate.

I will try posting a couple of my videos each week until I’m all caught up. So first up is about 8 seconds of EXO’s “Call Me Baby,” all we could learn in an hour because EXO delivers so many moves, like 8 or 9 just in the first 4 seconds!

We spent two weeks on this only to get to the end of their music video clip as shown, about 12 seconds. I never filmed the second week because I didn’t have the confidence to keep up.

Watch the fifth position plié, pelvic thrust and chest thrust. Fun to do!

But the move that really got my attention in this dance was the one that puts Xiumin (in baseball jacket) in the center toward the end of the segment.

The song is about a guy who’s a bit full of himself in asking a girl to “call me baby” and “don’t wait too long” before he simply moves on, and the move is particularly rude and aggressive.

It starts with a ballet fifth position plié that results in that diamond shape in the legs, followed by a pelvic thrust, followed by a chest thrust. It cracked me up doing it. Do try this at home and see how that feels! It is so rude, but pretty damn cool!

Eat, drink like EXO and BTS

By Nadine Kam

I’m not one who needs a pop-culture reference to spark a culinary expedition, but I understand the impulse. Films like “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” each left me hungry for nigiri sushi and Chinese food, respectively. Alas, in those cases, similar cuisine was nowhere to be found on Oahu at that time. (Great sushi bars have since materialized.)

When traveling, K-pop stars inevitably start missing a taste of home, and that’s how I ended up following in their footsteps to a couple of restaurants in town for some “When Harry Met Sally”-style, “I’ll have what he’s having moment.”  

That’s how I ended up at Seoul Jung restaurant, not exactly a top-of-mind Korean restaurant for locals because of its hidden status, tucked away on the second floor of the Waikiki Resort Hotel, and at New Shilawon Korean restaurant, where I was also eager to try a holiday special of $9.99 samgyetang, kalbi soup or kalbi and vegetable soup.

BTS was here on the Big Island and Oahu in spring 2017 for the season 2 filming of their annual summer vacation package “Bon Voyage.” Some places they showed up included Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo, and Teddy’s Bigger Burgers in Haleiwa.

Fans pay tribute to BTS with their artwork at Mikawon Korean restaurant.

They split up three ways for dinner one night, but two of the groups including R.M. (Kim Nam-joon), J-Hope (Jung Ho-seok), Park Jimin, Jeon Jung-kook and Jin (Kim Seok-jin) ended up at Mikawon, where one wall has become a shrine to BTS, with guests adding their artwork memorializing their visit to the restaurant.

Meanwhile, Sugar (Min Yoon-gi) and V (Kim Tae-hyung) ended up at Seoul Jung, where I was able to sample the mul naengmyeon (cold noodle soup) and doenjang jigae (soy bean paste stew) that nearly drove them to tears after being away from Korean food for two weeks.

 BTS’s V and Suga enjoyed a quiet dinner at Seoul Jung restaurant in Waikiki.

As soon as I was seated at Seoul Jung, I asked the wait staff if they remembered BTS, and they did! From there I had 100 questions like, “Were they cute? Were they funny? Did you talk to them?” Only to find Suga and V left no strong impression. I was told they were quiet and polite, sitting in the very back of the restaurant in a room with more privacy than in the main dining room.

People are not usually seated there unless the main dining room is full. That’s when I was told about Japanese visitors who show up with screenshots in hand and, matching up the artwork on the walls, beg to sit in the same seats Suga and V occupied. I was fine with sitting in one of the booths outside that room.

The restaurant caters to the Korean palate, with flavors lighter and more refined than local-style Korean. In fact, throughout their visit and sampling local food, the BTS members’ reaction to most local food was that it is extremely salty.

Their dinner included a refreshing bowl of mul naengmyeon.

In contrast, Suga said Seoul Jung’s food “hit the spot,” and the soy bean stew ($16.95) reminded him of his mom’s cooking. Their smiles, tears and quiet reverie as they emptied their bowls said a lot.

The mul naengmyeon ($15.50), or cold noodle soup, was refreshing. The buckwheat noodles were topped with slices of apple and half a boiled egg, in a broth of beef and vegetables, brightened with vinegar and clear soda. It’s served with extra vinegar for those who crave more of the sourness associated with authentic Korean fare.

I could taste why Suga appreciated the doenjang jigae ($16.95). It had the flavor of home, mild and comforting, a simple soybean paste, tofu, beef and vegetable stew that one could eat every day without tiring of it.

Because no Korean meal feels complete without meat, I added on the L.A.-style grilled, sliced kalbi ($28.95), so succulent and tender it was easily the highlight of the meal. Wang-style kalbi on the bone ($28.95) is also available, but I was in a lazy, no-fuss mood, so having the shortribs finished and cut in the kitchen was fine with me. Both arrive on a sizzling platter.
If you’re the grill-it-yourself type, you can always order assorted meats for a customized yakiniku experience. Selections range from kalbi and sirloin ($26.75 each), to black pork belly ($23.95), beef tongue ($24.75) and beef tripe ($25.95).

At New Shilawon Korean restaurant, I’m in the seat that was occupied by Exo’s Chen, at front left. My friend Ritsuko Kukonu is in the center seat that was occupied by D.O., and next to her, Lindsey Muraoka is in Baekhyun’s seat.

EXO also showed up Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2018 for filming and photo shoots, and in addition to being spotted at Champs Sports Bar in Kaimuki and the Haleiwa McDonald’s, showed up for dinner their last night in town at New Shilawon restaurant, where they enjoyed kalbi jjim ($26.95), kim chee jeon ($16.99), fish roe stew ($19.95) and yakiniku.

A few weeks later I was there to try the restaurant’s lunch special (through Dec. 22) of ginseng chicken soup, but yakiniku sounds good to me, so as a meat eater, I’ll probably revisit soon. The banchan and food are great here, and so is the staff.

The yakiniku is $29.95 or $34.95 per person (minimum two people) for all-you-can-eat, lunch or dinner. For $29.95 15.99 for children ages 5 to 10), meat options are pork belly, beef brisket, BBQ chicken, bulgogi and spicy pork. For $34.95 the selectors is greater: ribeye, beef tongue, beef brisket, cubed beef flank, pork belly, kalbi, bulgogi, BBQ chicken and spicy pork. Typical all-you-can eat rules are in effect, like a two-hour time limit, $3 per plate fee for leftovers and no take-out.

Couldn’t leave without checking out Kai, Suho, Xiumin and Chanyeol’s signatures on the wall at the front of the restaurant.


Mikawon Korean Restaurant: 2310 Kuhio Ave. Call 808.924.3277
New Shilawon Korean Restaurant: 747 Amana St. Call 808.944.8700
Seoul Jung: Waikiki Resort Hotel, 2460 Koa Ave. Call 808.921.8620

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. 

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.

The war: EXO-Ls vs. SM Entertainment

SM Entertainment

By Nadine Kam I

Across social media you’ll find EXO’s fandom, EXO-Ls expressing their hatred for SM entertainment and wonder about the source of all the vitriol.

It would be funny if it were not also a sad demonstration of the brief lifespan of a K-pop band.

EXO has long been one of the brightest stars of the K-pop galaxy. Beyond making great music, the group has been a cultural and travel ambassador for South Korea for years.

On Twitter:

EXO-Ls were already miffed that it took more than a year and a half for SM to release an EXO comeback album. (Note: “comeback” doesn’t mean the same thing in South Korea as in the West. It just refers to a group’s new album; not a return following years or decades of inactivity or return after rehabilitation.)

So, EXO-Ls were thrilled to see the group return with “Don’t Mess up my Tempo” earlier this month. That happiness was short-lived when they learned that SM was spending only a week promoting the album. That means, aside from a few music program appearances, there were no accompanying variety shows, concerts and few fansign opportunities scheduled.

I thought that SHINee was short-changed when the company spent only six weeks promoting “The Story of Light” in May this year, but its number of variety shows, live shows, radio shows and performances was an oasis compared to the desert that has accompanied “Tempo’s” release.

I am not an EXO-L although I am a fan of the group and my bias list includes Chen (Kim Jongdae) and sometime member Lay (Zhang Yixing). I also consider Xiumin (Kim Minseok) a bias wrecker.

Watch: “Don’t Mess Up My Tempo”

Considering my newbie status to the world of K-pop, at seven months, I feel like I just met these guys, even though they debuted seven years ago. I’ve only heard about other bands disbanding or losing popularity over time, but never experienced it firsthand, so this feeling of discovery and potential loss comes at an accelerated pace for me.

The attachment fans feel for various bands come after several years of “togetherness.” For the most part, the fans grow up with the boys into adulthood and the loss if they were to disappear feels as strong as losing a best friend or brother. The time and loyalty fans invest in these “relationships” gives them an intensity that does not usually exist in the West, where stars keep fans at a distance. Western music acts come and go with little impact.

Building collective relationships is encouraged by the Korean companies, and those who are really good at it, like BTS’s Park Jimin, go as far as telling fans, “You don’t need a boyfriend. I’m your boyfriend. Look at me only.”

Watch: “Growl”

They are some kind of vampires, little changed since this video debuted five years ago!

It seems as though SM is giving up on EXO in favor of supporting one of its newer acts, NCT.

To a certain extent, there’s no need to put money behind EXO. Because of the strength and numbers of EXO-Ls, “Tempo” easily broke sales records with little promotion. EXO-Ls have proven time and again that they will show up to support the boys and all their endeavors, with all the money that brings. This has made the band a cash cow for the company, confirmed in a recent interview with SHINee’s Key, who pointed out that the income earned from EXO’s “Growl” alone, paid for SM’s glossy building in Cheongdam-dong. In comparison, he noted that SHINee’s “Ring Ding Dong” might have paid for four elevators at that time.

On Instagram:
Another factor in SM’s seeming lack of interest is the fact that members of EXO are reaching military age. The oldest at 28, Xiumin, will have to enlist next year. As more enter mandatory military service that lasts two years, EXO activities will wane. The youngest, Sehun, will have to enlist around 2022, making it 2024 when we can see a full reunion of the group.

Few bands survive such a hiatus, a time when hundreds of newer bands emerge to take their place with a new generation of fans.

Another factor behind SM’s decision may have been the rise of BTS in the west, which has every company looking toward the United States as the next viable territory to conquer.

Xiumin will be the first member to enter military service the end of the year. I hate to see him go. He’s often called the fake maknae of the group, the oldest who looks and acts as if he might be the youngest.

While many K-pop bands have at least one member fluent in English to communicate abroad, EXO has none. Its best English speaker is Chinese member Lay, who spends little time with the group, opting to promote his solo efforts in China—and with recent collaborations and the debut of his Mandarin- and English-language “Namanana”—the U.S.

Meanwhile, SM sent NCT127—the English-speaking subunit of NCT— to the American Music Awards on Oct. 9, and to make the talk-show rounds in L.A.

Also, EXO’s contract may be nearing its end. I’m not sure of the term of their contract, but it could be next year, or in 2022, the year that contractual obligations end for the three Chinese members—Kris Wu, Luhan and Tao—who sued to be liberated from their original contract from SM. (They must continue to pay a percentage of their income to SM through 2022.)

I actually see no reason for SM not to renew contracts because EXO is still one of the best groups in the business, with great voices and particularly sharp dancing. They have shown that they can still bring in sales without promotion thanks to their loyal fandom, but it hurts to know that they know they are being slighted by the company they have sacrificed their personal lives to enrich.