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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’ve been waiting for April to get here. It’s an exciting month for Kpop, if you happen to stan BTS, set for another record-breaking year with the debut of a new concept following the group’s phenomenally successful “Love Yourself” trilogy that started with “Love Yourself: Her” in September 2017, leading up to “Love Yourself: Tear” in May 2018, and “Love Yourself: Answer” in August 2018.
Already, fans are trying to decode the messages behind “Map of the Soul: Persona,” based on the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who divided the psyche into the conscious and unconscious—the persona, or image of ourselves that we present to the world, vs. our shadow selves, the hidden anxieties, repressed thoughts and unpleasant memories we try to bury and hide from the world and ourselves.
BTS’s music and videos are always full of references to art, history and philosophy, linked to their experiences and personal battles. No matter how far we progress, human beings are destined to live through the same torments, trials and tribulations as every individual since the beginning of human existence. We learn and grow only through the firsthand process of experiencing joy, fear, sadness, pain, that no one can escape. In illuminating their own experiences, good and bad, they aim to provide comfort by suggesting no one endures these battles alone.
The group’s agency Big Hit Entertainment teased fans with the tantalizing release of four sets of concept photos that have the boys showing the bright personas they present to the world, then later dripping with jewels and holding up bunches of grapes and fruit. The first image has Taehyung with a serpent bracelet, perhaps a suggestion of forbidden fruit and the eternal battle against temptation as they become more successful?
I am so excited for this release that I imagine will be the group’s most mature work to date.
“Map of the Soul: Persona” drops April 12, and to make sure it gets attention beyond the BTS Army stateside, the group will perform on “Saturday Night Live” on April 13.
👁: Chen’s “Beautiful Goodbye,” his first solo effort beyond K-drama OSTs
Also this month comes the first solo mini album, “April and a Flower,” from Chen (Kim Jongdae) of EXO.
He is one of the best singers in the industry and the first song and MV to be released is a tear-jerker, “Beautiful Goodbye.”
He sings with so much emotion, and I’m so glad he can get this recognition outside the nine-member group.
It’s still unusual for K-pop band members to make solo recordings because Korean society values group endeavors that build camaraderie and community, as opposed to the strong individualistic culture of the West.
This has long been his dream. While other members of EXO pursue film, television and modeling jobs, Chen is dedicated to music, and this path toward a solo career was already cleared at SM Entertainment by the successes of SHINee’s Taemin and the late Jonghyun.
Jonghyun’s birthday is coming up April 8, and I am hoping to commemorate it in a special way.
Come January, American audiences will get another taste of Korean entertainment.
“The Masked Singer,” hosted by Nick Cannon, will feature American celebs and an American panel of judges—Jenny McCarthy, Nicole Scherzinger, Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke—but the concept is based on the South Korean-turned-international music competition series, “King of Masked Singer.”
In the original series, a number of masked individuals perform for a panel of judges who try to guess the identity of mystery singers. Because of the mask, each is judged solely on the merit of their vocal ability rather than appearance.
Although singers can come from any background, K-pop idols often appear among the competitors.
Among them was one of my biases, EXO’s Chen, who did it because he wanted to learn how he measured up on his own merit as Kim Jong-dae, rather than as EXO’s Chen, an established idol. He proved popular as “Guitar Man” in the competition.
👁 Watch: “King of Masked Singer” Guitar Man
For fans of Korean dramas and films, Chen is often the singer of choice for theme songs.
The American “Masked Singer” will debut on Jan. 2, 2019. The costuming will be much more elaborate than the Korean show, but the Koreans never needed that much gloss. Their media is full of great programming and if this show takes off, you’re likely to see more ideas borrowed and remade for the west.