Korean Festival welcomed Ladies Code and eSNa

By Nadine Kam I

It’s rare for Hawaii fans to witness K-pop live. Groups come here all the time, but not for concerts.

Since last November, EXO, Winner, Black Pink and Twice have all been in town for a mix of photo opps and video features. Others have been here as well. In 2017, before they really blew up in America, BTS was on Oahu to film their vacation package “Bon Voyage.” They walked throughout Waikiki and the North Shore unbothered. No one took much much notice of the seven Korean guys in loud aloha shirts.

There have been attempts to stage big concerts here before, but according to promoters, the numbers really didn’t add up. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the market for K-pop is still niche and in Hawaii, it’s difficult to know who’s a fan. Many are closeted.

And although the rest of the world sorts music lovers into fans of K-pop and antis, many of the K-pop fans are anti-any-band-that-is-not-their-fave. Rivalries among fandoms is real, so a BTS fan may not show support for an EXO concert and vice versa.

A BTS fan may say he/she is a K-pop fan, but in truth that person may only like BTS. So BTS distorts the numbers of true K-pop fans—who, just as among Western music lovers—may follow only two or three favorite groups out of a hundred or so that debut every year.

Ashley Choi, left, and Lee Sojung of Ladies Code gave a brief interview before hitting the stage at Victoria Ward Park, Honolulu, for a soundcheck and rehearsal prior to their next-day Korean Festival performance.

So, it was a real treat to see Ladies Code and eSNa in town for a free concert thanks to the Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce, which presents a free Korean Festival annually. This year, the event took place Aug. 10 at Victoria Ward Park on the grounds of the former Ward Warehouse.

About 10,000 people attended the all-day, family event that closed with the 7 p.m. concert, and afterward the women stayed for a meet-and-greet session with grateful fans.

I had the opportunity to chat with the women briefly before they had to go on stage for a soundcheck and rehearsal session.

eSNa, whose stage name is an abbreviated version of her full name, Esther Nara Yoon, is from L.A. and started her music career by uploading cover songs on YouTube. She moved to South Korea in 2010 and became known as a singer-songwriter who has written songs for many in the industry.

She was sidelined earlier this year after she was struck by a car that left her bedridden with a broken collarbone and other injuries. After recuperating, she returned to the stage during KCON New York last month. Her Hawaii appearance is only her second outing since then, and she will perform next at KCON LA, running Aug. 15-18.

She had wanted to try skydiving on this trip, her fifth to Hawaii, but still doesn’t have the OK from her doctor for any extreme activity.

Meanwhile, Ashley Choi and Lee Sojung were here without Polaris Entertainment’s Ladies Code third member Zuny. They had lots of plans to enjoy the outdoors, try a lot of local food favorites such as shave ice and açaí bowls, as well as hit the bars.

On their first trip to Hawaii, they said that the view is something you can’t imagine in Korea and they love the blue sky and fresh air.

I have the uncanny knack for being in places like Shanghai and Seoul when the air is clear and skies are blue, so I have never witnessed the black smog and air pollution that has Seoul ranked near the bottom, out of 180 countries, for air quality in Yale University’s 2016 Environmental Performance Index.

During their rehearsal, Ladies Code was joined by two backup dancers to perform their current comeback hit “Feedback,” as well as one of their debut songs, “Bad Girl,” among others.

They said they would love to be invited back to perform next year, and I’m sure Hawaii K-pop fans would love to see them again.

Nizi Project audition for girl group coming to Honolulu

By Nadine Kam I

In pursuit of growth, the South Korean entertainment industry is increasingly looking overseas to create global-oriented groups to sing in the language of their native countries. Now JYP Entertainment (Twice, 2PM, GOT7, Stray Kids, Itzy) is coming to Hawaii to host auditions for its next girl group, a Japanese-oriented act and TV show to be created in collaboration with Sony Music.

Auditions for the Nizi (meaning “rainbow”) Project will take place in Japan (Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka) and Okinawa this summer, before ending in Honolulu Aug. 8 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Hotel, and Los Angeles Aug. 11 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. The application deadline for the U.S. auditions is 5 p.m. Aug. 1. To apply, visit http://niziproject.com and fill out the “Entry” form.

👁 Watch: J.Y. Park talks introduces the Nizi Project

During the auditions of females ages 15 to 22, 20 people will be selected for six months of training which will be filmed for a reality show airing in October 2019. More important than singing and dancing ability (though potential will be weighed) is fluency in the Japanese language. The final group lineup will be revealed in April 2020 with a tentative debut scheduled for late 2020.

The success of JYP’s Twice set the template for a “glocalized” group comprising members from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan who perform mostly in Japan in the Japanese language.

Nizi Project is similar to JYP’s recent Chinese boy group debut Boy Story, which involved the agency collaborating with TME and Tencent to create the pre-teen boy group.

The project, part of JYP founder J.Y. Park’s (really, all of K-pop leaders) “Globalization by Localization” strategy, is causing controversy at home.

Koreans sensitive to the fragile political relationship between South Korea and Japan are asking why would a girl group that consists of Japanese members singing in Japanese be called K-Pop when the genre implies songs are written in the Korean language. This argument will be coming up more and more as the K-pop industry pushes into the rest of Asia, Southeast Asia and even America, with homegrown, non-Korean talent.