2019 brought diverse Korean music to Hawaii

By Nadine Kam I

Hawaii isn’t exactly overflowing with concerts by national artists, and certainly not Korean performers, but looking back, this has been a banner year.

First, Up10tion appeared at The Republik on June 9, though without Kim Woo Seok and Lee Jin Hyuk because they were in the midst of “Produce X 101” filming.

Then in August we welcomed eSNa and Ladies Code’s Ashley Choi and Lee So Jung, who performed at the Korean Festival in Kakaako.

More recently, the winners of the “Miss Trot” Korean survival show staged powerful performances at Hawai’i Convention Center on Nov. 15. Joining winner Song Ga In were Kim So Yoo, Jung Da Kyung, Sook Haeng, Hong Ja and Jung Mi Ae.

I wasn’t a fan of trot because it is such an old-fashioned style of singing, derived from enka during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the early 1900s. It was the music of assimilation that began to die out with the rise of K-pop in the 1960s, but it seems to be making a comeback with a younger generation.

To give you an idea of the idiosyncratic nature of this phenomenon, it would be similar to a mass of Americans starting to sing big band, swing and boogie woogie music. I really don’t think that’s gonna happen anytime soon.

?: Song Ga In and Miss Trot concert finale

?: Jung Da Kyung and Sook Haeng

I was really intrigued by Miss Trot winner Song Ga In’s cool “Fame” collaboration with controversial hiphop/rap artist MC Mong, and when I went to the concert I thoroughly enjoyed the mostly upbeat, strong vocal performances. Only Hong Ja sang the sort of melancholy songs that give this genre a bad name since these days everyone seems to want to be happy, not depressed.


?: Jay Park “SEXY 4EVA” at Hawaii Theatre

Then, a few weeks ago, former 2PM artist Jay Park wowed the crowd at Hawaii Theatre. I didn’t know too much about his music, so did a whole lot of cramming ahead of time, watching all his latest music vids. I’m more of an R&B than hiphop/rap fan, so thought, oh well, I’ll just go see what he’s about.

I was totally blown away by his performance. He really proved himself to be one of those prized all-rounders, great at singing, dance, rap and personal style.

The audience was so loud, they came close to drowning him out. Before the show, we were warned that we were not to take photos or video of the show. If they saw our phones light up, they said we would be escorted out. I wasn’t about to lose my phone or seat, so planned to be behaved. Well, as soon as he hit the stage, all the phones went up. They would have had to throw the whole audience out.

The concert was so amazing at one point I rushed the stage. There was a crazy girl next to me though, screaming “I love you” at Jay (hers is the voice in my video) and trying to crawl on top of her friend to get on stage. At one point I was clobbered on the head, so I decided to retreat.

After the show, my friends and I had to walk past the stage entrance to get to our cars so we decided to wait and see him exit. There had been a meet-and-greet that I could have attended, but unfortunately I thought it would be after the show. But when I got there I was told he had to fly out to Seattle immediately after the show, so the meet-and-greet had already taken place. Sad. Anyway, I’ll definitely go see him again if he comes back next year. It seems like he loves Hawaii enough to do that. And there are certainly enough people eager to welcome him.

And the year is not over. Coming up at 8 p.m. Dec. 27, Dok2 will be appearing at The Republik. The South Korean rapper launched his first solo U.S. tour Dec. 6. Tickets are on sale at eventbrite.com for
$47.12 to $131.22.

BlackPink’s summer diary in Hawaii available in pre-sale

By Nadine Kam I

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.

This image of Jennie kissing the dolphin Hua appeared on her IG account.

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.

Rosé was feeling ill and posted these images to her IG, referring to, “A sick balloon for a sick Rosie.”

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.

10 reasons you don’t want your child to be a K-pop star … it looks fun & glam but …

IBy Nadine Kam I

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.

Male and female trainees and idols are often subject to diets that keep them thin.

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.

Girls Generation’s Jessica Jung before and after plastic surgery.

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.

Few ever obtain EXO-scale success, and dividing the net eight ways after repaying their agency means K-pop stars take home considerably less than Western counterparts.

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.

BTS rehearsing before they were famous. They still practice the same way.

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.

Four years after their breakup, fans are still obsessed about whether or not Baekhyun and Taken are dating, enough to request an online tarot reading to find out whether they are secretly together.

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.

Whether trainees like YG’s “Treasure Box,” or idols like BTS, everyone in K-pop cries a lot.

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.

We in the Zone debuts with Hawaii member Eson

By Nadine Kam I

Hawaii is blessed with artistic and musical talent. Per capita, we have more people who make a living from the arts than in most states. I recently researched this for another article I was writing about the Hawaii State Art Museum and found Hawaii ranked No. 6 among states on the National Endowment for the Arts 2005 report—the only time the study was made—of artists per percentage of the population, at 84.1 artists per 10,000 people. Topped ranked New York has 101.1 artists per 10,000 people.

Part of it comes from living in a melting pot culture of people from all around the world. When at a loss for words, people who came together on the plantations and city of Honolulu in the late 1800s to early 1900s found they could communicate through song, dance and pictorial language.

With visionary leaders and training centers, I could imagine once having the opportunity for Hawaii music to reach the status of K-pop in the world. Well, we don’t have that, but we do have talented youths and inevitably, some would cross the ocean to make it in K-pop.

Following in the footsteps of Bekah Kim (After School) and Huening Kai (TXT), the latest K-pop star from Hawaii is Eson (Jason) a rapper, songwriter from Choon Entertainment’s We In The Zone. The group just released a mini debut album that includes the fun title song, “Let’s Get Loud.”

Eson is the group’s leader, joined by bandmates Joo An, (Im Ji Myoung), Min, Yoon Kyeong Hoon and Kim Shi Hyun, who was formerly part of “Produce 101” season 2 and Under Nineteen.

? ? You can watch the video here:

Dance diary: BTS ‘Dope’ and ‘Not Today’

By Nadine Kam I

In beginner K-pop dance class, we did BTS back-to-back on Feb. 16 and 23, “Dope” and “Not Today” on the respective dates.

Their dances are always energetic and fun. For that reason, more people tend to show up whenever BTS is being taught. That’s how I ended up not appearing in my own video for “Dope,” because I didn’t check to see whether I was in the frame when I positioned myself. Usually the class is small so I stand in my usual spot, but this time I had to go to the far end. So I don’t know how I did. Even when it looks bad, the videos are a good tool for knowing what you did wrong, what you could do better, etc.

As much as I hated to be in class videos a year ago, by now I feel a little more comfortable and around this time started dressing up more for classes, knowing the teachers always want to have videos as part of resume building and to have something to share on social media.

The timing was good to post these in light of my recent post about BTS being a force for good in this world, using their platform to speak about societal issues and deliver hope to their ilpo, or give-up generation, a name given to the current generation of Korean youths who have given up on their dreams due to intense competition for higher education, a high unemployment rate. Without employment, one also gives up hope for marriage, children and home ownership, and with so much sacrificed, it’s a generation that has given up on having a better life than preceding generations.

These are the issues raised in “Dope,” as well as the anti-establishment “Not Today,” that includes lyrics: “A day may come when we lose / But it is not today / Today we fight!” pushing back against corporate and government corruption.

I really enjoy dancing their choreography because it’s fun, and while there are those highly stylized movements that are a signature of K-pop, there are not as much as other groups so you can enjoy more of the song’s vibe without worrying about a hundred small details!

? ? Watch BTS’s practice and MV

BT21: The children of BTS

By Nadine Kam

I was having breakfast with friends when one started talking about some cute character items she found that happened to be from Line Friend’s BT21 collection. She had no idea that the line was connected to BTS, and I thought that might be true of any non-K-popper who discovers the collection at random.

The collection of seven characters created by each BTS member—plus Van, created by Line Friends based on input by BTS to represent their fandom, Army—debuted Sept. 26, 2017 and became an instant hit.

There are 13 episodes in a video series that details the making of the BT21
Line Friends and BTS collaboration collection.

The launch marked the first time in the character industry that all members of a group actively participated in the entire process of creating unique characters. It was a detail brought up in the group’s initial meeting with Line Friends, when the group members were tasked with drawing the sketches that were eventually turned into the characters. Suga, who had difficulty drawing, mentioned that usually they are given shortcut templates or items to review.

Jin is often spotted traveling with his “son” RJ close at hand.

This time, BTS drew sketches and also came up with the distinct personalities, preferences and values of their characters. It’s the reason they think of their characters as their children and are very attached and protective of them.

The characters now grace all manner of merchandise, but when shown the various item ideas, BTS members were most excited about having pajamas imprinted with their characters!

Here are the characters and their characteristics:

BT21 characters, clockwise from top left: Tata, Chimmy, Mang, Van,
Koya, Shooky, Cooky and RJ.

Tata: From BT Planet, this heart-headed alien is very curious about everything. Created by V (Kim Tae-hyung).

Chimmy: Is the passionate puppy who tries hard at everything. Created by Park Ji-min.

Mang: Is the masked dancing pony with a heart-shaped nose, who brings hope into the BT21 universe. Created by J-Hope (Jung Ho-seok).

Van: The space robot, representative of the BTS Army, is the protector of BT21.

Koya: The smart, sleepy koala who is always thinking when awake. Created by Rapmon (Kim Nam-Soon).

Shooky: A mischievous cookie who is a close companion to Cooky, and scared of milk. Face by Suga (Min Yoon-gi).

Cooky: A cuddly pink bunny who dreams of being strong. Created by Jungkook (Jeon Jung-kook).

RJ: A kind and polite alpaca who wears a thick parka because he gets cold easily.

There’s no Line Friends store in Hawaii, but pockets of BT21 merch can be found at stores like Hot Topic, and above, N.Cat boutique at 735 Keeaumoku St. #112.
Recently, ABC Stores at Ala Moana Center introduced a line of Mediheal 5-point masks created with the BT21 characters. A box with four sheets of five spot masks 
like the Tata ones I’m wearing sells for $11.99.