Byeongkwan’s star on the rise with ‘Pops in Seoul’ gig

By Nadine Kam I

Congratulations to A.C.E.’s Kim Byeongkwan, who became host of Arirang’s “Pops in Seoul,” a K-pop music and news program on Jan. 6, taking over for Stray Kids’ Felix Lee (Lee Yong Bok), who had held the position since last July, but is leaving on a world tour with his group.

Byeongkwan should do well because he has such an outgoing personality and as the main dancer for A.C.E, he’ll be able to keep up the K-pop dance lessons that became so popular when Samuel Kim and Felix were hosts.

I’ve been seeing a lot more of Byeongkwan lately, after having wondered how well he was doing after finishing in fourth place on the K-pop survival show “Mixnine.” The show was to create a debut group out of the top nine finishers from either a girls- or boys-only team, but the debut never happened. He was really talented but one can only follow so many people, and because I arrived at “Mixnine,” going backward in time after having watched YG “Treasure Box,” I continued following the YG participants, Choi Hyun Suk, Lee Byoung Gon and Kim Jun Kyu.

I was reminded how outrageous Byeongkwan can be when he and A.C.E’s Wow released a cover music video of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” last month, which is so awesome.

I’m really going to miss Felix’s Aussie accent, but looking forward to what Byeongkwan will show us in the months ahead.

? A comparison of Byeongkwan and Felix’s dance lessons:

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?

X1 disbandment brings sad end to what could’ve been K-pop’s next mega group

By Nadine Kam I

After 4 agonizing months wondering about the fate of X1, the sad saga has come to a close with the group disbanding on Jan. 6, 2020, when members’ agencies released an official press release reading:

“Hello. This is Play M Entertainment, Yuehua Entertainment, TOP Media, OUI Entertainment, MBK Entertainment, Woollim Entertainment, DSP Media, Starship Entertainment, and Brand New Music. The X1 members and each of the agencies negotiated under the condition of unanimous agreement, but we could not come to an agreement, so we have decided on their disbandment.”

X1 on the cover of 1st Look magazine. Members, clockwise from left: Cho Seung Youn, Nam Do Hyon, Kang Min Hee, Han Seung Woo, Cha Jun Ho, Lee Eun Sang, Kim Woo Seok, Son Dong Pyo, Kim Yo Han, Song Hyeong Jun and Lee Han Gyul.

This came a week after happy news, when CJ ENM, the company that formed X1 through the K-pop survival show “Produce X 101,” announced it wanted to move forward and support X1 in resuming its activities. It was not purely altruistic, but one way they were going make up the money needed to pay back participants adversely affected by the rigged survival show.

But the individual companies could not come up with a unanimous agreement on how to move forward, so they had no choice but disband for the well-being of their trainees/artists, some of whom will continue to be suspected of getting into the group unfairly. Half the members are 17, too young to deal with a scandal that would continue to plague them for the term of the 5-year contract if it had been allowed to continue.

Although I’m sad this happened, I think it is best for the individuals to have a chance for a fresh start without the stigma of being part of what is now referred to in Korea as nothing but a rigged group that has already been shut out of lucrative brand deals as well as the Korean music awards shows, in spite of its popularity and record sales surpassing that of other artists.

There is some talk about members who want to continue as a group being managed by Swing Entertainment. It is too early to know who might be participating and who not, but here’s what I think of the members prospects:

Kim Yo Han: He doesn’t have a group to return to, but I think he wants to be a movie star anyway and maybe will have such offers coming his way. He got what he wanted out of X1 already, recognition of his talent outside the taekwondo circuit, and instant name and face recognition.

Kim Woo Seok: It has already come out that he was the rightful center of the group, a position that went to Yo Han because it was not good for the show’s storyline that a previously debuted individual took top honors in a program supposedly designed to discover new faces. At any rate, he has a group to return to, Up10tion, and perhaps they will benefit from his high profile and excellent performances with X1.

Han Seung Woo: The eldest of the group and leader of X1 also has a group to go back to, Victon. In his time away, the group achieved its first No. 1 music show win in three years on SBS’s “The Show,” even beating top rookies TXT. Like Woo Seok, his performances and persona won many new fans who will continue to follow him in Victon. At 25, he would need to enter the South Korean military in three years, before his X1 contract would have expired.

Cho Seung Youn: As an all-rounder known as a singer-songwriter, rapper and record producer who goes by the stage name WOODZ outside of X1, he will likely pursue solo projects and collaborations. He is also part of the group UNIQ, but I’m not sure how active they are.

Lee Han Gyul: I’m not sure about his prospects. He hadn’t been able to debut earlier and I suspect he might have been rigged into X1, which was promoted in “Produce X 101” to be an international group. His popularity just so happens to be outside of Korea. He’s a good dancer but doesn’t have a look or sound that’s trendy or desirable in South Korea.

Son Dong Pyo: Like Han Gyul, any popularity would lie outside of South Korea. His diva tendencies play well with an American audience, but he has been subject to a lot of reprimands by a South Korean community unamused by his seeming disrespectful behavior toward his seniors. Again, I suspect he was rigged into the group because he started as the show’s center, but was on a downward trajectory through the course of the show as Korean voters got to know him. Even so, he is talented and unique enough to perhaps find an audience outside of X1.

Cha Jun Ho: I have no idea how he got into X1 because he is so blah to me, with zero presence. It might have been on the strength of his looks, because he’s considered very handsome in South Korea. It was also revealed that his company Woollim Entertainment, one of three companies raided by investigators, was one with an employee sent to prison for bribing “Produce X 101” producers Ahn Joon Young and Kim Yong Bum. Fellow Woollim contestant Hwang Yun Seong told investigators he was told early on that only one person from Woollim would make it into the group. At any rate, he has a group of trainees to return to, including Yun Seong and Lee Hyeop, who would make a viable rookie group equal to TXT.

Song Hyeong Jun and Kang Min Hee: Their company, Starship Entertainment, had two of its executives sent to prison for bribing the producers as well. They have a trainee group to return to and I look forward to their reuniting with Ham Won Jin, Koo Jung Mo and Moon Hyun Bin. They are all stronger for having participated in “Produce.” It is not likely their company would want them to continue in X1 because of accusations raised against Min Hee, suspected to have been rigged into the group.

Lee Eun Sang: While he’s been away, his fellow trainees at Brand New Music Kim Si Hun, Yun Jung Hwan and Hong Seong Jun debuted as BDC (Boys De Capo). His sweet style is a perfect fit with this group. So far, they have had only small stages. Eun Sang deserves a bigger stage, and perhaps because of his X1 recognition, they will get that with his return.

Nam Do Hyon: Newly enrolled in high school, he has a bright future ahead as another all-rounder destined for a life on stage. A musician, rapper and dancer, he could go anywhere. I don’t worry about him. He has already shown maturity in his ability to endure rigorous training and schedules, and is young enough to rebound from all the negativity surrounding X1.

So, as always, stay tuned. One part of the story has ended, but another chapter has yet to be written.

First member of Big Hit’s new group TXT revealed

By Nadine Kam I

In my previous post, I mentioned the excitement over Big Hit Entertainment’s plans to launch a new boy band, building on the success of BTS.

While I expected a spring music launch, it looks like the company will be gradually introducing TXT, short for Tomorrow X Together, members one at a time over the course of weeks.

The first to be being revealed one at a time, starting with eldest member Yeonjun, 19, first to be officially introduced on Jan. 11.

The philosophy behind the group’s formation is described as “You and I, different but together. We explore one dream.”

Yeonjun, the first of Big Hit’s new boy band to be revealed,
is being described as a great dancer.

If it’s one thing Big Hit has learned with BTS, it’s that fans are looking for connection and being part of something bigger than themselves. BTS has always practiced inclusiveness, talking about their ARMY fandom, giving credit to fans for helping them achieve success, and addressing ARMY through their social feeds.

BTS and ARMY share one dream of the group’s success, mutual happiness and helping others, and they are accomplishing it together. It is something that evolved over time, but Big Hit seems to be making that level of inclusiveness and fan involvement part of TXT’s DNA.

Here’s an introductory video to Yeonjun: