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:

Happy 11th anniversary SHINee!

By Nadine Kam I

The 11th anniversary of SHINee should be a joyous time, but being new to the K-pop and Shawol community, the two anniversaries since I came on board last year have been bittersweet occasions.

Last year, it was about marking the milestone 10th anniversary—forever for a K-pop group, many of whom struggle to debut or survive more than five years—without Jonghyun, who killed himself on Dec. 18, 2017. In spite of their mourning, the rest of SHINee—Onew (Lee Jin-ki), Choi Minho, Key (Kim Kibum) and Lee Taemin—came back strong, delivering a healing “Story of Light” trio of mini albums plus an Epilogue, which channeled their grief into several songs in memory of Jonghyun.

“1 of 1” era SHINee, from left, Onew, Taemin, Jonghyun, Key and Minho.

The strongest of these was “Our Page,” in which the members’ shared their thoughts and love for Jonghyun. The lyrics reflect their feelings about a relationship that continues until the last page of their story is written. In their words they sing: 

“Can you feel it? 
We’re connected
By our hearts that are transparent like invisible string
When I stand again on the road we walked on together
There are five overlapping hands, tears and memories
It’s so clear, I don’t want to forget, I can’t forget.
We are facing each other, we are still the same, we’re still the boys who are dreaming.
The pretty words you left behind become a poem, become a song.
Our voices are flying, we know it’ll reach you wherever you are.
If a star vanishes, well everything be forgotten?
I’m holding the precious you in my arms. I want to fill the pages of the story that isn’t over until the very end.”

I made a compilation video that features the song to share their origin, the hard-work ethic that have them practicing in all conditions so that they became considered the most stable live vocalists in K-pop, and their growth from green boys to men who command the stage. For Shawol, SHINee will always number five.

This year feels empty because Onew, Minho and Key have started their mandatory 21-month service with the South Korean military. Its leaves only the youngest, Taemin, on the outside to pursue his solo career while guarding and promoting SHINee’s legacy. One of my friends was in Japan recently and sent me a text saying SHINee was on television there. She’s not into K-pop, so didn’t know his name is Taemin because he was identified in captions only as SHINee.

SM Entertainment is marking the occasion with an exhibition, “SHINee Day — ‘You’re my word, my sentence, my entire language!’’ that went on view May 23 and will be up through June 2 at the SM Entertainment Celebrity Center in Seoul, at 423, Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu. I’m not able to make it but I hope others will go if they have the chance.

👁 🎧 Watch: The debut stage

👁 🎧 Seven years later Jonghyun and Key became emotional singing this song


Dance diary: BTS ‘Idol’

By Nadine Kam I

We spent an hour learning BTS’s “Idol” during our beginner K-pop dance class at Star Fitness Hawaii on Feb. 9, 2019. It is the most high-energy dance we’d done so far, and after dancing it at 100 percent about five times, we wanted to collapse.

Now I understand why I’ve seen BTS also collapse on the floor after performing nearly 4 minutes of this choreography. When I saw it happen I was wondering why they would be so exhausted after one dance because they often perform several of their dances in succession during live shows.

I have to admit it scared me to see them, especially Taehyung, breathing so hard when they are so young.

After doing this dance, I now know why. We only learned about 40 seconds, so would have only done 2-1/2 minutes of the dance at 100 percent and it is way more exhausting than we make it look. The song is nearly 4 minutes and they are dancing that whole time. It’s all the jumps that make it so exhausting.

BTS choreography is actually much easier than most K-pop dances. It’s not that they can’t do sharp moves, but they sacrifice detail for high energy that is exciting for people to watch and more engaging during a live performance. It also makes it much more fun to dance. An EXO dance, for instance, is so intricate that it’s hard for me, as a beginner, to escape into the mood or feeling of the song. Every second is spent thinking about the small technical details that make it more stressful than fun.

👁 🎧 BTS “Idol” dance practice:

BTS x Halsey a dream come true

We are hours away from the release of BTS’s new release, “Map of the Soul: Persona,” and I’m extra excited that it will contain collaborations with Halsey and Ed Sheeran.

While Sheeran is better known, I’m really looking forward to hearing the Halsey collaboration because I love her breathy, resonant vocals. In fact, last November I mentioned on Facebook that I would really love to see her collaborate with BTS, and just a day before the announcement of the collaboration, I was in my car driving when a Halsey song came on. In that moment I tried to imagine what her voice would sound like with Taehyung’s equally deep, sexy vocals, and I thought of making a video mashup of the two together. I’m so glad that it will really happen!

👁 🎧 Listen to Taehyung and Halsey separately, imagine their voices together

I always thought BTS needed better collaborators than Nicky Minaj, whose lyrics in “Idol” were asinine. And Jungkook also sang “We Don’t Talk Anymore” with Charlie Puth, who the Army found problematic because of his racist, right-wing views.

Army was also up in arms over an interview he gave in which he said of BTS, “They’re massive, I want that social following…Me and Shawn Mendes are like how do we get that kind of fanbase? I’d love to collaborate with them,” implying he wanted to use their popularity to boost his own career. That kind of opportunist position irks BTS fans, who have the boys’ best interests in mind, and don’t want to see them used.

I understand that BTS also wants to raise its profile in the west by working with western artists, but at what cost? I feel like they don’t understand their own worth. Based on the size of BTS’s fanbase around the globe, and their social presence, all Western artists need them more than vice versa. At this point, I believe their only competitor in that realm may be Ariana Grande. Past social star Justin Bieber lost his hold on the spot to BTS two years ago.

Working with Halsey and Ed Sheeran are steps in the right direction. Remember to catch BTS on “Saturday Night Live” April 13!

👁 🎧 The teaser “Boy in Luv” video

Credit Eminem for contribution to K-pop lingo

By Nadine Kam I

In light of Eminem’s appearance at Aloha Stadium over the weekend, I thought I’d mention his lasting (though inadvertent) contribution to the K-pop lexicon via his song, “Stan,” dating to 2000.

Stan is used by many fandoms, but in K-pop in particular because it’s a genre that breeds more than its fair share of so-called “stalker fans.” The name happens to work as a portmanteau, combining the sounds and meanings of “stalker” and “fan,” to create a word that brings back the element of extreme devotion lost over time as “fan” became an abbreviation of the original descriptor of such obsessive individuals, “fanatic.”

His song is about an obsessed fan named Stanley Mitchell who identifies closely with the star, his life and struggles, initially penning friendly letters that get more desperate and threatening over time when the star fails to respond.

The word made it to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017, which defines “stan” as “an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.”

The South Koreans have their own word to describe such fans. “Sasaeng,” meaning private life, but also used to describe over-obsessive fans of Korean idols or other public figures, who intrude on their private lives, going as far as to put the stars in danger. Car accidents have been caused by their pursuit of celebrities. This type of stalking is considered only a minor offense in Korea, with a fine of $100,000 won, less than US$100.

The Korean entertainment industry excels at turning otherwise normal individuals into stans. While I’m not crazy enough to engage in the types of behavior in the video below, I did get obsessed enough to launch this blog, even though I have spent half a lifetime without exhibiting an ounce of cultish behavior!

Love’s outlaws Hyuna and E’Dawn find haven with PSY

By Nadine Kam I

Even if you’re not into Kpop chances are you may have heard about the saga of Hyuna and Kim Hyo-jong (introduced by his stage name E’Dawn at the time).

Their story made headlines around the world, including the New York Times and the paper I work for, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which I can tell you has very little interest in K-pop. They made news because they were fired from their agency Cube Entertainment for the sin of dating. Gasp!

Hyuna and Hyojong don’t shy from PDA, a no-no in conservative South Korea.

It was shocking in the west because dating who we want, when we want, is a basic freedom. In certain jobs it can become an issue when a person in a position of authority in a company dates a person in a lower position, because of the imbalance of power or accusation of favoritism that might arise from such a situation.

But in this case they were peers let go because of Korean society’s pressure on idols to conform to fans wishes that they be single and seemingly available, no matter how fantastical that may seem. As such, idol trainee contracts often have “no dating” clauses, although some may date in secret.
This was the case with Hyuna and Hyo-jong. They had been dating for two years by the time Hyuna ‘fessed up.

👁 Watch: One of Hyuna and Hyo-jong’s dance practices, from his IG feed. https://www.instagram.com/p/Bq_53h4l16I/

The backlash from Knetz—Korean netizens as they’re called—was so swift and severe that Cube felt pressured to let go of both artists, Hoyong first because he was the lesser known artist who had only recently debuted as a member of Pentagon. It was harder for Cube to let go of Hyuna, who had been one of its top earners for several years.

👁 Watch: Hyo-jong plants a kiss, or whatever that is, on Hyuna’s cheek. https://www.instagram.com/p/BrN1FO5loXa/

After their dismissal, international fans took over in chastising Cube, so much so that within a few days the company announced that it had all been a misunderstanding and the couple’s employment was reinstated. But the damage had been done and the couple left on their own, continuing to feed fans with their individual Instagram feeds showing them together, happily traveling, take a leisurely walks and continuing their dance practices. They didn’t shy away from PDA in a society that frowns on any public intimacy.

Typically, K-pop stars would have been expected to cower in the face of such controversy, apologized and gone silent on their social media, so it was refreshing to see Hyuna fighting back by comically addressing her attackers through her feed.

When they accused her of being fat, she got on a scale and posted her weight, at 5-foot-6 and 95 pounds. She went “bowling” with friends as human pins representing Cube and critics.

People were curious to see what they would do next, and the answer came Jan. 27, when the pair signed a contract with “Gangnam Style” star PSY’s new label, P Nation. Can’t wait to see what will come with the partnership, as both Hyuna and PSY are artists known to test boundaries. This will be interesting to watch in conservative Korean society.

PSY hugs Hyuna and Kim Hyo-jong after signing them to his new label, P Nation. PSY left YG Entertainment in May 2018, after eight years with the company.

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:

Debuts add excitement to 2019

By Nadine Kam

2019 already got off to a good start with BTS Jimin’s release of his solo song “Promise” on New Year’s Eve in South Korea.

Given BTS’s success over the past year, the most awaited debut will be that of their parent company Big Hit Entertainment’s new boy group. Though Big Hit is not leaking any information about the group’s members, stalkers have kept an eye on the coming and going of potential members outside of the company’s headquarters and posted their videos to YouTube. The image at top allegedly shows some of the mystery members, said to have an average age of 17. The group is rumored to be debuting in March.

Also, with YG Entetainment’s broadcast of its “YG Treasure Box” series (10 p.m. Friday nights KST on Naver’s V Live, and again two hours later at midnight on YouTube) on the making of its next boy band from its “treasure box” of trainees, you can expect them to strike while interest is high and debut said band.

It’s anyone’s guess which of 29 hopefuls in “YG Treasure Box” will become the ones to debut as part of YG Entertainment’s next boy band. Here, three who initially made the band are being put to the test by challengers for their spots.

Along with debuts will come goodbyes in 2019.

Most prominent was the Dec. 31, 2018, disbandment of Wanna One, another group formed through a broadcast competition.

The group debuted in August 2017 following selection during the music survival show “Produce 101,” Season 2, reached the end of their contracts and although they were very popular and racked up 43 Korean and international awards and 49 Korean music program awards in its brief tenure, there was no plan by management company Swing Entertainment to renew their contract.

Fans will miss Wanna One after spring, but due to the group’s success over the year, individual members have plenty of prospects going forward.

With awards season continuing through spring, however, Wanna One will attend the award shows and will stage finale concerts in Seoul Jan. 24 through 27.

Although the disbandment was sad, given that they ended their year’s run on top of charts, the future looks bright. Although fans will miss them as a unit, it’s hard to feel sad for the individual members who will reap a small fortune from their year’s work. In that time, the group generated nearly 80 billion won (USD $71 million) in revenue since debut, with 44 billion won net profit, according to Sports Seoul, and each group member will walk away with a share in the income.

Here’s a look at some of their current plans:

Yoon Ji-sung: The group’s oldest member is slated to release a solo album on Feb. 20 February. He will also be starring in the musical, “The Days,” before enlisting in the South Korean military this spring.

Kang Daniel: Signed to the same agency as Yoon Ji-sung, he is planning to release solo music, although no details are available. He recently opened his own Instagram account to keep fans updated and picked up 1 million followers within 12 hours.

Kim Jae-hwan: He is said to be writing his own music with a solo career in mind.

Hwang Min Hyun: The former NU’EST member will be rejoining his former group under the Pledis Entertainment banner.

Lee Dae Hwi and Park Woo Jin: Have been signed by Brand New Music and will be making their debut in a group alongside MXM’s Lim Young Min and Kim Dong Hyun. The group’s lineup is still being finalized, but an April or May debut is expected.

Ha Sung Woon: Signed with Star Crew Entertainment. It is unclear whether he will be going solo or returning to his former band HOTSHOT.

Ong Seong-wu: Is exploring a future in acting and is reported to be joining a JTBC drama series.

Lai Kuan-Lin: Will be filming another reality TV show, then taking a role in a Chinese TV drama series.

Park Ji-hoon: Has also been offered acting roles but is currently considering his options as he also plans to continue singing, according to Maroo Entertaintment.

Bae Jinyoung: Will focus on acting, as well as forming another music team.

Due to contracts coming to an end in 2019, some groups that may come to an end this year due to relations with their companies or loss of members include B.A.P., AOA, Mr Mr, Cross Gene, BIGSTAR and 24K.

Other contracts coming to an end include that of Vixx and NU’EST, but with Hwang Min Hyun rejoining his former band, they are likely to continue with renewed energy.


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.

IF YOU WANT TO GO:

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