A hit in the west, mukbangs started at the Korean table

By Nadine Kam I

If you follow Korean culture, you’ll eventually arrive at the mukbang.

Mukbangs started out true to the meaning of the word that translates as “eating video,” based on early variety TV shows that had hosts following guests on eating adventures. They took off in South Korea because of its highly social culture. In the absence of friends or family, people found they were a comforting way to vicariously enjoy a meal with others.

These days, mukbangs have become more commonly associated with the trainwreck spectacle of watching people gorge on massive piles of food on par with competitive eaters.

Food is one of the first subjects people tend to think of when they hear the word “Korean.” When I mention K-pop, people often start making associations and talk about K-dramas and how they make them hungry because the characters are always eating. That is part of Korean branding. Its democratic government knew South Korea would never achieve power through might, so they pushed soft power, winning people over with their food, music, entertainment and culture. It worked as interest in such soft subjects has boosted South Korea’s economy through interest in its electronics, food and beauty products, its tourism industry and enrollment in Korean language schools.

K-pop stars have to continuously come up with ways to keep fans entertained and one of them is through eating segments on their live feeds, travelogs or video diaries. BlackPink’s Rosé is one of the cutest eaters, maybe because of her chipmunk cheeks. I need to watch and learn from her!

I am constantly in restaurants because I write about them for a living, so mukbangs were a natural extension of what I was already doing. Bringing them back to their original form, the intent is to introduce some of Hawaii’s new restaurants, popular and trendy places, holes-in-the-wall venues that people may miss, and high-end restaurants that some may not be able to afford but still want “to experience” through the camera lens before deciding whether or not to commit their hard-earned dollars to a firsthand visit.

My latest was a visit to Don E Don restaurant at 919 Keeaumoku St., which is best known for red pepper pork spareribs and sea salt spareribs, differing from many Korean restaurants that tend to focus on beef.

It’s a relatively small space that tends to fill up quickly at peak lunch and dinner hours, but worth checking out.

Dance Diary: SF9 ‘Good Guy’

By Nadine Kam I

On Jan. 30, 2020, I took on chorus choreography for SF9’s “Good Guy” during my weekly K-pop dance class. Even when it looks fairly easy and doable, it never is because of the speed of these songs.

In this video, I wanted to show more of the process and the false starts as we make our first few attempts at the dance at 100 percent speed. We generally start at 50 percent, and move up to 75 percent before taking on this challenge.

I wanted to show this because the bane of one of my former hiphop and heels—and perhaps every—dance teacher is encouraging new students to try a class. People who have watched my videos—no matter how sloppy we look—nevertheless are intimidated and tell me they don’t think they could ever do the moves shown.

I tell them I am just as uncoordinated as they believe they are, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. Because I always love a challenge, I see it more as fun than intimidating.

What may have boosted my attempts from the beginning was that I didn’t listen to K-pop at all, and wasn’t even sure what K-pop dance was. I approached these classes more as fitness than dance classes. I think that if I started with the idea that I wanted to master dance, I may never have started, because I think people always assume that one must start dance at an early age and toil for years to gain proficiency. I’ve found that’s not true at all. One can start at any age and mastery comes with effort and discipline, not any prescribed length of time.

At the time, I just wanted to move, I hate exercise, and this seemed more like learning an artform than a rote workout. Even so, it didn’t take long for me to really get into it and want to improve, so that’s when I went from a single class to nine a week in many styles to gain more technical skill: ballet, hiphop, heels, Afro-Caribbean, jazz, modern, body mechanics, etc.

Yes, of course, during my first year of trying to learn to dance (I enter my second year at the end of this month, February 2020) I stepped off the floor during the filming. No one wants to be looked at and judged. But one thing dance has given me is some fearlessness. Of course beginners are going to make mistakes, but it isn’t the end of the world, and even though I am not particularly gifted, so what? I am learning every day and it allows me to enjoy dance performances with a whole new level of understanding.

Chen’s future in question with marriage news & fan reactions

By Nadine Kam I

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:

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.

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.

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👁: 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.

Miss Trot coming to Hawaii

By Nadine Kam I

Miss Trot Hawaii Concert 2019
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 15
Where: Hawai’i Convention Center
Tickets: $35 to $250 at eventbrite, Palama Supermarket, Fabric Mart, 88 Supermarket, Tournet Hawaii or call 808.922.1122.

Miss Trot Hawaii is coming to town. It’s a concert featuring Song Ga In (featured in the promotional photo), the winner of the popular South Korean entertainment survival show, “Miss Trot,” plus five runner-ups voted by judges in the “American Idol”-style show. Joining Song will be Jung Mi Ae, Hong Ja, Jung Da Kyung, Sook Haeng and Kim So Yu.

By now you may wondering what is trot. It’s a form of music that originated in Korea in the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule, when elites tried to mimic the latest Japanese styles due to forced assimilation and trot emerged as a melding of Japanese and Western music. As a matter of survival, Koreans had to pretend they didn’t like more traditional forms of art, music and dance. At this time, many Korean elites also adopted Japanese names. It was a sad time in Korean history, and current political friction stems from an inability to forgive Japan for atrocities dating to 1910.

In Korea, trot is known as ppongjjak, recognized by its repetitive rhythm and distinct vocal inflections. It continued to be popular into the 1960s, but became passé with the rise of K-pop, that made it feel like your dad or granddad’s music.

It has a really old-fashioned, dramatic vocal style that sounds its age, at nearly 100 years old, but what makes it interesting and topical is that Miss Trot winner Song Ga In recently collaborated with controversial artist MC Mong on his comeback album, “Channel8,” and she’s come under fire for that association.

🎧 Here’s the MV for “Fame” with Song’s vocal dominating the end:

Mong has been persona non grata in South Korea for eight years because he had pulled out half his teeth to avoid mandatory two-year military service. Apparently, those with poor health, including those without a minimum number of teeth, are exempt from service. For evading the draft, he was sentenced to a six month suspended jail term, one year probation, and 120 hours of community service. To date, his attempts at a comeback has been thwarted by negative sentiments and protests of anti-fans who have managed to block his appearances.

Will this time make a difference?

Well, online comments regarding his latest attempt has been just as negative as ever, with statements like, “All these thugs are the same … they come crawling out like cockroaches once they run out of money” and “Ok. We’ve seen it. You can go back now.”

But perhaps young listeners who don’t know his back story will have more say. His title track, “Fame,” is ranked No. 1 on Melon and “Channel,” featuring Park Bom (who has also come under fire for her participation on his record), is ranked No. 2. 

The fusion of genres in his song, “Fame” (about regret and guilt, with the message to be humble) is really cool so I can see why Song wanted to do it, to reach a whole new audience that otherwise would not be interested in trot. I think the TV show became popular for that reason. Today’s young generation is just not used to hearing that kind of powerful vocal so it sounds fresh compared to the high-pitched, nasally whine of so many K-pop girl groups.

X1 debut marked by record win time

By Nadine Kam I

So my question prior to X1’s debut on Aug. 27 was, are they going to match or top Wanna One, the previous male band formed by the “Produce 101” franchise that disbanded earlier this year after their yearlong contract expired.

Well, considering their first big win, on SBS MTV’s “The Show,” for “Flash,” came five days after their debut, they’re off to a good start. They beat Wanna One, whose first award came nine days after debut, as well as the six-day record on MNET’s M Countdown, for a boy group, held by YG’s Winner after releasing its debut single “Color Ring.”

👁: X1 “Flash” music video

Whether they continue on this way is still a question mark for me because of that cloud over the “Produce” voting process that already prevented them from debuting on KBS2’s “Music Bank.”

It’s also hard for me to be objective about the group’s formation because I was with these members for four months during the “Produce X 101” competition, and feel too attached to some members to watch them as if being introduced to them for the first time.

I like the song and video, but is the song as strong as Wanna One’s “Energetic?” I don’t think so. Because I try to learn K-pop dances, I also noticed there’s no segment in the choreography that’s particularly catchy. So it lacks that dance hook that gets people excited to perform and share cover dances, also a measure of the success of a particular song.

I feel like 11 members is too many for newbies to become close to a group. I mean I’m glad that number accommodates most of my favorites, but I think an ideal group size is five to eight. If I were new to the group, the quick edits and dark styling of the music video for “Flash” would make the members seem intimidating, and it wouldn’t give me enough time to get to know their faces or to sort out who’s dancing or singing at any given time.

Luckily, they have a built-in audience of the millions who tuned into “Produce,” and already picked out their favorites, which for me are center Kim Yo Han and sub-vocalist and X-boy Lee Eun Sang, who I think is a rising star. Only 16 by American age, he has the poise of a young adult and presence to match members of the group who already debuted with other groups prior to joining “Produce.”

He is at the center of this teaser for M Countdown, which has him confessing his fears about the stage, only to be told by the hyung line and Han Seung Woo, that they manage their nerves by taking flash selfies.

Meanwhile the maknae line’s Son Dong Pyo shares that they quell their fears by dancing.

Eun Sang thanks them, then goes off to do his own thing.

Meanwhile, at a press conference for their debut, Yo Han had promised that they would all put their hair up in apple style if they won first place on a music show. On Sept. 3, they fulfilled that promise, which delighted their fandom, called One It! Very cute as you can see at the top of the page.

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I was also curious to see what the Woollim trainees would come up with for their W Project 4 debut. They have some strength in dancer Hwang Yunseong, vocalist Lee Hyeop and rapper Kim Dong Yun.

But overall their dancing is not as precise and powerful as X1’s, and they have a way to go before they can match those groups in the upper echelons of the K-pop world.

👁: W Project 4 “1 Minute 1 Second”

Fall will be the battle ground for K-pop’s new supergroups

By Nadine Kam I

Because people know I listen to K-pop they often ask if I also watch K-dramas. I don’t because I’m afraid of getting hooked like I did with the music, because I really didn’t think that would happen.

My leanings were toward ’90s alt and metal so I actually didn’t find much to like on the American music scene in the post-grunge era. Since then I really only liked Jack White and … And You Will Know by the Trail of Dead. Not exactly precursors to K-pop.

I carried my anti stance into K-pop dance classes. Teachers were always curious to know which groups and songs we liked so they could tailor classes to our tastes.

“Whatever,” I’d always say. “I’m just here for exercise.” I didn’t know a single group or song. I found it odd that women my age would gush over groups of teenage boys. They were so fanatical and excitable. “Geez, K-pop lovers are a different breed,” I thought.

Then I became hooked and fell deep into the rabbit hole, so it’s not enough to know which groups are out there and which new song has been released. Now I follow trainees who have not even debuted, plus their companies, all the while trying to second guess their next moves and decisions, an endless chess game as companies strategize the optimal times to debut a group or release an album to beat the competition.

So, Korean dramas? I don’t need it. The world of K-pop is a living soap opera of real characters, raw emotions, heartbreak and immense tribulation, in other words, the kind of drama that hooks anyone who relates to these characters. I think I do because I sang in bands for about 5 years so I understand that strange desire to be on stage.

👁: X1 teaser

Anyway, the drama is really heating up as X1—the “nationally produced” group of 11 members voted in through the reality TV competition “Produce X 101″—prepares to debut Aug. 27 with a mini album, “Quantum Leap. “It’s exciting to see whether or not this band can top the accomplishments of
Wanna One, the last boy band produced in this series. Wanna One charted immediately and had several hits before disbanding when their contract ended after a year.

I was still fairly new to K-pop when they disbanded. I couldn’t believe that producers did not try to extend the contract for such a popular band. Now I realize that because of each member’s obligations to his own management company, such an extension is impossible. The different companies need their talent back to move forward with their own groups.

Because of Wanna One’s success, producers got smart and this time, members of X1 are signed for five years, 2-1/2 years promoting exclusively with X1, under Swing Entertainment management, and 2-1/2 years on joint basis when they will be able to promote with Swing plus their own management companies.

Their debut comes just as BTS is enjoying an expected two-month break from touring and media appearances. That clears the way for fans to cast their eyes elsewhere and X1 has a real mixed bag of types that different people will find appealing.

Usually groups have a uniform concept and members share a similar vibe. Because X1’s members were voted in (there’s continuing controversy over the legitimacy of the final tallies), half the members lean sexy and mature, the others are cute teens. All have their own charms, and fan bases built up through the show.

Interestingly, Billboard recently reported the group ranks at No. 6 on its social chart, without having released any music yet. Of course BTS has topped this chart for three years. Last year the group had competition from fellow Kpop groups GOT7 and EXO. Could it be time for a change, and could X1 be the group to topple the leaders? We’ll see!

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👁: Super M teaser

Not to be outdone, SM Entertainment is launching its own super group, Super M, comprising members of its already established male groups SHINee (Taemin), EXO (Baekhyun, Kai) and NCT (Taeyong, Mark, Ten and Lucas.

The group was formed in collaboration with Capitol Records, which likely eyed BTS’s success and wanted a shortcut to similar success. As I said in my previous post, K-pop is still a niche genre and it’s not likely for a typical group to gain the kind of following BTS amassed over six years. So Super M is counting on the combined fandom’s of SM’s three popular male bands to come together to support this supergroup.

Although there is negative feedback concerning SM’s overworking these members, I think they are all hard workers who love the limelight and would love a shot at winning over more Americans. Personally, I like the idea of these talented artists together and can’t wait to see what they will come up with to crack the U.S. market.

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Starship Enterprise has been promoting its star trainees Ham Won Jin and Koo Jung Mo with some timely back-to-school imagery.

Another result of the fervor behind the trainees featured in “Produce X 101” is fans calling for the formation of a second group, comprising the remaining nine of the Top 20 finalists, who did not make the X1 lineup.
Fans have dubbed this group Be Your Nine (BY9), and most of the agencies have responded positively about considering it.

If this were to happen, BY9 could have success rivaling that of the winning 11 contestants in X1. But I have doubts BY9 will debut with the nine expected, because Up10tion’s Lee Jin Hyuk is on the path to a solo career, and three of the Starship Entertainment trainees—Ham Won Jin (16th ranked), Koo Jung Mo (12th ranked) and Moon Hyun Bin (32nd ranked)—will likely debut in their own group early next year.

Woollim Entertainment will launch its W Project 4 Sept. 2. The lineup, from left, Kim Min Seo, Lee Sung Jun, Kim Dong Yun, Hwang Yunseong, Lee Hyeop and Joo Chang Uk.

Striking while they are at the height of their “Produce” popularity, several other companies involved are debuting project releases by their trainees. Another of the biggest is Woollim, whose Hwang Yunseong finished in 18th place in “Produce,” qualifying him for BY9. But Woollim already confirmed his participation in its latest W Project lineup, along with other Woollim “Produce” trainees Kim Min Seo, Lee Sung Jun, Kim Dong Yun, Lee Hyeop (signed after “Produce” ended), and Joo Chang Uk. Woollim’s W Project 4 will launch Sept. 2.

Whether this “project” encompasses only a few singles, albums and music video releases, or a full debut band is unknown. If it is just on a project basis, conceivably Yunseong could promote with BY9 as well.

Others moving on are MyTeen’s Song Yu Vin and Kim Kook Heon whose company Music Works broke fans hearts with the news that MyTeen would be disbanded and Yu Vin and Kook Heon would be performing now as as a duo.

It’s interesting to see where all this will lead, but clearly, “Produce X 101” has been a major catalyst for getting name recognition for these artists who otherwise might have only gone on to be another face in a crowded field. The one drawback from the show is the ongoing investigation into voting fraud. Already, X1 has lost some sponsors who don’t want to be connected to members whose popularity may be in question because of the voting irregularities.

A Kaneohe Bakery is home to the surprising K-pop sandwich

By Nadine Kam I

If you’re ever in Kaneohe, you might want to check out the Korean bakery Ono2Guys for its unique “croissant Korean-style sandwich,” also known as the Idol or K-pop sandwich ($4.76) because of its link to K-pop stars.

One of the two guys behind the bakery, Ewa Kim, spent more than a decade as a director at SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System), which hosts the weekly music show “SBS Inkigayo,” starring popular and rookie music artists. Only celebs and staffers of SBS had access to a fourth-floor cafeteria where one of the most popular items was an egg sandwich with coleslaw and the one ingredient that sets it apart from your typical savory sandwich, strawberry jam.

The K-pop sandwich is a Korean samsaek, or tri-color sandwich. At the SBS Studio cafeteria, the sandwich features a combo of yellow egg salad, red strawberry jam and green lettuce. Kaneohe bakery Ono2Guys makes it with the pink and red of ham and strawberry jam, yellow of cheeses and green of lettuce and cucumbers.


By Western standards, it’s an unusual combination, but Kim said he grew up eating similar samsaek, or three-color, sandwiches made by his mom.

Because he said some people consider egg to be stinky, he swaps it out at his bakery with ham and Swiss and American cheeses, to which he also adds the crunch of cucumbers. He also substituted the usual white bread for a croissant, and the combination is divine! I’m not sure why it works, but it does, and he said it must be strawberry jam. He’s tried many other flavors, but said none work as well.

Another reason for the sandwich’s notoriety? Just as the Chinese used mooncakes to relay messages of rebellion against 14th century Mongol rule, the idols use this particular food item to carry more sociable greetings.

Also available at Ono2Guys are sausage pizzas, individually wrapped and ready to go.

According to the website Soompi, former Big Bang member Seungri said idols, whose contracts often forbid dating, would slip notes and phone numbers under the plastic wrap and gift the sandwich to someone else without their managers’ knowledge of the extra ingredient.

Ono2Guys is also home to a range of savory and sweet buns such as those with curry potato filling or chocolate custard cream, cupcakes and Crazy Loaf breads filled with Korean sweet potato, sugared chestnuts or red beans. Always the music lover, Kim said the loaves are named “Crazy” because that’s the song that was playing while he initially experimented with the loaves.

Ono2Guys is at 45-773 Kamehameha Highway. Call 808.762.3111.

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.