Recently, fellow writer Amy introduced me to MBLAQ’s “Sesame Player.” For those of you familiar with the show, you’ll understand when I say: Where has this show been all my life? Even if you aren’t too familiar with the show or the group, MBLAQ is known throughout Korean entertainment for their presence on variety shows. These five dudes are so amazingly and impossibly funny. And if you want to see them at their best, Sesame Player is definitely the time and the place. It’s an old show that has already run its course but the basic premise is this: MBLAQ sits in their dorm room and plays games. It may sound simple and mundane but trust me, it’s not.
While we see the men of MBLAQ playing a variety of games, we get to know MBLAQ and its individual members pretty well. Seungho is definitely a good hyung to his dongsaengs, taking care of each member and always being a good and fair sport with all their games. G.O. is hard as nails and relishes his victories and drowns in failures. Joon is a drama llama like no other, turning every game into a mini K-drama. Thunder is the eternal maknae of the group, always at the mercy of his hyungs. Mir is rarely there but when he is, he’s full of laughs and energy.
To augment this experience and connection, where fans feel like they’re getting to know these boys, they play another game. It works a little something like this: One member sits in the living room with a microphone and a monitor as the other members enter the dorm bathroom where they are ambushed into an interview. The interviewing member asks several questions on a variety of topics and depending on their reply, they are either free of fart bombs or at their mercy. Long story short: you get to know them pretty well.
I’ve gotten through multiple episodes and at this point and time, I’m pretty done with the show which is excellent timing because they just recently comeback with “It’s War.” “It’s War” is definitely a departure from their goofy, funny image on Sesame Player; they’ve thrown on the black outfits, the eyeliner, and the angry-but-sad scowls. It’s a good song, with a good MV, and a good concept.
But I cannot take it seriously. And it’s not because the comeback itself cannot be taken seriously. Oh no. I bought it with “Y,” I bought it with “Cry,” and even with “Mona Lisa.” But after having seen them play with fart bombs, pretend to be cows, and cower in fear of the ddakbams, I just cannot take any bit of the masculine angst seriously.
The point of idols on variety shows in the first place is to give their audience a closer, more intimate look into actual lives and personalities. The audience gets to know the idol better and thus feels closer to them and in a relationship between a star and a fan that thrives on a constructed sense of intimacy, this is important. So after watching a show, especially one like “Sesame Player” that revolves around a single idol group, you feel like you’re their best friend. Whether that is true or not and whether that is right or wrong is a completely different argument; the sense of intimacy is often the purpose and the achievement of such variety shows. But this same sense of intimacy can also have the opposite of the star struck effect. After watching the boys of MBLAQ goof off for 30 minute episodes, they remind me of every funny guy I’ve ever met. There goes the glitz, the glamour, the singing and the dancing.
But with “It’s War,” they return to all that. Pardon me for the following example, but it’s like watching your kid brother trying to be Enrique Iglesias. Bottom line: it’s weird. In MBLAQ’s case specifically, it’s funny. These clowns are trying to convince me that they’re these badass, angsty, manly men? I can’t handle it. I’m dying of laughter.
But I shouldn’t. I like MBLAQ. I like them a lot. They have some great songs, great dances, and potential to continue to grow and flourish. But “Sesame Player” has convinced me that they’re just these really funny, amusing, regular old guys. They’ve lost that magical star effect that makes me believe in them when I see them on stage.
I’ve watched variety shows before but not one that has centered around a single idol group and does nothing but focus only on them so I can’t say if this holds true for other groups and other shows as well. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. Variety shows want to bridge the gap between star and fan but what they are kind of doing instead, is bringing the star down to the fan’s level. Now, you might think that’s a good thing but how can you idolize someone when they’re the guy or girl next door? You can’t and variety shows need to be careful that they don’t continue to kill the magic off of which this industry is thriving.