Welcome to the first edition of Beats of the Week!
While the landscape of Korean entertainment can be vast and wondrous,
it’s often the little things that make us fall in love, inspire awe, evoke second hand embarrassment or sometimes, break our hearts. Among the many things vying for your attention this week, what won out and made your heart beat?
Fromis_9, “Love Bomb” and Everything Bubblegum
I’m really excited for this new segment, and also incredibly nervous. I just know that other writers are going to suggest things that will send me down countless K-pop rabbit holes! And while I love a good rabbit hole, I already have too much Hallyu content to manage. Please have mercy on my poor brain, which is also trying to do that thing known as work and that other thing known as studying.
But back to K-pop! I am currently residing in a blissful honeymoon phase with my new K-pop love: Bubblegum. It took me a really, really long time to get into bubblegum K-pop, but I am not the kind of girl that does things halfway. Once I decided to love bubblegum, I gave her my whole heart and now we are a very happy pair.
One of the best things about my bubblegum romance is that I’ve been able to go back in time and find new favorite songs that I had totally ignored when they came out. A throwback track that is currently soundtracking my days is Fromis 9’s 2018 off-kilter bubblegum masterpiece “Love Bomb”. The song is absolutely bonkers, and that’s a very earnest compliment. Musically, “Love Bomb” is full of irresistibly sparkly beats and surprisingly delicate melodies. The accompanying MV is like if Red Velvet’s most murderous MV got even more wicked, and then took cutesy steroids. I’m a pragmatist, so I know that while my love for bubblegum may be all-consuming now, it is likely to have its peaks and valleys in the future. But I can’t imagine a day that I won’t enjoy the stylish, bouncy, self-aware, bubblegum madness of “Love Bomb”.
Fully conceptualized idol groups in Imitation
In what is exactly the opposite of what caught Siena’s attention, what caught my eye (ear?) was this brief teaser of a “powerful” performance by the fictional boygroup Shax in the upcoming KBS drama Imitation. Adapted from a webtoon, the drama follows the (triangular? quadrangular?) loves and career aspirations of its idol protagonists.
I read a little of the webtoon and it seems very much to be a y/n fanfic with a candy female lead. A guilty pleasure when I’m in the right mood/when I was younger — the sheer number of good looking male idols running around this show alone would have drawn my attention once upon a time! But now, what I do like is how KBS is teasing the different groups. Along with the YT teasers and social media accounts, the fictional groups, comprising of real idols from SF9, ATEEZ, T-ara‘s Jiyeon and U-KISS‘s Jun will be performing live on Music Bank (Tea Party on April 30, Shax on May 7) — which means new, original music! And the teaser for Shax actually sounds…good? Here’s La Lima and Sparkling. While I’m not particularly interested in the show itself, I am hoping Imitation will give us a good OST and a few nice songs over the course of its run (starting May 7).
Lee Kwang-soo Leaves Running Man
In terms of Korean TV, something that caught my attention this week was the announcement that Lee Kwang-soo would be leaving Running Man to focus on recovering from an injury last year. When I saw the news article, it had me thinking about the early 2010s when watching Running Man was a Sunday ritual for me. While I don’t watch it regularly anymore, once in awhile I still get stuck in a rabbit hold of watching old and new clips of the show on YouTube.
Lee Kwang-soo has been a part of the show since the very beginning and while he isn’t the first member of the original lineup to depart, I can’t help but think that in some ways it’s the end of an era. His traitorous tendencies and over-the-top reactions that I have come to appreciate will be missed!
Chuang 2021 and The Evolution of the Produce 101 format in China
My source of joy this week (and the past two months) has been Tencent‘s Chuang 2021, a Chinese spin-off of Mnet‘s Produce 101 which this year featured f(x)‘s Amber as a mentor! While past seasons lacked Produce 101‘s entertainment value, this one captured something special by focusing on international friendship – there were trainees from China, Japan, Thailand, Russia, Ukraine, and the US among its 90 participants.
Aside from performances, what I loved most was seeing trainees overcome language barriers to form lifelong friendships. In this era of division, seeing young people from different countries become best friends after spending just three months together gave me hope like nothing else! Saturday’s final saw the top 11 trainees debut as a group called INTO1, with six Chinese, three Japanese and two Thai members, including dancer Rikimaru, who has previously choreographed for BoA and Taemin. Between them, they speak six languages; the oldest is 28, while the youngest is 18.
Another breakout star was Russian trainee Lelush, who was a translator asked to join the show on a whim due to his good looks and multilingual ability. He agreed, but regretted his decision after realising how tough singing and dancing is, rocking the boat of Produce history by asking viewers to vote for others instead of him. His deadpan manner, quiet kindness, and total apathy towards the glamour of idoldom created a relatability and memeability that convinced viewers to vote him into the final; you can read his story on VICE, The Washington Post, or The Guardian, but the show itself is by far the best iteration.
I find it fascinating that an idol culture and TV show format brought over from Korea has, in just a few short years, evolved into something so different and progressive! Korean trainees weren’t included in this season, but Tencent’s competitor Youku recently posted a call for auditions that featured video messages from multiple SM Entertainment groups. If that’s a hint that reintegration of Korean entertainment might be on the horizon, then I’m curious to see what the melding of these two idol cultures will look like!
C-pop & K-pop: Youth With You 3, Ha Hyunsang’s Voice
Like Vivien, most of my attention has been firmly in the C-pop landscape ever since February. However, the cause for my anticipation of every Thursday and Saturday has been because of a different Chinese Produce 101 show, iQiYi’s Youth With You 3. YWY3 brought back dance mentor Lisa from Black Pink from the second season to many fans’ excitement.
Talent from various Chinese competition shows appeared in YWY3, with trainees coming from Youku’s Street Dance of China, iQiYi’s Rap of China, and Idol Producer, the first season of iQiYi’s idol competition series. Other familiar faces include A-trainee Tony, who made it into the top 20 of Mnet’s Produce X 101, which formed X1 until their early disbandment. He currently occupies the No.1 position out of nine that solidifies a spot in the final group.
Jun Liu from South Korea’s 1MILLION Dance Studio also captivated the mentors and viewers, especially with his original choreography to “Growing Up With High Pressure” for his First Ranking Stage. Although we are surrounded by incredible dancers in the K-pop scene, Jun Liu’s dancing is on another level: his emotion, attention to detail, and particularly his patience in teaching the other trainees earned him a spot within the top nine for the first two ranking releases. Unfortunately, he dropped from his initial debut position in the latest ranking, so hopefully he ends up making it into the final YWY3 group.
Before I get carried away (I truly cannot shut up about Youth With You), another thing that caught my attention this week was Ha Hyunsang’s newest song, “Late Night Movie.” Co-written with Day6’s Young K, there is something incredibly calming about this track. Ever since I discovered Hoppipolla, the band Ha Hyunsang is part of, I realized that his voice might be one of my favorites. I love how effortlessly he can slide into his falsetto and how his vocals can be both grounded and ethereal. I highly recommend checking out Ha Hyunsang’s 2020 mini album The Edge! I am still so sad that I found it after the SB Mid-Year discussions passed.
Korean R&B, Home Dining & DPR’s shoe collaboration
From the world of Korean R&B g1nger released a gorgeous little single called “My Tangerine”. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and G1nger’s vocals are as stunning as ever! Jeebanoff also just did a cover of the song so I know I’m not alone in loving this track! I hope this means she’s working on a new album because her previous record Sunbeams was so good but also so short.
I’ve also been enjoying watching Hoody‘s new Home Dining show on YouTube. Currently, there are two 30-ish minute long episodes out. One episode features Simon Dominic while the second episode features Lee-hi and Sogumm. Not only does it have me trying new recipes but it’s also a great show to watch while preparing said meal! It is a wholesome little show and we all deserve some wholesomeness this year. I’m excited to see Code Kunst on the show since he’s so funny! I also wonder if Yugyeom will stop by now that he is part of AOMG!
Finally, DPR just dropped their new shoe collaboration with Adidas. “The Sync Pack” will be available from the 30th of April and damn I want a pair. They also come with these holographic cards which switch from the DPR logo to the customer’s name. It is a great overall package that they’ve delivered and DPR just can’t stop winning right now.
2PM, the original Beast Idols
This week, my attention has been preoccupied with 2PM. Seriously, it’s getting weird. I’ve been watching Vincenzo on Netflix, starring Song Joon-ki, Jeon Yeo-been, and Ok Taecyeon. I don’t know if I should recommend it to anyone else as I’m struggling with the show’s intense swings in tone and extreme violence. In order to deal with said violence, I watch one or two episodes a week, and consequently, I have become used to seeing Taecyeon on a regular basis.
My YouTube algorithm then suggested I watch Over 2PM, a series of reality/variety videos of the members in various combinations. The series began in February 2020 and has shown the members doing the usual MBTI tests, quizzes, and indoor adventure activities along with sweet welcome back parties for returning teammates. Junho is the final returning teammate, returning from military service in March and this means, for the first time in many years, the original Beast Idols are back as a unit. The episode showing Junho’s return and welcome party attended by the full Wild Six made me feel more than a little misty-eyed. After watching the reunion episode, Gentleman’s Game and Junho’s Canvas EP have been alternating as my work soundtrack music. Whatever you think the time is, at my house, it’s 2PM. At least for the next few days.
Showterview with Jessi
The past two weeks have been filled with midterms and stress, leaving me in search of procrastination techniques that I can write off as Korean practice. I first heard about Jessi’s Showterview through Renee’s article back in March, but this past week the YouTube algorithm finally sent it my way. I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on all this Jessi energy and K-pop idol panic for the past few months. It was exactly the kind of short, fast-paced, easy to digest K-pop content that I needed to ease my midterm anxiety. Not to mention, watching Jessi both struggle and improve in her Korean over the course of the series is very encouraging for me and my Korean listening skills.
Notable segments include Shinee‘s Minho basically making out with a dangling croissant, Hong Seok-cheon discussing the prejudice he faced in the industry after coming out while Jessi professes her support of the LGBTQ+ community, and Park Joon Hyung and Jessi trying to make sense of Korean idioms. Jessi is so endearingly blunt and fun that every guest feels at ease — even if her directness is intimidating. I can’t say Jessi’s Shorterview is the reason I passed my midterms, but it definitely kept me sane. I’m sure Shoterview will also be my method of finals escapism come June.
I’m always here for Minho pashing french pastries, but I found something just as good in Shinee‘s recent appearance on MMTG — Minho’s reaction to Key and MMTG host Jaejae basically being the same person. In fact, the entire two-part interview was full of hilarity and information. I was really impressed by how thorough and fun the interview was, and how that carried through to other interviews. I am now slowly working my way through the MMTG back catalogue. The recent interview with Kang Ha-neul reacting to his role in The Heirs was just precious, and I got to learn more about his Waiting for Rain co-star Chun Woo-hee as well! Like Chelsea, my algorithm is also now well trained and I look forward to watching MMTG videos.
One of them was Jaejae’s interview with Youn Yuh-jung following her historic Oscars win for Minari. Learning more about her career and her experiences shooting such a low-budget movie as a celebrated veteran actress was so interesting and gave a bit more bite to her teasing of Minari producer Brad Pitt in her acceptance speech. And while Brad and A24 should have provided her an interpreter if she wanted one for the awards season, at least the decision to not play off speeches allowed Youn the time to say what she wanted to say. In a year where actors of color were treated especially callously by the Academy, its members and the press, I appreciated that Youn was, as a veteran artist not reliant on Western film industries, in a position to hit back at the more tasteless press questions. While Daniel Kaluuya had to take the high road, Youn was simply able to say that she didn’t know what Brad Pitt smelled like because “I didn’t smell him, I’m not dog.”
Heartwarming and healing ballet drama Navillera ended its run this week and so did my weekly cryfests. I loved its premise from the get-go and gradually fell in love with Deok-chul’s imperfect family (not to mention his extended ballet family too!) but the relationship he had with his ballet teacher/new grandson Chae-rok is one for the books. It grew organically as they took turns to support each other through difficult personal challenges, and it was amazing to witness how Deok-chul’s warmth totally transformed Chae-rok’s world. This process was portrayed beautifully by Park In-hwan and Song Kang, and I really would like to applaud their efforts in learning ballet for their roles. Also, Na Moon-Hee is officially my favourite K-drama grandmother.
Although I was slightly annoyed by the drama’s editing style at some points, this ended up being a memorable watch that taught me a lot about how it’s never too late to start chasing your happiness. I would really recommend this drama to anyone who is struggling these days – it contains a timely and empowering message, as well as a whole lot of heart. (Pack your tissues!)
Readers, what caught your eyes, ears or heart this week?
(iQiYi, Yonhap News Agency, YouTube          , Image via King Kong Entertainment)