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 secondhand embarrassment, or sometimes…break our hearts. In this segment we ask our writers: Among the many things vying for your attention this week, what won and made your heart beat?

[Music] Highlight

My long dormant B2uty and Light heart has been rekindled over the past week ever since Highlight returned with their newest album, The Blowing. I didn’t realize how much I missed their great vocals, especially Yoseob‘s, ever since they enlisted four years ago. Their title track this time, “Not The End” uses trendier electronic beats and is not exactly my cup of tea. It’s a casual  listen for me, but I really fell for the second track on their album, “Wave.” I also had a great time reminiscing their older tunes on their Killing Voice special with Dingo. Personally, nothing beats the classic “On Rainy Days” and “Beautiful” when it comes to Beast tracks. Lastly, I laughed my bum off when they appeared on Jessi‘s Showterview, making my day with their lightheartedness and ever willingness to make a fool of themselves. I’ll be looking forward to Kikwang‘s performances especially here on out!

[Music] DPR Ian, Stray Kids

This week the weather took a turn for the weird and wintery where I live (it was sleeting in May one day???), so I dug out some of my favorite rainy-day songs to listen to for (outer and inner) warmth. One of my most frequent rotations lately has been Christian Yu (DPR Ian)’s Moodswings in This OrderAdmittedly, I didn’t give it nearly the emphasis it deserved when it first came out, but it’s become one of my most frequent plays as the second year of my master’s got more and more hectic closer to finals. There’s something about the subtlety and uniqueness of his composition that I appreciate and find comfort in. It feels a little raw in a way that’s familiar and authentic. 

My other return listen is “Ex” by Stray Kids. I have a bias towards groups that produce and compose a lot of their own music anyway, but the lyrics and message of “Ex” make it one of my favorite and most comforting B-sides. The MV features the members grappling with different manifestations of anxiety and depression, and, as cheesy as it sounds, is a reminder that it’s okay to not be ok. This far into COVID and close to finals and a conference presentation, that’s the kind of mutual commiseration that I sorely needed. I still find myself throwing on the MV on especially depressing days, like how people used to watch Greek tragedies for emotional catharsis, but much less… poetic. 

Here’s to hoping that warmer, more summery weather and having survived the end of the school year makes me feel like listening to more upbeat Stray Kids, Jackson Wang, and Jay B (soon!). 

[Music/Styling] Itzy, “Mafia in the Morning”, DPR Ian

So, I completely agree with our reviewer that Itzy’s “Mafia in the Morning” is not good. But I’ve watched all of the music show stages, sometimes multiple times. Why is that? Because fierce pleather and excellent suiting is apparently more important to me than music quality.

Of course, Itzy are always a blast to watch thanks to their stellar charisma and choreography. But I’m watching “Mafia in the Morning” for the fashion. From Ryujin’s glamorous villain-vibes shoulder-padded crop top, to Yeji’s striking purple and black jumpsuit, to the aforementioned festival of perfect pleather, this comeback is slaying on the styling front. My favorite set of outfits so far has to be the flawless black and red suit variations they wore on M Countdown.

I think what I like most about Itzy’s “Mafia in the Morning” looks is that they are strong but playful. Ironically, they do what the actual song does not, which is to avoid taking things too seriously and instead just have fun with the wickedness. I have heard from the twitter-sphere that Itzy’s oversized shoe saga continues, so boo to that. Safety first, please. But otherwise, Itzy look absolutely fabulous, and if I end up buying a bedazzled velvet sleeveless top with cut outs, it’s Chaeryeong’s fault.

On a totally different topic, I wanted to second Victoria’s recommendation of Moodswings in This Order (MITO). I also didn’t really notice the album when it came out, but over the course of the spring, it has turned into one of my first half of 2021 favorites. If you enjoy things that are musically hypnotic, emotionally complex, and more than a touch melancholy (those three qualities happen to be the pillars of my personal taste in music!), then definitely give it a listen. 

[Music] Woodz, StayC, Nature

University and work have been keeping me so busy that I barely had any time to follow news on the K-pop landscape this week, but I had plenty of time for YouTube during my train rides and what can I say — like Siena, I am not particularly impressed by Itzy’s “Mafia in the Morning”, but I love the stages. The girls look gorgeous and pull off the choreography with so much charisma and confidence that I had to watch all of them. 

Aside from this, this week has been music-heavy for me and I found myself diving into the EPs by Woodz once more. I will forever be amazed by his musical talent and his impressive discography. “Love me Harder” and “Accident” from his debut EP are incredibly powerful tracks I just can’t get enough of. His second EP brought us the magnificent skate-pop “Bump Bump” that I have been enjoying on repeat, especially now that the weather has been warming up here. There is something different about songs when you know the artist has been involved in both writing and production.

Another song that overflows with youthful vibes is StayC‘s “ASAP“. I remember being disappointed by this track when it first dropped but it has since grown on me and keeps being stuck in my head. J‘s iconic opening line “Time is running down, that’s money for someone” aside, the girls are incredibly skilled and I am happy to see them get some recognition! 

Rounding out my girl group-heavy week is NATURE’s “Girls“. While the song itself is already excellent, it’s the music video and concept that blew me away. The MV is based on the famous movie “A tale of two sisters” by Kim Jee-won and perfectly retains the movie’s atmosphere and dark tone. 

[Film] Minari

A small group of friends and I watched Minari this weekend, with the group including two Koreans who kindly broke all kinds of nuances down for us. Aside from this obviously being a very fun afternoon (albeit with a bleak choice of movies), I was blown away by Minari itself.

The most striking thing about the film is, without doubt, the performances – all the actors, especially Han Ye-riSteven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung bring their A-game. Their very expressions convey volumes, more than words ever could. Also striking was the film’s realistic feel, which was carefully crafted through the skillful use of various elements of film: the OST, cinematography, plot, and dialogue. This story of an immigrant family rediscovering the value of one another amidst their lowest moments is definitely worthy of an Oscar. The depiction of the Yi family’s struggles left me feeling anxious and stressed – which proves just how strongly the movie conveys the emotions its characters are feeling.

Any complaints I have are purely based on personal preferences. I wish the movie had given the family at least one victory – just one win. But I guess that’s just how life sometimes is.

The video above is of Youn Yuh-jung’s “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar acceptance speech. Because it is refreshing and funny and full of unexpected joy and life.

[YouTube/Variety] Going Seventeen

This week, I was really miserable and this influenced my choices… I had a dental situation coming from an impacted wisdom tooth and I had to go to three different dentists so I was in the worst mood of this year. The whole week, life was really hard. I ended up lying on my back at home, crying with a toothache, and watching three comfort shows Survivor Australia: Champions vs ContendersThe Lonely Masterchef Xiao, and the new season of Going Seventeen. 

Seventeen’s YouTube variety series has been a mainstay in my variety roster as each season builds on the last in a way that still feels interesting and fresh. The characters the members have built over the previous seasons are being used to create some really fascinating premises this time around. My favourite example of this is the One Million Won two-part episode. In One Million Won the entire group’s wits are pitted against Jeonghan, whose role as a sweet-talking fraud has been well-established through the series, to win a monetary prize. The rules are somewhat convoluted but the general idea is the rest of Seventeen must resist the manipulations of Jeonghan who, all the members say, is very likely to win by appealing to the members’ baser natures. It’s a self-contained character study with Jeonghan’s fallen angel acting as the foil to their teamwork and it’s very entertaining to watch. If you are comforted by watching people play mind games and you’ve got a periodontal infection, give it a go, it might distract you!

[YouTube] ReacttotheK

Reaction videos aren’t always my thing — especially if they involve a lot of screaming. However, I really enjoy ReacttotheK which features classical and jazz musicians reacting to K-pop MVs and songs with little context. This week they re-uploaded their reactions to SuperM‘s “One (Monster + Infinity)” and I cannot get over their reactions to the shift from the pre-chorus to the chorus. Of course, they weren’t aware that “One” is a mash-up of two songs, which made their bafflement all the more entertaining. Aside from the priceless reactions, I really enjoy watching trained musicians break down the multiple aspects of a single song and highlighting the composition and complexity of what some people write off as just “pop” music. Because I’m not a trained musician, the depth of my musical breakdowns generally becomes something along the lines of “the boom boom in that one part was oddly satisfying.” So, seeing trained musicians actually put words to the elements that make up a song is fascinating. Plus, I am always game for people being awed by Baekhyun‘s vocal skills. 

Beyond that, I admittedly haven’t shown SuperM much love since their conception. Looking back through the various ReacttotheK videos of their singles, I’m starting to see the effort SM put into these tracks. They took a lot of risks, yet maintained a very SM boy-group sound. It kind of goes to show that SM — as much as I may criticize their decisions — puts out music that is distinctive and unconcerned with conventional trends. A reaction of theirs that I think summarizes this trend quite well was to Shinee’sDon’t Call Me” in which they said “It’s Shinee, it’s fine. We knew that they were going to do that.” SM sure is wonderfully, unpredictably predictable, and I love watching musicians explain that to me.  

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