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?
[Youtube/Variety] Run BTS, and The Game Caterers
For the past couple of days, I’ve been busy watching the show The Game Caterers on YouTube. It’s a variety show that’s still ongoing that was created by Na Young-seok, a well-known Korean variety show producer, and it’s currently my favourite variety show. In each episode, Na Young-seok and his crew visit a different group of celebrities and get them to play various games that have been featured on his other show New Journey to the West.
I stumbled across The Game Caterers when a friend recommended the BTS episodes, which were a collaboration between Run BTS and The Game Caterers, and the episodes reignited my love for both BTS and Na Young-seok’s signature brand of humour. I very quickly devoured the other available episodes, and my personal favourites included the episode with other variety show producers at tvN and the one with artists from Antenna. Even if you don’t end up watching the show, I recommend checking out the teaser they released for BTS’s episode. It’s a remix of “Ddaeng” by RM, Suga, and J-hope that features Na Young-seok himself, and well, the result had me cackling long after the video ended.
[Music] Unusual Takes on Fate in K-pop MVs
First of all, I just want to rejoice over the fact that my day job has finally eased up, allowing me to contribute to this new segment. While reviewing Heize‘s “Happen” this week, I started thinking back on some MVs that had an interesting take on the idea of fate and human connections. “Happen” took a familiar setup and turned it on its head, reminding us that one too many coincidences can create meet-cutes, but can equally end up as something mundane, remaining nothing more than just coincidences.
Also directed by Digipedi, Zico‘s “I Am You, You Are Me” similarly explores the idea of coincidences as evidence of a fated connection. But it opts for a slightly creepy, uncanny tone rather than a sweet portrayal, consistently highlighting the female lead’s unease when she notices her unintentional twinning with Zico. (Girl, I feel you.)
More poignant is IU‘s “Ending Scene“, which uses a childlike colour scheme and a puppet theatre set to show a quiet journey towards emotional closure after a breakup. The string of fate is fashioned into red yarn that holds up Kim Soo-hyun (or the image of him in her psyche), and she finally makes the decision to sever their connection by snipping the thread.
The use of bright colours across these MVs to create something other than a cheerful, light-hearted mood is fascinating, as is their exploration of alternate conceptions of fate.
[YouTube, Idols] Enhypen & Hi
My Beats of the Week are essentially becoming the things I watch on YouTube to procrastinate. Alas… echoing Sara’s Beat last week, I’ve also fallen down the rabbit hole of Enhypen. Because I watched the “Fever” MV on repeat while writing my review, the algorithm decided I needed to know them better and threw Enhypen & Hi my way (along with dozens of fan compilation videos). Fresh off their I-Land win in Season 1, the boys are still a little awkward together, but by Season 2, they’re finally developing group dynamics and personalities outside of the characteristics assigned to them by Mnet.
Watching them I remember that they are actual babies (all born between 2001 and 2005), and can’t imagine the stress they went through on a reality competition show at such a young age. It makes me glad that I didn’t watch I-Land in full because just the individual member journey videos on YouTube are enough to make me cry. I don’t think I could have handled weekly voting and watching Sunoo repeatedly be sent back to the ground, or Ni-ki losing all his confidence.
All the members are just so charming and cute behind the scenes, which is quite the contrast to their MV lore. That dichotomy keeps me watching, excited to see how they develop and really come into their own off-camera.
[Variety, Idols] Kingdom, Stray Kids
I’ve been watching Kingdom: Legendary War for many weeks now – and honestly, it should have been my beat each week. I love the performances. Some more than others. Thanks to this show, I feel like I have a different bias group each week! After the intro round, it was The Boyz for the delicately crafted “The Stealer (Epic ver)“. After Round 1, it was Ateez for that genius rendition of “Wonderland” and BTOB for the elegant “Missing You (Theatre ver.)“. Post Round 2, it was BTOB (again) for finally making me like “Back Door” (yup, I don’t care for the original) and SF9, whose noir version of “The Stealer” certainly stole my heart.
This Round 3, I’m unable to get over Team It’s One’s full-of-heart, “Full Dash“, and that gorgeous cover by Team Mayfly of IU’s “Love Poem“. But, but, but then! Stray Kids delivered this absolutely criminal, incredibly incredible, ridiculously fun version of Black Pink’s “Ddu Du Ddu Du“.
My only thought is, “Ah! This is why I love K-pop so much.” I’m not following the rankings at all. Week after week, Kingdom delivers stellar performances, creative and imaginative arrangements and stages, and idols doing what they do best: wowing me. An incredibly happy fan, I am. Now I just need these arrangements on Spotify too.
[Variety, Idols] Kingdom: Legendary War
Just like Rimi, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the weekly performances from Kingdom. There are undoubtedly many problems with the show (i.e the ranking system, dubious expert evaluations etc) but it’s been such a treat watching these groups interact with each other and delivering wonderful performances each week. As a low-key Stay, I’ve also really enjoyed watching Stray Kids put their own twist to each performance – each of the members have such distinct colours and I’m happy to see these on full display, both in group and unit performances. I too have fallen deeply in love with Team Mayfly’s cover of “Love Poem”, but I was also enthralled by Team It’s One’s dance unit (comprising SF9’s Taeyang, iKon‘s DK and The Boyz’s Juyeon). Their performance was haunting, tragic, and wholly captivating. As a fan of sageuk and traditional music, I loved how they seamlessly blended Korean traditional music and dance music together. The shift in moods could seem jarring, but they worked well with the storyline and was well performed by the dancers. It was also amazing that they were able to tell a whole story in just 4 min and 10s. I could go on and on, but it’s a masterpiece that everyone should check out. Regardless of the results, this was a legendary stage indeed.
[Variety, Idols] Kingdom and Changmin’s Free Hug
I am echoing the excitement for Kingdom’s upcoming performances. I started out rooting for BTOB and I will continue to do so, but SF9 — especially Hwiyoung — have stolen my attention. Like Rimi, I thoroughly enjoyed the noir version of “The Stealer”. Round 3 is by far my favourite with its collaborations and the liberty the groups have in doing whatever they want. Where I used to tune into the episodes reluctantly, I now catch the episodes because I’m genuinely excited. I can’t help but laugh at the irony that I’ve only gotten interested in the performances towards the end of the show.
On a related note, other than being the host of Kingdom, TVXQ’s Changmin has recently started hosting his own radio show. I don’t have much time to check out new groups nowadays, so I love the approach he has taken for his broadcasts. Instead of asking his guests generic questions, he spends an hour and a half playing games with his guests, learning special talents from them, and fulfilling any requests they might have for him. It’s a great way to bring out a refreshing side of idols and generating interest in them. I love the fact that I don’t have to listen to information I can find on Google (or Naver). Additionally, even though he’s a senior artist, he creates a comfortable, relaxed environment that idols can let loose in, which results in unscripted banter. Thanks to last week’s episode, not only have I had the chorus of Oneus’ “Black Mirror” looping in my head incessantly, but my original interest in Onewe has expanded to include Oneus as well.
Titled Choikang Changmin’s Free Hug, it’s a radio broadcast that I look forward to tuning into every Friday evening — and not just for the host. A personal bonus is that the Free Hug team also loves to give Changmin a hard time by making the introverted host carry out activities he wouldn’t normally engage in, like performing TikTok challenges or acting like the fictional mercenary Rambo.
[Variety, Idols] Taemin, I Live Alone
All hours are still Taemin hours in my corner of the K-pop universe, at least until May 31 (sniffles back tears). I’ve been basking in the glow of Taemin’s superb “Advice” stages for the past week. My personal favorite has to be the Show Music Core performance where he wore the spectacular Supreme crop top sweatsuit masterpiece that was my top look from a music video filled with top looks. It’s going to be a long 18 months while he’s away, but Taemin has left off on a high note, and I already can’t wait to see what he does when he returns.
In an adjacent recommendation, Taemin will be joining Key on this week’s episode of I Live Alone, and I am very excited to witness their always endearing mom (Key) and beloved problem child (Taemin, of course) dynamic! Also, for anyone who hasn’t seen Key’s previous appearance on the show, I highly recommend checking it out. He is an incredibly endearing grumpy housewife and full-time dog dad. There’s also a great segment where Taeyeon joins in for a cute bickering-filled dinner, which eventually leads to a really beautiful and candid recollection from Key about Jonghyun. It’s overall just a lovely episode, and I’m going to go ahead and say that I Live Alone should get on it and make Key a regular on the show, because his combination of sassiness and sweetness makes him the most delightful of guests.
[Variety, Idols] Kingdom, Love Poem
Honestly, not many of the Kingdom performances blew me away…that is until Eunkwang, Jongho, and Seungmin‘s rendition of “Love Poem.” I love vocalists; I love ballads, and I love “Love Poem” (A.C.E.‘s cover in particular). I also adore harmony (when everything just melds perfectly together, it’s just *chef’s kiss*), and since this performance had all of these elements, I was bound to replay the video “one more time.”
The three Mayfly vocalists compliment each other so well, with Eunkwang tying them all together. Seungmin’s voice has a beautifully clear tone that pierces through the notes he sings, while Eunkwang’s rich voice provides the necessary foundation to sing “Love Poem.” Plus, his ad-libs are no joke. And Jongho: in Ateez, I feel like he usually brings their songs to their explosive peak, but in this performance, he got to show his gentleness as well as the true fullness of his voice. These three showed off their vocal chops without drowning another out, which is a testament to their teamwork and the balance they struck for the challenge.
(Honorable mentions go to BtoB’s “Blue Moon”—it was so much fun!—and SF9’s “Move”—whoever was in charge of costuming has to get a raise.)
[Music, Idols] H1ghr Music, Jay B
In keeping with the Kingdom train, I also want to give a shout-out to Stray Kids for their recent performance of Blackpink’s “DuDuDu.”Calling their CEO a 바보 on live national television took some serious balls, but I love them all the more for it. However, it seems otherwise I’ve been on a soloist kick as of late, especially my liberated Got7 boys, Jay B and Jackson Wang and Day6 Jae’s other alias eaJ.
It was finally announced that Jay B signed with Jay Park’s H1ghr Music and his single, ”Switch It Up” came shortly after. Deemed too sexually suggested for public broadcast by KBS, the evolution of Jay B’s compositions to accommodate his silky-smooth voice feels like he’s finally home, producing and composing music that finally suits him, outside of his (former) idol life.
I love Jackson’s most recent song “LMLY” for the opposite reason. Styled after an old Hong Kong romance movie, the song tells a ghostly one-sided love story. It sounds happy and upbeat, but with a twinge of melancholic reflection that Jackson pulls off so well. (It reminds me of “Bullet Through the Heart” and “Oxygen” a bit for similar reasons.)
Last but certainly not least is my main man eaJ. Just this week he performed a solo set for an 88rising livestream to bring awareness for Stop Asian Hate and support the Asian Mental Health Collective. I already loved his voice, his outward promotion of mental health care, and his music with Day6, but his solo music really is something else. For his set, he performed his songs “50 Proof” and “Pacman” as well as a heart-wrenching first performance of Day6’s “Zombie” reimagined as a solo acoustic track. The message of “Pacman” still touches a part of my heart in a way that I can’t explain, forcing it to remain in my regular (especially late-night) rotation lately. In the same vein, his song with Keshi “Pillows” also deserves a shout-out. Haunting, groovy, and beautiful, the only thing that would make it better is if it was on Spotify. *shakes fist at JYP*
[Variety, Idols] Felix and his Content Creator Cheesesticks
I just watched that Stray Kids and it has damn near derailed my actual Beats of the Week. Can we talk about Felix as Deadpool? His and Bangchan’s bogan accents? The Playschool-style framing by way of Aunty Donna? The Eshay touches throughout the performance? Maybe in the comments, because I need to move on to the rest of my Beats. Luckily, they are Felix-related.
I’ve been having a week, so tiring and stressful that I slept right through my precious Shinee’s 13th anniversary V Live (I lasted all of 10 minutes before cooking out). In the search for a bombastic song that can wake me up like a coffee would if I drank coffee, playing “God’s Menu” on loop is now part of my morning routine. I would inject that chorus into my veins if I could. I’ve also started watching expert reaction videos, like from dancer Emeroy Bernardo and video editor and director Jordan Orme (who even referenced Victoria’s MV review to help him understand “God’s Menu” better). I really appreciate how they aren’t afraid to point out things that aren’t executed well alongside giving the positive reactions that fans crave. I’m learning so much from both channels and others like theirs; it is just so cool watching people geek out about things on such a technical level and truly parsing the content that comes out.
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Sometimes, though, I just want to switch my brain off and seek out some light, fluffy K-entertainment. To that end, I want to give a special shout out to Felix’s Cheesestick, who is actually a massive Shawol, a fellow Aussie, and the main reason why I became a low-key Taemint (don’t tell Minho). I made a Tik Tok account just to watch her cute edits, which also help me keep up with Shinee content in a quick and unobtrusive way that doesn’t suck too much energy from me like K-pop is wont to do. I know I will be visiting her accounts for a few hits of Shinee during our fourth Melbourne lockdown.