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. Among the many things vying for your attention this week, what won out and made your heart beat?
[Music] Vincenzo‘s OST
With Vincenzo coming to an end last weekend, I’ve been left with a gaping hole in my heart. It was a drama I enjoyed a lot, and I used to genuinely look forward to episodes each weekend. I resorted to listening to the drama’s OST album to get over how much I miss the show, but in that process, have discovered what a gem the album is.
First, it has a whopping 67 tracks. I never realized how much original music the production team had made, but it has blown my mind. It makes me appreciate the production even more. I’ve been rewatching certain episodes, and now I can’t help but notice how essential each OST track was for setting or changing a scene. Second, the OST album is largely instrumental in nature, but most of the songs were used in such an impactful way that a flurry of iconic scenes flashes in my mind listening to it. It’s funny because you’d never think an instrumental track would be able to make you smile in fondness or furrow your eyebrows in frustration. It’s quite a sight when I’m listening to it on commutes. Third, it makes you feel badass while you’re doing the dishes. Watch out world, I’m going to conquer you — one dish at a time.
[Music] ONF, YouTube channel 눈에띠네
After the two glowing reviews we published last week for ONF‘s “Ugly Dance” and City of ONF, my curiosity was piqued. I don’t watch Road to Kingdom or music shows very often, so aside from remembering that I liked “We Must Love” when it came out, I knew next to nothing about the group. Naturally, this lead to a YouTube rabbit hole that consisted of their “It’s Raining” and “Everybody” covers. Like all potential fans when looking into a new group, figuring out who’s who is always a challenge. Thankfully, ONF came through with the “My Name Is” MV. It’s simple, a little cheesy, and very cute. It’s also brilliant for acquainting new fans with the group and concept — I think more groups should try this approach. I’m happy to say I’ve found my biases and will be keeping up with ONF from here.
As a second note, I’d like to shout out the YouTube channel 눈에띠네 which I also discovered this week. They curate themed K-pop/K-indie playlists that provide a good mix of artists I’m familiar with and some I’m glad to be introduced to. It’s the kind of music I don’t generally seek out but makes for great background music. Currently, the “Spring Has Come” playlist matches my mood pretty well.
Miso has been blessing my ears and eyes this week. First with the YouTube channel ONSTAGE releasing three live performances of her tracks; “Let It Go”, “Evermore” and “Alone”. The “Let It Go” performance is especially good due to its live instrumentation flourishing here. (That bassline is nasty!) It’s also so lovely seeing Miso perform in a live stage setting since she is known for being quite shy.
That isn’t all though, two hours after the ONSTAGE videos surfaced her newest single, “Slow Running” dropped. It’s easily Miso’s strongest single to date and I’ve had it on repeat since the first listen! There is an accompanying MV for the single though Miso doesn’t appear in it. Its subject is instead a lone dancer swaying and spiraling to the bpm of the track, it is a gorgeous MV in its own right.
After I came across this Reddit post on reviving B.A.P if one had the power of necromancy, I went on a B.A.P spiral (yet again). I found B.A.P in 2019, after they’d already disbanded – and after BTS, they’re the only group I’ve loved (musically) quite this much. That rock-pop-hip hop sound, those (possibly, maybe not) real, actual instruments instead of computer-generated loops, Daehyun‘s gorgeous vocals, Youngguk‘s deep, caveman rap, that distinctive BABYz whistle…and more. The list goes on. B.A.P remain one of the biggest ‘what-ifs’ in K-pop, so much promise and potential put together, and then carefully destroyed, by
TShit TS Entertainment. Imagine seeing their creativity and raw power on a show like Kingdom (although personally, I’m of the view that they’d have been way too popular even for Kingdom — think EXO or GOT7‘s tier…dare I say BTS? A girl can be biased here, cut her some slack!)
I’m devastated that I discovered them so late, but perhaps it’s a good thing for the fan in me given their struggles and Himchan‘s prison sentence for sexual assault (which means the group is effectively five, for me). While I love many of their songs, a special shout-out is warranted for “1004 (Angel)” which was #1 on my 2019 Spotify Wrapped. I’ve chosen to spotlight a video of a Show! Music Core performance for its audio quality – lookout for Daehyun’s strong, clear vocals, and the whistle at the “NOW”.
At the end of last month, Iz One quietly disbanded. Because of the lack of fanfare, the reaction to Iz One’s official conclusion has been gradual and somewhat muted. Likely, more reflections will show up in the months to come.
For me, Iz One’s disbandment feels like a real end to the Produce era. The Produce series may be infamous rather than prestigious, but there’s no denying its enormous impact. It launched and/or massively expanded the careers of literally dozens of idols. Sometimes, it feels like the entire fourth generation of K-pop is built on a foundation of Produce alumni. As the final Produce group to disband, Iz One’s members will now dive into that broader K-pop pool. Will Iz One’s members launch groups that will join the Produce-connected ranks of AB6IX, CIX, Cravity, Everglow, (G)I-dle, Weki Meki, WJSN, and so many more? Will one or more Iz One idols become the next solo Produce sensation, ala Chungha or Kang Daniel? Only time will tell.
Regarding the group themselves, Iz one carved out a unique place in K-pop. They found a distinctive and appealing balance between elegance and aegyo, maturity and youthful enthusiasm. They’ll be missed for their musical contributions, and inventive styling and aesthetics, not to mention their massive commercial power. I’m curious to see if any future groups, maybe featuring some Iz One members, will embrace Iz One’s concept as their own.
I’d classify myself as a casual fan of Iz One, but while we wait to see what the future holds, I do want to recommend a couple of my personal favorite Iz One tracks to tide everyone over. For b-sides, “Highlight” and “Ayayaya” are sophisticated gems. And for title tracks, recent Universe-platform release “D-D-Dance” is a blast, and you can never go wrong with their iconic debut “La Vie en Rose”.
This week, I discovered NCT has been successfully running an improvisational sketch comedy YouTube series behind my back. The sheer volume of NCT content is sometimes overwhelming so I dip in and out depending on my moods. The mood struck when I stumbled upon The Lonely Master Chef Xiao on WayV’s channel. ASMR cooking shows are my bread and butter and Xiaojun is an accomplished physical comedian. I would recommend beginning from the Oreo cake episode, where the editors’ witty comments and cuts are the perfect trimmings to Xiaojun’s antics.
I was then led to NCT 127’s Next NEO Model series. It is a detailed, hilarious parody of a Top Model-style reality show, complete with rivalries, shady comments, and bizarre judging decisions (Doyoung was judged on attitude not pose). Jungwoo continues to impress with his comedic chops, bringing an immersive commitment to his role as the Tyra Banks model/mentor/judge that’s hard to match. Johnny‘s egocentric editor-in-chief/model/photographer is a confident scene-partner keeping everyone on track while slipping in gems like “move the body before you think. Pose before you move the body.”. The breaks in character serve well in place of audience interaction or canned laugh track and the members all have memorable bits. NCT is working hard to have something for everyone and their journey into improv suits me just fine.
[News] NCT – Hollywood?
Mine’s also NCT-related! I did a double-take at this headline today: “MGM Television Teams With Korea’s SM Entertainment for U.S. K-Pop Competition Show: The series will scout young American men to form a new group, NCT Hollywood”. I thought it was a late April Fools’ post, because debuting a group through a survival show is distinctly un-SM – let alone an American one.
It’s real though, and the resulting group will likely give us some answers to the many existential questions about K-pop. While the concept of an American subunit has been floated by SM since NCT’s inception, there’s yet to be any notable example of a K-pop-style group fully establishing themselves as being from and for the Western market. Groups like Wonder Girls have tried and failed, but the global appetite for K-pop has also never been this strong – so perhaps now is the right time for a pioneer to win a first-move advantage. Industry leaders seem to think so; entertainment giants CJ ENM and Big Hit Entertainment have announced plans for similar shows to debut groups outside Asia.
While I’m not enthusiastic about SM’s idea, I am more optimistic about the idea of more culturally and ethnically diverse groups than I was a few months ago. My experience watching Chuang 2021, a Chinese Produce-101-style show focused on creating an international group, helped open my eyes to what that kind of group could look like and how I would feel about it, especially as an Asian-British person who’s quite protective of the little representation Asians get in Western media. The American trainees ended up being some of the most likeable, despite not looking Asian (they were mixed), speaking no Chinese at first, and having little experience with K-pop-style training. What made the difference was their willingness to learn the language, work hard to perfect performances to the local standard (K-pop-style singing and dancing), and to approach the local trainees and culture with open hearts, minds, and arms. If the wannabe-idols on these upcoming shows can demonstrate the same, then I’m willing to brave the cringe and watch them!
[Variety] The Game Caterers & Antenna artists
I’ve been having a lot of fun watching the Antenna artists have fun in Na Young-seok‘s The Game Caterers over this past week. Since the musicians from this company rarely appear on variety shows, and they’ve been mostly really shy even if they do, it was really adorable to watch them chill out together. They might be playing really stereotypical variety show games, familiar for those who watch New Journey to the West, but the bunch of them managed to bring out their own type of fun. I especially loved how the staff made Peppertones, known for their impressive academic abilities, solve a mathematical problem for a good ten minutes or more — and their mini argument over whether to keep or sacrifice a pot of orchid among their prizes
[YouTube] Dive Studios
This week, I’d like to give a shoutout to Dive Studios. The podcast network has English and Korean podcasts hosted by a variety of K-entertainment stars, including K-pop stars like Eric Nam, Jae from Day6, AleXa, Cix, Jamie, VeriVery, Peniel from BtoB, Ashley of Ladies’ Code, and BM of Kard.
The first podcast from Dive Studios that I listened to, The Tablo Podcast (hosted by Epik High’s Tablo) is discontinued, but I recommend watching or listening to an episode for anyone curious about the inner workings of Tablo’s mind. I’m a casual listener of Epik High’s music, but through the podcast I gained a newfound respect and appreciation for Tablo and his sense of humor. He talks about everything from honey to racism on the episodes, and I found the episodes featuring his manager Eddie (who happens to be Eric Nam’s brother) especially amusing.
Currently airing podcasts I listen to regularly include Get Real hosted by Ashley, BM, and Peniel, and How Did I Get Here hosted by Jae and AleXa. I didn’t know much about the hosts of either of the podcasts, but their often goofy and sometimes serious ramblings often have me smiling behind my mask. Some of the topics discussed are very relatable, but the stars sometimes delve into their lives as K-pop idols and it’s an interesting window into the lives and workings of the K-pop industry.