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?
[Drama] To My Star, The Boy Next Door
After the semi-success of BL web dramas last year like Where Your Eyes Linger and Color Rush, Korea seems to be stepping up its game. Despite being someone who mainly consumes BL content through webtoons and is hesitant with how the BL industry is run, I still like to give Korean BL dramas a chance. To My Star aired earlier this year and is now available on Netflix. So far, it’s my favorite that’s come out of the recent trend. It’s still clunky and undeveloped, but it has an indie domestic quality and ease to it that I’m drawn to. The main leads, Kim Kang-min and Son Woo-hyun, gave a hint of depth to their otherwise cliched characters: the extroverted but damaged famous actor whose career is on the decline, and a cold chef who puts up walls to hide his insecurities. The side characters as well were entertaining, and I appreciated the accepting environment they provided for the budding romance as opposed to the usual homophobic parental character that tries to interfere. Despite its flaws, I found To My Star sweet and heartwarming. Though I will admit, the random English profanities did make me laugh out loud at one point. The egg motif and kimbap birthday cake were also humorous touches.
This actual BL drama led me back to one of my favorite parody BL web dramas, 2017’s The Boy Next Door starring Choi Woo-shik and Jang Ki-young. If you have not watched this immaculately comedic portrayal of a bromance misunderstood as a romance, then you are missing out. The episodes are all under ten minutes, available in full on YouTube, and each is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud as they poke fun at every K-drama cliche. It’s so amusing to me that Choi Woo-shik went on from this to his very serious role in Parasite because his comedic chops are excellent. I might have enjoyed my second watch even more than the first with that context in mind.
[Drama] Move To Heaven, Romance is a Bonus Book
It’s the summer holidays now, so I’ve been catching up on my K-dramas. Watched the first episode of Lee Je-hoon and Tang Jun-sang’s “Move to Heaven” but haven’t been able to continue with it. I really enjoy its exploration into the job of trauma cleaners, and how much respect is paid to the dead, but I can tell that it’s going to be a sob-fest, and I’m not emotionally ready to carry on. That being said, Tang is doing a fantastic job so far, and I’m sad that Ji Jin-hee’s appearance was so short-lived!
I wanted to turn my attention to something lighter, so I started watching the 2019 K-drama “Romance is a Bonus Book”. I heard good things about the series when it first aired, and I’m only 4 episodes in, but it’s easily one of the most charming and enchanting dramas I have ever encountered. There’s just something magical about the way the series uses so many familiar tropes (noona romance, rich hero and poor leading lady etc) but turns them all on their own heads to create a refreshing and healing plot. I’m enjoying Lee Na-young’s performance here – she is brazen and brave, empathetic but not afraid to stand up for herself. A role model indeed.
[Drama] Doom At Your Service
I too have a drama submission (I’m also seconding everything Chelsea said about To My Star – it’s such a lovely show). I’ve been enchanted by Doom At Your Service, with each episode weaving a thicker and thicker layer of the spell. Part of this insta-love for the show comes from my own love of magical realism, and part of it comes from just how well the show has been made so far. Park Bo-young and Seo In-guk are without question amazing actors (plus, Seo In-guk’s styling and visuals are appropriately unearthly here). In combination with their screen presence, this particular plot, dialogue, camera work (all that bokeh!), background sound/music and set, create a believable, immersive experience into Tak Dong-kyung’s world. She may only have 100 days to live, but the things she will see during this time may just make it worth her while.
Video above chosen for the breath-taking presentation of a moment suspended in time and the perfectly timed, perfectly captivating, music accompanying it. This style of execution is nothing new, but in the hands of a capable director, backed by a solid build-up and strong acting, it sure is powerful.
[Drama, Idols] Encounter, Taemin
A fair warning that my contributions to Beats of the Week are going to be extremely Taemin-centric for the next few weeks (months?) because Taemin is my favorite and Taemin is back (yay!), but Taemin is also going to the military on May 31 (sobs). At least Taemin is heading out on a high note, because “Advice” and the accompanying mini album are really excellent. I anticipate that I will spend most of this weekend squealing over “Advice” stages, but will wait until next week to highlight my favorite/favorites. For now, I leave you with the above fan cam from Shinee’s promotions of “Atlantis” because Taemin was thriving with that choreography, and also purple pants Taemin is a great Taemin.
Looping into some other people’s drama recommendations, I’m also enjoying Doom at Your Service (and reviewing it, please read!). And Romance is a Bonus Book has got to be one of my all time favorite shows. Lee Na-young is so luminous as Dan-i and her chemistry with Lee Jong-suk (who, speaking of the military, really came back from enlistment with no chill and that’s a compliment) is effortlessly charming. So, I 100% second those recommendations from Anna and Rimi, and will be checking out Chelsea’s recommendation of To My Star because it sounds lovely.
To throw in a recommendation of my own, I’ve been slowly meandering my way through 2018’s Encounter (also known as Boyfriend) starring Song Hye-kyo and Park Bo-gum. It’s such a relaxing show, and just the right amount of cheesy. There’s also a surprising amount of thoughtful commentary about gender, class, and age constructs in South Korean society. If you are looking for something calm but not boring, give it a shot!
[Idols] Joy, GFriend
Red Velvet’s Joy is making her solo debut with a remake album, and I am absolutely in love with the teasers! Since the album will contain revivals from the late ‘90s to the early ‘00s, she is dressed to the nines in the period’s pop fashion—the candy-striped midriff! The feathered slippers! The kitschy accessories! Joy brings them all to life with her adorable teeny-bopper poses and infectious, high teen energy. I also appreciate her creative team’s commitment to the early aughts aesthetic, from the heavy, matte makeup to the layering of body shots and notebook stickers. As someone who grew up in this era, I feel a strange sense of nostalgia by just looking at these photos. (I can’t believe I’m old enough to even say that!)
On a sadder note, GFriend have parted ways with their agency Source Music. The girls released their own personal messages to fans that confirmed their disbandment, though leader Sowon has said that despite “nearing an end, this doesn’t mean the end of us” while SinB hinted at possible individual activities.
I became a new fan of theirs when I reviewed 回: Walpurgis Night, their third album in 2020 alone. I fell in love with their musical journey; starting in 2015 with the typical school girl concept, then eventually growing into their own with riskier looks and bolder, fuller sounds. I further admired the direction they took with “Mago” and was genuinely excited to see where 2021 would bring them. But alas, they were not immune to the Seven Year Curse.
Heartbreak aside, I’m taking Sowon for her word. Here’s hoping we see more of their charms and talents in the future, as a full unit or otherwise!
[Idols] Shinee, ONF
I found myself feeling nostalgic this week for no apparent reason. Maybe it was due to Taemin’s latest release, “Advice”, which left me positively reeling upon watching the MV; or maybe it was because I have been keeping up with the performances shown on Kingdom, and I have been feeling underwhelmed because last year, the performances shown in Road to Kingdom were absolutely beautiful.
ONF was a group that I never really paid attention to, though I would hear the group’s name in passing. However, their performances in Road to Kingdom, particularly for “We Must Love” and their cover of Shinee’s “Everybody”, were on repeat this entire week. The performance quality was through the roof, and “We Must Love” is most definitely one of my favourite stage performances ever. When I first heard the original song, it wasn’t the most exciting, but by replacing the synths with strings in the Road to Kingdom version, “We Must Love” became one of my top songs in 2020. The group showed versatility during their time on the show, especially by revamping “Everybody” in their own distinct style– so unique that the rest of the contestants could not tell it was “Everybody” until the chorus.
This led to me searching up the original “Everybody”, where I fell into a rabbit hole and consumed all of Shinee’s content since their debut. I even binged Shinee’s time on Hello Baby, and it felt so bittersweet seeing Jonghyun again, but Shinee, being the charismatic boys that they are, made me laugh the tears away.
I first started my journey into Kpop in 2009, when Super Junior’s iconic “Sorry, Sorry” was released, and Shinee and SNSD were the other two groups that caught my attention during that point in time. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the music that got me hooked onto Kpop, but rather the energy these three groups had on variety shows such as Intimate Note, Hello Baby and Super Junior’s Explorers of the Human Body. Their energy and charisma were so infectious that I just had to follow their activities, and I haven’t looked back since. Although it is bittersweet to look back on these shows and groups and see how they have changed due to various circumstances, darn it, I am a sucker for nostalgia and I will be binging these shows this weekend to satiate this feeling of longing.
[Idols] Shinee, Enhypen, Day6
I recently told my Shawol friend that I think I have to move Taemin up to ultimate bias status (along with RM). Naturally she wholeheartedly agreed. I started listening to Shinee because of this friend—and dragged another friend into the group, too—but after “Atlantis” and the renewed shenanigans of Key, Onew, Minho, and Taemin once the older ones finished their military service, I figured it was time to call Shinee a favorite. This realization was only further solidified with Taemin’s “Advice” (and his “media Bible” video), and I’m really excited to write my review!
As I’m writing this Beats of the Week, I’m also realizing that I’ve been humming Enhypen’s “Drunk-Dazed” the entire time. The chorus is just too catchy: the repeat of “dazed” sounds like a siren, a push and pull rhythm until the song reaches a fever pitch. I can already feel my body swaying! While I don’t like the MV as much as I was fascinated by “Given-Taken,” the track itself is something I could probably play ad nauseam. Plus, it was fun to see the members sing “Drunk-Dazed” in three different languages, and this video shows off their vocals better than the studio version!
Originally, I wanted to just focus on Day6’s Moonrise album, but I got carried away by Shinee and Enhypen. Oh well, we’re here now. Out of the K-pop bands I like, Day6 was a favorite but never the favorite (that goes to Hoppipolla). Their music didn’t always stick, aside from The Book of Us: Gravity. However, I recently found myself gravitating towards Moonrise (2017) whenever I wanted to listen to music. I love the bold openings of “Better Better” and “I’ll remember,” while the acapella in “I try” makes my heart flutter because I’m all about those vocals. Basically, I have discovered one of my favorite albums (yes, four years after it was released).