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 made your heart beat?

[Personal] Celebrating 10 yrs as a K-pop fan!

I don’t know the exact date, but it’s exam season so I’m pretty sure this week marked a decade of being a K-pop fan for me. A decade! I still remember being a new fan and learning all the history, and it sometimes still shocks me when I realise all the history that I have since actually lived through with front row seats, K-pop and otherwise. I still get thrown off whenever I see someone type “Exo is 9!” Don’t you mean SNSD? Oh, wait…

I’ve had to put K-pop on the back burner for a few years, so the changes to the landscape feel more pronounced. I’m barely managing with 3rd gen K-pop, let alone 4th gen (by the way, we really need to get together and figure out the generations, everyone has different thoughts). Just when I think that maybe I, like many others before me, have also reached the end of my K-pop journey, 2nd gen K-pop drags me back in again.

First, there’s Shinee. No one is surprised, but in 2018 I really thought my grief as a fan would be too much to surmount. I sometimes have to pause and realise that it’s 2021 and I am HERE, finally watching a Shinee concert! I am so happy and proud of what they achieved with this comeback for not just themselves but for 2nd gen K-pop overall. 

I know MMTG were planning to bring groups back to perform some classics (can we call them classics now?) But a part of me was still surprised to actually see it happen! Like everyone, I was here for the After School renaissance with “Diva”and “Bang!, the latter of which is one of the few K-pop songs my sister knows and loves. I also could not believe they managed to get the Beyond Live version of “View” to show.

The Nine Muses reunion was more bittersweet (though not surprising considering the environment Star Empire fostered), but watching Ryu Sera’s reaction to the performance only made me fall in love with her more. She is always so supportive of the groups she watches on her YouTube channel and I hope she has a lovely day.

[Idols] SVT’s Hoshi, Ha Sungwoon

It’s Seventeen Performance Unit leader and resident chaos child Hoshi‘s birthday this week, and I simply can’t pass up the chance to give his dance and choreography skills a signal boost. For those who have seen the enchanting animal imitations he showcased on variety shows, bringing squids and snails to life with just his hands, his first solo release “Spider” will likely evoke a delightful sense of deja vu. The “Spider” choreography winds tightly around the intricate movements of its titular animal, capturing both its tendency to skitter and crawl, and its ability to stay silent and still in wait of its unsuspecting prey. Much like in his Ideal Cut concert solo stage, “Touch“, Hoshi fully embraces a more androgynous style of dancing that’s fluid and sensual, yet powerful.

I’m also catching up on music releases, and found myself going back to Ha Sungwoon‘s Sneakers multiple times. Befitting of a late spring/ almost summer release, it’s on the pulse of laidback EDM pop trends, but it’s incredibly well-produced, with impeccable track ordering. It began as a smooth but not particularly memorable listen for me, but a second listen revealed the care taken in the production to create music that’s quietly uplifting and soothing. The songs let Sungwoon’s unique vocal colour take centre stage–“Why Don’t You See a Movie?” is a particular highlight–with the instrumentals supporting his delivery rather than overwhelming it. It makes for a great listen on a bus ride, during an afternoon studying at home, or really just any time you need a mood-lifter.

[Idols] TXT’s Beomgyu

It’s finals week, so my K-pop consumption time is extremely limited. As such, my Beat this week is short and simple: TXT‘s Beomgyu. Specifically, Beomgyu playing After School Club‘s Double Trouble Quiz. I’m still waiting for TXT to really hone in on their sound before they are officially added to my bias list, but the members themselves are so endearing. Beomgyu is an agent of chaos 80% of the time — which I appreciate — but in this specific game, he took a step back and let Yeonjun and Taehyun‘s competitive sides go wild. While he is uncharacteristically quiet, his little one liners and polite shout-outs to his seniors made the short game one of the best things I’ve watched this week. He even had the staff giggling behind the camera. Additionally, this comeback’s concept really suits him. I hope HYBE keeps the long, dark hair around for a while for all the members to give their poor follicles a rest.

[Idols] N.Flying, Cha Hun

Since I wrote a Side B on N.Flying, I’ve been listening to them practically nonstop. While diving into their extensive discography (they’ve been around since 2015!), I think their Yaho and So, 通 albums are my favorites. The title tracks and b-sides just stick in your mind, and the band covers a wide range of their abilities in these albums. I had to restrain myself from including all of the b-sides from Yaho in my article, but I did include two. N.Flying has a song that fits with any mood, whether it be a track with fiery rap, a playful guitar hook, or an emotional ballad, they do it all. 

Also, after reading Victoria’s review of Man on the Moon, I had to check out Cha Hun‘s guitar review series. There’s nothing better than listening to someone talk about something they very clearly love, and for Cha Hun, that’s his guitars. I know a little bit about music as a former pianist and singer, but whenever I try to explain why I love a particular guitar sound, I just end up with “because my ears like it.” Watching Cha Hun explain the parts of his PRS guitars, for example, and go through his effectors made it clearer to me why a specific guitar will make a certain kind of sound as all of this other stuff is happening behind playing the notes. And yes, I’ve been listening to their songs extra carefully to think about the guitar in them. Since I’ve watched all of the videos in his (short) series, I wish he would make more because this is just so fascinating! 

[Indie] J_ust

Ever since Day6‘s Wonpil collaborated with indie artist J_ust on “Wedding Song” last December, I fell completely in love with J_ust’s voice and music style. His songs bring me comfort at the end of a long day, they bring a smile to my face no matter what circumstance I’m listening to his songs to, and I was beyond excited when I realised that he had released a new mini-album this week. D_iary Page.1 (I’m looking forward to more pages!!) includes a beautiful acoustic version of “Wedding Song”, and my favourite song of the pandemic thus far – “I wanna go out”. Even though it’s written in the context of a relationship, the longing that he sings about – to be able to go out, to be able to return to happier times – is so relatable and so bittersweet in these tough times. The heart-fluttering and slightly jazzy “Actually, I like you” surprisingly reminds me a lot of “Love Song” by The BLANK Shop (also featuring Wonpil!) and the adorable “Thirty” certainly brightens the path towards our thirties. I don’t think I will ever recommend an artist more sincerely than I’m recommending J_ust now, so everyone, take my word for it, he is a gem that you don’t want to be missing.

[Drama/Rookies] Imitation, Lightsum

So, K-pop focused drama Imitation just broke a record for lowest viewership. Which is definitely not something to celebrate! But I would like to take this opportunity to abashedly admit that I am quite enjoying this apparently very unpopular show. 

Imitation certainly has issues. It’s got very archetypal characters, and the acting is, and I can’t stress this enough, UNEVEN. Generally though, the drama explores the behind the scenes shenanigans of K-pop in interesting ways. For example, Imitation continues to look at the perils of fan culture via painfully believable storylines, like when popular idol Kwon Ryok (Lee Jun-young) has to formally apologize to his fan club because of a laughably benign incident involving a padded jacket. 

Additionally, Imitation’s approach to critiquing K-pop is admirably thoughtful, but avoids being overly preachy. As a K-pop fan, I’ve found Imitation’s realistic yet not crushingly grim look at the industry to be refreshing. The show also deserves credit for noticeably improving during the last couple of episodes, adding lots more humor and a little more finesse. And shout out to Jung Ji-so, best known for her supporting role in Parasite, for taking an underwritten heroine character and turning in a brilliantly likable performance. 

On the music side, I’ve been unexpectedly charmed by Lightsum and their debut single “Vanilla”. The song is totally ridiculous, one of those Frankenstein tracks that combines a bunch of musical elements that probably shouldn’t be hanging out together. But I like it! I’ve also been impressed by the group’s energy during their music show stages. It’s hard to say if Lightsum is going to be a long term group for me based off one song. But in a year that, in my opinion, has so far lacked a lot of exciting debuts (Purple Kiss is a notable exception), it’s nice to see a new group that has real promise. 

[Drama/Idols] Vincenzo, Beyond Evil, BTS, Enhypen, Aespa

After having started watching Vincenzo around two weeks ago, I haven’t made it any further than episode 12 yet. Although I really enjoy the drama and its dark comedy elements (serious moments turning into a laughing matter in a few seconds), I feel like the drama lost a bit of steam. Song Joong-gi is absolutely amazing as the atypical hero of the story, but one thing that bothers me is the exaggerated acting by the other cast members. I know it is intentional, but it throws me off most of the time, especially Ok Taec-yeon and Kim Yeo-jin. Very typically of me, I have started watching another drama amidst all of this, which is Beyond Evil. This drama was showered with acclaim and I am always in for a dark, psychological thriller. It’s a bit odd to see Yeo Jin-goo in a completely different role than in Hotel de Luna, but the first episode has been incredibly promising so far.

My drama adventures aside, of course, I watched BTS‘ Muster Sowoozoo. “Daechwita” has finally been performed and props to whoever made this a group performance and let all members rap because it was simply mind-blowing. One thing I love about BTS is that their passion for music and performing literally translates to the stage with this time being no exception. Finally, I think I am falling down the Enhypen hole because of their amazing music. The Border:Carnival album is so well-produced and I am especially impressed by the intro that gives me early 2000s MGMT vibes for some reason. Currently, my search for a bias has started. 

After hating the song in the beginning, Aespa’s “Next Level” has really grown on me and I don’t know how! The song is just so catchy and irresistible. Some parts are kind of cringe yet iconic? Hard to explain, but this song has definitely a hidden charm and grows on you. At first, I greatly disliked the sudden change in the middle, but now I am really jamming off to Karina and Giselle’s rap. I can totally see why it is charting so well in Korea. Whatever SM Ent. tried here, they definitely succeeded. 

[YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8], Image via SM Entertainment]