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. Each week, we ask our writers: Among the many things vying for your attention this week, what made your heart beat?

[Idols/Dance] Stray Kids’ Hyunjin

Stray Kids‘ Hyunjin is slowly making his return after the bullying accusations he faced earlier this year. And boy, did he return with a bang in his dance cover of Sam Tinnesz‘s “Play With Fire.” 

I know Hyunjin as the main dancer in Stray Kids’ MVs, but little beyond that. Let me say, when I saw this cover I was absolutely floored by his musicality. There is not a single moment in the song where his body is not completely consumed by the rhythm of the track — even when the music cuts out after the chorus. Every bounce, pop, and body roll is so well executed that it doesn’t look like choreography. Instead, emotion and movement just pour out of him with such unanticipated — but somehow perfect — dynamics given the jazzier sound of the track.

Additionally, his expressions are so on point that, even with his hair covering half of his face, each emotion is communicated clearly. I’m especially fond of the second chorus moment where he transitions from childlike glee to purely menacing in the span of .3 seconds. Knowing that he choreographed this performance himself adds another element as I try to piece together what story he is trying to tell with this dance. Honestly, I’m just blown away by the amount of artistry shown in a three minute video. This is what you get when you let a very talented dancer just dance, forgetting the conventions of a single dance style or genre, and I love to see it. 

My Stay mutuals on Twitter also alerted me to the presence of his bellybutton piercing, so that’s something to think about as I re-watch for the hundredth time. 

[Idols/Music] TXT, “Anti-Romantic”, Slow Rabbit

All of Chelsea’s mentions of TXT and Enhypen on previous editions of Beats of the Week had me watching snippets of them on variety shows and checking out more of their music. I haven’t been a big fan of Big Hit Music/HYBE‘s instrumentation and vocal processing with BTS, and haven’t been paying as much attention to their groups as I normally would. 

But I have to say, I did – of course – find music I liked. More to the point, I was blown away by TXT’s “Anti-Romantic”. Because – wow! What’s not to love? That’s a beautiful melody, gentle music and some lovely lyrics. If I had to force a complaint at all, it’d be that I’m not fond of the breathy vocals many pop singers, including HYBE’s idols deploy. “Anti-Romantic” might have been just a little bit more exceptional without such breathiness, but it remains extremely exceptional despite it. 

I also noticed (later) Slow Rabbit is credited with one other producer in the credits. As always, his (and Pdogg‘s) music is the most to my liking among HYBE’s in-house producers. If either one is significantly involved, more often than not, I will like the song. No wonder “Anti-Romantic” is exceptional to my ears – looks like I need to go search for more of what they’ve been producing lately. 

In other news, Loud continues to be awesome. Watch the trainees slaying a performance of iKon‘s “Airplane”. I cannot plug this show enough.

[Idols/Music] TXT, Slow Rabbit, and slow, balladic, b-sides in K-pop

I know little to nothing about the TXT members, but I really enjoy a select collection of their songs, so maybe I should do something about that! For now though, I’m quite happy with my cherry-picked TXT discography, which “Anti-Romantic” is definitely a part of. I’d say that generally, I seem to have a penchant for TXT’s softer b-sides, like “Nap of a Star” (which comes with a stunning MV, see above), “Maze in the Mirror”, and their flawlessly arranged cover of the classic track “Fairy of Shampoo”. 

Rimi, when you mentioned producer Slow Rabbit, I suddenly got very curious about whether he might have had a hand in more than one of the TXT songs I’m partial to. I took a look at the track credits and low and behold, he is listed on literally every TXT track I just named! I guess that simply serves to remind me how crucial producers are, and it makes me want to start identifying what other producers some of my favorite K-pop songs might have in common. 

I also got to thinking about how much I appreciate a good, slow, balladic, b-side. I think those songs tend to get a bad wrap, and not for no reason: a lot of ballad b-sides are phoning it in. But when they are good, they can be so enjoyable. Some recent favorites that come to my mind are IU’s delightfully retro “Hi Spring Bye”, NU’EST’s dramatic “Don’t Wanna Go”, and from 2020, Baekhyun’s ethereal “Underwater”.

[Idols/Music] TXT, Stray Kids, Hoppipola

My listening was a little eclectic this week with a mix of TXT and Stray Kids, like the other writers have mentioned, and a bit of Hoppipolla thrown in.

I tend to like TXT’s moodier b-sides like “Anti-Romantic”, “Ghosting,” and “We Lost the Summer.” (I still can’t stop listening to “Anti-Romantic, send help.) And, I am especially partial to more of their live performance mixesTaehyun always shines with his superb control and tasteful ad-libs, and I feel like Beomgyu’s voice is able to stand out more. I love all the members’ vocals, but to me Beomgyu’s voice tends to get overmixed in post-production. However, in the live mixes his husky, low tone is more apparent. He isn’t the strongest vocalist out of the bunch in technique, but his timbre is so different than the other members, and I wish it was highlighted more. I’m especially partial to their absolutely gorgeous stages for Seoul Music Discovery last year, linked above.

For Stray Kids, I’ve been revisiting the members’ “SKZ-PLAYER” and “SKZ-RECORD” installments. I’m a huge sucker for 3racha and their superb songwriting and producing already, but Han’s “Alien,” Bangchan, Changbin, Felix, and Seungmin’s “Up All Night,” and the absolutely hystericalMaknae on Top” with I.N, Bangchan, and Changbin are my usual repeats. I will never cease to be amazed by their range, relatability, and keen sensibilities in everything they write.

Also on my summer rotation is basically all of Hoppipolla’s discography. “Your Ocean” continues to make me feel emotions I didn’t know I had, and I wish “Let’s!” could be the soundtrack for my whole summer. It’s upbeat, refreshing, and feels like ocean breezes and better days. With COVID still lingering and my last year of grad school on the horizon… I need those vibes.

[Idols/Music] Lee Hyori

Rather than keeping up with new acts, I’ve been rewinding back to nostalgia. Lately I’ve been on a 2000’s-2010’s run with Lee Hyori, re-watching some of her most legendary MV’s and performances – and boy, am I snatched. I was a huge fan of her since “10 Minutes” jumpstarted her solo career, and I still remembered every bit of the song today as it went on. Same with “U Go Girl” and “Mr. Big,” among others. Watching them again made me realize how timeless every project was, not to mention detailed. Lee Hyori was known to have a say in all her outfits, and her eye for fashion shines through in every MV. Not everyone may agree with me, but I for one think that these songs still remain a classic in today’s time. There’s such a natural, fresh element that can only be noticed through nostalgia, after all.

Then I looked up some closer releases, such as “Black.” Again, a complete reversal in genre, image, and concept — and another way Lee Hyori grew as an artist. While releases have slowed since her marriage, I always appreciate her fluidity in returning to the screen whenever she wishes, before quietly settling back in Jeju. Despite the gaps however, every release simply kills it. 

To wrap up my gushing, she was (and is) an iconic queen who was way ahead of her time, who dared to try something new, and was pretty much a superstar. 

(YouTube[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]. Image via Big Hit Entertainment, HYBE Labels)