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?

[Idols] Aespa

I just have to say that I’m completely taken by Aespa. To be clear, I don’t think their latest title track is the best song I’ve heard — it’s a typical SMP song; while it has grown on me, I can understand why some wouldn’t be a fan. The first mini-album as a whole is great, though. It does exactly what you would expect a group’s first EP to do: it shows their range in genre, their skills in vocals and rap while also being a frontrunner of the definition of modern SMP. 

However, Aespa appeal to me for more than just that. First off, they can all sing, and really well at that. Winter’s my definite bias, but each member can hold their own when it comes to both singing and dancing, and that’s incredibly fresh to me in the current landscape. They’re funny, entertaining, and each of them have a charm that draws you to them. Before the release of Savage, they’ve only had three songs, and yet I’ve watched every performance possible. I can’t explain exactly what it is, but I personally think each of them is a superstar in making. The reason I’m gushing about them here is because no group has enraptured me like this in K-pop, let alone SM, other than TVXQ. I’ve even searched up their real names. That’s serious commitment. I’m really excited to see how they explore their musical sound and carve out their trajectory in the future.

[Comebacks] E’Last, “Last Dream”

On the note of rookie groups, I’m absolutely captivated by E’Last‘s latest title track, “Dark Dream”. Over the weekend, I was writing a forthcoming retrospective review on VIXX‘s Error EP and the dance ballad genre, and it made me reflect on how no other musical style seems to have the same emotional impact on me. I just love it when K-pop goes bigger than big.

Right from its opening string flourish and tolling bells, “Dark Dream” unfolds with an ambitious sense of theatricality. It blends classical symphonic instrumentals with a dance pop sound in the vein of Lovelyz‘s “Destiny” and GFriend‘s “Rough”. The sudden changes in rhythm are exhilarating, and the momentum and grandeur of the track never flag. There are some small details that stand out especially, like the stirring opening melody that sounds straight out from a sageuk ballad OST, or the interesting, off-kilter rhythm of the “Every day, every night” line in the chorus that seems to express the song’s tumultuous emotional state. 

The choreography is equally expressive, incorporating moves from ballet, modern dance, and hip hop, and also using props (a red rope) to tell a story of entrapment. I wasn’t sold on E’Last’s past few releases, but I’m glad to see them return to the theatrical dance ballad sound of their debut (“Swear”), which I loved. 

[YouTube/Variety] Harper’s Bazaar

I have had very little time this week/month/era in history to do anything besides go to work, sleep, and watch one low-concentration video before bed. Sometimes it’s ASMR of street food being made, sometimes it’s a runway show, sometimes it’s a compilation video of The Boyz’ Q screaming

This week, it’s mostly been a series released by Harper’s Bazaar, starring different celebrities, showing their nighttime routine. It’s mostly product placement and people talking about washing their faces so it’s perfect for a person who cannot think further than their own nose (such as me) after a long shift. 

They’ve featured some Hallyu stars like Jay BEric Nam, and Jackson Wang. Jackson’s entry into the series is a high point for me: his routine sounds relaxing, intentional, and he sells his endorsement deals with a natural style that helps you to forget he is a global L’Oreal brand ambassadorHis punting Kweichow Moutai (made by the world’s most valuable liquor company) was seamless and made me crave a luxurious nighttime tipple even though I don’t drink alcohol. In comparison, Jay B’s routine, consisting of washing his face and putting on a mask is brutally pared back. Thinking about the difference between Jay B’s rushed, Spartan program and Jackson’s tranquil, sponsored ritual made me laugh.

[Concerts] TXT, Act: Boy

Much like Janine, I’ve had very little time this past month; however, I did make time for TXT‘s first concert Act: Boy on the 3rd. I know that streamed concerts like Beyond Live series have become ways companies and fans to cope with the pandemic, but this was my first experience. I’m still unsure how I feel about it. On the one hand, online concerts make groups so much more accessible to international fans. Gone are the days of following live tweet streams or illegal audio streams from someone actually in attendance — fans can be front row to their favorites from anywhere in the world. On the other hand, as someone who has been to a fair share of K-pop concerts, the experience was also a bit bittersweet. Of course, it was amazing to finally see TXT perform nearly their entire discography for the first time, have their little moments, etc. But, the element of spontaneity and fan interaction was missing, making the experience feel more like looking in on a dress rehearsal than the final product. This is no fault of TXT’s at all — they were amazing — it’s just a downside of COVID restrictions that all groups and artists are dealing with right now. It broke my heart a little at the end when Beomgyu looked out on the sea of lightsticks and you could tell he wished they were a live audience instead.  

Speaking of the concert itself, I am so upset that “Eternity” was only teased, but I loved the rock version of “Puma” and we finally got to see the choreography for “Frost.” Fingers crossed that Big Hit releases all the remixed versions of the tracks because I liked a few of them even more than the originals. 

(YouTube [1][2][3]; images via Big Hit Music, SM Entertainment)