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 month, what won and made your heart beat?
[Music/Idols] Eric Nam, Wheein, and Yena
Can you believe February is almost over? I’m having a distinct sense of deja vu here–I’m pretty sure I was equally shocked about January flying by in our K-pop resolutions Roundtable.
Speaking of resolutions, I’m not quite making progress on my “watch more MVs” and “start picking up half-watched dramas” goals yet. But I have been on top of album releases. I haven’t been able to stop listening to Eric Nam‘s There and Back Again since its early January release. I’m not usually drawn to the mid-tempo pop style that characterises much of the album, but the vocal arrangements are compelling, and the lyrics vulnerable. And yes, maybe it’s the subtle early-2000s pop influences that got me hooked. (Does anyone else practically see the lo-fi CG effects a la Backstreet Boys when Eric croons “You broke my heart (You broke my heart)”?)
While Solar may be Mamamoo‘s official main vocalist, I’ve always been more drawn to Wheein‘s vocal colours. Her first solo effort under Ravi‘s The L1VE label, Whee, beautifully showcases her husky timbre with its mid-tempo acoustic tracks. It’s dreamy and comforting, the perfect balm to the chaos that often marks the start of a new year. Given the trend of over-producing and applying awful vocal filters in recent years, I can’t say how grateful I am for an album that so determinedly centres the vocals of its artist.
Still, I love a good upbeat pop album, and Yena‘s debut with ˣ‿ˣ (SMiLEY) hit all the right notes. It cleverly gets the token ballad out of the way at the start, then launches into an auditory collection of rainbows, candy, and sunshine. The songs are cheerful and sweet without being cutesy, fully showcasing Yena’s vocal abilities and youthful energy. Pop punk b-side “Lxxk 2 U” may be a fan favourite, but my vote goes to “Pretty Boys” for the range of vocal colours that it showcases, and the undeniable charm of the “Da-da-di-di-da-di-da” line in the chorus. I’m not even mad at what would usually be my pet peeve–building a whole chorus out of a few chanted phrases.
[News] Wedding Bells and Tough Political Navigations for Chinese Idols
Recently, two things have caught my attention: the sudden onslaught of welcoming wedding news and further cultural controversies for Chinese idols like Aespa. First, I was beyond happy that my girl Jiyeon found someone to be happy with for life! After all that T-ara went through, it’s nice to see the members slowly advancing in their careers and love lives. Not to mention, Hyuna and Dawn will finally tie the knot after five years of dating — while their opal rings might not fit everyone’s taste, I thought it was the perfect style for the couple. Park Shin-hye’s wedding photos last month were also super gorgeous, especially with the traditional hanbok; can’t wait to see what Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin have to offer!
On the flip side, Aespa’s Ning Ning recently congratulated the controversial Chinese gold medal for the short track… which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do as an idol currently promoting in Korea. The “choosing not to bow” gesture is also coming into light, which brings to question the blurred boundaries between entertainment and politics. As things are super sensitive between those two countries right now, the professional thing to do would be to stay silent and professional — but it seems like Everglow Yiren’s initial resistance to bowing is being followed, which is troublesome for current and future groups with Chinese members.
These seemingly small gestures may be trivial in and of themselves, but I think we’re witnessing the heavy gravity of foreign idols working in Korea. It’s never been such a red flag until now, where political and cultural tensions are at their peak, and it’s bleeding into K-pop. Maybe it just can’t be avoided, but again – what should the rules even be at this point?
[Dramas/Music] Dramaworld, Eric Nam Live
One of my lasting favorite dramas is the web drama Dramaworld. Exploring the relationship between fans and entertainment, this love story between American fangirl Claire and her own personal leading man Joon is a must for any drama lover. I’ve always wanted a second season, as the first ended on a big cliffhanger when Joon found himself out of Dramaworld and in the real world. So when Dramaworld 2 was released last autumn, I was delighted… until I realized that for love, money, or crime, I could not find a way to watch it, and I have been taunted by its existence ever since.
Until now! Yes, Dramaworld and Dramaworld 2 are now both available (in the US at least) on IMDB TV/ Amazon Prime! I rewatched the first season and was just as enthralled with the wit, meta-humor, and well-crafted story as I was five years ago, and am looking forward to a nice weekend binge of season 2.
I also had the chance to see Eric Nam on tour! While I’m not a huge Eric Nam fan, he is an incredible showman that really lit up the stage and made it a fantastic experience. 10/10 would see again, highly recommended to everyone over 16. I also recommend bringing some singles.
[Music/Dramas] Onewe, Our Beloved Summer, True Beauty, Astro
How is it the end of February already? It feels like it was just the start of January yesterday!
My 2022 has been all about Onewe. There’s something about their music that hits all the right spots for me, from their soaring ballads to their experimental tracks like “A.I.” and “Montage_.” They always do a deep dive into their production process after the release of an album, and my eyes were glued to my screen while each member explained the inspiration behind their songs. Plus, it’s hard not to fall in love with their family dynamic, as they started out as a band of neighborhood friends. They like to start “fights” on Bubble and fancafe, and they always bring this same chaotic energy whenever they crash another members’ V Live.
I’ve also fallen head-over-heels for K-dramas again, which hasn’t happened in months! Our Beloved Summer and then True Beauty captured all of my attention these past few weeks. I’ve been holding onto these stories through their OSTs (especially Our Beloved Summer) because I refuse to let go and admit that this is the end.
And since True Beauty had a monopoly over my life following Our Beloved Summer, I figured I might as well get to know all of Astro and not just Cha Eunwoo. “Blue Flame” and its MV have an unexplained grip on me, while “Just Breathe” made me laugh alongside JinJin and Rocky. I also devoured serotonin-boosting content like “Astro Zone,” where the six members take a short vacation. While no official bias has been established, I do find myself looking for Rocky and Moonbin quite often.
2022 may be already exhausting, but in the meantime, I’ll just keep on watching Onewe and Astro content and debating if I even need to choose just one member as my bias.
[Music/Idols] StayC’s “Young Luv”
Though I share our reviewer’s reservations about the lyrical content of StayC’s most recent title track, “Run2U”, I’m head over heels for a particular b-side off the same mini album. This exemplary track would be “Young Luv”, a moody, indie-rock influenced gem. What I really love about “Young Luv” (that wordplay is shamelessly intentional) is how the song keeps it in the pocket the whole time. There are no big climactic flourishes and no shenanigans, just a beautiful melody, laidback production, and emotive vocals.
I’m especially impressed by the work that main vocalist Sieun does on the track, effortlessly switching between an airy falsetto, a more nasal punk-pop delivery, and a classic K-pop power belt. StayC’s recent performance of “Young Luv” (alongside another solid b-side “Butterfly”) on MCountdown lives up to the magic of the recording and makes me excited to see how the group evolve in the future.