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] Onew, Taeyong & Wonstein
There’s no hiding from the YouTube algorithm my Shawol-dom, so even though I wasn’t tracking Onew‘s newest solo release, my YouTube homepage alerted me to the arrival of “Dice” and its same-named mini album, and thank goodness it did! Dice is a delightful surprise, an album full of seemingly light-hearted but often poignant tunes that wonderfully showcase Onew’s unique vocal tone and versatility. “Love Phobia” and “Yeowoobi” are my current favorite b-sides, but the album has no skips for me. The title track’s MV is enjoyably off-kilter as well. All in all, I’m delighted to see how well the individual SHINee members are doing in both their musical and variety endeavors, not only holding down the fort until Taemin‘s military release (and more importantly, health recovery) opens the door for a full-group comeback, but expanding their own individual range and artistry.
Speaking of quirky MVs, I don’t understand anything that is happening in Taeyong and Wonstein‘s SM Station collab “Love Theory,” but I do understand that I like it!
[Dramas, Music/Idols] A Business Proposal, Suho
On the note of solo releases, Suho‘s Grey Suit EP caught my attention. His first mini, Self-Portrait, consisted mostly of ballads that didn’t make a deep impression on me, even though I love a good ballad. There are the usual ballad suspects rounding out Grey Suit–“Bear Hug” and “Moment”. But they set themselves apart from the typical token ballad with thoughtful arrangements. “Bear Hug” combines symphonic elements with a slow rock instrumental, and “Moment” features the gentle, rhythmic plucking of a gayageum, as Sara astutely noted in her review. The rest of the tracks maintain a sentimental mood, but they can also be surprisingly groovy with the inclusion of funk and rock influences. Suho demonstrates great range on all tracks, allowing his vocals to expand and create a wide soundscape that feels fitting for spring.
Note: The next paragraph contains mild spoilers for episodes 7-12 of A Business Proposal.
In last month’s Beats of the Month, I spoke highly of A Business Proposal. The second half of the show largely maintains the show’s meta charm; unfortunately, the self-reflexive humour dipped in the finale week, which uncritically packed in one too many rom-com cliches. I wasn’t too upset over it, though, because I loved how the show gave its two female leads agency in their sticky situations. Whether it was facing clingy ex-crushes head on about crossing lines, or walking away from a relationship with family that just doesn’t work anymore, Ha-ri (Sejeong) and her bestie Young-seo (Seol In-ah) carry themselves with confidence and dignity, demonstrating a degree of initiative that’s not often granted to female characters in rom-coms. I may not rewatch the drama, but it was definitely an enjoyable and heartwarming ride.
(P.S. If you were disappointed by the last two episodes, check out this humorous, perfect alternative ending.)
[Music/Idols, Variety] Lucy & Daybreak collaboration, Great Seoul Invasion
Is it me or does there seem to be quite a few spring-esque releases?
Among the releases so far, I found myself enjoying Lucy and Daybreak‘s “The Answer” and “Oh-eh”. It’s the first time these two bands have collaborated together and they are a match made in heaven. The songs are polar opposites in terms of vibe–“The Answer” is bright and cheerful while “Oh-eh” is sensual and alluring. The latter is a welcome treat as it was Lucy’s first time to tap into a more mature sound.
Speaking of band-related news, Mnet has kicked off auditions for its “battle of the bands” program, which seems to go with the title, Great Seoul Invasion. Unlike the audition process for its infamous Produce series, Mnet dropped the bands’ audition clips online and are encouraging viewers to press ‘like’ on the bands that they wish to advance to the next round. Many of the participants are indie bands, so it was surprising to see Onewe there. Onewe obviously has an advantage but all-female indie band Walking After U has taken the lead as far as views are concerned. While the show will only start to air in June, the audition clips already are a great way for more audiences to discover Korean bands.
[Dramas, Music/Idols] Reply 1988, Stray Kids, Suho
April, to put it lightly, has been a month! So I’m very glad that this month was also full of great music and K-dramas. I started watching Reply 1988 (years later, of course), and I’m loving it! The series has everything I need for it to top my favorite K-dramas list: family, humor, tight-knit friendships, and a splash of cute romance. One change I appreciate in Reply 1988 is how the parents feel like real people with their own problems and relationships, unlike the flat baseball coach and mom-who-maked-too-much-food traits seen in the other two Reply shows. Naturally, I also love how the four families rely on each other and are there for one another in the joyful and heartbreaking times. I would also like a Kim Jung-bong in my life (and a Sung Deok-sun, too). Actually, how about all of the friends? That would be nice.
I’m slowly making my way through the 20 episodes of Reply 1988, partially because I don’t want to let go of these families and characters quite yet. I actually started the Reply series with Reply 1997, but never finished Reply 1994 (unfortunately), but Reply 1988 definitely takes the cake for the best of this series… I see why it’s the ultimate favorite.
On the music front, like Qing, Suho’s sophomore solo album has been on repeat along with Stray Kids’ “Maniac” and “Waiting For Us.” As I mentioned in my review, Grey Suit establishes Suho’s solo sound while being cohesive as a whole work. Suho continues his streak of executing strong, stunning concepts. I especially love how he took the idea of the Men in Grey from the German novel Momo and built it out to become a unique visual and musical concept. I’m excited to see where solo musician Suho goes next!
[Variety] The Sixth Sense, Queendom 2
April’s new music releases have escaped me. I’ve been sick in bed for most of the month with no ability to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, so the best diverting activity was watching different Korean variety shows.
I’m all caught up on the recent episodes of Sixth Sense, All Table Tennis!, and Queendom 2. Sixth Sense feels as though it has settled into a familiar rhythm of being a fun show of uneven quality that I can’t bring myself to skip. The production and pacing of the show have been affected by COVID-19 in various ways, including notable host absences that were covered with varying degrees of success. I do appreciate the perspective taken by production to acknowledge missing members, it pays tribute to the show’s greatest strength: the heart and camaraderie between the cast members. My favourite episode was the Science of Sleep for the Insomniacs-themed episode, and anyone who has watched it knows the highlight I’m thinking of.
Another show I’ve been watching is Queendom 2 and the unequivocal stand out has been Hyolyn’s entire run. The Queen of Summer isn’t letting the girls breathe. She’s netted two perfect scores over two rounds of competition and I don’t think anyone can fault that result. All the groups are incredible and I’ve looked forward to them all but at the moment, no one is touching Hyolyn’s all-round ability. She’s shown her talents and how they are supported by her experience as a performer and work ethic to great effect. After watching her interpretation of Loona’s “So What” I’ve concluded that Hyolyn really misses performing in front of a live audience and decided to make up for lost time. She went berserk and I think it’s her competition to lose.