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?
[Dramas, TV/Variety] A Little Escapism with BL and Off the Grid
Something about the beginning of summer and the stress of finals has me turning back to one of my favorite mindless comforts: Korean BL. It’s not a genre I keep up with throughout the year (aside from Semantic Error, which I couldn’t wait to watch), but it does make the perfect background to my frantic late-night typing come June. As if it were meant to be, my favorite BL from last year, To My Star, returned with its second season this month. The show obviously has a higher budget and longer run time, and I’d love to say they’re making the most of it. Unfortunately, the second season has skipped from Jiwoo (Kim Kang-min) and Seojun (Son Woo-hyun) getting together at the end of season one to them being broken up from the beginning of season two. So far the characters (especially Jiwoo) have given me little reason to want to see them back together other than the fact that I know I’m supposed to want that. The show still retains that indie charm of the first season, and the addition of new side characters breathes new life into the show. However, I’m doubtful if the final two episodes can justify the previous eight episodes of pain.
On a happier note, I followed a friend’s suggestion and watched Blueming, and it might be my favorite BL yet. Set at a university film school, the story is understated, relatively drama free, and beautifully shot. The characters Dawoon (Jo Hyuk-jun) and Siwon (Kang Eun-bin) come together naturally despite some false first impressions and gradually open up to one another about their insecurities. Beyond that, they actually talk to each other like real humans and friends. It’s so refreshing that it doesn’t feel like a Korean BL at all, but like a happy little glimpse into a blossoming relationship between two characters with actual chemistry (looking at you To My Star 2).
On the theme of escapism, Do Kyungsoo‘s episodes of Off the Grid on Discovery have also been peaceful companions to my time of stress. The short series not only gives me the privilege of watching Kyungsoo cook, but also shows how simple meals and the quiet countryside solitude can be perfect spaces to reflect and breathe. Kyungsoo is insightful and charming as always, and it has been wonderful to watch him take a break from being DO to be Kyungsoo.
[Dance] The Choreography For Psy ft. Suga’s “That That” is #1 in My Heart
This month at Seoulbeats, our team has been busy working in pairs and trios on our Mid-Year discussions. I got to participate in the Dance Mid-Year review with my wonderful fellow editor Qing (who was also my trainer extraordinaire during my very first days as a writer-in-training at Seoulbeats!). Our discussion gave me the perfect excuse to indulge my love of K-pop dances and binge, oh I don’t know, about 100 dance videos in a week or so. I’m quite happy with my official top-5 list (which the whole world can pick apart once our discussion is published shortly!), but there was one choreography it hurt my heart to leave out of my picks: Psy ft. Suga‘s “That That.”
While easily dismissed as a gimmicky, comedic choreography, a closer inspection of “That That” reveals a technically daunting and ingeniously designed dance that is witty, fun, and wildly impressive. The reason it ultimately didn’t land on my official mid-year list was because it didn’t seem fair to compare this dance, which is incomplete in every stage I watched (both because Suga understandably couldn’t participate in most stages, and cause Psy understandably can’t do all the choreography while performing full-out live) and also doesn’t have an official dance practice, with dances that groups and soloists execute dependably a thousand times over and that I could easily side-by-side compare via dance practice videos.
That being said, on gut feeling and personal taste alone, this choreography is my undisputed #1 so far this year. I can’t recommend enough the official choreography video by choreographers BBT (a dance crew who have danced with the likes of HyunA, Jessi, and Ailee and created the choreography for tracks including Ateez‘s “Deja Vu,” IU‘s “Celebrity,” and HyunA and Dawn‘s “Ping Pong”). If you blink at the right time, you’ll miss the one horribly culturally-appropriative dreadlocked hairstyle, and then the video is 100% perfect! But Hallyu’s infuriating inability to stop committing literal crimes of hair appropriation aside, “That That” is a marvelous dance. I’m also grateful it finally enlightened me to the presence of BBT who, previously unbeknownst to me, have been involved in many of my favorite recent K-pop choreographies and performances.
[Dance] Too Many Dances, Too Few Slots on My Mid-year Review List
Like Siena, I’ve been marinating in dozens upon dozens of dance practice videos this June. Even though a few choreographies that caught my eye weren’t outstanding enough to make my list, I still wanted to give them a little signal boost.
First up is Astro‘s “Candy Sugar Pop“, which almost entered my top five. This comeback is their last as a full six-member group–MJ has since enlisted–and I loved that they returned to their bubbly pop roots, while also showing how they’ve grown. The funky choreography showcases this layered charm with its combination of sharp, energetic moves and more fluid moments. You can tell they’re dancing hard, but Astro look so at ease, and I spent the full 3 minutes and 5 seconds feeling like a proud mama.
In the same upbeat vein, Younite bring a fresh rookie energy with “1 of 9“. The dance is like what an early Astro and Seventeen collaboration stage might look like. It has fun formations, almost skit-like moments, and a great use of transitions and smaller units. Even with nine members, the small practice room never feels crowded; the dance is easy to follow, but doesn’t fall into a repetitive lull either. It’s a type of choreography that I miss seeing in K-pop.
My last shout-out goes to Oneus‘ “Bring It On“. The choreography uses impressively varied levels and formations, but more than its dynamism, I was captivated by its choices to slow down or just… stop. The song has a frantic energy, but the choreographers know when to hold a moment so that when the fast movements hit, they hit hard. It’s the tsundere archetype, but in dance form. We see this when the group dip backwards in the last line of Seoho‘s chorus, and also in Hwanwoong‘s lines in the post-chorus when they move at super speed and suddenly freeze.
Ending on a side note: I’ve never felt this grateful for dance studios that aren’t white. If I spend half the video being… bedazzled, what are the chances that I’m actually noticing the details of the choreography itself? But then again, whoever decided these chic, all-white dance studios were a good idea probably wouldn’t have expected anyone to sit through more than 50 choreography videos in a weekend.
[Idols, Music] IU and Taeyeon for A Much Needed Healing Session
Every so often, I have days where headaches and migraines mean I simply cannot listen to the noise K-pop calls songs. When those days happen, it is Taeyeon and IU who come to save my ears, with their soothing vocals, soaring melodies, and actual choruses that eases my headaches.
I rediscovered my love for Taeyeon’s second album, My Purpose, and how vastly different it is from her first album. While yes, there are the ballads she’s known for, they all have a different element in every chord and riff—there’s a raw honesty throughout the album, a maturity we haven’t heard from Taeyeon. This shift between her second album and her most recent, INVU, actually makes sense (at least to my ears). While her latest is more in line with pop sounds, the maturity she exhibited in her second album is still present, albeit in different instrumental form that, while adhering to current trends, is still essentially Taeyeon.
On the other hand, IU has had a sound and has stuck with it. While I didn’t venture to her pre-Modern Times tracks—again, my ears were craving soothing instrumentals—I rediscovered the strength of IU’s sound and image. Modern Times serves as a spectacular bridge between “Good Day” and “You & I” IU to “Twenty Three” and Palette IU. While yes, there is a hint of Disney Princess power ballad in several of her songs (”My Sea” and “Love Letter” come to mind), there’s a tenderness in her vocals that make IU perfect for night time.
I’ve honestly lost count how many times Taeyeon’s angst-filled vocals powered me through my day and how IU’s gentle tunes has crooned me to sleep.