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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, Idols/Music, TV/Variety] Refreshing Dramas, B-sides, and Variety Content
I’ve been getting back into K-entertainment after nearly a year of lackluster interest – nothing to do with the industry, just major changes in my own life. But lately with the return of some stability in my life, I’ve been finding my way back to K-pop, audition programs, variety and K-dramas.
On the K-drama front, Alchemy of Souls is proving to be just the right kind of fun, fantasy rom-com I needed in my life. While almost everything about the drama has been done right, two things in particular stand out – taking it from good to exceptional. One, the world-building. This is crucial to any fantasy, the world it builds must be believable – nuanced, detailed, and consistent in its internal logic. The historical country of Daeho which can’t be found on any map is just that, including the rules of its magic (at least as of ep 8). Second, the acting. Not only are the leads Jung So-min and Lee Jae-wook phenomenal, the side characters are too. I particularly enjoy watching Hwang Min-hyun as the swoon-worthy Seo Yul, and I suspect other audiences do too. Who knows? This may end up being his breakout (acting) role.
On the variety and K-pop front, I happened to catch SF9 on a recent Weekly Idol episode where they performed a collection of b-sides and was blown away by “Stop It Now“. The soundscape and melodies remind me of tragic and bitter sageuks – full of angst, and a deep feeling of yearning for something beautiful and untouchable. The lyrics are poetic, and describe a cruel break-up. At one point, they wish for the former lover to be at least a little unhappy, so they will know that the time spent together was good. The members of SF9 sing it with emotion (I especially like Jaeyoon‘s soft vocals).
Finally, I’ve been watching Be Mbitious. Completely agree with Denise’s review about it being all attitude and little substance, but MNET sure knows how to make it fun! Hopefully, Street Man Fighter lives up to the hype of the first season.
[Idols/Music] Acoustic and Pop Tunes to Beat the Heat
As the temperature and humidity levels climb here in Singapore, I find myself reaching out for more upbeat or lighthearted music. Something about these songs work like a handheld fan, bringing me temporary but much-needed relief from the heat.
I enjoyed Jannabi‘s 2020 Small Pieces I EP tremendously, so I was delighted to find out from Janine and Aaron’s mid-year indie review that they released Small Pieces II this year. Their regular, more theatrical discography has a classic, vintage charm, and Small Pieces II puts a similar spin on a different music style. There’s a sense of spaciousness and ease in the acoustic and rock ballad fare that forms most of the EP. Through lyrics laced with nature metaphors, vocalist Choi Jung-hoon delivers messages of comfort so tenderly, and the instrumentals swell gently to support the melodies. It’s fantastical yet down-to-earth at the same time. Whatever simplicity I’ve been missing in the K-pop mainstream, I can always count on indie artists to deliver.
That’s not to say K-pop isn’t holding its own this summer. My heart was captured fully by WJSN‘s compact, three-track single album Sequence. The group has largely resisted following trends, choosing instead to serve up a variety of mid-tempo pop. Sequence is artistic maturity done right. “Last Sequence” showcases WJSN’s signature bright and light vocals, but also works a sensuality into the falsettos and vocalisations that are underpinned by an insistent, heart-pumping beat.
The second track, “Done”, proves that vocal filters can be powerful when applied with artistic intention. Seola and Dawon‘s warped vocals in the pre-chorus verses add complexity to the lyrics. They’re certain they’re done with this relationship, and this confidence comes from knowing what they deserve. But the distressed vocals hint that they’re hurting from having to make this decision.
Seeing as how Viviz, Chungha, and Hyolyn have also offered up some solid summer tunes with beautiful vocal production, I’m hopeful for the rest of the music releases this summer.
[Idols/Music, TV/Variety] TXT’s First Concert and Hoshi’s Drunken Charms
At the beginning of the month, I had the pleasure of seeing TXT‘s first in-person concert in Seoul, Act: Lovesick. While it was amazing to see the members perform for a live audience for the first time in concert, I couldn’t help but feel it was thrown together a little last minute. This is not to say the performances weren’t great, because they were, and the members were even more charming in real life than online, especially Taehyun. I didn’t see it coming, but that little man filled the stage with charisma and he was so sharp with the choreography. I couldn’t look away. He was born to be on stage, and I might have a new bias (sorry Yeonjun). Maybe SM spoiled me with Exo concerts, but I was expecting more special stages, remixes, silly VCRs, etc, that never happened. Still, I am definitely looking forward to future concerts once they’ve got some tour experience under their belt and HYBE invests in complex sets. In the end, the concert reminded me of how hard it must have been for 4th gen idols these past couple years who have existed pretty much exclusively online for fans, and how wonderful it must be to finally perform in front of fans, even if it’s a little awkward at first.
As for other men stealing my heart: Seventeen‘s Hoshi went on Lee Young-ji‘s YouTube series and it is hands down my favorite episode so far (again, sorry Soobin). In addition to him just being a hysterical drunk who cries with a bit too much soju in him, there was something so sweet about Young-ji being able to meet an idol she has publicly admired for years and have a heart to heart with him. Hoshi has always been one of Seventeen’s funniest members with iconic lines (“Epik High?!”), but this appearance takes the cake for his silly antics. I think his “the ice… it’s cold” line will live on in infamy, and I can’t stop replaying it.
[Idols/Music] Time to TWICE
I don’t know if everyone is aware of a little girl group called Twice but I have been in a worrying thrall to these nine talented women. Nayeon‘s solo release “Pop” has had me in a vice since its release. The glorious return of choruses to pop music should be heralded from all quarters: Huzzah! Hear ye, hear ye choruses are coming back! I don’t know if I will learn the intricate hand choreography but “Pop” is definitely going to be a major part of my playlist rotation for the foreseeable future.
Nayeon got me in the mood for pure sugar and sparkling beats so I have spent the month listening to Twice’s back catalogue. To give you all an indication of how deep this went, I was listening to Twicecoaster: Lane 1 and thought we all haven’t given “Ponytail” the attention it deserves. Criminally underrated at the time of its release in 2016, “Ponytail” is mentioned in one of our Side B‘s but hardly anywhere else. It’s a pop punk banger and I want Twice to return to this style now that guitars are trendy again.
The trend cycle turning around to bring back choruses, guitar riffs, and straightforward sunshine pop music is certainly something I can get behind. I will be happily listening to Twice throwbacks and whatever new projects emerge for now, at least.
A previous version of this post included an entry about girl group NewJeans. Following recent serious accusations regarding NewJeans’ Creative Director Min Hee-jin, our writer asked for the entry to be removed, and this piece has been updated accordingly.