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?

Pros and Cons of K-pop’s Dance with Luxury Brands
— Gina

To start off, I saw the news not too long ago that NewJeans’ Hanni became an ambassador for Armani Makeup, following her deal with Gucci late last year. This followed a number of other high-fashion brand deals that the group collected fresh off their debut (Danielle with BurberryHyein with Louis Vuitton). I’ll clarify that I’m super happy for the group and I want to see them continually succeeding in multiple arenas of the industry. 

However, I can’t help but feel a bit irked at how luxury brands are continuously milking K-pop artists and their brands to boost their appeal toward a younger audience — especially before the group themselves plant their roots. Instantly, there’s a disconnect as these fresh, young faces model for brands that are out of reach for a good chunk of the average pool of fans. Not to mention, it’s a bit disappointing that they aim for such high-level brands to begin with, when NewJeans looked perfectly cute with Musinsa and OiOi, and can even look cute with Uniqlo (for example). A slow, steady climb in the advertising world is nothing to be ashamed of, yet companies lately jump their stars right to the top, making them stay only at the top.

Of course, NewJeans are definitely not the only ones taking this route, and there really isn’t much that can be done except hope that they can explore other brands later on. After all, Rosé surprised many by modeling for OiOi as well last year, and she added a new freshness to the pictorials. 

Meanwhile, CF deals are entirely different, as idols rely on those to reach a mass public audience. And they truly succeeded in snagging all the best ones: K Telecom, MEGASTUDY, Pinkfong, Shinhan Bank, and even the LG Gram Style limited edition laptops. There is no doubt that public outreach is crucial to maintaining stronger popularity, but I personally hope that high fashion brands and idols won’t keep being so intrinsically linked down the line. 

Soft Comforts from Seventeen BSS, Jinyoung, Kim Hoyeon, and Suchwita

So that’s why brands like Prada and Saint Laurent are suddenly flying various Seventeen members into their shows! I had no idea it was an industry-wide marketing move. I’m happy for the exposure that the artists are gaining from these invites, but like you, Gina, I can’t help wondering if it’s an ethical move especially given skyrocketing inflation rates. (Perhaps the move itself was to pre-empt consumers’ tightening of luxury expenditures.)

Contrary to the quiet month that K-pop has been seeing, I’ve had a hectic start to the year, and gravitated towards comfort content. Seventeen BSS‘ Second Wind single album arrived right on time. I was especially drawn to the gently uplifting acoustic b-side “7PM”, which details the comfort of meeting a friend to unwind after a long day. I’ve also been looping Got7 Jinyoung‘s “Sleep Well” off his first full album Chapter 0: WithIt’s a simple, warm ballad that sends encouragement to listeners weighed down by their daily lives. 

I also discovered Kim Hoyeon‘s “It’ll Be Okay” through Seventeen DK‘s recent episode of Dingo‘s Well Done Today. Her mellow voice and the crest and fall of the piano instrumental is both comforting and uplifting, perfectly capturing the spirit of this long-running mini series that features celebrities visiting fans who are going through a hard time.

Another serendipitous discovery was Suga‘s Suchwita episode with Seventeen’s Hoshi. The conversation unfolded naturally as they began connecting over hardships they faced as K-pop trainees and the perfectionist pressures they still face. Even though the content is produced with the viewer’s interest in mind, I loved that it brought the artists themselves comfort as well. 

Back when I followed BTS closely, I felt that Suga’s thoughtfulness and careful manner of communicating his views would make him a great radio DJ. I’m really glad to see him step into the role of a host here, opening up new perspectives for guests and passing on great advice that he received from others.

Variety Worth Watching in Suchwita & Boys Planet, and Key’s 80’s Magic Strikes Again

Like Qing, I’ve also been charmed by Suchwita, with Suga’s recent episode featuring Epik High‘s Tablo being a particular standout for me. It’s always fun to see artists you admire separately come together. Suga and Tablo already have this relationship, musically and personally, but it’s even more delightful when the rapport between them is this warm, witty, and insightful. From their hilarious riff on how to write an album description, to a number of more poignant snippets, the whole half hour was a lovely treat.

Also on the music variety front, I haven’t been tuning into Boys Planet 999 because competition shows are a TV diet I have to be in a very specific mood for. But I have been following the general progression of the show with particular interest in Pentagon‘s Hui (who is competing on the show under his birth name Lee Hoe-taek). If ever there was an over-powered contestant, it is he, as alarmingly demonstrated by his audition performance. Hui has long been a songwriter whose work I enjoy, and I think his vocal abilities are stunning. Although this kind of variety arena is not ideal, nor is the situation that led him to be on the show (or led Cube Entertainment to put him on the show), I sincerely hope that Boys Planet 999 can be a launching pad for the recognition and flourishing career he’s long been unfairly denied. 

Finally, to end things on a nearly all bright note: though I agree whole-heartedly with Lo’s review that Key‘s “Killer” is a poor fit for his persona, the song itself is a bop. A big bop, and I love every 80’s-influenced, diva-to-the-max, synth-tastic moment of it!

The Joys and Torments of Boys Planet

Since the Produce 101 vote manipulation scandal, my interest in idol survival shows has been at rock bottom. I was sure I would never watch another Mnet-produced competition program again. But, alas, a seemingly harmless post about the competing Yuehua trainees ultimately led me down the Boys Planet rabbit hole.

Like Siena, my interest was piqued by Hui’s appearance on the show. Though I’m not overly familiar with Pentagon, I’ve always thought Hui had exceptional skills, which is made apparent in these first few episodes. I’ve also taken a liking to several other debuted contestants who I didn’t know of before, such as Ciipher’s KeitaNINE.i’s Seowon, and Lee Seunghwan, who was a part of 1The9. While I don’t enjoy watching Mnet’s predictable storylines with their excessive editing, I’m glad that I got to discover many talents to follow after the series ends.

On that note, I’m trying hard to just focus on the talented trainees and fun interactions in the show, because Mnet has been testing my patience with how they structured the program. Every assignment so far has been made into a contest between the K Group (of Korean trainees) and the G Group (of international trainees. This is odd, since the final lineup is meant to include trainees from both groups. Even at the first elimination round, the trainees’ seats are still divided. It was interesting at first, but Mnet appears to be overdoing it here.

If that wasn’t frustrating enough, the livestream for the first ranking announcement left me in utter disbelief. Not because of the ranking itself, but because Mnet had the gall to actually take 40 minutes just to announce one trainee’s rank and then immediately end the livestream with a heartless “Tune in next week to find out!” message. It was so unimaginable, I’m almost in awe at the sheer audacity they have. But as pathetic as it sounds, I know I’m still going to be eagerly waiting for each episode as I hope for Zhang Hao and Kim Tae-rae to make it into the final group.

(Newsen, YouTube[1][2][3]. Images via ADOR, Giorgio Armani Beauty, HYBE, OiOi, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, YouTube.)