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?
Stellar Japanese Releases from TVXQ and MISAMO
I haven’t been listening to much K-pop lately (though I have to say Exo’s latest album is an absolute smash hit for me). Instead, I’ve been taken by Japanese releases. From TVXQ’s summer-themed house track “Lime & Lemon” to Twice MISAMO’s groovy, mature “Do Not Touch”, I’ve been finding that there is more creativity and experimentation in subunit releases and/or Japanese releases, and it’s only gotten more prominent in recent months. “Lime & Lemon” has been key in letting me pretend I’m on a summer vacation every day of my life instead of the reality that is living in a tropical city.
On the other hand, MISAMO’s “Do Not Touch” offers a completely different sound and imagery from what Twice have explored thus far. Admittedly, I think MISAMO have the potential to drive their sultry and moodier sound even harder, but I really enjoyed the direction they took with “Do Not Touch”. It also helps that their styling for the subunit is immaculate. I was taken by their wardrobe for both “Marshmallow” and “Do Not Touch”, and I’m really excited for their 1st Japanese mini-album to be released completely at the end of this month.
Yunho’s third mini-album (Reality Show) is also scheduled for early next month, which I’m anticipating very much. Apparently, the production of the album’s concept is much grander than his previous ones; seeing how conscientious and refined Noir’s concept was, I’ve been eagerly staying up every night waiting for more information on Reality Show to drop — and realising that I may be getting too old for it.
Eye-Opening Youtube Commentary
In addition to the usual commentary and video essays YouTube loves to lead me to, this past month K-pop MV editing commentary videos started appearing in my suggestions. These videos, particularly by creator Jordan Orme, have opened my eyes to an aspect of K-pop production that I’ve taken for granted as a viewer: editing. Of course, my novice eyes can catch blatantly bad editing, or notice when something looks particularly cool, but watching someone who knows their craft put vocabulary to all visual work and editing that goes into an MV is fascinating. It’s equally fun to see editors like Jordan geek out about visual effects and .5 seconds of an MV that I didn’t even notice. I love commentary and hearing what experts or even fans think about the media we all engage with. It informs me as not only a writer, but as a consumer. So, it’s nice to have another lens through which I can now consider K-pop — though I’m not going to pretend like I understand how visual effects work.
While I’m on the topic, I’d also like to shout out another commentary creator, Taejiu, who recently put out an open letter to the K-pop community that I think addresses a lot of the issues of online fandom these days. There is a currency of negativity that thrives in K-pop online spaces, and I respect Taejiu for starting a dialogue without pointing fingers. Beyond the letter, I also recommend any of their longer-form group retrospectives — I always walk away feeling a bit more appreciation for groups I have overlooked.
Odd Eye Circle Returns & an Unexpected Yet Sincere Ode to the Lob
After many tumultuous months that saw Blockberry Creative outed as one of the most unhinged K-pop companies ever (and that’s a high bar to hit), all 12 members of Loona were able to get out of their contracts with their former agency. While it’s sad that this may spell the effective end of Loona, once one of the most promising fourth-generation girl groups, and my definite personal favorite, it’s a relief that the talented members now have a chance to pursue their careers freely.
In a fascinating twist, several have chosen to do this by signing with Modhaus, a company run by Jaden Jeong, the creative force behind Loona’s unique rollout and early career. This includes all three members of the popular pre-debut sub-unit Odd Eye Circle, and delightfully, Jinsoul, Kim Lip, and Choerry are back under the same trio name and in sterling form. While the title track “Air Force One” is muddled by a directionless MV (though those suit-looks, purposeless or not, are a slay), the EP Version Up is strong. Better yet, it pleasantly calls to mind Odd Eye Circle’s past output without being a copy-paste. It’s an elegant evolution for the trio, and increases faith that Modhaus has concrete and worth-anticipating plans for their former Loona members, gathered under the project name ARTMS. Honestly, the EP is a triumph for the groovy b-side “Je Ne Sais Quoi” alone, an instant song of the summer for me.
In an adjacent observation: is it just me or is the lob (long bob) having a moment in K-pop? And more shockingly, it is kinda chic?!? We’ve got Jinsoul’s Version Up promotions, Dreamcatcher‘s Yoohyeon in “Bon Voyage,” Aespa‘s Winter exchanging her iconic sharp bob for a lob in “Spicy,” and Fromis 9‘s Chaeyoung in certain “#menow” stages. I mean, that’s only four lobs, but that’s kinda a lot of lobs. And they all look good in them (good not a term I usually associate with a word like “lob”)?!? On a more scientific note (not really); I think the reason it works so well is you get the modernity of a bob without the stiffness, and the flow of longer hair without the mess. Maybe it’s just the heat getting to my head, but I’m gonna venture a K-pop prediction: The lob is here to stay, and this may be one of the very first K-pop hair trends that doesn’t make my hair stand on end!
Yuehua’s High Highs and Low Lows
While Yuehua Entertainment certainly isn’t a new player in the entertainment industry and is essentially a household name in China, their influence in Korea is rather small. As one of very few Chinese companies that haven’t given up on K-pop despite THAAD constraints in China, the agency and their attempts to crack the Korean market over the past few years have been quite intriguing to me.
From forming partnerships with Korean companies (e.g. Uniq with YG Entertainment and WJSN with Starship Entertainment) to becoming a powerhouse in the survival show scene, Yuehua’s persistence appears to be paying off. But though I’m incredibly impressed at how much talent their artists have, I find a number of actions made by their management team to be utterly confusing.
Their recent blunder with Yena’s “Hate Rodrigo” release seemed like a massive oversight. I’m really bewildered at how the song title and concept were given the OK. But while it was distasteful, I still felt disheartened seeing all the backlash to Yena as a fan since her Iz*One days. She looked to be in brighter spirits at this year’s Yuehua Family Concert, though, so I was happy to see her again even if it was only for a brief time.
Another act from Yuehua’s Korean branch that attended the concert was Everglow, a group that hasn’t had a comeback in 20 months. Their new hairstyles sparked rumors that new music was on the way but after being fooled time after time, I was afraid to get my hopes up. Fortunately, a comeback was confirmed shortly afterwards with ‘coming soon’ posters. I’m sad that they’re only putting out a single album, but at least it’s better than nothing.
In more positive news, Yuehua seems to be doing well with Tempest. The group is slated to hold their first solo concert in August, and their official light stick design looks super pretty. With them somewhat established, hopefully, Yuehua will also focus on their other Korean artists.