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.

TVXQ’s 20th Anniversary Tour
— Aastha

Late last year and early this year, I had the blessed opportunity to attend two concert stops for TVXQ’s 20th Anniversary Tour. Though I’m biased, I don’t like to put idols on a pedestal, but attending the stops in Seoul and Bangkok genuinely made me feel grateful to be able to attend. The setlist was an incredible journey through their 20 years. From hidden gems in their earlier discography to the absolute jams of their later albums, it’s easy to tell that there was ample thought and consideration put into the song choices for the celebration of two decades. I’ve been hooked onto the official concert playlist. On a related note, I need SM Entertainment to make concert live albums a thing again because they were a fabulous way for any listener to transport themselves back to a concert and its atmosphere. (Then again, I need SM Entertainment to change many, many things… that’s a post for another day.)

I’ve managed to catch a few of TVXQ’s lives in Japan (where they perform as Tohoshinki, with an entirely separate discography), but my first time seeing them live in concert as a Korean act was during this tour. Perhaps that’s why it felt extra special. I’ve been looping random albums of theirs over the past few weeks (months) because attending the concert made me re-realise the charm of the various musical shifts they’ve had in their careers. Pop, jazz, R&B, rock, metal, EDM, ballads… I really could go on with the diversity of music they provide, especially when you combine the albums and singles they have both as TVXQ and Tohoshinki. 

It feels redundant to say that they’re still seasoned, close-to-flawless performers. Although the group collectively had been on hiatus for the past five years, Yunho and Changmin had been taking the time to work on their solo music and performances, and it really showed in their latest tour. They are both forces on the stage individually; they have also mastered the communication it requires for one to not overpower the other on stage, which brings about a chemistry and an energy on stage that can’t really be replicated or seen elsewhere. I hope K-pop fans realise that idols in their thirties are still in their peak conditions and have the benefit of experience and seasoned vocals! I’d say everyone should catch them live at least once in their time as a K-pop fan. 

Bring Back the Bridge
— Chelsea

Thanks to Gina’s wonderful March SB Mixtape “Merry Madness,” I became re-acquainted with Kang Daniel‘s “Paranoia.” Admittedly, it wasn’t a song that caught my attention when it first came out. But, sometimes with K-pop, tracks take a while to hit, and boy did this one. It’s a track with a clear eerie mood, a chorus with lyrics that are melodic and not chanted, a wonderful change up of the beat to the lyrics in the final chorus, and most importantly: an amazing two-part bridge. First, there’s a spoken portion with just the beat, then the backing adlibs build, and it becomes something almost religious in feeling before the full instrumental comes back in on a new beat for the final chorus. It’s a song that builds toward something, shifting moods along the way without ever feeling jarring, encapsulating the feelings of paranoia, possession, and darkness. Each listen feels like I’ve walked away from a narrative and not just… a vibe. More than anything, the song clocks in at over three minutes. 

Now, why does this matter so much to me this month? Well, Hybe  has had a string of major releases this year in the form of Le Sserafim with Easy, the debut of Illit  with “Magnetic,” and TXT‘s comeback with “Deja Vu.” Not one of those songs runs over three minutes—and that seems to have become the Hybe standard. Enhypen‘s most recent title “Sweet Venom” in 2023 was two minutes 33 seconds. TXT’s last ‘full’ album was barely over 26 minutes with two previously released English singles—and The Name Chapter: Tomorrow only has one track over three minutes. Even if all the tracks are enjoyable on the surface, I’m missing the art of the bridge—of a track that takes me somewhere and takes time to slow me down and get there. When tracks are shortened, it’s often at the sacrifice of the bridge. Sure, “Chasing That Feeling” had a bridge (unlike “Sugar Rush Ride“), but it added little to the song because rhythmic beats were the focus of the track—and the same can be said for Le Sserafim’s entire album. Easy, while easy-listening, felt like one long song broken up into two minute segments. I miss the drama of a good bridge—when the track takes a step back and emotion actually builds in a way that is stylistic as much as it is a beat change. 

Perhaps it’s the TikTok,  Spotify play-ability,  or New Jeans effect of it all—or maybe I’m just too old of a K-pop stan—but hearing a good bridge done well made me think about the audience Hybe is catering towards by omitting it in favor of a shorter run-time. More accurately, I know they’re looking for numbers, and the shorter the song, the quicker the play count grows for an album or single if fans are mass streaming on repeat. But, at the sacrifice of a good, memorable bridge, is it really worth it?

Tayeong’s Sophomore Solo, Tap, Impresses
— Siena

I’m a NCT enthusiast, so in retrospect it’s a bit odd how disconnected I was from NCT leader Taeyong‘s solo work until recently. In my defense, the 20+ members do release an awful lot in their various groups, sub-units, and endeavors…at a certain point, you have to pick and choose what to really tune into or risk falling down a never-ending spiral of neon green chaos! 

Funnily enough, it was a tweet from the one and only Tablo that made me sit up and pay attention to Taeyong’s Tap, his second solo EP. Tablo praised the b-side “Ups & Downs,” so I started there, and soon found myself cruising through a well-rounded and engaging album. It’s close to a no-skip EP, but I’ve personally settled on a trio of favorites: power ballad “Moon Tour,” the sharp yet sensitive “Ups & Downs,” and the album’s energetic but melancholy closer “404 Loading.” The EP as a whole pulls primarily from electronic and rock musical influences, building a soundscape well-suited to Taeyong’s somewhat whined rapping style, as well as his raspy and surprisingly dexterous vocals, rarely on show in NCT’s group releases. Lyrically, the b-sides in particular feature a fascinating push and pull between jaded fatalism and striking optimism. The album’s cohesion, and general excellence, is a credit to its creator: Taeyong is the EP’s sole lyricist and has musical credits on every track.

If I had a complaint, it would be that light and quirky title track “Tap,” while a fun performance piece, is false advertising for its same-named EP. Tap is a far more mature venture than its lead single might imply. Nevertheless, the album stands strong, which given that it was likely put together amidst NCT’s downright tyrannical 2023-2024 schedule (at a certain point, it seemed like members were regularly being sling-shotted across oceans, bouncing around countries and continents on a merciless rollercoaster of concerts, festivals, SMTowns, and fan meets), is impressive to say the least. With Taeyong imminently headed into his military service, Tap is also a poignant milestone in his evolution as an artist so-far…and creates excitement for the ways his talent will continue to evolve in his post-military career. 

(Apple Music, Spotify, X/Twitter, YouTube[1][2][3]. Images via HYBE, Konnect Entertainment, SM Entertainment.)