Kpop Music Monday #13: EXO, “Call Me Baby”

Up next is a song that was originally called “Call Me Daddy” but that was, well, uh…

EXO is one of the powerhouse boy groups currently active. Honestly, it was hard to choose a song because I really, really love the video for “Overdose.”

Recently, it was announced that member Chen was not only in a relationship with a non-celebrity, but marrying said woman, and said woman was seven months pregnant with his kid. How does this happen?

Having been a kpop fan for going on ten years, and being a woman in her damn mid 30s, I am happy to see idols date and marry. It’s about time that more members of older groups start settling down and pursuing happiness outside the idol world, in whatever way they choose. I honestly don’t remember what I felt as a teenager and how I dealt with dating rumors, but I think most of us were actually rooting for Justin and Britney to stay together, and Jessica and Nick were #goals.

Cultures are different, and the way brands are marketed vary culture to culture. Mint M&Ms were a thing in the UK long before they came to the US, for example. We plaster our supermarket aisles with crappy magazines detailing the inner worlds of celebs, and nothing, it seems, is off limit.

In Korea, idol groups are brands unto themselves, and a lot of the appeal of an idol is their availability. These are not just good lookin’ men and women, but they are single and available and maybe if you buy enough of their albums, you’ll be able to “hi-touch” them at a fan sign event. People freak out when they discover that their idol might possibly be dating someone, so idols keep their dating lives secret. And then fans get upset that their idol kept their dating life secret, so it’s really a lose/lose situation.

People were angry when it was exposed that Chen was going to marry and be a daddy, some even called for his removal from the group. Their excuses are all silly, in my opinion: either it was exposed at the “wrong time” and distracted from the group’s events, or now the group would be unable to be seen as anything other than “that group with the dude who is about to be a married father.” Married people are unprofitable, I guess.

But wait, there’s more… Singer Lee Jae-Hoon also came forward to say he was married with two kids. He confessed that he actually got married in 2009, but it was only announced in 2020.

And Hyuna (formerly of 4Minute) and E’Dawn (formerly of Pentagon) were kicked out of Cube Entertainment when their relationship of two years was exposed.

Can we just do away with all this secrecy? As a fan, you should wish for happiness for the idols you hold dear. It’s okay to feel sad to hear that your favorite idol is dating someone you deem unworthy but only they know what’s best for themselves. I honestly hope that the idol culture changes as we see the second generation of kpop stars get older and become more open about their relationships.

Kpop Music Monday #12: 2NE1, “I Am the Best”

Ten years ago, if you asked about the reigning “girl crush concept” group, everyone would know that you were talking about 2NE1.

The “girl crush concept” typically portrays strong, independent women, the kind of girls girls want to be. They’re often seen getting their revenge on cheating boyfriends or chilling with their friends. For me, no one defines “girl crush concept” better than 2NE1.

This week’s Music Monday (a few days late) is their song “I Am the Best,” another easy song for non-kpop listeners to become addicted to. Even without knowing the lyrics, you can tell it’s an empowering song by the sheer amount of black, metal, and interesting animals they have on set.

2NE1’s rise and downfall is too exhausting to write in detail, but the group started fizzling even before member Minzy left the group. There was a drug scandal with Park Bom (as well as plenty of plastic surgery rumors), and the overall mismanagement of CL’s American debut. None of this dims 2NE1’s light as one of the founding girl crush concept groups, something that even YG Entertainment’s CEO is still chasing after, in “prettier” girl group BlackPink. (He really said that. Gross.)

As much as I love “I Am the Best,” my favorite 2NE1 song remains “I Don’t Care” to this day. All of their songs are bops, though, to be quite honest with you. I will forever be a Blackjack.

Kpop Music Monday #11: BigBang, “Fantastic Baby”

It was recently announced that powerhouse K-pop group BigBang will be playing a couple of dates at this year’s Coachella, and to that, I only have three words to say:

Wow. Fantastic Baby.

I previously highlighted BigBang on my Music Monday #6, with their collaboration with girl group 2NE1. I’ve listened to BigBang for ten years and while I might prefer some of their older material like “Lies” and “Haru Haru“, “Fantastic Baby” will always be a song that I use to introduce people to K-pop.

BigBang has been a 4-member group since the departure of member Seungri in 2019. Seungri was the focal point of one of the largest scandals to rock South Korea, known as the Burning Sun scandal. Burning Sun is the name of a nightclub in Gangnam, closely associated with Seungri, and after the assault of a male club-goer, the nightclub came under investigation for prostitution, drug trafficking, and corruption. The investigation brought several Korean celebrities into the spotlight, most disturbingly for allegedly filming themselves having sex with women and then posting the videos to chatrooms.

Both G-Dragon and TOP have been embroiled in drug (marijuana) scandals, and Daesung was involved in a tragic car accident back in 2011 that left a motorcyclist dead. The only member that seems to have escaped any major scandal is Taeyang, who is also the only married member of BigBang, mentioned here because that was somehow not considered much of a scandal at the time it was released.

Hollywood has a dark side, and Hallyu (or “the Korean Wave”) does as well.

Kpop Music Monday #10: Lim Kim, “Awoo”

I’ve been following 1theK’s YouTube for several years now, and occasionally it’ll give me a gem of a song from someone who is either signed with a lesser known label or known domestically but not internationally.

Back in April of 2015, I was working at a very horrible job with an abusive, alcoholic boss. The business was failing; we never had enough money to pay our vendors, let alone our employees. This song caught my attention for the usual reasons: colorful video, black cat, catchy chorus. Even though at the time I had no idea that it was a love song (with a few questionable homophobic lyrics), it was catchy enough to keep me distracted while I told my boss to shove it and started a new line of work in specialty coffee.

After falling off the face of the planet, Lim Kim came back. Kinda. It’s not the shiny, rainbow pop of her previous releases, but something more artistic, something bolder, and something that seems a little more “real.”

Kpop Music Monday #9: ReacttotheK

This week’s Music Monday features youtube channel ReacttotheK.

Back when I first started listening to kpop, it wasn’t popular. At all. No one could understand just why I loved it so much, especially since I didn’t speak Korean. Had this channel been around then, I would have felt a lot less alone and had some armor to fight with. Sometimes good music is really just… good music.

The channel is fairly straight-forward: a group of classical musicians sit down and are shown a kpop music video. Some members are regulars and might be familiar with the groups shown, and others are approaching the genre for the first time.

It’s so refreshing to see people who know music theory be surprised by a tempo change, or give a reason why you loved that one particular part of a song.

What I appreciate the most about the channel is the carefully curated songs that they react to. Some songs aren’t necessarily that musically interesting or ground-breaking but may be a fan favorite so just one or two of the guys (usually the founder Umu and another guest) will react to it; other songs are chosen because they are

Take a listen below to hear some of the musicians playing a kpop medley from 2018!

Kpop Music Monday #8: Mamamoo, “Wind Flower”

Let’s shake the skeleton outta the closet: many of us listening to kpop don’t understand Korean. If it’s not the lyrics that are resonating with us, then what is it?

Today’s Music Monday is one of my favorite songs by my favorite girl group. It’s a breakup song, but before I knew that, all I understood were the few phrases I could pick out in English and Korean. For lack of a better term, I loved the “color” of the song and it resonated deeply with me. The video is also beautifully shot and does a good job expressing the song’s emotional journey (such as illustrating the girls’ isolation by featuring them alone in busy street scenes).

2018 was a year of change for me. A long term relationship ended, which led to a new living space. Unhappy with where I was, I took a friend’s lead and moved to a different coffee company. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew who I was doing it with: myself. Oh, and my cat.

At some point, a little whisper came back to me. What if I… haven’t fully given up on the idea to move to Korea to teach English? It was an idea I had ten years ago that was abandoned for various reasons, but what if I couldn’t backtrack and try to do it now?

This song encapsulates what I hope for each day: that it gets better (day by day). It recognizes the pain that we suffer in hushed tones, but sings out loud anyways through it. Sometimes you don’t need to understand the lyrics to understand the message.

Drink soju. Eat ice cream. Be happy.

Kpop Music Monday #7: Super Junior, “Sorry, Sorry”

Back in 2009/2010 when I was just getting into kpop, one big name that kept popping up was Super Junior. A cursory google glance, and I pretty much decided that there was no way in hell that I was going to “stan” (be a fan) this group.

2009(?) image of Super Junior, all sitting or standing around in button-up short sleeved shirts with ridiculous long wispy or long spiky hair.

For starters, there are just way too many boys in this group. I had just barely mastered the names of the five TVXQ boys and remembering the names of another thirteen just in one group was a completely outlandish idea.

And that horrendous hair and bad styling! Yikes!

And then two things happened: Super Junior (also referred to as “SuJu”) recorded a World Cup fight song for Korea that was catchy, fun, and had a great music video that showcased the guys’ bright energy, and I discovered their music video for “Sorry, Sorry.”

“Sorry, Sorry” is an iconic song. Filmed in black and white, the guys are decked out in suits and perform some of the most interesting and (badly) danceable choreography to a tune that makes even non-Koreans sing out loud. “sorry sorry sorry sorry naega naega naega meonjeo nege nege nege… shawty shawty shawty shawty…”

Here’s how iconic “Sorry, Sorry” is: in 2010 I managed a small sandwich shop in Ohio, and would often play kpop over the speakers. Some of the high school students who worked there part time came to learn of the song, watched the video, and would make me play it over and over so they could learn the point choreography of rubbing their hands together, smacking their shoes, and leaning back.

So how do you memorize the names of a thirteen member group? Well, there’s usually one or two who are MIA. Then there’s gross stereotypes, such as “dude with the long hair,” “chubby dude,” “dude in glasses,” “dude with the high voice,” etc. I found some subbed episodes of a variety show that Super Junior was on, and from watching it, was able to start to recognize faces and personalities. It was then that I discovered that I have a thing for the “underdog” of the group: someone who is a very solid vocal, usually a main vocalist, but for whatever reason, doesn’t get a lot of screentime. In Super Junior, it was Yesung. Not surprisingly, Yesung is featured a lot in their World Cup tune, which was what put him and SuJu on my radar.

There’s another reason why having a group made up of thirteen young Korean men is valuable in terms of longevity of the group as a whole: when you have to send one or two off to perform their mandatory military service, you still have a whole group of boys left to go on performing! This is precisely what Super Junior has done over the last five years.

As with all groups, there has been a considerable amount of scandals for SuJu over the years. Fans were upset that one member, Sungmin, got married (from what I’ve read, it’s not that he got married, per se, but that he did it at a bad time and with no respect for the rest of the group); Kangin has dealt with numerous DUIs and was forced to step down; Hangeng, a Chinese member, broke from their company early on due to mistreatment; and numerous dating and plastic surgery scandals.

SuJu has pivoted in the last few years by collaborating with Latin artists and producing such gems as “Lo Siento” featuring Leslie Grace (see below) and “One More Time (Otra Vez)” with Mexican band REIK. They even did a cover of Luis Miguel’s “Ahora Te Puedes Marchar,” and even spoofed the original music video. Not surprisingly, SuJu remains a popular group in many Latin American countries.

I am very curious as to what the next ten and twenty years will have in store for the members of SuJu. SuJu, 파이팅!

Kpop Music Monday #6: BigBang & 2NE1, “Lollipop”

One term you start to notice the more you listen to kpop is “CF” which stands for “commercial film.” This is beyond a mere commercial–sometimes it includes songs (and choreography!) written specifically to market a brand or new release. And the greatest CF in kpop is now ten years old–BigBang and 2NE1’s “Lollipop.”

To unveil the release of a new cellphone (or something–it doesn’t appear in the music video), LG tapped into boy group BigBang and as-of-then undebuted girl group 2NE1, both artists under YG’s label. They put them in eye-catching outfits and ridiculous hair styles, and then viciously puked rainbows all over their film set.

I really can’t underestimate the power this song had over me. I’m sure my friend and then-roommate Timmy can tell you just how sick of the song he got.

I’m just going to let this one speak for itself.

Kpop Music Monday #5: Kim Jonghyun, “Before Our Spring”

Today’s Music Monday is a somber one and comes with a trigger warning for depression and suicide.

On December 18th, 2017, Kim Jonghyun committed suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in a rented apartment.

I found out through the explore page on Instagram as tributes started pouring in. A lot of second generation kpop fans were hit very hard by this news, as Jonghyun was not only a member of massively successful group SHINee but also had a stunning solo career. He was an enigmatic solo artist who wrote much of his own music and hosted a late-night radio program where he “wanted to create a space where people, including myself, could set their hearts at rest, no matter where they were.” *

In his suicide note which he had given to his dear friend and fellow artist 9 from group Dear Cloud, he wrote: “What can I say. Just tell me I’ve done well. That this is good enough. That I’ve worked hard. Even if you can’t smile don’t fault me on my way. You did well, you worked hard. Goodbye.” Thus, the hashtag #youdidwelljonghyun and #youdidwell were popular on instagram and twitter.

A white background with a hand holding a rose on the left and a picture of Kim Jonghyun wearing a white sweater and covering his mouth with it on the right. In the center it reads “April 8, 1990” and “December 18, 2017” around his name in red.

It was obvious that he was hurting a lot, suffering from depression and the troubles that come from fame. Listening to his music, you can tell that he was a sensitive soul who wanted to make the world a kinder place, and he longed to create a space in which people could set down their everyday burdens and just be at peace with themselves. It appears, based on what I’ve read, that he planned his suicide for a while, which makes everything all the more tragic.

The group he was in, SHINee was one of my favorites. They were known for having a sparkly, brightly colored and quirky concept. One of my all-time favorite videos was theirs for “Married to the Music.” Despite the tragic loss of their main vocalist, SHINee continued to put out music. They honored Jonghyun at their Osaka concert by having a fifth microphone in the center of the stage, where he would have stood, along with a rose.

Some people in my life couldn’t understand why I was distraught at the death of this singer I’ve never met. They treated it as a childish thing. Their hyprocrisy showed when they later dealt with losses of their own idols, including David Bowie and Prince.

We grieve the death of people we’ve never met because they have created something so magical that we are taken by it and it changes us. Jonghyun was a soothing voice for so many people in dark places, and to have succumbed to his own darkness made everything all the worse.

In addition to the posthumous album that was released (which was the first kpop album I’ve ever bought, because proceeds were going to his family and the creation of the Shinin’ Foundation), the entertainment company he was under, SM, created the above video as a tribute. Some of the lyrics:

They say spring will come faster than last year
But the cold and frozen winter is still here
Don’t worry about what to do
I’m alright, spring will come to me too

“Before Our Spring”

I am including his solo “Y Si Fuera Ella” (yes, it’s a Korean cover of a Spanish song) and a clip of him singing “White T-Shirt” and “She Is” because his vocals and dancing skills are truly powerful.

Kim Jonghyun wearing a blue sweater, khakis, and a partially tie-dyed scarf, sitting with both hands behind him and smiling at the camera.

You did well, Jonghyun. You did so well.

수고했어요 정말 고생했어요
그댄 나의 자랑이죠

If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Kpop Music Monday #4: Got7, “Confession Song [free dance live video]”

This week’s Music Monday is a live video from one of my favorite groups, Got7.

Usually, kpop artists will release a variety of videos for one single. They’ll have the official music video; a “performance video” version where they perform all the choreography (usually on one of the sets that were featured in the official music video); a “dance practice” video where they perform the choreo whilst goofing around in a dance practice room; a “relay dance” video where they all stand in a line and dance the choreo, alternating between dancing in front and moving to the back at random intervals; and usually there’s some silly video like them trying to perform the song while decorating a cake at the same time.

Sometime in late 2015, Got7 released a “free dance live video” of the group singing their song, “Confession Song.” The official music video features the group helping high school students make love confessions, and it takes place during the Christmas season. The song itself features sleigh bells and is very, very Christmas-y. Hence, the live video takes place in a simple room with a bed, Christmas tree, two cameras, and the insanity that is Got7.

It is through videos like these that we get to see each member’s unique personality, as well as how they all interact. If you didn’t like a group before you see a video like this one, you probably will afterwards. If you already liked the group, then you probably start to form a bias, or member that’s your favorite.

Does anyone know who my bias is in Got7?