Kpop Music Monday #29: Lee Suhyun, “Alien”

Lee SuHyun already knows fame as part of Akdong Musician (aka AKMU), the brother/sister duo that took Korea by storm as winners of K-pop Star 2, a televised music competition. This time, she’s back as a soloist and her solo is a-freaking-dorable.

I love a lot here: the short blue hair, the rainbow sleeves, the simple yet effective choreography, that sparkly dress at the end of the video and the animated bits of the video. What really shines, however, is her heavenly vocals. Girl can hit the high notes with an ease Mariah Carey would envy.

I’m going to say it: this is probably my favorite release of 2020. I love all the credits that she gives at the end of the video, because it really does take a lot of people to create a music video.

Café Review: Orange Elephant

Situated north of the downtown cluster of Uijeongbu cafés (of which there are enough to caffeinate a modestly-sized writing group), and next to a beautiful park, is the Orange Elephant café.

View of a corner café called Orange Elephant, which features several panes of large windows. You can see my friend Nora leaning out the front door waving a peace sign.
Two tall glasses of iced drinks, one being milky and having long dark streaks of sugar in the glass and the other being an ombre iced americano, with a diner mug of black coffee in the middle just behind a plate with a lemon scone with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some berry jam. Photo credit: Leonora Balajadia

When my friend and I visited, there were no other guests in the café. Our drinks came out promptly and the café staff were very accommodating, even though they mentioned that they did not have any available outlets to charge electronics. (So make sure you’re juiced before heading their way!) The sunlight filtered in the windows at just the right angle to warm the Saturday morning. There is a display of locally crafted goodies, from rings to notebooks.

Interior shot of Orange Elephant featuring several round tables and chairs in various hues, along with a big leafy plant in the background. Photo credit: Leonora Balajadia

If you’re planning on visiting, make sure to come Tuesday-Saturday, as they are closed on Sunday and Monday.

Follow them on Instagram: 5range.elephant

Address: 218-29, Uijeongbu-dong, Uijeongbu-si, Gyeonggi-do 1F 경기도 의정부시 태평로155번길 36 1F

Kpop Music Monday #28: Twice, “Like Ooh Aah”

You know what I love? Kpop. You know what else I love? A good zombie. Put them together and you have Twice’s debut song, “Like Ooh-Aah.” While not the first kpop music video featuring zombies (that, I believe, goes to T-ara’s “Lovey Dovey”), it’s arguably the best, as Twice went on to become one of the best-selling kpop girl groups ever.

Having a debut song that doesn’t take itself too seriously is a breath of fresh air while some debuts are overwrought with special effects or tricky dance moves. You can’t really see it in this video, but their main dancer, Momo (the girl with the long blond hair who is on the school bus during the dance break) is actually one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen.

Did I mention that she’s dating Heechul from Super Junior? And that their leader, Jihyo, is dating Kang Daniel, a soloist? And they’re both doing so publicly? And Mina was allowed to rest after becoming diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? These things are pretty ground-breaking in the kpop industry.

While I wish they did more “girl crush” concepts instead of pandering to their predominantly male audience (allegedly, a lot of men in the military listen to their music to “cheer up”), I still look forward to their comebacks.

moar zombies plz

Kpop Music Monday #27: Girls’ Generation, “Gee”

Sorry for the skipped week of Music Mondays. There’s a lot going on cough BLACK LIVES MATTER coughs

Eleven years ago (to the day, no less), one of the most iconic kpop songs/fashions/videos/dances/everything was dropped: “Gee” by Girls’ Generation.

I don’t want to talk about how many collective hours that I have spent listening to this, practicing the large arm flourishes and the pointing dance. There was something so damn catchy about the song and its dance. We saw the beginning of the 10s fashion with those insanely brightly-colored pants and shorts. We saw the beginning of Choi (“man standing next to Melania Trump”) Minho of SHINee’s career, and the beginning of the force that was… Girls’ Generation.

They’ve been through some shit. The Black Ocean scandal, the dating and plastic surgery rumors, the whole situation with Jessica (was she or wasn’t she kicked out of the group?) and the fact that several members decided in 2018 not to resign with SM Entertainment, pretty much signalling an end to the group as we knew it. A second sub-unit group was created with the five remaining SM members but in my eyes, Girls Generation has passed on its crown as the “Nation’s Girl Group” to Twice.

“Gee” is so iconic people are still performing covers of it to this day… some even cross-dressing to do so. If you listen to kpop and don’t know “Gee,” then… then what are you even doing??

Kpop Music Monday #26: Dreamcatcher, “Scream”

Like your music a little heavier than pop? Check out Dreamcatcher. While not quite k-rock or k-metal, the band’s backing tracks incorporate a lot of heavier-sounding guitar riffs and drum solos. I love the darker image that the band has, and it certainly sets them apart from the “cute” concept of other girl groups, or even the edgier “girl crush” concepts.

I’m just getting into them so I don’t have anything else to say, so take a listen!

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

“That’s what I am: gum someone spat out.”

In 2019, the film “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” swept Korean cinemas to mixed reviews. Not surprisingly, this tale of an ordinary woman in her 30s polarized audiences among gender lines: the women loved it, and the men hated it. But why?

I have yet to see the movie, but I did pick up the ebook as soon as it was released. One of my Korean co-teachers, when I told her that I was reading it, commented that “Jiyoung” was a popular name for those born in the early 80s, making it similar to calling a girl from my generation “Sarah” or “Brittany.”

Beyond the plot line, this book is interesting for the facts that it weaves into the story, such as “women working in Korea earn only 63 percent of what men earn; the OECD average percentage is 84.13.”

I find that this article from the BBC does a good job reviewing the book and its importance. I do wish that more had been explored concerning “molka,” or the practice of secretly filming women and posting the videos online, as it’s become a huge issue in the last few years as part of the Burning Sun scandal. Sadly, as time goes on, there will only be more and more issues that women in South Korea will have to endure.

“Jiyoung became different people from time to time. Some of them were living, others were dead, all of them women she knew. No matter how you looked at it, it wasn’t a joke or a prank. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that person.


Kpop Music Monday #25: HA:TFELT, “Life Sucks”

The life of a kpop star isn’t easy, even though music videos and reality shows often make it seem like it. There has been more than one occasion where a family member has used an artist’s name in order to scam people.

Unfortunately, the usual story is that of an estranged father who begs money from someone using his connection to his well-known daughter and then defaults on his promises. This is the story of HA:TFELT, aka Yeeun/Yenny, who started her kpop career as one of the original and long-term members of the group Wonder Girls.

You can read an article about her father’s fraud and alleged sexual assault here. You could also just listen to the song and read the lyrics below, as it’s full of gut-wrenching emotion.

For the first time in my twenty-nine years
Daddy sent me a letter
Never knew how wack his handwriting was
I guess I should've known better
That's why mine is so ugly, too
That's why mine is so ugly, too

For the first time in my twenty-nine years
Daddy wrote me a letter
How's your mom? How's your sis?
I really miss ya, but you better not come here
I'm sorry, but don't you worry
'Cause I'm prayin' for your health and future

Oh dear, sweetheart
Things have gone a little South
My girl, need your help
Could you bail me out (bail me out)

Life sucks for everybody
(No need to cry no no no)
Life sucks for everybody
(Act like no child no no no)
I'm just survivin' everyday
Right at the edge of losing my mind
Life sucks for everybody
Just let me find peace of mind

If only I could go back and tell myself
"Don't you trust him, he already hurt you"
When you cried on you knees, showing some regrets
Wish I could've known better
People don't change so easily, nah
People can't change that easily
If only you meant all you told me that night
But, guess I'd better blame myself

How's your night? How's your sleep?
Have you ever woken up by your conscience?
Well I'm sorry, I've got no worries
All I have are wrath and disgust

One time, you said,
"Must obey or be cursed"
You were right, I am cursed
Running your blood in my vein (my vein)

Life sucks for everybody
(No need to cry no no no)
Life sucks for everybody
(Act like no child no no no)
I'm just survivin' everyday
Right at the edge of losing my mind
Life sucks for everybody
Just let me find peace of mind

I might pull the trigger, you know
I might do it for good, you know
I might pull the trigger, for both of us
I might do it for all, you'll see

I might pull the trigger
I might do it for good, you know
Pull the trigger
Do it for all

Night Shots of Uijeongbu

I left my apartment for the first time in three days to go to the McDonald’s that’s a five minute walk away. I took these shots along the way. And yes, there are that many convenience shops within such a small radius.

Kpop Music Monday #24: Stella Jang, “Villain”

It’s a mistake that people think “kpop” and instantly think attractive, often feminine, boys, skinny pretty girls, and uplifting fluffy music. Kpop has all the nuisances of American pop, which can give us both the bubblegum and the harsher, darker stuff. While Stella Jang doesn’t exactly belong to the dark side, her stuff isn’t exactly bubblegum, either. She writes most of her own music and has uploaded numerous covers online, some acapella. (She’s also apparently fluent in Korean, English, and French.)

This particular song caught my attention right away for how clean and unique the editing of the video is, as well as the questions within the lyrics. I’m a fan.

Kpop Music Monday #23: Got7, “Just Right”

Today I went to switch to a Korean sim card and had an awkward interaction with the Korea Telecom (not sponsored, obviously) guy. Y’see, I have a clear phone case. And in my phone case is the photocard of Youngjae from Got7 that I got when I ordered their album online. Not just any album, but the Youngjae specific one, so I would get his photocard and his poster and his bookmark, etc. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s such an amazing way to milk young girls for all they’re worth. I can see myself having bought the Backstreet Boys’ album five times just to collect all the photocards.

None of my students seem to know who the photocard is of, either because they’re too young or entirely too into BTS. I knew going to Korea would put me in a weird place because Got7 has a strong international fanbase but less so of a Korean base, probably owing to their make-up: four Koreans, one Thai, one Hong Kong-ese, one American. (Is that seven? I’m halfway through a bottle of cabernet sauvignon so forgive me.)

This was the first Got7 song I heard, and I was such a big fan of everything about it. The video is super cute but the message is fantastic. Even the choreography doesn’t take itself too seriously. This was on my “feel-good” mix for quite a long time and remains one of my most-played songs.

The line distribution is a little unfair, considering that Yugyeom only gets the “ooohhh” part, but Youngjae singing the bridge is like honey to the ears.

Watch it. Love it. Stan Got7.