Kpop Music Monday #33: Red Velvet, “Psycho”

Another girl group that epitomizes the “girl crush” concept is Red Velvet. Red Velvet is a hit both with Korean and international audiences–once when I was playing a Kpop channel at work, someone squealed, “Oh my god, it’s Red Velvet–I love them!”

Red Velvet takes risks as a group, notably with fashion, but also in music, shying away from the softer melodies and more “manufactured” sounds and styles of other groups. They all have killer pipes and there is no lead vocal within the group because they’re all just that good. (Check out those high notes!)

Member Wendy had an unfortunate accident during a rehearsal back in December of 2019 and broke her pelvis among other injuries she sustained. She was only able to return to the stage in late August of 2020. Apparently, a set of steps were not where they should have been, and she fell off of the platform.

I chose “Psycho” simply because it’s their best work–a little dark, a little edgy, but with all the lace and sparkling diamonds that their entertainment company could afford. I will give “Peek-a-Boo” an honorable mention because who doesn’t love a tortured pizza delivery man in their Kpop videos?

Kpop Music Monday #32: Hyuna, “I’m Not Cool”

The soloist Hyuna debuted back in 2006 with a short stint in the Wonder Girls before moving to the girl-crush group 4Minute, which sadly disbanded back in 2016. Her solo tracks have been really popular and she hasn’t shied away from expressing her sexuality and showing off her body, something that has scandalized the more conservative Korean culture.

In 2018, however, she went on to scandalize even further: admitting to being in a two-year relationship with E’Dawn, a boy-group member (Pentagon) and her co-member in the trio Triple H. Her entertainment company was none too pleased and both members were basically forced to leave the company.

“I’m Not Cool” is her first extended play with her new label, P Nation, headed by none other than Psy. (You know, the Gangnam Style guy.) In the song, she sings, “I love early mornings, Dawn, Dawn, Dawn; I’m not solo, that’s the way I like it,” clearly referencing her now-renamed partner who also signed with P Nation (and you can view his latest video here, and check out his “Bubble Pop Senorita” line, referencing one of Hyuna’s other solos from back in 2011).

We stan a confident queen who makes the best of what life hands her.

Kpop Music Monday #31: f(x), “Electric Shock”

SM girl group f(x) was the definition of the “girl crush” concept in Kpop: girls so cool, you wanted to be their best friends. f(x) is also the definition of a group condemned to the dungeon of their entertainment industry, having been created in 2009 and gone inactive in 2016.

While the group never officially disbanded, all but one of the remaining members have gone on not to renew their contract with SM while continuing to make music. Unfortunately, one of the members (and the first to officially leave the group in 2015), Sulli, took her own life October 14th, 2019.

One of the first things you might notice about the group is the “tomboy” member, Amber, who breaks the stereotypical kpop girl group member mold: short hair instead of long, “masculine” clothing instead of skirts and skin-tight clothing. Sulli also broke the mold by being outspoken about such topics as feminism, Korean comfort women, and even the “no bra” movement. Unfortunately, she was met with intense cyberbullying that continued even after her death.

f(x) remains a group that popularized the “girl crush” concept and continues to be influential. It’s sad that they were unable to continue making music.

Coronavirus in Korea, Part Two

 I am obviously not an expert on Covid-19 (and neither are you) but thought I’d give some more information on how Korea continues to handle the novel Coronavirus.

Image description: the floor of a Starbucks with tables and chairs spaced apart

The first wave of the deadly virus hit the southeastern city of Daegu first, in February. The outbreak was linked to a “secretive church sect” that packs worshippers “like bean sprouts” in the church.

I arrived in Korea on the 21st of February and my school was on a week-long break because of the heightened virus cases.

The second wave occurred in May, and was linked to club-goers in the Itaewon and Hongdae areas of Seoul. There was a minor ripple in the expat communities I belong to saying that Koreans were going to be blaming “the gay foreigners” for the outbreak, as it was rumored that the cluster outbreak was connected to a gay club.

The third wave occurred in August and was connected to an anti-government rally held by a church based in Seoul.

Our school closed for three days at the end of August, and were forced to close by the government the weeks of August 31st and September 7th. We reopened September 14th. We were closed because we were under a level 2.5 out of a 3-point system.

Under a 2.5, all chain cafes must do take-out only, and restaurants and bars must close after 9pm. I didn’t wander around Uijeongbu past 9pm during the 2.5, but I imagine downtown was completely empty. For the most part, people stayed home during the semi-lockdown and ordered take-away or only ventured out to buy groceries. (I was the former. I prefer calling it “supporting the local economy” not “sheer laziness.”)

Image description: all of the tables and chairs on the floor of this Starbucks have been pushed into the corner

Some examples of more permanent changes include checking your temperature whenever you enter a building and either writing down your name and phone number or checking in with a QR code connected to your KaKaoTalk account. KaKaoTalk is a messaging app, first and foremost, but functions like an all-in-one app for almost everything else. This level of contact tracing would be fought against by your average American, but I will gladly give up my information because, let’s be real, my phone is already tracking my movement and at least this kind of tracing is for the greater good.

Image description: a table with an ipad, hand sanitizer, and papers on a clipboard for scanning in your QR code or manually writing down your name and phone number for contact tracing

There are also hand sanitizers everywhere. Including ziptied to a tree along a nature trail and to a lamp pole, as seen below.

Image description: a bottle of hand sanitizer ziptied to a medium-thickness tree
Image description: a bottle of hand sanitizer ziptied to a lightpole. I wouldn’t have noticed it except the person in front of me actually used it.

Starting Friday, November 13th, the government implemented a fine for non-mask compliance in public spaces and on public transportation. Prior to the fine, you could be turned away from buses without a mask and if you were on a subway not wearing a mask, you would be told to wear a mask. There were some cases of older men refusing to wear a mask on the subway and the ensuing fistfights, but for the most part, everyone is wearing a mask.

Several weeks ago, my school closed for two days because a child was a confirmed case that had Taekwondo with two of our students. Everyone at the Taekwondo academy tested negative, but we closed out of an abundance of caution, and the two students are quarantining for two weeks and not attending classes. We were sitting at a level 2 in the greater Seoul region, but with strict measures implemented: for example, no cafes (including small mom-and-pop) are allowing dine-in and all restaurants and bars must close at 9pm.

And now, as I write this on the 17th of December, we have been without work since the 8th. We are at a level 2.5 with rumors that we may eventually hit level 3, as cases have been creeping up on 1,000 new cases each day. We will hopefully go back to school on December 29th, but if they raise the level to 3, then we may be out of work even longer. Going online is not an option; only two parents have requested it, while a number have confessed that they would be unable to have their students be taught online, so our hagwon loses less money just closing rather than trying to figure out a new system for virtual learning.

For the most part, people here are wearing masks and taking precautions. I feel safe, which I can’t guarantee I’d feel back in the States. Wear your masks, people. Stay at home as much as possible. Don’t be stupid.

More information can be found here.

Kpop Music Monday #30: KAACHI, “Your Turn”

What is K-pop?

Is it as simple as pop music created by Koreans? (How would you reconcile this idea with the knowledge that many Korean pop songs were originally written by non-Koreans and then purchased and tailored for a Korean audience?)

Is it as simple as pop music that has been tailored for a Korean audience and sung in Korean? (How would you reconcile this with BTS’ latest track, “Dynamite,” a song written entirely in English?)

Is it as simple as pop music sung by Koreans? (How would you reconcile this with the fact that many K-pop groups feature members who are non-Korean, but almost always Asian, e.g. Thai, Japanese, Chinese?)

It’s time we talk about KAACHI.

KAACHI labels itself as the “UK’s first Kpop group” but only one member is Korean. This was their debut song.

The quality is pretty poor. The vocals are lacking, the dancing is lackluster, and it’s all just a bit too cringey for my taste.

All is not lost, however, as a YouTube creator by the name of Johnny reworked the song and made it sound much better.

And the girls weren’t upset, because they went on to give him a cameo in their comeback single, as seen below:

So… is KAACHI K-pop? I don’t think so. K-pop is a machine, and they’ve not been through the trials and tribulations that K-pop trainees go through that produces idols. It isn’t about singing in Korean, or having a Korean in the group, or making upbeat pop music, or wearing Korean brands–it’s about being part of the soul-eating machine that makes a group “K-pop.”

As someone who doesn’t like the fact that the music she’s been listening to for over ten years is produced on the backs of young teenagers and is known to break them down and eat them alive, maybe, just maybe, K-pop can learn from KAACHI to be a little more easy-going; to let their idols live a little more instead of always fighting tooth and nail for YouTube views and award show wins. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be flawed. We love our idols because they’re flawed, one of the most ironic things of all.

What do you guys think? What makes K-pop… K-pop?

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.

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!

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