Category Archives: Magazine Spread

[KKONNECT FIELD TRIP] U-KISS: The First US Tour @ Club Nokia, Los Angeles (01/14/14)

Over the span of five years, K-Pop group U-KISS has become one of the top acts to come out of the Hallyu scene. Despite various changes in line-up, the boys have enjoyed success both within and outside of Korea, with sub-units, solo efforts, and songs recorded in Korean, Japanese, and English. Members have appeared in various Korean movies and dramas, and more recently, even sported silly suits in their cameo for popular balladeer Lim Chang-jung’s comedic “Open The Door” music video. Needless to say, when K-Konnect found out U-Kiss was coming to Los Angeles on the final night of their first US tour, we weren’t exactly “Standing Still”. (Sorry, that was hard to resist.)

The evening began with a solid stream of popular U-KISS songs – ranging from the R&B-inspired “Stop Girl” to latest single “She’s Mine”. The high energy of attending ‘KissMe’ fans was clearly reflected in the group’s opening performance, the six members quickly moving through some of their most popular choreography as the audience clapped and – not-so-surprisingly – screamed along. Just by looking around the venue, it was evident there were quite a number of diehard fans in attendance, having seemingly waited for the group’s US arrival for some time. Several of which brought along large posters written out in Hangul in support of their favorite U-KISS member. Some fans sitting on the second level even hung streamers over the balcony far before the show started, adding to the welcoming spirit of the crowd.

After a brief introduction by all, Eli and AJ took the stage as sub-unit uBEAT, accompanied by group vocalist Kevin. Their single “Should Have Treated You Better” was the title track on a sub-unit mini album released last year and showcased the lyrical strength of the two rappers. Following uBeat was an impressive duet by two of the group’s main vocalists, Soohyun and Hoon. The live singing was both powerful and controlled as they moved through the song “More Painful Than Pain”, making the news revealed later in the show of an eventual ballad sub-unit worth the anticipation. Wrapping up the segment was “Obsession”, an electro-dance track performed by AJ and Kiseop. Bringing the audience back up to their feet after the previous song, the two even made their way through the crowd to dance along with audience members standing closer to the stage.

Prior to the event, those who purchased select seats to the concert were given the opportunity to submit a question for U-KISS to read and answer on stage during the show. These questions, written out on Post-It notes, were rolled out on a large chalkboard to allow members a chance to review them all before deciding which one they would choose. Some Post-Its – namely “Eli, can you twerk for us?” and “Please give us your abs.” – were quickly disregarded, while others were happily responded to. Within the segment, fans were given a preview of AJ’s latest rap (tentatively titled “She’s Mine”), a brief dance performance of “DoraDora” from Kiseop, and Eli’s exaggerated impression of Kiseop’s choreography made popular during their Japanese tour. Lucky fans were even serenaded by their favorite members, with Soohyun and Kevin singing a capella versions of their solo songs “Snowman” and “My Reason”, respectively.

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Following the Q&A session, U-KISS then went into a performance of their Japanese singles, “Tick Tack” and “Forbidden Love”, before announcing another fan contest planned prior to the show. Fans were invited to submit essays to the group’s label about why they should be chosen as a ‘KissMe’ Super Fan. The winner, one for each stop of the tour, would be able to meet U-KISS on stage and be serenaded by them directly. Excerpts from the Los Angeles winner’s entry were read allowed before she was brought on stage. A self-declared ‘KissMe Mom’, Chauntelle was a 40-year-old writer and motivational speaker who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008. While in convalescence several years later, during what was described as the lowest point of her life, she discovered U-KISS. Instantly becoming a fan of their music and varied personalities, she was given the motivation to continue toward recovery. Only needing slight assistance from her walker, Chauntelle spoke a few words to the group before they serenaded her with the love song “Mysterious Lady” from their most recent release ‘Moments’.

Later in the show, U-KISS took a moment to thank their American fans for supporting them. As two members were raised in the States (Eli in Washington D.C. and Kevin in Danville, Calif.) and another currently enrolled at Columbia University, having the opportunity to hold a successful tour in the United States was an incredible opportunity for them. As each member individually expressed their gratitude, a giant pull-apart cake purchased by local fans was rolled out for Kiseop as an early birthday present. The surprise was well-received, and while U-KISS led the audience in singing Happy Birthday, Kiseop took a big bite of cake for his fans.

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The group returned for a charismatic encore of singles “Without You” and “Man Man Ha Ni”, somehow maintaining that same high energy they began with two hours prior. As the crowd danced as wildly, it was evident that both U-KISS and their ‘KissMe’ fans got exactly what they wanted out of the group’s first solo stop to the United States.

“We can’t wait to come back and do this all over again,” Kevin shouted to the screaming crowd as the group took their final bow. “We’ll make you the proudest fan club in the world.” And as fans raved about the show as the crowd filed out, picking pieces of encore confetti off their clothes, it was apparent U-KISS was well on their way to keeping that promise.

[BIBIMBEATS] 2013 Round-Up: Looking back at the stories that defined the year in K-Pop

Wonder Girls Become Wonder Women

Wonder Girls' Sun posing with JYP labelmate JOO on her wedding day
Wonder Girls’ Sun posing with JYP labelmate JOO on her wedding day

This year, the Wonder Girls proved you don’t need to have a comeback to remain in headlines. These JYP darlings have enjoyed one busy year, both personally and professionally, beginning with leader Sunye’s storybook wedding. After meeting husband James Park in Haiti during a 2011 missionary trip, the two finally tied the knot in January. A long list of celebrities – including the rest of the Wonder Girls – attended, and 2AM’s Jo Kwon officiated the ceremony. In March, rapper Yubin made her series debut as genius hacker Lee Joo-young on medical thriller “The Virus”, while Yenny soon followed with a role in historical drama “Basketball”. Over two years after leaving the group, former member Sunmi finally made her solo debut over the summer. Her single “24 Hours” enjoyed #1 status on a majority of music sales charts. Later, on October 26, Sunye publicly announced the birth of her very own ‘wonder girl’ Hailey. While both the Wonder Girls and JYP Entertainment insist the group is still very much ‘on’, the only thing we know for sure is that newborn Hailey is about to be spoiled by some seriously cool Wonder Aunts.

The ‘Bar Bar Bar’ Heard Around The World

A popular YouTube video of policemen in Busan performing "Bar Bar Bar"
A popular YouTube video of policemen in Busan performing “Bar Bar Bar” and other Crayon Pop hits

By the end of 2013, if you haven’t heard about the criminally cute quintet Crayon Pop, you have successfully been hiding under a rock. With the unconventional outfits and addictively fun choreography of hit single “Bar Bar Bar”, the girls made waves as Korea’s latest viral sensation. To date, “Bar Bar Bar” has enjoyed over 9.3 million views and inspired 1.7 million covers on YouTube from fans all over the world, including Italy, Thailand, Australia, and the United States. Parodied by anyone from remote controlled robots to policemen in Gyeongbuk, the song even got “Thor 2” star Tom Hiddleston bouncing during his SNL Korea appearance. Social media popularity had “Bar Bar Bar” hitting #1 on major music charts several weeks after the song’s initial release, their win on Music Bank coming well over two months into promotions. What will be the big hit of 2014? It might be too soon to make predictions, but if Psy and Crayon Pop are any indication, it’s going to involve a whole lot of jumping.

Where’s The (Rap) Beef?

Supreme Team's Simon D (left) and E-Sens (right)
Supreme Team’s Simon D (left) and E-Sens (right)

In July, Korean hip-hop fans were shocked when it was announced that rap duo Supreme Team was disbanding shortly after the release of their EP ‘Thanx 4 The Wait’. According to official press, hip-hop label Amoeba Culture ended their contract with Supreme Team’s E-Sens due to creative differences. Well wishes were exchanged, both E-Sens and fellow rapper Simon D provided encouraging words for fans, and everything went back to normal – or so we thought. One month later, E-Sens self-released the song “You Can’t Control Me”, attacking Amoeba Culture founder Gaeko, one-half of Dynamic Duo. The song, a twist to New York rapper Kendrick Lamar’s controversial verse on Big Sean’s “Control”, accused Gaeko of industry corruption and extorting E-Sens, someone who had been a younger brother figure to him. A day later, Brand New Music’s Swings brought in “King Swings, Part 2”, a new diss track criticizing Simon D for loyalty to Dynamic Duo and Amoeba Culture over E-Sens. Soon Gaeko and Simon D both recorded their own responses, the former (“I Can Control You”) attacking E-Sens for his ungrateful behavior and drug history. The latter (“Control”) seemed apologetic in content, both rebuking Swings’ attack and expressing conflict over the duo’s disbandment. The series of disses sent the rap world buzzing, enticing more songs to be released from every corner of the genre. In fact, while the battle seemingly ‘ended’ not too soon after, it still remains in constant mention within the Korean hip-hop scene.

Solos, subgroups, and more solos!

 A scene from CL's solo debut "Baddest Female"
A scene from CL’s solo debut “Baddest Female”

2013 was definitely another year for amazing breakout solo and subgroup efforts from members of well-established K-Pop groups. The beginning of the year saw the return of SISTAR19 with the seductive “Gone Not Around Any Longer (있다 없으니까)” and the debut of INFINITE’s hip-hop subgroup, INFINITE-H. 2NE1 fans were treated to CL’s hard-hitting “Baddest Female”, and SM Entertainment made a big reveal when they reintroduced a member of SuperJunior-M as their newest solo artist Henry. As far as solo activities go, however, BIGBANG takes a pretty serious lead with all five members having promoted their own tracks by the end of 2013. Lastly, the year wrapped up with the long-awaited solo debut of SISTAR’s power vocalist Hyorin with the seductive “One Way Love” and lyrical ballad “Lonely”.

2012 and ‘Gangnam Style’ fever was a hard act to follow, but overall, 2013 carried its weight by far. As the year wraps up, more news about what to expect in the beginning of 2014 is emerging. Good news for some – a new boy group for JYP and a new girl group for YG – and bad news for others, as breaking news continues on Cube’s contract with KARA’s Nicole and JYJ’s eventual enlistment. Needless to say, there is a whole lot more music news to come, and BIBIMBEATS will be here to report it. See you next year!

[BIBIMBEATS] Track-By-Track: Block B, ‘Very Good’ – A Comeback We’re Thankful For

Block B started off the year with much uncertainty. Contract disputes resulted in a lengthy legal battle with their former agency, Stardom Entertainment, which put a halt on the group’s activities and a large question mark over their future. Despite only debuting two years ago, their impact has become increasingly tremendous. Their hard-hitting hip-hop style has since reflected greatly in later and similar acts like B.A.P and Bangtan Boys, both of which have cited Block B as major influences and mentors. Now resettling into self-made label Seven Seasons, Block B is finally making their return with a new mini album. ‘Very Good’ offers a brief but varied reassurance to fans that the boys aren’t leaving anytime soon. (In fact, if ‘Very Good’ is any indicator, they’re about to get even better.)

“VERY GOOD”: With the electro-infused and frantic “Very Good” as opening track, Block B makes a confident comeback. The energy makes the single sound almost as if they picked right up where the pirate-punks of “Nilili Mambo” left off. Block B leader Zico’s line of ‘How many fake MCs out there?’ directly challenges the current state of the K-Pop scene, the kitsch of ‘aegyo rapping’ keeping the merits of many in question. The music video concept continues to project this rebellious idea, the ‘bank heist’ setting of the song reminiscent of a strange mixing of Lil Wayne’s “Got Money” and scenes from “The Dark Knight”.

“BE THE LIGHT”: “Be The Light” offers a completely different perspective, contrasting its opener with a striking ballad. Lyrically, the song is from the perspective of a lonely boy wishing to be acknowledged and adored by the girl of his interest again, hoping that being in her ‘light’ will rid her from the ‘darkness’ he has been living in. Still, knowing of the struggles Block B went through, one cannot help but consider this something of a metaphor for how the year’s legal dramas stifled the members’ relationship with their fans. While Block B is not necessarily known for being a ballad group, it is nice to see how well they were able to pull a ballad song off, and I hope to see similar songs from them in future releases.

“WHEN, WHERE, WHAT, HOW” featuring Jo Hyuna of Urban Zakapa: Kyung’s solo song “When, Where, What, How” oozes in an understated cool. Collaborations in K-Pop so commonly misuse the featured artists – for example, SISTAR’s Hyorin on Dynamic Duo’s latest album, but the appearance of Urban Zakapa’s Jo Hyuna on this track is both flawless and complementing. One of our past issue’s ‘Indie Women to Watch’, Hyuna adds a new layer of ‘coffee shop’ credibility to the nature of the song, only augmented further by light piano and mellow bass. “When, Where, What, How” brings a new facet to Park Kyung’s image and role within Block B. His quick vacillations between rhyme and song prove his label as the group’s ‘lead rapper’ to be a bit of an injustice. Kyung’s got a lot more tricks up his sleeve, and he doesn’t seem to mind showing them off.

“NICE DAY”: The final song “Nice Day” rounds the album out with another rap-heavy track, opening up by encouraging listeners back onto their feet. The song starts off by making an energetic shout-out to ‘party people’ and is paired with some hollering from the group’s rappers. However, the track the song is laid over does not seem to match the song as much as it probably should have. With embellished horns, drums, and piano, the accompaniment seems to better fit a jazz lounge than the hip-hop stage the hook and verses seem to have been written for. While exploring new genres and styles is integral to the further evolution of a group’s sound, it would have been nice to see something of a ‘throwback’ effort closing the album out. Last album ‘Blockbuster’ somewhat mastered the use of primal beats and urban sound, making it difficult to adapt to this newer approach.

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Overall, Block B seems to be developing a new plan of attack with their sound, offering a pretty wide range of genres and styles over a short four-track span. Known as something of the resident ‘hip-hop group’ of K-Pop, ‘Very Good’ shows that there are still more sides to Block B begging to be discovered. It will be exciting to see resurgence in production from the group. Just recently enjoying their first music show win on last month’s Inkigayo, the absence of their talent has been evidentially and greatly missed from the K-Pop scene. It’s good to have you back, boys. Now go back in the studio, and record us a longer album!

[BIBIMBEATS] Why We’re Obsessed: What to love about YG survival showdown “WIN: Who Is Next?”

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I’ve never been a fan of Korean talent shows. Sure, watching JY Park’s all-too-enthusiastic reactions on KPop Star is entertaining. And the fact that The Voice Korea got big names like Kangta and Leessang’s Gil in judges’ chairs is impressive. But the reality is you can only listen to stiff covers of 2NE1’s “Lonely” so many times before it loses its luster, and the one-per-episode elimination pattern gets redundant after a while. Despite producing many more star singers than their American counterparts, Korean talent programs have become something of a dime a dozen. But then YG Entertainment CEO Yang Hyun-suk announced the premise of new boyband competition “WIN: Who Is Next?” and things started looking a little more cutthroat.

“WIN” introduces viewers to two groups of boy trainees – Team A, a group of five with the average age of 20, and Team B, six trainees averaging at around 17 years of age. Some trainees are familiar faces recruited from previous talent programs, while others have trained under YG for years, living apart from their families with the motivation that one day they would finally debut. Both teams had no idea about the competition until CEO Yang revealed it to them in the first episode. At the end of the year, one team will be chosen by viewers to debut under the name ‘WIN’. The other team will be disbanded, some returning to training and others losing their contracts entirely. The trainees that had once practiced alongside each other are now teams put against one another. The stakes are high, and knowing that the YG is preparing to pull the plug on some hard-working trainees’ dreams is as torturous to watch as it is addictive.

What initially drew me into the competition was the sheer talent of YG’s rapping trainees. Surely if you’re sharing a label with the likes of GD&TOP and Epik High, being able to rap and rap well is something of a prerequisite. The most buzzworthy rapper is Team B’s 18 year-old leader B.I. Far before being recruited as a trainee, B.I first got a taste of fame collaborating with MC Mong for the 2009 single “Indian Boy”. Now a teenager, his experience and confidence have given him wisdom enough to lead Team B, both producing tracks and choreographing for the group. Team A leader Song Mino is also a rapper worth watching. At 21 years old, he grew up in the underground hip-hop scene with idol rapper Zico. Like Zico, Mino was originally going to debut with Block B before alleged contract issues. Seeing B.I and Mino battle it out as both talented rappers and disciplined leaders is such a huge element of the show, as it seems like the moment you prefer one, the other does something that resets the bar.

The presence of former talent competition contestants also makes the show exciting. Over the summer, Superstar K2 semifinalist Kang Seung-yoon already enjoyed a solo debut through the company. However, on “WIN”, he trades his acoustic guitar in for a studded snapback and performs as a member of Team A, creating quite the juxtaposition. Seung-yoon could start off an episode preparing for a solo stage on M Countdown only to end it completely failing CEO Yang’s expectations for the month’s group assessment. Team B’s Koo Jun Hoe started off as just another contestant on the first season of KPop Star before being picked up by YG after the ending of the show. Having already faced public rejection on a previous program makes being a part of “WIN” an all-too-familiar scenario for him, something CEO Yang reminds him of throughout the program. In fact, having such past experiences is a constant theme for both trainees, a source of both anxiety and motivation during team challenges.

The changing themes keep the program varied and interesting. In addition to learning about the different trainees’ talents and backgrounds, the show begins each episode with a new challenge for both groups to work on. In one, Yang Hyun-suk brings in Taeyang and G-Dragon as coaches to each team, working with the trainees directly and teaching them a routine to present in competition at the end of the episode. In another, the teams meet with trainees from JYP Entertainment, battling it out through vocal, rap, and dance performances in something of a ‘label war’. The challenges in “WIN” take the otherwise well-honed trainees out of their comfort zone, often resulting in both new highs and new lows for the competing teams.

Personally, I love Team A’s mature image as much as I love Team B’s wild image. When watching an episode, I always envision how great it would be if YG just debuted them as one giant part-B.A.P, part-EXO supergroup. The response so far from viewers seems pretty split down the middle, but with good reason. It’s hard to see such promising talents and know that some of them won’t get a chance to debut. The optimist in me won’t rule out a twist ending, but of course, only time will tell. In the meantime, stay strong, fellow “WIN” viewers. As for Teams A and B, we’ll see you at the finish line.

US Fans: MNET offers full episodes of “WIN: Who Is Next?” on their official YouTube Channel complete with English subtitles. Check them out here.

Exclusive Interview: Actor Kwon Hyun-sang and Director Jae Soh from “Let Me Out!”

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Kwan Hyun Sang and Jae Soh sat down for an hour-long interview with Cheryl Dawley and Jini Shim of KKonnect.

 

Here’s what they had to say about their upcoming movie,”Let Me Out” – coming to San Diego for one day one only – and more!

 

Cheryl: Hyun-sang-씨, congratulations on your first leading role! How was it being the main focus of a movie?

Kwon Hyun-sang: This was the first film where I was in over 90% of the scenes and dialog. It was a big responsibility, but it was a great experience.

Cheryl: What was the best part of filming this movie?

Kwon-Hyun-Sang-1Kwon Hyun-sang: The type of film this was – being about film students – was fun, because I have been a film student so it was a concept I knew.

Cheryl: What are your hopes for “Let Me Out” – especially with respect to U.S. audiences?

Jae Soh: I really hope US audiences enjoy this movie. American audiences see to receive indie films better than Korean audiences do. Plus American like Zombies!

Cheryl: Anything funny or interesting happen during filming that you want to share?

Kwon Hyun-sang:  We were actually trying to film, (being film students) but the film crew were actors, so no one really knew what they were doing, so it was interesting trying to get the scenes done!

Cheryl: Do you plan on doing movies in the US?

HSJ7Kwon Hyun-sang: Yes, I’d like to make films in Hollywood.

Cheryl: You’ve now been in horror, comedy, historical, drama. What is your favorite genre?

Kwon Hyun-sang: I don’t have a favorite genre. Since I haven’t had that much experience yet, I am still learning and enjoying all the genres. I can’t really choose. It’s all acting, they’re all good.

Cheryl: You come from a a very well-known theatrical family. Is it hard establishing a name for yourself under the shadow of your parents? Or are they a big help?

Kwon Hyun-sang: Having famous parents is not necessarily as big a help as you might think. In fact, sometimes it can be a hindrance. Because my father has such a successful career and such a good reputation, I am always very conscious of that, and I am careful about what I do. The media always seems very interested, though.

Cheryl: You’ve played really great bad guys and really sweet good guys. What’s your preference?

Kwon Hyun-sang: I like playing the good guys!  (Cheryl’s note: His answer was immediate and unequivocal!)

Hyun-sang and jaeCheryl: 2013 has been a really busy year for you so far: Dramas: Fugitive of Joseon, Queen of Ambition; Movies:  Let Me Out, A City In Blossom, Fists of Legend. Which was your biggest challenge?

Kwon Hyun-sang: The Fugitive of Joseon (천명). It was a historical drama, and the directors had very definite ideas about how they wanted the character portrayed, so I was always working on that. Also, there were a lot of action scenes, lots of swordplay, and I even got injured. 

Cheryl: What are you working on now?

Kwon Hyun-sang: It’s a secret! But I’m taking a short break then I’m working on a movie and a drama.

Cheryl: What are your professional ambitions?

Kwon Hyun-sang: I want to do many more films and dramas. Eventually, I want to work in the U.S., too. Hollywood!

Cheryl: Films and dramas are so different. Do you have a preference?

HSJ4Kwon Hyun-sang: They are very different. I like doing movies because there’s more time to build characters and the filming is done at a slower pace. On the drama set, everything is rushed. There’s not as much time to develop a character, no time to build friendships amongst the cast. 

Cheryl: What are your personal ambitions?

Kwon Hyun-sang:  I’m a workaholic. I have no ambitions outside of work!

Cheryl: “Let Me Out” seems to be a movie about making movies. What makes this one stand out?

Jae Soh: Although this type of movie is more common in the U.S. it is quite uncommon in Korea. Also, Zombie movies are not really done in Korea, so this is really unusual. Zombies are pretty popular in the US, so this movie should appeal to American audiences as well, especially since it’s a comedy.

Cheryl: You’ve gone from American cinematographer to Korean writer/director/producer! Big changes. What was the impetus for the change?

Jae Soh: I worked in the US doing a cinematography and working on short films. There were plenty of opportunities to do more work in those areas, but I really wanted to direct. I moved to Korea, thinking that would put me on the fast track, (laughs) and 18 years later I’ve directed a movie. It’s been good, though, reconnecting with my Korean history. I didn’t know much Korean when I moved back here!

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Photo courtesy of Jae Soh

Cheryl: What was the inspiration for “Let Me Out”?

Jae Soh: We were kind of under the gun to produce something fast when the money came through, but I believe that being ready when opportunity knocks is important. The script was easier to write because I have been a film student and professor and have worked in the film industry.

Cheryl: Did you learn anything interesting while directing “Let Me Out”?

Jae Soh: Everything was a new experience. Just directing it was valuable experience. Learning to do things from the director’s point to view, and the production end as well. I was also more involved than usual in many other aspects of the film, such as promotion.

Cheryl: Is there anything you would change or do differently of you had the opportunity?

Jae Soh: Everything! As soon as you’re finished you find things you want to do differently!

Cheryl: Now that you’ve worked in the American film industry and the Korean film industry, can you compare and contrast? Especially with respect to artistic freedom, production, etc.

Jae Soh: On a basic level, the industries are very similar. There are some big differences in production. In the US, you have the Screen Actor’s Guild, unions, etc. There’s nothing like that in Korea. If production time runs over, no one gets paid overtime. Things are starting to change a little, though. Artistically, there is more freedom in Korea, in some ways. In the US, it seems you’re locked into certain formulas when making films. Korea films tend to break out of those molds. Artistically, they are not as set in their way – still experimenting. However, Korean audiences tend to be really picky. In fact, when American movies are released in Asia, they go to Korea first. If Korean audiences like it, it will do well everywhere.

Cheryl: What do you plan to do next? What’s the next project? Movies in Korea? Movies in the U.S.?

Jae Soh: I’m working on documentary about the changing landscape of Seoul. How the historical Seoul is disappearing. I’ve also got another feature film in the works. It will be more commercial. I would like to direct movies in the US, too.

All too soon, the questions were over, the evening was running late and it was time to bid our farewell. We thanked Hyun-sang and Jae for their time and for sharing a few laughs with us. Next – we see them at the movies!

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Join us for a Movie meet-up:

AMC Fashion Valley Wednesday Night

The movie starts at 7:00pm

After-movie meet-up and discussion review? I want to hear your voices. Let’s have coffee or drinks. Make suggestions below!

Anime Expo Con Recap (Continued): Catching up with the AX KPOP Dance Finalists

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Anime Expo Con Recap: Catching up with the AX KPOP Dance Finalists by Eli Shand

Last year I had the chance of reporting on the 2012 Anime Expo convention held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and let me say that this installment will be full of Hallyu goodness!   For the first time, Anime Expo has chosen to host a KPOP dance cover competition for all the fans looking to showcase their best moves for a chance at a $700 grand prize.   I had the pleasure of being able to root on two of my friends in the final rounds, as well as meet a new one in the process.

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So I’ll start with this year’s champ, the 17 year-old Nikko Durian from LA.

So what exactly brought you into the world of KPOP Dance?

I’ve always been into dance, but the thing that caught my attention was the choreography in kpop. It has a certain flair to it that simply can’t be described in one or two words. I remember watching som2 perform I Wish back in elementary school and I was hooked.

Where did you hear about the contest?

My friend actually signed us up. We were supposed to be a 5 person group, but after a strange turn of events, I ended up performing solo in their place.

How do you feel you did during your performances?

Overall, I felt I did my best at the competition. I know there were places where my nerves got the better of me and I threw my moves, but I think I was able to recover well and come back even stronger.

What was the most memorable event that occurred while participating?

The most memorable event for me personally was walking into the room without my partner. I remember being so afraid because I didn’t know any of the other participants, but they all seemed to know each other. I sat in a corner debating whether or not I should just drop out altogether when one of the girls came up to me and handed me a good-luck Pocky stick. She was really kind and introduced me to the other dancers and that really helped to calm my nerves.

How do you feel the AX Dance event has helped you network with fellow dancers/talent scouts/etc?

AX Dance has definitely helped me connect to different people. I’ve met new dancers, new friends… It’s so easy to make that connection because we all have a common passion. Just being in the presence of so many great dancers and watching them do what they love is in itself inspiring. As for talent scouts… I’m not really sure about that one. I heard there were a few, but I didn’t really get a chance to touch base with them. Maybe next time!

As the winner of the first AX KPOP dance competition, how do you feel about competing in more contests like this in the future?

I would LOVE to come back and compete again. Being able to dance in front of people is what I enjoy the most and if the opportunity arises, you can bet I’ll be there.

Have any special plans in regard to where the prize money is going?

Most of the money will be going towards buying a car, since I’ll be needing that for school soon. But I have a teensy bit set aside for cosplay. And for all of the Mcflurries I promised my friends!

If given the opportunity to perform with any idol group or idol onstage, who would you choose and to what song would you dance?

It would be my greatest honor to perform Suspicious Man with Lee Jung Hyun.

Is there a special reason you chose to perform a girl group dance versus a male group dance?

Well, for starters, I’m not as strong in male group choreography as I am with girl group choreography. My forte lies in my body rolls~ I also felt that my personality was better portrayed with these dances. Ultimately though, I felt that a guy doing a girl song would be fun to watch, since it isn’t something you typically see everyday. I really wanted to surprise everyone!

Oh, and by the way.. what’s the secret to owning those girl group dances the way you do?

I think the secret is all in the attitude. Perform like you own the entire stage, don’t be afraid to throw it all out there because when it’s your moment, you are the stage diva. Embrace it and show everybody that you’re a force to be reckoned with!

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Now moving on we have our runner-up, the 17 year-old Ryan Hsu from San Diego, CA.

 

 So what exactly brought you into the world of KPOP Dance?

I have loved korean music ever since my early childhood (2006) with artists such as BoA, Epik High and Big Bang, but what really skyrocketed my interest in the dancing aspect KPOP was SHINee’s dance for ‘Lucifer’ (2010). The choreography was so unique and mesmerizing. The main dancer from SHINee, Taemin (이태민), is/was my inspiration for dancing and auditioning. His audition video encouraged me to pick up pop and locking and hip hop. These dancing styles (along with kpop choreography) have been my greatest passions since.

How do you feel you did during your performances?

I feel like I did a relatively mediocre job. I practiced multiple hours everyday for a month before the competition. I think the hours of hard work paid off. I still have many flaws in my dance that I need to tweak out. I love to dance so it doesn’t seem like a chore to me.

What was the most memorable event that occurred while participating?

I met a lovely girl named Jane at the competition as we both decided to head to the room early so that we could practice. There, we danced and talked non-stop until I had to leave. I am so lucky and thankful to have met her.

How do you feel the AX Dance event has helped you network with fellow dancers/talent scouts/etc?

Going to dancing events is always fantastic and thrilling for me because I always meet the coolest people. I have met most of my greatest friends through dancing (and KPOP).  Dancing in front of large crowds of people always gives me a rush that makes me want to improve so that I may please the audience even better than before. At AX, I was scouted for the 2nd time by an anonymous Korean Talent Agency. They offered me an audition at their studio. I cried.

I know you’ve received a great response after having danced previously at KCON’12, how do you feel the AX experience was similar/different from that?

Because Anime Expo is a convention that revolves around Japanese Animation, I did not expect the turnout of people to be nearly as large. KCON is a convention that revolves around Korean Pop-Music, so my repertoire of dance choreography was a bit more useful when it came to dancing. Anime Expo is planning on holding another Dance Competition next year and I plan on winning this time.

How do you feel about being known as the “Lay Fanboy”, or any claim to internet fame?

As one of EXO’s greatest fans, I think it is quite the honor to have the amount of popularity that I do. Next to Taemin, Lay, Kai, Se Hun, Lu Han and Xiumin are all fantastic dancers and continue to inspire me to work harder as a dancer. All of EXO’s music speaks to me like no other group can. Many fans of EXO say that I look similar to Lay which is a HUGE compliment. EXO is also my inspiration for style. One thing that everyone should know is that I love ALL KPOP, not just EXO. KPOP is one what motivates me to keep pushing myself in life.

Are you planning any special performances for this upcoming KCON?

KCON is just around the corner and I am planning on performing a few covers (including group/couple covers) including Phoenix, Time Control, Only One, Wolf and more.

If given the chance to perform alongside EXO on stage, what song would you choose to do?

KJHASLDFKHALSDKFJAKLSJDFHLAKSJDHGLAKJSGHSDGLKJAH;SLK. It has always been my dream to perform alongside EXO (I have re-occurring dreams of this). I would be willing to perform any of their songs as I know the blocking for each member, but if I HAD to choose I would choose MAMA because I think that it has the most energy and impact of any of their other songs. The choreography for MAMA sits right next to SHINee’s ‘Lucifer.’

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And last but not least, we have the 19 year-old Emily Tsou hailing from Chula Vista, CA.

So what exactly brought you into the world of KPOP Dance?

My best friend showed me a video of SHINee’s Amigo way back in 2009-ish and I’ve been in love with them since. SHINee has always had some of the best choreography.

How do you feel you did during your performances?

It was my first time performing in such a large crowd by myself, so I’m grateful for not messing up too horrendously out of nerves. That’s pretty much all I could say haha.

How do you feel the AX Dance event has helped you network with fellow dancers/talent scouts/etc?

The AX Dance event was surprisingly a great opportunity for making friends with similar interests and ultimately networking. I originally thought most of the attendees would be the average die hard Kpop fan like me, so I was surprised to meet people from various age groups and influential backgrounds.

I know that you’ve had experience being in school dance teams,so do you think that the experience has helped you along with your personal dancing endeavors?

My dancing experience in high school was a definite leg up in my opinion. Not only did it bring me experience in showmanship, but also comfort in different genres of dance and music.

I heard that you were approached by a YG trainee/scout after your performance, was this something you would’ve expected?

I completely did not expect to be approached by a trainee/scout!! Like I said, I had thought the event would be filled with average joe fans of Kpop so I was incredibly surprised to have gotten opportunities to talk to certain people about my future.

If you could choreograph a dance for any idol or group, who would you choose and why?  

Although I do not feel qualified at the moment, I’d love to choreograph for B.A.P or 2NE1. I’ve always loved powerful and charismatic dances that show a lot of character and are overall amazing to watch.

Also, if given the chance to collaborate with any choreographer, who would it be?

In terms of choreographers, Rino Nakasone is my idol as much as other celebrities. Being on par and choreographing with her would be a humbling experience and is a dream in itself.

How was it being the only girl in the final round?

I was a bit nervous about being the only girl in the finals since there are certain expectations and gender roles that may not have been advantageous for me in the beginning as male idol groups have usually more difficult and varying choreography than females’ (who either fit in cute or sexy). I feel as though the main factor in my advancing to the finals was that I had chosen to perform a very traditionally masculine style of song and dance that no one had expected of me to do therefore having the element of surprise. I mainly wanted to convey in the finals that girls could be powerful and cool and stand (or in this case, dance) as equals to boys. I hope it showed.

 

[BIBIMBEATS] Local Beats: Hanging out with KPOP Star 2’s McKay Kim

This spring, KPOP Star 2, the highly anticipated second season of KPOP Star, brought together rising young talent from around the world. Unlike talent programs here in the United States, the KPOP Star series features performers putting their own twist on both popular Korean and English language songs complete with back-up dancers and pyrotechnics. Making it something of a golden ticket for those trying to make a break in the Korean music industry, KPOP Star is judged by representatives from Korea’s three largest entertainment labels – YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk, JYP CEO Park Jin-young, and SM’s veteran star BoA. Upon winning, the remaining artist gets to choose which label they want to sign with, though all participants can cultivate promising musical careers by simply getting onto the show. In the first season, winner Park Ji-min was brought into JYP Entertainment as a part of pop duo 15&, and her time spent in the competition made runner-up Lee Hi one of YG Entertainment’s strongest debuts. KPOP Star 2 champions, Akdong Musician, have already released their new single “I Love You” for the All About My Romance soundtrack, and YG Entertainment has recently announced their contract with season 2 finalist Bang Ye-dam. Yet despite their elimination in the third round, a strong and loyal fan base remains for season 2 trio, Raccoon Boys. The Raccoon Boys auditioned for KPOP Star 2 separately and were formed by BoA as the rounds progressed. The group consisted of rapper Kim Min-seok of Asan, South Korea and singers Brian Shin from Cupertino, Calif. and San Diego’s own, McKay Kim. KKonnect had the opportunity to interview McKay on one of his first visits back home since the program ended, taking a break before heading back to Korea to continuing working on his budding music career.

Q: What are your career plans for the future?
A: Honestly, I can’t say I have a definite plan so far. In fact, I have no plan – no clue! I haven’t contracted with any company yet, so once I go to Korea, my plans will become more concrete.

Q: What kind of artist do you aspire to be?
A: I want to become a John Mayer or Jason Mraz type of artist. I am into acoustic type songs that I can use my guitar with. Among Korean artists, I would like to sing Zion T types of songs.

Q: If you received an offer to be in an idol group, would you give in?
A: I would be flattered, but I am the stiffest person! I do favor CN Blue types of groups where it is a band rather than an idol group. I sure would love to learn how to dance though!

Q: Why did you choose to expand your music career in Korea?
A: I noticed that most of the music in Korea is pop. I want to start something new – start and become a music layer.

Q: How did you find out about KPOP Star?
A: My mom actually saw a flyer at Convoy Street in San Diego. She and I both did not have high expectations but we thought it would be a good experience.

Q: Did you predict that you would get this far on KPOP Star?
A: No! Every stage was an unexpected yet sweet surprise. The first song that I sang was written by me. I had originally planned to sing Bum Soo-kim’s “I Miss You (보고싶다)”, but I changed it at the last minute. I felt like I was unprepared, so I felt very blessed when I passed.

Q: What drove you choose to sing the song that you wrote?
A: At first I didn’t have the confidence that I could pass with a song that I wrote, but my mom encouraged me and I was glad that others also liked it. I would like to pursue not only singing but songwriting as well. I don’t want to follow by the rules but establish my own color with the music that I write.

Q: If BoA, Yang Hyun-suk, and JYP were to compete in KPOP Star themselves, who do you think would win?
A: I think BoA would win. I think she would be the closest to making it big in America too. She always reminds me of Britney Spears – pretty and talented. While working at the set of KPOP Star, I realized that she is very smart – and she’s good. She has talent, and she’s wise too.

Q: Any shout outs to your friends in San Diego?
A: Though I can’t guarantee a visit soon, hopefully I will be able to see you guys soon. I hope I can come back as a successful artist and make you guys proud!