Ateez: The Expedition Tour In Dallas.

A sunny spring Sunday saw me set forth to venture north to the Dallas area. The route along the infamous I 35 was bad as usual with much of the time spent at a crawl. Fortunately I got to the Granada Theatre with plenty of time to spare, plus I managed to snag one of the last parking spaces in the nearest lot.

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Riding high on my good fortune I tried to work out the line number entrance order. My Music Taste had given fans numbers and so we each had to find our correct place in line. It was a bit messed up but eventually we got into the right order. I lucked out and ended up with some friendly line buddies.

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Although our numbers were in the low 100’s the pit had really started to fill in so we got front row on the second tier which helped out those of us on the shorter side.

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The crowd was intense, and the venue was filled to maximum capacity, which may not have been a great idea as many people ended up with a poor or even no view. Texas Kpop fans have a reputation for being among the most fervent, yet they still retain their manners. People mostly kept to the line number system and were well behaved, unlike the debacle at the California stop where Ateez had to leave the stage until the fans calmed down. I even heard that a couple of fans passed out or were hurt.

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The Dallas fans sure were loud though. You can hear them in the background of the VLive show they did from backstage. It was a little surreal watching the live video on our phones knowing they were such a short distance away from us.

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I just going to comment here for those who follow me, yes I finally got a new phone so got some fairly decent photos………but apparently I still need a bit of practice using it! So all the photos aren’t necessarily in order I just chose to use some I liked.

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The show was one of the loudest I’ve ever been to, which is kinda ironic as the microphones didn’t work for a good part of the evening. You could see the boys getting frustrated when their mikes went out. The fans were so happy to be there they took it in their stride, but that definitely needs to be worked on.

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Ateez is a new group, as in really new. They made their debut in late October 2018 and they are already on a sold out world tour. They are young, talented and cute, but more than that they have that ‘spark’ or ‘je ne sais quoi’.

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That indescribable something that sets them apart is evident as soon as they start performing. It obviously doesn’t hurt that they are affable, and so very likable when they speak, for example one being adorably shy, while another looks on bemused. But in the time it takes to blink they turn on their charismatic charm, and a different performance persona emerges.

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They were incredibly enthusiastic about their performance, with dance moves sharp enough cut you. For me their dance and choreography ranks right up there with some of their ‘sunbaenim’. Seeing them perform live was captivating, maybe even mesmerizing. They were fierce, and dynamic, and powerful. They definitely showed off their masculine charms.

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Ateez is made up of eight members, Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung, and Jongho the apple breaking phenom. They were all born in 1998 and 1999 except for the ‘maknae’ who was born in 2,000.  So they are both new and young, very young, to have a sold out world tour.

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Being new meant that they didn’t have enough songs for a full concert of singing, but that didn’t stop the fans from enjoying every moment of the evening. The breaks between sets were filled with the boys interacting with the audience, answering questions and playing games like the random play dance.

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The performances of their four most popular songs, Treasure, Pirate King, Say My Name, and Hala Hala almost brought the house down, literally. The screams and yells shook the rafters. The only time the noise level was louder was when the fans wanted the them to yell, ‘Yee Haw’.

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Some things I was somewhat surprised by; the intensity of the fans, the number of people they allowed for the hi touch (about 500), the choice of venue, (I like the Granada Theatre, but not when they over pack it, Ateez could have sold out a bigger venue), and how relaxed the boys were. I really believed them when they said they like Dallas, and they seemed genuinely happy to be sharing the evening with us. They told us they would come back and I know there’s a lot of fans determined to be in the audience when they do.

If you get the chance I highly recommend you go check them out.

Have a great day everyone.

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All photo credits to me, except for last one which their staff member took. Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

 

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The American Ahjummas……….don’t mess with them! Having lunch before the concert.

 

You may also enjoy Winner Everywhere Tour In Dallas 2019, My favorite Kdramas of 2018, and 2018 Teen Top Night in Texas.

 

Great Night Of Networking At The Korea Spotlight Industry Party @SXSW.

Just a quick post before heading up to Dallas for the Ateez and then the Astro concerts later this week. I wanted to make sure I to said what a fantastic and informative time I had at the Korea Spotlight Industry Party. We all know that sometimes these ‘networking’ things can be a bit on the dull side, but this was anything but. Packed from the beginning with a mini stage show by three of the Korean music groups that would be performing later that night at the Moody Theater it never let up.  ( Kirara, XXX, & Jambinai.)

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The party was held at Friend’s Bar on the famous 6th Street in downtown Austin.  Known as the Live Music Capital of the World Austin hosts SXSW, a mega music and technology festival every year which closes down the city center as thousands of people flock in from all over the world.  The venue was packed with people from all aspects of the music scene, from fans ( well those with SXSW Music Badges and wristbands ) to CEO’s and others in the management side of the business.

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Our hosts, Kocca, and MU:CON, gave out free drink coupons and put on a wonderful spread of Korean/Austin fusion food.

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The Kpopjacket even received a bit of attention from photographers.

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And just as the party was beginning to wind down I got a chance to have a brief chat with Kirara one of the Korea Spotlight artists.

 

All in all a great party, where I met and spoke with so many interesting and fun people. Learned lots of things. Plus lots of new avenues to explore.

Thank you to Kocca and MU:CON for upping their game each year, and for providing such a great venue for people to meet and share ideas and learn from each other. Thanks also to my friend, and photographer, who not only takes some great photos but who also holds my purse, phone, or drink. Thanks Sebastian.

Have a great day everyone.

All photo credits to Sebastian Gallardo and myself. Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

You may also enjoy Kpop @SXSW: An Overview, and Winner: Everywhere Tour In Dallas.

 

How Many Ways Can You Watch A Kpop Group Dance?

The most obvious way is no doubt on their music video,

or maybe on a music show,

or a dance practice video.

Sometimes they do a double speed version,

or even a ‘roller-coaster’ version where the song speeds up and slows down.

Recently we’ve seen the relay dance become popular.

Or how about in costume.

A boyfriend/close up version was popular for a while.

And apparently there something called a ‘Beagle’ version.

Or you can even watch classic Kpop dances as part of Korean variety show games.

Of course we would all probably like to watch our favorites front row center at a live performance. If we can’t be there in person at least we can watch fancams of the show.

 

Have a great day everyone.

All photo and video credits to original owners.

You may also enjoy Like Dance? Watch Kpop, and A Look At Some Of My Favorite Dance Practice Videos.

Korea Spotlight @SXSW 2019: Preview.

The excitement of Kpop fans in Texas is almost palpable this week, that along with the Live Oak pollen. (Hint if you have allergies bring your meds with you.) That’s mostly because the Korea Spotlight Showcase @SXSW is returning March 13th for its 7th year in an even bigger and better venue. In fact it is the same venue where the famous Austin City Limits music show is recorded for TV. ACL is the longest running music show on American TV, and multiple famous artists have performed there to now include some from Korea. (There’s also concerts by Ateez and Astro this month in Dallas.)

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But this week the vibe and feeling will be completely different as Korean artists from different genres will take to the stage to showcase that Korea has a wide range of talented artists covering everything from rock, to Hip-Hop to electronic music and more. Of course the widely popular Kpop will also be featured as currently it seems like it is the face of Korean music around the world.

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I’ve been to a few of the previous showcases, but I think this might be the first time there will be traditional Korean instruments, a ‘haegeum’ and a ‘geomungo’, on stage. But don’t expect anything traditional about what will be played on them. Jambinai, who played at the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, has created an interesting style by combining both modern and traditional sounds. I won’t spoil your anticipation, but if you’re a rock music fan you might have a new group to add to list. https://www.youtube.com/jambinaiofficial 

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XXX has been called ‘an alternative to Korean Hip-Hop music’, except they are Korean and they are Hip-Hop, so just who are they? They’ve basically said that they were “invited to the party, but chose their own seat at the table” meaning that they are carving their own way and not following the current Hip-Hop trends. This has led to them being noticed, and praised, by both Billboard and Pitchfork. They even won an award at the 16th Korea Music Awards. listen @

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Kirara will be the third artist to be performing and introducing us to her unique and fun style of electronic music. Sounding unlike others in the genre her music is both simple and complex, leading the listener to want to dance along. Described by Lemon Wire as “South Korean electronic polyrhythms” it is easy to be drawn into her musical world and believe her mantra that “Kirara is Pretty and Strong.” She is a prolific producer/performer and has won awards and been interviewed by multiple music magazines and web pages. She once said it was her dream to go to SXSW and now she’ll be here. Welcome Kirara, and I hope you have a great time.

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Hitchhiker is no stranger to SXSW having held his debut live performance here in 2015 and now he’s back. Known for his shiny spacesuit and electronic music he’s popular at music festivals around the world. Unknown to some he is also a music producer and has worked on songs by multiple Kpop groups and artists. Perhaps that’s why the beats and echoes of so many musical genres can be heard during one of his performances. 

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Chung Ha doesn’t need much of an introduction to the fans of wildly popular Produce 1.0.1 a Kpop survival show, as she finished in 4th place and went on to debut with the 1.0.1. group in 2016. she debuted as a soloist in 2017 and has been on the rise ever since. She has won numerous awards including Best Dance Performance-Solo at the 20th Mnet Asian Music Awards. Somewhat of a local, she lived in Dallas for 8 years, this will be her first time performing at SXSW. You can expect a dynamic performance by “the best Kpop female idol ever” and make your own assessment. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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As a multi-fan with a very long list of groups I follow it is hard to rank them, but if I had to do so iKON would be near the top every time. Somewhat irreverent and liking to push boundaries they had a bit of a problematic image at the beginning of their career, however, lately they’ve become the darlings of Korea. Whilst I liked their earlier image with Rhythm Ta and Dumb & Dumber  their careers really hit the jackpot with Love Scenario which is more of a sing along type of song. It stands at over 270 million views on Youtube and became really popular with school children in Korea to the point that schools actually banned the song, not because of lyrics or anything, just because the teachers were going crazy hearing all the time! To thank the kids iKON held a children’s event which was really cute.Image result for ikon picnic in hangang park

iKON has incredible stage presence and a great repertoire of songs so every person at the Korea Spotlight @SXSW 2019 is sure to leave as an iKONic.

Please note that the Korea Spotlight @SXSW and many other Korean and Kpop related events around the World would not take place without the help and support of KOCCA, The Korean Creative Content Agency. I, and I’m sure all of you, thank them.

Have a great day everyone.

All photo credits go to original owners.

 

 

 

Kpop @ SXSW: An Overview.

Kpop has been a growing force at SXSW year by year, and this maybe its biggest year ever. I’ve attended their Kpop events in 2015, 17 and 18 and have been amazed at its growth so I thought a quick overview might be in order.

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South by Southwest, SXWS, or “South-by” when speaking, is a music, film, and interactive media festival that also has conferences, panels, and gaming with lots of parties thrown in for good measure. Being held in Austin, Texas there’s also lots of great food, and of course all the drinking you could want on the infamous 6th street.

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Starting in 1987 SXSW has grown by leaps and bounds, each year including more and more diverse aspects of popular culture as new technologies emerge. It usually runs for about ten days and closes down parts of the center of Austin, the capital city of Texas. SXSW is the largest music festival with this format in the world, and each year it showcases over 2,000 artists from all around the globe performing almost every type of music you can imagine. The list of artists who have performed at SXSW includes some of the best musicians in the world. The interactive part, which is focused on emerging tech, is probably the biggest event of its kind in the world. An ‘audience’ of over 300,000 people are expected to attend the festival.

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Since many of the artists have to pay their own way many must hold fundraisers and find innovative ways to get to SXSW to actually perform. Maybe one of the first Korean acts was YB back in 2007, and in the following years there were other Korean performers who made their own way to SXSW to showcase their music.

Over the years there have also been occasional panels and speakers covering Kpop and Korean music. For 2019 the general manager of SM Entertainment Chris Lee will talk about “The True Value Of Kpop.” 

Image result for seoulsonicSeoulsonic, an annual tour of Korean indie and alt-rock bands which made stops at SXSW starting in 2011 was an effort by Bernie Cho and KOCCA to introduce different Korean music genres to the west. Cho was quoted as saying in a Korea Herald Interview from 2015 “The K-music mystique is that it is unique, innovative and new. And the diversity in genres is definitely the ace card for promoting Korean music overseas.” But Seoulsonic was not particularly interested in ‘idol’ type Korean popular music which so many of us now think of when we hear the word ‘Kpop’.

But then in 2013 fans Kpop got lucky. The Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, & Tourism, plus KOCCA, and Mu:CON got together to sponsor an official event which they called KPOP Night Out.  This title was somewhat misleading to those who thought only of ‘idol’ groups. It was in fact still a little like Seoulsonic being a showcase of multiple Korean music genres, although it usually had an idol type Kpop act as its headliner. In 2013 it was f(x), 2014 Hyuna, 2015 Crayon Pop, 2016 Zion T, 2017 Red Velvet, 2018 KARD, and in 2019 it will be iKON. It has also showcased groups such as Epik High, Mamamoo, MFBTY, and soloists such as Jay Park, Dean, Hyolyn, Crush, and Lee Hi who are also well known to Kpop fans. In 2018 it changed its name to Korea Spotlight which undoubtedly is a better descriptive of the aim of the evening. That is, to introduce the audience to a wider range of Korean popular music, while still acknowledging the impact of ‘idol’ Kpop on the world’s music scene.

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After starting out in a club called Elysium in 2013, Kpop Night Out upgraded to the Belmont in 2016 and for 2019 it will upgrade once more to ACL Live @ The Moody Theater, a well known Austin venue.

SXSW works on a badge and wristband system with prices for these being quite high. People with these get different levels of priority entry to each event. Sometimes if there’s left over space regular people get a chance to gain entry by a pay at the door system. However 2019 is the first time individual tickets for the Korea Spotlight event were sold. Needless to say they sold out very quickly. Whether there will still be tickets/spaces for walk ups left on the night of the concert remains to be seen.

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With a better venue and iKON as the headline act I’m sure this year will be a rousing success. Kpop at SXSW is on a roll.

Have a great day everyone.

 

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

All photo credits to original owners.

 

Korea Guide Book Review: A Curated Guide To Seoul.

Even if you’ve travelled extensively and think you know a place well there’s always those hidden spots that are harder to find than others. In the modern internet driven world it is easy to click and search for the ‘best’ places to visit. But the internet is also the home of the new and popular. So if you’re not prepared to do some serious searching beyond the first page or two you can often miss out. That’s when a good travel book can come to your rescue.

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This recently published travel guide to Seoul caught my eye and I decided to see if it could introduce me to some new and unique places for my next visit. ( Those who follow me know I’ve visited Seoul 3 times and so have seen most of the obvious and popular places.) img_20190223_072754

Being ‘curated’ means that it isn’t just a ‘top ten’ type of guide, but more the personal opinions of the author’s favorite places. They have also chosen places that are popular with the locals, and places where you might be one of the few tourists around. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no ‘top’ visitors attractions included. Some places in Seoul are so iconic and necessary to an understanding of Korea and her people no guide book could exclude them.

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Changdeokgung Palace, Huwon Garden.

 

The book has ten themed chapters such as Nature, Arts & Culture, Neighborhoods, as well as two essays and 4 interviews. The neighborhood chapter is nice because it gives you a quick idea of different areas you might want to explore to get a feel of the city away from the huge crowds that can congregate around the main Palaces. (Although you can’t really expect to get away from crowds completely as Seoul has a population of over 10 million. Over 25 million if you count the suburbs.)

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They also give recommendations for places you might want to eat including restaurants, cafes, teashops and a couple of markets. Food places can have a high turnover, so always check before you go.

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Tongin Market.

I found the chapter on Arts & Culture particularly useful as it contained some smaller galleries and museums I have yet to visit. It of course also included some such as Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the Seoul Museum of Art which are more popular tourist sites. I was pleased to see the Oil Tank Culture Park included as I really enjoyed my visit there in 2017.

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Oil Tank Culture Park.

One of the things most people are surprised about when they visit Seoul for the first time is how many green spaces can still be found within the city. No matter what measure you use Seoul is a megacity, 5th largest by some accounts, while New York City is in 8th place, so people often assume it is a ‘concrete jungle’. The Nature Chapter is one of my favorites and includes quite a few of my favorite Seoul Parks.

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Namsan Mountain.

Seoul is actually full of wonderful places to find a spot to relax and to get back to nature. There are still mountains in the middle and along the edges of the city that have been left to nature and these are popular hiking destinations. (You’ll often see people riding the subway dressed in their hiking gear as it is a very popular pastime.) While others have been landscaped to provide natural beauty each season of the year.

The Fall silver grass at Haneul Park.

There are also a large number of public parks, some very large ones, as well as linear trails and parks along much of the Han River. A visit to at least one of the Hangang Parks is a must. Seonyudo Park is set on an island in the Han River and was once a water purification station. Now it is a really interesting and beautiful park with amazing views of the river and city skyline. It is very popular spot to watch the sunset and the city lights come on.

This guide book gives a nice concise description of the parks along with the address and website if there is one. A few photos of each help to define what kind of park it is.

The interviews and essays are quite interesting as they give a local perspective and insight into topics that you may not have thought about much, such as the real Bukchon story, or Korean Indie music. These give an added depth to the book.

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However the accommodation chapter only lists a very small number of choices of what could perhaps be called boutique hotels. The addresses, phone numbers, websites and prices are listed as well as a description of what makes their choices unique. And I’m not  saying they don’t look lovely, but Seoul has thousands of choices of accommodations from hostels, AirBnBs, home stays, hotels, and even Temple Stay programs so the internet may very well be your better option for that.

I’m always looking for more insight into Seoul, one of my favorite world class cities, and this guide did include some places that I will definitely add to my list for my next visit. Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed that they only chose neighborhoods, and most attractions, that are north of the Han River. I usually stay in Yeongdeungpo south of the river where there are fewer foreign tourists yet lots of places Seoulites visit, such as a 24 hour food street, local markets, an underground shopping center and times Square Mall. Plus they don’t cover Kpop related attractions many of which are south of the river, and are a growing reason for young people to travel to Seoul. Overall though I would definitely recommend this book for those who want to move a little beyond something like Trip Advisors ‘top’ lists.

Have a great day everyone.

The reviewed book is A Curated Guide to Seoul, by Robert Koehler and Hahna Yoon, published 2018  by Seoul Selection USA, Inc. ISBN 978-1-62412-120-3  52800. I bought it on Amazon.

All photo credits to original owners. Photos 1,2,4, and 10 were from pages of the book. The featured photo and photos 3,5,6,7,8 and the grouping of photos at 9 are credited to Elizabeth and Debora Marzec.

You may also enjoy Huwon: The Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace Tongin Traditional Market, and Seonyudo Park.

 

Winner: Everywhere Tour In Dallas 2019.

It was a cold and rainy day for Winner’s stop in Dallas on their ‘Everywhere’ tour. Grey skies with ever growing black clouds full of cold rain swept over Dallas. But even the rain plus strong winds that turned many an umbrella inside out did not daunt the stalwart fans who had started to line up since early that morning.

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I chose to get out of the rain and hid in Grimaldi’s Restaurant where Tonya, my server, kindly let me take my time over a wonderful antipasto plate. A few other fans had also taken refuge inside and I heard some explaining Kpop to the wait staff.

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The concert was held in The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory a fairly new facility in Las Colinas. A large multi- configuration hall it was perhaps too big for Winner’s concert, especially as another Kpop group was performing in Houston on the same night. Unfortunately that meant Winner did not sell out this stop of their tour, but that is not to say that there wasn’t a large, vocal, and very enthusiastic crowd of fans. Throughout the evening the roars and screams from everyone easily made it feel like a sold out concert. It also meant that there was plenty of room for the fans to dance along to the songs.

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Thanks to the assistance of Nancy Tran we worked out a wonderful option that allowed me to sit at Deck 3 and as well as going into the pit area as I wished. (I ended up being the only one sat with a whole bar and staff just for me, crazy right!) All the staff at the venue were super sweet and very helpful. My thanks to them all.

Once everyone got in and settled the anticipation and excitement of the fans began to grow and grow. When the lights finally dimmed and the venue grew dark the feeling was electric. The stage lights flashed and spotlights roamed over the heads of the audience leading up to the entrance of Winner on a platform high up at the back of the stage.

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photo credit YG Entertainment

They started off by performing what is perhaps their ‘signature’ song  Really, Really to an enthusiastic response from everyone. Followed up by Hello, Air, and Everyday. Almost everyone was singing along. One small criticism was that the heavy use of white spotlights meant that at times we couldn’t see the members clearly as they were wearing white. White on white?

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Photo credit YG Entertainment.

The members, Seungyoon, Seunghoon, Jinwoo, and Mino were dynamic and compelling. It was hard to chose who to focus on as each had their charm. They performed their opening set masterfully and had the crowd entranced. However, rather than just go through their set list, which you can easily find on other sites, I’d rather tell you about a few moments that I particularly enjoyed.

I had a great time the whole evening, the music, singing, and dancing were spot on the whole concert. I was lifted up by their dynamism, consoled by their love of their fans, and mellowed out to their island songs, but I secretly enjoyed their audience interactions the most.

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Photo credit. YG Entertainment.

In the opening introduction when Yoon said ‘you never forget your first love’ and that he will never forget this first tour, I could feel more than my own heart flutter. Jinwoo said that this tour was a ‘dream come true.’

Their interviews with two lucky fans were cute, and being able to listen to Yoon and Jinwoo speak English so well was endearing. One lucky young lady from Saginaw was interviewed by Yoon who asked her how long she had been a fan. To which she replied “six months’. Yoon then very seriously told us how in Korea that is called being a ‘newbie’ and no one had the heart to tell him that newbie is an English word. ( It’s been used since it was invented during the Vietnam War.) He asked her favorite song and then encouraged her to sing it with him. It was such a sweet fan interaction.

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Jinwoo chose a young man who had travelled all the way from Alaska for the concert. His name was Taeyang which caused a bit of confusion at first. He had been a fan for two years and when pressed to name his favorite member he said Jinwoo. I think it was Jinwoo who then started singing Taeyang’s Eyes, Nose, Lips, and the audience quickly joined in. It must have been an incredible experience for that young man from Alaska. Something he will never forget.

At one point they read an incredibly well written and moving  ‘letter’ from a fan which really seemed to touch their hearts.

Another thing I enjoyed was the video they showed between two of their sets. Usually these ‘time filling’ videos are kind just ok stopgaps until we can get back to the real show. But it turned out that Winner made a really cute video in which they poked fun at themselves a little. Yoon’s love for Yakult was played up to perfection and the image of him staring longingly into a refrigerator full of his favorite drink has stayed in my mind. They made fun of Jinwoo, by showing him having bought lots of clothes…..and then they were all the same grey hoodie!

These little breaks that gave us insights into the members of Winner were engaging and helped control the pace of the show. They also played slower songs and solos in the middle so the fans could ride the wave of the explosive first and last set. Each member sang solo sets with each singing a couple of songs. Most impacting for me were Yoon singing I Like Me Better by Lauv except he changed the lyrics from New York to Dallas. Also Seunghoon performed a cover of Taeyang’s Ringa Linga to the delight of the crowd, although some of that may have been love for the song itself. Mino sang Fiance while Jinwoo sang GDragon’s Untitled.

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Photo credit YG Entertainment.

By the time we got to the end of the night all the audience had experienced a huge range of emotions with perhaps happiness and excitement being the strongest. It was both wonderful and sad for everyone as Winner ended the night with an encore of Really Really and then Everyday. A few minutes for a group photo with the audience and that was it.

But it wasn’t, because the excitement could still be seen on the faces of the fans as they braced against the bitter wind and cold as they left the venue. That same wind caught the fans laughter and squeals of joy as each recounted their favorite part of the evening, and spread that happiness to everyone.

Have a great day everyone.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. Photo credits to original owners. Title image to YG Entertainment as well as those labeled as such, all others to me.

You may also enjoy my posts on G.Dragon’s 2017 concert in Houston, Taeyang in Dallas,  and Zion. T in Dallas.

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My Favorite Kdramas of 2018. Part 2.

In the first part I mentioned how 2018 saw the rise of the crime, lawyer, courtroom type drama. Perhaps my favorite from this genre was Prison Playbook, which kinda obviously takes place inside a prison. Filled with flashbacks and with some scenes taking place on the outside the action doesn’t all take place within the confines of  the prison.

Although there is very definitely a lead character and second lead, in many ways this was an ensemble piece. And it was that cast of many players that pulled this show together into one of the best stories of last 2018.

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It was however, one of those shows that you have to be patient with at the beginning. ( I had seen good reviews and when I first started watching I wondered what the reviewers had been taking! ) Without giving too much away, the main lead is a successful baseball player right on the cusp of superstardom.  He is found guilty of a crime.  He is first sent to a detention center and then later a penitentiary.

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This drama follows his incarceration and how he adapts to life behind bars. Fortunately an old friend is a prison guard and he tries to help him as much as he can. Bromance is a wonderful thing. There’s also a bit of a romance, but obviously being a prison drama that takes a back seat to the stories going on behind the bars of Seobu Penitentiary.

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Each cell houses up to 6 inmates and in this drama each person has a completely different character. As the drama progresses we learn some of their backstories though flashbacks, and also perhaps begin to understand what led them to end up there. The question of is it sometimes the wrong person who is behind bars is also addressed and then can anything even be done about it?

Living and working so close to the prisoners the backstories of some of the guards are also explored as the two have in many ways an intimate knowledge of the other. A good guard, or a bad one, can make all the difference in a prisoner’s life.

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The main leads did a good job and their acting was spot on, but it was many of the supporting cast that I grew to love. The interactions between Yoo Hang Yang and almost anyone were cute, funny, and sad. He had a knack of aggravating everyone and his ‘feuds’ with KAIST and Captain Yoo always made me smile.  I also looked forward to learning more about and watching Jailbird, Jean Valjean, Doctor Go and other cellmates and guards. There was humor, and life lessons learned, as well as unlikely friendships and  loyalty. Not all was good in prison and there were plenty of evil people and unpleasant things too. But not wanting to spoil your enjoyment if you watch I’ll just say that some characters do get a happy ending.

If you haven’t watched it already I do suggest you give Prison Playbook a chance.


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I’m not a big enough fan of the crime/law/courtroom genre to have watched them all, but I did like The Ghost Detective enough to watch it until the end. To a certain extent the premise was similar to some other dramas, but there was enough of a difference, along with a few surprises along the way, to keep me interested. It was a little spooky and creepy at times as well as having some quite emotional scenes.

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There were two ‘season 2’ dramas that I started watching in the hope that they would be as good as their first seasons. And they weren’t. Unfortunately I didn’t like either and stopped watching after a few episodes, actually even less than that for Mystery Queen 2. The first season had a quirky charm, in the second the female lead became kinda cocky and irritating.  I stuck with Bad Guys City of Evil for a while, but it never grabbed me like the original Bad Guys which I really enjoyed. In the first Bad Guys I wanted to know the ‘bad’ guys back stories and I had some sympathy for their plight. In season 2 I didn’t care about any of them.

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My Secret Terrius, aka Terrius Behind Me, was a different kettle of fish. To start with it starred So Ji Sub, one of my favorite actors, as a member of Korea’s secret service. Actress Jung In Sun played the female lead.  With So Ji Sub being born in 1977 and Jung In Sun in 1991 there is a large difference in their real life ages, however I don’t think the age difference was meant to be that large between the characters as Jung’s character had 2 children.

Although on the surface a spy story it was also a drama about friendships, healing, and romance. Housewife and mother Go Ae Rin (Jung In Sun) becomes a widow as her husband is murdered for seeing something he shouldn’t have. Kim Bon (So ji Sub), once a top spy, has become a fugitive as he tries to clear his name after a botched mission. The woman he loved dies. Out for justice and revenge he is tracking a killer who turns out to be the same one who killed Go Ae Rin’s husband.

Two worlds collide. The ordinary everyday day life of a struggling mom and that of a renegade spy. The spy story was decent and interesting, but it was the intertwining of the normal life of ordinary people into the world of spies that added humor, loyalty, friendships, and romance. And that set it apart from the usual ‘spy’ drama. I loved the KIS, Kingcastle Information System, which was a little like a cross between a HOA and a Moms network. The KIS was mostly made up of stay at home moms and one stay at home dad played by Kang Ki Young. (He won best supporting actor at the 2018 MBC Drama Awards.) When one of their own was in trouble they pulled out all the stops to help them out.

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Go Ae Rin relies on the KIS to help her after her husband’s death. Following up on the premise that the killer he is after is the same one that killed her husband, Kim Bon moves into the Kingcastle apartment complex so he can monitor her. He ends up becoming the babysitter for her children.

The story evolves from there. If you are looking for a slightly different drama that still has all the action, romance, humor, and suspense you might need then I recommend My Secret Terrius. It won multiple awards at the 2018 MBC Drama Awards, including Best Actor for So Ji Sub.

Well once again I’ve not managed to cover all my favorite Kdramas from 2018, but I promise Part 3 will be the last.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy The Best Kdramas of 2017Korean Actors Who Were Athletes First, and Eyes On The Eyes: Korean Models Turned Actors.

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Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

 

My Favorite Kdramas Of 2018.

Ever year Korea produces between 140 and 150 dramas for TV and Cable. Not all of these are easily accessible to the overseas fan, although the export of Korean content has been improving more and more each year. We did take a hit, however, with the sudden shut down of Drama Fever.

Most years have a mega-hit drama, like Coffee Prince for 2007, Boys Over Flowers for 2009 and Heirs in 2013. More recently who can forget Descendants Of The Sun, or Goblin. Unfortunately I didn’t feel that 2018 had one of those unforgettable, almost iconic dramas. That’s not to say that there weren’t some enjoyable and good dramas, just for me there wasn’t a great one.

For 2018 I only watched 14 dramas all the way through. I did however start watching over 20 others. Some of these I dropped after a couple of episodes, while for others I lasted more than half way through. I’ve been watching Kdramas for almost a decade now and I think that I’ve moved on from the novelty of the genre to being a more discerning viewer, which means if the actors and plot aren’t engaging enough I lose interest. Yes, even if it has a favorite actor or idol bias in it.

So what did I enjoy enough to recommend?

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What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim. ( June 2018 – July 2018 )

I didn’t rush to watch this when it first came out because yet again it contained so many of the old tropes, the rich standoffish chaebol boss, the efficient female assistant, the shared past trauma, and of course the realization they were each others first love. But with the talented cast of Park Seo Joon, Park Min Young, Lee Tae Hwan, and Kang Ki Young it was inevitable that I would watch it anyway. And of course I’m so glad I did.

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I was pleasantly surprised.

Park Seo Joon is a fantastic romantic comedy actor in that I can totally fall for his looks one minute, and be laughing at his goofball actions and expressions the next. He has a fantastic sense of the comedic and it doesn’t look forced as it does with some other romantic actors. He also doesn’t steal the limelight, for example when Kang Ki Young is being funny Park Seo Joon becomes the perfect straight man.

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Park Min Young who plays Secretary Kim proved herself to be perfectly capable, both as her character Kim Mi So, and as the lead actress. She had a charm and inner strength that shone through as Secretary Kim had to deal with her socially clueless boss, as well as the demands of her work and home life. Not a typical female leading character, she had her own thoughts and opinions which she usually kept hidden under a ‘perfect’ secretary image. She was in no way the weaker partner in the romantic relationship. In many ways it ended up showing a much more adult relationship than is seen in many Kdramas.

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There always has to be a third wheel, or a character that tries to spoil the lead character’s plans and love, here it was Lee Young Joon’s unhappy and vindictive older brother played by Lee Tae Hwan. As the disruptive force on the lead’s relationship he was sufficiently manipulative and disarming. At times he even evoked sympathy from the audience, even though we knew his intentions were selfish and hurtful towards his brother.

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To counter the darker aspects there needs to be comedic relief which was admirably performed by Kang Ki Young who played the part of Lee Young Joon’s friend, adviser and confidante.  Kang is one of the most talented and like-able supporting actors around and has a prolific and stellar resume. He adds something to every drama he’s been in.

The supporting cast was made up of some familiar faces and they all added to the high quality of the drama. Their subplots also added some levity and interest to the story and added depth and a counter balance to the development of the main love story.

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The plot was somewhat predictable, but it turned out that really didn’t matter. The story was carried and uplifted by the performances of all the actors. There was sufficient mystery to keep one guessing for just enough time before it was overdone. There were plenty of romantic moments to tug at our hearts and enough comedy to cheer us along. The writers did a good job of keeping the story moving and thankfully refrained from having all the members of the hero’s family dislike the heroine.

Overall it was an entertaining drama that I would recommend. Although many people don’t like the word, it was a pleasant drama in that it gave me a sense of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. It was also one of the highest rated dramas in Korean cable TV history so I obviously was not alone in my enjoyment of What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim.   

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Kdramas stories often go in cycles with certain themes being more prominent for a couple of years before something else takes its place. 2018 started off with the rise of AI in I’m Not A Robot and Are You Human Too. Based off slightly fantastic concepts they showed Korea’s new focus in their real life technology industries. I’m Not A Robot had some funny and touching scenes, but overall I thought it was a little lightweight. It was cute and fun for a quick binge on a rainy weekend, but it didn’t demand all my attention. I never actually finished Are You human Too although I might go back and finish it as it showed some potential, and the first episodes showed some lovely overseas footage. It also seemed set up to have more depth in asking the questions about what makes someone, or something really human.

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There were also a lot more crime, lawyer, courtroom type dramas than is usual. Lawless Lawyer, starring one of my favorite actors Lee Joon Gi, was a little more physical that the usual ‘law’ themed dramas as the writers also focused on the lead character’s martial arts skills. I did enjoy this one but there were a couple of times towards the end when I was tempted to skip an episode or two. I think the plot could have been tightened down to 14 episodes and produced a more impacting story. Still worth a watch though if you like Lee Joon Gi, or an underdog wins the day type drama.

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Miss Hammurabi.

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My favorite ‘law’ drama was story about a newly appointed judge fighting the system. Although taking place in the courtroom in many ways it was a drama about people, how they act, react, how they make mistakes, or even how they can be truly evil. How power can corrupt and how one righteous person can make a difference.

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Starring the talented Go Ara backed up by L, Sung Dong Il and a wonderful supporting cast the drama managed to make me smile, laugh, and cry. Some of the stories outraged me and made me furious, while they also showed how legal rights may not be the same the world over. It seems though that all over the world the rich have an advantage over the average Joe so it was nice to see Go Ara’s character bring them down a peg or two.

There was romance running through the storyline as well as growing up, and learning to be a better person, but none of it was particularly preachy. Well except occasionally the main character was a bit like a steamroller in her righteous indignation at the way the court system actually worked versus how it should work. This drama is quite timely as Korea is going through some issues with its Judicial system.

Not a heavy courtroom drama, it remained watchable throughout and I do recommend it.

There are other Kdramas on my favorites list and will continue in part 2. Please watch out for it. If you want to share your favorite dramas for 2018 in the comments section below I would love to hear from you.

Have a great day everyone.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

All photo credits go to original owners.

You may also enjoy The Unique Faces Of KpopThe Best Kdramas of 2017, and Korean Games.

 

 

Sibijisin: The Twelve Guardian Deities Of Korea.

Korea has a long and ancient history and many of their customs and traditions go back a long way into the past. The twelve animal deities, called Sibijisin, who make up the Korean zodiac that we see today once played a much more active role in the daily lives of Koreans.

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Korea is land built through ages of time on multiple beliefs and traditions. Many of these came from China, but some of the oldest probably came from Mongolia. Animism is the belief that all natural objects are inhabited by individual spirits. This can be seen in modern stories and movies from all over the world as tree ‘sprites’, ‘nymphs’ etc. In Korea even the mountains have spirits, strong spirits which made them holy or even gods. Shamanism also believes in a world of spirits and supernatural beings. With these two ancient beliefs it is easy to see why people felt the need for help against the world around them. To ask for help from your ancestors and the powerful spirits such as those found in mountains would be a natural thing to do. Shamans acted as a messenger to and from the gods trying to ensure that bad luck did not fall on the people.

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But more familiar help was needed and the Sibijisin, or guardian animals seem to have fulfilled that purpose. These 12 animals are the same ones that make up the Korean ‘zodiac’. They are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar. These were originally strong representations of each animal, animals able to guard Royal Tombs as well villager’s homes, not the cutesy ones represented nowadays.

Each animal had traits and characteristics that would help them guard even in the darkest times of the night. The rat for example is quick witted and resourceful, while the ox is diligent and steadfast, the sheep has great tenacity and is slow to anger, while the monkey is intelligent and crafty.

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Each day was divided up into 12 two hour periods of time, and each guardian animal was meant to watch over their block of time. So the rat/mouse would be on watch from 11pm until 1 am etc. So not only did they determine your horoscope the Sibijisin also were near you in your everyday life.

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Sometimes in Korean and Chinese historical dramas you can hear characters use this old system. (For official time keeping such as that used by officials a more accurate method was used.)

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But at some point their everyday importance diminished and now it is almost impossible to find out more about them. But once a year at New Year’s the same stories of their creation are brought forth. The first is that Buddha invited all the animals in the world to come and visit him, but only 12 showed up. He decided to honor them by placing them in the zodiac in the order in which they arrived.

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The other popular story is that the 12 animals challenged each other to a race across a river. The Ox would have won, but secretly the rat had climbed up on his head, and just as the Ox was about to reach the other side the rat leaped to shore first thereby winning. But neither of these stories explain why or really how they became guardian or zodiac figures. The Buddha one comes closest to an answer, but why aren’t these animals in the Indian zodiac in that case? I think there’s something missing to their story. House guardians must have played an integral part of people’s lives. If anyone knows more, please feel free to comment below.

 

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Your Horoscope In Korea.

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All photo credits to original owners. Featured image National Museum of Korea, as is last image.  Shaman photo by 대한민국 정부 문화체육관광부 문화재청 – 대한민국 정부 문화체육관광부 문화재청, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37068271  Ram photo E Marzec.  All others Pinterest.