K-pop is an extremely competitive genre, a small country with a population of merely 50 million people produces new artists literally almost every day. The industry is like a ruthless stepmother: once you make a serious mistake, it might cost you your career and more. Career ups and downs are normal in an artist’s life but in K-pop, once you reached the lowest part, it is very difficult to climb up the mountain again. Ultimate K-pop Survival Guide will be a short series on artists who have managed to turn their failing career from point zero back again or who had gone through a lot of hardships and still managed to remain successful. Not only rookie artists but we, the audience, can also learn a lot from them.
Avoid them as if they were lepers
The first installment of the series is dedicated to perhaps the biggest survivors of the dark side of K-pop: JYJ. Everyone knows what they have been through, but it doesn’t hurt to summarize and focus on how they actually managed to cope with the situation.
For the uninitiated: once there had been an idol band we can possibly call one of the greatest successes of K-pop ever: Dong Bang Shin Ki, or by their English abbreviation, TVXQ. The five-member boyband, consisting of Jaejoong, Yunho, Yoochun, Junsu and Changmin, was among the first successful wave of K-pop to set foot in Japan, and with blood and tears, they worked their way up the ladder, from performing to a mere handful of fans to filling the 50,000 seat Tokyo Dome in rows. Their fandom, Cassiopeia, was certified by the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest official fan club in the world. They reached unimaginable heights in Asia, thus their break-up was probably one of the biggest shocking events ever to shake the world of K-pop. Not because boybands are supposed to last forever, but because they were at the height of their careers and were known to be close to each other. When the news broke out that Jaejoong, Yoochun and Junsu started a lawsuit against their agency, S.M. Entertainment, to nullify their 13-year contract. At first, everyone hoped there could be a settlement, but in October 2009 the Seoul court ruled in favor of JYJ, and as a result, the Fair Trade Commission started advocating the use of ‘model contracts’ to prevent agencies from having artists sign excessive deals.
Though the social impact of their lawsuit was huge, industry players were forced to rethink the ways they were treating their artists, and JYJ emerged as a moral winner, the real hardships were to begin just then. S.M. Entertainment appealed against the court decision and a three year desperate battle took off. Not long after JYJ announced the establishment of their new band, their initial supporter in Japan, Avex, suddenly had a change of heart, claiming sole rights to manage the band in Japan, dismissing claims that JYJ’s new management company, C-JeS Entertainment, had any rights to organize events for the band on Japanese grounds. They too, ended up in a long lawsuit, during which JYJ was denied any kind of rights to perform in Japan. At the same time, all doors in Korea closed as well. The industry suddenly started treating the three young men as if they had leprosy. In silent agreement, major broadcasting stations denied them appearances as musicians. Some were claiming that they did not wish to get entangled in court related issues.
At the time, we had no one to speak for us, and we could do nothing but silently stand our ground - Kim Jaejoong
C-JeS Entertainment thus had to build a different strategy to promote JYJ. With no possibilities to appear on televised music shows and variety programs, the usual promotion cycle was out of question. The possibility of failure also lingered in the air, with the artists preparing themselves for the worst; that they might not be able to stand on stage again.
The rules of survival for JYJ were as follows:
1. Keep silent. Despite the constant rumors, the extensive media coverage, part of the torn fandom accusing them of betrayal, former label mates openly criticising them for their decision, JYJ kept silent. As they expressed in their 1000 day anniversary magazine, they decided to work silently and not be shaken by accusations and rumors.
2. If you cannot enter through the door, climb through the window. As they were denied the chance to promote through television, JYJ had to look for other ways of reaching their audience. They started separate activities, Yoochun and Jaejoong became involved in television dramas and movies, gaining wide followings as actors. Junsu began to appear in musicals and in a mere three years’ time, he went from being looked at as a ‘box office bringing tool’ to a highly praised and critically acclaimed musical actor on his own right. When the nation’s main broadcasters were not willing to talk to them as musicians, ironically, they became the sweethearts of the government, appointed as goodwill ambassadors and promoters of national and international scale events like the 2014 Asian Games, and were among the few selected artists invited to perform at President Park Geun-hye’s inauguration. The latter marked their first televised performance in three years in their home country. When local record labels were unwilling to assist, they went to the US and started working with American producers, despite their lack of English skills.
3. No regrets, no complaints. In their 1000 day anniversary magazine, the band members expressed that despite all the hardships, they did not regret their decision, not once. Having faith in your decisions is important for obtaining and maintaining the strength necessary to survive. They have also never complained of unfair treatment or the lack of opportunities because of the silent ban in Korea and Japan. They just did what they had to do: work hard and smile. I believe that having a positive attitude and being able to smile at their fans was an important factor in their success. Instead of giving in to striking waves of depression and self-pity, they rose above hard times by sticking together and supporting each other.
4. Don’t lose your trust. When unfortunate events happen, one can easily feel they are no longer able to trust other people. JYJ, too, had gone through this period. When Baek Chang-ju offered his help in 2009, they did not trust him, it took them months to open up and accept his helping hand. C-JeS Entertainment was established exclusively to steer JYJ’s boat through troubled waters and it went from a one person venture to a serious agency that employs over 40 people with sales amounting to 33 billion won (roughly 30 million USD) in only two years’ time.
JYJ’s legal fights have just recently ended, but their battle is far from being over yet. Broadcasting stations are still treading carefully. Despite all the unfortunate events that had befallen them (appearances denied, concerts cancelled last minute, accusations, rumors, some of their own fans turning their backs on the band), JYJ never once gave up.
Their album, In Heaven, sold over 350,000 copies, Junsu’s Tarantallegra was one of the most successful solo albums of 2012 despite lacking in promotion, both JYJ’s and Junsu’s solo world tours were completely sold out. Their Tokyo Dome comeback concert in April 2013 had successfully wrapped up and attracted 210,000 people altogether.
Besides part of the Cassiopeia fandom still supporting them as much as they also support the duo TVXQ, JYJ gained a firm and enthusiastic new fan base as well, through their numerous group and individual activities. Jaejoong’s limited edition mini album became a huge success, Yoochun is virtually the most successful idol actor on the market and Junsu cemented his name as one of the best singers ever born in Korea. They are wealthier than most artists under their former agency, including their former band members Yunho and Changmin.
Were they lucky? I would not think so. Many of us would have given up such a grueling and frankly, seemingly hopeless battle against giant obstacles. What we can learn from JYJ is that you need to keep your faith, grind your teeth, work hard and believe in your own abilities. Only then will you be able to turn all unfortunate events into glistening success.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the writer and not of hellokpop as a whole.
Banner created by Sovany Nguon
Photo source: AfterJae
Singles magazine recently released masculine pictorial images featuring its April cover boy, JYJ‘s Park Yoochun. The spreads are described to be overwhelmingly charismatic as Park stares at the magazine viewers with his piercing eyes.
The pictorial concept involves modern and fashionable clothing pieces that reflect reminiscence of the entertainer’s most recent noir television series, I Miss You. The shooting staff shared that remarkable concentration was exerted throughout the photoshoot and that the pictorial would be very dramatic and intense.
Check out Yoochun’s edgy pictorial for Singles magazine below:
While the title may sound a little strange, we as Kpop fans each experience the Kpop life differently, and pull from our experiences different views of people and the world around us. When you think about the genre and everything that you’ve seen, heard, and learned since you became a fan, what sticks out in your mind the most? Did a situation or event with in the Kpop world ever affect you on a personal level? Did you learn something about yourself because of something that happened in Kpop?
If you are a relatively new fan to this industry you may remember things like the latest scandals involving Rain and his military service, the explosion of PSY‘s viral hit Gangnam Style, EXO‘s and Nu’est‘s debuts, or even Big Bang‘s Tonight album release in February 2011. If you are a seasoned fan you may remember scandals like MC Mong‘s draft dodging (2010) and G-Dragon‘s alleged plagiarism of Heartbreaker (2009), along with SHINee‘s debut in 2008, or DBSK‘s mega-hit release of Rising Sun in 2005. Veteran fans, those who have been fans of Kpop for ten years or more, can clearly remember events like the debuts of SHINHWA, G.O.D, or Fly To The Sky, along with the break-ups of H.O.T and S.E.S.
These events, each solidified in our various memories, have affected each fan differently and, in the end, we each take away from each of these situations a different life lesson learned.Taking the good with the bad, the fun with the boring, and the outrageous with the mundane, we live a life surrounded by our friends, family, artists, and Kpop. We rejoice in our artists’ successes, suffer through their failures and mistakes, and learn lessons together–as one big family. As I looked back on my life, I began to recollect the lessons that the genre and its artists have taught me, and I realized, even more deeply, that Kpop has influenced all of us, in one way or another.
Before we discuss this topic any further, my qualifications as a veteran fan should be addressed. I came into this genre on January 21, 2000 after I heard my very first Kpop song during a random misadventure and getting lost on a highway. Coming to a gas station, in the middle of nowhere, I met not only one of the kindest Korean grandmothers I have ever known, but also the person who set me on the path of my Kpop life. My first song, the one that started it all for me, was Day By Day by Fly To the Sky, which was playing on a little boombox behind the counter.
Brian Joo‘s and Hwanhee‘s smooth, soulful, and heartwarming voices, combined with a melancholic-yet-infectious beat and the random splattering of English lyrics, pulled me in instantly and prompted me to politely grill Grandma Kim on Korean music for over two hours (before I even asked how to get back to the highway). Had I not gotten lost that night and stumbled upon this little store and grandmother, I wouldn’t have had the joy that this genre has brought me for almost thirteen years. It is a moment that truly changed my life for the better.
When I think back over the years, I’m reminded of so many events that have shaped not only my opinions and feelings toward Kpop, but also of how Kpop has shaped my world. From heart touching songs, angelic voices, and phenomenal performances to heart breaking deaths, disappointing scandals, and embarrassing behaviors from artists and fans alike, I’ve experienced an emotional roller-coaster ride that I will be forever thankful for and from which I have learned so much. Kpop has not only brought me an unfathomable amount of joy, but also has tested my resolve as a fan and presented life lessons that I cannot nor will not soon forget.
The Test of Faith.
My first real Kpop scandal I faced as a newly inducted member of the Kpop life hit me where I lived (so to speak), as it involved the person that to this day is still my ultimate bias. In 2002, Brian Joo came under fire for a statement he made on the radio show 1010 Club, where he responded to a question posed by Hyun Jin-Young about the Yangju Highway Incident involving the deaths of two Korean teenage girls who were struck by a military vehicle on Highway 56. During a time of growing anti-American sentiments, his statement, made in non-fluent Korean, was misinterpreted, and he was vilified in the Korean Media. He quickly clarified his position on the situation and has sincerely apologized for his misspoken words, on and off camera. Still, even to this day, the scandal has left a minor stigma on the artist and his career with those who still remember and harbor some resentment against his words.
When I reflect on this scandal I, unlike many fans who would have taken the artist side in all things, truly acknowledge that his statement (as it was translated) did exude the feeling of anti-Korean, pro-American sentiment. So, I could honestly understand why the Korean public was in such an uproar. Even I, a completely biased fan, became extremely concerned by his statement and I worried (for a short time) if that was truly how he meant it. However, his apology clarified his original statement, and for me his true feelings on the matter were explained properly. My faith in Brian and all that I knew of him was being tested. Could I, as a fan, understand that he had made a mistake, or could I not? Could I ever forgive him?
Having faith in someone who will most likely never know your name may sound foolish to some, but as Kpop fans we all keep that faith as a way to support those artists we hold so dear. In the end, I could not dismiss his heartfelt apology nor his earnest remorse for his mistake and I held onto the belief that he had truly repented of his misdeed. We all make mistakes, and when we do, we must learn from them to grow as a person or, as in the case of Brian, as an artist as well.
With my forgiveness given, I realized that this incident presented the very first (of many) lessons I would learn on my journey through this Kpop life. What we say and what we mean are sometimes quite different. So, we must be careful in all that we say and all that we do. Hold on to the belief that with our sincere effort we can relay our actions as honorably as possible, and always have faith in those that you care for by bringing understanding, patience, and forgiveness to every situation.
The Test of Loyalty.
In the middle of 2003, rumors abounded about a new five-man group that would be debuting soon under SM Entertainment. Fans were in a frenzy as the first images of the group began to surface. In late December of that year, the group that literally changed the face of Kpop, debuted to ecstatic crowd during a BoA and Brittany Spears showcase and performed their debut single Hug. DBSK‘s entrance into the Kpop world, while demure by today’s standards, became a moment in time firmly fixed in the mind of this veteran fan.
In 2009 a scandal erupted when members Kim Jaejoong, Kim Junsu, and Park Yoochun–under the guise of mistreatment, non-payment, overly lengthy contract terms, and the lack of artistic freedom–filed a lawsuit to break their contract with SM Entertainment. The news of the lawsuit sent shockwaves through the Kpop fan community. Their fans’ loyalty was being tested. It became tested even further when Jaejoong, Junsu, and Yoochun chose to come back to the music industry as the trio JYJ. Fans found themselves torn between JYJ and the remaining members of DBSK, Shim Changmin and Jung Yunho.
With the fans divided, who should they support? The duo? The trio? All five? This division in the fanbase caused so much turmoil between individual fans that anyone who followed the whole situation truly felt like crying. Before the split, their die-hard and ever-loyal fans were the most impressively-close fan groups I had ever witnessed in my Kpop life. After the split, my heart broke to now see a once loving and ever-faithful fan family at each other throats. Clear divisions between fans of the duo and the trio were constantly battling each other, with the supporters of all five members (known as OT5‘s) doing all that they could to play the peacekeepers.
It clearly wasn’t about the music anymore and centered more around being loyal to one group or the other. Having a favorite member of DBSK made this situation extremely difficult for me personally. I felt very torn trying to make a choice between the two while trying to understand who was to blame for the whole situation. Ultimately, I placed the blame on the entertainment company instead. After all, at the heart of this great division was the lawsuit and how JYJ was being unfairly treated by SM. Through it all, I chose the life of an OT5. I could not turn my back on one side or the other for something as trivial (in my mind) as a contract dispute, simply because for me Kpop is about the music first.
In late 2012, when it was announced that the lawsuits had been dropped and that JYJ would now be completely free to do as they saw fit, fans sighed a reluctant sigh of relief with the hope that the worst part of this whole situation was finally behind them. Sentiment within the fan family instantly improved, and the brother-against-brother mentality that blatantly overtook the fan base began to slowly dissolve.
This situation reaffirmed a valuable life lesson from my childhood; Loyalty lies in the heart, be forever faithful to that which you love. No matter the divisions within the fan family, each fan kept this belief in their hearts and continued to support their affiliations through it all. Putting all the fan wars aside, the fans proved their loyalty through and through, and made me realize that holding onto the loyalty you feel for the ones you love is the greatest gift you can give.
The Test of Truth.
When you poll any Kpop fan in the world and ask them do they know who Big Bang is, you will almost-always get a resounding yes. Big Bang has become one of the hugest groups to come out of Korea since the first vibrations of the Hallyu Wave began to spread across the world. From their formation in 2006 to the present day, the group has swept charts, sold out huge venues worldwide, pulled down multimillion dollar contracts, and has single-handedly (by some accounts) solidified YG Entertainment‘s superiority in the industry. Their music and fashion styles, paired with their impressive vocals and stunning good looks, has placed Big Bang on the pedestal of the Kpop elite.
They say that when you reach the top the only direction you can go is down, and in the case of Big Bang sometimes it’s a slip rather than a fall. In May of 2011, the Kpop world was hit with a horrifying scandal when it was reported that member Kang Daesung was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of a motorcyclist. Reporting news agencies gave sporadic reports on the situation, with little to no facts to go on, leaving the fans of the artist shocked, terrified, and in disbelief.
With the lack of evidence to clarify the situation, fans went off the deep end. Many fans instantly condemned Daesung with outrageous slurs and accusations, while others stood firm in their belief and support of the artist. Those who stood beside the artist waited impatiently for clarification on the whole situation. The search for the truth became priority one for every fan of Big Bang and Daesung.
When all the details of the incident finally came to light and the truth was revealed, we found out that Daesung wasn’t emphatically responsible for the death of the motorcyclist. While fans were relieved that he was cleared of all charges, fans concerns then quickly turned to the mental and emotional stability of the artist himself. When he announced that he would be taking time off to reflect and recenter himself, the fans feared that this would be the end of Big Bang. We found ourselves truly frightened for the very first time.
I found myself, being a fan of Big Bang since their debut, on the concerned and supportive side of the whole situation. However, I could not deny my insatiable need to know the truth. My concern for Daesung and the future of Big Bang compelled me to find out all that I could about what really happened that night. Reading through hundreds of reports, in multiple languages, from credible and non-credible sources alike, I found myself trying to piece the situation together as best as I could–just like every other fan out there.
Why? Why was the search for truth so important to us? One of the reasons fans enjoy Kpop so much is because we feel a close connection to the artists with every glimpse we get of their personality or of their life. Along with the music, its that “perceived” close connection that makes fans so passionate about this genre. This passion then turned into a burning curiosity, that none of us could ignore, and prompted us to seek out the truth with such unrelenting conviction.
The saying, “The search for truth is an arduous journey, but when its fulfilled, it sets you free,” has never been more personified in my Kpop life than during the reports of Daesung’s accident. We, as fans, suffered the agony of the unknown and subsequently felt the joy of relief when the situation finally came to a close. The relief we felt as fans, although muted by the then uneasy future of Big Bang, taught us that while the truth is sometimes painful it must always be sought after, reminded us that falsehoods and deception not only hurt ourselves but everyone around us, and (on a personal level) reminded me of the greatest life lesson ever taught to me by my late grandmother: “Speak the truth in all things and be better for it.”
The Test of Patience.
Each Kpop fan has their own personal hopes for their favorite artists and the genre we love so much. While fans’ wishes, hopes, and dreams for Kpop are as various as the fans themselves, there is one resounding dream that they all truly share: Making Kpop a global household name. You may ask yourself, why are fans so dedicated to this dream? While the answers are never simple, you could say that it’s centered around not only selflessness but selfishness as well. After all, what fan hasn’t ever wished that their favorite artists would perform in their home country or make appearances on their local TV stations? What fan out there doesn’t want to be able to hear their favorite artists’ songs being played on their cities’ radio stations?
When the global phenomenon of PSY (Park Jae-sang) and his mega-hit Gangnam Style appeared on the Kpop scene in July of 2012, no one in the Kpop world could have ever imagined that it would receive such an unprecedented response from the global community. Considered to be one of the most entertaining, yet often times quite controversial performers in Korea, PSY has garnered the love of fans throughout his country for over a decade. Still, although he had amassed a large community of fans in Korea, PSY’s presence hadn’t been truly felt within the international mainstream Kpop scene, despite the fact that he had been making music since the early 2000′s.
So, for most Kpop fans, it was startling that this relatively obscure artist seemed to come out of left field to become the hottest Hallyu star of 2012. In six months following the release of Gangnam Style, PSY has been honored with praises from actors and artists like Tom Cruise and Katy Perry, has received acknowledgements from various organizations such as the United Nations–which dubbed the artist an “International Sensation.” PSY has received invitations to perform at events like the American Music Awards, with veteran rapper MC Hammer. He has even performed for President Obama. The global phenomenon of the song itself, paired with virility of the highly entertaining and addictive music video, quickly affixed the eyes of the world onto PSY and subsequently brought the genre of Kpop to the attention of the mainstream music scene.
Never before had we Kpop fans seen such a small ripple of the Hallyu Wave turn into a tsunami that would quickly consume the global community. PSY’s and Gangnam Style’s seemingly near-instant success was met by Kpop fans with a myriad of emotions varying from joy and excitement to apprehension and disappointment. Fans were ecstatic that their non-fan-friends were all of a sudden asking about PSY, but were disappointed to find that many of these new fans thought that the style of the song and video were “par-for-the-course” when it came to Kpop as a whole. In layman’s terms, many new listeners believed that all Kpop was like Gangnam Style and that all Kpop music videos were just as silly. This misunderstanding between non-fans and fans became a source of inner conflict for Kpop fans, because they felt disappointed that the genre was being so generalized–and so quickly.
While I am one of the many fans that dreamed of a day where I could turn on the radio in my car and hear artists like Super Junior, SHINee, and Big Bang singing their hearts out for everyone to hear, I honestly was part of the apprehensive fan mentality. While very proud of PSY for his amazing and surprising accomplishment, I worried that the instant success of Gangnam Style would end up being a detriment to the Hallyu Wave. Why?
After the music video’s YouTube views surpassed Justin Beiber‘s Baby, I was questioned by several of my non-fan-friends about the song and Kpop. While I took this as an opportunity to educate my friends about a genre of music that I’ve adored for so long, I immediately was faced with three very different reactions: generalization, indifference, and contempt.
While my experiences with the Gangnam Style phenomenon are uniquely my own, I found that many Kpop fans from around the world were experiencing the same reactions. Non-fans that had experienced Kpop for the very first time, because of Gangnam Style, were making judgements and assumptions about the music based solely on the song itself and were dismissing the entire genre simply because they felt that it wasn’t a respectable form of music.
These reactions, while not unexpected, did affect my perception on the current future of Kpop. I had hoped, along with all the other fans, that one day a song would come along that would turn the world’s attention towards the genre, and as the Gangnam Style phenomenon continued to build momentum, I thought that this was the beginning of a new era. Although it was quite an idealistic notion, the potential for the global mainstreaming of Kpop was (and is) still there.
The old saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” has never before been more real to me than when I think about Kpop and its potential. That longing feeling that every Kpop fan shares, while sometimes difficult to bear, has taught us that we shouldn’t rush headlong into the global mainstream market, but instead should continue to take baby steps to solidify the validity of our beloved genre. We must continue to be patient, understanding, and dedicated–because we will get there one day. As we continue to have patience in the present, our future looks even brighter.
The Test of Hope.
What are your hopes when it comes to Kpop? The global mainstreaming of the genre? Meeting your favorite artist in person? Seeing a Kpop concert? Traveling to Korea? We all have little hopes like these, but if you’re like me, you may also harbor a very important one: the reunification and comeback of SS501.
After their contract ended with DSP Entertainment in 2010, members of SS501 went their separate ways and signed with different labels. When details of the so-called split hit the Internet, fans were frantic. Could this be the end of SS501? Are they falling under the five-year curse? After the split, leader Kim Hyun Joong made an official statement that basically said that SS501 would never really split up. The members were just going to pursue their own individual activities. He guaranteed that SS501 would reunite someday and would continue to release its music. This small sliver of hope is something that SS501 fans still hold onto fervently even now.
SS501 solidified their place as my ultimate group bias many years ago and, to this day, no group has ever been able to replace them. Before SS501 debuted in 2005, I was on a Korean Indie group kick and had turned my focus away from mainstream Kpop, so-to-speak. I got the news that a new five-man group would be debuting under DSP Entertainment when a close friend from Japan sent me a few of the latest promotional shots of the group’s members. As I nonchalantly glanced through the six photos, I suddenly stopped when it came to one of the individual member shots. It wasn’t the subject’s stunning good looks or bright smile that caught my attention, it was his eyes.
They didn’t sparkle. They didn’t shine. They looked lost and sad. It was strange that a photo would look that way, isn’t it? It’s especially when you are talking about a group’s promotional shots that are supposed to grab the Kpop world’s attention. Perhaps it was just my imagination, or how I perceived the feel of the shot, but it struck a chord in me to the point that I followed SS501 activities from then on.
Looking back on how I found the group and how I felt about them before I ever once heard them sing, I tried to understand why I was so fascinated by them. Still to this day, I can’t really put my finger on the exact reason why this group spoke to me initially. When they finally debuted, in June of 2005, their first track, Warning, shattered my ideas of their vocal abilities and music style, and consequently, blew me away. After that, I found myself literally loving every song they released–which is rare since I’m normally overly-critical when it comes to music styles, lyrics, and arrangements. Perhaps it was their vocals that really spoke to me, or perhaps it all boils down to that one photo. I may never really know.
Since the split, members Heo Young Saeng, Kim Hyung Joon, Kim Hyun Joong, Kim Kyu Jong, and Park Jung Min, have continued to produce music as solo artists, and up until the middle of last year, fans were still adamantly looking forward to the promised comeback. Then, in July 2012, it was announced that member Kim Kyu Jong would begin his military service. This surprised the fans simply because, up until the announcement, it was common knowledge that he had been exempt from service because of a medical condition. The corresponding policy that exempted him from service had been revamped, and his exemption had been lifted. The whole situation felt like a train derailment to all of the group’s fans. Their hopes were quickly dashed with this one event, and the reunification of SS501 looked even more unlikely.
However, even through everything the fans have endured since the split in 2010, leader Kim Hyun Joong has still been quite adamant that there will be a reunification and a comeback of SS501. Even though the comeback will have to be delayed for two years due to Kyu Jong’s enlistment, the possibility of a comeback is still obtainable.
The plight of SS501 reminds fans that there are no true ‘definites’ in this world. Where there is a will, there is a way. Hope is as precious as it is fragile, and still we cling to it with all our might. While our hope of SS501′s reunification maybe hindered by the realities of this world, having hope brings us almost the same amount of joy as the actual fulfillment of it. This life lesson is the most loved lesson I’ve learned during my Kpop life. We hang our many hopes on our beloved artist and genre and make the choice to do all that we can to see them realized.
Admittedly, Kpop has put me through many tests as a fan and has also taught me so much more than the life lessons mentioned within this editorial. However, it’s the fans of the genre that have taught me infinitely more. While I spent the majority of my beginning of this Kpop life feeling like I was the only Kpop fan in my area, I soon realized how extremely popular the genre is all across the world, and I begin to find new friends through Kpop. Getting involved in fan groups and fan clubs gave me an opportunity to find like-minded individuals and to learn more about not only my favorite artists but more about the fans themselves. Subsequently, the ability to find other Kpop fans from around the world has also been a great blessing to me. In my search for other Kpop fans, I have not only found some of the closest friends I will ever know, but I also have been able to meet and work with some amazing artists through the job I ultimately found because of them.
2013 marks my thirteenth anniversary as a Kpop fan. To me that signifies so much more than just my being a fan. I could never repay the universe for the joy Kpop has given me, nor can I ever fully express my gratitude to those fans and artists that have touched my life in so many special ways. This journey began with one song, one voice, and I will forever hold in my heart a debt of gratitude to Brian Joo and Grandma Kim for putting me on the path of my Kpop life.
I hope that through this editorial you will each look back on your Kpop life and decipher your own individual life lessons you have picked up along the way, and that by doing so you begin to understand that it really isn’t always about the music. Now that you’re thinking about it, what lessons have you learned during your Kpop life? Tell us about them!
[Main Photo collage created by Author]
When we talk about the Hallyu Wave, our immediate thoughts jump to the spread of K-pop worldwide. However, while popular Korean music is making strides in global awareness with mega-hits like Fantastic Baby by Big Bang and sensational magnetism of Gangnam Style by PSY, the Korean drama and worldwide fascination over it has become a cornerstone of the Hallyu movement.
K-dramas run the gamut of every possible scenario, from amnesia and assassination to love triangles and time travel and everything in between. As the K-drama industry has grown in creativity and suspense over the years, so has the world’s addiction to it. Every year, dramas produced in Korea get more dramatic, complicated, heartwarming, heart-wrenching – and more popular.
Cinematography and sound techniques have taken a step up in recent years and continue to bring an element to Korean dramas that seems more on par with major motion pictures. With filming locations that span all over Korea, including destinations like Jeju Island and Bongeunsa Temple, the Korean drama has not only brought to the worldwide stage the wonders of Korea and Korean culture, but has also increased tourism to the country by an estimated 3.8% – 4.2% in just the last year, according to the Korean Tourism Organization. With ever-growing interest in the Hallyu wave and the spread of K-pop and K-dramas, it’s safe to say that Korea has become a beacon of interest around the world and within the global entertainment market.
Just like ice cream stores that boast that they have every flavor under the sun, Korean dramas do as well. Dramas, just like K-pop, have a little something for everyone. Some K-drama fans prefer fantasy-based dramas like this year’s big hit, Faith, which starred the highly talented and sought-after actors Lee Min Ho and Kim Hee Sun, while others prefer romantic comedies like A Gentleman’s Dignity starring veteran actors Jang Dong Gun and Kim Han Eul. No matter what your favorite flavor, this year’s drama releases definitely had you covered. While trying to narrow down the best of the best K-dramas of 2012 is quite a daunting task, we’ve selected our top 10 dramas of the year (in no particular order.)
K-dramas and K-pop often go hand in hand, as is the case with our first three ”Best of the Best” dramas of the year. First up is Rooftop Prince, which became an international sensation overnight before even the first day of filming simply because of the cast. Boasting one of the biggest K-pop fandoms in the world, former TVXQ member and current JYJ member Park Yoochun stars in this time-shift romantic comedy/mystery alongside actress Han Ji Min as Park Ha.
In the drama, Crown Prince Yi Gak (Park Yoochun) finds himself transported from the Joseon Dynasty to the present day after the mysterious death of his young wife. Accompanied by his three retainers – scholar Song Man-bo (Lee Min-ho), personal bodyguard U Yong-sool (Jung Suk-won), and palace eunuch Do Chi-san (Choi Woo-shik), Yi meets Park Ha (Han Ji Min), a strong self-determined reincarnation of the prince’s sister-in-law and owner of the rooftop apartment. With an overwhelming sense of compassion, Park Ha decides to help the weary time travelers adjust to their new surroundings and gives them a safe place to stay. Through a miraculous twist of fate, the Crown Prince comes across the reincarnation of his dead wife Se Na (Jung Yoo Mi), and decides to try to solve the mystery of his wife’s death in the present day while also trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his own reincarnated self: namely, Yong Tae Yong, the heir to a multimillion-dollar company.
Rooftop Prince blends mystery, fantasy, crime solving, revenge, and complicated love stories with a seamless flow that leaves fans begging for more. The mystery of the queen’s death in the past and the disappearance of Tae-Yong in the present are at the heart of this time travel drama. This part of the plot pulls the viewer in as the story begins to unfold from both sides of each mystery, and as a viewer, you find yourself playing detective in your own right. Mysteries are always a fun addition to any drama and Rooftop Prince hits it out of the park. Even though you already know what happened to Tae-Yong, thanks to a scene at the beginning of the drama, when it comes to the mystery of the queen’s death, you are left in the dark until the very end. And may I say, what an ending!
With comedy that runs from utter silliness to situational, obvious to subjective, and reoccurring themes to great one-liners, Rooftop Prince repeatedly leaves the viewer in stitches. Many of this dramas iconic scenes are centered around the comedic aspects of the story. From the beginning when our time travelers first arrive in the present day, they have to adjust to the oddities of their new surroundings, deal with social and language differences, and learn a new way of thinking and even dressing. Like the proverbial fish out of water, our four heroes experience situations that delivers comedy as well as poignancy. The elevator scene has become an iconic scene from Rooftop Prince, and as any fan of the drama will tell you, it’s absolutely hilarious.
The onscreen chemistry between Park Yoochun and Han Ji Min is palpable, causing the viewer to be drawn into their love story and making one want to scream ”Just tell her you love her already!” and ”Please let this drama have a happy ending!” Park Yoochun has been quite active in acting in the last year or so, and every time he picks up a new drama we get to delve further into his acting abilities and potential. As a fan of his music, I cannot say I didn’t go into this drama unbiased; but as I took a step back and analyzed this drama as a K-drama watcher and not as a K-pop fan, I found that I was seriously impressed with how well Yoochun’s acting has improved in the short amount of time from his last drama. Han Ji-Min gives an excellent performance as Park Ha and brings to the screen her great emotional acting alongside great comedic timing.
The underdog smash hit of 2012 definitely belongs to tVN’s flashback-centered drama Answer Me 1997 (Reply 1997). Set in the present day, the drama tells the story of Yoon Yoon-je (played by solo vocalist Seo In Guk), Sung Shi-won (Jung Eun-ji), and four of their friends from Pusan who reunite in 2012 and reminisce over their times as high school students.
Flashing back to the 90′s, the era when artists like H.O.T and Sechs Kies were the kings of the K-pop movement, the drama examines the extreme nature of the emerging fan mentality of first generation K-pop fans while telling a great story about how the six friends have changed and evolved since their high school years. Yoon-je and Shi-won have been close since early childhood. Always together, always having each others back, they each consider one another as their true siblings.
As they begin to grow and mature into their teenage years, Yoon-je realizes that Shi-won has now become his first love, and even though she doesn’t feel the same, Yoon-je pursues her. After a disagreement and misunderstanding between the two, they go their separate ways and reunite years later. More mature yet still harboring his latent love for Shi-won, Yoon-je starts trying to just ignore her, but as time passes he can’t help but be drawn back to her.
Answer Me 1997 is a veteran K-pop fan’s dream. Incorporating true-to-the-period set designs and props, paired with a phenomenal soundtrack, this drama brings back the memories of K-pop in its infancy, and makes the viewer remember and miss those times with a renewed passion that is rarely seen this day and age. Touching base on the idealism and raging passions of K-pop fans from that era, the drama brings to the screen an accurate depiction of the fiercely loyal fans of H.O.T and Sechs Kies and all the rivalries and fan wars that constantly occurred between even the best of friends.
The fact that Answer Me 1997 has flashback motif is definitely a huge draw. The flashbacks show how each character grows and matures in the realms of careers, personal relationships, and love. While ever hinting that the main leads Yoonje and Siwon will eventually end up together, the writers keep you guessing until the very end. This type of suspense-building writing is one of the cornerstones of Korean dramas and Answer Me 1997 wins, hands down, as the best drama of the year to make the viewer go “OMG are they going to end up together?”
The drama also touches base on a secondary, over-the-edge bromance relationship between Yoon-je and his best friend Kang Joon-hee (played by INFINITE‘s Hoya), where Joon-hee has fallen in love with his best friend and must deal with the implications of his feeling and the ultimate choice of letting him go. The dramas secondary character arcs are quite complex and leave the viewer, at times, more interested in their progression than the main characters’.
The second of this year’s time travel based dramas, Time Slip Dr. Jin quickly became a worldwide fan favorite and one of hellokpop’s most beloved dramas of the year. Unlike Rooftop Prince where the main character was transported to present day, Dr. Jin tells the story of neurosurgeon Jin Hyuk (played by actor Song Seung Hun), who, after removing a strange fetus-like tumor from the brain of an unknown man, falls off a rooftop and is transported 150 years into the past. Waking up to find himself in the Joseon Dynasty, lost and alone in the woods, Dr. Jin must find a way to get back to his time.
Through his relationships with Young-rae (played by Park Min Young) and Lee Han-eung (played by Lee Beom Su), Dr. Jin is quickly drug into the messy world of Joseon politics and finds him self in many sticky situations that put his life in danger. As Dr. Jin and Young-rae’s feelings for one another begin to blossom, they find themselves having to deal with Young-rae’s own personal destiny, namely military officer Kim Kyung-tak (played by JYJ‘s Kim Jaejoong), who is Young-rae’s betrothed and illegitimate son of Minister Kim (Kim Eung-soo), the drama’s villain.
Trying to adjust to an era where medical practices were rudimentary and sometimes barbaric, Dr. Jin tries to fit in as best he can and begins treating the medical needs of the poor people of Joseon with the help of Young-Rae. In a time where medical procedures and instrumentation are in their infancy, he is forced to develop tools and medicines that haven’t come to existence yet to treat his new patients, and slowly begins to realize that his actions in the realms of medicine and politics are gravely affecting history.
Time Slip Dr. Jin’s intricate storyline, paired with its phenomenal costume designs and breathtaking cinematography, make it not only one of the greatest stories of the year but one of the most beautifully shot dramas as well. For fans that love Joseon era clothing and sets, Dr. Jin is definitely a great drama to watch.
All the actors give a fantastic performance and exude the very essence of each character’s complex personalities and story arcs. Song Seung Hun brings a heroic and admirable context to the character of Dr. Jin, accurately portraying not only the characters internal struggle between right and wrong but also showing the desperation in his desire to return back to his time. Park Min Young as Young-rae was probably the best decision that the casting director ever made. Her demure and innocent looks paired with her impressive acting skills make the viewer fall in love with her from the very beginning. You become interested in Young-rae’s interactions with her fellow characters more often than with any other character. My favorite character from Time Slip Dr. Jin has to be Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom Soo), a distant member of the royal family and social outcast. His character not only is Dr. Jin’s partner in crime but brings a comedic aspect to this drama that is quite refreshing. Lee Beom Soo does an excellent job in this roll and through his performance as Ha-Weung, he has gained our attention as an actor to look out for in the future.
We have to admit that Kim Jaejoong looks absolutely spectacular in this drama and delivers a performance to make any Cassiopeian proud. His character, Kyung-tak the son of a corrupt politician, has been madly in love with Young-rae for a very long time, and when he is granted permission to marry her, he goes out of his way to make her happy. When Dr. Jin enters her life, her feelings of duty – the betrothal to Kyung-tak – becomes a hindrance to her growing feelings of love for Dr. Jin and her new purpose in life: to become not merely a wife but a great doctor. Kyung-tak picks up on her feelings, feels threatened by the doctor, and becomes more adamant to keep Young-rae all to himself. Kim Jaejoong gives a depth to the Kyung-tak character that surprised us. With his limited acting history, it was rumored that his placement in the role was simply to draw in the K-pop fan crowd – with or without any real acting talent. However, those rumors were quickly destroyed after the drama began airing. We were pleasantly surprised by not only his onscreen presence but his acting ability as well.
With sweeping camera shots of the surrounding landscapes and overhead shots of the village and palace, the drama takes the grand visual aspect that is synonymous with historically based dramas and kicks it up a notch. The beauty of this drama is quite reminiscent of other great historical dramas like Warrior Baek Dong Soo but brings an element to the screen that is not only breathtaking and spectacular but also symbolic and poignant as well. Nowhere in this drama does the cinematography fall under the category of filler material.
Did you watch these dramas? What did you think about their stories? Did your favorite drama make our top ten list? Stay tuned to hellokpop for our next installment of Korean Dramas: 2012 Best of the Best Part 2, coming soon.
Collages created by author.
When ‘Song Ji Hyo’ is mentioned, the first thought that comes to mind is the smart ‘ace’ who is ironically slow at times on the variety program in SBS’ ‘Good Sunday’ corner, ‘Running Man’. Hailed as the national variety programme, it is indeed difficult living up to ‘Running Man’s’ reputation. Before this variety show gained popularity, Song Ji Hyo was one of the many female actresses who struggled with having to secure the role of the lead protagonist in both dramas and movies.
Song Ji Hyo’s acting portfolio has grown since her debut days and currently covers a wide spectrum. It has been a full ten years since she made her debut as a rookie actress in ‘Wishing Stairs’ in 2003, and she has since been casted in a string of historical dramas, beginning with ‘Goong’, ‘Gye Baek’, ‘Jumong’ and the historical movie ‘Frozen Flower’. Moving on to modern movies and dramas – ‘Sex is Zero 2’, ‘Crime Squad’ and ‘My Love for You’- Song Ji Hyo expanded her acting range with these various works. With her new movie ‘Jackal is Coming’(directed by Bae Hyeong Jun and produced by Nomad Film), much is to be expected, as the incompetent killer Bong Min Jung carries a mere 2% likeness to her image as seen on ‘Running Man’.
“An actress with a wide spectrum of roles? (clears her throat) I am flustered when I receive praise, haha. Actually I have heard many comments about me not being suitable to be casted in historical dramas. When I was inserted into the cast of ‘Jumong’, there was very severe opposition to that decision. But I did not want to disappoint the director who stood by me and worked even harder, ultimately obtaining good results. After filming ‘Frozen Flower’ and ‘Gye Baek’, I received praise as ‘the most suitable female actress for historical dramas’. The generous comments are the motivation to showing an appearance worthy of that, and I have been worrying about [whether or not I am doing so].”
Song Ji Hyo has thrown off the heavy and cumbersome clothes in ‘Gye Baek’ and embraces a role that is easier to play, but which is still physically demanding in ‘Jackal is coming’. From scaling walls to doing stunts with wires involved, Song Ji Hyo does most of the dangerous scenes herself without the help of a double even though the stunts carry with high risks of injury.
“ ‘Gye Baek’ was a very long historical drama, and as a queen, I had to act the part of a silent and deep character. Hence, I wanted to star in a bright and dynamic movie for the next project. In ‘Jackal is Coming’, the character Bong Min Jung is very bright, and this poses a huge challenge to me.”
In this movie, Song Ji Hyo is a hired killer who has to keep up with the target, an idol member played by Kim Jae Joong. As the female protagonist starring opposite Kim Jae Joong, the fact that she can act alongside label mate Kim Jae Joong has prompted the jealously of numerous female fans. When asked how she felt about the enviousness expressed by others, Song Ji Hyo flashes her characteristic easy-going smile and returns the question with “Aren’t I also human?”
“I treat Kim Jae Joong, Park Yoochun and Kim Junsu as first and foremost my dongsaengs, then as top idol stars. People who ask me “how I feel acting together (with him)?” cannot understand [how I can be casual about it]. Therefore, when I went to formal meetings, I was really surprised. There were comments about how I could not even hold a candle to other celebrities, sasaeng fans followed me around, and it was to the extent that I felt awkward at times while looking at my dongsaengs”.
‘Jackal is Coming’ was released in South Korea on the 15th of November, and Song Ji Hyo will be appearing next year after making preparations to meet with the audience in her next show ‘New World‘. With a storyline revolving around a huge criminal organization, the character played is a clear departure from her usual onscreen image, depicting a complete and perfect transformation with which Song Ji Hyo can affirmably say she has widened her scope of roles.
“When I get the feeling that I have surpassed and broken down my own limitations, the sense of satisfaction is great. Therefore, I want to challenge more and more genres. There is a completely different feel when one steps into a ‘new world’ that is different from the present. Instead of creating a steady image, I have dreams of becoming a Song Ji Hyo who is known for having the ability to act in a variety of roles”.
From the girly Song Ji Hyo of the ‘Goong’ days to a tough and intelligent Song Ji Hyo on ‘Running Man’, this actress has already numerous successes under her belt, and will continue to shine brightly with this ability to adapt to change. Fans of these six countries would be delighted to know that their distributors have already signed for the rights for the movie even before it opened in South Korea – Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei! You would be pleased to know that ‘Jackal is Coming’ to you, to your local theatres! What are you waiting for? It’s time to meet Song Ji Hyo and Kim Jae Joong in their latest comedic hit film.
Source (Pictures): Song Ji Hyo’s Facebook