Sunday, April 21, 2019

Breaking down two "Boy With Luv" performances: SNL vs M Coundown. America vs Korea.

Anyone who has followed me over from LiveJournal may remember how I used to do big photo-spam posts of J-pop television music performances. I’ve long been fascinated by how performances of the same song, the same choreography, the same background recording (and sometimes the same pre-recorded vocals) can still contain a lot of variation depending on things like the presence (or lack) of a live audience, the type of stage, the type of set, the way the camera moves, how the performance is edited...

The contrast has never been quite so stark as the difference between BTS’s first television performance of “Boy With Luv” on the American show Saturday Night Live (SNL) and their first Korean television performance on M Countdown. After watching the SNL clip I wasn’t even sure I liked the song; after watching the Korean performance, I saved the video to my YouTube app and watched it about 10 billion more times.

The song is the same.

The guys are the same.

The choreography is the same.

The difference is that what SNL captured on film was not an idol group. Hell, they didn’t even aim for “boy band”. SNL filmed a group of singing and guys dancing on a soundstage. (And they filmed it poorly.)

SNL has a reputation--a well earned reputation--for making their musical artists look and sound like shit. And by that standard, BTS came across just fine. At least there wasn’t an Ashley Simpson moment where the backing track glitched and the guys had to do an awkward dance to cover it up.

But watching the two performances back to back, it’s clear that American television still has no idea how to capture idol magic on camera. American audiences still have no understanding of the pieces that make up these performances nor appreciation for the details and stagecraft behind them. Reading the responses to the SNL performance, I was reminded (yet again) of when I went to see BIGBANG in Newark in 2015. To quote myself from 2015:

The review at Jezebel really hammered home how differently people can view the same show. Where the Jezebel review saw an extravaganza of confetti and background dancers, I saw a subdued stage with only a handful of confetti cannon blasts and a minimum of required background dancers. It all depends on where you're coming from. When your baseline for pop act are the slackers of One Direction--who don't even dance--then twelve dancers seems like a lot. When your baseline is a Johnny's & Associates concert featuring sixty-plus backing dancers, many of whom have fans of their own, then twelve feels like the absolute minimum for a decent concert. When you've seen concerts that feature hundreds of multicolored balloons released into the air, water features, harness work, multiple moving stages, random sword fighting, skits involving cross-dressing and robots, and a record-breaking number of backflips in a row, then a couple of confetti cannons and some pyrotechnics feel subdued, rather than cra-zy pop stuff.

So let’s get into this a little bit.

To start, on SNL, BTS’s dark suits faded almost completely into the background thanks to the combination of murky stage lighting and the bland SNL stage set. Whether this was the costume staff not realizing the limitations of SNL or the production staff not realizing how bland it would all look, I can’t say. The result is the same. You can barely make out their movements.

On M Countdown, BTS performs in light, springy Easter basket shades of pink, white, and powder blue, that not only fit the mood of the song but pop against the dark stage set.

On SNL, the audience cheers fade as the intro plays and we see BTS’s backs as they make a few shoulder movements and small backwards steps.

On M Countdown, it’s immediately clear that this empty space is meant to be filled by the fan chants. We hear them loud and clear as the intro plays: KIM NAMJOON, KIM SEOKJIN, MIN YOONGI, JUNG HOSEOK…

(Paused where the “Jung Hoseok” of the fanchant would be on SNL.)

(Paused at the “Jung Hoseok” of the fanchant on M Countdown.)

The SNL camera work is poor; they don’t have the skill it takes to follow the intricate way idol group choreography will highlight different members. Here you can see how SNL and M Countdown both film Jin’s solo line that gets chanted along with the audience: YOUR 1 YOUR 2

(Paused at YOUR 1 YOUR 2; you can see the camera has already focused on Jungkook in the center of the stage in preparation for the prechorus, essentially ignoring this beat of the song.)

(Paused at YOUR 1 YOUR 2; you can see Jin--at the far right “point” of the formation--clearly leading the audience in the fan chant. It’s a beat that every other Korean performance will hit, giving Jin a close-up as we hear the audience chant.)

The chorus demonstrates again both the empty space in the musical track meant to be taken up by the audience fanchants of “BTS BTS” and how the dark costumes against the dark background on SNL muffle the visual appeal of the choreography. All you see are the white shoes and pale hands and faces.

(Look how the white shoes draw the attention from anything else happening on the stage.)

(Here we see the clean lines of their legs kicking out in unison during the same point in the choreography.)

For an idol group, faces and expressions are an extremely important part of the performance. The SNL camera work does no close up shots to capture their individual charm. Take a look at how they handle the exact same place in the chorus where the choreography has BTS turn their heads from the side to the front as Jungkook makes a cute little hand gesture.

(The gesture is too small to register from this distance.)

(M Countdown pushes in on Jungkook for one of his award winning smiles, melting the heart of every single person watching.)

Every member is valuable in an idol group. The SNL production team doesn’t seem to understand who is singing. Look at how the two performances handle Taehyung’s solo line going into the second chorus.

(Here we see Taehyung pushed off of the screen during his solo line as the camera focuses on J-Hope and Jimin.)

(M Countdown at the exact same line of the song has a close-up shot of Taehyung singing.)

Right after RM’s rap comes the place where Jin, in a deliciously cheesy bit, flings a rose to the audience. It's the type of thing called an "event" and it makes the performance special.

(SNL continues to focus on RM’s rap.)

(M Countdown not only zooms in on Jin but immediately zooms out again so we can see the confetti that has started to gracefully fall from the ceiling. Turning the stage into a romantic wonderland.)

The end of a song like this is going to have two things: 1) a final “roll call” formation for the camera to drift along down the line so every member gets one last chance at what in Japanese they call アピールする or displaying their charisma; 2) an ending dance that boosts the energy one last time feeding off the crowd’s energy.

(A roll call formation devoid of the context just looks kind of odd.)

(Here we have the camera using the roll call for what it's intended. Spotlight on the members! Hi Hoseok! Hi Yoongi!)

The SNL performance ends with appreciative applause. And they deserved it. Despite what it may sound like, I’m not trashing BTS’s performance on SNL. The guys themselves did a great job of performing in a small, unfamiliar space, that is--again--notoriously awful to musicians. Not to mention dealing with camera crews and production staff who are unused to working with artists who do not speak fluent English and who may not have been able to tell the individual members apart.

The M Countdown performance ends with fanchants and raucous cheers as confetti drifts from the ceiling. It’s utterly beautiful. The first time I watched it, as soon as I hit the end of the video I hit replay. Then I hit it again.

What I’m trying to say here, if you want the TL;DR is that idol performance is special. Magical, even. But for that magic to happen, you need the cooperation and understanding of all the behind-the-scenes staff and the idol audience. Without the fanchants, without the imaginative costuming, the stagecraft, the camera work, the intimate understanding of the song construction by the program director, “Boy With Luv” is an empty vessel. Pleasant but unfulfilling.

And if America takes some pleasure from the empty vessel… I’m glad. Really. But I hope that those fans who have recently jumped on board the bandwagon will take the time to learn and appreciate how this stuff works. It’s a completely different way of looking at performance but I think it’s worth it. I’ll help you get started: KIM NAMJOON KIM SEOKJIN MIN YOONGI JUNG HOSEOK PARK JIMIN KIM TAEHYUNG JEON JUNGKOOK BTS!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 11

In this "bonus" between-seasons episode I talk about reading, writing, and ethically consuming Asian idol fan fiction!! A HUGE THANK YOU TO ALI FOR BEING MY VERY FIRST GUEST!!

I hope to host more of these types of conversations so please let me know if you enjoyed it and if there are any topics you are interested in hearing about!!

The songs played are:

1. "Save Me" by BTS

2. "Warrior's Descendant" by H.O.T.

3. "Bokura kotae ~Here we go~" by A.B.C-Z (Theme to Magical★Boy Cherry’s) and my review of Magical★Boy Cherry’s

4. "Crown" by TXT

5. "Begin" by Jungkook (Link is to the short film tied to the BTS "official" Most Beautiful Moment in Life fan fiction universe.)

6. "Trauma" by Seventeen (Hip Hop Team)

7. "Dear Woman" by SMAP

8. "Sea" by BTS (Hidden track on Love Yourself 承 HER)

And here is the wonderful Yoongi fancam for "Save Me":

The trailer for Arashi's own "fanfic" film, PIKANCHI:

And on a more serious note, here's an article on Korea's TAKE OFF THE CORSET movement and the story about the corrective rape of a lesbian woman.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 10

The songs played are:

1. "Kansha Kangeki Ame Arashi" by Arashi, performed on Music Station, February 1, 2019

2. "Hello Goodbye" by the Beatles

3. "Karei Naru Gyakushu" by SMAP

4. "Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana" by SMAP

5. "Lucky One" by EXO

6. "Autumn Leaves" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS)

7. "Fire" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS)

8. "Spring Day" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS)

9. "I Am You You Are Me" by Zico

10. "Billboard Music Awards (Skit)" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS)

11. "DNA" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS)

12. "Sea" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS)

13. "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Jungkook and Jin

14. "Born Singer" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS), performed live at Gocheok Sky Dome, Seoul, Korea, December 10, 2017

15. "Take the Dive" by Jonghyun

16. "UB" by Arashi

17. "Can't Get Enough" by V6

18. "Ask Yourself" by KAT-TUN

19. "Kaguya" by NEWS

20. "King of Otoko" by Kanjani8

21. "L.O.V.E." by Kis-My-Ft2

22. "Osaka Ai-Eye-Aye" by Johnny's West

23. "JOY Shitai Kimochi" by A.B.C-Z

24. "Sexy Zone" by Sexy Zone

25. "Candy" by Nakajima Kento (feat. Kawai Fumito), performed on Shounen Club

26. "Sakura Saku Color" by Sexy Zone

27. "Cinderella Girl" by King&Prince

28. "Zukkoke Otoko Michi" by Kanjani8

29. "Crystal Snow" by Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS)

30. "JSB Dream" by Sandaime J Soul Brothers

31. "Love Maji" by Sexy Zone

32. "Reboot" by DBSK

33. "Call Call Call" by Seventeen

34. "Electric Kiss" by EXO

35. "You & I" by SHINee

Here is the video to the EXO song I played. As you can see, although their sound got very poppy, their image really hadn't changed. "Lucky One" is as dark and creepy as anything they'd done before:

Here is Zico's unbelievably catchy 2016 hit, "I Am You You Are Me":

Jungkook and Charlie Puth performing live and why Charlie got canceled:

Here is an example of A.B.C-Z's Kawai Fumito getting Sexy Zone's Nakajima Kento to loosen up and enjoy himself:

If you'd like to help SixTones get up to 5 million views:

And Snow Man with a dance practice video of the type that K-Pop fans have been watching online for years now:

Finally, a live performance of "You & I" that will make all Shawals tear up just a little bit:

Friday, February 1, 2019

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 9

This week I look at the years 2013-2015 in Korean boy groups. It was a crazy time but featured some excellent music.

There will be one more episode in season one and then a hiatus while I write season two. I think I've learned a lot from compiling these episodes and really thank you to everybody who has stuck with me through the growing pains. ♥

The songs played are:

1. "Growl" by EXO, performed live on Inkigayo on August 13, 2013

2. "Eyes Nose Lips" by Taeyang

3. "Gangnam Style" by PSY

4. "Crooked" by G-Dragon

5. "Don't Don" by Super Junior

6. "Rising Sun" (Japanese version) by DBSK

7. "MAMA" by EXO-K

8. "You Don't Know You're Beautiful" by One Direction

9. "Best Song Ever" by One Direction

10. "阿么" by Chris Lee

11. "Can't Stop Feeling" by 2PM

12. "Just Stay" by 2AM

13. "You Wouldn't Answer My Calls" by 2AM

14. "Love U Hate U" by 2AM (feat. Bangtan Sonyeondan)

15. "No More Dream" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

16. "Warrior's Descendant" by H.O.T./"Warrior's Descendant" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

17. "Sai" by 8Eight (feat. PDogg and the Wonder Girls)/ "I'll Be Missing You" by Puff Daddy (feat. Faith Evans)

18. "G'd Up" by Tha Eastsidaz

19. "If I Ruled The World" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

20. "Call Me Baby" by EXO

21. "Regulate" by Warren G (feat. Nate Dogg)

22. "Blanket Kick" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

23. "Ace" by Taemin

24. "Intro: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

25. "I Need U" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

26. "Outro: Love Is Not Over" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

27. "Dope" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

28. "Run" by Bangtan Sonyeondan

29. "Bae Bae" by BIGBANG

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

G.C.F. 3J @2018 MMA Practice: The idol as modern day shaman

When BTS performed “Idol” at the Melon Music Awards (MMA) on December 1, 2018, they included a special intro. The dance line--Jimin, J-Hope, and Jungkook--each had a short folk dance-inspired solo. The juxtaposition of the shamanistic folk dances with BTS as contemporary Korean idols touches on a deeper understanding of what it can mean to be an idol. It’s something we see from Japanese idols like Takizawa Hideaki and his long running stageplay Takizawa Kabuki but I hadn’t yet really come across anything like it from Korea. The linking of the traditional art forms with the modern aesthetic, drawing parallels between the old folk culture and a new folk culture still being developed.

(A trailer for Takizawa Kabuki 2018 (滝沢歌舞伎))

The MMA performance was good--don’t get me wrong--but it wasn’t great. Not when your point of comparison is Takizawa Kabuki or, indeed, the women of the Takarazuka Theater Troupe who specialize in just this type of performance.

(Long trailer for the Moon Troupe’s Nobunaga, which I wrote about here.)

The stage lighting was distracting, a large screen projecting a swirling mass of colors behind the performance, as if the producer had been unsure of the dancers’ ability to hold the audience’s attention on their own. The drape of the Jungkook’s and J-Hope’s coats did not flow right, concealing rather than emphasizing their movements. To properly showcase a stage dance like this, the fabric needs to flare out, a swish of the arm or leg should move the fabric outwards, a real life echo of the movement. Jungkook and J-Hope’s coats bunched up and hid their figures.

I’m sure I would have forgotten all about this stage in the rush of end of the year performances if Jungkook hadn’t released another of his Golden Closet Films: “G.C.F. 3J@ MMA Practice.”

Set to the jangly beat of Alex Lustig’s Under Pressure, Jungkook shows us what the performances were supposed to look like, drawing more shamanistic energy from the movement of their bodies, filmed in black and white, dressed in simple rehearsal clothes, than the full performance overly busy stage set managed to do.

Just compare the way Jungkook captured J-Hope’s plain t-shirt flowing with his movements to how the costume coat bunched and concealed.

Jungkook gets it.

The film is short, just about a minute and a half, but it is powerful. The long sweep of Jimin’s arms as he wields the fan; J-Hope crouching, all coiled tension like a tiger ready to pounce; and Jungkook himself, face concealed beneath a hat, displaying the formidable power in his body as he leaps into the air, the fabric he’s holding flowing perfectly around him, highlighting the graceful movements of his arms.

They are not in costume. The music is far from traditional. And yet the magic is there. The idol as modern day shaman.

Jimin rehearsing the fan dance

My favorite sequence: Jungkook captured in the mirror as J-Hope dances. The way his shirt flares out with his movements is beautiful. It is such a shame the way the MMA costuming concealed rather than emphasized.

Jungkook-Director, face hidden for the mask dance. The way he leaps into the air as if gravity is nothing...

Friday, December 14, 2018

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 8

Episode 8 covers the rise of JYP Entertainment, the start of K-pop's frustrating relationship with America, the surprise hit "Gangnam Style", and a discussion of how BIGBANG and Arashi were both the biggest band in the world in 2012. The setlist for episode 8 is very heavy with American R&B and Soul influences so prepare to have more horn sections and backbeats than could possibly exist on American radio today.

And just a note, my schedule has been busier than I expected coming into December and this is probably going to be the last episode before the holidays. I will try but I can't promise.

Anyways, please enjoy today's show! And let me know if you have any comments or questions. I'm having fun talking about things I want to talk about but I'm more than happy to answer questions or get some other discussions started.

The songs played are:

1. "Hadakanbo" by Yamashita Tomohisa, performed live on Hey!Hey!Hey! on January 31, 2011

2. "Elevator" by Jin-Young Park

3. "Intro" by G.O.D.

4. "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers/"그대 날 떠난 후로" by G.O.D.

5. "Tell Me" by Wonder Girls/"Nobody" by Wonder Girls

6. "Gangnam Style" by PSY

7. "Fantastic Baby" by BIGBANG

8. "Cotton Candy" by Daesung/ "Turn it up" by T.O.P./ "Wedding Dress" by Taeyang/ "High High" by GD & T.O.P./ "VVIP" by Seungri

9. "Tonight" by BIGBANG

10. "Cafe" by BIGBANG

11. "Alive" by BIGBANG

12. "Bad Boy" by BIGBANG

13. "Love Situation" by Arashi

14. "Tokei Jikake no Umbrella" by Arashi, performed live at Arafes

15. "Face Down" by Arashi/ "Meikyuu Love Song" by Arashi

16. "Wild at Heart" by Arashi

17. "P.A.R.A.D.O.X." by Arashi

18. "Disco Star" by Aiba Masaki

19. "Sakura" by Arashi

20. "Fukkatsu Love" by Arashi

21. "Can't Stop Feeling" by 2PM

YamaP with a live performance of "Hadakanbo" and my apologies that this isn't the one I played in the show. I had my files confused.

JYP performing a medley of his hits at the 2015 MAMA Awards:

The futuristic "Fantastic Baby" where Big Bang fight the forces of NO MUSIC:

A live performance of "Cafe":

"Wild At Heart" live with choreography:

And for comparison, this is how groups like the O'Jays performed.

And one of my favorite television performances from Arashi over this period, the dramatic "Sakura":

Friday, December 7, 2018

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 7

In this week's episode, I talk about what was happening in Japan while SM Entertainment was getting sued by Super Junior and DBSK. Listen to Arashi make it to the top, the saga of A.B.C-Z and Kis-My-Ft2, and about Japan's weirdest male idol group... Golden Bomber.

The songs played are:

1. "A.Ra.Shi" by Arashi, live at the Asia Song Festival in Seoul, Korea, 22 September 2006.

2. "Love So Sweet" by Arashi

3. "Truth" by Arashi

4. "Believe" by Arashi

5. "Let Me Down" by Arashi

6. "Kis-My-Calling" by Kis-My-Ft2

7. "Daybreaker" by Kis-My-Ft2 and A.B.C-Z

8. "Everybody Go" by Kis-My-Ft2

9. "Za ABC Five Stars" by A.B.C-Z

10. "Hara Hara Hira Furu" by A.B.C-Z

11. "Heavy Rotation" by AKB48

12. "Memeshikute" by Golden Bomber

13. Yanya Yanya Night by Golden Bomber

14. Japonica Style by SixTones

15. "Neeeeeee!" by Golden Bomber

Here is the trailer for "Takizawa Kabuki", the Japan-focused revue put on annually by Takizawa Hideaki aka Tackey & Tsubasa's Tackey:

Here is the video for SixTones's "Japonica Style", produced by Takizawa:

And the Gachupin Challenge Series, a takeoff on the Gachapin Challenge Series:

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