Saturday, November 17, 2018

Burn the Stage: The Movie (2018)

The elevator pitch for Burn the Stage: The Movie (2018) is “BTS tour documentary.” And, yes, the film was crafted from footage taken with the band as they traveled around the world on their 2017 Wings tour. It’s material that’s already been mined for the YouTube Red series Burn The Stage, as well as numerous DVD releases (all of which I own) including the 2017 Memories DVD set as well as three (3) separate performance DVD sets (Seoul, Saitama, and Osaka) which all contain extensive behind the scenes footage.

But Burn the Stage: The Movie creates something far, far bigger out of these bits and pieces. The behind the scenes content on the performance DVDs is straightforward tour documentary footage and--I discuss this at length in my reviews(s)--the the YouTube Red series feels like an American-style reality show.

Burn the Stage: The Movie is neither dry documentary nor voyeuristic reality show.

Burn the Stage: The Movie takes all that footage and uses it to tell a story pulled from the lyrics to “바다” or “Sea”, a hidden track only available on the CD version of Love Yourself 承 Her and written by the three members of the rap line.

In the end, we reached the mirage

And it became our reality

The scary desert

Became the ocean with our blood, sweat and tears

But why is there this fear

In between the happiness?

Because we know too well that this place is really a desert

(Translation taken from here)

The film opens by taking the audience with BTS as they move from the mundane space--a grubby Min Yoongi backstage shoving a banana in his face because they haven’t had time to eat all day--to the sacred. On stage. They’ve reached the mirage in the desert. An ocean of light sticks, an ocean of music, an ocean of emotion. For a couple of hours this won’t just be a sticky floored venue full of plastic seats, it’s a cathedral.

And then we all go back to reality.

This is something BTS understands. Specifically, I think it’s something Min Yoongi and Kim Namjoon understand. The film is anchored by their philosophical outlook on what has happened to the group as they’ve skyrocketed to international celebrity and director Park Jun-Soo must have had some long discussions with the pair to be able to capture their words so clearly.

We follow BTS as they travel and put on concerts, natural in front of the cameras as their every move has been tracked for years now. We’re pulled back and forth from the normal 20-something guys hanging out and doing their jobs to The Idols On Stage.

Kim Seokjin, Jeon Jungkook, and Park Jimin being the greatest hotel drinking buddies ever. Jin, Jungkook, and Jimin making fans cry with emotion during their solo songs.

Min Yoongi, Kim Namjoon, and Jung Hoseok alone at their laptops. Suga, RM, and J-Hope holding court on stage as fans go crazy all around them.

Kim Taehyung off in his own world. V’s handsome face making an audience go breathless with wonder.

Jungkook happy about getting to walk around New York City.

Yoongi getting red faced halfway through a bottle of wine.

Seokjin trying his best to make every single person around him smile.

Hoseok wandering through an empty stadium floor wondering what the fans see.

Jimin unable to stop thinking about his mistakes.

Jungkook unable to stop thinking about snacks.

Everybody thrilled that Taehyung brought his dog to work.

Everybody teasing Yoongi for being unable to shut up about the Billboard Awards.

Everybody crying with emotion in front of the fans at the final concert.

The guys doing cannonballs in a swimming pool while Yoongi watches off to the side with a giant glass of wine.

They are people; they are idols.

In one of the interview segments for the film Namjoon says something like, I know that people see different things in us and that’s okay. The implication--as I took it--was that BTS has come to terms with the parts of the audience that only see what they want to see. Whether it’s the fans who only engage with the surface levels, the catchy songs, cute faces, funny memes. The fans who only know “V” and “Jin” and don’t feel the need to see beyond to Kim Taehyung and Kim Seokjin. The fans who comb through interviews trying to prove various “ships” with elaborate YouTube video compilations. The fans who put words in their mouths, twisting statements to reflect their own political motives. The fans who listen but don’t hear.

Why do they like us? It's a question Namjoon, in particular, anguishes over.

It's okay that some fans only like the pretty faces. It doesn't mean he's not doing good work.

“Your success in America is because of the music.”

“Your success in America is because you guys have a fun image.”

“Your success in America is because of the crazy fans.”

I see ocean, I see desert, I see the world

Everything is the same thing

But with a different name

It’s life again

Everything is the same thing, but with a different name.

One of the most powerful images in the film comes early, during their stop in Chile. Jeon Jungkook overheated and faint, unable to stand or even keep his eyes open, being propped up while the make-up staff fixes his face to get him ready to go back on stage. And then seeing him a few moments later we see him dancing on stage as “Jungkook,” as if he hadn’t just collapsed.

The moment had been captured fetishistically in the YouTube series with the camera lingering on Jungkook’s distressed form, on the worried faces of his bandmates. The film captures it much differently. Director Park Jun Soo doesn’t show us Jungkook’s distress, he shows us Jungkook’s strength.

Burn the Stage: The Movie asks where that strength comes from? What made Jungkook get back out on that stage? What motivates them to keep going when they’ve reached past any dreams they may have had for themselves five years ago? Where do they go from here?

There are no answers but the questions raised were good ones. BTS talk about redefining success in a healthier way than measuring numbers on a chart, very aware that the ride at the top only lasts so long. They want to figure out a way to keep going, to stay happy, to stay healthy, to not burn out or get bored. They play around; they work hard; they treasure each other like family; and they get time off to recharge.

I walked into the theater not quite knowing what to expect from Burn the Stage: The Movie and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was... this. I’ll need to see it a few more times to really pick through the imagery but I think director Park Jun Soo did an excellent job finding the moments that would have the most impact and using some of their most evocative songs. I can’t have been the only one in tears every time the strains of “Outro: Wings” came on or who got goosebumps of pleasure as her favorite song “Ma City” kicked off.

BTS are seven guys but BTS are only “BTS” with the help of the crew, the lighting and sound, the director, and the love and emotions of the fans.

Those seven guys may not have been in the theater with us but BTS was.

I cannot wait to see it again (and again).

(a.k.a. Hey, Big Hit, release the DVD soon, please)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 5

This week, in Japan, we go from the Golden Age of Johnny's Juniors through the debut of KAT-TUN and, in Korea, SM Entertainment's trials and tribulations with Shinhwa and the hard slog of DBSK's early years.

(And just a note: I didn't realize next week was Thanksgiving. I thought it was two weeks from now. But I'll be taking a week off so you'll have to wait an extra week for episode 6!! Sorry!! I leave you on kind of cliffhanger but believe me it's worth it.)

The songs played are:

1. "Yumemonogatari" by Tackey & Tsubasa

2. "Dangan Liner" by Arashi

3. "Sekai ni hitotsu dake no hana" by SMAP

4. "Kibou ~Yell~" by NEWS

5. "Seishun Amigo" by Shuji to Akira (Kamenashi Kazuya and Yamashita Tomohisa)

6. "Keep the Faith" by KAT-TUN

7. "Real Face" by KAT-TUN

8. "Kitto Daijoubu" by Arashi

9. "From the Beginning to Now" by Ryu (Theme to Winter Sonata)

10. "Perfect Man" by Shinhwa

11. "Hug" by DBSK

12. "Balloons" by DBSK

13. "Boku no senaka ni hane ga aru" by Kinki Kids

Here is "Seishun Amigo" performed live on TV Asahi's Music Station on October 28, 2005, with trainees from at least three now-active groups. Have fun picking them out!

The video for "Balloons" featuring the disturbing animal costumes and plastered on fake smiles:

Friday, November 9, 2018

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 4

I was a little wary of posting this episode today due to the current tensions around BTS's sudden cancelation from Music Station. The short version is that the relationship between Japan and Korea is complicated and it's always disappointing to realize that there are international fans who remain sort of willfully blind to the history and culture of the countries that the groups that they like come from. In fact, that's one of the reasons why I started this project.

ANYWAYS, this week's episode picks up the roots of K-Pop in the 1990s while still following the next chapter of the story in Japan with SMAP.

Please enjoy!

The songs played are:

1. "We Are the Future" by H.O.T.

2. "Bitulgorinun sesang" by Hyun Jin Young

3. "Turn up the Radio" by Sinawe

4. "Nan Arrayo" by Seo Taiji and Boys

5. "Can't Stop!! Loving!" by SMAP

6. "Aoi Inazuma" by SMAP

7. "Cheon sang yu ae" by Roo'Ra/"Omatsuri Ninja" by Ninja

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

9. "A+" by Sechs kies

10. "A Better Day" by JTL

A look at a rookie Hyun Jin Young in action:

Seo Taiji and Boys on the MBC Talent Show April 11, 1992:

And because I love her: SHINGO MAMA!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 3

This week I tackle the 1980s with all the glitter, plaid, and disco synthesizers that come with it!

List of songs played:

1. "High Teen Boogie" by Kondo Masahiko

2. "Harajuku Kiss" by Tahara Toshihiko

3. "High School Lullaby" by the Imokin Trio

4. "Namida no Request" by Checkers

5. "Diamond Eyes" by Shounentai

6. "Yuuki 100%" by HikaruGENJI

7. "Easy Come Easy Go" by B'z

8. "Back to You Again" by Byeon Jin Seob

Here's a live performance of "Harajuku Kiss". If you don't get the immediate appeal of Toshi-chan, you'll never get this particular style of idol-ing and Johnny's & Associates has supported more than a few guys who specialize in raw charisma over the years.

The comedy-idol group Imo-Kin Trio. The song starts about 40 seconds in.

And Shounentai on the Merv Griffin show. Just a warning, you may die from secondhand embarrassment.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 2

Hello everybody! I wanted to post this on the heels of the first episode because it's more along the lines of what I'm hoping the podcast will be. Just me talking about music like the giant nerd I am. From here on I'm aiming for weekly updates.

In this episode I give a quick history of origins of male idol groups in Japan in the 1960s and their evolution in the 1970s with a big focus on Johnny's & Associates.


And I have to apologize for crying at the end. I tried for like 10 minutes to make it through talking about Saijou Hideki without crying and every time as soon as I'd read the one line I'd just start tearing up. I couldn't not talk about Hideki, you know?

Here is the list of songs played:

1. "Happy People" by the Four Leaves

2. "Ringo Oiwake" by Misora Hibari

3. "Boku no Tebukuro Yaburiteru" by the Johnnys

4. "Makkana Jacket" by the Tigers

5. "Hito wa" by the Tigers

6. "Namida no Orufe" by the Four Leaves

7. "Otoko no ko Onna no ko" by Go Hiromi

8. "Honoo" by Saijou Hideki

Recap and review of the Tigers 1st film

Recap and review of the Tigers 2nd film

Recap and review of the Tigers 3rd film

The "Happy People" video has been taken down but here is another of the Four Leaves' Kouhaku Utagasen performances so you can get a taste:

And, a bonus, here's a video of Hideki singing Honoo on TV. He was a truly gifted performer.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 1

Hello all,

Please enjoy episode 1 of a new podcast I've been working on. This first episode is an introduction to male idol groups and what makes them different from Western boy bands.

Starting in episode 2 I'll be working through a history of the genre and then I'm hoping to have people on to discuss their favorite groups and maybe do record reviews and that kind of thing.

If you'd like to come on to gush about your favorites, please feel free to get in touch! Just keep in mind this is a fan war neutral zone.

The songs played are:

1. "Married to the Music" by SHINee

2. "WISH" by Arashi

3. "Zutto Love" by A.B.C-Z

4. "2!3!" by BTS

5. "Ai Ga Tomaru Made Wa" by SMAP

6. "Flower Road" by Big Bang

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

BTS Love Yourself Tour: Amsterdam, Netherlands, October 13, 2018.

BTS left America after the overwhelming hysteria of their final concert dates in the major media market of New York City topped with the Citifield show in front of 40,000 and then touched down in London only to find that the hysteria had followed them, much to the bafflement of the Europe.

I followed the hysteria on Twitter and Facebook with a sinking heart as I prepared to leave for Amsterdam myself. Two of their most passionate dancers--Jungkook and Jimin--injured themselves almost immediately upon setting foot in the UK and the voyeuristic photos and videos of Jungkook’s pain and distress during the London shows whipped around the BTS fandom like a brush fire. Jimin sat out of at least one performance schedule entirely, for which I am thankful.

Meanwhile the hashtags and Facebook groups exploded with bickering. There was the mess made over the fan project where the organizers claimed that the messages from Big Hit had gone into their spam folders and that’s why there would be nothing done for Jimin’s birthday. There was the fight over ARMY camping out in front of the venues despite explicitly being told not to by the event staff culminating in a mini-stampede at 5 in the morning on the day of the show when word spread that the unofficial numbering system they’d been using wouldn’t be honored. Police and an ambulance were called in to deal with the injured.

“We don’t come to concerts to make friends,” said one of the Amsterdam campers.

That’s not exactly the message that BTS puts across in their music and it put a huge cloud over everything.

In the shows I attended in Seoul and Hamilton, women had passed around stickers and treats and had communed over our love of BTS. I spoke in Japanese, English, and broken Korean to BTS fans from all over the world.

In Amsterdam, there was a cultural gap I couldn’t cross. The gap between idol fan and pop music fan.

On October 13, 2018, the same day that I saw BTS perform at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, H.O.T. reunited for their first concert in 17 years at Seoul Olympic Stadium.

(Listen to those women do the fan chants!! Incredible!! I really wish I was there.)

I’d been following along with H.O.T. on Instagram and the atmosphere seemed magical. 40,000 fans filling the stadium with their love and their voices for the idols they’d never forgotten. H.O.T. themselves seemed overwhelmed with the emotion of it all, five men who must have felt like the world had forgotten about them.

But a true idol fan never forgets. The love may lie dormant for a year--or 17--but all it takes is a spark to reignite the flame. And then out come the white balloons and the fan chants.

I couldn’t help but contrast the atmosphere at Ziggo Dome with that of Seoul Olympic Stadium half a world away:

H.O.T. had an idol concert for an idol audience.

BTS had an idol concert for a boy band audience.

There were a small minority of idol fans in attendance and the tension between the two was made explicitly clear when I was tapped on the shoulder during the hype medley--during “FIRE”--and told to sit down. Sit down. DURING “FIRE”?!! I mean, what? (I didn’t sit.)

There were also the stone cold silences during sing along parts and the lack of response from the crowd to moments that should have generated big cheers like Jungkook making a big return with the shoot dance during “So What”. I lost my mind as he hopped down the walkway on one foot--keeping his injured foot elevated--but the wave of cheers I expected, the cheers I heard in Hamilton, weren’t there.

And there there was the lack of Army Bombs in the audience. Neither of the women to either side of me had one and looking around before the concert started I’d say maybe half the crowd had an Army Bomb and was using it. When Taehyung said “I purple you” during the ending ment and all the Army Bombs in the venue turned purple, it should have been magical but the moment passed almost unnoticed.

I say this not to drag Amsterdam--since there were an overwhelming number of non-Dutch people in attendance, myself included--but because I wasn’t expecting it. Maybe I should have.

As BTS has boomed in popularity in markets that are not traditional K-Pop idol group markets, inevitably there will be fans who don’t know that there is a difference between how to act at a K-Pop concert and how to act at a normal boy band or pop music concert. That the light stick isn’t just an expensive souvenir but an integral part of creating atmosphere. That you don’t buy a ticket to sit back and enjoy the performance but to participate in it. That we are building a moment with the other fans, building a moment with the group, a moment in time that is bigger than each of us individually, that we can carry in our memories as one night we shared something special.

There is nothing wrong with attending a pop concert or sitting back and watching a pop concert. I just don’t particularly feel the need to travel halfway around the world to do it. Not like an idol concert.

Again, I’m not saying this to drag Amsterdam or BTS, who put on a great show. There may not have been the warmth and connection with the crowd of other idol shows I’ve been to but BTS are nothing if not professional entertainers and they rolled with the atmosphere, having fun on stage despite the awkward silences.

Jimin had recovered from his muscle strain enough to return to dancing--even if he had to modify his choreography to avoid all the floor moves. And Jungkook, my dear Jungkook, looked smiley and happy despite his injured foot. He sat for the group choreography but he had clearly figured out how to modify the moves so he could join in on his chair and it was beyond cute.

The highlight of the entire evening, though, was Jungkook’s solo song, “Euphoria.” For that alone I’m glad that was in the audience. The choreographed version I’d seen before was beautiful but to hear Jungkook sing the song seated, just him and his voice filling the venue, so in the moment. It was magic.

(Even now I tear up watching it…)

When he takes out his earpiece and just looks so happy to hear everybody singing along… that is what makes an idol concert. That moment felt like home.

I don’t know when I’ll see BTS again. I’m tempted to visit my friend in Hong Kong for the 4 day extravaganza in March but I’m also waiting to see what may be announced for South America, as I have friends there as well. And, of course, I’m almost certainly going to try and make it to Seoul for the final shows of the tour.

I love BTS and talking about BTS but I’m not going to lie, it will be a relief when BTS leaves the English-language media markets--and the markets that the English language media focuses on--and returns to the relative normalcy of the K-pop specialty press and East Asian media coverage. I would rather a million Japanese talk shows where BTS eats unusual foods and plays silly games in broken Japanese than have to deal one more faux-deep interview featuring an English language reporter making the incredible “discovery” that South Korea exists and there are people there who do things like make music in Korean.

There’s a reason I checked out of American (and English language) pop culture years and years ago…

Bye-bye, Amsterdam!! I'll return for a football game or something soon.
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