Wednesday, March 14, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.kill me now] STOP HITTING YOURSELF: a message to the Screaming Eagles board

I was going to wait until after the game at the Soccerplex to make another post but the bullshit keeps piling up in the Eaglesgate fracas. Hot on the heels of an extremely passive-aggressive FAQ update, yesterday, March 13th, the Screaming Eagles twitter posted a tweet that said this:

The escalating personal attacks on individual members of the Screaming Eagles need to stop now. These have been directed at dedicated supporters and volunteers who have done nothing to warrant such baseless attacks on their characters. Threats of violence, even ones indirectly implied, have no place in United supporters’ culture and we will not tolerate those who make them. Such attacks, even the ones defended as only jokes, only drive supporters farther apart.

Substantive concerns and questions should be directed to the Screaming Eagles board or to your own club leadership, should you be another member of another group.


Do you know what “drive[s] supporters farther apart”? Let me help you with this:

Engaging in a unilateral agreement with the D.C. United front office that effectively ends independent supporter groups, not even giving a cursory heads up to the other groups or your own members about it, refusing to answer substantive questions regarding the agreement, letting anger and resentment fester for an entire month, leaving your own group’s membership exposed to that anger and resentment through your silence, issuing passive-aggressive statements that claim that you are the victim in all of this because that anger and resentment has been expressed in the form of shitposting and mayonnaise memes on Facebook, and--lastly--calling hundreds of D.C. United fans violent thugs because of one (1) drunken guy calling out a very prominent member of the Screaming Eagles who--although not a board member--has made himself a face of the organization (i.e. he is not a rank and file member) that took place in Atlanta and was immediately apologized for as soon as people sobered up.

Shitposting is not violence.

Memes are not violence.

Heated language is not violence.

Drunken calling out of prominent Eagles members is also not violence. It’s not a good look and definitely should be discouraged but the Eagles statement makes it sound like Barra Brava and District Ultras members are (and let me give the Eagles a reference they’ll get) waiting outside James Lambert’s house like it’s West Side Story and the Jets and Sharks are ready to rumble.

Look at the facts. Steven Goff, who refuses to cover Eaglesgate posted an article yesterday that D.C. United will possibly be setting the record for the smallest crowd for an MLS game of all time. Sure, part of this is because it’s a pain in the ass to get to the Soccerplex but I know plenty of people who have made the effort in previous years who are just… choosing not to go. Part boycott; part ennui in the face of poor on field performance and increased security hassles.

The constant whining from the Screaming Eagles board that we’re being mean is not helping anything. It’s worse than that. It’s punching down and further fanning flames of resentment and anger.

Hey, Screaming Eagles board, you hold the power here. If you truly want this to stop, all you have to do is man up and take responsibility for royally fucking up. James Lambert, who has proven over the last month to be beyond incompetent at leading, needs to take one for the team and step down because this is just embarrassing.

Do you know what will happen at Audi Field if you don’t get us back? Do you need me to link to the “Vamos Pupusas” video to make my point because so help me Jaime Moreno I will do it.

I’m not even going to touch on the Clear Bag bullshit and our ten man midfield goals by committee clown show because I’m running out of time this morning but let me end with an anecdote.

I went to get a massage last night and my massage therapist, a DC sports loving African American woman, commented on my D.C. United sweatshirt and said that she loved going to games. She explained how she’d first gotten a ticket through a Living Social deal because she was looking for something to do and had ended up with seats right by what she called the “pep band”--a.k.a. the supporters section. “Every time I go I make sure to get tickets in the same place,” she said. “The whole place is rocking!”

When she mentioned Audi Field, I had to break it to her that the “pep band” wouldn’t be there. Apparently we add no value to the D.C. United (™) Brand… what people really want is perfect silence, big name former Euro stars on the opposing teams, and $19 craft beer behind a velvet rope.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.FOH] A Letter from the Front Office

A screenshot of a letter from a member of the D.C. United Membership Services team was posted in the Barra Brava Facebook group today. It makes some incredible claims. I’ll link to the letter but let me go through a few highlights:

ETA: It has been pointed out to me that some people are blocked from the Barra FB Group so here is a screen cap.

The Eagles are our largest supporter group, representing 75% of fans that attend on a matchday.

Um… qué? 75% of fans that attend on a matchday?! I don’t remember getting a survey on supporter group participation.

Okay, so D.C. United had an average attendance of 17,904 in 2017. Does that mean an average of 13,428 fans on any given matchday were Screaming Eagles members?! Assuming that it’s not all the same people at each match, you’re looking at over half a million in $30 membership fees… and the Screaming Eagles are not taking in that kind of money.

Clearly “fans” does not refer to all of the people at the stadium. So, who are these “fans” that the Eagles make up 75% of?

A quick browse of the publically available tax documents looking for the “membership dues” column would seem to put the number of Eagles at around 1,000 more or less for the past few years. It’s possible that this “1,000” number represents 75% of paid supporter group memberships but is this really 75% of “fans” or even “fans on a matchday”?

Yeah, no. I don’t think so.

I know for a fact (because I did it) that a certain percentage of members joined the Screaming Eagles as well as a second (or even third) supporter group for solidarity or maybe just a discount on the road trip buses. Knocking those off, maybe 900 Screaming Eagles members who are primarily Screaming Eagles members?

How many of those 900 regularly attended games and stood in the supporter section? How many of those 900 were seated quite happily in other sections of the stadium? How many liked the idea of belonging to a booster club? How many just liked the tailgate passes and craft beer? There is nothing wrong with any of those things but paid memberships are not equivalent to people in the stands.

I guarantee that there are people who consider themselves Barra Brava or District Ultras members who have never once purchased an actual membership. A quick browse of Facebook comments on membership renewal posts is enough to reveal that people don’t always renew every year, even regular attendees. And I can think of a handful of people just off the top of my head who come to maybe 4 or 5 games a season and stand with Barra or Ultras but are not paid members. Where are they represented in the 75% of “fans” on matchday statistic?

What I’ve been told by supporter group leadership is that not counting individuals with season tickets, the Screaming Eagles had a bank of 200 single game tickets. The Barra Brava had 100 and the District Ultras had 60.

Looks more like 55%, 28%, and 17% to me.

Are D.C. United okay with alienating the 45% of the people who buy single game tickets and choose to stand with a non-Screaming Eagles supporter group on any given matchday?

Looking at individuals with season tickets. They may or may not be paid members, as I stated above. There were 60-70 of us in the District Ultras section and based on what I’ve been told from Barra leadership, there were at least 80 paid members but probably closer to 100 or even more in the Barra Brava. You see where I’m going… if I extrapolate out, that would mean there were about 200 Screaming Eagles season ticket members in the designated supporter group section.

400 on a sellout day is certainly possible but it’s not 75%. If the numbers I got from the Ultras and Barra leadership represent just 25% of “matchday fans” you would need 960 Screaming Eagles in the supporter section. That is more than the entire North Stand at Audi Field can hold and would mean their entire membership was present.

Are D.C. United okay with alienating the 45% of season ticket members who do not stand (sorry, “stand”) with the Screaming Eagles?

But back to the letter:

In regards to the single match tickets, the Screaming Eagles have invested in a block of season tickets for the 2018 season that they will be selling on an individual match basis. Those tickets are not being sold by D.C. United. Any supporter, regardless of group affiliation, may purchase single match tickets through the Screaming Eagles. Pricing will be in line with the standard matchday pricing, starting at $30 per match.

*Record scratch* run that back… STARTING at $30 per match?! STARTING AT?!

Question 1) If the tickets are not being sold through D.C. United but through the Screaming Eagles as bulk “season ticket members”, why wouldn’t the ticket prices be closer to the $20 matchday price offered to members? Where is that $10 extra dollars going?

Question 2) STARTING AT?! Are you seriously telling me that single game tickets will now be on a sliding scale of $30 for like the Quakes on a Wednesday but $100 when a team with washed up Prem League star comes to town?

It’s absolutely disgusting profiteering and a huge break in tradition. Please, Eagles, correct me if I’ve misunderstood but since you haven’t put out a single real FAQ or answered anybody’s questions I won’t hold my breath.

ETA: After I posted this, it was pointed out to me that the Audi Field website lists match day prices for the supporter stands at $40 and season ticket per game prices at $25.

That's literally double the price we were told and almost double what people were paying at RFK. What are the Screaming Eagles doing with that $15-20 (and more?!) per ticket markup they're going to be charging us?

(From the Audi Field website)

(From the Audi Field Guide released last fall and STILL AVAILABLE ON THE DC UNITED WEBSITE)


Moving on:

Barra Brava inquired about purchasing a block of tickets, however, they demanded benefits and conditions that are not provided to our general season membership base (i.e. exchange policy, special payment plans). We were unable to grant their conditions and they chose not to purchase a block of tickets under the same terms as the rest of our membership base.

Now, here is the money shot.

My jaw hit the floor--and it was the disgusting floor of the Orange Line train I was on at the time--when I read this.

From what I’ve been told by multiple people, the supporter groups have long been granted the privilege of returning or exchanging unsold tickets so they don’t go bankrupt. While sellout games are fun, sometimes you have a season like 2017 where watching a game is a painful experience not worth making the trek out for on humid, rainy August Wednesday. What happens to those unsold seats? Who eats that cost?

The supporter groups provide the atmosphere, material for official marketing, and act as ground level recruitment teams for free but D.C. United can no longer buy back or exchange 40 unsold tickets for a Wednesday game against Minnesota because… it would hurt their feelings?

I call bullshit.

This is a deliberate rule change aimed at killing the independent supporter group culture.

Is the sliding scale pricing on single game tickets meant to offset those empty Wednesday games?

What an absolutely shitty thing to do to long time fans. All of them. Not just the 45%. This is a terrible situation for the rank and file Screaming Eagles members too.

It doesn’t matter what I say because D.C. United’s current ownership is not interested in a good matchday atmosphere and building a stable, invested fan base. The roll out of Audi Field has more than confirmed that. D.C. United’s current ownership wants a mini-Nats park full of well-to-do paying customers consuming expensive concessions and purchasing merchandise. And they may have that for a little while. But what happens when Own Goal is the leading scorer for the season? What happens when those paying customers get bored because soccer isn’t quite as fun live as the pictures on the brochure and in the youtube videos led them to believe and drift back to Nats Park?

Is James Lambert going to be the one taking charge of a supporters section full of casuals who paid $100 a pop to see Miami Beckham FC? No, he’s not. It's going to be utter chaos and it will be on their heads.

Just like the Screaming Eagles leadership is not taking responsibility for this mess either.

D.C. United is not popular enough in this town or a good enough team to sustain the loss of a good chunk of it’s supporter base and expect that they will be replaced by yuppies drawn to a new stadium. Casual fans are fickle. Yuppies are always looking for the next big thing to say they did it first. These are not the building blocks of a long term fan base and if this ownership group actually cared about the team and this community they would know that.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.?] Let's take a closer look at D.C. United's "Strategic Partnership" press release.

On Valentine’s Day this year D.C. United gave its supporter groups the equivalent of a box of cat turds dipped in chocolate in the form of this press release:

D.C. United, DC SCORES and supporter group, the Screaming Eagles, announced a strategic partnership uniting a shared passion for enriching the communities in the District through sport.

“That’s nice,” you might have thought. “Enriching the communities in the District [and Maryland and Virginia] through a shared love of soccer. I wonder what this will involve? Building soccer fields throughout the city for regular neighborhood folks to enjoy? Raising money for fees for poor kids to join competitive teams? Support for parents who want to play in rec leagues?”

The answer, as we’ll find out, is none of those.

“We are pleased to partner with the Screaming Eagles, during this transformative year, across the shared values of creating the most exciting, fan-driven atmosphere in Major League Soccer, but also around a common goal to focus on bettering the neighborhoods around us, through the invaluable work that DC SCORES does in our community,” Tom Hunt, United President, said. “This partnership will ensure our supporters continue cultivating an atmosphere that has long been heralded across the league as we celebrate traditions old and new at Audi Field.”

Okay, back up there, buddy.

1) From banning of supporter group members to increased harassment from the rent-a-cop security in the stands to the non-safe standing, no tifo rigging design of Audi Field, I have seen zero evidence of Tom Hunt having any interest in creating “the most exciting fan-driven atmosphere in Major League Soccer” but plenty of evidence that when he considers supporter groups at all its as detrimental to sales of his corporate suites.

2) Have you seen the Screaming Eagles section during the game? I love my friends who stand with them but there’s a reason that D.C. United’s 2018 “Goal” gif uses what looks very much like the Barra Brava section:

The Screaming Eagles do not bring the atmosphere.

Things get even weirder in the “Fans” section of the website which prominently features images of (L-R): The Barra Brava, The Barra Brava, The District Ultras/La Norte. “Oh, yes! COOL!” says the potential fan. “This looks fun and awesome.” But when that fan clicks inside, the pictures illustrating the sections are all… shall we say “white washed”? No flags, no drums, no tifo, no drums, and presumably no swears and never ever shirts off for United.

So, if we’re supposed to believe that the Screaming Eagles bring the atmosphere that’s the envy of the league, why are me and my buddies caught on camera so often during games over in the District Ultras section? Why am I always seeing the Barra Brava banner at away games? Why is there a reaction gif of me flipping off Steve Clark taken from the official MLS footage? Why?

(Not the Screaming Eagles section.)
The Screaming Eagles do not bring the atmosphere.

The Screaming Eagles know it. Tom Hunt knows it. Everybody knows it. So why the charade? What is the point of lying about “atmosphere” and using my picture to show how fun the stands are on game day when they know that a Screaming Eagles-run section will have none of this?

Is the D.C. United front office knowingly lying to us to get us into Audi Field?

Funny you asked!

As part of the partnership, The Screaming Eagles will take the lead role to manage all aspects of the supporter culture including single game supporter tickets sales for both home and road matches as well as organizing all activities and in-game fan experiences in the north end zone, in an effort to further unite the Black-and-Red supporter base that established the benchmark for U.S. soccer supporter culture in the early years of Major League Soccer.

Run that back for me: ”...including single game supporter tickets sales for both home and road matches...

Are you fucking kidding me? I mean, hello, the Barra Brava have away game tickets for sale right now.

And need I refresh everybody on the BLOCKBUSTER AUDI FIELD GUIDE POST in which the guide (still live on the D.C. United website by the way) explicitly states: D.C. United do not anticipate single match tickets being available in the supporter stands.

Whoops, guess there wasn’t as much demand for the shitty deal they were offering us as they thought. No refunds for anybody who bought extra tickets to be able to share with a friend or two. No sorry, no refunds.

(My Audi Field guide post also reminds me that they had told us there would be 1,500 supporter seats available. That number has since been halved to 800. 75% fewer than the other soccer specific stadiums being built around the league. Just what you need for a good atmosphere.)

But here’s the real meat of the press release: The Screaming Eagles are going to be “managing” all activities in the supporters stand. What does that mean exactly? Are we all going to have to follow the Eagles’ ridiculous rules? “Pink Cows” isn’t politically correct! No protesting front office decisions! The mosh pit at half time is scary! Put your shirt on! No spilling beer! Let the guy who wants to be on camera the most hold the drumstick and stand around half-assedly while waiting for players to notice him instead of having somebody actually lead chants!

Yup, just the people I want “organizing” my “fan experience”. (Sike, no they’re not.)

“Today we’re reaffirming our promise to D.C. United that we’ll do all we can to support the team across the full range of the club’s endeavors,” James Lambert, Screaming Eagle president, said. “We believe that by working closely together with United in a cooperative, positive manner, we can take the supporters’ culture to the next level in the new era defined by the opening of Audi Field.”

When this press release came out, there was a nearly universal cry of “Who the hell is James Lambert?” Most of the Eagles didn’t even know he was the president. I’ve certainly never met the guy or interacted with him before and I thought I had met everybody roaming around Lot 8 and on the bus trips.

Our futures as fans in the hands of a guy nobody knows, appointed by his buddies on the Screaming Eagles board (I assume).

Is Lambert’s vision of “the next level” something I want to be a part of? Absolutely not. If the Screaming Eagles are the only game in town, I will stop going to games.

Why? Why don’t I trust Lambert’s leadership and vision?

For one thing, it took him an embarrassingly long time to respond to questions about this surprise announcement and when he did it was with a now deleted tweet that dismissed everybody’s very valid concerns as “a few brickbats”--a phrase that became something of a rallying cry among the disenfranchised and shit posting.

All welcome, all united, my ass.

The Eagles eventually put up a very tepid FAQ but not until things had spun very badly out of control.

The entire online D.C. United community watched as the Eagles claimed naming rights over the new North Stands as “The Nest” and then had to backtrack on it when people complained; as people made Brickbats merch; as people wrote angry letters demanding refunds from the Screaming Eagles and cut up membership cards.

Not so welcome, not so united.

Here’s what all of this says to me: D.C. United’s current ownership group does not want supporter groups as they existed at RFK. We cannot be controlled by force and threats and since they have not bothered to develop a working relationship with us, the only thing that can be done is eliminate us even as we provide images for a large part of their marketing as well as actively promote the club to people through word of mouth marketing. If the supporters groups die, it’s not just a loss of “atmosphere” at the games but a loss of 22 years of community and tradition. These are unquantifiable on a quarterly spreadsheet but are what keeps people returning in terrible weather and through seasons when Own Goal is the leading scorer. And if the ownership cared about a stable fan base then those are things that should be important. If the ownership is looking to pack the place full of lookie-loos and tourists for just long enough to sell before the novelty wears off and they realize they can get all the stuff next door without the boring soccer at the bigger and nicer Nationals Stadium, then a rowdy horde of assholes and drunks waving flags and banging on drums is a liability. There is no future on a quarterly spreadsheet, no family, no community, just corporate suite sales numbers.

Hey, D.C. United, good luck filling the seats on a muggy Wednesday night in August in a poor season without supporter groups and the community they've grown.

I don’t doubt that Lambert means well but he has proven that has no clue with what at least ⅔ of the supporters are feeling and I do not trust that he will act in my best interests. If the Screaming Eagles want to actually have a good atmosphere and happy fans at Audi Field, they need to address this situation. The opening “home” game is fast approaching and the Brickbat merch is selling quickly.

D.C. United has different supporter groups for a reason--people want like different things. You can't fit us all under the Screaming Eagles umbrella and if they insist on it, there will be trouble. Do the Eagles really want the "You have to do a shot to use the bathroom" crew on their away game buses? Will they accommodate the do-a-shot crew or just ban them for being too rowdy? If you ban all the brickbats who will be left? If the answer is James Lambert and his friends, you better get ready for atmosphere to rival Fed Ex Field with a new bank of seats removed every year to accommodate the shrinking fan base. Oh wait... no, that will be what the next owner has to deal with after these guys fuck off back to their Panama Papers bank accounts. Ghouls.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

BTS ALBUM REVIEW: Love Yourself 承 Her

Because we need each other

We believe in one another

I know we're going to uncover

What's sleepin' in our soul

“Acquiesce” by Oasis

Because idol music is the synthesis of personality, emotion, narrative, visuals, and music, ignoring any of the pieces means you’re not seeing the work of art as a whole. An album is never just an album; a song is never just a song.

Case in point, I’ve been listening to BTS as pleasant background music since I first heard “DOPE” (쩔어) way back in 2015 but it wasn’t until I saw them perform the choreography for “DNA” on Music Station Super Live 2017 that I was really hooked. The way the music fed into the vivid, eye-poppingly bright costumes and the heartbeat choreography had me hitting replay over and over again on the MV on youtube… and then had me purchasing the mini-album that it was contained on: Love Yourself 承 Her.

And when I say purchase the album, I mean I specifically ordered the physical CD that came with the poster and photo book I wanted. (The “V” version for those curious.)

But it’s hasn’t been until now--a couple of months of binging on BTS related media later--that I feel capable of writing something about it beyond, “I think it’s really good.” What I hear now on Love Yourself 承 Her is a more confident, adult BTS who are figuring out what their unexpected success means and working on how to reach for the stars while keeping their feet firmly grounded in their “bapsae” roots. Here is the magic of idols at work--I’ve only been A.R.M.Y. (Adorable Representative MC for Youth) for a couple of months and yet I still feel so proud of these boys and how far they’ve come.

From my Japanese studies, I first read the “承” in the title as shou the first character in words such as “acceptance” and “acquiesce” (which is a banging Oasis track among other things) but apparently it’s going to be part of a broader theme using the four-character compound 起承轉結 (kishoutenketsu) which traditionally describes the progression of a four-line Chinese poem although in Japanese it is also used to describe the progression of an argument or criticism. The characters represent four phases: the starting point, laying the groundwork, a turning point, final conclusion.

If anything I think Love Yourself 承 Her is the result of all the growth and development, especially from the singing line--Jin, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. (The rap line being RM, Suga, and J-Hope.) The way idol music releases overlap between Korea and Japan for Korean artists means it’s hard to pinpoint exact start and stop points of different release cycles but if you look at the “Intro: xxx” songs for each release cycle, this is the first time one of BTS’s singing line has been given the responsibility of opening the entire cycle.

“Intro: Serendipity” is a huge change from previous “Intro: xxx” songs like J-Hope’s “Boy Meets Evil” (a dark rap about falling off the path of ambition) or RM’s frenetic “What Am I To You” (which is incredible to see on the 花樣年華 concert DVDs; he holds an entire stadium in the palm of his hand). “Serendipity” has nothing to prove. He’s a calico cat lazy and content, rolling around in bed on a Sunday morning.

I’m your calico cat, here to see you

Love me now

Touch me now

Just let me love you

Translation credit

The sparse production--by British songwriting team PKA Culture X Tones (Ray Djan and Ashton Foster)--combines electronic elements with acoustic ones. There’s a EDM-style drum machine but it’s balanced with a pretty acoustic guitar. But right in the center is Jimin’s voice, the reverb cushioning his delicate tenor rather than drowning it. A subtle kick drum, a heartbeat, on the one gives the only hint of a beat until the pre-chorus begins about 30 seconds into the song. It ends as quietly as it began, on a whispered “Let me love, let me love you.”

Jimin is a crooner, not a belter, and the production uses his emotive voice to its best effect, listening on headphones it sounds like he’s whispering directly into your ears. You can almost feel his breath, the warm air… He’s come a long way from the days when he it looked like he was more comfortable flashing his abs than singing.

Next is the song that hooked me: “DNA,” one of two singles off this album.

“DNA” picks up where “Intro: Serendipity” leaves off with the acoustic guitar sound. And a whistle. The beat is much, much lighter than previous BTS singles, as is the instrumentation. The rhythm track has a very, very light touch. The kick drum is much more natural sounding than I’ve heard on a BTS song before, without that added bass punch. The snare and hi-hat are present but in the background, drifting in on the off beats as color. And, most importantly, I think, there are tempo changes throughout the song that are used to keep the ear’s attention in a way I didn’t hear on previous BTS releases but that I very much enjoyed.

The vocals are divided nicely. V’s soulful baritone starts the song but all the singers get a juicy section, while the rap line has a lighter touch on this song. The percussive noise of the acoustic guitar track is what keeps us moving through the first verse and into the chorus, where the beat drops and we enter a synthesizer echo chamber. As the song heads into the second verse--which begins with Suga’s rap--the acoustic is gone and it’s the bass guitar which takes center stage. But as the other members join in, the instrumentation also begins to thicken. Synthesizer pads, noodly electric guitar riffs, and the return of the whistle all heightening the tension to the pre-chorus where the acoustic guitar returns and drives us through the chorus then everything cuts out as we throw back to V for the intro to the outro… a massive reprise of the chorus highlighting J-Hope that has the catchiest dance move in the entire song.

It’s a very, very good song.

My personal theory when I first heard “DNA” was that this track was meant for the Japanese market and I’m still pretty sure that’s the case, if for no other reason than it hooked me and my tastes in pop music have become extremely Japanese over the last 15 years or so. Japan likes EDM and rap okay but it has an overall preference for sweeter, not so bass heavy music. It’s no coincidence that the cocky “Mic Drop”--the other “single” from this release--was the song the West chose, while Japan has glomped onto “DNA”. (As I type this, “DNA” is still riding high in the Japanese Billboard Hot 100 while “Mic Drop” may as well not exist.)

Track 3 is “Best of Me,” the second contribution on the album from PKA Culture X Tones (Ray Djan and Ashton Foster) and is strongly reminiscent of their previous BTS song, 2016’s “Save Me” in structure. But unlike “Save Me” the song wasn’t produced by longtime BTS producer PDogg but by the Chainsmokers Andrew Taggart and… I think to the song’s detriment. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m no fan of most American pop music for the very reasons that I find “Best of Me” rather bland in it’s recorded form and the song I’m most likely to skip when listening to Love Yourself.

What Taggart does here is create a Spotify-friendly, overly compressed audio meant to be played in the background while you do something else, song. He treats BTS as if they were pieces in an audio puzzle rather than the main feature that people are actually going to be plugging in their headphones and listening to. The entire track is swamped by this pedestrian synthesizer riff that hammers on and on and on and on even through the parts that should be quieter. There’s no room to breathe anywhere. It’s suffocating. Taggart may be a “brand name” producer but I never want to see his name anywhere near BTS again.

There’s a reason I listen to Asian pop instead of American pop and a large part of that has to do with wanting to avoid hacks like Andrew Taggart.

After the incessant droning of “Best of Me”, it’s such a relief to sink into Track 4, “보조개 (Dimple)”. Written by Matthew Tishler and Allison Kaplan from Laundromat Music (an Asian/Europop songwriting house), the song seems to have begun life as a demo song called “Illegal” which was then tweaked and arranged to showcase BTS’s vocal line. Between the lyrics about the dimple and production, this song feels like a fresh update of some 1950s doowop like the Penguins “Earth Angel” or the Flamingos “I Only Have For You” or Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”.

It starts off with this fantastic little synthesizer noodle that sounds like a vintage Les Paul steel guitar riff over a pillowy cloud of sound. When the first verse begins, the rhythm kicks in with a laid back emphasis on the two and four--again a huge relief after the relentless four on the floor of “Best of Me”--the four singers trade off lines, voices intertwining around the edges where the reverb and multiple tracks overlap. The effect is really hypnotic.

There are two really amazing vocal hooks in the first section of the song. Jungkook’s leap to falsetto punctuating the ends of each line in the pre-chorus (and his falsetto backing track all through the song to be honest) and the way each singer hits that repeated, descending run on the word “illegal.” It gives me goosebumps of pleasure every time I hear the song.

And then comes the bridge. Oh my god, the bridge. Just V’s soulful baritone and this building tremolo organ patch that swells until it fills the entire landscape. The other singers swap in and we get this very classic rock and roll tom buildup and the tension is so big until it cannot be sustained one more measure and explodes with a Jungkook vocal run over a reprise of the chorus. As the song winds down, all four add vocal riffs to the backing track. V’s breathy run should have been illegal.

And this is the kind of vocal performance you can only pull from a mature idol group. Not only have they built up their confidence and their vocal skills, but they’ve been singing together for long enough that they’ve developed a really nice vocal blend. The personality and timbre of each of the vocal line’s voices really shines through here. The vocal line’s “Lost” was one of my favorite tracks from the last release cycle and this is such a huge step forward beyond it. I absolutely cannot wait to see this performed live.

Track 5 is “Pied Piper”, the song that has become an inside joke among fans because of the cheeky lyrics.

“Follow the sound of the pipe, follow this song

It’s a bit dangerous but I’m so sweet

I’m here to save you, I’m here to ruin you

You called me, see? I’m so sweet

Follow the sound of the pipe

I’m takin’ over you

I’m takin’ over you

Translation source

Going back to the theme of “laying the groundwork” or rather that the groundwork has been laid, more than anything this song seems to signal a BTS that has come to terms with the fact that they have been entrusted with the hearts and emotions of millions of women and girls around the globe. While they still clearly take the responsibility very seriously, the song is BTS saying they are also able to have a bit of fun. Not everything has to be a deep metaphor or have a positive message, sometimes all we need is pure pleasure.

(And besides is there anything more subversive than pure, unashamed female pleasure? Real feminism hours right here! *air horn*)

Like the rest of the songs in the first half of the album, “Pied Piper” is also very vocal line heavy with an incredible falsetto chorus from Jimin, Jungkook, and V. The instrumentation is fairly simple. A straightforward rhythm with an anticipated downbeat on the one, hand claps on two and four. Some chill strummy electric guitar, piano and synth pads, and a really sharp little phase-shifted synthesizer noodle standing in for the pied piper’s call… and echoed later by the vocal line in the chorus.

After the rapped verses, the rhythm drops out and all you hear is church organ as their sweet voices sing us to heaven. A heavenly choir of idols. It’s enough to send me to a state of pure bliss. (And after seeing the fan cam footage of Jimin’s bodyrolls and hearing the screams that accompanied them from the single live performance of “Pied Piper” so far, I only imagine what this song will be like live.)

Track six is RM’s speech from last year’s Billboard Music Awards and it leads into track seven, “MIC Drop”. I have very mixed feelings about these. I’m not a huge fan of “MIC Drop” and, quite frankly, I think it’s a pretty mediocre hype song--especially from a group who debuted specializing in hype songs. “MIC Drop” should have been the book end to the aggressive I’m-doing-my-own-shit-so-step-off “No More Dream” from 2013’s 2 Cool 4 Skool but the beat just sounds flabby in comparison to some of their early bangers.

Suga, at least, seems to understand the right amount of swag necessary for a boasting hype song in his verse but, yeah, there’s just something off about the whole mess. BTS isn’t the type of group to brag about trophies or awards and coming directly after RM’s humble acceptance speech gives the song an even odder dissonance. To be honest, the song reads to me as an uncomfortable attempt to hang a lampshade on a type of success that they find almost embarrassing. Is success in collecting trophies and building up their bank accounts? Do they find it embarrassing that this is how success has been defined for them? Not the hearts and minds they reached in “Pied Piper” but the bag full of trophies from “MIC Drop”?

But, again, this is where we need to take the complete idol music package into account and J-Hope’s energetic dancing in the performances of “MIC Drop” is just about enough to rescue the song… at least performed live. Musically speaking, it’s a dud. (Look, there’s a reason Steve Aoki isn’t a household name, okay?)

Track 8 though, my friends. Track 8. Now this is a song.

“고민보다 Go” (Gominbona Go) is an utterly delicious piece of pop nihilism. Written in the tropical house style that took over K-Pop in the summer of 2017 it really is a proper companion to some of those early don’t-give-a-fuck bangers. There’s no way that the guys in BTS still have to worry about what’s in their bank accounts but this office lady noona identifies pretty hard with the lyrics.

Worked hard to get my pay

Gonna spend it all on my stomach

Pinching pennies to spend it all on wasting it

Leave me be, even if I overspend

Even if I break apart my savings tomorrow

Like a crazy guy

Translation credit

BTS: Anti-capital hoarding; pro-the poor deserve pleasure as much as the rich.

Welcome, comrades.

The song itself is anchored with this ridiculous off-kilter calypso beat with a weird little pied piper-like wooden flute sound and the choreography is just gloriously bouncy and stupid, even incorporating the stupid backpack kid dance move. Vocally it’s a good mix of rap line and vocal line with some really expressive line deliveries from everybody. Some syllables are hit percussively, some are slurred, some are squealed out. Really great stuff all around. There’s always something different to listen for ending that outro! It’s 45 seconds of a building, building frenzy with the repeated Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go… when it ends abruptly, it immediately makes me want to hit “repeat.”

Track 9, “Outro: Her”, is our rap line song. I read it as a love song for A.R.M.Y. and our complicated relationship with our idols. They love us, they hate us, they love us again. We support them, we tear them down, and we pick them back up again.

As Suga says in his verse, “To become the person who loves you, to become the guy who loves you, I quit what I used to love.” (Translation credit)

The emotional ties between us are complicated but conveyed so well by all three of them. It says a lot about the type of idols they are that they’ve put so much thought into the relationship.

Suga, who produced the song, went for a breezy Fugees-style R&B vibe. The drums sound nice and fresh and there’s a nice little organ patch and a guitar with a wah pedal. It’s really quite beautiful. The honest nature of the lyrics are well served by his choice. There’s something about that Fugee-style sound that hits right at the heart. Suga has good taste.

Finally, since I bought the physical album, I got bonus tracks 10 and 11.

Track 10 is a secret talk--which I have to rely on a translation of until I finish teaching myself Korean--but they seem to discuss the same sorts of things I find so fascinating about idol life. What is it that ties us together? How do you stay true to yourself while wearing clothes you hate and too much makeup? What do they owe us? What do we owe them in return?

(Have I mentioned how much I love BTS? The idol philosopher's idol group...)

And track 11 is a real classic BTS-style moody ballad: “바다” (Bada, the sea). It follows songs like “I Need U” or “Tomorrow”. Produced by J-Hope (!) and Suga, the song begins with the sound of waves lapping on the shore, replaced by the soft background vocals from the vocal line, a shimmering shaker, and a jangly Britpop electric guitar loop that anchors the song.

Just like the sea we heard at the beginning, the song builds in waves. A slow build through the verses into the pre-chorus that sends everything crashing before building up even bigger, crashing even bigger, and finally, disappearing…

“Is this the sea or the desert? Is this hope or despair,” asks J-Hope. His verses are particularly frantic but all three rappers are distraught. Like “Outro: Her”, the lyrics appear to speak to the conflict of success. What happens when you reach the top only to find that there’s nothing there. The sweet tones of the verses appear almost like a balm. “Where’s there’s hope there’s trials. Where there is hope you know you know you know yeah yeah”

In a way, it’s something we all have to deal with. What happens when you get married and find out there’s no happily ever after? When you have a kid and it doesn’t fill the hole in your life? When you get the job you wanted? When your team wins the championship? When you get into the college you wanted but your life is still fucked up?

That’s “바다”. V ends the song, ends the album, with his soulful baritone. “We have to despair, for all of those trials.” (Translation credit for all the Bada quotes. I really need to learn Korean.)

Overall, I really love this mini-album. It’s a bit of a departure from previous work but not so much that can’t see where they were coming from. The vocal line’s increased presence, the rap line getting moody, the willingness to toe the line at what is acceptable in mainstream pop. If this is the foundation--the 承--I cannot wait to hear that turning point. Keep fighting, BTS! Keep finding new challenges and new mountains to scale. Teach yourselves Japanese; teach yourselves English; keep fighting! (And V, for the love of God, please record an album of smoky-voiced jazz standards. Please.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.0] Are You Ready for the Managed Supporter Experience 2018?!

(Photo courtesy @rabbit0heart)

In retrospect I probably should have found it suspicious that none of my friends in the District Ultras or Barra Brava seemed to have gotten the invitation for last week’s “Exclusive Member Event” at Penn Social. At the time, however, I just thought the event was unusually quiet. I spent a pleasant couple of hours chilling at the bar with my one (1) complimentary beer and chating with some of my dear Screaming Eagles friends.

I also got owned by Zoltan, who called me out for being at all these dumb events. Look, I like events, okay?! I also like a guy who can fire off a quip, though, so if I do get a jersey this season it’s going to be STIEBER. But that’s the key word--if I get a jersey this season. IF.

(Photo courtesy @rabbit0heart)

After the final game at RFK on October 23, 2017, where D.C. United ended their wet fart of a season by just plain shitting the bed, the thought of anything D.C. United related just made me angry and sad. I couldn’t even bring myself to write up the game for a blog post. I didn’t want to think about it. The biggest memory I have of the night is standing at the barrier separating the loud side from the field, glaring at the players as they came around to shake hands and seeing the fear in Marcelo’s eyes as he slowly backed away. That’s right, Marcelo. I yelled it: only winners get cool Brazilian first names.

But it wasn’t entirely on the squad. No, the shit show that is the D.C. United organization has many moving parts. And while everybody was feeling a bit heartened at hearing of all the midfield acquisitions--ARE WE ENTERING THE AGE OF THE BEN OLSEN 10 MAN MIDFIELD?!--less heartening was the complete lack of communication from the Front Office to us, the season ticket members, the supporter group members, the fans… you know, the people who have stuck with this team through seasons where Own Goal was the leading scorer, who have stood through snow storms, torrential downpours, blinding sun and heat, who have driven hours only to see us lose (yet again) on an away game. The people who buy the jerseys with Jared Jeffrey’s name on them because he seems like a good kid and if you’re here, you’re family. THOSE PEOPLE.

When I first started seriously following the team, I wondered how I would have handled a season like 2013 or 2010. Would I have bailed? Would I have stopped coming to games? Stopped caring? The answer it turns out… is yes and no. Did I stop reading soccer news and following MLS in general? Yes, because it just made me sad. Did I stop coming to games and cheering my ass off? No, because me and my buddies in the District Ultras put in 90 minutes whether or not the team on the field is doing so. We’ll be here long after the current money grabbing owners are gone… or so we thought.

Imagine my surprise then at the late afternoon news drop from D.C. United announcing a “strategic partnership” between the Screaming Eagles and D.C. United.

As part of the partnership, The Screaming Eagles will take the lead role to manage all aspects of the supporter culture including single game supporter tickets sales for both home and road matches as well as organizing all activities and in-game fan experiences in the north end zone, in an effort to further unite the Black-and-Red supporter base that established the benchmark for U.S. soccer supporter culture in the early years of Major League Soccer.

I don’t even know where to start with this. Perhaps by saying that nobody informed either of the other two supporter groups that this was happening. So much for “All Welcome, All United.”

We supporter group members had been told repeatedly by the D.C. United front office that single game tickets were not happening so we had better buy season tickets. Some people were even pressured into buying two tickets so that they could give one away to friends who couldn’t afford season tickets or maybe didn’t have the time to attend so many home matches.

To then find out through a press release that they are doing single game tickets but that we have to go through the “approved” group to do so? COLD A__ F__ my front office dudes.

(And single game away game tickets only through the Screaming Eagles? Weird, what have the Barra Brava been spending the last month organizing then? Playdates?)

The Screaming Eagles can support the team however that want. Nobody is arguing about that. I like many of the Eagles members and love the fact that their road trip bus picks me up about 5 minutes away from my house. It’s great that they do charity work. And I’m sure the catered tailgate experience is great if you like that kind of thing. But not all of us do. And not all of us feel welcome (or are welcome *cough*) in their section. I would consider the Screaming Eagles my friends but just because I like them on a personal level doesn’t mean I like or agree with what they’re doing.

If the Screaming Eagles want to be the NPR of supporter groups, that’s fine, but not all of us want to be “brought to you in partnership with Mitchell & Ness” and not all of us are comfortable with the polite, middle class values they represent. Some of us want to wave flags and whip up the excitement level. Some of us want to swear and rip off our shirts without the rent-a-cops breathing down our necks. Some of us want to be able to protest front office decisions we disagree with. Some of us would rather find our home down the dial with the loud ROCKTOBER party people in Barra Brava or with the anarchist collective pirate radio people of the District Ultras.

I haven’t said this publically before but I will now--I strongly dislike how the Screaming Eagles trade on the identity politics-waving the rainbow flag rhetoric and I don’t want to be associated with it. I’m no bigot; I say this as a woman and as somebody who is allegedly covered by that ID Pol rhetoric. But I’ve been attending games on and off for twenty years, more seriously in the last 3 years and have spent lots of quality time with people from all three groups. There have only been a few times that I’ve been made uncomfortable by some dude hitting on me and not taking the hint I’m not interested and those times were with somebody in the Screaming Eagles. And now they’re my only option?

There is plenty of diversity of race, age, gender, sexual orientation in all three. But class diversity… I see that much more in the Barra Brava and the District Ultras. Americans don’t like to talk about class but the divide is there. Some people--like me--are much more comfortable drinking a CVS box of wine in the middle of a BYOB potluck than with a catered tailgate. Not everybody can afford or feels comfortable with wristbands and trying to police their behavior to not break some unspoken rules you may not even be aware exist. But apparently the D.C. United Front Office has chosen for all of us what our carefully curated experience in the supporter group section of Audi Field is going to be, whether we’re comfortable with it or not. Bougie A__ F__

Is there a difference between a supporter and a consumer?

(Photo courtesy @rabbit0heart)

Are small plates and free wifi going to bring people out to a Wednesday night game in August when the air is so thick with humidity that you’re breathing in more water than air and your skin is so slick with sweat that it looks like you’ve just been dunked in a tepid pool?

Would I have renewed my season ticket knowing that I would be having a “managed” match day experience?

I should have known better. I really should have. The writing was on the wall all through the losing 2017 season but I wanted to believe. I didn’t want to give up on something that had helped immensely through a very difficult time, had given me something to look forward to each week, had given me great joy and new friends to commiserate with when the team was not giving me great joy.

I honestly don’t know what to do at this point. It’s clear D.C. United has no place for people like me in the supporters section of the stadium. Road games only? Go anyway and cause a ruckus until we get booted by rent-a-cop security for disturbing the people eating small plates? Take over a bar on match days and cheer there instead?

What do we do? It's getting harder and harder to justify attending games and trying to wait out the current ownership as they destroy our supporter culture piece by piece... even as they continue to use our images to promote the league and the team.

(Screenshot of the MLS site)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

#ASTROinDC : My experience at the ASTRO fan meet at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC 2/7/2018

Perfect happiness is standing in a sea of fangirls, the very air surrounding us vibrating with excited energy, skin buzzing, fingers fidgeting with light sticks and fan signs. When the house lights go down, the music kicks in, and the theater erupts in a cheer so powerful you can feel it in your very bone marrow because you’re screaming too.

There is nothing like it in the world.

Last Wednesday I took the entire day off of work in the middle of an extremely busy and stressful week to attend a fan event here in Washington, D.C., for the Korean male idol group ASTRO. And I’ll be honest here: Did I know who ASTRO were before I happened to catch the advertisement on my instagram feed? No.

But here’s the thing: I love fan events. The price was reasonable and I needed something to look forward to after an incredibly shitty end to 2017. So, after checking out a couple of ASTRO’s videos, I decided that they seemed fun and that I’d try to buy a ticket. And on January 5, at precisely 10 a.m., when tickets went on sale, I bought one. Row C, on the center right aisle. I was going ASTRO’s fan meet.

Then the real fun began. Preparation.

What most normies don’t understand about male idol groups is that the performance is collaborative between the group and the audience. While the group members are on stage everyone in that theater is ASTRO or BTS or Arashi or A.B.C-Z. The songs these groups perform aren’t just stale recordings frozen in time but dynamic pieces of art, with each performance given fresh life by the audience’s participation whether that’s through fan choreography done with light sticks or through fan chants or just by adding energy through whoops of approval for our favorite parts.

(Here’s a fan chant video. The chants aren’t just some dumb thing teen girls do but are a vital part of the song. No two performances will be the same.)

So, even though I was new to Astro, I was not new to being part of an idol group audience. I knew I needed to study hard for the next four weeks or so to be able to put in a proper performance. I couldn’t in good conscience attend a fan meet and sit in the front row if I wasn’t able to do the fan chants. I owed it to both ASTRO and to ASTROs fans--all the lovely AROHA worldwide--to get up to speed fast.

I take my fangirling and my male idol groups very seriously.

Here’s what I did in four weeks:

1) Learned ASTRO’s names and faces.

2) Binge watched ASTRO’s extremely charming miniseries (titled To Be Continued, available on Netflix).

3) Listened to their full discography until the lines of the songs were etched in my mind.

4) Watched a million youtube fan compiled “crack” videos, live performances, and episodes of their extremely ridiculous reality show DDOCA.

5) Ordered their latest two CDs (Dream Part 1 and Dream Part 2).

6) Bought a light stick on ebay.

7) Started teaching myself Korean.

8) Went out and bought them something so they’d remember Washington, D.C.

9) Made a fan sign.

10) Arrived at the Lincoln Theater three and a half hours before the doors opened so I could stand in the rain and wait with all the other AROHA.


I think it was somewhere between watching ASTRO utterly fail at herding a cicada out of their rehearsal space and seeing them kill it at the idol olympics that I fell head over heels for this group of delightful idiots.

ASTRO are Jin Jin (the leader), Rocky, Cha Eun Woo, Moon-Bin, MJ, and Yoon Sanha (the baby). They specialize in incredible six person choreography but are also very talented singers and overall performers. While their music may be a bit too sugary for mainstream American ears, I found their songs and style to be utterly delightful. They harmonize well and make good use of all the singers. I grew particularly fond of Moon-Bin’s reedy tenor and MJ’s buttery vocals when he goes for the high notes.



Waiting in the cold, cold February rain outside the Lincoln Theater with me were my kindred spirits. AROHA. We all quickly became best friends, bonding over who our favorite members were and the songs we liked, funny incidents we remembered, what we hoped to see that evening. Occasionally a cheer would erupt from part of the line and everybody would pull out their phones to see--ASTRO HAD POSTED A TWITTER UPDATE! Girls went up and down the line selling fan-made goods. We huddled under umbrellas, sharing coffee and warmth, making new friends, feeling that anticipation build higher and higher… frozen toes and tired backs were forgotten when the lights of the Lincoln Theater signboard clicked on. The time was getting close!

I kind of hoped ASTRO would be able to visit Ben’s Chili Bowl next door after the show for some real DC food.

Finally, inside the theater--after buying my tour tee shirt (an FG must have)--I went in to find my seat and get settled, organizing my fan sign, light stick, assorted concert goods, coat, umbrella, and glass of well-deserved wine. As one of the first ones in, I had a bit of calm before the storm. The empty theater felt sedate and drowsy. But as the seats slowly began to fill up, the energy level began to rise. A pleasant hum of excited chatter filled the room. ASTRO was here… in the building with us. HERE WITH US. Who’s your bias? When did you start liking them? What’s your favorite song? HOW CUTE IS MOON-BIN?! OMG DID YOU SEE THAT “CRAZY SEXY COOL” PERFORMANCE? WHAT ABOUT THEIR HOTEL ROOM V-LIVE WHERE THEY WERE SINGING LION KING?!

All the stuff we can never talk about in real life bubbling to the surface. There is nothing better than being surrounded by people who just get it. I’ve said this before in blog posts but American culture has a real disdain for women/girls’ culture and interests. Apparently taking pleasure in catchy pop songs, good dancing, handsome men working hard to please us, as well as an appreciation of deep homosocial friendships is the absolute worst thing on the face of the planet and marks us as vapid and stupid. I’m old enough to not care what people may think about my hobbies but my heart does break for the younger fans bullied into giving up something that is source of great joy for them because it’s “not real music”--whatever that even means. (Ladies, anybody who says you’re stupid for liking idols is a misogynist. Being an idol fan is no different than liking a sports team. I know because I do both.)

After a dance performance by a fan to get the crowd warmed up, the house lights go all the way down and “Crazy Sexy Cool” begins to play. The theater sparkles beautifully with purple light sticks and fan signs. My heart is so full of happiness I’m afraid I’m going to start crying. As the song plays, the crowd sings along--shouting the fan chants with enthusiasm. THIS SONG IS REALLY GOOD AND ASTRO ARE HERE! DOLA DOLA DOLA!

When it ends there is a roar from the crowd as we realize that there is a member on stage! IT’S JINJIN!!!!! He and Rocky do an incredible duet dance performance and then the rest of the group comes out for “Again” and that was it. I was gone, so happy that there was no room left in my body for anything else. Not cold toes or a tired throat or empty stomach. Just utter bliss.

ASTRO are very talented dancers and watching them from as close as I was I could tell that they had put in hours of rehearsal time to get all the timings and movements in perfect sync. Sometimes Asian groups will bring their B-game (or even C-game) to America knowing that we aren’t as able to tell the difference as the home crowds but ASTRO brought their best selves. And that respect for us won me over that much more.

As somebody who has spent a good 15 years or so as a male idol group fan, I can’t say enough good things about ASTRO’s dancing and their six person choreography. Even numbers are hard to work with. A lot of times you end up with a hole in the center. Four member groups, especially, tend to look like they’re missing somebody. Two, Five, and Seven seem to be the magic numbers for a good balance on stage but ASTRO just kills the six person rotations. They make a lot of use of a rotating center, where one member will be in front and flip around and another appears behind him or have the guy singing the main line off to either stage left or stage right with the other five acting as counterbalance. To my delight, they also use what I call the “Soul Train Line” move and have two sets of three facing each other and somebody will peel off and strut down the center.

(Prime use of Soul Train Line formation. How could I not fall for these guys?)

It was glorious watching them do all these dances in real life, right before my face. Seeing things that YouTube could never show. The smiles at the crowd, the way muscles move under denim, the sweat, Rocky’s hair flips… Just seeing six people dance in unison like that… I loved it all.

In between the mini-song sets ASTRO played games and chatted with us in the audience. I was really impressed with both ASTRO and Shimmy--our MC for the evening--and the way they were able to bridge the translation gap. I’d been a little worried that there would be a lag in comprehension either on our end, since the majority of us weren’t Korean speakers, or on ASTRO’s. But Shimmy kept things moving smoothly and cleanly and ASTRO had clearly practiced speaking with the (off-stage) translator so between the entire on-stage team, I mostly even forgot they weren’t speaking in English. It was about as close to real life subtitles as you’ll get.

The games were silly variety show type things and I laughed really, really hard at everything because I was having so much fun. The highlight was undoubtedly when the Young Team had to “sexy write” their names with their butts as punishment for losing and Rocky just went for it with this move that had him lunging low into the swoop on the R. I lost it. Between that and the fan service hearts he’d been throwing off on our side of the stage, I was officially now Team Rocky. Poor young Sanha had covered his eyes at this point in the sexy butt writing, horrified. You’ll understand one day, dear boy. Moon-Bin nailing the choreography for like seven songs in a row in a lightening “Name this song” round was also a real delight.

But more than anything else, what I remember is just how happy ASTRO seemed to be on stage performing for us. And how much love I felt standing in the middle of that crowd of fans. There was only one moment where things got out of control, during the encore some fans began rushing towards the stage as ASTRO were throwing out little bags of gummy bears for us. Security were unprepared and what started as a few people snowballed into a somewhat dangerous herd. But as soon as they’d finished tossing out candy, ASTRO told everybody go back to their seats and to the DC fans credit, they did just that.

And then it was over.

But I didn’t feel empty. I felt satisfied… and thankful. Thankful to ASTRO for coming to DC to perform… for existing in the first place. And thankful to the lovely AROHA I’d met in line who were so sweet and kind and made my day so much fun.

This is why I love idol groups. Being a fan of an idol group isn’t about buying crap because you want to marry one of the members. Being a fan of an idol group is about love. A love of music and dance, a love for your fellow fans, and a love for the guys who work so hard to please us. We are AROHA. We are ASTRO.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Happy 6th Anniversary A.B.C-Z!!!!  6周年、おめでとうございます!

Happy 6th Anniversary to A.B.C-Z! 6周年、おめでとうございます!!!

I’ve only been following them since 2013 or so but it’s been an incredible journey, watching the group grow and mature, and I couldn’t be happier or prouder to be a fan. I’ve written about them approximately one million times here on the old blog [please click here for an archive of posts] but I can’t stop myself from writing again.

(From left to right, they are: Ryoichi Tsukada, Fumito Kawai, Ryosuke Hashimoto, Shota Totsuka, and Koichi Goseki)

A.B.C-Z are never going to be the best selling or most popular idol group in the world or even in Japan but I love them even more for it. Totsuka and Kawai are the John Lennon and Paul McCartney of A.B.C-Z, dueling creative forces of personal artistry and showmanship who compromise into a good balance of both. Goseki, the oldest, zen dance master and overall weirdo. Tsukada, an idol fan himself, knows first hand what it will take to please an audience and is always happy to deliver. And Hashimoto, the beloved baby of the group, who has worked with these guys since he was 14 and who the entire fandom has watched mature from an awkward, insecure teenager into a confident adult.

I first fell in love with them in the summer of 2013. I was watching one of the giant music performance shows Japanese television loves putting on when my attention was fully caught by this group of five utterly charming guys I’d never heard of before. I rewound the performance over and over again, skin tingling in pleasure every time they held the ずっと over the dropped beat with the little “OK” hand gesture in “ずっとLOVE”.

Over the next few weeks I would order everything they had released so far, which luckily wasn’t much. One filmed stage play, three DVD “singles”, and one small scale concert film. I’ve followed them through the travel reality show in Australia, the late night drama where they played virgin superheroes, all the iterations of their retro stage revues, the regular CD singles, the DVD singles, the albums… I’ve traveled to Japan four times to see them perform (11 concerts, 4 stage performances) and translated dozens of articles and essays from Japanese into English. I’ve learned more about Japanese contemporary theater than I thought I would ever need to know. I’m grateful to have learned about Japanese contemporary literature from Totsuka and about Japanese pop culture from Kawai. I’m grateful to have learned how to properly participate as a member of a Japanese idol audience from Goseki. And I’m grateful to have been on the receiving end of the love that Tsukada and Hashimoto send out into the audience at every performance.

I am truly grateful to be a fan of A.B.C-Z. They have given me an incredible amount of pleasure and joy over the last few years. I keep threatening to write and idol book and this is why: to the outside observer, the idol-fan relationship can look gross and transactionary. We give them money and they give us a smile and a shitty pop song. What those outside observers are missing is the emotional aspect. Idol fans love our idols because they give us an escape from the mundanity of regular life. The melding of music, dance, and emotion, the bonding with our fellow fans, the transcending of everyday experience into a higher plane of existence. (Yeah, I went there.) The cost of an album or two is nothing in comparison to the pure joy I’ve felt standing in the middle of an A.B.C-Z concert, just one fan in a sea of thousands, tears falling uncontrollably as they kick into サポーターズ! (“Supporters!”).

THAT is what being an idol fan is all about. That is what being an A.B.C-Z fan is all about. Supporting the group and having them support us in turn.








You and Me

I want to be your support

Even in your darkest night

So you can dry your tears

You aren’t alone

Don’t forget that

I also wanted to help you out

That’s why you don’t have to hold back

You and me

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The BBC's "K-Pop: Korea's Secret Weapon?" is GARBAGE.

Starting with my Bollywood obsession, I’ve been kicking around the Asian pop culture scene for at least 15 or so years now and in those 15 years I’ve learned one very important lesson: Western coverage of Eastern pop culture is always GARBAGE. So, I wasn’t really expecting much more than a superficial “Wow, have you heard of THIS” type video when I heard that BBC Radio One was going to be putting out a documentary on K-Pop and BTS. It was even worse than I expected.

If you thought that the Slumdog Millionaire media frenzy was bad, welcome to Western press coverage of K-Pop and BTS.

Here’s the thing, I recognize that in this era of #content farm journalism, everybody is racing to grab those clicks and putting up hastily written, poorly researched articles and videos on the topic-du-jour is just the way journalism is done now. I can accept that to an extent but when the outlet in question is one that confers authority like the New York Times--which has appallingly poor Bollywood reviews--or the BBC I get mad. How dare they publish this culturally myopic and intellectually lazy garbage as fact! It’s unforgivable. It’s been a while since I wrote up a good FG rant so please enjoy me yelling at the BBC about their shitty, shitty documentary!

Point 1) I knew I was in trouble when the editing of the introduction turned J-Hope’s pulse point choreography from the sweet love song “DNA” into a gun blast that led into the title: K-Pop: Korea’s Secret Weapon?.

What is the point of using this militarized and violent imagery? Music as a “secret weapon”? Is it the paranoia of the former imperial power terrified of its cultural capital dwindling or an attempt to tie K-Pop into the situation with North Korea? Or both? Host Adele Roberts does visit the border with North Korea where the South Korean military is shown blasting K-Pop songs at their northern neighbor but she also visits the official state office that promotes K-Pop globally.

The North Korean angle is a cynical attempt to make the subject appear more serious and shouldn’t have been included. It does nothing but reinforce harmful stereotypes of North Koreans as robotic and militaristic and strange.

The export angle is fair game, although I think the violent imagery is uncalled for. It’s no secret that tiny South Korea has made a conscious effort to expand its cultural capital by exporting cultural products like music, movies, and television dramas. (You can read about it in The Birth of Korean Cool. The book has some real blind spots but it lays out a pretty good foundation of how “K-Pop” started.) Korean culture exports have slowly began taking over in places like Southeast Asia, South America, East India, Eastern Europe and so on. Places where they used to consume Japanese or Hindi-language etc exports are now riding the Hallyu wave.

Which brings me to point 2) Hey, BBC, Korean culture had already gone global. You’re like at least 6 years late to the party. I remember reading about K-Pop group BIGBANG on Gawker waaaaayyyy back in 2011 or 2012 around when “Fantastic Baby” came out. Just because you didn’t hear about “Fantastic Baby” doesn’t mean it wasn’t a huge hit globally. BIGBANG are extremely popular in Japan, which is a much, much, much more important market than the US or UK because they buy physical albums which are more profitable than digital sales and are extremely loyal fans. Fandom is a way of life and involves fanclub memberships, merchandise, and so on, which are far more valuable to music companies than streams on Spotify.

Japan is so important that even in BTS’s “Mic Drop” video--clips of which are shown liberally through the documentary--the members of BTS are all wearing Japanese brand Mastermind!!!!! A song aimed at the American market featuring a brand you can’t buy in America. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about how little the BBC Radio 1 team understands their subject then perhaps this will.

BIGBANG are massive worldwide and set an important precedent for BTS. To not even mention them in a documentary on global K-Pop… well, maybe we shouldn’t be taking this documentary as fact.

Because point 3) When host Adele Roberts goes to meet a couple of men in the fashion industry (Hong Sukwoo and Eugene) to talk about the link between K-Pop and fashion, one name that comes up is the inimitable G-Dragon. THE G-Dragon of BIGBANG who is a huge global celebrity and gets tagged in English language fashion press all the time. HE IS EXTREMELY RECOGNIZABLE.

The BBC 1 editing team uses this opportunity to show footage of G-Dragon’s BIGBANG bandmate TOP from the “Fxxk It” video.

(NOTE: This is not G-Dragon.)

And it was at this point--about 6 or 7 minutes in--that the documentary completely lost me. If you can’t tell G-Dragon and TOP apart, two of the MOST FAMOUS MEN IN THE WORLD, maybe you shouldn’t be making a documentary on K-Pop.

It gets worse.

We move into point 4) hey, BBC, shut the fuck up about idols because you don’t get it. Adele Roberts asks a bunch of leading questions to her interview subjects intended to push the narrative that the idol system is inhumane, feeds the erotic delusions of fans, and led to SHINee’s Jonghyun’s death.

Maybe I do need to write that book on idols after all.


If you don’t get that, you should not be speaking from authority on (especially male) idols. The idea that all idol fans want to marry their idols is utter bullshit and even the most cursory review of idol fandom should quickly reveal that (especially female) idol fans are far more invested in the friendships between the members then they are in fucking the members themselves. The burdens placed on women in heterosexual romantic relationships are huge and the roles women are expected to play are very restrictive. You can’t be taller than your man, or smarter, or more successful. Who wouldn’t find it relaxing to imagine yourself part of a group like BTS where you can be surrounded by handsome and talented guys who support each other without any of that garbage?

This is not about sexual availability to fans. That reading of idol-fan relationships is extremely male-gazey and condescending. Not to mention wrong. Are there idol fans with huge crushes on their favorites? Yes, of course. But are there many, many, many more of us for whom that is not the case. There are many lesbian fans of male idol groups, for example.

But it gets worse when the documentary concern trolls us with Jonghyun’s recent death. I wrote about this a few weeks ago and I know many idol fans (and K-Pop fans) are still very broken up about it. The documentary puts the blame for Jonghyun’s suicide on the restrictive “rules” that need to be followed such as… living in company housing.

Just fuck off, BBC. This is utterly disrespectful to Jonghyun’s memory and you should be ashamed. Jonghyun had some serious problems with depression. This has nothing to do with company housing, a perk provided by a lot of different types of companies all over Asia and isn’t just some weird idol thing like is implied here.

Are there problems with how idol mental health is handled in Korea? Absolutely. Is a 8 minute chunk of a BBC radio 1 documentary an appropriate or respectful venue to discuss these? No. This was a cheap and dehumanizing move and clearly showed that BBC 1 sees Korean idols and K-Pop as nothing more than weird, exotic dolls to be milked for drama and clicks.

I’m embarrassed for anybody tied to Jonghyun to have to see this garbage.

To top it all off, sprinkled throughout the documentary were those classic Western exocitizing shots of random people going about their everyday life presented as “Oooo foreign and exotic.” The whole thing disgusted me.

Adele Roberts says at the end, “[The Internet] made it easier for people to be exposed to new sounds and new cultures...” and it’s true. It has. But whether or not people get anything out of that exposure than “Look, ha ha, how weird” is up for debate.

Monday, January 15, 2018

BTS in AMERICAN HUSTLE LIFE and why you should watch it.

“If it looks good--
If it smells good--
If it tastes good--
Then it
is good.
Coolio, to BTS, on the link between performing and cooking.

(Mr. Worldwide Handsome on what he wants to do in America.)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A few more hundred words on idols, American delusions, and my newfound love of BTS.

One of the topics I’ve written the most about is on the complicated morality of being an American and appreciating pop culture from other cultures and countries. Even though I’ve written hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of words on the topic, I feel the need to dip back into the well after my binge of BTS and Korean pop-related #content this week. Almost ten years ago now I wrote this in a blog post (linked here):

As a white person, I need to be aware of how I am consuming popular cultures from other parts of the world. Exoticism and cultural appropriation--such as Gwen Stefani's "Harajuku Girls"--are traps too easy to fall into. But there is a big difference between hitting up the local Indian theatre to go to a film and wearing a sari to a formal event; a difference between getting your hands henna'ed at a street fair and Natalie Portman as a "Bollywood princess" in a music video. As the Internet flattens out the plane of popular culture, I don't think there is anything wrong with non-desi people watching Bollywood films just as people around the world watch Hollywood. America and the west don't have a monopoly on the global popular culture. People should be free to like Tom Cruise, Shahrukh Khan, Bae Yong Joon, or Kimura Takuya no matter WHERE they are from.

And, not to brag, but I think most of what I wrote holds up today when it comes to American appreciating Korean pop cultural exports. As people may or may not be aware, BTS spent the last couple of months on an American press blitz. Reading through the articles from mainstream American publications on BTS, watching their talk show appearances, as well as listening to podcasts and reading articles and comments from American K-pop fans, what comes through loud and clear to me are two things. 1) The story of BTS in the American press is not the group itself or their music or even K-Pop but in gawking at the hysterical fans. 2) A large number of international K-Pop fans are consuming the cultural products being exported with little or no context for what it is exactly that they’re consuming.

Let me tackle the first one first. I freely admit to being outside the American pop culture bubble. I don’t find much of what we produce here (nor how we talk about it) spiritually or artistically satisfying.

(Look at the conversation around mediocre films like the new Star Wars movie. It’s all about rushing to identify tropes, overly cleverpants discussion of Star Wars as a piece of corporate property, incredibly obnoxious Neil Degrasse Tyson-style “well actually” about plotholes, dullards crafting elaborate metaphors about contemporary politics, and so on. Very little about how it made people feel or the artistry (and lack thereof) in the film itself, which is what I care about.)

So, long story short, BTS came to my attention as something other than a group with some catchy tunes when I watched them on the 2017 Music Station Super Live a few weeks ago.

(I absolutely just bought a knock-off version of J-Hope's (far right) Gucci sweater. Do not underestimate my fangirl skills.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A few thoughts on idols, SHINee's Kim Jong-Hyun, A.B.C-Z, and BTS

It’s been just over two weeks since SHINee’s Kim Jong-Hyun (Jonghyun) passed away. He was only 27 years old. According to news reports, he appears to have committed suicide by carbon dioxide poisoning. Police found burned charcoal briquettes in his room. SHINee may not be worldwide household names but news sites know Korean pop generates clicks and Jonghyun’s death was grist for every #content mill for a few days as all the usual suspects--BBC, CNN, New York Times, Yahoo! News, etc.--had explainers on Korean pop or pieces on Korea’s high suicide rate and crazy fans and then the news cycle moved on.

But I didn’t move on.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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