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.)

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

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