Sunday, April 28, 2019

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 12

Your old friend Filmi Girl goes in depth with Bangtan Sonyeondan's (BTS) new album Map of the Soul: Persona!

This is my first attempt at a Filmi Girl-style album review done podcast style. Let me know if you liked it!! I had a lot of fun putting it together and would like to try doing some other classic albums this way.

The songs played are:

1. "Ddaeng" by RM, Suga, and J-Hope (performed live at Prom Party, June 13, 2018)

2. "Eternal Sunshine" by Epik High (produced by BTS's Suga)

3. "Without Me" by Halsey

4. "Boy With Luv" by BTS (performed live at Inkigayo, April 28, 2019

5. "Intro: Persona" by RM

6. "Skool Luv Affair: Intro" by RM

7. "Encore" by Jay-Z

8. "Boy With Luv" by BTS

9. "Boy in Luv" by BTS

10. "Boy With Luv" by BTS (performed live at Music Bank, April 26, 2019

11. "Mikrokosmos" by BTS

12. "Beautiful Day" by U2

13. "Dreams" by the Cranberries

14. "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" by the Pogues

15. "Make it Right" by BTS

16. "Make it Right" by BTS (performed live at M Countdown, April 18, 2019

17. "Home" by BTS

18. "Jamais Vu" by BTS

19. "Dionysus" by BTS

20. "Pied Piper" by BTS

21. "134340" by BTS

22. "Moon Child" by RM

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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

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

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

The song is the same.

The guys are the same.

The choreography is the same.

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

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

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

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

So let’s get into this a little bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SNL continues to focus on RM’s rap.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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