Hello! Welcome to maybe if you stanned, a weekly dive into K-pop releases and fan culture. After a week of hiatus, I’m here to play catch up on everything that’s happened in the past two weeks. That includes new releases from (G)I-DLE, Mamamoo, Amber Liu, Eric Nam, and Hinapia plus some brief thoughts on white, male writers continuously botching K-pop coverage in United States publications.
Also, a shameless plug for my other side project: I’ve launched a podcast with my friend and partner in crime Petrana Radulovic. It’s a weekly recap/discussion podcast about High School Musical: The Musical: The Series called High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Podcast. Check us out on Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Music!
Here’s this week’s playlist. Also, check out this newsletter on desktop so you can actually watch the videos, etc. etc.
(G)I-DLE — “Lion”
EXO COMEBACK SOON
I’m so unbearably excited for this EXO comeback. It’s been… so long. EXO comes back with “Obsession” and a 10 track album on Nov. 27. You can check out a series of teaser images on Twitter at @weareoneEXO and parallel account @EXOonearewe. With both EXO and “X-EXO” teasers for each member and promotional materials showing them facing off against their alter-egos, it looks like we’re getting another concept heavy EXO comeback. To which I say: thank you.
I’m not going to do a longer write-up of this because I don’t have the space, but Riot Games released “Giants,” a single by project group True Damage during the 2019 League of Legends World Championship. Following last year’s K-pop style “POP/STARS,” “Giants” is a hip-hop track featuring Soyeon of (G)I-DLE, Becky G, Keke Palmer, Duckwrth, and Thutmose. If you want more in-depth info about the group and its ties to the game itself, Julia Lee wrote it up over at Polygon.
Produce 48 and Produce X 101 producer Ahn Joo-young arrested after admitting to vote manipulation
A producer of the reality series that has produced groups like IOI, Wanna One, and most recently IZ*ONE and X1, admitted to manipulating rankings on Produce 48 (which yielded IZ*ONE) and Produce X 101 (X1). According to SBS (per Soompi), Ahn had been entertained over 40 times at an adult entertainment establishment in Gangnam by several entertainment agencies as a means of bribery concerning the reality shows. Police later confirmed that all seasons of the Produce series had been subject to manipulation.
There’s always been plenty of discourse around Produce shows — after all, part of the experience is living through the thrill and disappointment of your favorite trainees being selected or eliminated for the final group. Now that there’s been confirmation of results meddling, things are a bit more grim — after all, IZ*ONE has been actively promoting for over a year now, and X1 recently debuted as well. For fans of the groups themselves, it’s devastating news.
As of now, it’s unclear how things are going to play out. There are rumors that both IZ*ONE and X1 will disband early given the implications of the news, but its yet to be reported by any reputable outlet. Kpopmap reports that Mnet has denied disbandment, although IZ*ONE’s upcoming comeback has been indefinitely delayed.
Another white, male writer says some dumb shit about K-pop on Twitter
Normally I wouldn’t be this upfront confrontational about it, but there’s been so much BS going around lately re: American media covering K-pop and most of it has come from white men who have little familiarity with it. Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently covered Super M’s Fort Worth tour stop, and his review was mostly him fixating on the fact that group addressed the crowd as being Dallas rather than Fort Worth based and mocking the group for what he perceived as lip-syncing.
Okay, whatever, you did a bad review and didn’t bother to research the group or industry that you were covering. However, Stevenson also proceeded to provoke stans on Twitter, almost reveling in the fact that he was deliberately insulting their favs and making them mad as shit. Aside from the above tweet, he also continued to mockingly tweet out the article with #Kpop and #SuperM hashtags, engaging with fans who continued to ratio my tweets.
Can we just… please not do this. I’m so tired and you look like an idiot.
New this week (and also… last week…)
(G)I-DLE – “Lion”
I promised on Twitter that I was going to go a little long on this song, and I’m sure as hell following through! I actually wrote most of this two weeks ago after the Queendom debut performance of “Lion,” but decided to wait until after the music video release to pub anything about it. (but really, you should watch the Queendom performance. It’s ridiculous.)
“Lion” is an accurate representation of (G)I-DLE’s progress, now just around a year and a half after their debut in 2018. The group’s centerpiece is (and always has been) rapper Soyeon, who flirted with a career as a soloist before Cube made her a part of (G)I-DLE, where she not only performs but also self-produces songs for the group. It’s not an overstatement to say that she’s one of the best female rappers — and rappers, period — in the industry right now. Soyeon is so compelling, however, that (G)I-DLE as a group has at times suffered for it.
The group’s biggest strength is the versatility of its members and the variety of their voices, something that arguably took a backseat in previous releases. Each member has incredibly unique vocal color and the ability to command attention easily. While there are certain constants — Soyeon having an extended rap verse and Miyeon having chorus lines, for example — other members of the group have been gradually getting more and more time in the spotlight.
“Lion,” which Soyeon produced, is so damn good because it leans into the strengths of each of the members. Shuhua, who has had scant lines since debut (I’ve been told it’s due to her Korean language skills), finally gets the time to shine with a hefty verse and some time on the post-chorus. Minnie gets to lean into the power vocal side, and there’s some great interplay between Soyeon and Soojin as well as Miyeon and Yuqi. Finally, putting Soyeon’s rap verse on the bridge is a perfect choice, and one I wish the group would do more often — it’s a part of the song that makes the most sense for her to command individually and in this case, provides a thrillist build to the final chorus.
I think this is the strongest we’ve seen (G)I-DLE musically since “Hann” (released last August) and I hope we get to see more of this vein in the future. Also… what an MV!
Mamamoo — “HIP,” reality in BLACK
Mamamoo is one of the groups that I’ve gradually come around to in the years since I’ve gotten into K-pop, and I regret that it’s taken me this long to really get into them. I think the group’s biggest strengths are the individual capabilities of its members in addition to a relatively unique musical style that in many ways has steered clear of the EDM and pop sensibilities that dominate the K-pop landscape. The group recently put out their second LP, reality in BLACK, which also features the single “Destiny,” which Mamamoo premiered on Queendom as well.
“Hit” is a self-assured single that’s basically a solid middle finger to Mamamoo’s most ridiculous critics. Tamar Herman writes in Billboard about one sequence in the music video that features the headline “President Hwasa dressed ridiculous at the airport,” presumably in reference to criticisms against her going braless to the airport.
For me, “Hit” also highlighted how solid of a rapper Moonbyul is; her lower tone sets her apart from other female rappers in the industry (shoutout to my other favorite low-tone rapper, Dami of Dreamcatcher). Anyways, not to be pathetically gay, but I would let Moonbyul kick me in the ribs and say thank you.
And now, lightning speed on some other releases…
Hinapia – “Drip”
Hinapia have finally debuted with “Drip,” an attitude-laden track with a killer pre-chorus and chorus. Their single album, aptly titled New Start, is the first release from former Pristin members Minkyung, Kyungwon, Yebin, Eunwoo, and new fifth member Bada.
Eric Nam — “Congratulations,” Before We Begin
Korean-American soloist Eric Nam recently released his first English-language LP, titled Before We Begin. The title track “Congratulations” features Marc E. Bassy and leans into American pop sensibilities with an anthemic chorus.
Amber Liu — “Other People”
I’ll level with you all — I’m always a bit weak for Amber. Formerly of f(x) (she didn’t renew her contract with SM Entertainment this past September), I think she’s one of the more versatile artists to have spent time in the K-pop industry. “Other People” is almost Halsey-esque in its synth sensibilities and messaging, fully leaning into Amber’s pop vocals as well.
A non-musical aside here: there was a bit of drama on stan Twitter after this music video, because it features Amber making out with a guy. The artist has never made a public statement about her sexuality, but fans frequently inscribe queerness onto her given the fact that she’s particularly known for bucking conventional notions of femininity within the K-pop industry. Let Amber kiss whoever she wants! While I fully empathize with reading her as a kind of role model or queer figure (I’ve shown pictures of her to stylists more than once while getting my hair cut), it’s unfair to hold her to a kind of queer standard, especially when… she has never publicly identified as queer.
Leo of VIXX — “All of Me”
One of my favorite voices in K-pop is back with a very lovely ballad track!
BVNDIT — “Dumb”
My favorite parts of this song are the pre-chorus sections where it slows down just before ramping up again.
Nature — “Oopsie (My Bad)”
Big fan of the punchy bass synth sound on this! Also a reminder that I need to get into Nature.
No essay this week since this got a bit long with backlogged releases!
Thanks, and until next week,