You would never know that I’m a fan of Korean pop culture just by looking at me, but my love affair with South Korea has been going strong for well over a decade. It all began in Honolulu when I watched subtitled dramas on local KBFD and it’s blossomed over the years to include music, reality shows, cooking, language, and even, history.
To kick off 2014 and give you all a glimpse into what makes me tick, I’ll be doing a monthly feature of my current distractions in South Korean culture.
Drama: The Prime Minister and I
After Heirs ended, I latched onto a new rom-com k-drama called, The Prime Minister and I (or The Prime Minister is Dating). I initially thought the 20+ year age difference between the leads, Lee Bum Soo and SNSD’s Im Yoona, might be challenging for on-screen chemistry, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are both excellent actors with a strong supporting cast, plus the storyline is sweet. As much as I liked Heirs, this drama is light-hearted with brooding kept to a minimum. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend it. Subtitled episodes can be found on DramaFever.
Music: Year-End Gayos
I really look forward to the gayos at the end of the year. They are music programs broadcasted by the three Korean TV channels (KBS, MBC, and SBS) and feature popular music from the past year. Because the time difference is killer and shows often go on for 3-4 hours, I catch up on performances that are posted on Allkpop the following morning. I’ve tried watching live streaming before, but I just can’t do all-nighters anymore and only want to watch a few songs anyway. This year’s two most impressive stages happened during the SBS Gayo Daejun and both were collaborations.
CNBlue, Dok2, and Double K (I’m Sorry Rap/Rock Collab)
CL and Lee Hyori (Bad Girls/Baddest Female)
Reality TV: Cheongdam-dong 111
Cheongdam-dong 111, refers to both the address of FNC Entertainment and the company’s new 8-episode reality show. Bands FTIsland and CNBlue, singer Juniel, and girl group AOA are all musical artists signed to FNC, along with a few select actors and entertainers. The show takes viewers behind the scenes to check out the inner workings of this up and coming entertainment company.
I am particularly intrigued by the shrewd, but surprisingly easy-going producer and CEO Han Sung Ho. He appears affable and is downright hilarious in some scenes. In his former life, he was a k-pop singer, so FNC feels like he’s attempting to create an environment that yields high creativity, with exceptionally well-rounded talent and the right amount of pressure to make it all come together. From what I can see, it’s working.
CEO Han looks like he may be in his 40’s and considers himself still young and very hip, but it becomes obvious that he has difficulty relating to and being friendly with the younger generation in his company, both because of his age and because of his position as the CEO, although he really would like to know them better. The individual band leaders seem comfortable with him, but the other band members, not so much. In one episode, the executive team finds out the results of CNBlue’s psychological testing, to see if they and FTIsland are managing their stress levels, despite their hectic schedules. What transpires is CEO Han trying desperately to connect with CNBlue members Lee Jong Hyun and Lee Jung Shin.
You don’t need to understand Korean to be able to recognize awkwardness. Side order of cringe? Yes, please!
Hot Topics: Idol Dating & Kim Woo Bin
K-pop idols normally don’t date publicly in order to retain a strong fan base for their respective groups, but on December 31, it was announced that SNSD’s Yoona and media darling Lee Seungi Gi are dating. It might not sound like a big deal, but SNSD just happens to be the most universally recognized k-pop girl group of all time and Yoona is the most popular of the group. Two days later, it was confirmed that another SNSD member, Sooyoung is dating actor Jung Kyung Ho. Some people suspect it’s a marketing ploy for SNSD’s upcoming album, while others think dating could be a clause in contract renewals. Whatever the case, these two confirmations from the usually tight-lipped SM Entertainment have people wondering if the k-pop landscape could evolve to be more accepting of idols dating.
If you don’t know SNSD, this MV won 2013 Video of the Year at the YouTube music awards.
Kim Woo Bin
After his great acting on both Heirs and Friend 2, I have been anticipating model-turned-actor Kim Woo Bin’s next step. His strong features and serious charisma are definitely a welcome change from the sea of “flower boys”. Still no word on what his next acting part will be, but in the meantime, he’s been picking up product endorsements, hosting gigs, and magazine covers.
Food: Korean Cooking with Janice Morimoto
I was lucky to catch Janice Morimoto doing a fun cooking demo for Korean Seafood Pancakes on a Hawai’i Goes Fishing rebroadcast over the weekend. She’s a local Hawaiʻi girl and actress, who moved to South Korea and is now posting cooking demos for Korean and local Hawaiʻi food on her YouTube station. She gets occasional help from her friends, but I love watching her Korean cooking evolve.
Okay, that’s it for January! See you next month!