Tag Archives: k-pop


The Rise of Illionaire Records

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Complex Magazine’s June 30 story on Illionaire rappers Dok2, the Quiett and Beenzino. This article has been republished on KoreAm with permission. 


story by JAEKI CHO
photography by BOOBA

When Korean artists tour the U.S., they usually go big—from circus lighting to pyrotechnics to branded glowsticks, no detail is left unconsidered. But last September’s show at B.B. King’s in Times Square was not your typical K-pop event.

Sure, the crowd was your usual mix of exchange students and non-Korean superfans. And yeah, the concert was sold out, with lines stretching around the block. But they weren’t paying premium prices ($115 for VIP tickets, with packages costing as much as $1,850) to watch a hyper-produced spectacle from Big Bang or 2NE1. This was a hip-hop show, featuring the trio of artists—Dok2 (pronounced doh-KEE), the Quiett and Beenzino—who make up the Korean label Illionaire Records.

Inside the venue, the opening DJ failed to get the crowd moving, and the jetlagged artists, though well-received, were performing songs that seemed largely unknown to their audience. Illionaire’s first New York City show came and went without much of a bang. But in many ways, the journey to B.B. King’s was far more important than the actual destination.

Without the aid of major-label dollars, Illionaire has risen to the top of the Korean hip-hop scene on the strength of a DIY mentality that has made the three of them rich in their home country—and, slowly but surely, on their way to achieving notoriety abroad. In doing so, they are at the forefront of a new movement in independent Korean hip-hop that is proving that there is more to the country’s musical exports than cute K-pop groups.


Of course, rap isn’t a new genre in Korea. Since the early ’90s, K-pop artists have appropriated everything from new jack swing to gangsta rap. Legendary group Seo Taiji and Boys mimicked Cypress Hill—both B-Real’s nasal delivery and DJ Muggs’ grungy production—for their ’95 hit “Come Back Home.” Later, Drunken Tiger’s more authentic form of homegrown rap helped legitimize the artform.

While borrowing from (or paying homage to) hip-hop has been a common trend in K-pop since the early ’90s, the music itself has been regarded as second class. Cultural differences are the biggest hurdle, since rap’s roots are in anti-authoritarian and ego-driven rhetoric. For Koreans who are taught the age-old proverb “A nail that sticks out gets hammered,” rap’s attitude—not to mention the alcohol and drugs—is not only deemed crude, but sometimes taboo.

However, there is also the reality that Koreans, broadly speaking, are not shy about flaunting their wealth, which falls right in line with the ethos of contemporary hip-hop. In that sense, Illionaire’s music is a sign of the material times. To start, their content is dominated by boasts about cars, jewelry, and money—especially money.

Sonically, each Illionaire artist leans heavily on popular hip-hop trends. Dok2, who has collaborated in the past with K-pop superstars G-Dragon and HyunA, prefers Southern trap and co-opts flows from Tha Carter II-era Weezy and Meek Mill; the Quiett, known more for his production, leans toward boom-bap beats like Primo; and Beenzino raps with a sing-song melody that is unmistakably inspired by Drake. The connective thread is that, to their fans, these guys are the embodiment of hip-hop cool. And Illionaire fans aren’t limited to Korea. Though their lyrics are mostly in their mother tongue, with choruses and ad-libs often in English, one needn’t understand the meaning of the words to “turn up”—a term Dok2 popularized in Korea—to Illionaire’s music.

And word to MMG, Illionaire is truly “self-made.” In South Korea, giant corporations control the entertainment industry. K-pop behemoths like SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment house the biggest idol groups, while media conglomerates like CJ E&M distribute all physical and online music for 20-plus labels, including Illionaire Records. To be successful, most aspiring rappers either join the major-label system or struggle in the underground.


But as an independent entity, Illionaire is changing the paradigm. Without the heavy-handed oversight of corporate overseers, the three Illionaire artists are selling out shows throughout Korea and topping charts, with Beenzino’s “Dali, Van, Picasso” and Dok2’s “111%” and “Multillionaire” (produced by DJ Mustard) reaching the top 10 on Korean online music charts without help from Korea’s ubiquitous music shows or radio spins. In South Korea’s tiny music market (catering to a population of just 50 million), it’s pretty much unprecedented for an indie label to hold this much mainstream clout.

Today, emboldened by Illionaire’s success, more indie Korean rappers and R&B singers are thriving without major labels, including K-pop star Jay Park and his AOMG imprint and new star Keith Ape (“It G Ma”), who was originally a product of Korean indie HI-LITE Records.

Beyond their image and sound, Illionaire earns hip-hop cred because they are hustlers who have bucked the system to create—and make money—on their own terms. Follow the leaders.

“Most South Korean rappers are from wealthy families, especially well-known hip-hop musicians,” says 30-year-old rapper-producer the Quiett. “It’s strange, considering that hip-hop was birthed in the slums.”

Korean hip-hop has its roots in Gangnam—made famous by Psy’s hit—and not an impoverished neighborhood like the South Bronx. Members of seminal Korean rap groups like Dynamic Duo and Epik High all hail from the affluent Seoul district. Being that hip-hop is a foreign culture that costs money to emulate, those with more money naturally had more access.


Read full story on Complex

See Also


Producer Glen Choi’s Music Makes K-pop Fans “Go Crazy!”

Interview with Tiger JK, Korea’s Hip-hop Legend 

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Ailee to Release First Full-Length Album in October

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

It’s been three years since Korean American singer Ailee took the K-pop world by storm with her single “Heaven.” Now, the powerhouse vocalist is planning to drop her first full-length album this upcoming October.

“We have not decided on an exact comeback date, but we are planning for an October release,” YMC Entertainment, the singer’s agency, told TV Report. The agency also mentioned that Ailee has already begun recording songs and is steadily receiving new tracks from producers to include in the album.

On Tuesday, the 26-year-old singer released the track Johnny as part of Brave Brothers’ 10th anniversary album. She also recently shared a 15-second video that teases the song’s sultry choreography.

In addition to preparing for her first album, Ailee will be holding her first solo concert Fatal Attraction at Olympic Hall on July 4.

To learn more about Ailee’s journey, read KoreAm‘s May 2013 cover story on the singer by clicking here



Featured image via YMC Entertainment/YouTube (screenshot)

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2015 Dodgers Korea Night to Feature Kimchi Dogs, K-pop



Kimchi dogs will be sold at the Los Angeles Dodgers game tonight in honor of the team’s fourth annual Korea Night. Presented by Korea Tourism Organization, this is an effort to celebrate Korean culture while having a fun time at a baseball game with family and friends.

The Dodgers will face the Texas Rangers, including South Korean outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, at Elysian Park in a sold-out game.

For the K-pop fans out there, you’re in for a special treat. South Korean rock band YB will perform at 6 p.m. for the pre-game show with a four-song set, followed by the Korean and American national anthems.

2NE1’s CL is also set to throw the first pitch. There will be an opportunity for CL to sign autographs at 7:30 p.m. 

Attendees will receive a Korea Night themed T-shirt if they purchased the special event ticket package.

See Also


Los Angeles Dodgers Host 2014 Korean Heritage Night

Hyun-jin Ryu Pitched with a Shoulder Injury for Two Years

2NE1’s CL to Make U.S. Solo Debut With Support of Scooter Braun


Featured image via Korea Herald

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Epik High 2015 L.A. Concert Recap

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Six years have passed since South Korean hip-hop group Epik High last toured in the U.S., and last week, California fans made sure the group kicked off their highly-anticipated trek with a bang.

After successfully opening their 2015 North American Tour in San Francisco, Epik High headed to Los Angeles on May 29. Fans eagerly waited outside the Wiltern Theatre in Koreatown hours before the concert began, with the line winding around the block.

As fans squeezed into the theater, sweeping classical music echoed into the opulent gold ceiling. Instead of spectacular LED displays or set designs that are usually present at K-pop concerts, Epik High’s stage was minimally dressed with a single DJ booth that bore the band’s logo.

Promptly at 8 p.m., the concert kicked off with Koreatown rapper Parker, formerly known as Dumbfoundead, performing some of his signature songs, such as “Are We There Yet?” and “Ganghis Khan.” Fellow L.A. rappers Mike B and 1TYM’s Danny later joined him on stage to help create a dynamic performance.

Dumbfoundead at epik high

Epik High then took the stage with their soothing, orchestral track “Encore” and transitioned to their signature, electronic song “Fly.” Fans chanted the lyrics while bobbing their glow sticks to the beat.

Members Tablo, Mithra and DJ Tukutz then briefly introduced themselves to the audience—with the help of dramatic theme songs—and performed the hard-hitting song “Get Out of the Way,” followed by Map the Soul tracks “Free Music” and “Top Gun.” The group closed the set with “Light It Up,” which was originally featured in G-dragon’s second solo album.

After a short break, the trio proceeded to perform the ballad “It’s Cold” when DJ Tukutz abruptly cut off the music and suggested a song change.

“It’s too hot for L.A.,” the DJ joked in accented English. “L.A. too dry. L.A. needs more moist.”

Keeping the suggestion in mind, the two rappers proceeded to perform the melancholy song “Umbrella,” only for Tukutz to stop the music again—this time, citing that the song was “too moist.” Deciding to save the slow songs for later, the trio dove into the infectious beats of “Burj Khalifa” and cinematic songs “Map the Soul” and “Rich.”

During intermission, the band read a letter thanking North American fans for their continued support. However, the endearing letter quickly degenerated into a list of things they like about North America, which spanned from famous celebrities, such as Justin Bieber, Drake and the Jonas Brothers, to random things, such as grizzly bears, frappuccinos and Stanford University.

epik high performance 2

After DJ Tukutz opened the second half of the concert by showing off his K-pop dance moves, the team reflected on their long-awaited return to the U.S.

“The most difficult part of this tour is that it’s far away from home,” Tablo said to the audience, adding that he already missed his family back in Korea. “There’s only one good reason to be away from home, and it’s to be home with you guys.”

Without any set or wardrobe changes, the trio continued to perform old fan favorites, such as “Love Love Love” and “The One,” to hits from their latest album Shoebox, including Tablo’s cover of labelmate Taeyang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips.”

For the grand finale, Epik High closed the show with their dark, uptempo song “Fan,” but returned for an encore at their fans’ insistence and performed “Born Hater.” During the encore, Tablo and Mithra offered some heavy-duty fan service, tossing autographed shirts to the crowd and taking selfies and videos with their fans’ smartphones.

Epik High ended the night by saying farewell to their L.A. fans, promising to return and not make them wait six years for the next performance.

The next stop on Epik High’s North American trek is Seattle, where the hip-hop trio will perform at the Showbox Sodo in Seattle on June 2 before heading to Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, New York City and Toronto. For more information about the tour, visit the official tour website.

See Also


“10 Obscure Facts About Epik High”

“Epik High Adds Additional Dates for 2015 North American Tour”

“September Issue: The Persecution of Daniel Lee”


All photos by Derek Lee

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10 Obscure Facts About Epik High

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

If you haven’t heard already, South Korean hip-hop group Epik High is currently in the middle of their North American Tour. The trio is scheduled to perform tonight at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.

For the “high skoolers” who are unable to attend tonight’s concert, don’t worry, we got you covered. KoreAm will be at Epik High’s L.A. concert, and we plan on live-tweeting throughout the night.

But before the festivities begin, here are 10 facts you may not know about Epik High.


1. Epik cameo in Lee Hyori’s “10 Minute” music video

10 minuteScreenshot captured from Hyori’s “10 Minute” music video (Modified by KoreAm)

Before their debut, Epik High made a cameo in Lee Hyori’s “10 Minutes” music video. You can see the trio ogling Hyori in the background at the 0:42 mark.

2. Delayed Debut 


dynamic-duo-epik-high-Simon-DEpik High with Simon D and Dynamic Duo (Photo via Seoul Sync)

Epik High formed in 2001 under the mentorship of other underground hip-hop artists, particularly CB Mass (now known as Dynamic Duo). However, the trio’s debut got postponed after Curbin of CB Mass was accused of embezzling Epik High’s funds for their first studio album. Epik High eventually signed with Woolim Entertainment, and with Curbin kicked out of CB Mass, Choiza and Gaeko moved on to form Dynamic Duo.

3. Epik High and the creation of INFINITE

epik high infiniteTablo and Mithra with INFINITE. (Photo via mapado2.tistory.com)

During their tenure at Woolim Entertainment, Epik High helped produce the K-pop boy band INFINITE. Tablo and Mithra both wrote lyrics for the band’s debut mini-album, First Invasion. Various INFINITE members also starred in Epik High’s music video for “Run.”

4. Swan Songs was intended to be Epik High’s final album

Epik High officially debuted in 2003 with their album Map the Soul. However, they did not achieve commercial success until their third album, which was titled Swan Songs because the members believed that it would be their final album together. Instead, Swan Songs launched Epik High to fame after their songs “Fly” and “Paris” topped Korean music charts.

5. Mithra Jin first debuted in a hip-hop group called, “K-Ryders”

Before he joined Epik High, Mithra made his debut as a rapper through K-Ryders, an underground hip-hop group that included members J-Win, DJ D-Tones, Kyung Bin. The group disbanded in 2002, citing personal reasons.

6. DJ Tukutz’s Rave and Radio Days

DJ Tukutz may be a father now, but he had his wild days. He first got into DJ-ing in the summer of 1995 by spinning records at local raves and warehouse parties in Japan. After he graduated from Technics DJ School, Tukutz teamed up with Tablo and headed to the States, where he DJ-ed for radio shows, live events and clubs around the New York metropolitan area.

7. Tablo was featured in Rain’s song, “I’m Coming”

Over the past 12 years, Tablo has collaborated with several Korean artists, including Clazziquai, Verbal Jint, Younha, Taeyang and Xia Junsu. But my favorite Tablo collab track has to be Rain’s 2006 hit song “I’m Coming.” His rap is edited out in Rain’s music video and live performances, but you can hear it in the actual track.

8. Tablo’s Stanford Controversy

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In mid-2010, a group of anti-fans accused Tablo of fabricating his Stanford credentials. At the time, South Korea was reeling from a string of fake diploma scandals, and an online forum called “TaJinYo,” an abbreviation for the Korean phrase “Tell the truth, Tablo,” fired a vicious smear campaign against the rapper.

A few months later, the police contacted Stanford and confirmed that Tablo did indeed graduate from the university. TaJinYo’s leader, identified under the username “WhatsBecomes,” was arrested and the online forum was sued by Tablo for criminal defamation. You can read more about the controversy in KoreAm‘s September 2010 issue.

9. Government attempts to ban songs from Remapping the Soul

For their fourth album Remapping the Human Soul, Epik High committed to the “no genre, just music” style, which led some songs in the album to be much darker and address mature issues, including sexual crimes, war, religion and politics. These songs were censored by several broadcasting stations. At one point, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism even attempted to stop radio airplay, Tablo said in an interview with the Korea Times.

10. Epik High heads a sub-label under YG Enterainment

epik high

Earlier this month, Epik High announced that it will run a new sub-label titled, “High Ground” under YG Entertainment. While many fans initially believed that the new label would cater to the underground hip-hop artists, Tablo clarified during his radio show that High Ground would embrace all genres and cast musicians from diverse backgrounds.


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bigbang made tour

BIGBANG Announces North American Tour

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

BIGBANG is coming to the States.

Earlier this week, the K-pop boy band announced six arena dates for the North American leg of their 2015 MADE World Tour. This will be the first time band will be performing in the States since their 2012 Alive Tour.

BIGBANG will kick off their tour on Oct. 2 at the Mandalya Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The following night, the group will perform at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Fans residing in Orange County will also have the chance to see BIGBANG on Oct. 4 at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

East Coast fans will get to see BIGBANG two nights straight at Newark’s Prudential Center. The band will close the North American leg of their tour at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Tickets for the BIGBANG’s North American arena dates will go on sale on June 12 through Live Nation.

Check out the group’s blockbuster-themed trailer for their MADE Tour below:

To learn more about BIGBANG’s tour, visit its official website here

BIGBANG Made Tour Dates:

Oct. 2: Las Vegas, Nev. at the Mandalay Bay Events Center
Oct. 3: Los Angeles, Calif. at the Staples Center
Oct. 4: Anaheim, Calif. at the Honda Center
Oct. 10-11: Newark, N.J. at the Prudential Center
Oct. 13: Toronto, Ont. at Air Canada Centre


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Meet the Boys of EXP, NYC’s Own K-pop Boy Band (Continued)

Above photo courtesy of The Jewish Museum, Photographed by Da Ping Luo

What other genres of music do you listen to?


Koki: I’m a sucker for some Frank Sinatra.

David: My favorite genre outside of K-pop would have to be gospel; my voice is heavily influenced by gospel and R&B, a smidge of pop.

Tarion: I am inspired by all genres and listen to a little bit of everything from classical to R&B to country—good music is good music.

Sime: I grew up listening, studying and performing all sorts of music, from classical arias, folk songs, music theater to EDM tracks.

What has been the best part of joining EXP?


Sime: There are so many awesome things about being in (the first!) NYC-born K-Pop group, from the brotherhood that I get to enjoy with the guys to the fact that we are doing something completely different—something no one has done ever before. We are stretching the boundaries and blurring the lines. We are making history here!

David: The best thing about being an NYC-born K-pop group is the fact that NYC is known for being a culture melting-pot, and because we are all extremely different, I feel we represent NYC to its fullest.

Tarion: Being a part of this project has not only broadened my music and cultural palette, but it has also helped me forge a family in NYC and groomed me to be a better person and artist.

What are some memorable moments you’ve had since joining the band?


Frankie: Best moment was our debut performance day. What started off as a stressful day with everything going wrong turned into an amazing day with so much love and support. Being on stage with the guys for the first time with a live audience was a very special moment.

Koki: Getting lost in Flushing, N.Y. while trying to find MJ’s (our awesome K-pop choreographer) dance studio. I convinced David and Tarion that I knew where I was going, and [we] ended up getting on the wrong bus.

David: Koki getting Tarion and myself lost [on our way] to dance rehearsal in Flushing. He swore he knew where he was going. Now, I’ve seen parts of Flushing I never knew existed!


What are some challenges you’ve faced as a group or an individual member? 


Frankie: Learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to utilize them. [At first], dancing as a group was certainly a struggle because everyone has different backgrounds and levels of dance training. But making us look like one [unit] is and will continue to be one of the hardest parts.

Tarion: We’ve faced a lot of external challenges, which has been a double-edged sword. While each of us felt the sting of cyberbullying in the form of death threats, racial slurs, and homophobic slander, we all supported each other and kept each other lifted it up, so it brought us closer together.

Koki: It’s definitely difficult to keep six guys on task at any time. I’m a bit impatient, and I know it shows, but everyone is brilliant at keeping the ball rolling.

David: I want to say I am more of the quiet one in the group. It’s very hard speaking in the group because everyone has a hundred things to say at the same time, so I have learned to just be quiet and I’m sure someone will say what I was thinking. I had to honestly stop looking at the group as just business and accept [the other members] as family, which has actually helped me open up to each of them way more.


Bora and the team have talked about exploring various social issues of race and representation in media through IMMABB. How does it feel to be “self-aware,” or clearly know the goals of the project while being the project itself?


Frankie: When the documentary comes out, you guys will get to see our reactions to many of the discussions we’ve had about the topics being explored. I forget the cameras are even filming half the time, so being self-aware isn’t something I’ve quite mastered yet, haha!

Tarion: Knowing that the project is a social experiment and what IMMABB is trying to observe in society is something that I think we recognize, but we don’t keep it at the forefront of our minds. I think if we did, then we wouldn’t be present to how we are affected by what happens. We do recap on feelings and moments. Everything is always filmed, so there is footage of very real human responses to [certain topics], but it’s not something we stay continuously aware of.

Koki: There are definitely times when we are self-aware, but most of the time we are just ourselves. We don’t have assigned characters or images so we’re literally just being normal, but in a boy band.

You can learn more about EXP and the IMMABB project by visiting their official Kickstarter page and Instagram.

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Recommended Reading


“Columbia Grad Student Creates K-pop Boy Band ‘EXP’ for Thesis Project”

“Meet Team IMMABB: Bora Kim, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao”

“Bora Kim Profile: Columbia University School of the Arts”


All images via IMMABB

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Meet the Boys of EXP, NYC’s Own K-pop Boy Band

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Columbia University student Bora Kim riled up the K-pop world about a month ago when word of her MFA thesis project—a non-Korean boy band named “EXP”spread across the Internet.

The project, “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), has been underway since October of last year, and with their official debut single under their belt, EXP is looking forward to their first mini-album in November.

But before that, IMMABB is shooting for $30,000 in funds from Kickstarter by June 7 to help fund the different aspects of the project: music production, the entire creative team and a documentary about the entire project (2017 release date). Backers can expect plenty of incentives, from EXP T-shirts, signed copies of their mini-album, tote bag, tickets to a VIP screening of their documentary and even private karaoke sessions with the guys.

So, the big question: Who exactly are the boys of EXP? The NYC-based IMMABB team auditioned and cast Hunter, Frankie, David, Sime, Tarion and Koki.

KoreAm recently had a chance to exchange emails with the members. Take a look through our conversation below to get a better idea of who they are. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

EXP Names


Can you briefly introduce yourselves, and tell us where you’re from?


Sime: I am originally from Croatia. I was studying music theatre performance here in the States and subsequently decided to make NYC my home.

Tarion: I was born in Washington, D.C., but I grew up in Houston, Texas. (The Land of Queen Bey, I went to her high school!) I’ve been acting, singing and modeling since about the age of three and have been doing it professionally in NYC for about five years.

Koki: I’m a Hong Kong-born, Texas raised, half-Japanese kid living in NYC. I moved to NYC about a year ago, and that’s when I started to focus more on my performing arts career. Modeling, acting, singing and dancing all sort of fell into place as I made my way around the city, and being in a boy band is sort of the best combination of everything.

David: I was born here in Queens, New York City. I have been performing my entire life. I was a professional male model before IMMABB. One day, while I was at work (at Swarovski), I decided to be an actor and pursue more with music. I walked out and haven’t looked back.

(Editor’s note: EXP members Frankie and Hunter’s responses were unavailable for this question.) 

How is the group dynamic? 


Hunter: There are definitely six distinct personalities in the group, but it’s pretty similar to any family. We spend a lot of time together, and can get on each other’s nerves, but are all actual friends. For the most part, I eat. There’s probably more footage of me eating than actual performance footage.

Tarion: I like to think of us as the musical United Nations in the sense that we are all so different and derive from different backgrounds. So, we all throw ideas into the pot and create really multi-dimensional concepts that … represent [each of] our own individual pieces while still being one unit.

David: Having us in the room together is similar to babysitting six very rambunctious toddlers. There is a lot of gibberish, laughing and WHOLE bunch of singing.

Koki: We’re a bunch of weirdos. It works.

Before you became a part of EXP, what were your first reactions when you heard about the goal behind IMMABB? 


Hunter: I was really confused, as I think the other guys were also. Frankie and I were both in boybands before this, so I was kind of thinking “not this again.” It did take some time to come together and understand what we were doing. Also, I was told there would be food, so I was in.

Sime: I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All I knew was that Bora was an artist with a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve.

Frankie: I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into, but when I researched K-pop and discovered this whole other world, I knew I wanted to be part of this movement. I was so fascinated by Bora’s concept and the fact that she had such an amazing team of other talents behind her.

Tarion: Boy band was the LAST thing on my mind. In fact, if I remember correctly, I remember telling a friend that I would never be in one. But for some reason, when I saw the casting call, I was immediately drawn to it. I loved the idea of doing something fresh and new and creating a conversation about bridging cultural gaps.

Koki: I didn’t know if we were actually going to become a boy band, or if everything was just for the documentary. I was super confused. Being in a boy band is one of those things you grow up wanting to be a part of, but forget about later on. I never thought I’d actually get to be in one, but here we are!

David: I understood everything. We are documenting a “possible” boy band. We start out as just a thesis, and if things go accordingly, Bora would invest more time into us and develop the project. She pretty much explained her expectations [to us], but everything that has happened thus far has superseded everything any [of us] could have imagined.

Do you have any favorite K-pop artists?


Koki: My first favorite K-pop group was BTS, but I also love SHINEE (their new album is amazing!). Block B, Got 7, and EXO are the ones I listen to the most right now.

David: Ailee is one of my favorite K-pop artists, as well as BTS—especially Monster. He is such an epic artist!

Tarion: Some of my favorite K-pop groups are JJCC, Girl’s Generation, and Big Bang.

Sime: Although I wasn’t very familiar with K-pop before, in the past year I have grown to love it and appreciate everything about it! Music speaks a universal language. Good music, no matter the form, speaks to me—and as soon as I heard BTS’ beats, I was on board!

What was it like training for “LUV/WRONG,” from the learning the choreography to singing in Korean? 


Hunter: I can hands down say I’m the worst with the learning and singing in Korean. I’m getting better now, but I had a really tough time in the studio trying to get the chorus down. There was food there, so that helped. The dancing took time to come together. We spent a lot of time with our choreographer MJ [to make us] look like a group, and not six individual dancers.

Frankie: Learning Korean is very hard. I’m Portuguese and speak it fluently, as well as a little Spanish. Both are very different than Korean, and the group cracks up at me because at first everything I tried to say in Korean would come out sounding Spanish. Bora works with us individually on the Korean, so it’s like having a private coach.

Koki: I got lucky in terms of learning Korean. I grew up around Japanese, Chinese and Korean speakers, so being able to learn the pronunciation was fairly easy. I need to learn to be more patient and help the rest of the boys though, haha.

David: When I auditioned for the band, I said, “Yes, I can dance.” Throughout the process, I have learned I am more of a freestyler, but MJ has been able to wrangle that in and I am growing more comfortable with [choreography]. Six-hour dance rehearsals back-to-back stretches your body and pushes you a bit mentally, but the finished product—us slaying the dance moves—is a proud moment.

Tarion: If you’ve ever seen the movie Rocky, that’s what our training [looks] like (only without a continuous catchy soundtrack playing throughout our montage). It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. We still have so much to learn and so much room to grow, but we continue to push ourselves every day to get better and better, in some way, shape or form.

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Recommended Reading


“Columbia Grad Student Creates K-pop Boy Band ‘EXP’ for Thesis Project”

“Meet Team IMMABB: Bora Kim, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao”

“Bora Kim Profile: Columbia University School of the Arts”


All images via IMMABB

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