Tag Archives: music


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

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

When fans of K-pop boy group EXO recently heard about a non-Korean boy band debuting in Korea as “EXP,” they weren’t having it. Especially when they found out that this EXP group would be using the tagline “EXP Planet,” just one letter off from EXO’s “EXO Planet.”

The group was no joke. EXP’s Instagram claimed a week ago that the “first and only NYC-born K-pop band” would be dropping their new single, “LUV/WRONG,” on iTunes very soon. The boy band also announced that it would make its debut at the Columbia University MFA Thesis Show in NYC on April 26. Wait, what?

As it turns out, EXP is the product of a thesis project by a Columbia graduate student, Bora Kim, an interdisciplinary artist and sociologist from Seoul. Kim began the project, titled “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), in October 2014 as an “ongoing collective experience, in-depth research, experimentation, filmmaking as well as business endeavor.”


The ideas had already been running through her mind since the success of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” back in 2012. Kim said she was interested in researching how K-pop had finally “made it” in the Western world.

“The Korean pop industry has always appropriated its concepts from the West, and also the West through Japan, until not, and the reverse was a shock for the Korean public,” Kim explains in an interview with Columbia University. “‘Idol Groups’ became national heroes and K-pop became part of a proud national identity. But there is a double standard at play here. … K-pop had been looked down upon until outsiders started to consume it and its related products as well.”

Kim found that K-pop exports were directly tied to an increase in profit for Korean IT products, such as mobile phones–in fact, she says the biggest beneficiaries of the Korean Wave are companies like Samsung and LG.

But why make a boy band?

“I was interested in K-pop and idol groups on this level initially as I was thinking about cultural flow, or the relationship of dominant culture and peripheral culture, and how that is interwoven with one’s identity or one’s national identity,” Kim says. “I wanted to see what would happen if I made American boys into K-pop performers, by teaching them how to sing in Korean and act like Korean boys, and complicate this flow/appropriation even more.”

“Complicating the flow” also meant exploring how masculinity is portrayed in boy groups.

“These boys are tailored to attract straight young females, originally,” Kim says. “but the presentation of their sexuality is very complicated. … For example, a young group of pretty boys with great skin start rapping in a hip-hop music video while wearing a lot of make-up. What does this mean? Who is the target audience? It is totally gender-bending and experimental, but, at the same time, it is very typical, mainstream K-pop.

“And the acceptance of this strangeness (in the eyes of Western audiences) started to happen when Korean economic prosperity reached a point where it was enough for the entertainment industry to produce high-quality pop culture products,” she adds. “Cultural barriers or mistranslation are overcome by the shiny framing/packaging of K-pop.”


Kim’s partners, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao, each brought their own expertise and perspectives to the project. Kuroda’s studies focused primarily on art criticism, photography, sculpture and fashion, while Shao studied arts administration and cultural theory at Maastricht University, Netherlands.

“The ‘I’m Making a Boy Band’ project aims to examine critical aspects of pop/business culture through the lens of an artist,” explains Kuroda, who first befriended Kim at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “By asking oneself what it means to assimilate or twist the rudimentary formula in K-pop ‘idol’ culture, this project highlights social issues on a global and personal level.”

Shao and Kim discussed the differences between Asian pop culture–particularly Taiwanese and Korean–with American pop culture, as well as the connection between popular culture and fine arts.

“By changing the working process (of making ‘art’), we intend to re-think and re-define what it means to communicate with the art world and its audience,” Shao says. “Since the main characters of this work are people–not only band members, but also collaborators–we try to challenge ourselves by giving up authorship from time to time.”

Shao adds that she believes IMMABB focuses more on communicating with the audience throughout the process rather than the outcome of the band. The project “welcomes interactions, encourages questions and provokes confrontations.”

You can read more of Bora Kim’s interview with the Columbia University School of the Arts here. You can also follow EXP’s exploits at their Instagram, exp_theband.


All images via Columbia University School of the Arts

KCON 2015

KCON 2015 To Take Over Staples Center & L.A. Live

If you need any indication of the power of hallyu and Korean popular culture, look no further than how CJ E&M‘s KCON has grown since its launch in 2012.

KCON hosted over 42,000 attendees from around the world last summer at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, and this year, the convention is bringing its A game. From Friday, July 31 to Sunday, Aug. 2, fans can expect plenty of panels, workshops, food fashion and more at the L.A. LIVE plaza in Downtown L.A., punctuated by two concerts at the Staples Center on Saturday and Sunday.

Last year’s lineup included B1A4, BTS, CNBLUE, G-Dragon, Girl’s Generation, IU, Jung Joon Young, SPICA, TEEN TOP and VIXX. We’ll keep you updated on when this year’s artists are announced—KCON promises that the concerts will “Ignite Your Feelz.”

Check out KCON 2015 USA’s website for more information. You can watch a recap of last year’s KCON below.


Featured image courtesy of KCON


Exclusive Interviews with the Director and Cast of ‘Seoul Searching’


Director: Benson Lee


KoreAm’s February/March Cover Story: Benson Lee Goes Seoul Searching With Latest Indie Feature





Here are some exclusive interviews with the cast of Seoul Searching


Justin Chon as Sid Park, a punk who has problems with authority. He doesn’t want to be in Korea that summer, and his perpetual scowl shows it. But while Sid’s clothes and sneer signal “tough guy,” they serve to cover up his own insecurities and yearning for his father’s acceptance back home.

“As a Korean American, you really had to have a definitive identity. Otherwise, you kind of get lost from the pack. There was more of an innocence in the ’80s among second-generation Koreans,” Justin Chon tells KoreAm



Jessika Van as Grace Park, whose provocative style of dress and come-hither look draw every guy’s attention, and she doesn’t hold back when it comes to toying with their emotions. The teenage boys at the Seoul summer camp—in particular, Sid—don’t stand a chance against Grace, who channels an ’80s Madonna at the height of her sexual prowess.

“When I read the script, I could really relate to Grace because I feel like I grew up maybe not dissimilar to other Asian girls in America, or even in Asia. There’s a lot going on underneath that we feel we need to cover to stay safe, because we’ve grown up in families where showing pain or vulnerability or showing weakness isn’t thought of as a good quality,” says Jessika Van. 



Esteban Ahn a.k.a SanchoBeatz, as Sergio Kim, a fun-loving party-boy from Mexico, who attends summer camp for the beautiful girls and booze, and he does his best to get his roommates—the sour-faced Sid and the solemn Klaus—to follow along on his adventures.

“Even though I’m Korean, in Korea, people treat me like a foreigner, and in Spain, they also treat me like a foreigner. I don’t have a proper identity. Those kinds of themes really touched me a lot in the movie because as you can see in the movie, we are all Koreans. We come to Korea, and we are like foreigners,” Estaban Ahn tells KoreAm. 



Teo Yoo as Klaus Kim, a Korean German who arrives at camp with other things on his mindnamely his girlfriend back in Germany and future career. His parents own a small business back home and want their son to take it over, but he has his sights on bigger dreams.

“All of the characters have their unique struggles. They are kind of symbolic for situations that I have been through in my life—not to that extreme extent, but certain situations that gyopos can relate to, especially [those concerning] father issues, simply because of the generational changes and the diversity of the next generation,” Teo Yoo says. 



Byul Kang as Sue-Jin Kim, one of the toughest students at camp–she’s not afraid to talk back or throw a kick at any guy who messes with her.

“She brought a whole new dynamic to the female cast,” Benson Lee says of actress Byul Kang. 



Albert Kong as Mike Lee, the surly, mean, bullying, racist military student.

“Time period-wise, it’s set in the ’80s, but it’s a high school class. I think everyone remembers, especially in high school, college and even as a young adult, trying to find that sense of who you areyour place in the world. I think that’s what resonated with me the most because you see all the insecurity,” says Albert Kong. 



Rosalina Leigh as Kris Schultz, an adoptee who comes to the summer camp with a larger purpose than to just learn about Korean culture.

“She had never acted before in her life,” Benson Lee tells KoreAm. “But she just had an inkling for acting. When I saw her audition tape, I was blown away. She was as good in the audition as she is in the movie. I was like, wow, this girl’s a natural actor.”


Cha In-Pyo Headshot

Cha In-Pyo as the no-nonsense Mr. Kim, the head counselor of the summer camp.

“When I went to college in New Jersey, which was about 25 years ago, I had Korean American friends who had the same problems as the characters have in the movie. Seeing them not being able to communicate with their parents, I remember I felt compassion for my friends,” Cha In-pyo tells KoreAm


News & Reviews

Los Angeles Film Festival to Hold Gala Screening for Seoul Searching

REVIEW: Justin Chang, Variety
“A unique portrait of the Korean immigrant experience distinguishes writer-director Benson Lee’s messy but endearing ’80s-set comedy.”

REVIEW: Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter
“Powered by an instantly recognizable, dance-happy soundtrack and a charismatic cast turned out in memorable period costuming, Lee’s most accessible film yet looks poised to capitalize on enduring 80s nostalgia and a refreshingly appealing premise that could see the film crossing over from niche bookings to much broader appeal.”

Wired interviews the director and cast of Seoul Searching
“I have a large ensemble cast and there’s not too many Asian-American actors out there compared to other groups,” Benson Lee tells Wired. “I decided I could probably open up my choices if I did it online. So I thought of the most popular online platform, which is Facebook.”

REVIEW: Josh Terry, Deseret News
The Sundance press guide paints ‘Seoul Searching’ as a loving tribute to ’80s pop culture and the films of John Hughes, and that affection is obvious. But the final product is far too flawed to do its inspiration justice.”

REVIEW: William Bibbiani, Crave Online
“Benson Lee’s Korean homage to John Hughes movies is ‘the sort of film we come to Sundance to discover.”



A Cube Entertainment Begins Global Auditions in Los Angeles

South Korea-based A Cube Entertainment is looking for their next generation of singers, actors, dancers and models as they begin their global audition process for 2015 in Los Angeles. Do you think you have what it takes to be part of the company that represents girl group A Pink and ballad singer Huh Gak?

A Cube is specifically looking for young talent around 11 to 20 years old (born between 2003 and 1994). From now until April 22nd, Los Angeles-based applicants must complete the following steps for the online audition:

Fill out the official application and send it to globalaudtion@a-cube.co.kr, along with a headshot and any relevant media (recordings, links to videos, etc.). Subject of the email must be [Name/Age/Sex].

A Cube Entertainment will announce the results individually by email, and for those who passed the online audition, A Cube will work out a time and place for an in-person audition.


For those interested who are not based in Los Angeles, stay tuned for more details on A Cube Entertainment’s 2015 Global Audition circuit.


Image via A Cube Entertainment. H/T to Koreaboo for additional audition details.

Ryu rap

Hyun-jin Ryu Shows Off His Rapping Skills in Korean Commercial

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Hyun-jin Ryu can drop a sweet change-up. But did you know he can drop bars, too?

The Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw may have one of the best résumés among his peers when it comes to commercials and guest appearances. Ryu’s commercial for NH Card is just the latest in his exploration of his artistic side.

Ryu has always taken on side jobs in South Korea during the offseason, including an earlier commercial for Ottogi noodles and a guest appearance on the popular show Running Man, alongside fellow Korean baseball players Shin-soo Choo and Jung-ho Kang. Ryu also has a couple of K-pop singles under his belt, by the way.

During the regular season, he drags his teammates into his antics, like when he used Clayton Kershaw and (now former teammate) Matt Kemp as backup dancers. Maybe he can include Hank Conger the next time, too—the new Houston Astro’s twerking puts Miley Cyrus to shame.

In regards to his professional work, Ryu has been slowly resuming throwing activities while nursing a sore shoulder. The Dodgers began the season with him on the disabled list, and the team has stated they will allow him take as much time as needed before getting Ryu back on the mound.

If you’re looking for an in-depth read, be sure to check out our Hyun-jin Ryu cover story from August 2013.



Esteban Ahn, a.k.a. SanchoBeatz, Makes His Acting Debut in ‘Seoul Searching’

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Sergio Kim’s character in Seoul Searching was originally written as a Korean Brazilian, but writer-director Benson Lee couldn’t find the right actor for the role. He opened his options to Spanish-speaking Koreans, and lo-and-behold, Lee discovered Seong Jin Esteban Ahn, an entertainer and musician with a sizable online fanbase among Spanish and Latin American audiences.

“A friend of mine told me about [Esteban],” Lee recalled in his interview with KoreAm. “I saw him [on YouTube] and I was like, oh my God, that’s Sergio.”

The character is a fun-loving party-boy from Mexico, who attends summer camp for the beautiful girls and booze, and he does his best to get his roommates—the sour-faced Sid (Justin Chon) and the solemn Klaus (Teo Yoo)—to follow along on his adventures.

SAMSUNG CSCKlaus Kim (Teo Yoo), Sid Park (Justin Chon), Sergio Kim (Esteban Ahn) and Mike Lee (Albert Kong) meet the ladies of the camp.

But Sergio soon realizes how his flirtatious antics can rub people the wrong way. The hard-nosed Sue-jin (played by Byul Kang), in particular, doesn’t take his comments too kindly, and she isn’t afraid to throw him across the room to put him in his place.

Ahn seemed to be the perfect fit for the role of Estaban, being the only “Latino Coreano” character in the entertainment industry. He grew up in Gran Canaria, one of the Canary Islands in Spain, then moved to Korea after high school and served in the Korean Marines. He began pursuing music as early as 16, and in 2009, he founded “SanchoBeatz,” the largest online Latin urban beats and instrumentalists store.

Since then, Ahn has adopted the name SanchoBeatz as an artist and producer (as well as the nickname “CoreanoLoco,” which means “crazy Korean,” due to his crazy and random YouTube videos). His music, which is influenced by a mixture of Latin, hip-hop and electro, has been sampled by various artists and played on Latin radio stations. These days, SanchoBeatz is expanding into the K-pop industry.

Seoul Searching marks Ahn’s first acting venture. After the film’s Sundance premiere, Ahn told KoreAm he plans to pursue further opportunities as an actor-musician and also shared how the movie spoke to his own identity.

This interview has been edited for length, grammar and clarity.

Esteban and CastEsteban Ahn with the cast of ‘Seoul Searching,’ including director Benson Lee (far left) at CAAMFest 2015. (Photo via SanchoBeatz Facebook page)

What was your first impression of Sergio?

I thought that it was just me when I was young. He was so similar to me. I was really excited and really wanted to play Sergio.

What aspects of the character stuck out to you the most?

I really liked that he is always trying to be happy. No worries, and he seems like he is always having fun, and he loves girls. He lives his lifehe doesn’t think of yesterday or tomorrow; he just enjoys life. I love that.

What was it like working with Benson?

He taught me a lot about acting. He was a really nice director. He knows how to make what he wants, and he really knows how to bring my talent out. He was always challenging me, and I never felt that I would be able to act. He really helped me a lot.

How close was everyone in the cast?

Everybody was really close. They were great people. I had a lot of fun working with them. Most of the cast were already experienced actors, so I learned a lot of things from them about acting. Just watching them, how they act, how they workI learned a lot about them. I had a lot of fun working with them, too.

Ahn with fellow actor, Teo Yoo:


What was the atmosphere like on set?

It was really great. Now, [the cast members] are really close friends of mine. We weren’t so close at first, because it’s kind of hard … so we would unite. The relationships, we are all really close to each other.

Were there any themes in Seoul Searching that you personally connected with?

Even though I’m Korean, in Korea, people treat me like a foreigner, and in Spain, they also treat me like a foreigner. I don’t have a proper identity. Those kinds of themes really touched me a lot in the movie because as you can see in the movie, we are all Koreans. We come to Korea, and we are like foreigners. That part touched me a lot and also, the relationships with the parents and growing up outside Korea.

Esteban SelfieAhn leads a selfie during a shoot with The Hollywood Reporter.

Did your parents oppose your choice to pursue music?

My parents were not like that. I’m really blessed to have my parents. At the time, my father told me to go to university and get a job, but my parents always supported my dreams, and I’m very thankful for that.

How did they react to your role in Seoul Searching, especially when it was announced the movie was going to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival?

Yeah, it’s like one of the best things that happened to their lives, I think. They were so excited.

Esteban StudioSanchoBeatz in his element. (Photo via SanchoBeatz Facebook page)

SanchoBeatz just released his latest mini-album, which you can check out for free at SoundCloud. The music video for his new single, “Millonario,” is below.

You can find more information on Esteban Ahn/SanchoBeatz on his official website, SanchoBeatz.com, as well as follow his Facebook page and YouTube channels SanchoBeatz TV and Coreano Loco TV.


Transcribing his notes

First-World Problems: Welcome to the Club


This past New Year’s Eve, I was on the second floor of Terminal 5, a concert hall in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. Leaning over the railing, I screamed, “I love to hate you!” with the rest of the frenzied crowd below me, above me, all around me. As the song reached its end, the singer segued into a countdown, and then he yelled, “Happy New Year!” Gold balloons and white confetti rained down from above, and then we all sang the next song, “I try to discover, a little something to make me sweeter …”

If you are of a certain age and Asian American, there’s a high likelihood that you know these two songs are “Love to Hate You” and “A Little Respect.” This was my first time seeing Erasure. I probably should’ve done this a quarter of a century ago, but back then, I didn’t even know who they were, and more to the point, I didn’t know who I was.

Growing up in the ’80s, music was not a meaningful part of my life. My two older sisters had a small collection of LPs and cassettes, so I ended up listening to their favorite artists, which is why I still have a soft spot for Journey (respectable) and Air Supply (shameful). I listened to what was on top-40 radio and MTV, and these songs became a part of me, but on a background, ancillary level, as if my life were an elevator and what I heard around me was Muzak.

Even as a freshman at college, music didn’t define me in any significant way. At least a band or two came to campus that year to play, but I have no recollections because I didn’t go. But, then, everything changed my sophomore year.

By this time, I’d joined a fraternity (not what you think—worthy of its own future column), and one of the brothers in the house was a guy named Dave, a fellow Korean American. Dave was pretty much the opposite of me in every way—quiet, laid-back and loved rap. But his musical tastes ventured far beyond N.W.A. and Public Enemy because, one day, I heard these lyrics flowing out from his room:

Every time I see you falling

I get down on my knees and pray

I’m waiting for that final moment

You say the words that I can’t say

It wasn’t the lyrics that got me; it was the melody—a layered, synthesized sonic landscape with driving drums; the words, I noticed later.

“Who is this?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s New Order,” Dave said, and handed me the double CD. It was all white, except for the name of the band and the title of the album in black, capital letters: SUBSTANCE 1987, five years in the past. Looking over the 1987 Billboard chart for singles now, I can tell you with great certainty that I had listened to the Bangles’ “Walk like an Egyptian,” Whitney Houston wanting to dance with somebody, Bon Jovi living on a prayer and Wang Chung wanting everyone to have fun tonight.

How the hell did I not know about New Order, who had put out this album, which was a frigging best-of compilation? That meant the band had other albums before this one. Many of them. I was glad to have found them at last, but I’d also totally missed out.

New Order became (and still is) my favorite band, but the group also served as the gateway for other artists like them. In this day and age, Spotify and Pandora would make this discovery easy, but back in 1992, human recommendation was the way to go. Dave introduced me to Erasure as well; I can still remember hearing “A Little Respect” in his room, holding onto that jewel of a CD in my hand as I stood in front of his boombox and basked in the synth-pop beat.

One of my favorite pastimes back then was ordering CDs from BMG Music (12 CDs for a penny!), and Judy, a Chinese girl in my Japanese literature class, looked over my shoulder and recommended the Pet Shop Boys. Later that semester, when she invited me to a Chinese Students Association dance and all I heard were these British new wave bands, I turned to her and asked, “Do all Asians love this music?”

She smiled. “Welcome to the club.”

Dancing under the strobe, for the first time in college, I felt like I was a part of something bigger. As my feet stomped to the drums, I knew I was finally at the right place at the right time.

I saw New Order in the cavernous Meadowlands in 1993, my first rock concert, and again in 2005 and 2012. Last year I dragged my wife to the Pet Shop Boys in Philadelphia (thank you, honey), and as 2014 clocked over to 2015, I celebrated the brand new year with 3,000 fellow Erasure fans. Standing next to me with a smile as wide as mine was a woman of Asian descent. She was a complete stranger, but she was also my sister.


Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 10.27.25 AMSung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s and Hyphen. His debut novel, Everything Asian, won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Youth Literature Award. His second novel, Love Love, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in 2015.

This article was published in the February/March 2015 issue of KoreAm.  Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the magazine issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

Awk Parker

Parker & Awkwafina Booking College Shows

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Parker, also known as Dumbfoundead, just finished off his Dead End Tour, but he’ll be back on the road soon with his fellow rapper Awkwafina. The two artists are gearing up for their tour through April and May, and they want a few suggestions from the college crowd.

If your school club or organization is interested in possibly hosting them for what will be one heck of a show, contact book.dfd@gmail.com.

You can read our September 2013 cover story on Awkwafina here.


Featured image courtesy of Dumbfoundead