BTS (방탄소년단) 'ON' Official MV

The beautiful boys of BTS are back with a new cinematic feat.

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BTS Should've Had More Time Onstage at the Grammys

The supergroup was treated like backup dancers during a performance of "Old Town Road."

BTS at the American Music Awards

Photo by Featureflash Photo Agency (Shutterstock)

BTS is one of the most influential pop music groups in the world right now.

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The New BTS Single, "Black Swan," Is a Genuine Masterpiece

BTS knows that their audience loves them. The real question is how the members of BTS feel about themselves as artists.

BTS at the American Music Awards

Photo by Featureflash Photo Agency (Shutterstock)

All too frequently, a major group releases their latest single and you can't help but feel like they dialed it in–the sound is simple, the lyrics are color-by-number, and the song, while destined for Top 40, is ultimately meaningless. BTS' "Black Swan" is the exact opposite.

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Is It Just Me, or Is The Hollywood Reporter's BTS Article Really Xenophobic?

The piece reads as a smug, condescending view of Korean culture through a patently white, Western lens.

Jordan Strauss/AP/Shutterstock

This morning, The Hollywood Reporter released their much-hyped BTS feature story written by Seth Abramovitch, a senior writer who flew out to South Korea to interview the band.

Trigger Warning: Su*c*de

But while an in-person profile on the world's most popular musical group sounds like a surefire hit, upon reading the article I couldn't help but feel that THR pushed a highly problematic, xenophobic view of South Korea and the K-POP industry as a whole.

Now, upfront, I want to give Abramovitch the benefit of the doubt. I don't think he set out to write anything intentionally malicious. But at the same time, his article bleeds Western superiority and invokes a sense of "otherness" in discussing Korea that struck me as ridiculously misguided. The fact that those sentiments were likely subconscious makes them all the more worthy of discussion.

Throughout his piece, Abramovitch alternates between being an ill-prepared outsider ("I admit to being a little fuzzy on some of the finer points of BTS history, like where they came from, why they are so appealing to so many millions or even what BTS stands for") and a biting social critic ("Since its origins in the 1990s, K-pop has been part Motown, part Hunger Games.") The resulting piece reads as a smug, condescending view of Korean culture through a patently white, Western lens.

This is the first line of the BTS article: "The restaurant is called Dotgogi, which means either Sesame Meat or Aged Pork, depending on which online translator I consult." In a profile piece, the first sentence sets the mood. Here, Abramovitch opens with the "otherness" of a Korean word and the possibility of two different translations. This feels like lazy shorthand to convey an implicitly xenophobic sentiment about being in a strange land unlike his own (his being the Western world, where everything is "normal").

Abramovitch goes on to introduce BTS as "the first group since The score three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart in less than a year," before tacking on, "a feat that's all the more astounding considering their songs are mostly in Korean." Again, this strikes me as off-putting. We live in a global society where most people have access to media from all around the world. Nobody bats an eye when a song with Spanish lyrics tops the charts or a LatinX performer enters the public eye. What exactly makes it so much more astounding when the group in question is Asian?

Abramovitch continues to paint the BTS boys as simultaneously affable and fake. He suggests that everyone is carefree and open ("You'd think they were just seven college buddies catching up over a meal") but only up until he starts asking pressing questions about politics. "Indeed, whenever the conversation turns to anything controversial — or just slightly provocative — their answers have all the spontaneity of a Disney animatronic figure," writes Abramovitch. "For instance, when asked if they have any reservations about resuming their tour in America during such a politically fraught period, a switch seems to flip in RM's brain."

This language, again, seems to draw upon racist, xenophobic sentiments about Asians as robots, when, in fact, a lot of Western artists would likely answer politically fraught questions in the same way. That's not being dishonest, and it's not because they live "in a bubble," as Abramovitch writes. It's because many artists with wide global appeal like BTS see their primary job as bringing joy to fans, and alienating any of them, even the ones they may personally disagree with, is not in line with their ethos as performers.

Once again, my goal here isn't to nitpick the writing, but rather to point out how these biases, while probably subconscious, negatively inform the piece as a whole. Throughout the piece, Abramovitch's goal seems less about understanding BTS and their feelings on any particular topic and more about placing them within the context of a Korean industry that Abramovitch sees as problematic.

In fairness, there are a number of issues in the K-POP industry, especially in regards to the way that some companies treat their performers. But at the same time, plenty of Western music labels mistreat their performers, too, and it feels weird to see a white, Western writer paint it as a distinctly Korean issue. The abuse of artists by major companies is an issue well-worth discussing, but the conversation should always include the context of capitalist structures everywhere that seem to incentivize said abuse.

Moreover, in his attempt to explain the evils of the K-POP industry, Abramovitch passively dredges up the death of Jonghyun, a beloved K-POP star from the group SHINee who lost his battle with depression in 2017. Here, Abramovitch writes especially tactlessly, not even referring to Jonghyun by name. "In 2017, the industry drew intense scrutiny after a member of SHINee...took his own life," he writes before excerpting Jonghyun's final note. This feels incredibly disrespectful, especially in light of how the media tends to treat beloved Western artists who've lost similar battles to depression. It would be unimaginable to read an article that referenced beloved comedy icon Robin Williams, who brought joy to so many lives, only as "a movie actor who took his own life." Why, then, is it okay to treat a beloved K-POP star like Jonghyun that way?

In effect, the THR article ignores Jonghyun's personhood and legacy as a wonderful singer, songwriter, dancer, and human being, instead footnoting a tragedy that deeply affected many people just to fit into an argument that doesn't even necessarily hold up. In fact, while Jonghyun's passing did lead to discussions in South Korea about relieving the pressures of the competitive nature of the K-POP industry, it primarily drew attention to the need for mental health awareness, with Jonghyun's family starting a foundation to help support artists struggling with depression. Many people suffer from depression, and blaming someone's lost battle on any one thing seems, at best, to misunderstand the complexity of mental health issues. More importantly, relegating a human being only to their untimely passing without even mentioning their name seems particularly callous. Jonghyun's family, friends, fans, and loved ones deserve better.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Abramovitch's article is one of representation. Why would THR send a middle-aged, white writer like Abramovitch, who seems to express something akin to pride in his own lack of understanding of Korean culture, to write about Korean culture? Why did they think anyone needed yet another "middle-aged white guy flounders to understand K-POP" take? That's not even to say they shouldn't have sent a middle-aged white writer, but at least send someone who seems to display an interest in researching the culture beforehand. Instead, at best, this BTS profile reads like a xenophobic "othering" of Korean celebrities. At worst, it's just blatant disrespect.

J-Hope Dior Homme Show Fall Winter 2023

Photo by Laurent VU/SIPA/Shutterstock

Jung Hoseok (J-Hope of BTS) and Becky G just released their new collab, "Chicken Noodle Soup," and it's straight fire.

The song pays major homage to Webstar and Young B's classic hip hop track of the same name, which was the first song J-Hope learned to dance to. In their modern version, the chorus is still in English, but J-Hope raps in Korean and Becky G raps in Spanish. The music video also features 50 dancers of different nationalities, making this one of the most diverse, multicultural collabs ever made. No wonder "Chicken Noodle Soup" is going viral.

j-hope 'Chicken Noodle Soup (feat. Becky G)'

But the point is: I think it's really important to take a moment to just appreciate J-Hope's hips. Like damn. That boy can move.

Obviously as the dance captain of BTS, J-Hope is an incredible talent. But his hips here are level. Hoseok gyrates with a smooth intensity that probably should be studied by physicists in the name of scientific advancement. He walks like he's literally floating.

Even surrounded by tons of other professional dancers, J-Hope is a beam of dancing light, flowing and flapping like the patron saint of chicken noodle soup. HOW DOES THIS MAN FLOAT?

Okay. I'm done freaking out now. Except no I'm not, because there's also a Chicken Noodle Soup Challenge and now I need to learn the dance, too.

How does J-Hope twist like that? Who gave him those hips? Insane.

Of course, the best part of the #CNSchallenge is that all the BTS boys are going to join in to show their support. In fact, V and Jungkook already dropped their vids.

Get ready for a whole lot more Chicken Noodle Soup, but more importantly, a whole lot more of J-Hope's hips because that's what I'm here for now.


SEVENTEEN Satirizes Pop Music with New Album "An Ode"

"An Ode" is still a really good pop record, though.

SEVENTEEN wants you to know they've grown up.

[M/V] SEVENTEEN(세븐틴) -

They're no longer the charismatic lovesick teens depicted in "Oh My!," and they no longer have the relentless optimism of "Call Call Call." Ok, they're still charismatic as hell, but it's more complicated now. Summer is over, and Seventeen has been on an absolute tear in the K-pop scene since they began. "I want a new level," the hip hop unit raps on "Hit," their latest comeback single and intro to the boy band's third album An Ode. "We're so hot," the vocal unit sings on the refrain, (the 13 members are divided into three separate units: vocal, rap and performance.) The members of the K-pop ensemble are painfully aware of how talented they are; every release since their debut in 2015 has shot them further and further into the stratosphere of superstardom. But they want a new challenge. They're bored with how easy it is to make good pop songs. "Hit, hit, hit, hit, hit sound," they sing on the chorus.

It's hard to hear An Ode's "Hit" as anything but satirical considering the "wow, wow, wows," the autotune, the abrasive EDM instrumental, and the rap unit stating blatantly that "this is a hit."

It becomes difficult to distinguish whether the boys are genuinely pushing "HIT" as their big crossover smash, or if they're just making fun of the formulaic ease with which popular music is made. While impeccably well-choreographed, the music video is a mish-mash of classic western pop archetypes, like aggressive rain-dancing. Right before the chorus takes hold, the ensemble calls out, "From this day forth, we're free, jump!" which is a melody that sounds eerily similar to the way the Backstreet Boys chanted, "Backstreet's back, alright!"

Regardless, the "Carats," as their fans are called, are eating it up. To point out the formulaic nature of their music is not to say that SEVENTEEN doesn't deserve the same acclaim as other K-pop groups. Their music, while thematically much more focused on the stresses that fame brings, is melodically primed for western radio. "Network Love" is a tight, tropical house-infused pop song that shows the vocal unit in their prime. "247" is a fantastic R&B slow jam, and "Snap Shot" sounds like Chance The Rapper and The Jonas Brothers made a musical baby.

An Ode is a compelling pop record that paints a more complicated narrative than your average K-pop group. In fact, it seems painfully easy for SEVENTEEN to make radio hits, which isn't exactly a bad problem for a boy band hoping to find international fame.

An Ode