Kpop Music Monday #40: Eric Nam, “Can’t Help Myself”/”I Don’t Know You Anymore”

Years ago, I missed out on an Eric Nam show in Washington, DC because of strep throat and I’ve been angry about it ever since.

You can’t talk about kpop and its international appeal without mentioning the likes of individuals like Eric Nam, whose straddling of cultures and multi-lingual abilities help bring Korean music to the world that doesn’t speak Korean. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Eric got his “big break” when a music cover he did went viral on YouTube and he was invited to participate in a Korean talent show.

He’s been lauded for his numerous interviews with Korean and non-Korean celebrities, has gone on several successful world tours, is currenly on podcast number two, hosted Arirang TV’s After School Club (a kpop show broadcast all over the world), was virtually married to Mamamoo’s Solar in “We Got Married,” and is behind the infamous “Your dog speaks Chinese?” clip.

His most recent release was an English album which had this gem on it:

Kpop Music Monday #39: Pink Fantasy, “Tales of the Unusual”

I had saved this group’s “Lemon Candy” video in my “Kpop Forever” YouTube playlist but found it to be your run-of-the-mill rookie-group-from-a-small-company music video so I didn’t add it to my song playlist or even look into the group further. I figured this was their concept: cute, bubbly, highly-saturated and colorful. It didn’t even register that one of the members was wearing a cat mask.

At some point, their video for “Tales of the Unusual,” specifically the Zombie version, popped up on my feed and maybe it’s because I love strange, macabre things, or maybe because it’s just so unusual to have such a concept in Kpop, but I was instantly hooked. They have a so-called “normal” version of the song, but the zombie makeup fits so well with the spooky song that it has over 3 times the number of views (308k to 74k).

And about that girl with the cat mask on… Her name is Daewang and her identity is unknown. In the early stages of the group, she wore a massive white rabbit head and the concept of the group was something like Alice in Wonderland, with Daewang being the (literal) white rabbit. No one knows who she actually is, but it’s been theorized that she’s none other than the CEO of the company the girls are under, MyDoll Entertainment’s Lee So Hee. So Hee was an idol prior to establishing MyDoll Entertainment, going under the name Chie in one group and Yumi in another.

Unlike other groups, the group also has a very large age-gap between members, with Daewang’s birth year being 1989 and the maknae’s 2005.

Ever since Dreamcatcher took home their first win on “Show Champion” with their song “Maison,” whose group’s concept is heavier and more rock-based than most kpop, I’d like to say that there’s room in kpop for edgier concepts and harder-hitting music. And I think Pink Fantasy would fit well in that mold.

Bonus video:

Restaurant Review: Potala Restaurant

Located in a basement in Jongno-gu is Potala Restaurant, a Tibetan/Nepali restaurant owned by a Tibetan.

view from outside

You can take a look at the menu in the doorway before you walk downstairs. The restaurant seems to pride itself on being tourist- and halal-friendly.

menu posted outside the staircase down to the restaurant

When I went at 5 pm, I was surprised that there was no one in the restaurant. I quickly ordered my food and ordered decidedly too much of it.

The waiter was Nepali, but could understand my butchered-Tibetan name of dishes, some of which are transliterated very strangely in the menu.

a plate of chowmein noodles with chicken and vegetables

First was the chowmein, which eating was like a punch to the gut. It reminded me of every Tuesday at Sarah College, when we would have chowmein, and the only thing missing was the curry ketchup that we would add to it. My students knew that I loved the chowmein and I’d frequently let them leave class a little early as to be the first in line for lunch.

a plate of shabakleb with dipping sauce

Next up was the “Shabakleb,” fried bread stuffed with beef and vegetables. It was okay. I think I preferred it to the chicken momos that I ordered, which seemed very underwhelming.

a plate of momos and dipping sauce

It was only near the end of my meal that two fellows wandered into the place, ordering in Nepali. I’m guessing the lack of tourists during the pandemic has hit the restaurant pretty hard.

Overall, it was a good intro to Tibetan cuisine if you’ve never had it and I really enjoyed my chowmein. The place was decorated very nicely if a bit over-decorated, but I found the faded post-it notes going down the stairs to the restaurant to be very tacky and off-putting. Stop in to support a Tibetan-owned restaurant! Bhod gyalo!

Address: Supyogyo Building B1, 35-2, Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

The Latest South Korean Craze: Pokémon Bread

a package of Pokemon bread featuring a blue tadpole creature named Poliwag

“Teacher, you must wait. And wait. And waaaaaiiitttt.”

Apparently you have to wait a very long time in order to get your hands on the elusive Pokémon bread that’s been a craze in South Korea for the past two months. I’ve gone into a convenience store where the clerk was still putting away deliveries and the Pokémon bread had already been purchased by someone watching the store like a hawk.

Somehow these kids are still managing to get their hands on the bread, though, as numerous kids have come up to me to show off their Pokémon sticker, the real reason why the bread has made such a big comeback.

a sign on the door of a 7-Eleven stating that there isn’t any Pokemon bread, complete with a Pikachu, Squirtle, and Ditto illustrations

Today I was stopped by a sign posted on the door of a Mini-Stop that had a Pikachu illustration, but when I read the sign, it had nothing to do with Pokémon and was advertising a combo set you could now buy. Clever.

Edit: Baskin Robbins now has a Pokémon ice cream.

Café Review: Krum Coffee, Uijeongbu

Located a few minutes away from line 1 Uijeongbu station is the Uijeongbu location of Krum Coffee, which also has a branch in Yangju. Krum Coffee is on the second floor of the building.

The café is one big open room with fairy lights and a mini Christmas tree in the center of one table. A light jazz music is playing, and on this occasion we could see someone in the back of the café roasting coffee.

When selecting a pastry, go for one of the jam cookies rather than the pound cake, which we found a little hard. And be adventurous and ask what coffee is on the siphon bar if you’ve never had siphon coffee! (But remember to stick around and watch it being brewed, as that’s part of the fun.)

Follow them on Instagram: @krum_coffee

Address: 의정부시 평화로 554 2층 크룸커피 랩

Kpop Music Monday #39: Jamie, “Pity Party”

Jamie’s “Pity Party” is perhaps a far cry from her debut stage in 2011 as part of a music competition show called Kpop Star. (You can watch her cover of “Irreplaceable” here. Spoilers: she won the competition.) We love to see a good comeback and an artist that has come into their own.

Though she was born in Korea and Korean is her mother tongue, she spent 8 years living in Thailand and attending an international school. She apparently prefers speaking in English, so it makes sense that her discography features English songs. A question I cannot answer: is it still Kpop if it’s a language other than Korean? Is it Kpop solely because it’s pop music sung by a Korean artist, and what then of Korean-hyphen artists, or even Chinese artists who sing in Korean?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Jamie is here to do whatever the hell she wants, and we respect her for it.

Café Review: Finger Coffee

There’s something different about this café… I just can’t put my finger on it…

Not only is it open 24 hours, but it is an automatic, unmanned café. You insert your card (even transportation cards work!), get the cup corresponding to your order (either a hot cup or a cup filled with ice), move it to the assigned area, and that’s it.

If you happen to feel a bit peckish, you can also check out the ice cream and snack display, which is also unmanned (and they have macarons!). Just insert your card to pay and open the door.

If you’d like to take a virtual tour, click here.

Would this kind of café work in your country?

Kpop Music Monday #38: Everglow, “Pirate”

Sometimes you hear a song and it just resonates with you. Suddenly you find yourself singing and dancing along to it over and over and over again and you can’t figure out exactly why this song has such a hold on you.

“… cuz I’m a pirate, yeah yeah…”

This will be one of my most-played songs of 2022. I’m a little mad that the line distribution is pretty bad, with one member getting most of the lines and a lot of screen time while another member is quiet for most of the song, but this song is still a bop.

Café Review: Blue Bottle Seongsu

Today’s café review is the first Blue Bottle café in Korea, located in the Seongsu neighborhood.

the iconic blue bottle signage against a rough exposed concrete wall

According to Blue Bottle’s website:

“The neighborhood of Seongsu—for which our very first Korean café is named—is changing. In what was once an industrial pocket of the South Korean capital, cafes and galleries are springing up to serve the up-and-coming area referred to by some as the Brooklyn of Seoul.

While Blue Bottle brings much of its Bay Area roots, there’s plenty of old-school Seongsu-dong to hold onto. We’ve used the neighborhood’s trademark red brick, for example, to showcase classic Blue Bottle merchandise, as well as items that can only be found in Korea. Our menu, however, offers the same delicious coffee that can be found in our cafes in the U.S. and Japan.

From the street level, guests will first encounter our roastery against the backdrop of high-rises and trains. Down below is our café, and though located on the basement level, the glass walls and open layout create a calm, sunlit spaciousness—perfect for getting coffee with friends or shopping while you wait for your espresso, single origin, or blend coffee.”

It was interesting seeing the roasting equipment and the espresso machines they probably train the Korean baristas on, but I’d disagree that the area is “sunlit.” It was pretty dark, actually, in the way that a fancy restaurant might be dimmed in order to achieve a romantic effect. The overall feel was pretty industrial, but I loved the red brick touch on the merchandise and how the merch was a separate area from the ordering line. Behind a wall in the seating area was an area of several couches where a few families were sitting.

I imagine that on the weekends, seating can be hard to find. As evidence, I present the blue footprints that start from the entrance at street level and wrap around the front lobby area and then down the stairs to the café. People line up for Blue Bottle, and this café is certainly not going to be any different.

Much to my friends’ amazement, I did not order a coffee, instead opting for a strawberry fizz, which was quite lovely. The barista spoke to me in broken English until asking me to write my name on the screen in front of her, and when I wrote it in Hangul, she was visibly shocked and told me that she didn’t know I spoke Korean. (Spoilers: I don’t, but I could understand what she was saying and where she told me to wait until my name was called.) The fizz reminded me of when I worked at the Mint Plaza Blue Bottle location and I’d pour myself a Cascara Fizz in my Blue Bottle glass mug for the ride back to Oakland.

Unfortunately, my friend’s orange blossom latte tasted like the barista dumped their grandma’s perfume into it, which is not how I remember the drink tasting the last time I went to Blue Bottle. I suggested that she ask for them to just make her a regular latte, but since we had already had coffee that day, she wanted to let it be.

Out of all the Blue Bottle cafes I’ve visited in Korea thus far, this only gets a special mention for being the first to be opened in Korea. Go if you want a gander at the roasting and training area, but I still prefer grabbing a drink at the Gwanghwamun location and sitting alongside the Cheonggye stream.

Address: 7 Achasan-ro Seongdong-gu (Ttukseom station — exit #1)

Kpop Music Monday #37: G(I-DLE), Tomboy

Truth be told, I don’t know much about (G)I-DLE. Like how to properly say their group’s name. I recognize the rapper, who has featured in other songs and is apparently a very good songwriter and producer, producing some of the group’s tracks herself, and know that there was another member who quit the group after a scandal broke that she bullied some of her classmates. Other than that, though, I don’t really follow this group. Or “stan” them, as we would say in the Kpop community.

The bullying scandal is nothing new in the world of Korean celebrities. Many a celebrity have been accused of bullying in their middle and high school days, and it often ends with either a teary-eyed apology letter or stone-faced denial. There’s also something to be said about the cyber-bullying that tends to occur once the scandal breaks, not of the victim in question but of the alleged bully themselves, sometimes leading to a person’s departure from a group or being dropped from a sponsorship. (What is to be said, however, I’m not sure. Obviously bullying is bad but sometimes the vitriol that comes after the scandal seems worse than the alleged bullying. Let’s hold people accountable for their actions, but also acknowledge that people can grow and learn.)

Bullying is a big deal in Korea and I admit I don’t know much about it, teaching at a hagwon rather than a public school. I’ve dealt with some minor bullying, such as a boy calling his classmate an idiot for getting vocabulary test answers wrong, but nothing of the nature that is being called to attention by people who grew up with celebrities. This is a good article that briefly discusses the topic.

But back to the video!

The English in this video is not that great (“sometimes we swear without cigarettes”?), but holy moly, did they just drop an English curse word in the chorus?! Yes they did! You can even hear it in the uncensored version. Not only did they switch it up with a concept change, but they went all out and didn’t just change their hair colors and call it a day. (Here’s another song for you.)

I can dig it.