The real story behind K-Pop star Holland


K Pop star Holland

He might only be 22 years old, but K-Pop star Holland has already taken over the world with his debut song “Neverland” which has already sold 9 million times, But what's most striking about Holland is that he is the first K-pop openly gay idol in a nation where LGBTQ+ relationships are still subject to taboo and where gay marriage is yet to be legalised. Despite all that, the video of Holland's first song release, Neverland, gathered more than 1 million views on YouTube in a single day, and to date, it has been watched more than 9 million times, which is a milestone for any solo artist who is just starting out in South Korea, and was not promoted at all.

‘It's going to take homosexuality coming out of the water,' he told ‘A lot of exposure and consumption. And a lot of people have to say it's not wrong.
‘I think culture is the most powerful weapon' he added. ‘Korea is also hard to survive in as a gay entertainer. I think Korea should develop more culturally.'
To prove that the LGBTQ+ community is still a taboo topic in South Korea, when Holland released his music video for his single I'm Not Afraid, it was given an age restriction on YouTube. This prompted the start to tweet: “My fans, listen up, you know, if you saw my music video, Race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity it is individual difference and there should never be any discrimination in it. ‘I'm sorry, hate criminals can't be my fans.'”
His first single “Neverland” documents his experiences growing up as a gay person in his home country. Some YouTube viewers have compared him with the Aussie singer Troye who also happens to be an iconic gay singer.
The song tells the story of a boy who lies to himself and everyone about his true desires and identity. Then he finds himself being discriminated against because of his sexuality. During that time of discrimination, he wants to go to a place where he can follow his heart and do what he wants.
“Neverland (in the world of J.M. Barrie's) Peter Pan is a dreamland,” Holland told SBS Pop Asia. “I want to tell queer people that although we can't marry someone, and we are not sure what's going to be next, but we are OK, nevertheless.”
The music video of the song showed Holland having a date with a man and then kissing him in bed. It was the homosexual kiss what resulted in the video receiving a 19+ rating in South Korea.
Holland is very open about his struggles growing up and suffering bullying. This lead him to suffer from depression, which started when he was in middle school. “When I decided to come out in [my] middle school days, I told one of my closest friends about being gay,” Holland said in a video interview with South Korean video channel PRAN. “The next day everyone in school was gossiping about it.”
Now he wants to fight for the rights and wellbeing for the LGBTQ+ community. “There are not many celebrities in Korea who speak up for human rights,” Holland told SBS PopAsia. “I thought there's got to be someone like me who discloses their sexual identity.”
“The fans are very special to me,” an emotional Holland said in an emotional video interview with South Korean magazine Dazed. “I'm working harder because I want to be a special person for my fans, too.”
Holland's overnight success remains an unprecedented phenomenon. He said that his success was possible thanks to the world becoming more “sensitive” to k-pop. Some of the big hits lately have been the K-pop band BTS, and Holland is a fan of them. ‘It's like catching the world's most fashionable things and turning them into K-pop. It's a great thing,' he said.
He hopes more people will listen to South Korean indie band Hyukoh. Apart from being a K-pop fan, Holland is also into British music too. “I love British bands so much,” he told I really like Nothing But Thieves and Harry Styles' album is the best.'


K-pop fans flock to KCON


korea kconusa

Tens of thousands of excited K-Pop fans from far and wide flock to KCON LA every year to celebrate this pop culture phenomenon. Held in Los Angeles, KCON is a three-day global K-pop music and culture festival. This year, 95,000 people were attracted to KCON and gather at the Los Angeles Convention Center and Staples Center.

Previously, the organiser picked “KLUB KCON” as a catchphrase, which means a combined K-pop music genre, including K-hip-hop and K-EDM. The event featured 19 famous Korean acts, including K-pop band TWICE and Wanna One and female singer Ailee, hit the stage.
Apart from music, fans also tested K-beauty products, which are famed for being miraculous. There was also Korean food on the sidelines of the K-pop event.
If you are thinking of partaking in this event, here are some of the frequently asked questions the organisers have received:
What is the difference between a combo and a single ticket? “Single tickets allow you to attend one night's concert. If you would like to attend both concert nights, it is recommended you purchase a combo ticket so that you receive one ticket for each concert night at a discounted price! For example, a P3 single ticket is $60. If you want to attend both concert nights, you can purchase a combo ticket for $100 instead of purchasing two single concert tickets for $60.”
When do combo and single tickets go on sale? “All concert tickets go on sale Wednesday, July 11 at 10AM PDT. This includes all combo (Diamond, Platinum, P1,P2,P3) and single tickets.”
What type of tickets are Diamond and Platinum? “Diamond and Platinum tickets are complete KCON experience packages which include: Combo concert tickets, 3-Day convention access, a premium Artist Engagement package, KLUB KCON, exclusive KCON merchandise, and more special benefits!”
Are the convention tickets included in the prices? “The Convention ticket is SEPARATE from your concert ticket. You will need to purchase a separate Convention ticket depending on what type of ticket you purchase! The Diamond/Platinum packages include Convention tickets.”
I'm confused about which sections P1-P3 are. “P1-P3 refers to the different seating tiers of the concert venue! The seating chart for KCON LA is available on the “tickets” tab located at the top right corner of our website!”
Which websites will KCON concert tickets be sold on? “For KCON LA, concert tickets will be available for purchase via AXS, the official ticketing partner of the Staples Center. You can easily follow the ticket purchase link on our kconusa website.”
What happens at the Convention? “The convention is your go to spot for all your favorite Hallyu related activities! From engaging panel discussions with some of your favorite Hallyu Influencers, to interactive art and dance workshops, Artist Engagement sessions, eating your favorite Korean food at the marketplace, and more!”
What is KLUB KCON? “KLUB KCON is the official pre-event of KCON where you can dance the night away (on Friday August 10, 7 – 11PM) before you get ready for two star studded nights of MCOUNTDOWN concerts! There will be a special guest appearance from the concert lineup and more! Tickets are $60 with a Convention ticket and $80 without, and you will be able to purchase them during the “additional options” section when purchasing your Convention tickets.”
What is Flower Boy Cafe? “Inspired by a culmination of K-Pop/K-Drama's flower boys and the uniquely themed cafes in Korea. Flower Boy Café features a full roster of charming Flower Boys and surprise guest appearances! Tickets are $15 per session. You may purchase tickets during the “additional options” section when purchasing your Convention tickets. Each ticket includes 1 beverage. You may purchase two sessions (you will select the date and time of each session, upon availability) and all tickets are non-transferable and non-refundable.”
What is a “HI-TOUCH?” “Those with a valid “Hi-Touch” voucher will enter the designated “Hi-Touch” area and be able to “high five” the artists during the session indicated on their pass.”
What is “AUDIENCE”? “Those with a valid “Audience” voucher will enter the designated “Audience” area to watch the session indicated on their pass.”
What is “RED CARPET”? “You can see the artists for each night rock their stage looks and say a quick hello before the show! Those with a valid “Red Carpet” voucher will have access to a “Red Carpet” session on either Saturday or Sunday, as indicated on their pass.”


Money and General Travel Advice


General Travel Advice

We offer general useful information in terms of travel advice, money and preemptive measure prior to travelling to South Korea.

Make sure you exchange money to get some local currency- the South Korean Won - prior to travelling. Oh can still do it in South Korea unless you're trying to change Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes. There are places, such as food vendors on the street, that do not accept credit cards. Although there are ATMs scattered all over the major cities, they do not always accept foreign cards. Keep an eye out for those displaying a sign saying “Global”, as they normally accept foreign cards and they might be your last resource at some point.
You might also want to prepare yourself for a natural disaster, such as a typhoon, particularly from June to November. Make sure you monitor the progress of an impending storm on the Korean Meteorological Administration website and follow any advice given by the local authorities.
For any other emergency you face abroad, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need help immediately because something has happened to a friend or relative while they were abroad, contact the Foreign and Conmonwealth Office (FCO) in London.
The British Government website offers a foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you are overseas.
“The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can't provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you're concerned about whether or not it's safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you're travelling to, together with information from other sources you've identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it's safe for you to travel.
“When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we'll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel.
“Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Although in some cases it might not be possible or it might be too late, if you wish to cancel or change your holiday, your travel company is the one you should contact.
“The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can't offer a refund to their customers.”
You should visit the Citizen's Advice Bureau website if you wish to get more information about your rights. If you have problems with a flight booking, the website of the Civil Aviation Authority is the place to visit. “For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you're not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
If you are a British National and you need more information about travelling abroad that isn't covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry on their official website. Although they are not able to provide tailored service for specific trips, they are a wealth of information.


Entry requirements and health


Entry requirements and health

You wouldn't want to make it all the way to South Korea and then find out you are not allowed to enter or you don't have all that's necessary to be allowed past the border. You also want to stay safe, get all your jabs beforehand as the body takes time to build immunity to certain viruses. Here are some guidelines and recommendations by the UK government to make your trip as smooth as possible.

This information shows “the UK government's understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen' passport.
“The authorities in the country or territory you're travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you're unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you'll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you're travelling to.”
It is also worth checking with your passport provider or travel company just to double check that your passport and other travel documents comply with South Korean government's requirements.
When it comes to visas, it really depends on where you are from. “If you have a British Citizen passport you can enter South Korea as a tourist for up to 90 days without a visa. You must also have an onward or return ticket. It's illegal to work on a tourist visa, whether as a teacher or in any other capacity.
“If you have a different type of British nationality, or are travelling for any purpose other than tourism, you should check visa requirements with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, London.”
Some other piece of information that is important to keep in mind is that your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 3 months from the date of entry into South Korea. “UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from South Korea.”
Always check the website of the Korea Customs Service before travelling just to check on restricted or prohibited items that may not be brought into the country. “If you are in any doubt about the legality of any items - including medications -you should declare them on entry.”
This is important information to bear in mind before travelling if you are a British male of Korean origin whose name appears on the Korean family register: you may be liable for military service even if you are travelling on your British passport.
To get a visa to teach English in South Korea you must have a 3-year university degree. A TEFL qualification alone is not sufficient. “British nationals teaching English in South Korea have sometimes found living and working conditions to be below expectations, and have encountered difficulties getting the correct visas and residence permits. There have also been complaints of breach of contract, confiscation of passports, payment being withheld and inadequate or no medical insurance. Check all terms and conditions of your employment carefully and if possible speak to other teachers from the place where you plan to work before accepting any offer. For those in possession of a work visa all employment changes must be authorised by Korean Immigration.”
It is important to visit your GP a month or six weeks before travelling to check if you need any jabs and for the vaccinations to take effect, and also for other preventive measures. “Check the latest country-specific information and advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNac) on the Travel Health Pro website or from NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.”
Although medical and dental care in South Korea is, in general, really good, it is often expensive. To top it all up, there's a good chance that staff may not speak English. That is why you need to make sure you have the right travel health insurance and enough funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. “If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 119 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.”
Beware that there's a risk of tick-borne disease across Korea in spring. If you are taking part in leisure activities that involve grass, make sure you wear long sleeved shirt/tops and trousers.


UK government Safety tips


korea safety

Most of the 140,000 British nationals who visit South Korea every year do so trouble-free, but then there is that small fraction of tourists who encounter some kind of mishap. To minimize the consequences of these mishaps, the UK government has compiled a few guidelines to help travellers make the most of their trip. First of you all, if you are a British citizen abroad, they advise you to contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission if you need help from the UK government.

They start by giving some historical context and a summary of current events in terms of relations with North Korea to warn travellers. “From the start of 2018, there has been a renewal of direct contact between the North and South Korean governments, as well as between North Korea and the United States. Under the Panmunjom Declaration signed at the inter-Korean summit on 27 April, South Korea and North Korea pledged to agree a peace treaty formally to end the Korean War, alongside a number of other commitments to build inter-Korean ties and reduce military tensions. On 12 June, US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. In a joint statement, North Korea reaffirmed its previous commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.”
Although North Korea announced a halt to nuclear testing back in April 2018, “the level of tension on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice. Tensions increased after the sinking of the South Korean Navy Ship Cheonan and an artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island in 2010; when the DPRK carried out 2 missile tests in 2012; and after nuclear tests in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Tensions can also rise during South Korean-US military exercises, which take place throughout the year. You should keep in touch with news broadcast, follow the advice of the local authorities and check this travel advice for any updates.”
In times of tension, you should not only follow local procedures, but have your own contingency plan and make sure you have your passport at hand as well as other important documents, such as nationality documents and birth and marriage certificates, and medication.
In the event of civil emergencies, the South Korean government has developed a smartphone application with civil emergency advice, which comprise shelter locations, different types of alarms, medical facilities and emergency services. The way to look for it is by searching “emergency ready app” on Android or Apple app stores.
Although it is not common to get robbed in South Korea, take special care of passports, credit cards and money when you find yourself in crowded areas as well as in areas that attract foreigners, such as Itaewon. “Take care when travelling alone at night and only use legitimate taxis or public transport. For emergency assistance, or to report a crime, call 112 for police (a 24 hour interpretation service is available) and 119 for ambulance and fire.”
If you are thinking of hitting the road of South Korea, you'll need an International Driving Permit, and you better have fully comprehensive insurance. “Car and motorbike drivers are presumed to be at fault in accidents involving motorcycles or pedestrians. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common when accidents result in injury, even if guilt is not proved. Watch out for motorcycles travelling at speed on pavements.”
If you'd rather not rent a car, beware taxi drivers here tend to speak little or no English, but translation services are available. To make your trip easier, make sure you have your destination written in Korean, if possible with a map.
Before you travel, make sure you know the local laws and customs, as a serious violation may lead to a jail or death sentence. “Penalties for possession, use and trafficking of illegal drugs can result in long jail sentences and heavy fines. This applies even to personal use of small amounts of marijuana. British nationals have been detained solely on the basis of drug tests.”
If you are not going to incur in any crime, just make sure you are a practical traveller. “Carry some form of identification at all times and make sure your next-of-kin details have been entered into the back of your passport.”


Useful information before travelling to Korea


travel Korea food

As exciting as it may be to explore a new place, it is important to do some research prior to travelling in order to make the most of your travelling experience. Before you start packing, here is some useful information:

First of all, the duration of your trip determines what you are going to do there, your budget and so on, so you might want to know how long you need to see the country. The duration of your trip depends on what you are doing there. Whether you are shopping, sightseeing or having other experiences, one week should be enough to get a feel of the place, unless you want to explore places off the beaten path.
Although you might be able to get away with speaking in English, some vendors speak Korean only; they might still understand you if you speak Chinese. Otherwise, you better be good at hand language or at using Google translate.
Money matters
Although most places accept credit cards, it's worth having some cash for vendors and to try street food. It's also safer to have some cash on you. Although South Korea is safer than Thailand and it's less likely that you'll get mugged, have a backup travel card that you can keep separate from the card you normally use.
Public transport
South Korean public transport is very reliable, and trains are usually on time. You can save a bit of money if you buy the Korea T-money card; just don't forget to tap in and out of the gantries when you hop on the train.
Although cabs in South Korea are relatively cheap compared to the Western World, black cabs can be quite expensive. Take orange/silver ones instead in order to save a bit of money.
Public toilets
Much like the West, South Korea houses enough public toilets to satisfy the demand. Fortunately, they are clean and equipped with toilet roll.
If you don't mind the heat, the hottest period in South Korea takes place from late July to early August. Otherwise, your best bet is to schedule your visit in spring or autumn. If this is not possible, and you are stuck with the merciless sun of the summer, make sure you wear a cap and sun cream.
Drinking water
Great news for thrifty travellers: tap water here is drinkable. Just carry a plastic bottle and refill it with water from the tap. If you still don't feel it's safe enough, you can buy bottles of water from convenience stores and vending machines.
Is it worth discovering the city with tour? Definitely yes. At least you can get your bearings with the help of a professional before you venture and discover the city on your own terms. Besides, there are many areas of South Korea you won't get to see unless you are in a tour.
Travel apps
Train maps can be very confusing and overwhelming if you don't know the area. That is why having a train line app - such as Seoul Metro and Busan metro - that knows everything and makes your travel by metro easier is your best bet.
Tax claims and duty free shops
To claim taxes, you have to spend more than KRW30,000 at the beauty stores in Myeong Dong, which is one of the famous shopping districts in Seoul Korea. The place to claim your taxes is at the airport, but it can be quite complicated and troublesome, apart from being slow process as it is very busy, so it might not be worth your time.
Although South Koreans are known for being very friendly, this is not an infallible rule for everyone. Be warned that some locals, the older generation in particular, can be quite obnoxious. Just beware and don't take it personally or be shocked if you get elbowed on the train.


Free things to do in Seoul


Free things to do in Seoul SEMA

With all the attractions that the South Korean city of Seoul offers, it can be quite expensive. That is why it is important to know the free amazing things the city has to offer, so you can make the most out of your budget. From scenic hikes to interesting museums and poetic sunrises, there are plenty of free things to do in Seoul.

119, Changuimun-ro Jongno-gu Museum
Conceived as a salute to Korean poet Yun Dong-ju, this museum houses old photos and fist editions of this beloved poet. This museum used to be a pressurisation facility, and now the design of indoor space is what captivates visitors. The magic continues outside, from where you get memorable views of N Seoul Tower.
Jeoldusan Martyrs' Shrine
This Shrine was built on the site of the Byeonin Persecution of 1866 in remembrance of the many Roman Catholics that were murdered there. Here you can learn about the site's history through implements of torture on display.
Culture Talk
Enjoy a free concert, attend a lecture or go to one of the free exhibitions held at the Culture Talk, a cultural centre made out of five transformed oil tanks from the 1970s. According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, “The Mapo Oil Depot, a grade 1 security facility which has been strictly prohibited from public access and usage over the past 41 years, has been transformed into an environment-friendly culture space featuring festivals, performances, exhibitions and village markets since September 1, 2017.
“The Seoul Metropolitan Government is operating various participatory programs created, produced, and shared among citizens at the Oil Tank Culture Park,” such as the Dalsijang market, the Bicycle Music Festival for Urban Nomads, Project Nada,
“Dalsijang market is an environment-friendly village market held around the time the moon comes out that does not use any disposable goods. The market taking place at Culture Plaza is held on the second Saturday of each month and participated by residents, social economy entrepreneurs, and young local artists. The first Dalsijang Market will be operated on September 9 (Saturday) between 5am and 9pm. When you visit the market, make sure to bring your cup and shopping basket!”
They also describe the Bicycle Music Festival, “featuring a restaurant connected to a bicycle, a moving playground with a large tire and bicycle and various artistic performances will take place on September 9 (Saturday) along with Dalsijang Market.”
They also host exhibitions and workshops, so you will always find something to do even if there are no festivals taking place.
Seoul Museum of Art & the Cheongun Literature Library
Located in a historic building, SeMA is a modern art museum where the permanent exhibition is free and often overlooked in benefit of special exhibitions which can be crowded and expensive. Apart from being a library, the Cheongun Literature Library is one of the most stunning museums in Korea, and fortunately, one of the few free ones. Housing an average collection of books, the library's reading rooms are located in a traditional Korean house on the second floor.
Gyeongui Line Forest Park
Built on 100-year old train tracks that connected both Koreas, the Gyeongui Line Forest Park is an interesting park steeped in history. Stretching several trendy neighbourhoods, this part is the hot spot for locals to have picnics and a meeting point for buskers with their guitars in the Yeonnam-dong portion of the park. The park also hosts piano performances when the weather is favourable.
You can also take a stroll through the Bukchon Hanok Village, which is made up of hundreds of traditional Korean homes (hanoks).
Don't miss out on a tour of South Korea's presidential office. There you can walk through the house's famous locations, such as Nokjwon, which is the Blue House's garden of trees. You can book your tour on the office's official website, which states “Cheong Wa Dae is where the President of the Republic of Korea lives and works. The compound is home to administrative offices for the President, Secretariat and other staff as well as the official residence of the President and First Lady. Cabinet meetings, receptions for state guests, critical decision-making for the country, and diplomatic events all take place here. As such, the name ‘Cheong Wa Dae' not only denotes a specific location but also stands for the highest authority of the Republic of Korea.”


South Korean Directors in the West


Bong Joon Ho

Compared to “Steven Spielberg in his prime by Quentin Tarantino, South Korean Director Bong Joon-Ho has gone from blacklist to blockbuster with this film “Okja.”

The filmmaker was target by the now ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a dictator. Under her rule, any artist or writer who expressed “left-wing thoughts” - whoever criticized her or her policies - were secretly blacklisted. During that time, over 10,000 artists were targeted by her government.
“It was a nightmarish few years that left many South Korean artists deeply traumatized,” Bong said. “Many are still reeling from the trauma,” said the director, whose $50-million Netflix film tells the story of a country girl who tries to save a genetically engineered beast from the interests of a multinational company.
The blacklist consisted in denying the artists artists of state subsidies, which included Bong and Park Chan-Wook, whose erotic thriller “The Handmaiden” is an international success.
Bong's films display fascination for strong subject matter, but presented with dark humor and sudden mood shifts. His 2006 blockbuster “The Host” portrays an incompetent government left helpless in the wake of a disaster. “The Host” marked a turning point in Bong‘ career and marked a step up in scare for the Korean film industry as a whole.
The big-budget ($12 million) work focuses on a fictional monster that rises up out of the Han River to wreak havoc on the people of Seoul. Although the production encouraged strong audience interest even before it started shooting, there were many doubts concerning whether a Korean production could rise up to the challenge of creating a realistic and believable digital monster. After being unable to work with the company responsible for the CGI in The Lord of the Rings due to scheduling conflicts, Bong contacted San Francisco-based The Orphanage who took on the majority of the effects work.
Bong directed his first Hollywood film in 2012, which was “Snowpiercer,” starring Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans. The success of the science fiction story led to “Okja,” starring Swinton and Lily Collins.
“It is essentially a love story between an animal and a little girl, but also looks at how our lives are inevitably shaped under the capitalist system, whether you are a human or an animal,” Bong said.
“Okja is my sixth movie, but the moment you show your film to the whole world for the first time is always so unnerving,” he said, adding that he was feeling “nervous, thrilled and a bit relieved” to have finished the high-profile project.
Once an army-ruled blackwater, South Korea is today a cultural powerhouse and this is thanks to the greater freedom of speech the country has enjoyed since 1992, when they first elected a president without a military background. It was this change what led South Korean's entertainment industry to take the world by storm. In that contest, Bong said: “I believe the future will be brighter with the restoration of the freedom of expression.”
Despite getting this far, the release of “Okja” has caused a controversy in South Korea, due to its backer Netflix's decision to release it simultaneously in theaters and online in Korea. Major Korean theater chains opposed Netflix's plan for simultaneously online and theatrical release as films are screened in theaters for at least a few weeks before becoming available online.
In a press conference, the director assumed responsibility for this misunderstanding: “I think (this situation) has arisen from my cinematic ambition. Netflix hasn't tried to push through with theatrical releases (abroad) but Korea is a unique case.”
“This is because of me,” he continued. “While filming with (cinematographer Darius Khondji), we wanted as many people as possible in the UK, the UK and Korea to be able to see the film on the big screen. It was my greed.”
“I fully understand the position of Korean multiplex theaters... But I also think Netflix's principle of simultaneously streaming should be respected. “Okja” has been made with the subscription fees of Netflix viewers and we cannot tell them to wait until after (the movie) has screened in theaters. I respect that.”


South Korean Obsession with Beauty


South Korean Obsession with Beauty

Sure K-pop is catchy, the stage performances are original and the dance routines are spectacular, but an element essential to the artist's success is how good-looking they are. Who can resist gorgeous girls dancing short and tight outfits? Right? Right?

The importance of beauty in the K-pop world is such that there is a K-pop Idol School that only admits beautiful people. Aimed at mentoring K-pop girl group members, the Idol School's website shamelessly posted “we are recruiting beautiful freshmen.”
You don't need to have dancing and singing skills to be able to enter this school. The only requirement is being beautiful. After being criticized for promoting lookism, the institution claimed that the idea of “beauty” encompasses appearance, the mind, personal charm and enthusiasm. Despite this claim, it is clear they do care about the appearance as the school song is titled “Because you are pretty,” and the application form requires body shots of the applicant.
The program is focused on preparing students over 11 weeks for a debut after they pass the graduation exam. The institution prepares individuals to become successful idol talents with a comprehensive curriculum that includes “Mind Control” and “How to Deal with a Stage Crisis.”
In the industry, the most beautiful K-pop idols are Im Yoona, Suzy, Irene, IU, Seolhyun, Son Na-en, Kim Tae-yeon, Kang Seul-gi, Krystal Jung and Nana.
The K-pop beauty standards only reflect the country's obsession with looks. It is common in South Korea to undergo surgery in order to comply with these standards: rounder eyes, narrower faces and bigger breasts.
A K-pop band also celebrated the country's trend to go under the knife and become pretty. From nose jobs to breast implants, all four members of SixBomb went through extensive plastic surgery before releasing a new single.
One of their videos showed K-pop members visiting a clinic and lying on the operating table. Another one had them dancing with their sunglasses on and their heads wrapped in bandages. In their smash hit “Becoming prettier” they sing “everyone follows me because I'm pretty.”
The electronic track, which is the antithesis to Lady Gaga's “Born this way,” has raised criticism on South Korea's ultra-competitive, looks-obsessed society, where physical features are essential to improve one's social standing and help secure jobs - many recruitment adverts require a “neat appearance” and a CV with photo.
With thousands of clinics performing an estimated 1.2 million procedures a year, South Korea is the world's third largest plastic surgery market. This is a relevant position considering it only has a population of 50 million.
The pressure to get plastic surgery in South Korea is overwhelming. Adverts showing before-and-after pictures are displayed on billboards, subway trains, bus stops and toilet walls, and the message of them all is to urge women to “change” their looks: “everyone but you has done it.”
SixBomb's lead singer Dain had breast implants and facial plastic surgery to make her face look smaller for a video. Therefore, they had the idea to be forward about it rather than trying to conceal it.
“We all wanted to get some surgeries done to look prettier... and thought, ‘Why not perform a song about it instead of trying to conceal it?'” she said. “People will notice it anyway, so we wanted to be open about this reality where many women want to look pretty.”
Despite having released five albums since their foundation in 2012, SixBomb are yet to become a major stars and with their members getting “old” for the K-pop scene, the pressure is on, hence the effort to look prettier to get more followers.
The plastic beauty project was funded by their management, which spent 100 million won for “almost every kind of surgery that could be done on a face” and breast implants, according to head manager Kim Il-Woong.
“We haven't committed any crimes. Our only crime would be talking about it in such an open manner,” he said, adding that although many celebrities go under the knife, not many come “out of the closet.”
With the “Korean Wave” spreading around the world, more countries are becoming obsessed with looks. K-pop band members always look flawless, fit and with good looks. They are controlled by strict managements who dictate everything from what to sing to what to eat and what operations to have. As K-pop relies heavily on looks, not only Korean fans but also from overseas and mostly Chinese are having procedures in the hope of looking like their favorite stars.
A Seoul clinic confirmed that SixBomb's members had gone through extensive operations “all above the waist”. Although none of them were forced to go under the knife - allegedly - rapper Soa had to think “long and hard” before having the “double eyelid” procedure to make eyes wider and rounder. “I really liked and was satisfied with my previous eyes, so I had to think long and hard before deciding to take part in the this concept,” she said.
Although “coming out of the closet” might be a marketing move per se, the plastic surgery has raised both compliments as well as criticism. One commentator said: “I understand that you guys are desperate for publicity... but did you really need to go this far?” Another described it as “flat-out bizarre.”
This move reflect's the country's “plastic surgery culture” and the prevalent sexism behind it. In South Korea, looks determine women's “social survival” and job prospects. Recruitment agencies require a neat photo for their CV. Despite being Asia's fourth largest economy, South Korea ranks at the bottom of OECD surveys on gender equality, said Jung Seul-Ah, media monitor at rights group Korea Womenlink.
“This culture has made plastic surgery something essential for many women deemed not pretty enough,” Jung said, and an “absolute necessity for female celebrity whose looks are worshipped, consumed and capitalized on incessantly.”
Despite the criticisms, singer Dain had not doubts. “I really love my new face and am proud of how good I look on TV screens,” said said, adding she would welcome “any kind of public attention, good or band” for the project.


Born in New York, made in Seoul


Born in New York made in Seoul

As K-pop takes the US market by storm, American musicians opt to launch their own K-pop careers. When actor Will Smith's son, Jaden Smith, announced his plan to become a K-pop star, some people criticized his him. “He knows the K-in K-pop stands for Korean, right?”

When the all-American boy band EXP Edition released their first Korean music video, they were also accused of trying to take the “K” out of “K-pop” by angry fans. “Retweet if you think four white boys should stick to American pop. It's really not that hard,” said one fan on social, accusing them of cultural appropriation.
“K-pop is supposed to be a safe space for Asians to have a platform for entertainment that they often times aren't given in the West,” said another.
Although none of their members are Korean, K-pop idol group EXP Edition sing in Korean and dance K-pop style. With the tagline “Born in New York, made in Seoul,” this international K-pop band - with ethnic backgrounds that go from Portuguese to Croatian - made their debut in the K-pop scene with their electronic pop single Feel Like this in South Korea.
“Music is a universal language that brings people together,” said the band's leader Frankie. “We think there shouldn't be any boundaries when it comes to music, including K-pop.”
“We didn't think twice before leaving the US. We had little idea of what we were getting ourselves into, but making a debut in Seoul and sharing our music with Korean audience have always been our dream.”
Despite the band's relation to Seoul to learn the language, K-pop fans criticized their lack of training up against South Korean artists who attend “K-pop academics” for over a decade before their official debut.
Whether EXP Edition represents cultural appropriation or not, what is certain is that the band is “evidence of the fact that K-pop is expanding its horizon and becoming more global,” said the band's creators Bora Kim and Karin Kuroda, who also claimed that criticism had “drastically subsided and their reception had been “very successful.”
A Korean culture expert and professor at Seoul's Hangkuk University, Michael Hurt, pointed out the irony of cultural appropriation accusations.
“K-pop became a genre that's really a fusion of appropriated other, mostly American and actually African American art, especially singing and dancing,” he said. “I think it speaks to the success of K-pop in general to see that the very culture from which they appropriated this from is now trying to enter the fray.”
EXP Edition's journey began back in 2014 when Kim Bo-ra, the founder and head of the group's agency IMMABB Entertainment, had the idea of turning American men into K-pop performers for her masters degree thesis project at Columbia University.
After labeling her project “I'm Making a Boy Band,” she held an audition to recruit non-Koreans for EXP Edition. The group's final four members, Frankie, Sime, Hunter and Koki debuted in New York with their English-Korean single Luv/Wrong in 2015 and shortly after released their second single Nolja Let's Party. Once they gained popularity in their homeland, they embarked on a journey and a new challenge: they debuted in the home of K-pop.
“The casting idea of EXP Edition was so unique and different from other countless auditions we had back in New York. Personally, I found K-pop to be an opportunity to challenge myself as a performer,” said Sime.
Although debuting in South Korea was a dream come true for the band, it presented a challenge of a new kind. “My biggest fear is that people might think we are disrespecting or mocking K-pop. But K-pop became our life, what we do,” Hunter said.
“We expected such pushback because we tried something new, even surprising. But with many comments we have been receiving from non-Korean K-pop fans, we would like to inspired them and show that they can also work in K-pop, like us,” Koki said.
The band members said that what they like about K-pop and they found missing the American pop scene are the genre's versatile stage performances and the visually impressive dance routines.


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