Why Tymee should be acknowledged as a Korean rap legend

tymee E.via korean rapper k-rap

If you’re a K-music fan who also keeps up with Western artists, you’re probably seeing many female rappers’ names in the music charts and awards, especially in the U.S. right now where Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat are dominating. And you might also be thinking of many other female rappers who deserve more love, just as these amazing ones that are having their big moments right now.

In the case of South Korea, it’s not that female-fronted rap is at all unpopular — with shows like Unpretty Rapstar (2015-2016) and Good Girl (2020) we’ve been seeing female rappers getting more attention. Yet, some of these women’s stories remain unknown, or not acknowledged enough. One of these stories is Tymee’s, formerly known as E.Via, the Korean rapper and songwriter born Lee Okju.

Though newer Korean music fans might not be familiar with Tymee’s work, she has been releasing songs for 18 years, with recent years seeing less and less music from her. Some may know Tymee for the beefs she has been involved in throughout her career, such as the one with Jolly V before and during Unpretty Rapstar, or her super brief participation on Show Me The Money. Or maybe you’ll remember her as E.Via, the controversial rapper who released meme-worthy songs such as “Oppa! Can I Do It?” before memes were even a thing.

But Tymee is so much more than the dramas and the eccentric songs — she’s barely acknowledged by what they represented for the music scene in Korea. Here are eight reasons why she was a pioneer, a total legend, and why she should be acknowledged as such.

She Pretty Much Pioneered Aegyo-Rap

Lee Okju started her career as an underground rapper that went by the name of Napper. When she debuted in the Korean pop industry formally as the controversial E.Via, her impeccable flow and impressive breath control were still there — but the deep voice she used to rap with previously gave place to a cute, high pitched, almost unrecognizable timbre.

Along with her clothes and overall shy girl attitude, the baby voice was not exactly what one would expect from a serious rapper, and the aegyo merged with fire rap. E.Via’s songs would also be the first time Tymee would present her fast rap, a side of hers that would also become her signature – which was a peculiar combination too.

But, whether you’d find her laughable or good, you can’t deny that E.Via was somewhat fascinating to listen to, and years later, the aegyo rap she became famous for would infiltrate the K-pop industry, becoming basically a mandatory in K-pop songs by girl groups such as Girls Generation’s “I Got a Boy.”


Her Music Was Once Banned In Korea 

In spite of looking and sounding innocent, E.Via’s songs weren’t really all that suitable for kids. “Oppa! Can I do it?,” the lead single from her debut album, was pretty ambiguous. It wasn’t really clear what she was asking her oppa permission for: the album version included her moaning, while the lyrics also hint at E.Via asking him to hear her rap. The provocative content and slang led music shows such as Music Bank to ban her performances. E.Via, who wrote the lyrics of “Oppa! Can I do it?”, never fully addressed what the song was intended to be — but such suggestiveness would become a part of her brand.

As much as it may be disturbing to hear an infantilized woman performing sexually suggestive songs, or to hear a woman asking a guy permission to do anything at all, the song raised discussions about what artists and women can do, and the ban would only raise the public’s attention and interest to E.Via and her upcoming music.

She Featured Herself On A Song

So far, you’ve learned that Tymee went by different names during her career. Each one of these “personas” had their own features, but they’re all pretty much different sides of her, representing different stages of her life. But could these personas meet each other? 

Alter egos are quite common in rap, but there are very few cases of rappers featuring “themselves” in a song — and the most popular ones we can think of, like Logic feat. Young Sinatra’s “Warm It Up,” weren’t released before E.Via’s “My Medicine,” a song in which E.Via featured no one less than Napper, her old alias.

In this sweet yet sad song, Napper raps and E.Via sings. It’s not only an example of Lee Okju’s versatility and emotional depth – you can just feel the pain in her voice, even if you don’t understand the lyrics – but also her creativity. Who would think of such a collab? It’s just genius to bring your two personas to meet and perform with each other.

She Broke Free & Prioritized Her Artistic Freedom

E.Via brought Lee Okju fame and success, but she wasn’t happy, and was also severely mistreated and not properly paid by her talent agency, DLine Art. She couldn’t put up with it further than early 2013, when she announced that she was leaving the company.

But breaking free from her contract wasn’t easy: she had to go to court, and ended up with little to no rights to her music, and not allowed to use the name E.Via. She then changed her stage name to Tymee, and later signed to rapper Outsider’s ASSA Communication, where she would find more creative freedom and control. On the songs she released thereafter, such as “On The River,” she spoke about her mental health issues and how she almost gave up on music. The name “Tymee” would symbolize her desire to be “tied” to music, as a promise that she wouldn’t let anything or anyone steal her passion for it.

Was An IP Genius During Diss War

In 2013, when U.S. rapper Big Sean released “Control,” a featured verse by Kendrick Lamar would inspire the beginning of a diss war in the Korean hip-hop scene. Initiated by rapper Swings (with whom Tymee had history), the war consisted of many rappers shooting and firing back at each other by writing their own verses over the “Control” beat. The diss war had pretty much only male rappers doing it, until Tymee stepped in. 

Recently signed off from her previous label and recovering from what almost ended her career forever, she definitely had a lot to say, and she didn’t hold back. “Cont Lol,” which is a play on the words “Control” and “Laughing out loud,” referenced how she found the  other rappers’s skills comically laughable. There was also a reference to the video game series League of Legends, showing Tymee’s angry views on hip-hop culture, stating her place as woman in a male-dominated industry (“I’m not a king, but I’m a queen”), dissing rappers and everyone who mistreated her in the past, with no mercy or filters. And as if that weren’t enough, “Cont Lol” also brought back E.Via, — sort of. In a maneuver that would make Intellectual Property lawyers tremble, Tymee channelled her former persona without the need to say her name or to mention anything about her previous works or label, just by using the cute voice she was famous for.

She Was The Best Unpretty Rapstar Contestant To Not Make It To The Finals

After a short passage in Show Me The Money, during which she got eliminated for forgetting her lyrics, Tymee was given another chance to compete in a rap survival TV show, this time, one meant for female rappers only. Tymee’s participation in the first season of Unpretty Rapstar again got attention for her beef with Jolly V, a rapper who dissed her in the past, to which she responded. They both also competed in the same season of Show Me The Money. While Tymee didn’t make it into the semifinals and isn’t even featured on the TV show’s official soundtrack, her performances there were some of the best of her entire career. She shone in a battle against Jace, and later in a collaboration with the same artist. These two verses were so impactful that Tymee would incorporate them into later elements of her career, performing the first one at live concerts and using the second in “Octagon,” a collaboration with Outsider and other label mates.

When you hear Tymee’s crystal clear pronunciation in these verses, her incredible rhyme schemes, lyricism, fierce delivery, and flow, it’s hard to understand why she isn’t considered Yoon Mirae-level of reference for women in South Korea’s hip-hop scene, or why her skills aren’t given the same glory as Korean hip-hop icon Verbal Jint’s.


One Of The First Artists In Korea To Use The Word “Feminist” In A Song

Tymee’s history with Unpretty Rapstar wouldn’t end after she got eliminated from Season 1. In 2016, she would be invited to be a guest judge in the third season, and also released a diss song to the show on her Youtube channel. On “Fuck Pretty Rapstar,” she criticized the contestants who care more about their looks than their rap skills, and proclaimed herself as a feminist that wants to see a fair race in the show regardless of its gender scope.

There isn’t much, if any, history of feminism being mentioned in mainstream Korean songs before “Fuck Pretty Rapstar.” Feminism, as a term, wasn’t that widely known there in 2016 (when participating in a livestream, Tymee was even asked what that word meant). And to be fair, until very recently, it still wasn’t that well known or perceived, as we’ve seen from the controversies that follow female K-pop stars’ when they’re perceived being feminist.

Makes The Music She Wants

Nowadays, Tymee is a part of a music crew called Freezy Bone and isn’t under any label. She is an independent artist whose latest music is less hard rap-driven and leans more towards smoother alternative hip-hop, although her great lyricism is still present. She has said many times she’s not ashamed of her past, but as is noticeable from the abrupt change of style, she doesn’t let it define what she’s going to do either. 

With almost a 20-year career, having gone through underground and Korea’s mainstream, and several ups and downs, Tymee’s story is one of determination and overcoming adversity with her best weapon: talent. It’s also a story about identity. Tymee has been through many different phases, styles, and names, but her talent would always show through — even when she wasn’t being 100% true to herself, she still excelled as a rapper— and her love for music would always win. Regardless of what she’ll do in the future or what kind of music she’ll release, Lee Okju should be acknowledged for just how good she is, and for all the fields and forces she touched or impacted.

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KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more, please consider contributing to KultScene’s writers fund. KultScene’s writers are compensated for their work, time, and insight. Email us for more details.

2PM’s comeback, 2nd gen nostalgia, & breathing new life into older K-pop acts

By Fabiola Álvarez

2PM, one of the top 2nd gen boy groups, made their comeback on June 28 with MUST, their seventh full-album and their first after a five year-hiatus due to the teams’ military enlistments, individual projects such as acting or solo work, and even having a member leave JYP Entertainment – the company that created them – and sign with another label.

For many, male K-pop idols’ conscription once meant the end of the idol or their group’s career as we knew them. As time passed, fan loyalty became stronger and longer-lasting as entertainment companies found strategies to keep them engaged and entertained with other activities. A military reform also helped, turning what used to be a 24-month mourning period into an 18-month hiatus.

Being able to come back to a roaring fandom ready to support your next endeavors is a skill perfected by idols from the second generation — or 2nd gen as it’s commonly referred to. The precedent they set for creating solid fan bases around the world at a time when the internet wasn’t immediately accessible to us through our phones is undeniable. But it is their ability to adapt to the digitized world and connect with fans that crave an onslaught of instant online content what is affording them a second wave of popularity in their careers.

The return of 2PM is the newest addition to a small set of 2nd gen K-pop groups that are making remarkable comebacks after finishing their military services and placing high on the charts, just like they did 10 years ago during their beginnings. Maybe their fandoms aren’t as big as the ones currently dominating the K-pop industry, but they’re keeping up in their own ways and basking on the longevity they cemented years ago. 

The most evident case of the group’s relevancy as it relates to the general public was being invited for the first time as a whole group to JTBC’s Knowing Brothers, one of the top variety shows in South Korea. And when it comes to album sales, they broke their own sales records with MUST, with 79,000 units sold during the first week of release — an overwhelming surprise considering that the group returned from a long break from the stage.

Their lead single “Make It,” which was written by member Wooyoung and producer duo HotSauce, has helped reintroduce 2PM to the new K-pop environment. While many remember 2PM from the party anthem “Hands Up” or the theatrics of “Heart Beat,” with “Make It” they’re showing a relaxed yet grown-up image that builds on latter hits like “Come Back When You Hear This Song” and “ADTOY.” MUST is a 10 track album with several of them written by Jun.K and Taecyeon, and also includes an acoustic version of their very popular, now viral, song “My House.”

As the global K-pop fandom as a whole experienced considerable growth in the past couple of years, older groups that weren’t active, such as 2PM, are now hopping back into an even fiercer competition in the ever-evolving industry — and they’re completely owning it. Leaning into the mature charm that made Hottest, their fandom, fall for them in their beginnings, they are appealing and captivating new audiences by staying true to their brand. 2PM’s strengths prevail because of their relatable lyrics that go beyond the simplicity of everyday life, strong synchronized choreographies, and a varied vocal assortment among the members. Also, the fact that the group has kept a fun, strong, and even a sort of chevalier image throughout the years, which earned them the “beast idol” moniker, doesn’t hurt.

In 2017, as a farewell to their fans, 2PM held the 6NIGHTS concert series with over 30,000 fans attending the shows before going on hiatus. When the members were all finished with their military service, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, ultimately forcing people to confinement and making social media people’s only connection with the outside — or with their idols, in K-pop’s case. A year has since passed, but in-person activities such as concerts, fan signings, and other events that involve big gatherings have remained suspended.


It’s true that not all 2nd gen idols reach stratospheric numbers of virtual interaction like newer, more social media savvy groups like BTS, BLACKPINK, and TWICE. However, their other media appearances work as the appetizer for these groups’ long awaited comebacks: either acting in internationally broadcasted K-dramas via streaming, opening YouTube channels, jumping on newer social media platforms like TikTok, hosting variety programs, and appearing on different online modes like live streamings and podcasting. All of this further humanizes the idol’s image, expanding on what led them to fame in the first place. As more seasoned idols, being versatile and opening up to technology makes them accessible to younger generations who never had to hunt down a 10 part episode of Strong Heart on YouTube. 

But it’s not just nostalgia that’s boosting the comebacks of 2nd gen groups like 2PM, HIGHLIGHT, SHINee, and even Taeyeon from Girls’ Generation. It’s their ability to adapt and grow in an industry that thrives on youth and constantly demands more from the artists, not only with creative input, but also with fan engagement through their online presence.

2PM, who hadn’t been exposed as a group to this very online approach to fan connection, began engaging its loyal fan base by inviting them to join online activities such as streaming parties or reminding fans to stream the “Make It” music video. And doing so worked well: “Make It” hit 3 million views in the first 24 hours of being released, surpassing the fan goal set for 2 million. Then, just two days later, the music video reached 10 million views, making this comeback music video one of their fastest growing videos.

SHINee, with a more active career in the past years, has managed to have a constantly growing fandom while their oldest fans are actively supporting the group, becoming one of the veteran groups with great support in the industry. Their latest album Don’t Call Meand it’s repackaged version Atlantis were praised for showing a mature image of the group whilst still experimenting with various genres and staying true to the colorful personalities that has gained them recognition since their debut. And since variety shows are still a huge necessity to further artists’ profiles with the general public, Key’s weekly appearances as regular cast member on DoReMi Market (also known as Amazing Saturday), has seen his popularity grow with his infectious and sassy persona. This also ultimately helps SHINee’s profile, with many of the group’s biggest hits being frequently aired during the shows’ games and playlists. Also, Taemin’s solos and participation in SuperM kept SHINee adjacent to the current K-pop environment.

Then there’s HIGHLIGHT. After three years of turbulence, the group released their fourth mini-album THE BLOWING, their first comeback since concluding their mandatory military services and as a quartet. The title track, “Not The End” composed by member Gi Kwang, was a reminder to fans that, as the chorus says, they’re still here and it’s not the end, opening a new chapter in HIGHLIGHT’s history filled with the same determination they had during their many group struggles. Now under their self-funded company, Around Us Entertainment, HIGHLIGHT has been more active on social media, connecting with fans through photos and live streamings. 

A few weeks prior to HIGHLIGHT’s comeback, member Doo Joon was confirmed to co-star in his first drama since completing his military duty. Similarly, Dong Woon will finally debut as an actor starring in web-drama The Guys I Want to Catch alongside TEENTOP’s Niel, PENTAGON’s Woo Seok, and VICTON’s Se Jun, making HIGHLIGHT one of the few K-pop groups where all of its members have starred in TV and musical theater.


And though women aren’t required to serve in the military, few 2nd gen female idols have remained a staple in mainstream media as Taeyeon, who recently came back with “Weekend.In addition to her multiple solo releases, she has also been active on TV. After having three members out of eight not renewing their contracts with SM Entertainment, Girls’ Generation as a group went into hiatus — but that didn’t stop the members from standing out beyond music. The iconic 2nd gen female idol group has stayed in the spotlight over the years, with members being active in several fields in the industry. 

To name a few examples, Yuri opened her own YouTube channel to stay in touch with fans through Yuri’s Winning Recipe, a cooking talk show so popular among that was recently picked up to also be broadcasted on TV. Yoona, Seohyun, and Sooyoung have further solidified their acting careers with the first two mentioned leading in movies to be released in the next year, whilst the last starring alongside 2PM’s Chansung in the web drama So I Married an Antifan. Tiffany will be a mentor in new survival show Girls Planet 999 and just starred in the musical Chicago. Hyoyeon has released various singles, performs as DJ HYO, and even participated in the survival show Good Girl. Also, the members still under SM promoted as Oh!GG in 2018.

Of course, Girls’ Generation is a unique case for female groups. With most 2nd gen girl groups gone, the recent one-off performances by After School and 9Muses has shown that interest in these legendary groups is still alive. Hopefully these female acts, as well as other beloved 2nd gen groups like SISTAR, can have full-fledged comebacks like their male contemporaries are able to do so.

Before, groups were given an expiration date of around seven years due to various factors, such as creative or personal differences, military service, continuity of education, and contract terms. The once feared and hated so-called “Seven year curse” wiped out several K-pop groups that were huge names in the industry at the end of their contracts. But those who overcame that barrier were the idols who best adjusted to the times and conditions and did not close their vision to being a single thing or settled for what was offered by their companies. The ones that persist today are those idols and groups that worked in different aspects of being creatives to continue growing and reaching different audiences, not just leaning on their fan bases. Still having a solid company, like one from the Big 3 or your own, backing you helps too. 

Diversifying into various fields allows these older idols to appeal to fans and general public alike, once again setting an example for newer generations of how to stay active and welcomed in a business as competitive and demanding as K-pop continues to become.

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KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more, please consider contributing to KultScene’s writers fund. KultScene’s writers are compensated for their work, time, and insight. Email us for more details.

pH-1 talks creative process, the future, & latest single ‘365&7’ [interview]

ph-1 ph1 korean hip hop rap h1ghr music
Photo credit: H1GHR MUSIC

By Stitch

pH-1 has been one busy guy.

Incredibly active since his 2017 debut The Island Kid, pH-1 has become a staple in Korean hip-hop thanks to his solid back catalog and excellent collaborations with a wide range of equally talented performers in and out of his label, H1GHR MUSIC. Looking at his discography over the past five years will make you wonder when he ever has time to sleep because he always has something incredible out.

pH-1’s path to hip hop excellence is an interesting one. Spending his teenage years and young adulthood in Long Island, New York, pH-1 studied biology and initially was on the fast track to working in the medical industry. He even worked as a dental assistant before turning to web development. With an interest in rapping that really kicked into gear during his college years, pH-1’s big break came after Jay Park saw one of his early music videos and reached out. Fast forward to now, and pH-1 is easily one of the most well-known Korean-American rappers in the game.

In the past two years, pH-1 has hopped on remixes with other big names of Korean hip-hop. 2020’s “Gang Official Remix,” a collaboration with Sik-K, Jay Park, and Haon, cracked the top five of the Gaon Digital Chart. Already in 2021, his collaborations have been legendary. First up was “VVS,” an ode to excess that saw pH-1 joining his H1GHR family members on a track that was all about flexing their success. In addition to that, pH-1 shows up on the very fun remix for “Achoo” and knocks that out of the park.

However, his solo releases over the past several years are a must-listen as well. “Nerdy Love,” his January 2020 track featuring Baek Ye-Rin hitting the top 50 on the Gaon charts. 2020 was also a big year for pH-1 because he released his second studio album, X, with H1GHR Music this time last year. 


Now, with “365&7”, his latest very spring-appropriate collab with powerhouse vocalist JAMIE, you get another glimpse at his softer side. KultScene had the opportunity to link up with pH-1 to chat about his latest collabs, his creative process, and the future of his music as we get ready to enter the second half of 2021.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

“365&7” is such a bright romantic song and it’s absolutely perfect for spring. What did the creative process look like for this song? How did you and JAMIE come up with the theme for the song and the sweet lyrics? Did you work on them together? 

pH-1:  When I first got the beat, I immediately knew it had to be about love. More specifically, I wanted “365&7” to play around the theme of “time.” Since COVID started, all of our lives have been put on halt in some ways, and we kind of lost sense of time. For example, I remember counting down on New Year’s Eve just a while ago, but it’s already May 2021. This made me realize that time goes by too fast, and we shouldn’t waste any of it — as lovers, friends, or family.

jamie ph1 ph-1 3657 collab
Photo credit: H1GHR MUSIC

Speaking of collabs… your collab with Ace Hashimoto, “GIRLS,” dropped a few weeks ago. How did that collab come into being? Do you have any cool stories from linking up with him for this collab? 

I met Ace about three or four years back when he visited Korea. After that we kept in contact, and he asked me to feature on his song “GIRLS”. The song was dope, so I hopped on it. He even came all the way to Korea to shoot a MV with me. But after that, he kind of went on a hiatus. Our management tried contacting him but couldn’t reach him. After about two years, he came back to tell me he was dropping the project. I was surprised but glad that we were able to put a great song out into the world.

When you’re working on your solo projects, do you have a creative routine that always gets you the best results? 

It seems to me that all my best songs were written fairly quickly. Whenever I struggle to write a song, it usually turns out not as good as the ones I write fast. I believe that good melodies should come out naturally without having to think too hard.

If you have to get something done on a tight deadline, how do you make yourself meet it? Do you lock yourself in a studio and write all day or do you do your best writing outdoors? What helps you focus?

Yes, I lock myself in the studio until I finish the project. I have never tried writing outdoors, actually. I think I’d be distracted by what’s going on around me, plus the noise. Mood lights help me focus. I turn off all the lights in my room and only turn on blue LED lights to set the mood.

Your 2018 album Gatsby pulled from the film based on The Great Gatsby. What other movies or books have inspired you lately?

I was very much inspired by the film Joker. The script and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance were outstanding. It made me think about people’s tendency to mock or cast out the ones that are different from us, and that we as humans always find ways to justify our actions, even if they are wrong and sometimes malicious. It also made me try and put myself in others’ shoes before judging or jumping to a conclusion without knowing too much about them. Everybody has a sad story, we just don’t know it.


I was rewatching your interview with Eric Nam from last year where at one point you mentioned that you create songs with a certain message and sound for your local audience and another for international audiences outside of Korea, like in North America. You also clearly put out music that has crossover appeal on multiple levels. How do you decide on the messages you put in your song lyrics? How do you deal with a song in progress that doesn’t fit anywhere?

 It’s very hard to explain in words. There are certain types of melodies and chord progressions that Korean people are more likely to relate to, more so than the international listeners — and vice versa. I think it’s because the styles of music around the world are so different that people all have different tastes. I always aim to write songs that crossover both Korean and American sounds because that’s who I am. I grew up in the U.S. as a Korean-American, so I have a good understanding of both cultures and what people like in music. All this to say, I have yet to make a song that does not fit anywhere. I believe that whatever I make, it will always fit somewhere. Someone will relate to it, and that’s all that matters. In terms of lyrics, I feel the most comfortable writing about my experiences and emotions when living my life. The biggest theme for most of my songs is about relationships between people.

So far, how has 2021 been different for you when it comes to how you’ve created and who you’ve created with? Have you hit any goals or milestones at this point in 2021 that you thought weren’t possible in 2020?

The writing process definitely has not been easy. Due to restricted activities and travels, I find myself lacking inspiration. I can’t wait to tour different cities and connect with the crowd. It’s really the source of energy for every artist. As far as milestones go, it’s only May of 2021, so I will have to see. But I am very happy that my following and listeners have been growing in numbers every year (thanks to Spotify stats). I just hope that I never stop growing as an artist and as a person.

How do you navigate a balance between making hip-hop that feels mainstream and music that feels authentic to who you are as a person? Have you struggled recently with that or are you secure in your journey through the industry?

I’m always struggling to find the balance. As an artist that has a certain following and fandom, I often wonder if I should make more mainstream songs to reach a wider audience or just do what I’ve always been doing. It’s a constant battle, but I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job balancing both sides of the spectrum.

Let’s talk snacks. What’s your go-to food fuel when you’re working hard on a new release? What about when you’re celebrating a new release like now with “365&7?” How did you reward yourself for another really great release?

I usually order-in because I spend a lot of my time at home. My go-to food is definitely Korean food. It gives me energy to work and makes me feel like I’m really “home.” When in celebration, I like to wine and dine myself. I recently went to a nice Italian restaurant, ordered some fancy plates of pasta, steak, assorted fruits and cheese, and a bottle of wine.

I feel as though you do a lot of genre blending across your different solo and collab releases. Are there any genres or musical styles you want to incorporate into your future rap releases that you haven’t been able to touch yet? If so, why do you think those genres remain out of reach for you?

I want to try blending Dancehall in my music some time in future. I think that Dancehall has remained out of reach for me just because I feel the need to learn more about it first. It has a very unique rhythm and bounce to it that I want to fully get comfortable with so that I can blend it well in my own flavor.

If you could get your newer fans — like the ones who you’ll get after “365&7” — to listen to one of your older songs, what would you pick and why?

If you enjoy moody, sentimental songs, I recommend you listen to “DVD.” If you’re a fan of hard-hitting rap songs, I recommend “Olaf” and “PACKITUP!”

Aside from your own music, what songs do you keep on repeat when you’re listening to music? What’s the most “unexpected” song that you just can’t get enough of?

Recently I have been repeatedly listening to Justin Bieber’s “Peaches.” I think the most unexpected song that I listen to is Rosé’s  “On The Ground.” Unexpected because I don’t know too much about K-pop. Rosé is very talented.

What do you think or hope that the rest of 2021 is going to bring for you? Any big musical plans you can spoil for us a little? 

I am going to take a little break because I’ve been working non-stop for the past couple of years. I will be working on my album that will be released within 2021.

How did you like “365&7”? Before you dive into pH-1’s back catalog to listen to all of his great work, let us know how much you liked his latest releases! And don’t forget to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more, please consider contributing to the KultScene’s writers fund. Email us for more details.

BIG Naughty talks ‘Bucket List’ & being a Korean rap prodigy [interview]

Since his time on the popular rap survival TV show Show Me the Money, BIG Naughty has flexed his prowess as a leader in South Korea’s upcoming class of hip-hop. His repertoire includes collaborations with heavyweights such as Beenzino, Verbal Jint, Simon Dominic, Jay Park, Loco, and more. 

With only three years in the game, the 17-year-old has been deemed a prodigy in his generation — a title that would be intimidating for many, but BIG Naughty manages to hold it with grace. His ability to effortlessly adapt to various genres while maintaining his authenticity has landed him on the radar of global audiences. With over 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, the rapper is proving to be a top player in South Korea’s music scene. And though recent disagreements between South Korean distributor Kakao M and Spotify resulted in a majority of his discography being removed from the latter, BIG Naughty shows no signs of slowing down. (The dispute has since been resolved and the music is back on the platform).

His new EP Bucket List, released under H1GHR MUSIC, navigates the woes of youth, love, and regret. It also features some of the most exciting, big names in Korean music, like Jamie, GSoul, Gray, and DPR Cream. From beginning to end, BIG Naughty takes listeners through a crash course on youth accompanied by various genres from R&B and jazz, to lo-fi. 

KultScene had the opportunity to catch up with BIG Naughty and talk about “Bucket List, his inspirations, and creativity.

KultScene: First things first: How are you doing?

BIG Naughty: Feeling damn good.

This pandemic has been crazy. What was it like preparing Bucket List during these unprecedented times?

Actually, I didn’t hang out a lot before the COVID so it was even better for me to finish the album lol.

What was the inspiration behind it?

From everywhere, my friends, love, and maybe you? lol.


How does it feel to be releasing your EP?

I feel proud of myself and also I feel so blessed that I can actually release an album. That’s craaazy.

You’ve been considered a prodigy, did that perception of you make you feel any extra pressure in preparing this EP?

Actually I felt a lot of pressure cause I got so many things in a short term so I thought I had to fully prove by this album.

You’ve collaborated with your peers at H1GHR MUSIC. Did you feel any difference in preparing for Bucket List compared to previous collaborations and releases?

That it feels a little retro?

What was your favorite part of creating this project?

Everything from beginning to end. Especially the artwork that I got to collaborate with Seongsu Museum. And the music video as well…

Each track shows a different side of you, but which one do you think represents you the most?

I can’t choose one. It’s all me, the rebellious side of me in “Brand New World,” a warm-hearted side of me from “Bravo,” and heart-broken side of me from “Frank Ocean.”

Bucket List offers everything from blues to grunge and lo-fi to neosoul. What genre do you enjoy the most, and is there a specific genre you would like to try?

Jazz definitely feels like a genre that will forever last. And it’s romantic~

“Frank Ocean” seems to be one of the most experimental tracks on Bucket List. What inspired it?

It was the time when my first love told me about the artist Frank Ocean, she went off to study abroad, and I missed my chance of telling her how I feel. There are some meanings here and there in the song that only I would know.

Is there a song on the album that you are particularly excited for fans to hear?

Joker!” I tried out just pure R&B, hope you guys like it!

Throughout the album, it’s evident you’re playing by your own rules. Have you always done your own thing regardless of what the people around you may think?

No not at all. (Actually I do, inside…)


What are some things on your bucket list? If you don’t mind sharing.

That’s a secret haha.

Since your time on Show Me the Money, you’ve accomplished a lot as an artist. What’s been one of the most significant moments for you? Why?

The day my EP was released, I was so proud of myself.

What do you want your fans to take away from Bucket List and your journey so far?

Dreams! Courage! Don’t lose your dreams and courage going through these hard times!

You’ll feel better after listening to the track “Bucket List”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you always for all the overwhelming support and love!! Stay safe!

What’s your favorite song on Bucket List? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Looking back at the legacy of K-pop competition show ‘Produce 101’

produce 101 wanna one izone ioi x1

By Rachel Saywitz

The first appearance of the bubbly trainees on Mnet’s competition program, Produce 101, was a jarring sight to see. At the start of their debut performance, aired in December 2015 on M! Countdown, 20 young girls appeared in a giant stadium synchronously dancing in a pyramid formation, wearing the same school girl uniform, and singing in unison to the show’s theme song, “Pick Me.” Soon, they were joined by another 20-or-so contestants, floating in on a giant triangle stage. Then another triangle of girls arrived, and another, until finally the stadium was filled with 101 smiling, hopeful trainees, eyes affixed on any chance to get screen time, to show their soon-to-be producers how worthy they were of being an idol singer.

The newly sprung competition show was gaining notoriety even before its first episode — which aired five years ago on January 22 — with its promise to whittle down 101 K-pop idol trainees to a final 11 who would debut as a temporary girl group for a few months before returning to their respective agencies. 

South Korea was no stranger to singing competition shows at the time of Produce 101’s airdate, and in fact had been featuring a wide variety of programs starting in the 2010 like Superstar K and Immortal Song. Globally popular idol groups got their start through label-run reality shows as well: TWICE through JYP’s Sixteen, Monsta X through Starship’s No.Mercy, and Sorn of CLC through Cube’s K-Pop Star Hunt

However, what made Produce 101 and its consecutive seasons so drastically different from other programs was twofold. First, the competition was a multi-label endeavor, allowing collaboration between entertainment agencies both big and small. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the final idol group’s lineup would be expressly determined by fans of the show (called “national producers”), breaking tradition with how most groups are traditionally formed. Or at least that’s what the show’s creators wanted us, the viewers, to believe.

Also on KultScene: BEST K-POP ALBUMS OF 2020

It was no surprise, though, that at the time of its original airing, Produce 101 went on to be a ratings smash during its entire three-month run. The show offered not just fan voting, but an in-depth look into K-pop’s infamous trainee ecosystem, as contestants were judged harshly on their dance and vocal abilities. Given that the competition was a reality show first and foremost, editors of the program selectively highlighted contestants that could deliver the best storylines. Perhaps the best example would be the trajectory of Kim Sohye, a trainee at an acting agency who had come to the competition expecting to fail miserably. Despite being an objectively bad singer and dancer, the show’s focus on Sohye’s desperate drive to succeed and her continual improvements pushed her forward to rank in fifth place at the show’s finale, making it into the debut team. 

There was also an intensely reinforced hierarchy that proved to be a main tenet of the show’s voting system. Pressure was placed on the trainees to earn the coveted “center” position in group challenges, where they’d dance in the middle of formations and be able to perform the song’s “killing part,” gaining them more visibility in performances and a chance to earn more votes. And while 11 girls would form the debuting girl group based on a last round of voting in the show’s finale, the highest scoring girl would be deemed the group’s “center,” in all future promotions. Jeon Somi, at the time a trainee from Big 3 agency JYP Entertainment, enjoyed success from her win as “center” in Produce 101’s first season and was arguably the most popular of her group mates at the time. 

i.o.i ioi produce 101 kcon 2016 los angeles la 16
by Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum

The group that formed from Produce 101’s final episode, I.O.I, also quickly achieved commercial success, landing numerous lucrative CF deals and winning coveted “rookie of the year” awards. Yet the girls of I.O.I, as immensely popular as they were, promoted for only eight months, which was all their contract allowed for. Additionally, the group’s contract with YMC Entertainment — which was tasked with handling all of I.O.I’s promotional activities — still allowed for members to participate in their respective agency’s activities, which meant some girls promoted in two groups simultaneously. I.O.I’s whirlwind of a promotion period ended almost as quickly as it came, but it set the groundwork for the Produce series to expand and extend its reach. 

Produce 101’s second season aired in 2017 and produced the boy group Wanna One, which was even more popular than its first. In the show’s finale, more than 10 million votes were cast by national producers, a number equivalent to around one-fifth of Korea’s population. Learning from the past, Mnet extended the group’s temporary contract from eight months to two years, and didn’t allow members to be active in promotions with their own agencies. Wanna One, led by the group’s “center” Kang Daniel, was massively popular from the jump, becoming only the third Korean group to sell a million copies of their debut album since 1992. Also experiencing a burst in popularity was the boy group NU’EST, who had debuted in 2012 to positive reception before fading to the background over the next four years due to mismanagement. When four of its members appeared on Produce 101 and advanced to the show’s finale, their previous, underrecognized music shot to the top of Korean music charts (only one of those four, Hwang Min-hyun, debuted in Wanna One). 

Wanna One at KCON 2018 NY
By Jean Libert

The Produce series continued its winning streak with its third season titled Produce48 in 2018, bringing in female trainees from Korea and idols from Japan’s AKB48 J-pop juggernaut to produce an international, multi-lingual girl group. While the show itself suffered lower ratings, the resulting final group, IZ*ONE, has lived up to the critical and commercial success of I.O.I and Wanna One, and promotes both in Korea and Japan as one both nations’ top girl groups. IZ*ONE, which is still actively promoting, signed a two-and-a-half-year contract, a notable amount of time to be active in a temporary group and unable to promote with original agencies. Yet the misgivings of Mnet’s contract negotiations were largely overlooked due to Produce’s domination in the music industry, until 2019. 

The fourth season of Produce, titled Produce X 101, was shaping up to be a monumental event. Mnet had announced the winning boy group would have a five year contract as a way to concentrate on both group and individual activities, and a new voting mechanic in the show’s format, where the trainee with the highest amount of accumulated votes by the end of the season would join the final group as its 11th member. The group, X1, was already breaking records in their debut album sales and charting worldwide when their promotions came to a sudden halt. Fans noticed discrepancies in the final vote tallies after the season finale and filed a lawsuit against Mnet. Police then discovered evidence that the votes for X1’s final lineup had been rigged, causing the group to disband a mere five months after their debut. 

Further investigations revealed that all four seasons of Produce 101 were guilty of vote manipulation on the part of the show’s producers and agency representatives. The news was a shock and a betrayal of the series’ core ethos in giving power over to the fans. In the end, the show’s PD (producing director) Ahn Joon Young and CP (chief producer) Kim Yong Bum were sentenced to two years in prison on May 29, 2020. Produce 101, much like the lifespans of the groups it produced, had met a swift and unceremonious end. 

Also on KultScene: 50 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2020

It’s ironic that while the groups that came out of the Produce series dominated the Korean idol scene, many members of these groups came from relatively small agencies, most not standing a chance of success if they had debuted normally. This is what made Produce 101’s impact on the industry so captivating: it was, in some ways, able to even out the playing field. Kim Chung-ha, arguably the most successful idol out of her former I.O.I members, put her small agency MNH Entertainment on the map when she debuted with the group. Because of her musical achievements, the company has been able to expand, bring on more trainees, and debut more artists. Similar stories abound with other Produce idols, such as Kim Jae-hwan from Wanna One — who started on Produce with no agency backing — and Kang Daniel, who gained enough industry cred to break off from his agency and start his own company after Wanna One’s disbandment. While the Korean music charts are still heavily influenced by artists from large agencies like Big Hit, JYP, and SM, there’s a noticeable difference in the diversity of artists and labels gaining popularity, both domestically and abroad. 

However, Produce’s vote rigging scandal in 2019 brought to light the harsh realities of the program, and the impact it had on its trainees. The show had already gone under much criticism in the past for the way in which it was edited, shining harsh lights on underperforming contestants and portraying trainees who had difficulty learning routines as lazy and selfish. Constructed storylines are nothing new on reality television, but there was an insidious factor to putting so much national attention on young trainees, many of whom were minors. One contestant who was often shown performing poorly on Produce’s second season deleted his Instagram due to the amount of hate comments he was receiving from viewers. 

This conversation leads to another way in which trauma was inflicted on trainees, by emotional and verbal abuse from the show’s mentors. One could easily point out that criticism is to be expected in the K-pop training system, but to see it play out for entertainment on television made for an uncomfortable watch. It made viewers — especially foreign ones— confront the realities that these idols in training had to experience in order to become the shiny, blemish-free groups dominating the K-pop scene we stan. On the show, contestants were expected to dance and sing to routines flawlessly in less than a week, and were chastised by mentors when they would fail to do so. Moreover, the show would then highlight trainees who, seemingly bolstered by their mentors’ shouting, would spend all night practicing and end up executing the performance much improved. Segments like these promoted unhealthy behaviors and ultimately did nothing to give trainees the actual mental support that they needed. 

Yet despite these flaws, I, like many others, watched every season of Produce 101, eagerly anticipating new episodes and live performances that I would then rewatch endlessly. Even now, a small part of me wants Mnet to announce a new season so I can have my thirst for more Produce content quenched. I never enjoyed the way trainees were yelled at, or the negative edits contestants received from producers. I didn’t watch the show for manufactured drama. Instead, what I loved was watching friendships blossom between trainees, a fierce love for one another despite intense competition. With every elimination, I cried alongside those who were let go, their lifelong dream of debuting gone for yet another day. 

In the end, it was viewer-generated empathy like my own that allowed the show to be so successful. And while it’s definitely for the best that there won’t be another Produce season anytime soon, there’s no doubt the impact it had on the Korean music industry as a whole and the trainees involved.

What’s your favorite project group from Produce 101? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

The legacy of wandering youth: BTS’ ‘HYYH Pt. 2,’ 5 years later

By Courtney Lazore 

Released on November 30, 2015 as BTS’ second installment in their “youth” trilogy, The Most Beautiful Moment in life Pt. 2, commonly known as HYYH Pt. 2 in a nod to its Korean title, is both a celebration of adolescence and a consideration of its growing pains. With thematic expressions of restlessness, love, frustration, longing, and a healthy dose of the social commentary BTS is now well known for, HYYH Pt. 2 established itself as an album that many could relate to. Even today, five years later, the album lingers in the minds of many fans as one of BTS’ most impactful eras.

A continuation of themes from its predecessor HYYH Pt. 1 in April 2015, HYYH Pt. 2 helped solidify BTS’ rising success. While the group received its first music show win with HYYH Pt. 1’s “I Need U,” HYYH Pt. 2 became BTS’ first album to debut at number one on Gaon’s Weekly Album Chart, later topping the Monthly Album Chart, and cracking the top five of Gaon’s year-end chart. “Run” saw similar success as the group’s first song to top Melon’s real-time chart upon release. 

But HYYH Pt. 2 did more than extend part one’s themes and bolster BTS’ commercial success. The album also contributed to BTS’ fictional Bangtan Universe (BU). In particular, the music video for “Run” fits within the larger fragmented narrative of seven young men trying to survive and find happiness. Much of what is seen in the video is linked to the BU storyline, such as RM at the train tracks, V’s graffiti, j-hope and Jimin in a hospital room, Jungkook and Suga’s fight, j-hope’s fainting, and the beach scene at the very end. 

The BU narrative, which began with “I Need U,” effectively allows BTS to delve into additional stories as extensions of their album concepts. These stories bring in themes ranging from severe poverty and broken homes to abuse and suicide, all serious subjects otherwise unexplored in BTS’ work. Though difficult for some, these themes appeal to others as a way to confront and potentially resolve one’s own issues. A story without a definitive end, the BU still generates many fan theories and explanations. 


HYYH Pt. 2 also continued BTS’ emphasis on its members’ artistic contributions. Nearly every track on the EP was co-written by at least one BTS member, and all but two members received songwriting credits from this release.

The album opens with the gritty “Intro: Never Mind,” written by Suga, RM, j-hope, and BigHit producer Slow Rabbit. In his impassioned solo performance, Suga reflects on his youth and his decision to pursue music, encouraging others to also “never mind” the naysayers and to keep pushing forward, even though it’s hard. The track’s themes transition nicely into the title track, “Run.”

With RM, Suga, V, Jungkook, and j-hope contributing to the songwriting, “Run” carries a lot of weight on this album. Lyrically, the song expresses the tormented nature of a young love where the narrator has lost himself, unable to stop running towards this love despite his wounds. Similarly, the music video utilizes movement well, with many scenes of BTS running and ample dynamic camera shifts. The members are depicted as uncouth hooligans and shown vandalizing cars, fighting, graffitiing, and evading the police. Though its themes are slightly extreme, many can appreciate the representation of reckless youth and the underlying melancholic feel of the track that, combined with the video’s visuals, helps drive the message home.

Many of the remaining tracks on the album feature contributions from Suga, RM, and j-hope. “Butterfly,” for instance, is a calming but emotional song that conveys the narrator’s hesitations and fear of losing love. “Whalien 52” utilizes a clever portmanteau, referencing the 52-hertz whale, which communicates at a frequency no other whale can hear, a metaphor used to illustrate loneliness and isolation.     

Like BTS’ earlier “Satoori Rap” from their 2013 album O!RUL82?, “Ma City” honors the members’ hometowns across Korea. Injected with identity and evoking Korean dialect, or satoori, “Ma City” is representative of BTS as individuals who came together to form a cohesive unit. Though a subtle mention, j-hope’s line “Everyone press 062-518” refers to the Gwangju Democratic Uprising —062 is Gwangju’s area code, and 518 stands for May 18, when the movement began.

Social commentary is the most substantial in “뱁새 (Silver Spoon).” Co-written by RM, this song relies on the Korean idiom “If a crow-tit tries to follow a stork, it’ll tear its legs,” meaning that those who try to imitate someone will only hurt themselves in the process. With crow-tits (뱁새, baepsae) representing society’s lower class and storks representing the upper class, this track takes a jab at society, calling it unfair and unjust. Identifying with the crow-tits, BTS speaks out for those who suffer under modern socioeconomic inequality.

“고엽 (Autumn Leaves),” with Jungkook also credited for songwriting along with the rappers, details a love that is withering away like dead leaves. That theme segues into the final song, “Outro: House of Cards.” The only track not co-written by BTS, this smooth jazz song featuring only the bands’ four vocalists is burdened with agony over a failed relationship that just won’t end. The emotional performance by the singers ties into the running themes of pain and sadness expressed throughout the album.


Overall, HYYH Pt. 2 highlights the distress felt by many young people and communicates a message of perseverance. Nowhere does BTS suggest that suffering should cause one to surrender to misery—instead, the tone is that of experiencing one’s emotions, no matter how painful, and then pressing on. This album also exists within BTS’ larger conceptual timeline, which begins with the rebellious boys of the school trilogy, moving into the tormented youth trilogy, and then into dark temptation. The journey continues with self-love as a focus (Love Yourself), and currently ends with the introspection and self-development of the Map of the Soul series. 

HYYH Pt. 2 is an album with timeless themes and messages, standing as a testament to both BTS’ songwriting skills and focus on storytelling—two factors often cited by ARMY as reasons for becoming fans. As part of the “youth” trilogy, this album was one of the first catalysts in BTS’ now seven-year journey to the top. Their experimentation with new musical styles and shift towards more story-based music videos created a foundation for later concepts, resulting in an ongoing narrative focused on growth and acceptance. And with the “youth” trilogy launching the BU, BTS’ more recent work owes much to this early series. Since the success of HYYH, BTS has consistently presented albums in a similar format: music with stories at the center that resonate with people around the world. 

bts kcon la 16 los angeles 2016 bangtan
by Yasamine Entesari

Like the ending screen of “Run” reads “HYYH, 2015.04.29 ~ Forever,” BTS’ story of youth and growth is truly never-ending.

What’s your favorite song on HYYH Pt. 2? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. This article was funded by a KultScene team writer. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Korean R&B singer Golden talks ‘Blue Tape,’ H1GHR MUSIC, & K-music [interview]

In only half a decade, K-R&B and Soul singer Golden has written and rewritten his own narrative many times. From the smooth vocal pop and upbeat R&B outfits of his early career to the piano ballads on last year’s Hate Everything EP, Golden has moved in and out of the mainstream, centering his own artistry and finding new direction within the thriving soul, R&B, and hip-hop realms of Korean music. 

In 2017, he left K-pop powerhouse label JYP Entertainment to join H1GHR MUSIC, a label founded by R&B heavyweight Jay Park for rising hip-hop and R&B artists to pioneer their own musical and creative pursuits. In the world of K-music, such a shift is nothing short of a redefining. Golden isn’t afraid of new beginnings, especially when it comes to creating music in new ways. Last year, he even went on Voice of Korea, a domestic singing TV competition, in a move to re-experience the rookie mindset all over again. Naturally, he took home the first place spot. 

When it comes to new beginnings, redefining narratives, and bridging gaps, Golden’s new label H1GHR MUSIC does exactly that. In Young Money Militia style, the H1GHR MUSIC family dropped two LPs—the rap-centric RED TAPE and feel-good R&B BLUE TAPE— in August and September, respectively. 

I got the chance to speak with Golden over email and ask about the creative process behind the albums, as well as his larger direction as an artist and vocal powerhouse in the exploding Korean music industry. 

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KultScene: What was it like collaborating with H1GHR artists on these albums? Do you find that your artistic process changes when you collaborate versus when you make solo music?

Golden: It was a bit challenging, but also fun, to try a little different sounds and styles with different artists.

Which H1GHR MUSIC artist did you enjoy working with the most on the H1GHR projects, and why?

I’d say it’s Big Naughty, because I was very impressed with his execution and some of his choices on melody.

How does your work on RED TAPE and BLUE TAPE differ from your previous work? What was new, exciting, or scary to you about these projects?

Well actually, I wasn’t as involved on the RED TAPE except for the intro track “H1GHR” that Jay Park and I participated in. BLUE TAPE was fun, and I like the fact that most songs from the album are uplifting and feel-good types of songs. I think people need that right now.

Is there a particular song on BLUE TAPE that you’re particularly excited for fans to hear? What is special about that track?

Definitely my solo song “Selfish.” It’s the song that I was keeping for my own album, but I’m happy that it’s released sooner through this project. 

You’ve been in the industry for a while, and have gotten to work under different agencies and labels, and with different artists. How is H1GHR different from previous labels you’ve been under?

H1GHR music has a system where artists get to have more creative control which is always good for artists like myself who creates all the contents of mine. The former label that I was in was a larger entertainment company that mainly produced idol groups with a more strict system.

You just won Voice of Korea. Congratulations! What inspired you to go on the show, and how did it change your outlook as a singer and artist?

The production team reached out to me and I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to learn how to consistently deliver my music under pressure. I’m very grateful for the experience.

Your music has taken a lot of different forms, including smooth R&B, upbeat dance tracks, and piano ballads. Which is your favorite sound, and is there a particular style or genre you’ll be doing more of in the future?

I’d have to say “Hate Everything” type of genre. Don’t we all in 2020? Lol… I’m really just open to trying new different things, whether it’s in music or anything in life. But musically, I definitely want to try and make a jazz album.

You make a lot of English-language and Korean-language music, and fans really love both. Does the process of writing and making a song differ depending on what language you’re writing in? How does your English discography feel different than your Korean discography, and how are they similar?

I read that phonetically, it is easier to sing in English than Korean. Many Korean writers write the English lyrics first for that reason. But yeah, it’s definitely a blessing to be able to sing and write in different languages.

Since your debut—how do you think your sound has changed over time? Even more personally, how have you changed as a person since you’ve entered the spotlight?

I’ve written many different styles of music. And I think it helped me become more adventurous and open minded as a person. And I think my music has become more soulful naturally with more experience as I got older.

Also on KultScene: Time Flies: 5 Years of Wonder Girls’ ‘Reboot’

Fans often debate whether K-R&B and Korean Hip-hop is related to, part of, or completely separate from K-pop. Given that you’re an artist who dabbles in all three kinds of music, what’s your take on that?

This is an important question, I think. In my opinion, musically, most K-pop songs are rooted in the western music. R&B/Hip-hop music started in the U.S., but especially because of the internet, we all have access to all kinds of music all around the world. Music has become universal. However, “K-pop” to me, is not just about music. I see it as more of a cultural phenomenon followed by a very unique and wide international fan base.

What advice do you have for the amateur performers, songwriters, producers, singers, and rappers out there?

Study the business before you get into it. Music business is changing drastically. All talents will have to have more knowledge in business and creative ideas to make profits off their hard work. Also, stay humble so that you can always grow and evolve.

What can we expect next from you? What would be a dream collaboration to feature on your next release?

I’m working on a few collaborations right now. I just want to continue to make good music that moves me and inspires people around the world. That’s all.

More broadly, what is the message you hope listeners take from your music? 

Everything. The pain, joy and a lot of love.

What are your thoughts on H1GHR MUSIC’S BLUE TAPE? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

It’s time to stop infantilizing K-pop idols

By Shaazia Ebrahim and Fatima Moosa

One of the greatest impacts of the global pandemic and sweeping social movements against police brutality and for Black Lives Matter is the questioning of the celebrity. As a society we have increasingly been questioning the role of the celebrity and how much power we, as fans, attribute to them. K-pop idols are not exempt from this conversation. 

Throughout pop music history, groups and bands have formed close relationships with their fans. Pop artists around the world owe a lot to their fanbase and interact with fans in various different ways. They release new music and special merchandise, hosting concerts and releasing special interviews, documentaries and films specifically targeted at fan audiences. This is doubly true for K-pop, as fans and the idols they stan share a unique relationship, built over years and through different media narratives. That bond is a large part of the allure of being a K-pop fan for many. 

It’s been long understood that K-pop artists interact with their fans differently. K-pop idols are particularly deferential towards their fans, and just about all K-pop groups and idols have special names for their fans. Idols have been known to write songs specifically for their fans. They interact with their fans through online platforms and in real life through fan meets and concerts. In turn, fans give their all for the artists they love, through things like time, action, and money spent on them to help further their presence in the world. 

But this relationship is not always positive. K-pop fans are fiercely protective over their favourite idols and only rarely hold stars accountable for problematic behavior.

On K-pop Stan Twitter especially, there is sometimes a tendency to ignore criticism against idols. Fandom in general closes ranks and defends their faves by attacking the critic. This is accompanied by a need for those fans to “protect” the artist, fearing what it will mean to the artist if they find out about this criticism, or what the repercussions will be. 

Often artists are subjected to harsh comments and hate. New music, content and even public behaviour from idols are scrutinised by internet users and rival fans. This hatred can and has had severe consequences on the artists subjected to it. 

But for fans, there is a responsibility to identify and distinguish between valid criticism as opposed to the hate and unnecessary criticism. Just because something is not positive, does not automatically make it hateful or toxic criticism. 

Often, when some fans call out their faves’ problematic behaviours they are labelled as antis. There’s no arguing against the fact that within the K-pop industry and K-pop fandoms, anti fans are a big thing. Antis are people on the internet who find every fault with artists they dislike. They are often part of rival fandoms and will dig up any questionable actions idols or groups have taken in order to discredit them. Antis are also known to usually bring forward these harmful types of information before a comeback or any such important event within the group, seemingly attempting to negatively impact conversations. They can also threaten idols using social media. 


But every criticism leveled against an artist is not an attack from an anti. Idols should not be protected to the degree where they don’t end up taking responsibility for their problematic actions or even understand why their behaviour is wrong. 

By labelling any and all criticism against their faves as being the work of antis, fans are in danger of absolving them from taking responsibility for their behaviour. Well-meaning enough in its intention, by constantly making these excuses, fans could actually be infantilizing their idols.

The most common definition of “infantilization” is treating someone like a child, even if they no longer are. When fans treat their idols like someone who needs to be protected from all the ills of the world, this kind of behaviour can be seen as infantilization. Another way this manifests is when fans presume to know what their faves are thinking or meaning with a particular action. 

This can be seen in the way some fans responded to BLACKPINK’s use of a statue of a Hindu deity as a prop in their music video of “How You Like That.” During Lisa’s solo scene, she is seated on a throne with a statue of Hindu deity Ganesha on the floor beside her. Hindu fans demanded an apology from YG Entertainment saying that Hinduism is not an aesthetic and that it’s disrespectful to place a deity on the floor, trending things like #mycultureisnotyouraesthetic and #YGApologise. With the uproar, YG eventually edited it out, but didn’t publicly acknowledge the issue.

Some fans defended Blackpink saying the group has no control over what they wear or the staging for their music videos, with some even harassing Indian and Hindu Blinks. Fans accused those calling Blackpink out as antis, dragging the group so their own particular favorite groups can shine. These Blinks trended #YGPROTECTBLACKPINK imploring YG to protect Blackpink from “defamation” and “malicious tweets”

Blackpink have been accused of cultural appropriation before and each time fans defended them without considering nuances. In the video of “Kill This Love,” for example, Jennie wore a Bindi and Maang Teeka and Lisa wore box braids.

Another instance of this behaviour happened when AB6IX’s Youngmin was caught drunk driving in June 2020. No one was seriously injured during the incident but Youngmin left the group following the incident. Some fans decried this decision and expressed their sympathy for Youngmin.

But his actions could have had serious repercussions. If he was old enough to drink alcohol and drive a car, then it is evident that Youngmin should take responsibility; whether that means leaving his group is up for debate. The same act of taking responsibility and changing his ways would be expected of any person of his age, and fans should be more aware of this, rather than trying to defend their favorite stars’ wrongdoing. 

BTS member Suga was also recently the centre of attention. Some online users pointed out in his latest mixtape, he used cult leader Jim Jones’ sermon to introduce his song “What Do You Think?” The cult leader has been associated with the mass murder-suicide of 909 people, and for preying on Black people in particular. While BTS’s company, BigHit Entertainment later issued an apology and removed the sampling, many fans defended him and felt that it wasn’t necessary. 

Fans also excused the sampling saying that Suga meant to criticise Jones in the song, infantilizing the artist by framing his own creative endeavor in their own perspective, regardless of the actuality of his feelings.“If you don’t know why he used it then shut up pls, literally causing unnecessary hate to bring good people down That way of sampling speech to mock someone was used by hip-hop artists many times before,” an ARMY reportedly tweeted, offering an interpretation as defense, regardless of the artist not saying such. 

Fans regularly provide similar excuses for idols engaging in problematic behaviours, especially seen when K-pop idols engage in culturally insensitive behavior at best, antiBlackness at worst.


Recently, Stray Kids released an episode of their variety show, Finding SKZ: God Edition. During the episode the members dressed up in various costumes with Hyungin wearing thick red lips and a curly-haired afro wig. This look donned by Hyungin seemed to be an imitation of Michol, a character which has been criticised for being a Blackface caricature. 

But fans took to social media to say he was putting on a caricature of a Korean cartoon character called Go Eunae. They also said anyone calling Hyungin’s “look” racist don’t understand Blackface.

Others took to social media to explain that saying those caricatures were racist and shouldn’t be explaining to Black people what Blackface is. 

This isn’t the first time the issue’s come up, and fans reacted this way: similar excuses were made for EXO-CBX when Baekhyun applied lipstick to Chen’s face, making his lips extra huge, in what looked like Blackface. Chen then said that he looked like Michol.

Hyungin and Stray Kids later addressed the issue. They posted on Instagram a message saying: “Yet, we are still lacking in many things and we are trying our hardest to become better. We would like to apologize to anyone if we have stepped on a rake. It was never our intention but due to our lack of understanding.” However, the initial reactions from many fans showed he isn’t even allowed to be accountable. Instead, fans seek to explain his behaviour away saying that this is something he grew up with.

Given how entrenched racism and antiBlackness is globally, it is especially important to hold idols accountable when they are displaying behaviours that perpetuate racism and anti-Blackness. Criticism and conversations, not denial, is needed. 

It’s important to question how fans hold their idols accountable. Fans must be aware that their faves are adult human beings, capable of making mistakes and repenting like any other. Idols’ problematic behaviours going unchecked is a reflection of an uncritical and complicit society. When idols engage in behaviour that harms certain groups of people through cultural or religious insensitivity or racism or when they engage in irresponsible behaviour, they must be called out. Their platforms mean that their actions can be detrimental to marginalised groups and set harmful precedents for their younger or more dedicated fans. This is not to harm, it is to help them grow and avoid hurting others in the future with their behavior.  

This is particularly important as we support movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Celebrities have the power to amplify or derail these movements given the platform they have. But more so, fans have the platform to overpower these important movements if they consistently defend their favs without consideration for the impact of idols’ actions. 

Want to support Black people and Black-led movements for justice? Donate to the TGI Justice Project, sign this petition demanding justice for Toyin Salau, follow/donate to the African American Policy Forum (donation link here), and learn more about many calls to action here.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

K-pop activism must go further than fancams

This year is quickly teaching everyone that K-pop fans never miss a single beat. Not when promoting their favorite artists, or even when involving themselves in racial and political movements. Their weapon of choice is none other than the fancam: the 2020 stan’s most powerful — and potentially problematic — online tool for building K-pop’s visibility in a media landscape that often racializes and erases it. 

American media has a long history of denying K-pop—and people of Asian diasporas more broadly — their place in U.S. pop culture. Articles about K-pop from the early 2010s, like John Seabrook’s “Factory Girls,” demonstrated that American media acknowledged K-pop’s existence, but diminished it as a fad of Korean absurdity instead of a legitimate musical production (only a handful of writers and outlets, including Billboard and the now-defunct MTV Iggy, gave K-pop any serious attention). It was only when BTS’ albums began topping the Billboard 200 regularly that American entertainment publications, who knew differences in the facial structures of the Kardashian sisters down to DNA, suddenly scrambled to become relevant to the growing Stateside K-pop fanbase, even mixing up K-pop idols with Instagram models in the process. 

Fancams, or short clips of K-pop idols performing their songs, have appeared all over the internet in recent months, from the replies on Trump tweets to those on entertainment news publications; South Korean media conglomerates regularly release fancams now in recognition of the trend’s impact. They serve as a further embodiment of K-pop’s increasing relevance to western pop culture. To some, however, K-pop stans’ trolling is ruining the internet as we know it. The relentless posting of fancams has earned considerable backlash in the form of online rant videos entitled “F*CK K-POP STANS” and the viral #fancamsareoverparty hashtag, alongside similar tags and statements that trend every few weeks. The sudden ubiquity of fancams has even been covered and analyzed by multiple outlets, including Mashable, members of the Cardiff University community, and Distractify.

At its core, K-pop fancam spam is a political practice, a deliberate repurposing of traditional methods of spamming and trolling for the sake of questioning the boundaries of politics and racialization. By posting under Trump rants and Fox News articles, as well as Ariana Grande tweets and Pop Crave reports, K-pop fandoms mounted the argument that their favorite artists deserve visibility in pop culture. And if EW or ClevverNews won’t post enough about it, then stans will. In this way, posting a fancam is a subversive callout of the racialized marginalization of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai artists in American and western media, even if fans themselves often engage in the practice only for promotional — and not overtly political — purposes. With the fancam, ARMYs, Orbits, BLINKs, and other K-pop fans assert that the cultural products of Asian artists cannot be reduced to a fad or moment. They instead create a constant virality that, for the American onlooker, is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen the fan communities that post these clips mobilize and weaponize fancams for a related but different political purpose—the obstruction of anti-Black racism and policing. When Dallas police asked citizens to upload videos and images of protestors to their iWatch Dallas app, K-pop fans deliberately flooded the app with K-pop fancams, forcing the app to go down temporarily. K-pop fans similarly flooded the #CalminKirkland hashtag, which was used by the Kirkland Police Department to identify people involved in “rioting or looting,” with fancams of artists like BTS and ITZY. Most notably, K-pop fans and TikTok users banded together to sell out tickets to Trump’s 2020 campaign rally in Tulsa, only to leave those seats embarrassingly empty. Commentary in the MIT Technology Review as well as a tweet from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have now acknowledged the political power of “K-pop allies.”

Also on KultScene: The erasure of Black K-pop fans in the wake of BLM & activism

But the fancam may not be the perfect weapon of choice in the fight for racial equity, as there are critical flaws in this narrative of justice-seeking and AfroAsian solidarity among members of the K-pop fan community. While fancam spam might have been a form of subversive justice for underrated K-pop artists, it does not resolve anti-Blackness within K-pop audiovisual cultures and fan circles, let alone anti-Blackness in America and around the world.

Black fans on Twitter and in a number of publications and forums have commented on anti-Blackness in K-pop fan communities. K-pop groups have also carried out anti-Black racist behavior, from Blackface and singing the n-word, to rampant cultural appropriation of hairstyles and dress. Fans and commentators regularly point out that much of K-pop’s musical roots can be found in past and present Black American cultural productions. The global emergence of K-pop has made clear that, while there is justice attained in achieving greater visibility for Korean and other Asian artists, anti-Blackness might actually be amplified by K-pop fandoms in some ways, in spite of the recent rally around the Black Lives Matter movement among its global fan communities. 

Overwhelming hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter with fancams has been recognized and praised in some media circles, but the practice has actually been criticized by Black K-pop fans and followers. KultScene’s very own Nnehkai Agbor comments that while “co-option has been a beneficial tool for fans to gain control of or change narratives… fans who hijacked the tag did not consider the ramifications of trending the name of a dangerous group” whose name and goals are rooted in hate and anti-Blackness. Kpopcast co-host Stephanie Parker also found the practice of hijacking racist hashtags a disturbing and anti-Black rather than anti-racist. “Did you ask a single Black person if this was a good idea? No, I can answer that for you… no,” she said on an episode of the podcast titled “Listen to Black K-pop fans.” Clearly, what may feel like online activism and anti-racist collective action to non-Black K-pop fans might actually be nothing more than using moments of racial tension to promote your faves at the expense of Black fans and Black people. 

A recent Reuters article brought these tensions to a front with the headline “Global K-pop fans emerge as a political force, but some in South Korea worry.” The article cites wariness from South Korean fans of popular K-pop groups, who are worried “that their favourite artists will be pulled into foreign partisan fights.” While the voices of South Korean fans should definitely be centered in narratives about K-pop and the Hallyu wave, we also need to question whether the fight against anti-Blackness is “foreign” to K-pop artists. Despite the fact that many K-pop stars come from South Korea (and often Japan, China, and Thailand among other countries as well), we must remember that K-pop artists often perform musical styles and genres that were first pioneered by Black Americans navigating the repercussions and realities of centuries of subjugation and oppression. Some K-pop stars like GOT7’s Mark Tuan and ITZY’s Lia have lived in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, which demonstrates that K-pop artists and K-pop music, at some level, may not be so “foreign” after all.

This is not to say that K-pop has no Korean roots — that would be an absurd and ignorant claim. Songs like “I Love You” by 2NE1 pull influence from trot, a genre of popular Korean music that was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, and has connections to Korea’s own history with Japanese imperialism and colonialism. K-pop stars also regularly advertise Korean culture — products, food, tourism, sites, and history — in music videos, vlogs, and dramas. But to act as if many K-pop artists are simply unrelated to or “foreign” to the fight for Black liberation is equally ignorant of the genre’s musical roots. This is why a $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter from BTS — a group whose music largely draws from and is inspired by Black productions of hip-hop and rap — is not only a reflection of BTS’ choice to engage in American movements, but also a demonstration of the considerable stakes that K-pop and its fans have in justice for Black people and communities in the U.S. and around the world. 


These complicated racial realities and tensions inherent in K-pop’s global emergence beg the question to fellow fans: Why are you posting fancams right now? 

The mobilizing capacity of global K-pop fans has the political power to center more narratives than just those of our favorite idols. Wouldn’t it be better to trend hashtags about Oluwatoyin Salau, a young Black woman and activist who was sexually assaulted and murdered in the midst of fighting for Black lives and Black trans lives? Shouldn’t K-pop stans be using our collective power to center thinkers like Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who have imagined a world without police and prisons for decades and continue to inspire activism and organizing around the issues of police and prison abolition? 

As BLINKs, ONCEs, ARMYs, Orbits, and fans of other K-pop acts, we have stakes in movements for Black liberation, too. We also know how to challenge online boundaries and find new avenues of representation and visibility through tweeting, spamming, and simply existing where we sometimes feel we aren’t supposed to. Let’s use this ground-shaking energy for efforts that go beyond symbols and tags—instead, let’s emphasize trending donation links, petitions, and Black-led protests and organizations that center Black people, their experiences, and their voices. Or else, we risk drowning out other voices in favor of our own, which seems a lot like what we were fighting against in the first place. 

Want to support Black people and Black-led movements for justice? Donate to the TGI Justice Project, sign this petition demanding justice for Toyin Salau, and follow/donate to the African American Policy Forum (donation link here).

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

The erasure of Black K-pop fans in the wake of BLM & activism

kpop blm black lives matter Black fans erasure

The past few weeks have seen an increased interest in K-pop and the politics that surround it as U.S. fans implemented tactics used to promote their favorite acts to fight police brutality and racism. The emergence of K-pop fans as “unlikely allies” and “unsung heroes” for the Black Lives Matter movement received praise from celebrities, politicians, and the media for their allyship and activism. Their notoriety on social media was reimagined as they became viewed as vigilantes fighting the good fight. That notion was furthered when fans and TikTokers used their savviness to sabotage a Trump rally in Tulsa, OK, by reserving seats and not attending the event. 

The mainstream coverage surrounding K-pop’s political activism centered around stereotypes and one-dimensional takes on the identity of K-pop’s fandoms. The surprise activism of assumed young, white women became the story but ignored the activism history of K-pop fans and the diversity of fans. While media outlets began to explore K-pop’s fandom in-depth, the erasure of Black fans from most conversations was a deafening reminder of history repeating itself. Black people – especially Black women – are left out of conversations that impact them. In fandom, the erasure of Black voices results from anti-Blackness and co-option. 

Black fans served as the backbone of K-pop fans joining the Black Lives Matter movement.  They rallied together laying the groundwork to bring attention to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and police brutality within their fandoms and the K-pop industry. They used #BlackLivesMatter hashtags within their fandom spaces and tagged their favorite acts. 

Initially, their efforts were met with pushback aimed to keep K-pop and politics separate from each other. 


Throughout K-pop’s legacy, it has not been able to remain completely apolitical. Artists have shown support for comfort women and been caught in the crossfires of foreign politics in Asia. When the #MeToo movement reached South Korean, girl group Girls’ Generation’s debut track “Into A New World” became a protest anthem for women fighting against sexual harassment and abuse. The attempts to not pressure K-pop idols into speaking about police brutality is a by-product of the anti-Blackness within the diverse communities that make up the fandom.

Anti-Blackness perpetuates a single-story about Black people and culture derived from European colonization and globalization. These stereotypes are passed within non-Black communities and find placement within K-pop fandom. While some non-Black fans may find themselves accepting of Black fans, the hostility that manifests suggests otherwise. The policing of hashtags that focus on representing Black fans and gaslighting conversations that address their mistreatment are examples of anti-Blackness at work. The most visible way anti-Blackness rears its head among K-pop fans is during conversations about appropriation. 

Within K-pop’s fandom, the appropriation of Black culture and hip-hop is a constant conversation among its Black fans but often overlooked by their counterparts. They excuse appropriation as ignorance while dismissing or talking over the voices of their Black peers. For non-Black fans, the need to preserve the integrity of a K-pop idol often overshadows the need to provide Black fans the space to educate on why cultural appropriation is harmful. K-pop’s incorporation of hip-hop made the latter palatable for consumers who wanted to enjoy hip-hop without having to address its politics and legacies. 

However, the politics of hip-hop is fighting for human rights for Black people. Some K-pop acts have taken initiative in acknowledging the impact of Black culture and music on the industry. Some donated to organizations supporting Black Lives Matter, while others advocated by posting petitions and sharing the stories of Floyd and Taylor.  Rapper CL of former girl group 2NE1 and R&B singer Crush took to their Instagrams to show solidarity and share how Black culture influences the K-pop industry and their careers.   

As seen with the hijacking of #whitelivesmatter, co-option has been a beneficial tool for fans to gain control of or change narratives. While they were able to drown out racist rhetoric and troll the hashtags enough to trend within Twitter’s K-pop category, the intent of showing solidarity with BLM became distorted. 


White Lives Matter originated in the wake of Ferguson Protests as a means to preserve whiteness, according to The New York Times. Evolved from a meme, the hate group has become a fixture in opposing Black Lives Matter. Fans who hijacked the tag did not consider the ramifications of trending the name of a dangerous group. The ignorance in their actions furthered Black fans being second to fandom clout, as performing good deeds outweighed addressing microaggressions in and out of fandom and sharing resources to support their peers. 

The Black experience is constantly having to choose an additional title –– doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.–– to prove you are more than what society equates your Blackness to. One can be Black, but to truly survive in this world there must be an additional value. This idea translates into fandom spaces with the underlying expectation of Black fans setting aside their Blackness for the greater good of fandom. 

Despite the negative aspects of stan culture, fans who experienced racism within BTS fandom created #BlackARMYsequality and #BlackARMYsMatter to call out racism within the fandom in 2018, according to Teen Vogue. Elismarie Ortiz started the #BlackArmyBeauty project to recognize and celebrate the beauty of Black fans within the fandom after seeing her peers getting harassed, as reported by Buzzfeed. From there, fans created #Blackout days for within their respective fandoms in which fans post selfies alongside the members of their favorite groups. #BlackoutBTS and the hashtags that accompany it display how fans could mobilize to bring awareness to anything. Black fans also fellowshipped with each through cookout and block party hashtags and #blackstantakeover to show community within their fandoms. Much like #Blackout days, fans shared selfies of themselves alongside members of their favorite groups. It may seem frivolous to some, but its ability to uplift and reestablish confidence within K-pop’s Black community is a reminder that Black people deserve to enjoy entertainment as much as their peers.

Sharing experiences and providing each other space to discuss fandom experience brought to light how K-pop is covered in western media. Presenting K-pop’s fandom as monolithic discounts its diversity. The push for wider representation when it comes to reflecting the demographics within K-pop’s many fandoms challenges media outlets to abandon their biases when reporting on K-pop and its fandom. The movers and shakers of modern political movements are left out of narratives until outlets are called out. That should not be the case. Media and fandoms have to actively work to include the Black voices they leave out, starting with listening.

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KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.