Tag Archives: Gangnam

I recorded a k-pop song at King Studio in Gangnam

The next big thing in k-pop: me. SCREAMfmLondon

“I’m not good at singing,” I whispered into the microphone.

“I know,” came the engineer’s frank reply through my headphones. My self-deprecating cackle resounded through the recording booth.

Last weekend, I visited the King Studio in Gangnam — a professional recording studio where Korean stars like VIXX, Seo In-guk and Apink’s Jung Eun-ji have recorded music — for my own solo recording session.

Now, I’m pretty far from being a k-pop star myself. One main obstacle I tend to encounter is that I have no talent. But don’t worry! For a price, anything is possible.

At King Studio, customers can choose any song they’d like to record, and the staff will prepare your debut single for as low as 78,000 KRW. And the staff is phenomenal. The engineer is exactly the kind of tough-love vocal coach I dream about having in my fantasies starring me as a JYP trainee. They put forth incredible effort to make nervous customers feel at ease and offer all the guidance you need to nail your track.

For some totally absurd reason, I chose to sing “Spring Day” by BTS, which would have been difficult even if I had singing talent.

I know!

But you have to let King Studio know your song choice ahead of time so they can prepare for your recording session. I spent the day and a half I had before my scheduled time practicing the two rapped verses at 50 percent speed and slowly working my way up until I was able to kind of proudly and kind of confidently rap along with the original song. I didn’t practice the singing bits at all.

I know!

Great place to give yourself a pep talk before recording at King Studio in Gangnam. SCREAMfmLondon

When I finally arrived at King Studio, I was given a short tour of the cozy basement space. They took some photos and videos of me fixing my hair in the vanity mirror and admiring the framed album art that hung on the walls.

Before recording, they gave me a chance to listen to the music they’d prepared for me and to peruse the lyrics. I was shaking when I entered the booth, pulled on my headphones and began to rap.

Unfortunately, despite all my preparedness, I struggled a lot with the first verse. I had a hard time keeping up with the song’s rhythm, and as a non-native speaker, I stumbled over quite a few of the Korean words. And this was the rap! The slower rap of the two! It bummed me out that I wasn’t totally killing it as I’d envisioned.

And then it was time to sing. Until that very moment, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d actually have to try to hit the actual notes in the song. I’d always just sung it jokingly in a weird kind of monotonous baritone.

But — bless their hearts — the lovely King Studio staff was totally patient with me and didn’t even recoil in horror that much. They kindly coached me and praised me when I tried harder. It wasn’t long until we’d grown comfortable with each other and understood the best methods for working together.

My wonderful sound engineer hard at work at King Studio. SCREAMfmLondon

By the time I reached the second rap, I was feeling way more confident. And I didn’t really kill it (like, AOMG isn’t going to be knocking on my door any time soon), but I definitely maimed it, at least.

“Wow!” the engineer exclaimed after I finished spitting my sick verse.

“Yeah, I practiced a lot.”

“I can tell.”

“Only this part.”

“I can tell.”

After that, I felt much more at ease in the studio. We worked in the booth for about an hour and a half, until it was starting to get really hot in there and not just because of my fire Korean rapping skills. They kept playing the track back to me to see if I was happy with it, and I kept trying not to cringe and/or laugh hysterically at my terrible pronunciation and tuneless voice.

But it was so much fun! I had the best time, and I didn’t want to leave. Forget a single — I want to record a whole EP!

This is where the magic happens at King Studio. SCREAMfmLondon

After my recording session was finished, they did a quick interview with me and took a few more photos for their Facebook page (where, by the way, you can listen to the first line of my song, which is the most of that song I’ll ever play for anyone ever).

King Studio was such a blast, and now that I’ve tried it, I’d really love to go back. I’d love to go back and choose a different song. A much easier song. But, hey, no regrets! You’re only an idol trainee once.

For more information on King Studio, visit www.kingstudio.asia, or check out www.onemoretrip.net for booking information.

SMTown: Getting a 3D print with a k-pop star

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The future is now: my 3D print with Key from SHINee (featuring a photobomb from cardboard Infinite). SCREAMfmLondon

This is absolutely one of the coolest souvenirs imaginable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: k-pop is truly on the next level. The k-pop fan’s experience is unparalleled. With hologram concerts of the biggest stars and 3D-printed statuettes of fans standing with their favorite idols, it does not get any better than this.

SMTown Theatre: 3D Printing

SMTown at COEX Artium’s sixth floor houses the 3D printing theater, where fans can buy tiny, keychain-sized likenesses of SM artists or go all out with a sizable print of themselves posing proudly beside their idol of choice.

The full-size, unique figurine with an SM artist costs 625,000 KRW (that’s about $550 USD). The price is pretty fair — most places that sell 3D prints will charge around $300 for one person. It’s definitely well worth the cost to have such an incredible memento of this moment in your life while you’re still young, cute and really into boybands.

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3D prints of the artists on SMTown at COEX Artium’s sixth floor. SCREAMfmLondon

First, you select your favorite k-pop star and the appropriate pose. I picked Key from SHINee — a controversial choice, apparently, as the staff gave me incredulous looks, repeating, “Key? Are you sure? …Key?” throughout the process.

But I think he was the perfect choice. Of all the SM artists, I feel like Key and I are an excellent match and could totally be friends. Like, we’d really get along well and could probably watch RuPaul’s Drag Race together. Beauty fades, but that kind of spiritual connection is forever.

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Best friends forever. SCREAMfmLondon

I wanted a pose where we were interacting somehow, but I couldn’t imagine us standing in a romantic embrace with his arms around me. Plus, they had to digitally alter him so he was tall enough (“I think you are… bigger than him,” a staff member said, very delicately. “Do you want us to make him taller? Or the same size?”). We finally decided to loop one of my arms through his as he stood casually with one hand in his jeans pocket.

Next, I was led to a green screen studio where I had to hold my pose, arm crooked awkwardly in the air, while they scanned my entire body with a kind of radar and snapped several close-up photos of the details like my face and hair.

As I was scanned, the three-dimensional image materialized on a computer screen at the front of the room. This part actually turned out to be a huge hassle because the print on my dress did not scan well on the first try. I had to change my (meticulously-selected for the occasion!!) outfit to something with bright, solid colors and come back to be scanned a second time.

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Before the big reveal. SCREAMfmLondon

After the scanning, it takes about two weeks for the product to be printed, painted and finished. It was carefully packaged and presented with a weird little Polaroid of Ki-bum and myself outside on the patio that I now have framed on my desk because what else do you do with that?

The finished product is amazing. It’s one of the best things I own. It’s so strange to be able to hold myself in action figure form and inspect it from every angle. It’s surreal, and I love it. I will treasure it for the rest of my life. It will be passed down for generations, until the kids are asking, “Who’s that random cute guy standing with grandma?” It will be my legacy.

Check out my guide to SMTown’s SUM Celebrity Shop and LIVErary Café here.
Check out my guide to SMTown’s Studio and professional k-pop dance class here.

SMTown: Studio and dance class

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The studio on the fourth floor of SMTown at COEX Artium, guarded by Jonghyun. SCREAMfmLondon

SMTown Studio: Music Video, Photo, Recording, Hair & Makeup, Vocal, Dance, Dress

As you ascend to the top floors of SMTown at COEX Artium, the services become more deluxe. While you can purchase k-pop merchandise on the second floor, you can actually star in a k-pop music video on the third!

At the SMTown Studio, fans can be professionally styled with SM-approved costumes, hair and makeup; trained to create an audio recording of their favorite song; taught the corresponding dance moves; photographed and photoshopped to their hearts’ content; and filmed in a duplicate of their favorite music video. It honestly all looks like a ton of fun — especially if you have slight delusions of grandeur and a lot of money to blow.

The SMTown Studio packages range in price from about $30 (for a simple tour of the space and a commemorative photo) to $500 (for a two-hour video recording session). Most packages hover around the $100-200 range. A one-hour, one-on-one dance class costs about $100 (while a group class is around $80). A one-hour vocal training and recording session is $150, and it costs $200 (and, apparently, one and a half hours) to have your hair and makeup done.

I took a tour of the studio space that culminated in a one-hour dance class.

The tour begins at the makeup station, where marble tables are piled high with rows upon rows of blush, eye shadow, brushes and more. The walls are all covered with mirrors and “the best selfie lighting ever” (their words — not mine). I do not doubt, though, that SM Entertainment’s makeup artists could work some serious magic on us all with their superior beauty knowledge. It’s a tempting package, for sure.

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SMTown photo studio. SCREAMfmLondon

Behind the makeup station is the photo studio. It’s a pretty cavernous room decorated with yet-unreleased photos of SM artists for the guests to ogle. If you’re a fan of photoshoots, I’m sure this is a good one. I am not a fan of photoshoots, but they took a few photos of me anyway — and specified which way I should stand to make it easiest to photoshop.

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Some of TVXQ!’s costumes on display at SMTown. SCREAMfmLondon

My favorite stop on the tour is the wardrobe area. It’s a beautiful room full of costumes SM artists have worn onstage or at special events, all grouped by band and labeled with the individual members’ names. It was amazing to see these outfits up close and to examine all the details: every epaulette on SHINee’s jackets, every rhinestone on TVXQ!’s sleeves. Everything is so pristine, except for the scuff marks on the fabulous shoes. I loved it so much.

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The hard-working shoes of a k-pop star. SCREAMfmLondon

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SHINee’s outfits on display at SMTown. SCREAMfmLondon

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So much beautiful crushed velvet. SCREAMfmLondon

Next, we visited the vocal recording rooms. Allegedly, the rooms are really, really used by actual SM artists. This was emphasized many, many times during the tour. There are a number of different recording booths equipped with what is supposed to be the best, most advanced audio recording technology out there. I would not know the difference, so I’ll have to take their word for it.

From there, we journeyed through the hallways to the music video studio. The room is divided in two halves: EXO’s “Growl” on one side and Girls’ Generation’s “Gee” on the other.

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Music video set for EXO’s “Growl.” SCREAMfmLondon

This room was a little awkward for a few reasons. First, there were quite a few people sitting right in the middle of it doing some work on their computers while we’re just traipsing around, taking pictures of stuff.

Also, I happened to be there not long after Tao officially announced his departure from EXO and his subsequent lawsuit against SM Entertainment. It was a little too obvious that his name had been hastily painted over on a few of the walls while it still appeared on others. Awkward.

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Tao’s name hastily painted over at bottom right. SCREAMfmLondon

Once we departed from there, it was time for our dance lesson led by a professional SM choreographer. We stashed our belongings in fire engine red lockers that read “DREAMS COME TRUE” across the front and took our places to learn the dance for EXO’s song “Call Me Baby.”

The pace of the dance was very quick, but the instructor was patient and helpful. One hour was not enough time for any of us to master any of that, but we worked hard, and it was a blast. It seemed to go by very quickly, especially since a lot of time was taken when cameramen came in to record our practice and interview a few of us (including me, for some horrifying reason) about our interest in k-pop.

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Inside the SMTown dance studio. SCREAMfmLondon

It was a great class, though, and I was sad to leave. I could definitely imagine spending hours every day trying to perfect those dance moves, if I only could afford it.

The SMTown Studio experience was an interesting one. To be honest, the studio tour is a little boring and doesn’t offer much beyond selfie ops (and not very spectacular ones at that). I would recommend heading straight for your area of interest (singing, dancing, fashion) to maximize your enjoyment of the studio.

Check out my guide to SMTown’s SUM Celebrity Shop and LIVErary Café here.
Check out my guide to SMTown’s 3D printing theater here.

SMTown: SUM Celebrity Shop and LIVErary Cafe

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K-pop cafe: EXO cupcake and SHINee “Dream Girl” green apple drink in SMTown at COEX Artium’s LIVErary Cafe. SCREAMfmLondon

SMTown at COEX Artium is a sprawling, six-story k-pop hub. Located beside the gigantic COEX Mall in Gangnam (a shopping center so big it houses an entire aquarium and a huge movie theater inside as well), SMTown offers everything a k-pop fan could want: a hologram theater, branded merchandise, vocal lessons, a photo studio, a cafe, etc. And I’ve done (pretty much) all of it.

Here is my rundown of the two most accessible floors of the SMTown complex:

SUM: Celebrity Shop, Artist Goods, Artist Picks, Gifts
SMTown LIVErary: Cafe, Music, Media, Books, Special Goods

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SM Entertainment decorations lining the SMTown walls. SCREAMfmLondon

The building is tall and glittery from a distance, decorated with the names of SM Entertainment’s most popular artists: SHINee, Super Junior, EXO, Girls’ Generation (SNSD), f(x). The first floor’s Welcome Stage features a tall tower of flatscreens playing SM artists’ most recent music videos.

The second floor houses the SUM shop. This deluxe merchandise store features branded merch of all the bands and general Korean souvenirs, as well as “artist picks,” which are extremely expensive designer items worn by some of the band members. Some of the merch is cool, but the coolest stuff (tote bags with song lyrics printed on them, t-shirts, posters and pillows) are sold out or not yet for sale, despite the fact that the shop has been open since January.

Unless you’re looking to buy a pair of $400 sunglasses a member of SNSD was photographed wearing, you can find better k-pop merch in any given subway station. But they do sell a (pricey) replica of the treble clef necklace Chanyeol wears in the iconic classic “EXO Lives Next Door.”

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EXO staring at you from every direction. SCREAMfmLondon

On the building’s fourth floor is the SMTown LIVErary Cafe. This is an awkward way to say that it’s an SM-themed cafe. Some additional merchandise is sold on this floor (mostly CDs and DVDs), but the main attraction is the dessert case. Macarons and cupcakes printed with band logos are available for a (high) price, as are some tasty band-themed drinks.

The different bands all come in different colors and flavors. I ordered an EXO cupcake and a SHINee green apple-ade. The EXO “capcake” (har har) is chocolate cake topped with cream cheese frosting and a tiny EXO snapback. Someone informed me ahead of time that the caps are actually not edible, which was good to know because I definitely would have attempted to eat it. They’re about 8,000 KRW per cupcake, which is quite a lot, but they’re actually pretty tasty, and you get to keep the little hat as a souvenir.

SHINee’s green apple ade was also exceptionally delicious, and comes served in a cool, collectible “#DREAM GIRL” bottle. The drinks are super syrupy sweet and slightly carbonated, which I greatly enjoyed.

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Band logos printed on macarons at the SMTown LIVErary Cafe. SCREAMfmLondon

In the cafe, most of the tables and chairs have been signed by various SM artists. The walls are decorated with albums, plaques and a timeline of SM Entertainment’s biggest milestones. While enjoying your expensive snacks, you can try to grab a table at a listening station, where you can play SM artists’ music. It’s a cool setup, and it’s even moderately cozy, so big SM fans can end up spending a lot of time hanging out.

Check out my guide to SMTown’s Studio and professional k-pop dance class here.
Check out my guide to SMTown’s 3D printing theater here.

Guide to: Seolleung and Jeongneung tombs

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Royal tomb at Seonjeongneung. SCREAMfmLondon

There are 40 royal tombs honoring members of the Korean Joseon Dynasty throughout South Korea. The scenic tombs are scattered in about 18 different clusters — most of which are located near Seoul.

One such cluster, housing Seolleung and Jeongneung, is located in modern-day Gangnam. Seonjeongneung is the burial grounds of two Joseon Dynasty kings and one queen.

An entry fee of 1,000 KRW grants you access to the expansive, gorgeous park.

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The first structure you encounter at most royal tombs is the Jeongjagak shrine — the site where memorial services are held and offerings are presented.

Two paths called “chamro” lead up to the T-shaped shrine building. The sinro path is slightly elevated because this is the spirit road. You are not allowed to walk on the spirit road unless, of course, you are a spirit or a god of some sort. The eoro path runs parallel to the sinro — this is the path of the king, and this is the one you are supposed to take when visiting the tombs.

There are also two sets of separate staircases leading up to the shrine. The spirit stairs are larger and more ornately decorated with stone swirls along the sides. The king’s stairs are simply stacks of bricks (with a helpful little “you may step on” sign guiding the visitors’ way).

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Beyond the first Jeongjagak building at Seonjeongneung are the tombs of King Seongjong and Queen Jeonghyeon. King Seongjong is the ninth king of the Joseon Dynasty, and he ruled from 1469-1494.

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The tomb of King Seongjong. SCREAMfmLondon

Queen Jeonghyeon was his second wife who outlived him by 35 years. She is most notable for her interest in reviving Korean Buddhism. In 1498, she had the nearby Gyeonseongsa Temple refurbished and renamed as Bongeunsa.

The grave mounds are protected on three sides by walls and are flanked by great stone statues of scholars, soldiers, horses and other animals that watch over the tombs.

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Tomb guardians. SCREAMfmLondon

In addition to the tombs, the grounds offer a very beautiful chance to escape the bustle of Seoul to stroll through thickets of trees, see wild pheasants and fall down in the mud. Trust me: I did all three. The air smells fresh and woodsy, and there are apricots and grapes growing around every corner.

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Full disclosure: I fell down these stairs. SCREAMfmLondon

But, don’t worry; you’re not really, really in nature. I am such a sucker for that silvery city skyline visible just above the groves of red pine trees.

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View from the top. SCREAMfmLondon

On the other side of the site is the Jeongneung tomb — the burial ground of King Jungjong. He was the 11th king of the Joseon Dynasty and King Seongjong’s second son. King Jungjong is known for succeeding his tyrannical half-brother, Yeonsangun, to the throne after the latter was overthrown in a coup in 1506.

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Modern-day Gangnam encroaching upon the Joseon-era buildings. SCREAMfmLondon

Food: Korean burgers, street food and more

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Crispy Korean fried chicken is one of the finer things in life. This popular street food is a cup filled with popcorn chicken, tater tots and fried rice cakes covered in sweet and spicy sauces. SCREAMfmLondon

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“Texas” burger at Brown Grill in the COEX Mall leaves a lot to be desired. Neither the hamburger patty nor the cheese tastes quite right, and it’s bathed in spicy barbeque and horseradish sauce. Umami, I miss you! SCREAMfmLondon

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Delicious spicy ramen and sushi at a Japanese restaurant in Dongdaemun. SCREAMfmLondon

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A most famous Korean street food: gyeranbbang. The sweet bread filled with egg is perfect for breakfast. SCREAMfmLondon

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For dessert, an ice cream waffle from Angel-in-us Coffee. The ideal treat. SCREAMfmLondon

Buddha’s birthday: Lotus Lantern Festival

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A fire-breathing dragon lantern impresses the crowds at Seoul’s annual Lotus Lantern Festival on May 16. SCREAMfmLondon

This weekend, Seoul hosted Yeon Deung Hoe — Korea’s annual Lotus Lantern Festival in honor of Buddha’s birthday on May 25.

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Yeon Deung Hoe is a festival to celebrate Buddha’s birthday on May 25. SCREAMfmLondon

The highlight of the festival is a spectacular lantern parade complete with pyrotechnics, traditional dancers, high school marching bands and an unimaginable variety of elaborate, multicolored lanterns.

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Some lanterns are religious, depicting scenes such as Buddha’s birth, while others show beautiful animals, characters from traditional folk tales and pigs riding motorcycles. SCREAMfmLondon

The parade is centered around the Jogyesa temple, the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, where lotus lanterns cover the entire structure throughout the month. Lanterns are also on display at the Bongeunsa temple in Gangnam and in Cheonggyecheon, where illuminated lanterns float down the stream at night through May 26.

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Here are some wise words from Larva, Korea’s favorite cartoon about poop and slugs. SCREAMfmLondon

After the parade, attendees gathered in Gwanghwamun Plaza at the base of the Grand Lantern for a post-parade celebration (hoehyang) featuring music and prayer. The Grand Lantern (a huge pagoda-shaped structure) is on display at the plaza from April 29 – May 26.

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At the end of the parade, everyone is invited to join in and walk behind it toward the celebration at Gwanghwamun Plaza. SCREAMfmLondon