Tag Archives: hip-hop

Learn k-pop dance at Dancejoa in Los Angeles

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Dancejoa studio in Koreatown, Los Angeles. SCREAMfmLondon

I’m not even exaggerating when I say that Dancejoa is one of the best things about living in LA. I only wish I had found out about the studio sooner!

It all started when I determinedly decided that I was absolutely going to learn the choreography for G-Dragon and Taeyang’s song “Good Boy.” I did learn it (eventually), but I also learned that dance is perhaps my secret passion in life, and I haven’t quite been the same since. I’ve logged a lot of hours at the studio in the ensuing years, and I like to think I’ve come a long way since I stumbled through my first dance cover video with Dancejoa LA several beats behind everyone else the entire time.


Yireh is an excellent teacher with amazing dancing talent and style. She makes everything look cool and effortless (even when I, myself, am dying and sweating profusely). But most importantly, she is a really effective teacher. Actually, Yireh is one of the best dance teachers I’ve ever had — she breaks everything down so well and teaches so clearly that I never feel confused or left behind even during difficult choreography. The classes are so well-organized and well-run. It’s really a pleasure to attend Dancejoa.

The schedule is also very well thought-out. There are two classes on Tuesdays, two on Thursdays and two on Saturdays. On the weekdays, it’s usually a one-hour girl group dance followed by a one-hour boy group dance. The Saturday classes are a bit longer (one and a half hours) and consist of one k-pop dance and one hip-hop routine.

The songs are broken down and taught in sections spread out over the course of a month so you can learn the entire choreography, which I love!!! You feel so accomplished after learning an entire full-length song. And having four weeks to work on it gives you enough time to digest the lessons and practice at home before coming back to add more.

I also love having so many varied dances to choose from. If you like cutesy Twice dances, they’ve got ’em! If you like super-intricate EXO dances, they’ve got ’em! If you like badass hip-hop dances, they’ve got that too! And if you like it all, you can just come learn everything. The schedule is posted in advance on Facebook.


Last year, Dancejoa moved to a new location. It’s easy to find and has its own (very small) parking lot out back. Some of the classes get quite crowded, so I’d recommend coming early to make sure you can find parking (but what else is new, LA?). There’s also a weird random wall in the middle of the studio that limits the space a lot, but Yireh is great about moving around so everyone can see and splitting big classes into groups so everyone has a good chance to practice.

I really can’t recommend Dancejoa enough. I’ve discovered a love for dance that I didn’t realize I had, and it’s made such a big difference in my life. Thanks, Dancejoa!

Students practicing GD and TOP's "Zutter" choreography at Dancejoa in LA. SCREAMfmLondon

Students practicing GD and T.O.P’s “Zutter” choreography at Dancejoa in LA. SCREAMfmLondon

Dancejoa Dance Studio
3859 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, Calif.
For more information, visit www.dancejoa.com.

Live: WAPOP [Collaboration of K-Drama and K-Pop]

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Dance performance team Blue Whale Brothers performs in the WAPOP concert at Children’s Grand Park. SCREAMfmLondon

When a friend offered me free tickets to a “k-drama k-pop concert thing” called WAPOP, I, of course, just had to go see the live combination of these forms of entertainment.

WAPOP is an ongoing event that takes place at 8 p.m. every single Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The name comes from some strange combination of “Wow Pop” and “World & Asia,” and the event is clearly marketed toward tourists specifically from China. The website is offered in Chinese, Korean and Japanese, but a lot of the pre-show content deals with the relationship between South Korea and China, and a lot of the dialogue is in Mandarin.

The performers change from night to night, but the current players frequently include 24K (my favorite rookie group from last year’s Dream Concert!), A.Cian (my favorite rookie group from this year’s Dream Concert!), Bloomy and Minx.

In addition to the k-pop concert, WAPOP also offers live k-drama performances, b-boy dancing, and wild laser light tricks. The whole thing is virtually hosted by actor Lee Byung-hun, who escorts the audience on a train ride through space and time via incredibly deluxe 260-degree panorama video projection.

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The duo Meivley performs a song from the original soundtrack of the popular drama “Descendants of the Sun.” SCREAMfmLondon

When I imagined “live k-drama,” I basically just figured they’d show an episode of “Boys Over Flowers” on the big screen and be done with it. However, the k-drama bits are, in fact, very cool. The big screen is used to show key scenes from popular shows like “My Love From Another Star” and “Descendants of the Sun” while live musicians and dancers perform dramatic scenes on the stage.

When Lee Byung-hun first drops us off in the Joseon Dynasty for some Korean culture, the historical drama is augmented with hip-hop dancing to the tune of a traditional Korean stringed instrument, the gayaguem. The k-drama scenes make great use of the stage and the theater’s technology.

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Minx performs T-ara’s “Roly Poly” onstage at the WAPOP concert. SCREAMfmLondon

In between each k-drama performance, a different rookie idol group takes the stage to perform a few songs — usually two original songs and one cover.

On the night I attended, girl group Bloomy performed first, introducing original songs “흥칫뿡” and “Because of You,” which are both surprisingly excellent. The group is really new (they debuted in February), but the performance was legit. The second girl group, Minx, was less impressive, but they performed a fun cover of T-ara’s hit song “Roly Poly,” so that was something.

A.Cian, the only boy group that night, closed the event. I remember loving their catchy single “Touch” the last time I saw them live, and they delivered again at the WAPOP concert. Their dancing is over-the-top cute, their outfits are over-the-top stupid, and they are overflowing with fanservice. The perfect combination. They, naturally, closed the show with a cover of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” because that’s what you do when you’re targeting an audience of tourists.

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A.Cian performs their single “Touch” at the WAPOP concert. SCREAMfmLondon

I actually really enjoyed the whole show, and I ended up downloading both A.Cian’s and Bloomy’s albums when I got home. Loved it and would totally do it again.

That being said, I have no idea who the hell would pay $70 for this experience. There are a million opportunities to see huge k-pop stars perform for free. So why would anyone pay this price to see some random rookie acts perform two songs alongside a video projection of Lee Byung-hun? If they sell any tickets at all, that blows my mind.

But WAPOP is a cool experience, really. I would pay, like… five bucks to see it again.

WAPOP
238 Neungdong-ro Gwangjin-gu
8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
Tickets range from 50,000 to 70,000 KRW
For more information, visit www.wapophall.com.

Live: Big Bang ‘MADE’ World Tour Final in Seoul

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G-Dragon performs onstage at Big Bang’s MADE World Tour final concert in Seoul on March 6. SCREAMfmLondon

Last year, I saw the first two concerts of Big Bang’s MADE World Tour, where the group introduced the first singles from the “MADE” album series. Over the past few months, Big Bang’s “MADE” songs have dominated the charts and racked up awards while the band has performed a record-breaking tour around the world (the biggest k-pop show held in Canada, the largest k-pop arena tour in the US, the largest crowd a foreign artist has drawn in Japan).

On Sunday, March 6, Big Bang officially performed the final MADE concert back home at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. The final show (the last of three Seoul concerts this weekend) was livestreamed worldwide and reached more than 3 million viewers. For those of us in town, the sold-out shows inspired fans to queue for hours in the pouring rain hoping for last-minute tickets (yes, including me, hello).

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Taeyang performs at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul on March 6. SCREAMfmLondon

The show opened and closed with a bang — three, to be precise. “Bang Bang Bang” was the unofficial song of 2015, sweeping year-end awards and blowing everyone’s minds with its powerful chorus, extraordinary lyrics, and ultra-catchy dance beats. The song’s best lines set the tone for the night’s atmosphere: “Today, this place is lawless. / I’ll set this place on fire to burn up your heart. / I wanna make you go crazy.” Let’s go!

Throughout the night, Big Bang powered through the majority of their “MADE” hits including “Sober” (during which the band members donned fabulous glittery jackets of varying styles), the heart-breaking ballad “If You,” and “Zutter,” the amazing hip-hop duet featuring G-Dragon and T.O.P. Last April, Big Bang introduced “Bae Bae” and “Loser,” the tracks from the first “MADE” EP, at the Seoul concerts. This time around, the group performed “Bae Bae” twice, and fans throughout the arena held up signs proclaiming “Big Bang is my everything.”

The band members treated Korean fans to their usual solo stages as well as some additional silliness. Seungri performed a dance to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and self-proclaimed dance god/ghost T.O.P also really cut a rug in the strangest manner possible. GD sprawled out on the stage in front of me, cuddled with a stuffed panda, and then descended into the audience to cause some pandemonium — to our utter delight. The Big Bang members are ceaselessly charming and brimming with talent. There is a reason hundreds of us huddled under our umbrellas all day for the chance to see them live.

As the show wound to a close, we were all sad to see the end approaching. In addition to concluding the MADE World Tour, these shows also marked the 10th anniversary of the band’s debut in 2006. Before leaving the stage, Big Bang announced plans to hold a 10th anniversary festival this summer, earning shrieks of joy from fans who have been worried about the band’s future as the time for the members to enlist for their mandatory military service draws closer.

Finally, the band showed off their ten years of experience and expertise with an encore of “Bang Bang Bang” as well as the seminal 2012 hit “Fantastic Baby.” As always, Big Bang is a sight to behold. I fully intend to be there for the day-long anniversary festival this summer, and wherever the road takes them after that. After all, Big Bang is my everything.

Live: Epik High and JYP (separately, of course)

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Epik High appears onstage at Olympic Hall in Seoul on Dec. 12. SCREAMfmLondon

My favorite hip-hop trio Epik High played two high-profile shows at Olympic Hall in Seoul on Dec. 11 and 12 as the final stops of the “Legends 3” concert series. The concert teasers featured Epik High’s Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz hilariously parodying old-school k-pop groups, as well as the heads of SM, YG and JYP Entertainment. And they kept the joke going throughout the concert — Tukutz even bravely came out onstage wearing JYP’s infamous plastic pants. It was one hell of an entertaining show.

The two concerts featured a wide array of guest artists. On the night I attended, performers included JYJ’s Junsu, Nell’s Kim Jong-wan, and Younha, among others. Junsu performed three songs: “OeO,” “Flower,” and a really boring one from the musical “Dracula” that he stars in. The band members’ families were also in attendance, including Tablo’s daughter Haru who appears alongside him on the reality show “The Return of Superman” and has become a celebrity in her own right. At one point, Tablo suddenly appeared beside me in the crowd, rapping his lines as he made his way over to Haru to have her scream into the microphone for him. But the best moments were, obviously, Epik High’s excellent live performances of songs like “Don’t Hate Me,” “New Beautiful,” “Born Hater” and “Burj Khalifa.” My high is epik. So good.

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The first stop on JYP’s Naughty Party “STRIP” was Incheon’s Samsan World Gymnasium on Dec. 5. SCREAMfmLondon

JYP’s Naughty Party “STRIP” show certainly lived up to its name. I don’t know what I was expecting. I definitely was not expecting it to be 44-year-old Park Jin-young himself who was stripping, but hey. I had never before seen anyone take off all their clothes in the middle of a passionate piano solo — only you, JYP.

The concert featured songs spanning the musician/producer/CEO/lecher’s 23-year-long music career, including his most recent hits, “Who’s Your Mama?” and “I’m So Sexy,” as well as a cover of Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” JYP danced impressively and was reasonably entertaining. In between songs, he presented several scenes inspired by “Fifty Shades of Grey,” including one in which he simulates sex with a woman in an elevator and another in which he’s handcuffed inside a metal cell with a dominatrix. At one point, he called a couple from the audience to join him onstage, tied them to two separate beds and grinded all up on the woman while her boyfriend was seduced by backup dancers. I was pretty scandalized, and I don’t think I’ll ever get that image of topless JYP out of my mind. Thanks a lot.

Theater: Blue Square presents ‘In the Heights’

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Seoul’s production of “In the Heights” in the Samsung Card Hall at Blue Square. SCREAMfmLondon

“In the Heights” is a much-acclaimed musical centered on a Dominican-American neighborhood in Washington Heights in New York City. So you might’ve guessed why it’s slightly weird to see this musical put on in Seoul in the Samsung Card Hall at Blue Square.

Seoul’s “In the Heights” production is highly entertaining, of course. The cast even impressively weaves Spanish and English (as well as hip-hop and salsa dancing) into the all-Korean script. The show is executed flawlessly: the singing is superb, the acting is charming and the dancing is lively. All it is lacking is the emotional connection, because so much of the story is deeply connected to the characters’ ethnic backgrounds.

The original Broadway production of “In the Heights” was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won several Tony Awards for his music, lyrics and acting and is currently performing on Broadway as Alexander Hamilton in the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” for which he also wrote the music and lyrics.

“In the Heights” centers on Usnavi, a character born in the Dominican Republic and named after a US Navy ship (one of the first things his parents saw in America). With his comic relief sidekick, Sonny, Usnavi runs a bodega that is frequented by the neighborhood residents.

These include: Benny, the aspiring businessman who works as a dispatcher at the cab company and is the play’s only non-Latino character; Nina, who has returned home for the summer to reveal to her parents that she dropped out of Stanford University; and Vanessa, a hairstylist who dreams of getting an apartment of her own and moving away from the Barrio.

The Seoul production features a rotating group of k-pop stars and actors in the lead roles. The performance I attended saw Infinite’s Jang Dong-woo and Kim Sung-kyu as Usnavi and Benny, Oh So-yeon as Vanessa and Kim Bo-kyung as Nina.

The cast’s talent and passion is unquestionable. The best moments are the musical’s large, ensemble numbers that fully utilize the backup dancers — “Carnaval del Barrio,” “Blackout” and “96,000,” during which the entire neighborhood comes out to fantasize about winning $96,000 in the lottery.

The main cast was, overall, very impressive. So-yeon and Bo-kyung both demonstrated powerful vocals (although Vanessa is an infinitely more interesting character than Nina, who is kind of a drag).

Dongwoo and Sungkyu were incredibly charming in their roles. Dongwoo had great comedic timing and command of the stage, and Sungkyu developed excellent chemistry with his co-stars and was very likeable throughout. It was a pleasure to watch them explore the personalities of their characters. However, this was the first time in my life I’ve ever seen fans rush the stage at the end of a musical theater production, like we were about to open up the mosh pit. I was all but clutching my pearls.

It was worth it, though. “In the Heights” is a good show, and although it makes less sense overseas than it would in the US, the Seoul cast and crew have done nice work with the material. I hope we’ll get to see “Hamilton” next!

‘In the Heights’
294 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu
Weekdays at 8 p.m., weekends at 2 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday through November 22
Tickets range from 70,000 – 130,000 KRW
For more information, visit www.interpark.com.

Live: 2015 Dream Concert at Seoul World Cup Stadium

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The Seoul World Cup Stadium aglow with the passion of k-pop fans. SCREAMfmLondon

On May 23, I attended the 21st annual Dream Concert. The concert is a k-pop smorgasbord: emceed by Leeteuk from Super Junior and featuring performances from more than 30 k-pop groups from rookies to chart-dominating stars.

Yeah, I know. More than 30 bands. I feel like everyone who’s ever had a song in their heart was invited to perform at this event. So, strap yourselves in for this intensive band-by-band recap of the 2015 Dream Concert:

24K

24K performed “Hey You,” and the moves for the chorus of this song were some of my favorites from the whole event. That’s a pretty suave dance and a catchy beat. But I want to know why two of the band members were wearing facemasks during the red carpet procession and through the entire performance. Is this their concept? Who cares about a boyband that doesn’t have faces? Don’t they know that the faces are like 70 percent of the appeal of a boyband?

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4Minute and EXO stand together awkwardly at the end of the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

4Minute

4Minute was one of the groups I was most looking forward to at the Dream Concert. Their performance of this year’s hit “Crazy” was excellent, but the second number (“What’s Your Name?”) was kind of uninspired. HyunA, I still love you, though, girl.

9Muses

I found “Drama” to be a boring song with some boring costumes. And I know they’ve gone through a lot of lineup changes, but it kind of bothers me that there are only eight members of 9Muses.

B1A4

B1A4 put on a really engaging performance — probably one of the best of the night. I was not feeling their outfits (nice shorts, y’all), but the live show sold me on the song “Solo Day.” Quite adorable and good stage presence.

BTS

BTS (short for Bangtan Boys) performed “I Need U” and “Fun Boys.” BTS is more on the hip-hop end of the spectrum (one of the guys is named Rap Monster), but, like, as hip-hop as you get wearing Bermuda shorts with suspenders. “Fun Boys” is kind of a jam, though.

Berry Good

Berry Good was probably my favorite of the rookie groups. Definitely my favorite outfits of the night with flouncy pink miniskirts, matching pink ties, chunky heels and glittery wrist cuffs. “Because of You” was also a good song: I was into the juxtaposition of the sweet verses against the weird dubstep pre-chorus.

Boys Republic

Boys Republic was one of several groups working the sexy schoolboy angle at the Dream Concert. Unfortunately for them, the sound was pretty screwed up during their set (although the sound mixing was pretty awful throughout). However, they put on an amusing show — by that, I mean that they came out with the kind of drippy “Hello” and then switched it up by ripping off all their clothes during “The Real One.”

BTOB

Man, am I the only one who has a hard time telling the difference between BTS, BTOB and B1A4? Not enough variety in these band names. BTOB performed “Wow” and “Beep Beep,” which were fun songs, but not that memorable.

CLC

CLC performed a remix of the song “Pepe,” but it was not anything to write home about, so I will refrain.

EXID

I was quite looking forward to EXID’s performance — as was everyone else, I think. Both “Ah Yeah” and “Up & Down” are excellent songs with really recognizable trademark dances, and I especially love LE’s unique rapping voice. For their set, EXID covered the stage with about 5 million backup dancers, but they had to perform a watered-down version of “Up & Down” to appease the family-friendly audience, I guess. Still, EXID put on a great show and had the entire venue buzzing.

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EXO at the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

EXO

EXO is a fantastic band, and both “Call Me Baby” and “Growl” are phenomenal songs. EXO’s fanbase at the Dream Concert was also kind of awe-inspiring and terrifying. I’m not sure why exactly EXO didn’t close the show, as they clearly should have. The well-orchestrated fanchants during EXO’s set could be heard clearly outside of the venue, across a few streets of traffic. All of the band members looked great (Chanyeol’s styling was particularly cool), but I’m just afraid they’re going to drop dead of exhaustion at any moment.

GOT7

GOT7 came to the Dream Concert straight from some rigorous promoting schedule, and it showed. The sound quality was also pretty wack during their set, which affected the show. Mark still did a lot of sweet acrobatic moves during “Stop Stop It” and “Girls Girls Girls,” but it wasn’t the best performance. It was a bummer because they looked visibly frustrated coming offstage, and they’re usually so affable and charming.

HALO

I don’t remember HALO’s performance of “Grow Up” as much as the impression they made walking the red carpet. Nice shorts, y’all.

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This is a crummy picture of Infinite standing dramatically during the intro to “Back.” SCREAMfmLondon

Infinite

Infinite was such a delight. I was really looking forward to Infinite, and I’m still stoked about it. They looked sharp in sleek black-and-white suits as they performed “Back” and “Paradise.” And what’s more: while some bands look so dead behind the eyes while going through the motions of their dances, Infinite seemed so glad to be there. Literally no one was having more fun than Dongwoo. They couldn’t get him offstage after the show. They had to cut the sound from his microphone, and he still kept jumping around and playing with the fans long after everyone else had left. It was so damn endearing.

Hyoseong

Jun Hyo-seong of Secret performed her solo song “Into You.” She is super attractive, but she appeared creepily robotic during her passionless performance. I was very scandalized, however, when one of her dance moves included having a female backup dancer reach around from behind and give her breasts a firm squeeze. Whoa! And EXID can’t do their “Up & Down” pelvic thrusting?!

Kara

Kara revealed “Cupid,” the first track from the group’s newest mini-album, “In Love,” for the first time at the concert. They also wore some white, fringed vests. I felt ambivalent toward all of it.

LABOUM

LABOUM was another of my favorites from the rookie stages, but I took off points for the sexy baby concept. “Sugar Sugar” is such a cute bubblegum pop song, though. It’s very reminiscent of American girl group sounds from the 1950s — even the adorable, simple dance.

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Lovelyz at the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

Lovelyz

Lovelyz performed “Hi~” in cute mismatched schoolgirl outfits and released a ton of multicolored balloons into the sky during their set. It looked cool, but, damn, that’s a lot of litter.

MFBTY

MFBTY’s performance was a pleasant surprise at the dream concert. The hip-hop group consists of Korean hip-hop greats Drunken Tiger/Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy. Together, they played “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” and “Monster” with guest appearances from many of the other Dream Concert artists — Chanyeol from EXO, Wendy from Red Velvet, LE from EXID, Baro from B1A4, and Rap Monster and Suga from BTS. The songs are good and the collaborations were interesting, but they actually messed up their set and had to start all the way from the beginning again, which killed my buzz, as well as the illusion that this was a live concert.

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Monsta X at the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

Monsta X

Monsta X was so much fun. The performance of “Trespass” began with a guy popping out of a trap door a few feet from my face and aggressively ripping off his shirt. He was then joined onstage by his bandmates — as well as a slew of backup dancers dressed in cheap police uniforms. Hell yeah, is this the Dream Concert or a bachelorette party? I don’t even remember what the song sounded like, but who cares?

Oh My Girl

OMG performed “Cupid” dressed in cheerleader uniforms. I feel like there are a million bands who have performed a song called “Cupid” dressed in cheerleader uniforms, but at least the chorus of this song is catchy.

Red Velvet

Red Velvet opened the show, for some reason. I was really looking forward to their performance, but I wasn’t ready for it when they began — and then it was over just as quickly. Plus, they released some giant Red Velvet beach balls during this set, so I had to concentrate on not getting bonked instead of watching the show. “Ice Cream Cake” is a jam, though, and Red Velvet should’ve performed a bit later on in the evening.

ROMEO

I had the best seats in the house, I think — especially for backstage insight. One of my favorite behind-the-scenes moments was when Romeo was running onstage to perform: one of the guys tripped over the plastic mats covering the soccer field and totally ate it right in front of me. Also, they performed “Lovesick.” But that guy fell down! Comedy gold.

Secret

In addition to Hyoseong’s solo stage, Secret performed “Magic” and “Madonna.” Neither were very interesting! Moving on.

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SHINee closing the 2015 Dream Concert like pros. SCREAMfmLondon

SHINee

SHINee closed the show like pros. They performed “View” and “Love Sick” from their latest album, “Odd,” which was just released on May 18. “View” is a really catchy, kind of clubby song that is (dare I say it?) probably my favorite SHINee song to date. The band executed their moves flawlessly, and Jonghyun and Key looked super cool. But Taemin… Taemin wore a strange oversized sweater and a pair of oversized pants with the phrase “OPEN HERE” printed boldly down the fly. It was a killer performance, but somebody needs to dispose of that outfit.

SISTAR

A great behind-the-scenes moment came after Sistar’s techno remix of “Touch My Body.” When the backup dancers climbed offstage before the group’s second number, Bora casually left right alongside them while her bandmates were introducing the next song, “I Swear.” Somebody had to grab her by the arm and throw her back onstage to finish the performance. Anyway, I think I enjoyed the re-imagined rendition of “Touch My Body,” but the sound was so blown out, I could barely hear anything. C’mon, Dream Concert.

Sonamoo

When you see 30 bands in one sitting, it can feel like you’re seeing the same thing over and over again… No, wait, I’m sorry, that’s just Sonamoo performing “Deja Vu.” Ha. Ha ha.

SPEED

I thought Speed was cool. The boys looked casual yet powerful, and like they were having a lot of fun. They wore schoolboy uniforms and shoes equipped with skates, so the dance for “What U” could incorporate some effortless gliding as well as their typical acrobatic tricks. Throughout their set, they skated back and forth across the stage in backwards caps. Kind of a “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” aesthetic.

T-ara

T-ara performed “Little Apple,” followed shortly by Eun-jung’s solo performance of “I’m Good.” Eun-jung, the lead vocalist and rapper in T-ara, made her solo debut as Elsie at the beginning of the month. Her solo stage was an unusual change of pace — more lyrical and easy-listening than the pop and hip-hop that dominated the Dream Concert.

Topp Dogg

What I really enjoyed about Topp Dogg was that the band name was misspelled as “ToppGogg” on the official Dream Concert poster. There are also like 500 people in this band. They performed “Top Dog” with some impressive pyrotechnic effects that coincided with the song’s chorus (“T. O. Double P. / D. O. Double G. / Topp Dogg!”). Their set was highly entertaining.

VIXX

VIXX is such an embarrassing breed of ultra-adorable that it’s kind of likeable. Their style is almost too cutesy for me, but I found their Dream Concert performance to be one of the best. They performed “Love Equation” and “Error,” and I was officially sold on the goofy move where they spell out their band name with their arms. Also, Leo’s voice is beautiful, and I enjoy how vaguely uncomfortable he always looks because I’m hoping he feels as conflicted as I do about that VIXX choreography.

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The 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

Album review: Epik High, ‘Shoebox’

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Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

“Shoebox” is Epik High’s eighth studio album since its inception in 2003. The trio, comprised of Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, returned from serving their mandatory years in the military to release “99” (a nod to the 99 percent) in 2012. Which isn’t that great of an album. “Shoebox,” on the other hand, is a real return to form for the killer alternative rap group.

So, let’s talk about “Born Hater.”

“Born Hater” is a masterpiece. (“Dali, Van, Picasso, / I’m Velazquez, Millet, El fuckin’ Greco,” as Tablo puts it.) The song features powerful rappers from three different generations of Korean rap: the well-established Verbal Jint, the second generation Beenzino, and the up-and-coming B.I., Mino and Bobby. Mino, a rapper from the boyband WINNER, has a standout verse about the criticism he’s drawn for being signed to the YG Entertainment label.

The song’s accompanying vertical music video uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a theme, and it’s all brilliant. “Born Hater” is a much-hyped song, but it’s totally worthy of all the praise. It’s a sick, stripped-down rap jam in its rawest form.

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Epik High’s “Shoebox.” Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

The whole album gives off a vibe reminiscent of the authenticity and awareness of early ‘90s hip-hop with a modern, cutting-edge twist. The songs are substantial, touching on issues such as religion in “Amor Fati,” which opens with Tablo declaring “God doesn’t love me,” and contains the refrain “I believe in myself, / I believe in the sweat on my hands, / I believe in my heart, / I believe in love, / But they call me a non-believer.”

A few simpler, straight-up party jams include “Burj Khalifa” and “Life is Good.” The former features Yankie of TBNY and Gaeko of Dynamic Duo; it has a strong beat and name-drops a lot of drugs. What more do you need in a party anthem? Layered over this, a robotic female voice echoes, “My high is epic.”

As for the slower tracks, “Spoiler” is a gorgeous, broken-hearted ballad, and the cover of Taeyang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips” is a fabulous spin on the original. Tablo really elevates the song: the Epik High version is significantly less drippy than Taeyang’s without losing the emotional impact and is, thereby, much better. The climax of the song comes toward the end, when Taeyang harmonizes with Tablo’s lower-pitched vocals, and it really brings the track together.

Taeyang (of Big Bang fame) is also featured on “Rich” and provides some uncredited background vocals for “Amor Fati.” “Rich” is another great track — a play on Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal “C.R.E.A.M.” In the song’s hook, Taeyang sings, “I wish, I wish, I wish I was rich. / My drive rules everything around me.”

There is so much variation on “Shoebox” and so many different featured artists, but it’s still such a cohesive album that reinforces Epik High’s place in hip-hop. Excellent release.

Epik High
Shoebox
Release Date: Oct. 21
Genre: Hip-hop, Rap
Grade: A-

Theater: Nadia Manzoor, ‘Burq Off!’

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The colorful backdrop for Nadia Manzoor’s “Burq Off!” at Elephant Stages in Hollywood. SCREAMfmLondon

Against a multicolored backdrop of glittery silk fabrics, Nadia Manzoor magically transformed herself into 21 diverse characters for three sold-out performances of her one-woman show, “Burq Off!” July 17-19 at Elephant Stages in Hollywood.

The 90-minute show follows Manzoor’s life, beginning when she was five years old and wanted to become an astronaut but was rebuffed by her father (“Who will feed your husband if you are floating about in space?”). It culminates during her university years with a poignant scene in which Manzoor’s twin brother Khurram, who has become an Islamic extremist, tells her that her straying from the Muslim lifestyle is the reason their mother died of cancer.

The story aims to inspire self-exploration and self-expression through Manzoor’s own experiences trying to define and make peace with her identity as a woman and as a Pakistani Muslim living in London.

Manzoor, who wrote and stars in the play, does a remarkable job of embodying all of the characters in her life using only her voice, her body and a few transformative pieces of fabric. It’s really not a one-woman show at all; it’s as rich as if there were a dozen different actors on the stage. It’s impressive to see everyone, from her ultra-stern Abbu (dad) to her white classmates at an all-girls school in England and the Irish bartender she falls in love with while attending Manchester University, come to life despite the minimal presentation.

The performance was, at times, mildly amusing, although not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of the more gregarious audience members seemed to find it.

One of the most notable touches of “Burq Off!” was a parallel set of dance sequences during two pivotal moments in Manzoor’s life: the first time she wore a burqa in public and, later, the first time she stepped out in a bikini. Each garment was equally liberating for her in its own way — a freedom that could only be expressed through song and dance. Manzoor, who is also (apparently) a dancer, cleverly incorporated elements of Bollywood and hip-hop styles and combined them with her own comical delivery for very memorable musical asides.

The Elephant Stages theater excelled at designing a powerful and versatile set for Manzoor to work within and manipulate while telling her story. Just one table and a few chairs whisked the audience away to the dorm room in which Manzoor lost her virginity, the bar counter she vomited upon after getting drunk for the first time, the hospital bed where she last spoke to her Ammi (mom).

“Burq Off!” was a well put-together coming-of-age story and an honest examination of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a conservative Muslim home. It’s not a perspective that is heard often enough in the United States, and Manzoor’s strong talent makes her an all the more effective storyteller.

Drag roundup: Adore Delano, ‘Till Death Do Us Party’

Photo courtesy of Sidecar Records and Producer Entertainment Group.

Photo courtesy of Sidecar Records and Producer Entertainment Group.

Adore Delano is absolutely (absolutelyyyyy) the best singer who has appeared on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and “Till Death Do Us Party” is the most solid album released by any of the show’s alumni. Not that there’s much competition in that category. But, still.

It’s also become the most commercially successful album of any “Drag Race” alumni, for good reason.

And I’ve been slowly cobbling together this review over the course of the last month, so without further ado, here is my rundown of “Till Death Do Us Party”:

“Speak My Sex”

This honestly isn’t the best opening track. There’s not much to say about it — it’s kind of a nonsensical electronic dance song about sex or something. I’m not sure what it’s about. Skip this one. I usually do.

“DTF”

“DTF” is the album’s lead single, and, while it’s not the strongest song on the album, it’s a pretty good one. The languid, sensual beat complements Adore’s laid-back vocal style perfectly and reflects the unromantic casual sex celebrated in the song. “Paper bag bitch, busted in the face. / Got that bomb dick, not a total waste,” she declares. “DTF” has been called the Grindr anthem, and I can get down with that.

“Party”

The adorable music video for “Party” was released on July 1, featuring Adore and friends causing a ruckus at a neon pink birthday party. The visuals are so cute, I ended up enjoying the track a lot more than I initially did. It’s still a little bit of a disappointment, though, and seems like it was rushed through the songwriting process rather than giving it the consideration it deserves — particularly since “Party!” has become such a marketable catchphrase for Adore.

“I Adore U”

The album’s lead ballad “I Adore U” is simply extraordinary. I only wish the rest of the album incorporated Adore’s hip-hop influences as flawlessly as this song does. The melancholy love song allows Adore to show off her incredibly strong vocal talent on slower verses and a soulful bridge, as well as her trademark rough-around-the-edges persona with a rap chorus that is catchy, effective and modern. “I Adore U” is really beautiful and powerful; it deserves mainstream radio play.

“Calling All Goddesses,” “Jump the Gun,” “Give Me Tonight” and “The Creeps”

“Till Death Do Us Party” excels with its more personal songs — the rest is, unfortunately, pretty forgettable (if not fun and danceable) filler. “Calling All Goddesses,” “Jump the Gun” and, later, “The Creeps” are some of the more unremarkable tracks. “Give Me Tonight” is a cover of the 1984 Shannon single that’s, well, better than the original, at least.

“I Look Fuckin Cool (feat. Alaska Thunderfuck)”

This duet with fellow “Drag Race” alum Alaska Thunderfuck is one of the album’s best upbeat songs. It is highly weird, which is enhanced by Alaska’s exaggerated vocals, and it’s a great track to blast while getting ready to go out on the town. There are so many genius, quotable one-liners: “My nails are broke and busted, / But I’m still fucking dusted,” “Dirt poor but spirit wealthy, / Dead battery from selfies,” “So I’m like a coloring book, even a child could read me.” The list goes on. “I Look Fuckin Cool” is fuckin’ inspirational.

“Hello, I Love You”

“Hello, I Love You” is probably the best straightforward pop song on the album. On this track, Adore channels the same manic, ditzy persona that appears in “Party,” but the structure of “Hello, I Love You” is superior and the chorus is undeniably catchy. This is another song that could easily fit in with mainstream pop music.

“My Address is Hollywood”

“My Address is Hollywood” is one more standout track — a slower, harder dance song about show business. Adore’s heartfelt bridge is great, as she sings, “I’m a city angel, / but it doesn’t pay well. / Baby, that’s okay. / Heaven wouldn’t have me / ‘cause I’m all about me. / Hell, I’m on my way.” This is a very strong closing track for an, overall, quite legit album. I hope to see Adore do great things in the future. She’s got it.

Adore Delano
Till Death Do Us Party
Release Date: June 3
Genre: Pop, Dance
Grade: B-

Live: Astronautalis at The Satellite

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Astronautalis performs at The Satellite in Silver Lake. SCREAMfmLondon

The first time I saw Astronautalis, I was well underage. I had to get to the venue — a dive bar on Second Street in Reno, Nev. next to the Triumph tattoo parlor — early enough to talk my way past the bouncer guarding the front door, and then I tried to stand inconspicuously off to the side until the show started.

To this day, that concert remains one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen, and one of the few that has completely blown me away, changed everything. I went home and downloaded the first two Astronautalis albums, knowing that I would be going to see him perform as long as he was willing to play.

On March 22, Astronautalis headlined at the Satellite on Silver Lake Boulevard alongside Playdough, Transit and the Dead Men.

Quite a lot of time has passed since my initial introduction to his music, and a lot has changed. But a lot has not. Astronautalis started as a one-man act with only his laptop full of beats and his own manic energy to accompany him onstage. He’s now backed by a guitarist and drummer. He’s grown a beard. But he’s still effortlessly charming. His music is still a high-energy, lyrically-challenging combination of hip-hop, talkin’ blues and indie rock. A live Astronautalis show is still a vivid experience to be had, and I’m still here.

I valiantly suffered through the abysmal opening acts preceding the Astronautalis set, and to say they were abysmal is not at all an exaggeration. The first group, LA transplants calling themselves the Dead Men, had some good instrumentalists (a harmonica player and keyboardist, in particular), but the songs were so badly written it was almost funny to hear them singing the praises of “Orthodox Jew porn” and violently hurting women. Almost funny.

I hoped the evening would improve when Canadian rapper Transit took to the stage next, but it did not. I remember that he is Canadian because he told the same joke about “sweating maple syrup” roughly 146 times, whenever he wasn’t trying to name-drop someone successful he had once interacted with, including Gene Simmons, who he allegedly turned down for a record deal, opting instead to maintain his artistic integrity and sell CDs in the back room of the Satellite for five dollars. As for his artistic integrity: well, he sang an entire song called “Friend Zone” about a woman who (for some reason) valued his company, but it still pissed him off that she wouldn’t sleep with him.

The final opener, Playdough, had the best stage presence of the three, and being able to command a room is like 60 percent of the battle. Some of his set was amusing, but most of it was pedestrian. He gave an excessively long speech about how great he is at freestyle and how much he loves to do it. Despite the grandiose build-up, his delivery was amateurish. Think “Fox in Socks,” only not as clever.

And, finally, Astronautalis came onstage, sipping whiskey and wearing neatly cuffed jeans over black combat boots. He is so uniquely talented that he easily and consistently blows away his opening acts; he also far outperforms his own band. The fast-moving set included many tracks from his most recent full-length release, 2011’s “This is Our Science,” including “Thomas Jefferson” and “Contrails.”

Astronautalis — a Minnesota native — told the crowd how he made the most of his afternoon in Silver Lake with a picnic and some kite-flying in the balmy spring weather before launching into “Midday Moon.” Through a smirk, he sang the song’s second verse: “It was a windy day, / The kind that makes me hate LA / ‘Cause God gave them a perfect sun, and they think gangs and smog were hardly a fair trade.”

Highlights from Astronautalis’ live set included a few new takes on some of his best-known songs, including a remix of “Dimitri Mendeleev” that he describes as less aggro and more dance-y than the original, as well as an up-tempo, rock-driven reboot of “The Trouble Hunters.” “The Trouble Hunters,” a rousing fight song about the Battle of Trenton, is always a climactic moment at Astronautalis shows, and the song is so great that it deserves to be a huge hit, if we lived in the kind of society that allowed for songs about the American Revolutionary War to top the Billboard charts.

Additionally, the band played a few new songs that are being readied for the next album release, and to my delight, they included “This City Ain’t Just a Skyline,” a previously-unreleased outtake from “This is Our Science.” The track was uploaded to SoundCloud on Feb. 22, and its melodic synth beats against Astronautalis’ jaunty vocals immediately cemented it as one of my favorite new singles of 2014.

One of the staples of an Astronautalis set is his freestyle segment, during which he takes topic suggestions from the audience (can’t be anything he’s ever rapped about before, i.e. nothing about US history) and combines them into one epic impromptu song. The difference between Playdough’s freestyle and Astronautalis’ is stark: Astronautalis doesn’t go on about it, but instead brings an unparalleled frame of reference and incomparably sharp wit in order to deliver a memorable, one-of-a-kind freestyle that speaks for itself.

The most fun topics are those provided by the drunks who have no idea what’s going on but really enjoy shouting, rather than the premeditated topics prepared by the hipsters trying to look smart (the guy who suggested the international rules governing the conduct of submarine warfare as a freestyle topic, I’m looking at you). Back in Reno all those years ago, I remember a wayward frat boy slurring his suggestion of “T-Shirt on Your Head Tuesdays,” and then I remember watching with stars in my eyes as Astronautalis actually rapped eloquently and hilariously about whatever the hell that means.

And that’s the amazing thing about Astronautalis’ live performances: each one is so distinctive. I feel like I always learn something valuable at an Astronautalis concert, in the sense that hanging around truly interesting people makes you want to better yourself. Can’t say that about too many musicians, can you?