Tag Archives: k-pop

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.

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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.

August 23: Architecture, art and more

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View of Mapo-gu from the 34th floor, overlooking the Han River. SCREAMfmLondon

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Infinite kicked off their Infinite Effect world tour with a concert at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul on Aug. 8. SCREAMfmLondon

  • Before the Infinite concert on Aug. 8, we were caught in a torrential downpour and had to take shelter in the subway station, where concertgoers had set up little makeshift refugee camps to dry out. We were ridiculously drenched, and my Sungkyu stickers got all warped. But everything was wonderful once our seven boyfriends took the stage. They go above and beyond to create a fantastic experience for the audience: flying signed paper airplanes into the crowd, riding cloud-shaped carts around the arena to hand out actual roses to fans, performing unbelievably in-sync choreography (including the famous scorpion dance move during “Before the Dawn”), and Woohyun’s top coming “”accidentally”” unbuttoned. Also, we did the wave! It was the perfect concert.
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Such picturesque architecture in Samcheong-dong. SCREAMfmLondon

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A collection of Amedeo Modigliani’s portraits are on display at Seoul Arts Center from June 26 – Oct. 4. SCREAMfmLondon

  • The Modigliani exhibition is housed on the uppermost floor of the Hangaram Art Museum within the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-dong. It is organized into seven themes: Paul Alexandre (Modigliani’s first patron), Portraits of Men, Caryatids (based on the female-shaped columns often present in ancient architecture), Jeanne Hébuterne (Modigliani’s lover, a fellow artist), Portraits of Women, Nudes and Moïse Kisling (a friend of Modigliani’s and another fellow artist). The exhibit is well laid-out and emphasizes Modigliani’s portraits as a means of self-reflection. The subjects of his paintings are usually characterized by their long necks and dark, vacant eyes colored in with no pupils. Modigliani is quoted as saying “When I know your soul, I will paint your eyes”  — a quote that is displayed prominently in the gallery alongside his work.

I performed at the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival

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Infinite closes out the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival with a performance of their recent single, “Bad.” SCREAMfmLondon

I hear the roaring applause of thousands of k-pop fans as I’m nailing every moment of my chicken-inspired choreography. I land my final jumps, and the crowd goes wild. Then, I have to hurry off the stage because world-renowned pop superstar Psy is up next.

That’s (basically) (more or less) how it went down when I performed as a backup dancer for Korean comedian Kim Young-chul’s set at the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival on Aug. 4. The four-hour concert boasted performances from artists such as GOT7, Infinite, T-ara, Crayon Pop and Psy.

And me, of course.

SM Entertainment, sign me up

The adventure began around 7 p.m. the night before the concert, when the dancers were all herded en masse through several crowded subway transfers until we reached our stage at Seoul City Hall.

At the venue, we were quickly taught the moves and positioned onstage, where we ran the dance until 9 p.m. We had no idea what song we were dancing to until the next day, but, boy, were we dancing. We danced and danced, were given disapproving looks, and then we danced some more.

The choreographer seemed quite exasperated every time we failed to perform our dance in perfect synchronization, but I’m pretty sure that the steps were different every time we ran through it. I’m also pretty sure that they were making it up as we went along.

He was terribly intimidating (even when he congratulated us on a job well done at the end of the concert). I felt like I was in an audition for a Very Serious entertainment agency. Which was actually super fun for me. I was having a blast. I could do that all day every day. SM Entertainment, sign me up!

SM Entertainment, don’t call me — I’ll call you

The next day, we arrived bright and early to our dance team holding tent backstage while fans were already staking out spots on the lawn to watch their favorite groups.

“We just saw some k-pop stars!” one of the girls exclaimed excitedly as she ran up to our group. “I think it was Infinite!”

‘No way,’ I thought. ‘I am sitting around in this sweltering tent backstage for six hours because I don’t actually have a life, and what else would I be doing? If I was an actual k-pop star, I’d show up like five minutes before I had to be onstage. And I’d demand a dressing room or something.’

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Super Junior’s Zhou Mi gets ready backstage before emceeing the concert on Aug. 4. SCREAMfmLondon

But no sooner had the thought occurred to me than Infinite themselves popped out of their own black tarp tent and made the glamorous journey toward a shared porta-potty. Along the way, they resignedly waved at the jittery fans who were intently watching said journey to the porta-potty.

Amazing! Not only were they, in fact, sitting around in their backstage tent longer than I was, but they also had a lot more pressure surrounding the general porta-potty experience than I have ever dealt with. Possibly, I do not want to be a k-pop star after all. SM Entertainment, don’t call me — I’ll call you.

Make it happen

Once the seats were beginning to fill, we went onstage for our soundcheck. This was the first time we’d heard the song we’d be dancing to — a remix of Kim Young-chul saying “Cheer up, superpower” on an episode of “Infinity Challenge.” It was also the first time we’d met him, but we were pumped. I was pumped. I was ready to roll, ready to party, ready to dance on the very floor where Nam Woo-hyun would also dance.

I felt even better when we came off the stage from our soundcheck, hurrying down the right side of the staircase because Infinite was making their way up the left for their own soundcheck. ‘Yes, this feels right. This is where I belong. Me and Psy — we’re like peers, really.’

Finally, the time came for our official, broadcast-ready performance. We waited patiently in the wings while MCs Zhou Mi of Super Junior, Lee Hong-bin of VIXX and Park Ji-yeon of T-ara gave an introduction. As they passed us on the stairs, Zhou Mi gave us a thumbs-up and whispered, “Fighting!” I grinned. We’re totally peers.

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Why aren’t there any better-quality videos of my moment?! Yours truly, second from the left. SCREAMfmLondon

I felt so alive with all of those confused eyes on me as I wildly flapped my arms in tune to the song. ‘Yep, this is the life,’ I thought. My face was projected on the screens at both sides of the stage as I danced my heart out. I hope Psy saw it, and I hope he appreciates my passion. My face was broadcast on SBS MTV throughout South Korea as I danced my heart out. I hope everybody saw it, and I hope they appreciate my passion.

It went great. The crowd didn’t know what to do with themselves. It was the greatest thing they’d ever seen, I assume.

The Summer K-pop Concert

Exhilarated from the performance, we eventually took our seats in the audience to watch the rest of the concert clutching towels and posters painted with the phrase “I LOVE K-POP.”

It was awesome. Psy was electrifying, and he got the entire crowd up and dancing to “Gentleman” (such a jam) and other hits that shall not be named. He played an unprecedented four songs, and I loved every moment of it. He’s such an incredible entertainer — I’m absolutely certain that I screamed louder for him than any of the boy bands.

GOT7 was awfully super adorable with “Just Right,” which was tragically the only song they performed at the show. The bubbly you’re-perfect-just-the-way-you-are vibe is the cutest and will never fail to warm my heart. I also love the accompanying dance. Watching professionals like GOT7 command the stage really reminded me what dancing is supposed to look like after spending so much time looking at myself dance (or try to, anyway).

Infinite was wonderful, as always. They performed “Bad” from the recently-released mini-album “Reality,” and then closed the show with a more somber ballad. “Bad” is a really awesome song with a theatrical, Hans Zimmer-style introduction and a dark, sexy overtone. It shows off the strengths of several band members — namely Dongwoo, whose rap verse and featured dance were some of the highlights of the performance.

Altogether, I had a blast at the concert. It was one of the most entertaining strange situations I’ve ever inserted myself into. I sincerely hope I get to do it again. SM Entertainment, I’m back onboard.

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Psy performs at the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival. SCREAMfmLondon

Theater: Sejong Center presents ‘Chess’

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The musical “Chess” at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

This June and July, the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts hosts the musical “Chess,” marking its debut in Asia.

The musical was composed in the early 1980s by two former members of ABBA. The story follows a Cold War-era chess tournament between the American grandmaster, Freddie, and the Soviet grandmaster, Anatoly. The two men conflict not only over chess but also over their mutual attraction to Freddie’s manager, Florence. It’s a story of betrayal, ambition and… chess.

I feel like there was a rather weird phase of pop culture interest in chess during the 1980s and ‘90s, traceable back to the brief fame of Bobby Fischer. I definitely studied a disproportionate amount about chess while I was in school (compared to how useful it’s been in life, which is not at all).

During my lifetime, I have seen exactly zero evidence that the paparazzi and/or the general public would ever care about chess championships, but it comes up all the time in literature.

Unfortunately, chess is not actually that exciting as a subject for musical theater.

The Seoul production was basically carried by the ensemble dancers and the spectacular choreography from Seo Byung-goo and Hong Yoo-sun. The cast made interesting use of the stage, set and props to keep each scene at its most visually stimulating. And “One Night in Bangkok” is a total jam. But there’s only so much dancing rooks can do for your show, y’know?

The main cast rotates throughout the week and includes a number of well-known k-pop stars. The performance I attended featured Ken from the band VIXX as Anatoly, Shin Sung-woo as Freddie, and An Si-ha as Florence.

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Fans leave well-wishes for VIXX’s Ken outside of the theater on the day of his performance. SCREAMfmLondon

Ken has a powerful voice, which was particularly evident during his cynical solo song “Where I Want to Be.” This number was definitely one of the highlights of the show and showed off his smooth vocals.

However, Ken’s acting did not seem on par with his singing — he struggled to come across mature enough to accurately portray Anatoly. His musical talent is certain, but his acting failed to bring any emotional depth to the character. He also failed to create any real chemistry with the other actors; certainly not with Florence, for whom he was supposed to feel some heart-wrenching passion.

I’d be curious to see the performance again with a change in cast to see how the different actors would alter the experience, or if “Chess” is just unsalvageable. I dunno. Let’s call it a stalemate.

‘Chess’
175 Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu
Weekdays at 4 and 8 p.m., weekends at 3 and 7 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday through July 19
Tickets range from 40,000  130,000 KRW
For more information, visit www.musicalchess.co.kr.