Monday, December 23, 2019

BTS – The Review

I expected quite a lot of this Youngdae Kim’s book “BTS – The Review: A Comprehensive Look at the Music of BTS” as Youngdae Kim is a noted music critic and author who serves as a member of the Selection Committee for the Korean Music Awards. He is born and raised in South Korea but completed his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington and is currently living in the USA where he is a critical column writer for MTV and Vulture by New York Magazine among other things.

He has always been interested in and proud of BTS and I thought that with this book BTS would finally get what they deserve: a serious, scholarly look at their music from their debut in 2013 up onto early 2019 when the book was written. With the subtitle “A Comprehensive Look at the Music of BTS” it was what the book seemed to promise its reader, but I must say that I was somehow disappointed.

Yes, Kim does review every single BTS album and the mixtapes of the different members too, but the reviews are short and mostly concentrated on the ballads as that seems to be the genre that Kim prefers. By doing so, he neglects to give in-depths analyses of the backbone of BTS’ music production as BTS started out as a hip-hop team and it is still the three rappers who write the majority of songs that also include funk, r&b, jazz, Latin, EDM and many other genres. In the same way the rappers take a backseat to the vocalists in this book which is quite strange as the rappers are the fundament of the band that existed as a trainee group before any of the vocalists were added.

As you can probably see, I’m not that thrilled with the reviews, but then again, the reviews only make up one part of the book. The rest of it consists of interviews with people in and around the Korean music industry, whereof most of them have nothing to do with BTS. There is an interview with the Korean hip-hop journalist Bonghyeon Kim, the Literary Critic Hyeongcheol Shin, the Chairman of the KMA Selection Committee Changnam Kim, the popera tenor Hyungjoo Lim and Billboard’s K-pop columnist Jeff Benjamin who more or less backstabbed BTS as soon as he was paid to promote another Korean band. The composer brother Su is also interviewed and at least he worked with BTS especially in their early days, but he also worked with many other K-pop acts. Of course, the people interviewed mention BTS, but most of the interviews are about K-pop as such or about the interviewees. There are no interviews with BTS themselves, with the founder of their company Big Hit, Bang Sihyuk (Hitman Bang), or with their main producer Pdogg, which is very disappointing. After having read the book, I think the subtitle should have been, “A Comprehensive Look at K-pop and how BTS fit into it” instead. At least, that would have been closer to the truth!

Youngdae Kim also mentions the very unique relationship between BTS and their fans, ARMY, but throughout the book he insists that their fans are teenagers or people in their twenties and that they are all girls. In the last chapters of the book, he finally acknowledges that the band has middle-aged fans as well, but not that they have male fans. Seeing the latest Korean statistics that have been widely quoted in the western press too, at least 55% of BTS fans are 30+, and these statistics don’t include fans over 70, so the true number is probably 60%, which makes the core audience quite different from the general audience of other K-pop acts. Besides, about 20% are males of all ages, but they are hardly ever included in statistics.

All in all, I have to say that I think “BTS – the Review” is a rather misleading description of BTS and their music. Of course it is not as bad as what we are used to see written by people who don’t know anything about BTS, but at the same time it is also more annoying as the author should have known better than painting a picture of BTS as a band that is mostly carried by their ballads and their vocalists and that has mainly female teenage fans. I was very disappointed, even though Kim in the epilogue correctly concludes that the BTS phenomenon is a movement that BTS and ARMY created together.

Three out of five stars: ***

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” directed by the Norwegian director Joachim Rønning is the sequel to the first Maleficent film from 2014. Five years have passed since then and was it worth the wait? Personally, I don’t think so.

I had my hopes up when I went to the cinema to watch this 119 minutes long sequel, because I had really liked the Moors with all its magic creatures in the first film, I had liked how Maleficent was both the villain and the hero and I had especially liked the feministic twist concerning the true love’s kiss that woke up the sleeping beauty Aurora, Unfortunately, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” does not live up to its predecessor but remains a typical disappointing sequel. Most of the story takes place outside the Moor and as for feminism… it is more or less non-existent.

From the very beginning, it is evident that former feministic ideas have been abandoned, as things are back to the way they were before sleeping beauty woke up. Once again Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is feared and hated by everyone except for her sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley) and her ever so sweet and ever so lovely - and pink - god daughter, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning).

The princess, who is now the queen of the Moors, is still in love with Prince Philip of Ulstead (Harris Dickinson), although he has changed a bit as he used to be played by Brenton Thwaites. Aurora seems to welcome this, as the two of them plan to get married, something that Maleficent strongly objects to. However, she agrees to attend a dinner party hosted by Philip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), but the queen is out to kill Maleficent as she hates the Moor fairy folk.

Maleficent must flee as she is accused of putting a curse on the king who is now the male version of Sleeping Beauty, but there is no true love’s kiss to awaking him as the queen doesn’t love him. Escaping from the castle, Maleficent is rescued by the Dark Fae Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who takes her to an underground cavern. Here she finds out that she herself is a Dark Fae and that others like her and Conall have been forced to hide and nearly driven extinct by human oppression. Furthermore, Maleficent is the last descendant of the ancient and powerful Dark Fae Phoenix, whose remains she sees. They look a lot more like the skeleton of a pterodactyl than of the mythic bird that is reborn from ashes. In any case, it is a huge hint of what is going to happen to Maleficent later in the film!

With Maleficent as their secret weapon, the Dark Faes led by the aggressive Borra (Ed Skrein) now plan an attack on the humans on the wedding day of Aurora and Phillip while Queen Ingrith plans to kill all the Moor fairy folk who have come to attend the weeding.

I don’t think that any of the actors in “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” comes across as remarkable except for perhaps Jenn Murray as Queen Ingrith’s helper Gerda, as she plays the part with overdramatic gestures and pathos. As for the plot, it is very predictable and so is the ending. And as said before, the feministic message from the first film is totally gone from the second, which I am far from the first film critic to notice. Sure, all the main roles are played by women, but in a “reversed” universe, where women act as men usually do in film and where the men have the traditional female roles of someone who must be rescued or won. This is not feminism, it is just reversed gender roles and besides, the strong, independent Maleficent is back to being a hated female, whereas the pink goody-two-shoed Aurora is the type of female that is shown love, and of course the biggest thing a girl can ever aspire to is once again to be married. To a man. It’s not good enough, Disney! Three out of five stars: ***


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