I know what you’re thinking: “Stop Boy, in the name lo~ve!” I know, and I understand all too well, that it almost seems like a rite of passage for anyone entering the K-blogosphere to mention this particular boy group. Maybe you’ve heard their name whispered in a forum, talked about in the dark alleyways of tumblr, or written on some forgotten piece of comment next to the words: “American debut,” or maybe not – but trust me when I say you’re just not a K-Pop blog unless you’ve had a “Not Another Poor U-KISS Post”…post. What about the boys is worth mentioning is that they are a prime example of idols who are stuck between “Nugu” and a “hard place.” And undeservedly so, I might add. They’re back on the scene again with a less than astounding track called “Gangstar Boy,” and about to go up against the tidal wave of titanic comebacks, at the front of which is Girls’ Generation. And they will be washed ashore once more, unloved and unnoticed like jetsam left behind from the Hallyu Wave. This is a damn shame because here is a group brimming with double the merit, tenacity, and panache that other groups wish they had, that WE as a public and as fans wish they had. So please, I implore you, as Kiss-Mes – the fanclub’s name – brace themselves for the lack of attention and respect their biases are about to receive, read this profoundly long article and give a second look at the charming, flamboyant-kinda-by-force boys who have unfairly never received their due.
Back in time we go, the dial set to 2008, which is when they were formed, and where we would also meet such acts as SHINee who also debuted and have faired astronomically better since than. Competing against the three giants – JYP, SM, and YG respectively – was the small entertainment company NH Media, and their boy group named Ubiquitous International (idol) Super Stars. The group was composed of six boys: the multilingual, fairy-like, always professional leader Alexander, the sweet and inspiring vocalist Soohyun (who watched porn with Kibum) the rapper with a face that was striking in a Hyoyeon kind of way named Eli, the visual-ish, singer/dancer/not-maknae aegyo juggernaut Kevin, and the actual maknae and visual/rapper Dongho. These boys would debut with the track “Not Young” and dear, sweet, merciful heavens it would be one of the worst debuts known to man.Have you LOOKED at the eyesore next to this paragraph?
That was just a taste of what their original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air meets Badass Flower Boys concept was like. Today, the members have even admitted that it was absolutely terrible. Soohyun’s quote was the best:
“We’ve been coming out with masculine, sexy images lately, but back then, we were just cute. They always told us to act cute and laugh where necessary so looking at it now, I really can’t bear it. It gives me goosebumps.”
So you can only imagine what the K-ingdom at large thought of this, deeming this and their second album Bring it Back 2 Old School as absolute failures that ultimately tarnished their premature reputations. But somehow after two years of powering through the worst clothes and songs K-Pop had to offer, the group hit its mark. By adding Kiseop, the vain – but in a cute way – dancer, and promoting the track “Man Man Na Hi,” suddenly the boys were being showered with all this attention and praise for what was effectively their “Sorry Sorry” and they should’ve won for it. A host on on Strong Heart years later would echo this sentiment, and everyone on the show agreed that right then and there U-KISS should’ve ended their slump and ascended into the clouds where the real idols lived…but they didn’t. Defying all logic of pop trends, they didn’t. Too many other groups were leaving much more prominent stamps on people’s minds at the time, shooing U-KISS and their hard work to the side.
Their next promotional cycle saw them ditching Korea and pursuing the Ubuquitious and International part of their name much more fervently by touring in Mongolia, Malaysia, Japan, and the Phillipines. You see, U-KISS was not supposed to promote in South Korea. They debuted in Japan first, and constantly were considered a Japan-Korea collaborative project, which in hindsight, with the relations between the two countries in mind, may not have been the best idea, especially since even now testing those waters are still tentative among idols and their companies. But the boys were prepared for it at least. Each member is fluent in at least two languages. Alexander is fluent in seven, and that alone is a quality they’ve never truly been acknowledged for. How many posts have we seen from angry international fans who complain about the mispronunciations or lack of interaction their idols give due to the language barriers that the majority of them face. For instance, SNSD is recognized as the “Number One Girl Group in Asia” but the only member even capable of conversing properly in Japanese is Sooyoung, while Tiffany and Jessica are the only ones who know what the fuck is happening in English. I bring this up, because I’m really not over how Alexander knows SEVEN! Kevin knows three, Dongho and Eli know two… And so it continues. Preparing a group for international marketing that early in the game was lightyears ahead of the competition. It was possibly even another contributing factor to the group’s lack of success – they were ahead of their time as far as marketing was concerned.
So what next for the lady’s slipper of flower boy groups? Why the big U.S. of A of course. But wait…oh dear…oh God….oh no…not U-KISS. I mean…look at ’em… I remember hearing that for the first time when I was just getting in to K-Pop and still could think of plenty of other groups I wanted to see come abroad and introduce to my friends and strangers at large and U-KISS was not one of them. One rumor floating around is that they recorded a staggering 100 tracks to sort out for their English album and then, tragedy struck: the ever so obligatory member lineup change. In a swiftly done and elegant manner that put the T-ara drama to shame; NH Media dropped their ace-in-the-hole, Alexander, and poor little Kibum, prompting Soohyun to fill his shoes and to watch porn alone. The graciousness that which the two former members handled this situation cannot be overstated. They openly accepted and respected the companies decisions – on Twitter mind you – and regretted that THEY felt like they were holding the group back, and sincerely wished the best for their comrades’ future…come on now. All the Awards to these fine gentlemen. While dropping them like its hot, NH picked up two new members AJ – the group’s own personal Jun. K due to his extreme passion for music making – who would be another rapper alongside Eli and Dongho and Hoon – the fitness freak with a face I didn’t like until I saw it without make up and fell in love – who would provide back up vocals for the already labored Soohyun. It was at this time that U-KISS made one of their strongest albums to date, Bran New Kiss. Guys. Seriously, this shit is legit. And they would brandish the brilliantly done ballad “0330” to no avail, they’re dreams of debuting in America, dust in the wind.
So what does NH, do? Turn up the heat of course. Suddenly new artists, new stylists, new producers, and the boys – without a day of rest in sight – put out what they themselves call their strongest, toughest track – and album consequentially – on their discography: “Neverland.” The choreography challenged them beyond belief, injuring three of the members while practicing it and causing poor Eli to be exempt from the first broadcast because he got a terrible nosebleed due to how intense it was. Their choreographer even admitted that it was the toughest dance he ever gave them and even considered changing it…but didn’t. By all accounts this track, let alone this album, should have made up for all the accolades they missed out on previously but no. They were cockblocked by girl group KARA‘s catchy as hell single “Step Up,” again missing out on any chance of an award. The boys then had to turn their sights to Japan, and in three days learned the choreography for their single “Tick-Tack.” At least overseas U-KISS receives the love they deserve, and in South America and Japan they are truly loved and lauded for their prowess, ethic, and unrelentingly sympathetic personalities.
They would go on to release more tracks, capitalizing on this romance. “DoraDora” would happen, as would “Believe” – written by AJ -, and “Te Amo” for Kiss-Me’s sake, but along the way they would lose AJ, who chose to go on and pursue his studies at Columbia University. This had to be an incredibly huge blow to the boys’ morale because AJ really had it in his heart to write and produce U-KISS’s song and this dream was encouraged 110% by the rest of the group. In theory he says he’ll return after five months – making his comeback sometime soon but honestly, who would come back to the flailing carp on land life that is Nugu idoldom?
It’s like this: it’s one thing for us to know a group sucks, and it’s another for the group themselves to know it too, and U-KISS is a group that’s very hard on themselves. I’d imagine it’s not easy that they campaign knowing they haven’t won a single award on a music program in the four going on five years they’ve existed, and having to bring that to the forefront of conversation every time their career is brought up. On Strong Heart, their manager’s wife made an impassioned plea to the audience and public to give them even just a fraction more of their attention, and it was heartbreaking because having to go that far is pretty sad. Even sadder was when Leeteuk, on this same episode, decides to stage an imaginary win for U-KISS in which they get an award and Kevin just starts crying. Then Dongho cries. Then the manager’s wife cries. Then they pretty much just had to end the skit and Kevin explained that literally all they do is practice and live and breathe in this art form that isn’t giving nearly enough back to them for their efforts. You guys, these boys sacrifice a lot in the self-esteem department, Soohyun being a prime example. He took a lie detector test and it was a certified truth that he thinks he is unattractive and has an unattractive body. So here’s where a bunch of blogs would talk more about what keeps them from actually getting that fame they deserve and it’s one of the best conundrums in the music industry. But a better question is “What keeps them going?”
When asked this question the first thing they say is their families. Hoon’s father, who upon learning of his son’s dreams to become a singer, hand built a legit practice room with a sound board, soundproof walls, dance floor, out of an old shed near their home so that Hoon could have a place to train his skills. After failing so many auditions, Kiseop was in a depressed state and found encouragement after accidentally catching his mom crying over how he’d become, vowing right then and there to never make his mom cry again. The second source for their continued strength is their individual dreams. Eli hopes to be a famous action star, Soohyun desperately craves to be in a musical, Dongho wants to be a cook, a businessman, an actor, to have it all, and the majority of those dreams rely on the success of U-KISS, which is fucking tear-jerking, given that a staple of K-Pop right now is to go “Aawe, poor U-KISS, maybe next time.”
On the matter of what it is that keeps them from this success, these factors have been brought up and discussed numerous times: terrible debut, poor marketing/management, little to no promoting in their home country, struggle to find their niche, lack of variety appearances, poor timing, and weird as hell visual concepts – it’s never U-KISS unless it’s a suit that takes a turn towards bondage down the Japanase version of the Willy Wonka tunnel on acid. I think all of these elements are valid but personally attribute it to just fucking bad karma. Come on, there comes a point when you just have to know someone up there hates you, and here is a group that’s lived several lives, that’s gone through every scenario in the book of stardom that other idol groups have done but who haven’t become famous.
Finally, where are they now? Well, truth be told they pulled another rabbit out of their hat with “Stop Girl,” which arguably brought them the most positive attention since the “Man Man Ha Ni” era, and wonderfully deserved it was. Here was a group that was polished and unique in a way that only veterans can be. The song itself making a full circle with the career, by being a slow-tempo R&B track harking back to a 90’s style sound. Complimenting the brilliant arrangement, the swag-nifencence of the vocals, and the coolness of the lyrics was the completely amazing live performance. The dance is incredible, and offered viewers some of the best choreography seen all year. Everyone flows perfectly with the rhythm and the interaction with the backup dancers is positively marvelous.
This should bring us up to speed with the grueling “Gangstar Boys” they are now. Oh, U-KISS, just hang in there a little more. If they survive longer than the beloved idols leading the Hallyu Wave is anyone’s guess but a statement made by Soohyun was particularly striking in one of their interviews. He and the group wholeheartedly believe that they never wanted to be tied to the aforementioend Hallyu Wave because it is a “boom.” It will die down, and anyone with a serious thinkning cap knows that. And so he and the boys have a mindset of not just lasting as long as long as this global interest in K-Pop remains but afterwards as well, to make their mark in Japan for sure, as well as South Korea as a legitimate group on their own terms who produced quality music and were cognized as artists instead of just pretty faces. See why my husband is flawless?
Did I do them justice Kiss-Mes? And what about you readers? Have any feelings been changed? If so, sound off below!