Wednesday, August 16, 2017

LONDON



For years and years, I have written about Harry Potter, the books, the films, the festivals, and the stars and since 2012 I’ve been asked repeatedly to visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter in the Leavesden Film Studios near Watford, England, where the Harry Potter films were made. I would have loved to go already back then, but having a rare spine disease and a badly functioning artificial knee, I can’t move without the aid of crutches and very strong pain killers. Even 3 x surgery within the last four years hasn’t improved my situation, so travelling to England seemed impossible.

On the other hand, after my last unsuccessful operation, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact, that I am never going to be well again and if I want to see and do the things I dream of, I have to do them with crutches, painkillers and a lot of aid and pre-planned resting-time. Still, it was quite daunting, as the last time I tried to go on a trip, which was just for a weekend with my daughter to Hamburg, Germany, in 2015, my left knee collapsed under me and I had to have surgery once more to replace my partial knee prosthesis with a full prosthesis. Anyway, with the UK on the brink of leaving the EU, I thought that I’d better get to London now as in a few years, who knows how easy it is going to be for us EU citizens to visit our dear UK friends, who have sadly turned their backs on us?

Going to England turned out to be very difficult already, when you are disabled. Before I got knee problems back in 2013, nobody cared that I occasionally needed a stick to walk or that I had to take painkillers, but this time I had to call the British Embassy in Denmark to get help. As the Brits are not part of the Schengen Area, I now suddenly needed a signed medical certificate saying that I needed my medication and of course such a certificate costs money. Furthermore, I had to contact the airports and airline to get permission to bring my crutches and where the Danish Kastrup Airport and the Scandinavian Airline were okay with it, Heathrow in London wanted a signed medical certificate saying that I needed my crutches to walk and that cost money too! I guess it is safe to say that my travelling days to the UK are over, as it has become too expensive. And what’s next? Visas perhaps, when Brexit is fully implemented?

Oh, well. My daughter and I flew to England on July 31st and no one in Heathrow wanted to see my certificates after all! I had already received Oyster Cards from Visit Britain’s online shop, so we took the Tube directly to Earl’s Court where our hotel was situated just 100 m from the station.
Usually I live in Bayswater when in London, or sometimes in South Kensington, but when we booked hotels four months ago, there were no rooms available. Instead we ended up in an old hotel in Earl’s Court Square, but I won’t write its name here as I can’t recommend it. It was very small, very hot and really, really lousy. Luckily it was only for five nights!

We didn’t do anything in particular the first day except get settled and go out for pizzas in the evening, and the next day I stayed at the hotel to recover from the strain of travelling the day before. While I relaxed, my daughter met up with her friend and fellow YouTuber Peter Noic. They spent the entire day together, but she took a couple of hours off for her and me to go to my two favourite spots in London: Kensington Gardens and the pub The Swan at Lancaster Gate. When in London, I always visit the Italian Gardens and say hello to the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens (after all I’m a Ph.D. in Peter Pan!), and afterwards we had a coke in the pub. Then it was back at the hotel for me, while my daughter went out with her friend for the evening.

On the third day, Wednesday the 2nd of August, it was finally time to go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter (what an awful and awfully long name!). It was the only day that we had a bit of rain while in London, but it didn’t matter as most of the tour was inside.
We had tickets to the tour through Golden Tours London, which provides you with a bus ride to and from the studio as well as a fairly speedy entrance and three hours at the studios. The bus leaves from INSIDE of the Fountain Square building across from Victoria Station in London, so we had a hard time finding it, but when we did, it was a nice double-decker bus that screened Harry Potter films all the way from London to Watford. As the trip only lasted fifty minutes and not two hours like it said on the ticket, we only got to see the middle part of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”. We didn’t complain, though, as we had more time at the Studio Tour this way.

I’m not going to write much about the tour here, as I plan to make a proper review of it sometime soon, but I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. It started out well, though, as we were let in about a hundred people at a time to first watch two short films in two different rooms, telling about the Harry Potter phenomenon and of the Studio Tour as such. After that we were let into the Great Hall where we were only allowed to stay for a few minutes, before we were bundled off into the rest of the tour, where we could walk around freely and see things in our own pace.

When I say, that I was a bit disappointed, it’s not because there is not enough to see or do. There is. There are loads of costumes and props and even a few sets, but it is all helter-skelter, somehow, and arranged a bit at random. I guess what I miss is the feeling of being on set instead of just seeing Hermoine’s gown from the Yule Ball or Dumbledore’s Pensive tucked away in a cupboard. I only got the “on set” feeling three times during the tour and that was in the Great Hall, in the Forbidden Forrest and in Diagon Alley. I somehow don’t think that is quite enough, but I suspect that I was only expecting too much, having waited so many years to be able to go.

Anyway, especially the Forbidden Forrest and Diagon Alley are great along with the Special Effects/Creature Effects area and the big, beautiful Hogwarts Castle model. Butterbeer is available at the Backlot Café, a large, ugly, and cold cafeteria-area halfway through the tour with a view of the Knight Bus and Privet Drive. I wonder why this area is so clinical and ugly. especially as it is the only one big enough to seat the many visitors, as the Studio Café in the lobby is quickly filled up due to its size.
I also found the three giftshops on the premises weird, because you couldn’t buy postcards or a souvenir guidebook or anything about the tour, only Harry Potter merchandise. I bought a wand for my collection, but nothing else although I had wanted a Ravenclaw scarf and some WWW sweets. Unfortunately, the giftshops only sell Honeyduke’s sweets and all their Ravenclaw scarves are blue and silver, although the colours of Ravenclaw are blue and bronze.
Oh, well, we got back to the bus in time, but we could easily have used an extra hour or more in the studio tour buildings. On the other hand, it was great to relax on the bus ride back to London, although they screened the same part of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” as on our way out.

The fourth day in London, I wanted to take it easy as both my knees had started acting up, especially the good one! My daughter and I went to Chinatown for lunch, but after that my daughter met up with a female friend who lives in London, while I rested in the hotel room.
In the evening, I was back on my feet, though, as I had tickets to Enda Walsh’s play “Disco Pigs” at Trafalgar Studios (Studio 2), directed by John Haidar and with Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch (yes, Luna Lovegood form Harry Potter) as Pig and Runt, the only two actors on stage.
Trafalgar Studio 2 is a small venue with around a hundred seats and the actors acting directly on the floor in front of you. The seats are almost “love-seats” as you are seated two and two on the same seat and it is all very nice and cosy.
The same can’t be said for the play. It is anything but cosy, telling the violent story of the boy Darren (Pig) and the girl Sinéad (Runt), who grow up as next-door-neighbours in a world of their own, where they only communicate with people around them through violence. Of course, things get out of control, eventually.

I found the play brilliant, both Campbell and Lynch acting their butts off. They were really impressive, both of them, and had the audience laughing and crying, shocking us, teasing us and even making us somehow sympathise with Pig and Runt, who after all are not particularly pleasant persons.
The play as such I found very Irish/British, and I don’t mean because the actors talk Irish all the time, but because the plot of “Disco Pigs” has always made me think that in any other country, a boy and a girl living in their own world would take another direction – ANY other direction – than the Clockwork Orange one!
When that is said, I really enjoyed the play and the very helpful staff who let me ride the staff lift to the lower floor where Studio 2 is situated! A big thank you to you all!
On our way from the theatre to the Tube station, we passed The Golden Jubilee Bridges and we got some really great evening shots of Big Ben and London Eye from there. It was truly a magical night.

On our fifth and last day in London, we went to Madame Tussaud’s as my daughter loves wax museums. I hadn’t been there since 1988, so it had changed a lot and had become bigger and better. We enjoyed meeting the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Lawrence, Queen Victoria, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Freddie Mercury, the Beatles, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel to mention a few. I loved that we were able to sit down twice during the visit, first in the wonderful “Spirit of London”-ride and then in the 4D movie theatre where we watched Marvel’s Super Heroes battle Dr. Doom. Luckily, the theatre had seats for disabled, so I could see the film in 3D without the violent 4D blows to my back. My daughter suffered for days!

 At noon, we had a quick look at 221B Baker Street before we had dinner at the Korean Bibimbab Cafe in Bloomsbury. It was a nice little place and the food was wonderful. We then went clothes shopping mainly for my daughter as everything is so much cheaper in England than in Denmark and I was thankful that the clothes store had benches for tired moms, while their teenage daughters binge shopped!

We went back to the hotel to relax, before going to The Swan in the evening for pub grub, live music, and a glass of wine. What a lovely way to end our trip to London!
The following day we flew back home and our flight was only an hour delayed, which is okay for Heathrow (the last time, I was there, my flight was delayed with eight hours!). Once again nobody wanted to see my expensive certificates, so that was just money out the window.
Back home I haven’t been able to stand on my “good” leg without taking two new kinds of painkillers on top of the old ones, but it is totally worth it. Everyone, also the disabled, needs to get away and experience new things once in a while to maintain their mental health and it sure did me a lot of good!

P.S. If you want to see my daughter’s London vlog, here’s the link:Tea Janina
 

Friday, May 26, 2017

BTS for beginners



On May 21st 2017, BTS made music history by winning Billboard Music Awards’ Top Social Artist Award with more than 300 million votes, overtaking Justin Bieber by many millions, breaking his six year streak and becoming not only the second artist ever to win this award, but also the first Korean one. This achievement came as a surprise to many and you could literally hear the American music press go, “Who the heck is BTS?”
 
Well, I guess it is safe to say that the honoured colleagues of the American press don’t have a teenager living at home, because then they would know that BTS is currently South Korea’s most famous K-pop group. Currently they have made four studio albums, four compilation albums, eight video albums, twenty-nine music videos, four EPs, twenty-two singles, and a singles album.
Their recent studio album “WINGS”, released in October 2016, charted all over the world and went to number one in the iTunes album charts in Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Denmark (where I’m from!), Finland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Laos, Latvia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United States, and Vietnam.
 Their monster hit “Blood, Sweat & Tears” from the album currently has a whopping 138,105,292 views on YouTube, a number that is increasing by the minute, and their present Wings Tour sees them perform at large sold-out arena concerts in South Korea, Chile, Brazil, United States, Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Thailand.
 
I myself have a now 18-year-old daughter living at home, so I have been listening to BTS for almost two years now and I totally get why they are so big. However, when I am to explain who BTS are to my peers or people even older, I end up comparing them to the Beatles, because the impact that BTS have on the youth of today is the same as Beatles had on the youth of the sixties and for very much the same reasons. Like the adorable mob-tops of the sixties, BTS come with a full package of new sounds, looks, fashions and an honest, sincere, deep, silly, humorous, new approach to the music industry and their fans.

Where did they come from?
In South Korea, management agencies offer binding contracts to potential artists at a young age and trainees live together in a regulated environment and spend many hours a day learning music, dance, and other skills for years in preparation for their debut.

In 2005, music producer and former composer Sihyuk Bang, also known as “Hitman” Bang, founded Big Hit Entertainment record label and management agency; a relatively small company, but known for treating their artists better than many others to the extent that artists are encouraged to develop their own music.
In 2010, Rap Monster auditioned for “Hitman” Bang after which the group BTS was built around him as the group leader. Soon after he was joined by Suga, as the producer wanted to create a hip-hop group and a year later, the gifted dancer J-Hope became the third member. The four other BTS members joined within the next couple of years.

BTS (short for Bangtan Sunyeondan meaning “Bulletproof Boyscouts”) or Bangtan Boys as they are also known got their name from “Hitman” Bang, of course, and to the group he became the equivalent of the Beatles’ Brian Epstein. There is a deeper meaning to the BTS name though, which the group itself explains as them being bulletproof, i.e. resistant to stereotypes, criticism, and expectations that aim at the youth of today like bullets.

Music
BTS debuted in 2013, but not until they dropped their hardcore hip-hop image for something closer to their own personalities, did they break through internationally with hits like “I Need U”,  “Dope” and “Run”. By now they cover many genres musically, not only hip-hop, but also pop, rap and even a bit of jazz mixed with strong power ballads.

Rap Monster, Suga and J-Hope have writing credits on the majority of BTS’ material and in recent years, they have started producing more and more of their own songs. On “WINGS” the four other members have started writing and producing as well.

As perhaps the first K-pop group, BTS took to writing about such heavy and diverse issues as depression, inferiority complexes, politics, and female empowerment. Showing things like suicide attempts, domestic violence and drug abuse in their videos have set them apart as well. Their music video “I Need U” even had to be edited into a “family friendlier” version before release, as the original 19+ version was too strong to be aired on TV, but eventually the original“ director’s cut” was released and now has over 9 million views on YouTube.
BTS are very mature in the way they portray the darker sides of youth and life. They are totally aware of the seriousness of these topics and handle them with brilliant insight. Several of the group members have confessed to suffering from depression, social phobia, and loneliness themselves, so they know what they are talking about.

Furthermore, in a country like South Korea where homosexuality is largely taboo and LGBT-people face legal challenges and discrimination, BTS members openly support LGBT-rights the same way as they support women’s rights. After a fan-dispute in 2015 about whether the fairly innocent lyrics “A woman is the best present” from their hit “War of Hormone” are misogynistic or not, Rap Monster admitted to feeling shame and guilt about the controversy and BTS officially apologised, saying that they had learned “that defining a woman’s position or value in society from a man’s point of view could be wrong”. This respect towards women is another reason, why BTS is so popular as girls and women worldwide are sick and tired of hearing themselves being called hoes and sluts by western rappers and male vocalists in general.

Most of the BTS members have recorded solo as well, where Rap Monster’s “Do You” , Suga’s “Agust D” and “Give It to Me” as well as J-Hope’s “1 Verse”  stand out to me.

To people who diss BTS because they don’t sing in English, I can only say: so what! We non-English kids of the sixties didn’t quite understand the Beatles either, when they were around, but today at least the internet is here and you can easily google a translation. Furthermore, like most other K-pop acts, BTS incorporate many English sentences in their lyrics, which help connect to international fans.

Visuals
You will rarely see BTS play at concerts, although Suga is a brilliant piano-player and plays a string of other instruments, V plays the saxophone and several of the other members are able to play guitar, piano and drums, not to mention J-Hope playing the recorder with his nose! The absence of instruments is not so much inability to play as it is tradition. K-pop is not just music, you see, but also dancing, fashion and social media content; an all-round packet.
 As a K-pop group, BTS dance on stage, which makes it difficult to play instruments. Instead their choreography is without comparison as they are extremely precise and in sync even compared to other K-pop groups. BTS is known for this elaborate and perfectly-synced choreography, both on stage and in their music videos. Furthermore, their videos are small masterpieces in themselves, or maybe rather small short films, some of which make out greater narratives when put together. They are highly artistic and symbolic and it doesn’t hurt if you know your art history and classical literature and music along with the Bible, Greek mythology and the main pointers within philosophy and psychology if you want to analyse them!

Social Media
As a group, BTS is especially famous for its social media following on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and the Korean V-app where artists live-stream and fans are able to chat with their idols. They have followers by the millions as what sets the BTS social media presence apart from other K-pop groups are their honest and constant uploads that let fans see them as they are, not only the good and glamourous sides, but also when they are down, practising, eating, sleeping and whatever. The bond made between group and fans this way is extremely strong.
 Not the least because of this, I hesitate to call BTS a boyband although that is what they are, but they are a boyband with a difference as – despite them starting out as a put-together group – they have developed into seven close-knit brothers or maybe a seven-headed (rap) monster as opposed to the Beatles’ four-headed one!

Group members
Seven members seem a lot to a western audience and at first, it can be different to tell who is who, especially as they have a habit of changing hair colours as quickly as they release albums. You soon learn to differentiate the seven of them, though, as they have very different personalities and functions in the group. Here’s a short who is who:

Rap Monster, real name Namjoon Kim (but you’ll usually see it written the other way around as Kim Namjoon because Koreans write their surnames first), b. September 12, 1994. Leader of BTS, main rapper, main lyricist, lead composer and producer. Known as Rap Mon and God of Destruction because he happens to break everything around him. He is known for his strange dance moves, but he is extremely intelligent with an IQ of 148 (mine is only 142 ), which put him in the top 1% in the Korean preparatory university entrance exams. He has taught himself English from watching the American TV series “Friends” and is sometimes called the “dad” of BTS.

Jin, real name Soekjin Kim (not related to Rap Monster, but Kim is just a very common surname in Korea), b. December 4, 1992. Known to the American public as “car door guy” and “the third member from the left” because that’s where they noticed his looks. Jin is the oldest member of BTS, sub singer and the look of the group. He has ridiculously broad shoulders, loves Super Mario and cooking and has his own live-streamed mukbang (eating broadcasting) called “Eat Jin”. Fans call him Pink Princess because of his love for the colour pink and he is known for his bad “dad-jokes” his windshield laugh and for blowing kisses to his fans. Jin is regarded the “mom” of the group as he is in charge of the cooking and used to drive younger members to school.

Suga, real name Yoongi Min, b. March 9, 1993. Lead rapper, lead lyricist, main composer and producer, known as Grandpa and Motionless Min because he likes to sleep. As a solo artist as well as producer and lyricist for other artists, he calls himself Agust D and within the industry, he is said to be a genius-levelled producer. He’s honest, blunt, and salty and deeply into socially conscious themes, but with a big heart for his fans and fellow BTS members. Received the stage name Suga because of his pale skin and sweet smile. Suga is very knowledgeable and part of SOPE, a self-chosen name for his collaboration/ship with J-Hope.

J-Hope, real name Hoseok Jung, b. February 18, 1994. Main dancer, choreographer assistant, lead rapper, lead lyricist, composer and producer, the real “mother” of the group as he nags the others about tidying up, tying their shoelaces etc. Known as Hobi and J-Horse because of his longish face, and is the self-declared hope of the group, the sunshine, and the angel. He is the master of aegyo (cuteness) and girl dances, noisy, hyperactive, easily scared and the second half of SOPE.
Jimin, real name Jimin Park, b. October 13, 1995. Lead dancer, lead singer, the one hitting the highest notes. Jimin is a classically trained dancer and known as ChimChim and Mochi (rice cake), because he looks like one. He is the baby face of the group, but sports amazing abs, which he shows off regularly. He’s a bit of a “camera hog”, but very caring towards his fans and fellow members and the bias of my daughter.

V, real name Taehyung Kim (still not related!), b. December 30, 1995. Sub singer, the one with the deepest voice. Along with Jin, he’s in charge of the looks of the group, which has already landed him a part in a Korean drama series. Known as Tae Tae, Blank Tae because he often has a blank expression on his face and Alien as he is generally weird, erratic, unpredictable and does random stuff. He’s said to be 10% genius and 90% idiot and loves art, dogs, and little kids.

Jungkook, real name Jeongguk Jeon, b. September 1, 1997. Main singer, lead dancer, sub rapper, known as Kookie, Seagull, which should have been his stage name originally, and the Golden Maknea (maknea meaning the youngest person in a group) as he is good at everything. He is the strongest of the bunch and known for pranking his fellow members and making them laugh.

All seven members of BTS are very close and committed, not only to each other, but also to their fans who are on a first (stage) name basis with their idols just like Beatles-fans were with the fab four. Although fans usually have a bias within BTS, they tend to love all seven members and not just one because of the genuine attention and affection that they receive from the entire group. Despite their huge success that is still growing, BTS have managed to stay true to themselves, decent and down-to-earth and that is another reason, why they are so widely loved.

A.R.M.Y.
The fans of BTS call themselves “A.R.M.Y.”, which is short for “Adorable Representative MCs for Youth”. They see themselves as an army that protects their idols from hate and fight for their opportunity to expand. The best example of their power is their feat in making BTS win the Billboard Top Social Artist Award as the first K-pop group ever and securing their attendance at the BBMAs, as originally BTS weren’t invited.
I guess I’m too old to be A.R.M.Y. like my daughter, so I’m probably just an A.R.M., but I still have a bias (J-Hope) and bias-wreckers (Suga and Rap Monster) and a top ten list of favourite songs. You’ll find the list with links below and now all that is left is to await the first European BTS tour. Although BTS have been to Europe several times, it has only been for filming, so a tour must be in the cards soon, right? Happy listening!

4.   Fire (2016)
5.   Not Today (2017)
6.   We On (2013)
7.   Boy in Luv (2014) 
8.   Boy Meets Evil (2016)
9.   Cypher pt. 4 (2016)
10. Danger (2014)

© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2017

LONDON

For years and years, I have written about Harry Potter, the books, the films, the festivals, and the stars and since 2012 I’ve been asked...