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Thwarted By Pop Stars And Lightening Cream





By Andrew Biggs


How was your International Women’s Day? Mine was a shambles, thanks to ten thousand women.

Last Tuesday afternoon there was the unholiest of traffic jams on Viphawadee-Rangsit near Chatuchak Park and Central Lardphrao in the early afternoon. And who was sitting hungry and alone in his ageing Teana, unable to move, in the middle of it?

I blame it on karma. How else would you explain my meeting a client at Central Lardphrao at the very same time an estimated 10,000 — yes, ten thousand —  testosteroned teens converged on the very same place?

For Internatational Women’s Day? Yeah right. For five pale-faced Korean boys.

I figured the journey would be long, because I did a similar journey two months ago. Construction had begun on the BTS route, and two lanes were closed as they tore up the road. The road tears up and I tear up, sobbing at the helplessness of an excruciating jam.

Last Tuesday’s was twice as bad. It was in the second hour of not moving, having exhausted all main topics to ponder over, and having listened to all my iPod playlists, that I called my staff to find out what was going on.

“Exo,” came the reply from my personal assistant. “You know … Exo!”

“No I don’t know,” I shouted back. “Nobody knows what that means.”

“Oh Khun Andrewwwww. So old now!”

“I’ll throw those words back at you at bonus time,” I said, hanging up in a huff and immediately googling Exo. My personal assistant was right, dammit. The results made me feel very old.

I was going to meet one person at Central. Exo was going to meet ten thousand.

Exo is a boy band from South Korea. Somehow this band completely passed me by. How is it I could be affected by so many other fads — Angel dolls, ice bucket challenges, junta-sponsored happiness songs — and yet Exo eluded me?

“They’re clearly not as popular anywhere else,” I muttered from my stagnant driver’s seat. I decided to check them out on YouTube. God knows I had nothing else to do.

I know all about YouTube since I have my own channel with lots of professionally-shot clips about learning English. One of them has had 50,000 hits.

“How many do these guys have?” I muttered caustically as I clicked on their new song, Call Me Baby.

77 million hits … and counting.

Another shock: The general rule in pop is the more members there are the less talented the band (with the exception of Earth Wind & Fire and Parliament/Funkadelic).

Well, Exo has … wait for it … 12 members! More unnerving is they all look the same — skinny South Korean boys with faces as white as sheets.

In the music clip some of them wear shorts and it’s clear rehearsal dates interfere with lower-body workouts. They sprawl themselves over expensive cars while performing a synchronized dance. Their choreographer must have done his thesis on dissecting Michael Jackson’s music video for Bad.

I had time to watch the entire video through. Actually, I had time to watch it through about 20 times thanks to the gridlock but once was enough. I would like to comment on their singing ability but alas, their voices have been obliterated by auto-tune. Plus I could have sworn there were nowhere near 12 members.

Further googling revealed one member sued to get out of the band in 2013, then another in 2014, reducing the number of future plaintiffs to just ten. This is not artistic loss; it’s natural attrition.

Reading the comments on YouTube, it appears Luhan has just left, so now there’s only nine.

Like you, I have no idea who Luhan is or was, though I can hazard a guess and say he was white-faced with chicken legs. His departure has caused near-hysteria in the comments section of YouTube.

“It hurts my heart seeing them as nine, not even ten,” writes one girl. She is not alone. Everybody is upset about the Exo loss, but to me it’s still way too top-heavy for a boy band. If a terrible tragedy were to take place at an Exo concert — involving North Korean freedom fighters and Soviet AK assault rifles perhaps —surely the remaining three or four could get away with singing Call Me Baby.

When I was a kid, I was a mad fan of Abba. I had pictures of Agnetha (my favorite) and Frida and Benny and Bjorn on my bedroom walls. When everybody in the house went to bed, I’d quietly put “Rock Me” on the record player and mime to it in my pyjamas in front of the mirror. What an admission for a national newspaper.

Imagine if Abba had come to town. Like those Thai teens, I would have camped out overnight to catch a glimpse of the four Swedes.

Now … imagine how I’d feel if only Frida and Bjorn had shown up?

That is precisely what happened while I was sitting contemplating the meaning of life on Viphawadee Rangsit Road last Tuesday. You see, it wasn’t just Luhan who was a no-show. Only five of the guys turned up! And they weren’t here to perform. They were here to sell skin lightening cream to Thai teenagers.

A new South Korean cosmetics store has opened at Central Lardphrao. Let’s make up an assumed name for it so as not to give them free publicity; how about WSIB, which stands for “White Skin Is Better”? That is the message the industry peddles to ten thousand Thai teenagers, the majority of whom are a beautiful tanned or even exquisite dark skin color, but are made to believe those colors are inferior to the pasty-faces of performers who look as though they are just out of chemotherapy.

So SWIB announced the following: if you spent 1,000 baht of your parents’ hard-earned money on their skin products, you were in the running to be one of 100 lucky girls to meet and get the autographs of a scant five members of the Exo band.

For this, 10,000 girls converged on Central Lardphrao. One wonders what Exo’s appearance fee was, but I bet it was nowhere near the 10 million baht SWIB made in sales.

Let’s get this straight; a marketing event for lightening cream makes me two hours late and cripples traffic? Even the prime minister shook his head at that one. “What’s a Korean boy band doing outside a Thai shopping centre on a busy road anyway?” he demanded late Tuesday. Only half a boy band, sir.

International Women’s Day is a day for reflection on the status of women in fields such as gender equality, poverty, empowerment and religious rights. These issues were addressed at the UN and other organizations throughout the day across the world.

I listened to one Indian lady speak eloquently on the need for women’s self-acceptance, regardless of shape or color, and the need for high self-worth as a stepping stone to confidence and empowerment.

As the world nodded its head at these sage words, ten thousand Thai teens clamored to purchase overpriced skin cream to make them white, at the same time throwing themselves like chattels at five Korean boys.

In the end I made it to my meeting with profuse apologies. And what did I do Tuesday night?

I’d rather keep that to myself, which is pretty funny coming from somebody who just admitted to singing Rock Me in his pyjamas. Let’s just say some experiences make you guzzle down a screwdriver for each and every member of Exo — including the departed three.



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