We will probably remember the summer of 2020 for years to come. And if, like me, you live in a tropical country where it’s an eternal summer (even with an average of 20 typhoons visiting us every year), it feels like the longest summer ever. Imagine being quarantined while the average global temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees C? I have memories of seeking refuge in the living room as early as 6 a.m. (!) where it’s cooler. When you’re quarantined in a condominium building, there’s really nowhere else to go, not even the balcony since mine faces east.
But we learn to be grateful for the small things especially when you have all the time in the world to reflect (and the time to be anxious over even smaller things but that’s not what this is all about). I even made a list of the 10 artists who have helped me through #lifeinthetimeofcorona, inspired by a similar list I read somewhere. The list is a mix of old faves and new discoveries because quarantine life did give a lot of time to explore and reminisce at the same time.
ARASHI — they’re a given since they have been a constant in my life for the past 15 years. This year is the year before they go on hiatus so like most Arashians, I had plans. If lucky to hit the balloting, I would have gone to watch ARAFES at the newly renovated national stadium in Tokyo. It would have been the first time an artist performs there before the Olympics. But we now know how coronavirus has fucked up the world. And yet, ARASHI, like how they’ve always been, have not allowed this to keep them from moving ahead even if they have to cancel or postpone some of their planned activities. They did Waku Waku Gakkou, a charity school they started in 2011 after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami, online. They had passed this on to their kouhais last year (I attended the last class at the Tokyo Dome) but revived it to raise funds in response to the pandemic. They turned into the “photobook storytelling gang” on their official YouTube channel, doing seven stories in all. The videos were more for children, but who’s to stop adults like me from watching? I’m betting ARASHI got more fans from this endeavor, as if entire families being Arashians (as evidenced by their interactions with some students on WWG) were not a common thread already. They’ve also continued releasing their reborn songs (not really a big fan of this but I appreciate the effort in giving their old hits a new spin to appeal to new listeners) and surprise, surprise, a new song, In The Summer. It may not sound J-pop or like their old hits and it is obviously leaning towards the Western market (90% English lyrics), but it has its own appeal: the catchy hook and the picturesque music video that features one of the Japanese isles. I also have to mention the improvement in their English enunciation (how I hated it when they tried to mimic a Western accent in previous attempts). And lately, they’ve been doing TikTok videos that have the vibe of their old variety shows but in less than a minute clips. Their Netflix docuseries is still ongoing but it’s also a reminder that the clock is ticking… meanwhile, In The Summer will definitely be a soundtrack of this unprecedented year. Sing with me: do you remember..?
Zhang Han — I’ve occasionally seen Hans in my Twitter feed but the first time I actually sat down to watch his work was in Here 2 Heart. I didn’t even notice it was him, I just clicked the play button after reading the summary and finding it interesting enough. So many brickbats have been thrown at the drama and deservedly so, and the only thing that made me watch until the end (while abusing the fast-forward button) was ZH and Janine Chang. Their chemistry kept the drama from totally falling apart and as a friend said, they’re nice to look at together. Hans also sang his own version of If There Isn’t You, whose original by Karen Mok is a classic. And this is where I discovered that Hans actually debuted as China’s Daomingsi in Meteor Shower (2009), which unfortunately was not an official adaptation. Nevertheless, this makes me a fan of all the Domyouji/Daomingsi except for the Korean version.
Bright — Despite living in Bangkok for almost 13 years, I only know a handful of Thai celebrities (Mario, Tik, Ploy) through films I’ve watched but I couldn’t really call myself a fan. Then came 2gether, the first BL drama I watched (it’s now available on Netflix and there’s a second season, which I haven’t watched yet). High-school-level production aside, I was charmed by Bright better known as “Sarawat.” He’s one of the few bright spots in this coronavirus era.
Jay Chou — Aside from ARASHI and Jung Yonghwa, JC is the only other artist I’ve travelled for to watch in concert. I’ve been listening to his music again after watching his Netflix series out of curiosity (I still prefer the musician side of him) and there are afternoons I sing along to his live concerts in full blast while working. Despite the emotional charge of his songs, it’s strangely cathartic. Watching him live in concert again is on my to-do list once this pandemic is over.
Scrubb — I discovered their music through 2gether and in years to come, when I reminisce about 2020, their songs will definitely be part of the soundtrack. Their songs bring to mind very humid Bangkok afternoons seeking refuge in a quiet, unassuming cafe after a day of shopping, then it rains and you’re trapped with your cha dam or cha nom and you watch the world go by from the window while listening to them softly crooning.
Hyun Bin — I first met him as Jin-heon in My Lovely Kim Samsoon and met him again this year—before corona went batshit crazy—as Captain Ri in Crash Landing on You. I have to admit I snorted when I first read the plot of CLOY but I guess the joke was on me. Hyun Bin just gets better with time.
Palmy — Thanks to my newfound love for Thai pop, Palmy came up on my recommended songs. I love Kid Mak so much that I’d play it for an entire day on loop (sometimes alternate with her Shy Boy) and that song led me to my current favorite film, Friend Zone. Pop culture is after all one door that opens to another…
Hospital Playlist cast — One of my favorite ensemble dramas not only for this coronavirus season but in general. I love ensemble dramas (and films) but Korea is not really big on them (unlike Japan that has a lot of noteworthy ensemble works). I’m looking forward to the second season!
Faye Wong — The first time I went to Beijing, I remember hoarding on Faye Wong CDs. Like JC, I have recently re-discovered her and Spotify is really a godsend since my CDs are in boxes in my mother’s house. I would love to watch her perform live, too, that is if she will still perform after this madness is over. (I missed her so much I even went to find a grainy streaming of her 2004 film with Leon Lai, Leaving Me, Loving You.)
Netflix — Not exactly an artist but through it I’ve discovered so many of them. I’ve watched a lot of dramas and films, some I’ve dropped within the first 10 minutes, through this quarantine life. Some I have enjoyed and will file away in my ultimate favorites list (I’ll make a separate post on this just to remember this period).
Bottom line is, we do what we can to cope. This is an unprecedented time, something that we will certainly remember for different reasons. There will be stories to tell in the future–there are those who have lost their loved ones, those who have lost their jobs… but hopefully, we do not lose our sense of humor and our will to live.
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