Friday 14 May 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 14/5/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

American idol

Can an all-American pop group, based in the US, really be considered a K-pop band? California studio MGM Worldwide Television Group plans to join forces with South Korea’s SM Entertainment (one of the country’s so-called “big three” record labels behind hugely successful acts such as Girls Generation, Shinee and Exo) to create a new reality TV series scouting for America’s next K-pop band. Fans of the genre are not so convinced.

The reality show will result in the creation of a brand new, release-ready band called NCT Hollywood, which will become a unit of the larger boyband collective known as NCT. For the uninitiated, NCT is a growing “concept” group with sub-sections, including NCT Dream (pictured), a teen-only group, a Chinese spinoff and a “rotational” outfit. Aspiring new members coming through the US show should be between the ages of 13 and 25 and will be shipped to Seoul for K-pop camp, where they will be coached by SM’s founder as well as current NCT members – and will proceed to compete in a number of singing and dancing challenges.

It is the rigour of idol training (which, for some of the industry’s leading lights, has lasted for years) that many consider to be the foundation of a true K-pop band. It should also be noted that many K-pop groups are not exclusively South Korean (NCT itself includes Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean-American and Korean-Canadian members). And yet there’s something about this new American land-grab that feels like more than just a testament to the continuing global rise of the genre. K-pop has been an incredible soft-power coup for South Korea and a global success story built on cultural specificity that sits far away from Western diktats. Are we sure that there isn’t a better way for Los Angeles-based labels to join in the fun without trying to steal the scene?

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Global

Fab four?

As violence in Israel and Gaza threatened to spiral out of control this week, Russia called for an emergency tête-à-tête of the “Quartet” of representatives from the US, EU, Russia and the UN. Launched in 2002, the Quartet’s success as a mediator in the region has been mixed at best and has spawned other iterations hoping for better results: there’s the Arab Quartet of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE; and since last year a new European-Arab grouping of France, Germany, Egypt and Jordan. As ever, the renewed violence has mostly localised causes, among them tensions over Israeli restrictions on Muslim holy sites during Ramadan, a court ruling to evict Palestinian families from a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem and, once again, rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza into Israel. Hesham Youssef, a former Egyptian ambassador and senior official in the Arab League, says that international mediation efforts are critical but must help tackle the root causes – not step in only when violence makes the international headlines. “De-escalation is not a solution,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “We have to go much further.”

Image: Shutterstock

Climate / Asia

Atmospheric pressure

The number of cities facing environmental challenges is not a short list – and Asian cities face bigger risks than most. A global ranking released on Wednesday by research firm Verisk Maplecroft found that 414 out of 576 major cities across the globe face a high or extreme risk from a combination of pollution, lack of water supplies, extreme heat, natural disasters and the effect of climate change.

Among the 100 most vulnerable cities, 99 are in Asia, including 37 in China and 43 in India, including New Delhi (pictured). The report urges investors to factor in the risks before considering long-term plans (especially in real estate). And while exiting the region would no doubt be an overreaction – there is still time to change course – it does highlight the task ahead. Many Asian cities need to boost their resilience to climate challenges by investing in better risk-mitigation strategies, not only to protect their citizens but also to attract new business and keep their economies afloat.

Image: Shutterstock

Elections / Iran

Polls apart

Iran’s presidential election season began in earnest this week with several candidates registering their intention to stand in next month’s contest. The best-known is former firebrand president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured), who stepped down in 2013 after serving two terms in office. However, the 64-year-old is unlikely to make a return to frontline politics because of a falling out with his old ally – and Iran’s most powerful man – the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nonetheless, “We need to keep our eye on the hardline candidates,” Holly Dagres, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and editor of the IranSource blog, tells The Monocle Minute. Dagres warns that strict eligibility criteria have discouraged moderates. She points to Ebrahim Raisi, head of Iran’s judiciary, and Saeed Mohammad, a former brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as potential winners. “Moderate candidates have really struggled to cut through in this election,” says Dagres.

You can hear more analysis from Holly Dagres by tuning into today’s edition of The Briefing on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / San Marino

Shot at success

San Marino might be one of Europe’s smallest nations but its government is hoping to see an increase in visitor numbers from next week thanks to a bit of vaccine tourism. The small country, enclaved in northern Italy, has announced that it will offer the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to tourists at the humble cost of €50 for both doses. The conditions? To book a hotel for at least three nights and return within four weeks for the second jab (presenting a negative coronavirus test upon entry). At the time of the announcement on Wednesday, San Marino had reported no new infections in the previous 24 hours and authorities believe that the state is close to becoming entirely coronavirus-free, as about 22,000 out of its 34,000 residents have already been fully inoculated. Foreign minister Luca Beccari told local media that he hoped the scheme would “attract a kind of tourism that none of us would have ever before thought possible”.

Image: Tristan Hutchinson

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Patagonia and &Open

Patagonia has been known for decades as a leader in climate activism. This week, we catch up with Beth Thoren, the outerwear brand’s environmental action director, to hear about the initiatives she is spearheading in Europe. Plus: Monocle’s Josh Fehnert speaks with Irish entrepreneur Jonathan Legge to hear about &Open, the company that has reimagined corporate gifting, opening a market for well-made gifts.

Monocle Films / Czech Republic

Sound of Prague

The Czech National Symphony Orchestra has struck an international chord, with its redoubtable musicianship attracting big-name pop and music-score clients from Ennio Morricone to Sting.


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