Are you constantly watching K-Pop dance practice videos and trying to follow along with your favorite moves? Listening to your faves and giving your best attempt at hitting the same high notes? If so, then you’ve probably stumbled on a Keens Academy ad by now!
Keens Academy is changing the way we think about K-Pop training by making vocal and dance lessons more accessible to future performers worldwide and taking over our FYP in the process. It’s bringing together so many global talents who share a love of K-Pop… and we know that firsthand, because we spent a week following along with Keens courses and events! Naturally, we’re here to tell you all about it, so let’s jump right in.
So What Is Keens Academy?
Formerly known as ED K-Pop, Keens Academy is an online program dedicated to helping K-Pop lovers and aspiring artists all over the world get the vocal and dance training they dream of, bringing the K-Pop training process worldwide and making it more accessible. It brings together some of the best teachers in the industry who have worked with so many incredible artists, and some are still doing private sessions with our fave idols! They’re even partnering with SM Entertainment for the 2023 program.
Every week, Keens students will be expected to watch 10 lesson videos on their own time and participate in a live class with their peers. The curriculum is based on what actual K-Pop trainees are learning in Korea (often with the same teachers) and it’s the first time that some of this information has been available outside of the top entertainment companies! There will be an animated, online campus that combines video calls with cute avatars that let you explore classrooms, 24/7 practice rooms, and more – think something like Club Penguin but with a more ambitious end goal.
Keens students will get weekly feedback from their peers, as well as a monthly evaluation from their teachers and occasional advice from K-Pop idols like real trainees get. There will be fun vocal/dance challenges and weekly “homework” to track your progress and keep you motivated to keep improving! What you get out of these challenges and feedback opportunities is up to you, so be sure to put in your best effort to show your stuff and grow.
The Keens program is divided into two parts: the first three months (Keen To Learn) teach you basic skills for vocals and dance, while the last three months (Keen To Debut) show you what it’s like for trainees who have made it further towards their dreams. At the end of the six-month program, the Keens staff will be choosing 5-7 trainees who have proven their talent and passion for a special trip to Korea – they’ll get to record a song co-written by SHAUN, film a music video directed by Jae Shim, and more! They’ll also get a chance to go to private auditions with K-Pop companies – talk about a great motivator.
Keens Academy Staff & Instructors
The director of Keens Academy is the incredible Jae Shim, the performance director at SM Entertainment who’s worked with everyone from Red Velvet to aespa. He’s gonna be a judge on the survival show Peak Time starting in February, so keep an eye on your screens!
Keens’ training director is the amazing Jay Kim, who’s trained over 4.7k trainees at SM during his 20+ years at the company, including NCT. Not to mention his own wonderful career! Jay was the lead singer of TraxX from 2004 to 2011, and on top of being a vocal trainer, he’s appeared in K-dramas like My Bittersweet Life and Touch Your Heart.
Keens students will get to take classes with some of the top choreographers in the K-Pop scene, including Youjin One (ITZY, NiziU, The Boyz), Jrick (Key, NCT), and Ill Lee (NCT). Meanwhile, some kind Keens staff members we interacted with are Robin (a former trainee who told us about her experiences), Brian, and Asher. They’re most active in the Keens Academy Discord server and were always helpful, answering countless questions and helping foster a safe, positive community.
What Did The Week Look Like?
Keens’ program hasn’t officially started yet, but they’ve been offering sample classes and free Q&A sessions in their Discord server for those who are considering enrolling and those who want to work on their skills but can’t enroll for whatever reason. We attended anywhere from 2-5 courses and events a day during our week at Keens, ranging from consultations about the program and sample vocal lessons to a dance class taught by none other than Red Velvet’s SEULGI (more on that later!).
The Keens Academy Community
Of course, any online community will have a handful of trolls, but most joiners of the Keens Academy Discord and Zoom chats are very welcoming and supportive! They hold regular voice call hangouts on the Discord server where they can just chill, get quick feedback on their vocals, and discuss why K-Pop is so special to them. For example, one joiner talked about how Stray Kids’ Felix helped them to realize they were trans and to feel more comfortable in their identity, which was such a sweet moment that shows the power of K-Pop and music as a whole.
Meanwhile, in every Zoom class, the chat was so supportive of anyone showcasing their vocal or dance skills! They cheered each other on, hyped each other up, and even gave some recommendations for ways to practice certain dance moves. It made the classes so much more fun and we’re sure it helped anyone who was nervous to feel more confident in their performances.
What Is K-Pop 3.0?
As K-Pop’s popularity is expanding worldwide, so is its impact and companies’ views of what it can be. They’ve found that groups with a foreign member tend to be twice as successful as all-Korean groups – Lisa of BLACKPINK is a major example of this effect, since she’s so admired in her home country of Thailand thanks to the group’s success. Right now, K-Pop companies are actively seeking out global talents that can be the next superstars!
Keens staff also noted that even if a group has no Korean members, they can still be considered K-Pop if they were trained under the K-Pop training style. Some currently-active groups that fit this are the Japanese girl groups NiziU and XG and the Chinese boy group WayV, while upcoming groups include NCT Hollywood, JYP Entertainment’s A2K project, and HYBE’s global girl group. A friend of Jay Kim even worked with XG while they were trainees – he said they trained in Korea and took some online lessons as well.
In the process of expanding worldwide, companies have started pushing more online auditions and even offline audition tours. These international trainees would get the same training as Korean trainees, potentially in Korea, and most likely debut in their home countries, but companies are still working out the best approach to this global focus. This will also help older trainees to achieve their dreams since the global market doesn’t care as much about the age of an artist. The whole landscape of K-Pop is on the brink of a big change, and we can’t wait to see what comes out of it!
Singing Lessons With Jay Kim
Jay told us that his main focus in his K-Pop vocal classes is giving trainees constructive feedback, so he formatted the Zoom singing lessons he hosted as a way for people to show off their skills while getting advice on where they can improve. During each session, he’d pick a handful of joiners to sing part of a song, then he’d give them some feedback and answer any questions they may have about improving their vocals.
Some of the main suggestions he gave were to learn how to gather your sound to make it more powerful (feel where it comes from when you hum, then sing from there), to be confident in your unique sound and range, and to practice as much as you can with piano scales, which you can find on YouTube (but stop when your throat feels sore). He also gave us some tips on rapping, particularly to write your own lyrics so you can feel the emotions behind the story. Finally, he gave us amazing quotes like “have a great Big Mac there” and “what was I doing at 13? Nothing!”
Foundations You Need In K-Pop
Interestingly, the basic skills that you’d learn in a vocal or dance class in America are very different than the ones you’d learn in Korea as a trainee. And having these basic skills will not only help you grow as a performer, but also give you an edge if you do decide to audition for a K-Pop company. The more solid your basic skills are, the less mistakes you’ll make and the further you can take your abilities.
For dance, hip-hop helps you understand rhythm and how moves flow together, while ballet and jazz help you maintain clean lines. For singing, it’s all about your emotion, breathing, vocal control, and the placement of your sound (where the noise comes from). Even your favorite idols have trainers who help them refresh and build on their basics!
How To Stand Out In Auditions
So we already know you need solid performance skills to nail an audition, but another big component of any audition (online or offline) is your personality and energy! A good candidate is someone who’s passionate, energetic, and positive, since you’ll need to keep a hopeful, motivated attitude while you’re training and working with others. What companies are really looking for is your potential and your attitude, since technical skills can always be taught.
When it comes to vocals, you’ll want to have a good understanding of what style of song suits you so you can really show off what makes your voice special. And it doesn’t have to be a tricky song full of high notes either – you should pick one you feel comfortable singing so it’s not too intimidating! The Keens staff recommends preparing an English song and a K-Pop song if you can, and choose one upbeat track and one mid-tempo one to show you can do both. Jay Kim notes that YG likes hip-hop and American songs, while HYBE likes pop music.
For an in-person audition, there will be a panel of judges watching your performance. They’ll ask you to tell them about yourself, then perform your vocal/rap/dance, and they’ll give you feedback. The process is a little different for online auditions – you’ll film a video introducing yourself, then a handful of performance videos. Whether your audition is online or in-person, the main goal should be showing off who you are and what you’re capable of! Your passion, personality, and your potential are the most important things, so make sure you let them shine.
Think of auditioning for a company like auditioning for an acting role – would you only try out for one? You should audition for at least a few so you raise your chances and have more options if you pass. Plus, the more auditions you go for, the less nervous you’ll get over time!
Dance Lessons With Hwang Sooyeon
One of the Keens instructors we were most excited to meet was Hwang Sooyeon, a Produce 101 alum and the performance director at Dreamcatcher Company! We got to attend some of her dance feedback sessions, which were structured in a similar way to Jay Kim’s singing lessons – she’d randomly pick a joiner to perform a dance, then give them feedback on what she saw. She practiced for 12 hours a day when she was a trainee, so she had a lot of great advice for aspiring dancers.
Some of her main feedback was to be more precise with your movements, work on basics like facial expressions and isolation, and practice while counting instead of just following along with a music video – if you follow a video, you’ll be more focused on copying the artist than completing the moves properly. She also recommended filming your practices so you can track your progress and see what stands out about your dance style!
Korean Trainee Life
Learning more about trainee life was definitely one of the most interesting parts of our week at Keens, especially since we got to learn it directly from Jay Kim and KA staff member Robin! Before becoming a trainee, you have to pass an audition and sign a contract with a company. There are monthly challenges to track your progress and see if you’re still motivated – being a trainee doesn’t guarantee your debut, so you have to stay passionate and keep a positive attitude. Trainees typically attend school (though a few drop out) until 3-4 pm, then train until 10 pm every day except Sunday, their off day.
Since being a trainee is so competitive, you have to give it your all and be kind to your instructors and peers. Trainees often wind up bonding over the pressure and regularly give each other feedback, which helps everyone grow!
Jay got scouted by an SM Entertainment staff member in the U.S., then moved to Korea to train at 18 and debuted with TraxX at 22. There were about 100 trainees at the time – a little over 20 male trainees debuted between TraxX, TVXQ, and Super Junior, but the only female trainees from that time that debuted were Girls’ Generation. Jay finished high school while training and maintained a 4.3 GPA, proving just how hard-working he is! He had plenty of self-doubt, but imagining himself onstage as an idol motivated him to push through and keep practicing.
Robin didn’t debut, but she trained for about a year and a half and made it into a debut lineup before she left her company. She grew up in Los Angeles and passed an audition she attended on a vacation to Korea around 17-18! Her favorite classes to take were the ones about basic performance skills since they were fun to learn, and she said the monthly evaluations were scary at first until she really solidified her basics. The hardest part of her experience was being away from her family, especially since the time difference between California and Korea is so big. She ultimately left because she didn’t feel like her company of idol life was the best fit for her, but still enjoyed her time as a trainee!
Can You Really Train Yourself?
Short answer: kinda. Jay Kim says you need a good ear to truly train on your own, but you can get a good start with free resources on sites like YouTube or on social media. At some point, you’ll probably find a limit to what you can do by yourself, so it could be helpful to reach out to a professional, even if it’s just for a class or two. You can get feedback from them and use it during your solo practice!
SEULGI Artist Class
Okay, we’ve saved our favorite Keens memory for last! SEULGI of Red Velvet stopped by to give us a special artist class breaking down the choreography of her solo debut, ’28 Reasons.’ How many people can say they’ve been on a Zoom call with someone that talented?? It still doesn’t feel real, but Seulgi was just as excited as we were to be dancing together and it was absolutely adorable. She taught us the dance for the chorus of the song and was so encouraging the entire time!
’28 Reasons’ is a track about a strange character who has both good and evil, so what you have to be aware of when you’re doing the choreography: you have to be able to change. So sometimes you have to be very powerful, and then you have to transform and be a little bit chic.
After our dance lesson, Seulgi sat down with Jae Shim for a Q&A session about her motivation as a trainee (making her dream come true), how she practices singing while dancing (running around while singing, which we can’t even imagine doing well), and how important it is to monitor your progress when you’re learning to dance or sing. Jae told us a little anecdote about just how hard Seulgi works that made us even more proud of her!
She was the only one who would stay behind after class to keep practicing. She practices so much. When you go to a recording studio to keep recording late at night, there are few artists we come across… there aren’t many artists that practice very hard by themselves, but Seulgi is one of them.
During the Q&A, Seulgi also gave us a little inspiration for those days when nothing goes right, and while she was talking about practicing your performance skills, it’s universal advice we’ll definitely be carrying with us!
Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work today. Just focus on what you’re doing now, you’ll be doing it tomorrow too. Keep that in mind while you’re practicing.
How To Get Involved
All of this sounds pretty amazing, right?! The Keens Academy Discord server is free for anyone to join and hosts various classes like the ones we attended, but you’ll have to enroll in the full program for complete lessons, personalized feedback, and all the other perks Keens has to offer. There are only enough spots for 300 total students to join, so buzz on over to Keens’ website to learn more before classes start on January 16th!
Now, We’re Keen To Hear From You!
Have you joined the Keens Academy community yet? Did you attend the SEULGI artist class with us? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And for more K-Pop content, click here.