Sporting large sparkly eyes, runway model bodies, and porcelain skin, you could say this boyish K-pop duo is unreal. And that’s because they are.
K-pop is known for its high beauty standards and dedicated fanbase. With fierce competition in the industry, Mad Monster is subverting K-pop’s perfectionistic expectations by playing into it—excessively. Members Tan and J-Ho brand themselves as “monsters” who are crazy about music, but they are best known for their overexposed beauty filters, exaggerated anime eyes, and auto-tuned vocals.
In reality, Mad Monster isn’t fronted by two youthful Korean artists with cartoonish good looks; they’re actually the brainchild of comedy duo Kwak Beom (Tan) and Lee Chang-ho (J-Ho), who regularly create humorous content on their YouTube channel Bbang Song Guk.
Part of the whole Mad Monster schtick is the duo’s blatant refusal to acknowledge the digitally enhanced elephant in the room. They almost never break character in interviews, touting made-up backstories that sound straight out of K-pop fanfiction.
“Our fan club's name is Pokémon,” J-Ho told VICE over an email interview.
J-Ho, 21, was academically gifted from a young age, boasting an extraordinary IQ score of 185. He was accepted into both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, but chose to become a K-pop idol instead. Meanwhile, Tan, 21, dropped out of middle school to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. He got his stage name Tan (which means “burnt” in Korean) after his shoes caught fire during an audition where he danced for 12 hours straight.
Of course, being fictional characters, none of that is true.
Kwak and Lee, who are actually in their mid-30s, were regulars on the long-running South Korean sketch comedy TV show Gag Concert until May 2020, when production announced an indefinite hiatus.
Since then, the comedy duo has been collaborating with Y. Joon Chung, the entertainment lead of the media company Sandbox Network, to create comedy content. And that’s how Mad Monster was born. In the Mad Monster alternate universe, Chung plays Daddy, the founder of the fictional Mad Entertainment who first scouted and trained Tan and J-Ho.
Using popular app Snow to edit their faces and an auto-tune program to change their voices, the two comedians transform into young, dazzling K-pop stars.
According to Chung, the ham-fisted indulgence in beautifying filters is all part of the comedy.
“The goal is to provide fun for viewers by overusing filters and auto-tune,” he said, adding that the exaggerated filters are purposely interrupted for viewers to notice. Videos of Mad Monster sometimes feature glitches that momentarily contort their faces and bodies in unexpected ways.
Like many other K-pop idols, the characters Tan and J-Ho diligently provide behind-the-scenes glimpses into their lives, through vlogs uploaded on their YouTube channel. They remain invariably bright-eyed and dreamy-looking in these day-in-a-life videos and dance practice recordings.
“We don't want to be number one. We just want to be the only one,” J-Ho told VICE, fully in character. “We want to be a group that 7.8 billion people around the world love,” Tan added.
Though their image and voices are fake, their popularity is real.
Mad Monster’s official Instagram account now has 26,000 followers, many of whom dig the duo’s sleek aesthetic. Their music video titled “Mine Rudolph,” which premiered in April, has racked up about 5.8 million views on YouTube.
Besides winning the hearts of fans, the earworm has also caught the attention of an actual K-pop celebrity.
In their most exciting collaboration yet, Tan and J-Ho recently shared the screen with Jay Park and other prominent Korean rappers like Loco, Nucksal, and Don Mills. In a YouTube video posted on May 26, Mad Monster participated in a variety show-style segment where they chatted with the rappers and showed off their dance moves.
“Mine Rudolph” may be Kwak and Lee’s first musical endeavor, but in the Mad Monster alternate universe, it is Tan and J-Ho’s fourth single.
According to their detailed fictional back story, Mad Monster took the world by storm with their 2017 debut single “Adult” and went on to achieve phenomenal commercial success. In 2018, their single titled “just in” supposedly featured Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, and Justin Trudeau. (See what they did there?)
When they catch a break from chasing their K-pop dreams, Tan and J-Ho engage in pretty mellow hobbies, which is perhaps the most relatable detail about them.
“I like to drink a glass of whiskey with spicy jokbal (pig’s feet),” said Tan, while J-Ho shared that he prefers being alone and relaxing in bed.
For now, the world is happy to humor Tan, the boy who danced his shoes into friction fire, and J-Ho, the prodigious K-pop idol. As K-pop experiments with blurring the human and the virtual, who’s to say the made-up Mad Monster can’t become a bona fide sensation?
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