Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Allure of the Wonder Girls

Pardon this minor digression into my personal enchantment with this musical group and its catchy hit song "NOBODY". Even if you've never heard of the Wonder Girls, a girl group from South Korea, I would suspect that many of you would have heard strains of this tune being played on TV, radio, music stores or even someone's mobile ringtone.

This is not usually the kind of musical group that grabs my attention, but I must admit their hit is extremely catchy and their performance style quite entertaining (I also find it amusing to imagine someone surnamed Chew or Chiu or Choo in the audience who must feel very flattered by their vocal rendition!).

The five person Wonder Girls, are managed by singer-songwriter Park Jin-Young of JYP Entertainment (who formerly managed that other Korean sensation, Rain ... tho' I must say I'm not as impressed by him!). This is an artifically constructed group with each of the five original members selected through auditions (kinda like the UK's Spice Girls a generation before). The Wonder Girls debuted in early 2007 and became popular later that year with the song "Tell Me." They have scored three consecutive #1 hit singles: "Tell Me", "So Hot", and "Nobody". In 2008, they won two Daesangs ("Artist of the Year" Awards).
Even more impresssive was the fact that the group entered into the American market in 2009, with the lead single "Nobody" - which also became the first song by a Korean artist to enter the Billboard Hot 100.

Enough from me ... Turn up your speaker volume to the max and enjoy the music video ...

Like it? Share your views on this and other music groups you like.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

Today is 15th March. Do you know the significance of this day? Have you heard the phrase "The Ides of March"? If not, let me tell you the story ...

The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martias) is the name given to March 15 in the Roman calendar. The term "ides" was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held.

However in modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. According to philosopher and writer Plutarch, Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to be on his guard against a great peril on the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey (where he would be assassinated at a meeting of the Senate), Caesar saw the soothsayer and joked "Well, the Ides of March have come," to which the seer replied "Aye, they have come, but they are not gone."

This meeting of Caesar and the soothsayer is famously dramatized in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned to "Beware the Ides of March."  The relevant passage goes as follows:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19

It is clear that prior to Caesar's assasination, the Ides of March was just another day ...  but after the event, it took on a special significance. In the letters of Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero from the months after the Ides of March., he even writes, 'The Ides changed everything." The phrase "Ides of March" came to represent a specific day of abrupt change that set off a ripple of repercussions throughout Roman society and beyond.

So why was Caesar killed? There were a number of reasons, but the main one was that some members of the Senate feared that he was going to revive the monarchy. The Romans had no love for kings. While Caesar had made clear public statements of turning down offers of kingship, he showed no reluctance to accept the office of "dictator for life" in February 44 B.C. (It is interesting to note that at the time the term "dictator" didn't have the negative connotation that it has today.) Indeed Caesar had been pushing his influence (and luck!) quite a bit. It has been noted by historians that Caesar was the first living Roman ever to appear on the coinage, an honour previously reserved for the gods. The plot's conspirators regarded themselves as "liberators".

So nowadays, those who know (or care to remember) regard the Ides of March as a day of infamy, somewhat like the better-known Friday the 13th.

Looking at the influence of Caesar and his demise on modern culture, I note that there have been many movies and TV series depicting the rise and fall of Julius Caesar. For me, one of the best is still a 1953 screen adaptation of Shakespeare's work, whch starred luminaries like Marlon Brando, John Gielgud and James Mason. There was also an interesting mini-series from 2004 starring Jeremy Sisto (as Caesar) and Richard Harris (in his final performance).

I am told that the Ides of March is celebrated every year by the Rome Hash House Harriers with a toga run in the streets of Rome, in the same place where Julius Caesar was killed.

There is one US-originated music group who call themselves "The Ides of March" and at least two other groups who have released tracks on their albums with the name "The Ides of March", though I'm not sure they even mention Caesar as I haven't listened to any of those albums yet.

Anyway my friends, I hope you've enjoyed this little detour into a bit of history, culture and tradition ... Just to be on the safe side, grab your lucky rabbit's foot, coin or charm ...