Where Are They Now? The Members Of K-Pop’s Most Controversial Boy Group

It’s been six years since their debut.

In 2015, Bora Kim, a then master’s student at the prestigious Columbia University in New York, put together a “K-Pop” boy group with six non-Korean guys for her thesis. Bora’s academic ambition with this project was to see how far the boundaries of K-Pop could be pushed.

Bora Kim | BBC

After some rounds of auditions, six guys were selected to be part of this K-Pop group. The final hopefuls were Croatian Sime Kosta, Portuguese-American Frankie DaPonte from Rhode Island, Japanese-German Koki Tomlinson, who grew up in Texas, New Yorkers Hunter Kohl and David Wallace, and Texan Tarion Anderson.

(from left to right) The band’s original lineup with Hunter, Sime, David, Koki, Frankie, and Tarion | BBC

EXP Edition, as the group was named, released their first single in 2015 for Bora’s thesis. But after that, the members decided they wanted to pursue this project in the real world. When the group decided to move to South Korea in 2016, David and Tarion decided to step down. So, with four members and some $30,000 USD raised from a Kickstarter, EXP Edition arrived in Seoul to chase the K-Pop dream.

(from left to right) The revised lineup of EXP Edition consisting of Hunter, Frankie, Sime, and Koki | BBC

Though the four members had trained for months in the US and done quite a few live gigs, making a mark in the K-Pop industry, that too, without the support of a proper label, was a different ball game. All four of them dedicated their waking hours to learning Korean and practicing choreography. Their Korean debut came in 2017 with the single “Feel Like This.”

The response to EXP Edition was polarizing among K-Pop fans. There were discussions and debates about whether the group could even be considered K-Pop, given that most of the members were white, didn’t have the proper training to become an idol, and didn’t fit the industry’s standards in terms of music or performance. Many saw it as a mockery of K-Pop and borderline cultural appropriation.

A compilation of all the hate comments and videos in response to EXP Edition | BBC

But according to Bora, the harsh criticism mostly came from non-Korean K-Pop fans. In South Korea, people were relatively open to the concept, and the group even managed to bag some fans through their live performances. She also pointed out that the cultural appropriation allegations were unfair, given how K-Pop itself is an amalgamation of different cultures and not something traditionally Korean.

There is no single origin or traditional Koreaness to K-Pop, it’s such a mixture of everything – it has influences from US and Japan.

—Bora Kim

During an interview, the group’s members stated that they could understand why people who take EXP Edition at face value would feel like the project is mocking K-Pop in general. But all four members took the challenge very seriously and actively tried to learn and understand Korean culture.

We understand that to certain people, when they see us perform in Korean with a certain aesthetic, that is still surprising. I think this has happened to every musical genre ever. We’re the face of it, so when people see us, they’re gonna react specifically to us because of that.

—Sime of EXP Edition

Leaving behind everything they knew to assimilate themselves into a new country was not an easy decision. And though people might have thought that the group was trying to bypass the K-Pop system where trainees spend years preparing for a debut, the truth was that EXP Edition didn’t have nearly enough resources to match up to the market competition. All the group had was the intellectual guidance of Bora Kim, a freshly graduated academic at that time, and the passion of four guys who wanted to pursue music.

The group continued to release a few more singles, but things never took off the way they were probably hoping for. So, six years after their official K-Pop debut, where are the members of EXP Edition?

Sime Kosta

| @sime.exp.edition/Instagram

In 2021, Sime went back to his musical theater roots, performing as Frank-N-Furter in the production of The Rocky Horror Show by The Phoenix Theater Company.

This year, on January 17, he updated fans through Instagram that he is not doing music full-time anymore. Though he didn’t convey any particular details about his current professional life, he mentioned that he is living a happy and fulfilling life with his family.

Frankie DaPonte

| @frankie.exp.edition/Instagram

After leaving Korea, Frankie is currently in Chicago, and he works as a realtor! He doesn’t post anything music-related on social media, except a cover song he posted in 2021 as a tribute to his elder brother, whom he lost to cancer.

Hunter Kohl

| @hunter.exp.edition/Instagram

Hunter has also left South Korea and had a career shift, though not as drastic as Frankie. After EXP Edition, Hunter switched to acting and has starred in multiple movies and web series.

Koki Tomilson

| @expedition.official/Instagram

In 2020, Koki started putting out his self-composed music on YouTube and released three songs, “August 18,” “Mexico,” and “Long Road,” the latter two being instrumentals. He currently works as a creative director and producer at PLAYDO, a Los Angeles-based production company he co-founded with dancer Renee Kester.

Though EXP Edition didn’t disband officially, everyone involved with this project seems to have moved on with their life for good. But moving forward, will there be space in K-Pop for such acts? With similarly controversial groups like KAACHI and NCT Hollywood still on the table, it would be interesting to see if the attitude towards such K-Pop projects evolves in the future.

Source: BBC and Vice

Where Are They Now?