The Ninety One Series |||


I finished writing and publishing this series in November 2020, but Ninety One continues to perform and people continue to discover them and be intrigued by them. Below find more recent relevant work, as well as Twitter threads I published as I was publishing the original series, and some past related writing on my part.


On 4 January 2021 BBC News published The K-pop inspired band that challenged gender norms in Kazakhstan,” by Yvette Tan. It’s a nicely focused, well-researched piece that focuses on the issues that arose from Ninety One’s gender presentation, with commentary from academics Megan Rancier and Sabina Insebayeva, as well as Yerbolat Bedelkhan.

The Katerina Suvorova documentary Face the Music, also known as Men Sen Emes, wasn’t available with English subtitles when I wrote this series; Juz Entertainment uploaded a copy the day after the BBC News piece ran. (Tan’s impact!) If you were most intrigued by Part 5, definitely give it a watch.

Right before then, but after I finished posting the series, Ninety One released the single Taboo,” a collaboration with the comedy-collective-turned-hip-hop-collective Irina Kairatovna. Taboo” contained the strongest political statements in a Ninety One song to date (they never released an official translation; translator Didi posted an English translation to her Instagram). Olzhas Auyezov, a Reuters journalist, wrote a piece for Reuters giving Ninety One credit for including political lyrics; on Twitter I tried to provide some context, since IK has been busy releasing some pointedly political work recently on their own time. If you want to know more about IK, Russian interviewer / journalist / YouTuber / all-around treasure Yuri Dud conducted an interview with IK in early 2021, and it is not only fantastic (and almost two hours long!) but English-subtitled.

On 26 December 21, Ninety One and Orda (the group of their then-boss, Yerbolat Bedelkhan) staged a concert at Almaty Arena, and Irina Kairatovna made an appearance to perform Taboo” live. It’s fun footage, all hugging and enjoyment of performance onstage. And then two and a half weeks later things went horribly wrong in Kazakhstan, Almaty especially, and while things seem to have settled down (I observe, at a distance) it’s still not entirely clear why the protests turned as violent as they did, or what’s to prevent things from going haywire again. In general my go-to sources for news about Kazakhstan are Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (but note that it is primarily American-government sponsored), Eurasianet, and The Diplomat.

In February of 2022 (read: after their hometown was no longer inexplicably on fire), the members of Ninety One announced they were splitting from Juz Entertainment and reorganizing as an independent entity, complete with new YouTube channel. If you’re interested, the interviews they gave soon after cover everything from the business implications of the split to their experiences of Bloody January.

I’m putting further writing about Ninety One on my pop-cultural-and-other-opinions blog; also—this is a fannish project, after all—on Tumblr, including reviewing every song they’ve released so far and summarizing one podcast appearance.

In January 2023 I appeared on The Idolcast, talking about Ninety One and the ideas in the series more generally. The host, Filmi Girl, has done a lot of research into idoldom, specifically on the Japanese side; see, for example, her three-part series on original 1960s idol group the Tigers (first part here), a part of idol history I missed completely.

The Twitter Threads

As I published each essay in the series I included a Twitter thread that included context, additional links, and the occasional rant on my part. If you get intrigued by a source and want to know if that source is on Twitter, this is the fastest way to find out. (In general I’m not much of a Twitter user, though if you DM me I’ll see it.)

Part 1: A quick introduction to the series, a tribute to some of the writers whose work has inspired me, and the article that introduced me to Ninety One in the first place.

Part 2: How idol pop relies heavily on adorkability”, my guide to the first season of 91 Space, experts in Japanese idol pop, and the multi-part music-focused essay series that inspired me.

Part 3: What happens when idol pop engages in puns across languages, and how I originally misjudged Señorita.”

Part 4: More sources, and I explain why the opening jokes of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm aren’t actually very funny.

Part 5: I give context on how male-idol performance tropes in Korea differ from in Kazakhstan (read: more drag-wearing and girl-group-dance-doing), with a Mad Men cameo.

Part 6: On the difficulties of trying to get reliable information about the dark side” of Korean idol pop.

Part 7: On guilty pleasures” in pop music and the idea that what you consume should reflect your policy positions and vice versa.

Part 8: I get confessional.

Part 9: A bunch of links to sources covering events in Kazakhstan and Xinjiang.

Part 10: The thread is short but the people cited do valuable work.

Part 11: A thread of threads, in case you want to spread the word to other folks on Twitter.


This series is actually my second go-round writing about Ninety One; the first, for the excellent music-focused site One Week One Band, was published in November 2017. Some of my arguments there made my way into this series; others got changed. Also I had room for a few topics I couldn’t address in this series, such as other Q-pop groups worth checking out, what Ninety One filming in front of a mall has to do with global trends in city-making, and Su Asty,” one of my favorite songs of theirs.

this page last updated 20 February 2023