Review: Kings of K-Pop Big Bang Performs First U.S. Show In 3 Years


/ October 13, 2015

When Diplo is rocking a set, you can expect at least one neon clad bro to perspire on you. If you hit up a Travi$ Scott show, you will have to dodge a couple elbows from members of the turn-up-happy youth. At a Big Bang concert, you’ll avoid the sweat and bruises in an audience dominated by teenage girls — but you can also most witness the teenyboppers exhibit similar levels of peak no chill.

But who could blame them?

Before landing at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey this past Saturday (Oct 10) the biggest group in K-pop dominated the summer by dropping two singles per month along with visuals to match. On the flip side, the outpour of new material made their three year absence from any stateside performances feel that much more real. And, unlike the aforementioned artists or (perhaps the closest thing to its American equivalent) a Justin Bieber, the group lacks a dominant voice in the mainstream conversation despite being featured in many of the biggest international media outlets. The hysteria literally forced fans, also known as VIPs, to actively seek out their tickets through forums and communities that exist mostly online after the concert sold out in minutes. — and inadvertently created the thirstiest group of fans, ever.

From where I was sitting (section 115, second floor and to the right of the stage), I could see the group members standing in position, patiently waiting for their first reveal. In front of them, a mammoth-sized projection played a Reservoir Dogs-inspired short, produced by the folks behind Jay Z & Beyonce’s On The Run tour, detailing the happenings leading up to their arrival on stage. From way up, it was unclear whether they were bouncing in place from pre-show adrenaline or matching the tempo of their first song. But as soon as that screen split, it was obvious there weren’t going to be any concerns on meeting fans’ expectations throughout the span of the two hour show.

The first major takeaway from the MADE tour was the immediate sensory overload; the ever-changing set went from rotating platforms with mirrors to oscillating pillars fitted with screens. If your eyes wandered from the group, there was a live band jamming behind them and a pit of fans in front, collectively losing their minds whenever members stood directly above them on a transparent bridge. Attention still wavering? Pyrotechnics, fam.

Musically, the group jumped from genre to genre in the way Korean pop stars do best. Big Bang’s newer EDM-infused dance anthems from this past summer (“Bang Bang Bang”) sat comfortably with older fan favorites (“Tonight”, “Haru Haru”). Mellow sleeper hits like “Blue” were made fresh again, refitted with slower drums courtesy of the live band. They tapped into different eras of their extended discography in a not-so-subtle reminder of their domination over the genre for nearly a decade now (debuting in 2006).

Midway through the show, the group splintered off into solo sets, proving to be some of the more interesting moments of the night. Seungri, the youngest member of the group, kept the party going with nightclub vibes. Vocalist Daesung delivered a feel-good rock anthem that the crowd seemed to really eat up, despite its strong departure from the rest of the night’s musical stylings. Up next, rapper T.O.P. performed the rapid flows from his bizarre single, “Doom Dada”, almost in rebellion against what’s expected from a K-pop artist. On record, it’s one of the tightest performances to come out of the label. But the live rendition proved overambitious as guitars clashed with the onslaught of multi-syllabic vocals echoing against the walls of the arena.

In the same way some audience members decided to take the solo sets as a cue to use the restroom. The temporarily emptied seats were quickly occupied again when it was time for the two remaining members with the biggest solo hits. Singer Taeyang’s solo ballad and Asian Karaoke night staple, “Eyes, Nose, Lips”, created the illusion of heaven on earth for tearful fans singing along as lightning graphics and fog machine blasts surrounded him for dramatic effect. Not to be outdone, frontman and rapper, G-Dragon brought T.O.P. and Taeyang back out for collaborations “Zutter” and “Good Boy” before launching into his equal parts rap, rock, and pop single, “Crooked”. It’s kind of an amazing thing to witness anyone skidding back and forth making full use of that stage, leading a stadium of mixed ethnicities into a song that requires full lung capacity, all in Korean.

It was a good weekend to just be a fan on the East coast. New York Comic Con went down in the city, about a half hour away. Unlike geek-life, K-pop music has yet to be fully embraced by the mainstream conscious. That means there’s still a lot of work to be done for VIPs who want their idols to attain what seems to be the ultimate goal for all K-pop acts, crossing over. But for now, they seemed content with getting their fix.

Written by David “Rekstizzy” Lee, rapper and host of Kawaii For Men