This week, we turn our attention to live performances. While in K-pop land, polished music videos and audio tracks are of the norm, live performances are not always guaranteed to be of the same caliber. Oftentimes, the lives of idol group performances (especially ones with strenuous dancing involved) are much shakier than their original recordings. However, performances also have the potential to bring out qualities in an artist that cannot be captured in a studio setting.
That said, we asked our writers this week: Have you personally been to any K-pop concerts? If so, did watching the live performances change your view of any of the artists?
Amy: I’ve been to a couple of K-pop concerts and there’s no question that watching artists live is a completely different experience. Even though there are plenty of live performances that we as fans outside of Korea can access via the internet, watching artists perform live on your computer is still incomparable to watching an artist perform in the flesh.
There are palpable elements like energy level and crowd reaction that are harder to gauge through a computer screen, yet are completely noticeable once you experience a concert in person. For K-pop in particular, where performance is literally the whole package, it’s a really crucial aspect in judging an artist or a group. I like certain artists more because of watching them perform live and watching them handle themselves on stage and interact with both their music and their audience (Epik High, Beast, 2NE1, 2PM, Brown Eyed Girls). And then unfortunately, there are some artists who I lost interest in because of their lack of charisma and energy on stage (4Minute, Sistar, Wonder Girls). Even more particular is when I find that artists aren’t as impressive as I built them out to be through watching them on my computer screen (SHINee).
The other thing about watching live performances is that your sensory experiences are also associated with the music, and that’s just something you can’t get out of watching an Inkigayo performance on YouTube. I don’t particularly like 2NE1 but the crowd excitement and the energy leading up to their performance at the MTV Iggy’s Best New Band in the World was out of this world, and I ended up enjoying their act so much more because of the environment. Similarly, I hadn’t really ever liked DBSK‘s “Keep Your Head Down,” but was blown away when I watched it in concert because of the in-the-moment intensity and energy that Yunho and Changmin performed with.
The best part about watching K-pop live is the moment where I get to confirm whether or not an artist is capable of performing well in a live setting, which is the most important thing to me as a fan and a listener of pop.
Nabeela: I am guilty of spending considerable amounts of money to attend K-pop concerts. My freshman year of high school, I convinced my parents to drive me and my three good friends down to L.A. for the annual Korean Music Festival. My friends and I had third row tickets down in the pool circles up against the stage, and it was perhaps one of the most invigorating experiences of my life. Up until then I was just a tempered fan, but when SS501 and SHINee are all up in your face just as much as you are to them, you can’t help but lose your mind a bit. I also saw SNSD that night too, among several other live acts. My views have never particularly changed after seeing artists perform live, but I will say the live experience makes one a tad more rabid and in love with the performers than when one is alone behind a computer screen.
I did see JYJ when they went on their first world tour, and that was an experience that made me appreciate Junsu, Jaejoong, and Yoochun so much more. In all my years as a K-pop fan, DBSK and eventually JYJ were always at the top of my lists, so I was always a fan. But actually listening to superstar idols, famed for their vocal talents, actually perform live made me tear up. Sure, part of the reason I was crying was because it was JYJ, but also because the three boys are such powerful singers, it’s hard not to be moved by their performances.
OH and I almost forgot! I saw 2PM and the Wonder Girls when WG was on their North American tour. That night I did fall more in love with Wonder Girls, because they truly are great performers (even Sohee) but I will be honest with you — I went to that concert to see my eternal bias lover Junsu aka Jun.k. When I looked up to him from the front row (he was standing right in front of me) I was so starstruck — I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t even cry. I just, love him so much that my heart must have stopped beating. It was that special moment where crazed fangirl meets eternal bias, or sweet bliss.
Alyssa: I have been to one K-pop concert and that was in 2010 for the Wonder Girls featuring 2PM. Having seen numerous performances online I knew what to expect and I wasn’t disappointed, although I kind of wish the background music was done live instead of playing the track, just to give things a little pizazz. However, my biggest issue was with how things were put together; it seemed slightly rushed and a bit sloppy, but I still had fun dancing and singing along (badly) to my favorite songs, which is what K-pop is all about.
Fannie: I went to the free KBS concert in New Jersey last year. Out of idol groups, the act that hands down impressed me the most was DBSK (similar to Amy, I’d never been a big fan of “Keep Your Head Down,” but it’s pretty darn epic live), with SHINee taking a close second. 2PM and Beast were also quite good. Interestingly enough (although not entirely unexpected), none of the girl groups managed to impress me with their live performances (4Minute, Sistar, G.na… although I have to make an exception for Hyorin because her talent really stood out).
Out of non-idols or ex-idols, Kim Tae-woo was solid, but it was Insooni who completely stole the show for me when she sang “Goose’s Dream.” None of the idol acts that performed could even begin touch how powerful her stage presence was. The younger segment of the crowd definitely went crazier for DBSK (as in, killing your eardrums crazy) but Insooni was able to command a different sort of atmosphere from the crowd — absolute stark silence when she sang, out of sheer captivation and respect.
One thing I have to say is that watching an artist perform as just one act in a show with many artists, versus watching an artist perform and their own private concert, is a vastly different experience. Music shows are nice because you get a sampling of a bunch of different artists, but I think that I prefer private concerts because that’s where you really get to see the artist perform to their full potential. I’ve actually seen Kim Tae-woo in concert twice: once at the KBS concert, and once in Chicago on the first leg of his 2010 North America tour (with Son Ho-young), and the latter was by far a lot more intimate and fun. If you want to truly experience your favorite artist in their element, go to their private concert.
Michelle: I happen to have attended one concert and that was last year’s Sydney K-Pop Fest. It was unexpected that any amount of idols would come down under, and since I regarded it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I attended. I happened to have the good fortune to see quite a handful of artists perform, including SHINee, SNSD, TVXQ, Beast, KARA and MBLAQ amongst others. Truth to be told, I was pleasantly surprised by most of the performances. SHINee certainly lived up to my expectations, while Beast quite surprised me with their energy. Their performance of “Beautiful” was amazing in my eyes. My favourite was definitely TVXQ though. I really wish I could have seen the original five (who wishes they didn’t, really?) but Yunho and Changmin were still fantastic live, regardless. Generally speaking though, attending a live performance — especially a large-scale concert — is really the epitome of experiences. In the end of the day, you get swept up in the experience and you end up singing along to CN Blue even though you’ve only known them for a week (which is partially why I love the boys so much). And well, I was breathing the same air as Minho and Minhyuk.
When I attended the concert, I wasn’t yet a fan of SNSD, strange as that sounds. I respected the girls for their clean-cut image and hit songs but I wasn’t quite sold on their live performances. I was swiftly proven wrong though and when the girls performed “Gee,” they actually managed to get me dance along — and that takes skill. If I had to pick one idol or group whose performance really changed my perspective of them – it would be Sistar’s Hyorin. It’s quite well-known that she’s a fantastic singer, but it was her collaboration performance of Beyonce‘s “Halo” that really sparked the change. My perspective of her changed in a split second in between the hysterical singing along and waving of glowsticks. 2AM also impressed with their soaring vocals, though the minor microphone failure was still a let-down.
Dana: As someone who has consistently found herself living in the American northeast, I was practically morally obligated to purchase a ticket for SM Town Live in New York (I did entertain the idea of going to the K-pop festival in New Jersey, which would have been free, but I probably don’t need to say that SNSD was what ultimately swayed me in the direction of opting for SM Town Live). Though a combination of being extremely cheap and afraid of a K-pop mosh pit resulted in me sitting in the extreme nosebleed section, I can’t say that I bought the tickets because I expected or even wanted to see
Tiffany the groups up close; I bought it for the sheer possibility and potential to experience the concert completely, to feel the energy, to have a momentary and powerful connection with other passionate fans and the artists themselves.
Given the prodigious ranting that I have done about talent and live performance (or lack thereof) in K-pop, I was originally concerned that seeing some of the groups live would just reinforce my negative perceptions about their ability to deliver, but having experienced the concert, I can say that vocal prowess (or lack thereof) did not in any way impact how much I enjoyed the concert. When you watch a performance on television or a computer screen, it’s very easy to be extraordinarily critical of vocals and dance, but the connection between artist and fan that is created by virtue of the live performance environment allows for the character of the performance itself to take precedence. In other words, while I still firmly maintain that SNSD are not exceedingly talented in the vocal department (though I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed by Taeyeon), the palpable energy, enthusiasm, and all-around good cheer that was shared by everyone in Madison Square Garden made the concert unbelievably fun and I walked away feeling very satisfied with what I’d seen. I definitely learned that there is more to the performance than just sheer ability, and so maybe I should take it easy on K-pop every once in a while.
Also, I should mention that BoA TOTALLY KILLED IT. Best artist I saw that night. She made a lot money off of me by performing that well, since I basically ran home and downloaded everything she ever made, ever.
Justin: I coincidentally saw 2PM when I went to Korea at Lotte World during the summer of ’09. I went to Lotte World because I had never been there before, and people were telling me that I had to go, so I decided to go and check it out with a group of my friends. When we got there, we noticed that there was a concert going on, so I decided to see who was going to be there. Turns out there were a whole bunch of people, but I don’t remember most of them. The two that I remember the most were U-Kiss and 2PM. When U-Kiss came out, there was only one fangirl, and it was kind of adorable seeing this girl go nuts when everyone else was just stoic. When 2PM came out, that was when the rest of the fangirls went nuts. My group of friends and I were being pushed, scratched, and even cussed at by these preteen/teen fangirls. Fangirls are SCARY, but I digress. 2PM themselves are all right. The only thing that was different was that they seemed shorter than what they appear on shows.
Jessie: When I first found K-pop, I never thought I’d get the opportunity to see any acts live — let alone my favorites, so when I found out about the Korean Music Festival in LA, I jumped at the chance! Considering I had to buy pretty pricey plane tickets to get there, I ended up with seats REALLY far back. But my husband and I were sitting next to an older Korean couple (if you weren’t already aware, the KMF is a mix of old and new artists) and the lady was very excited to ask me questions about the younger groups performing. She was particularly impressed by Beast, while I was swooning over Kim Jong Kook and Leessang.
After that I was hooked, and I have continually drained my savings on concert tickets and travel expenses — kidding, kidding — kind of…
I was most excited to see DBSK perform at SM Town LA, because they are my favorite K-pop group and Yunho is my ultimate bias — shhhh, don’t tell Subi! I can honestly say when they made their entrance with Changmin floating past my nosebleed seats on a wire, I got giddy heart palpitations. They did not disappoint at all!
The people I’ve been most impressed with live have been SHINee & BoA at SM Town LA, and Beast & MBLAQ at K-pop Masters. I had never paid much attention to SHINee prior to seeing them live, and I thought they were really great performers with a lot of energy; unfortunately I didn’t see that same fire when they were in Las Vegas for K-pop Masters, so I was kind of disappointed (but to be fair, they had literally just flown in that day, so I give them a bit of a break). BoA, I have to totally agree with Dana on this one, she was AMAZING live. You can tell for sure that she has been in the business forever, and you know why. Love her. Obviously as I stated above, I saw Beast at the Korean Music Festival, but they were still rookies back then and they didn’t really make that much of an impression on me. I have always enjoyed their music though, and in Las Vegas you could tell they are veterans now — I rushed home and bought all of their music from iTunes after that show. MBLAQ had really cute fan interaction, which can be pretty lacking at show if you do not know Korean, so that is what made me really enjoy their performance (plus “Oh Yeah” is like the easiest song in the world to sing along with).
Subi: I’ve been to both Wonder Girls in NYC and SM Town in NYC. There’s something special about being at a K-pop concert. It’s like this collective experience between yourself, fans, and the artist, in which both of you are experiencing and engaging in performance. In that sense, it’s not only special, but quite surreal, especially since these are people who I’ve only connected with through mediated environments. I’ve only watched such and such group on YouTube, I’ve only talked to so and so fans over forums, etc. To be in the same room as everyone is, I repeat myself, special and surreal.
That being said, there is disconnect.
While I, as an individual, and fans are congregating into a collective that is truly sharing and interacting with the same experience, the artist is someone who still seems so far away. Yes, we’re in the same room, breathing the same air, etc., etc., but they still just seem so far away and so removed. It’s almost as if the stage is just another form of mediation — like the screen on your computer or the plastic on a CD cover. And without the editing, the special effects, and the enclosed frame… sometimes… that artist’s are not as impressive as they over other forms of mediation as they are on the big, wide, plain as day stage.
But it’s still a world of fun and an experience that’s worth all the money spent on it.
Johnelle: My first K-pop concert was The Wonder Girls here in Hawaii at the Pipeline Cafe which was a small venue so it was intimate. I felt bad that they were performing in such a small place and it wasn’t sold out, but we fans were very appreciative that they came to Hawaii and the Girls really impressed me with their performances and vocals. It really did improve my perception of them. To my initial disappointment, neither 2PM or 2AM joined the Wonder Girls here; JYP did the Hawaii shows with them.
I was originally not a fan of JYP at all, but became one after the show. No matter what anyone says, the man is a great singer and performer. I also had the sweetest tickets for the JYJ Hawaii concert that got cancelled. While the other US concert cities got a free concert, we were left with only an apology and a refund — yes, I am still bitter because I had heard so much about how awesome they were live.
My next concert experience was the Korean Music Festival 2011 with the 4minute, Baek Ji-Young, Bobby Kim, DJ DOC, G.NA, Jay Park, Jeon Young-Rok, Jeong Soo-Ra, K.will, Kim Jang-Hoon, Lee Eun-Ha, Secret, SISTAR, Song So-Hee, Sul Woon-Do, and U-KISS as performers. While I enjoyed the concert and the whole atmosphere at the festival, I will have to say I was disappointed. With most acts only doing like three songs, just as you were getting into them, they were leaving the stage. And most of the acts did not impress me with their performances; it wasn’t like they were bad, but it was kind of like I was watching them on Inkigayo or something. The only acts that I remember being impressed by were Baek Ji-young and DJ DOC.
I will soon add another concert as I will be attending FT Island and CN Blue’s concert at the Nokia Theater next week. I am super excited to see both bands perform live. I also would like to witness Big Bang live in concert somewhere (anywhere) this year for their Alive Tour.
Patricia: I hope that none of the Seoulbeats readers ever catch me at a K-pop concert because I get pretty embarrassing, even for K-pop’s standards. Despite my (self-perceived?) calm, cool, and collected attitude as a Seoulbeats writer, I turn into a screaming, light-stick waving, spazzy mess at K-pop concerts. I’ve been to two of JYJ’s concerts (the showcase in New York City and their full-length concert in Newark), one SHINee concert (in Taipei), as well as SM Town Live in New York.
The SHINee concert stood out to me in particular because it was the first time I had ever attended a K-pop concert in Asia. Back when I did a write-up for the concert last July, I focused more on the actual concert rather than the fan experience. However, I’ve since realized that the most interesting part of going to a K-pop concert in Asia was realizing exactly how K-pop fandom in Asia actually works. The fan sites distributing cheering materials outside the venue, the random people selling unofficial merch, the fact that every single person had a lightstick, the well-coordinated fan events (the concert took place around Taemin‘s birthday, and the fans organized a banner event during the concert for him) and most notably — the fan chants that echoed with exact, unison precision throughout the entire concert. The fan chant and event project thing is something that Western fans always strive to do during K-pop concerts outside of Asia, but these plans almost always fall through, and I think it just has to do with cultural differences and habits.
Granted, there are people who will argue that the lightstick-waving and fanchant-hollering of Asian fandom is kind of creepy and cultish, but hey — it’s definitely worth experiencing at least once.
And while all four concerts turned out to be great experiences, I’d have to say that my experience at SM Town completely changed my views in regards to concert-going… while also spoiling me senseless. I was at the front row of the standing section (GA1), and was close enough to see everyone’s pores. Getting to the front row required quite a bit of effort that could’ve honestly been better spent elsewhere, but I don’t regret it at all. Most fans would want to get a front row spot simply to be in close proximity with their favorite idol. And while I definitely enjoyed that aspect of being in the front (I almost fainted after seeing Changmin blowing a kiss at my camera; no shame), I think that the best part of being so close was being able to rock out and dance during the concert, rather than being confined to your seat and waving a lightstick. The energy radiating from the stage truly was palpable. I don’t really know how else to describe it, but I do know that even after seeing three awesome K-pop concerts in the seated section, my experience at SM Town was truly in a class of its own.
And plus, there’s really no better place to take good pictures than the front row. Probably one of my favorite parts of attending the concert, no lie.