If you walked by the Royale in Boston around five p.m. on Friday, February 21, you would have seen a line that stretched halfway down the block. A few minutes before the doors opened at six p.m., that line had grown to stretch around the next block as the sun disappeared and the temperature dropped further below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
The line outside of the Royale comprised of dedicated fans of Korean-American artist Eric Nam. Although all the stops on his Before We Begin world tour are special in their own ways, Boston held particular significance: before Eric Nam became a K-pop star, he graduated from Boston College. And, indeed, Eric was welcomed back to the city with a sold-out show. It featured heart-to-heart talks and life lessons while also having a good time, expressive of the familiarity and comfort between Eric Nam and his Nam Nation.
The journey to get to this point in his career was not an easy one. During one of his talks (which he is well known for), Eric mentioned how it took him ten years to perform in Boston. The setlist reflected his long journey, with a mix of songs from the early days of his career and songs off of his first full-length English album, Before We Begin.
Around eight p.m., after the support of the band Frenship, the concert kicked off with “Come Through.” The chorus was very appropriate to set the tone for the show:
“So won’t you come through? Come through, come through
I’ve been looking for you, whoever you are
I know that it’s you, it’s you, it’s you
I know you’ll come through.”
The second song, the Korean version of “Runaway,” maintained the energy of the venue with its light summer feeling and the enthusiastic singing of the chorus from the fans.
Eric’s personality truly came through in the first ‘ment of the night. One of the first things he said was a teasing warning: “I tend to give, long, lengthy TED talks.” After the initial cheers, Eric followed that statement with further explanation, “You’ll get a lot of music, but you’ll also get a lot of life lessons.” He did a short and casual Q&A to get to know his audience better, asking people to raise their hands if they had seen one of his shows before or if there was anybody in the crowd who was a parent or significant other that got dragged along by a fan.
“I Don’t Miss You” kept the energy high after his ‘ment, while “Wonder,” colored the setlist with a more contemplative and solemn feel.
Eric’s second “TED talk” brought back the humor as he started with how he was debating with or not to do a song because it “require[d] a lot of body rollage.” Among the crowd’s laughs and cheers, he explained how the next song—”Body”—got him in trouble with his mom. This statement launched him into storytime: after his mom attended one of his shows, she called him by his Korean name (which was never a good thing) and then said that this song had “too much sexy,” in which Eric mimicked his mother, pointing to the sky while saying, “God is watching you” as fans erupted into laughter.
After the “body rollage” songs, Eric dedicated his ‘ment to the city of Boston. He first asked if anyone was an Eagle (the mascot of Boston College) to which loud cheers responded. Since there are a significant number of universities in the city, Eric started listing some of the other Boston colleges, although he gave up trying to list more than a couple.
Storytime also continued as he shared an anecdote about the first time he was confronted with the Boston accent. When Eric was talking with one of his roommates after he had moved from Atlanta to Boston, he kept mishearing his roommate, thinking he was saying “khakis” instead of “car keys.” After humorously reflecting on this memory, as the crowd chucked in empathy, Eric called the moment a “culture collision,” adding on that he “fell in love with [Boston], so it’s good to be back.”
Eric’s birthday check was also a notable moment of the night. As he called out to the crowd to find out if anyone’s birthday was that night, he teasingly stressed, “like actually today.” At one point, he exclaimed, “Monday is not today!” and “I will ID you if I need to” when some fans tried to convince him that it was their birthday. He found three people whose birthday was actually February 21 and sang “Happy Birthday,” encouraging the rest of the audience to join in.
As a transition to the next song, “Potion,” Eric continued the birthday strain by noting, “and in celebration of your birthday, though you may not be 21 yet, we are going to sing a song about drinking,” which was followed by good-humored cheers. Typical of Eric Nam, he light-heartedly stressed, “please drink responsibly,” and after a slight pause, “and only if you are of age.” A few beats later, he added, “otherwise, drink water.”
Before he went into his hard-hitting songs, “How’m I Doing” and “Love Die Young,” his most personal track, Eric brought the emotion with his ‘ment. This “TED talk” storytime was again about his mom. He told his fans how she once said to him that she gets anxious because she knows he is going to mess up. The chat continued with him talking a little bit about Asian moms, a topic of discussion his fans know he talks a fair amount about such as in his podcast, K-pop Daebak w/ Eric Nam, and in a recent Buzzfeed interview.
Eric went on to say that up until a few years ago, his mom had still been telling him that he “need[ed] to get a real job.” The ‘ment transitioned to a different aspect of his mom as he stage-whispered that she was “becoming more American.” He also had the crowd erupting in laughter when he described a text she had sent him that made him automatically suspicious since it began with “Dear Eric.” He humorously noted, and the majority of the crowd agreed, that texts did not start with “Dear ___,” they always begin with “YA!”
That text, while uncharacteristic, continued with his mom writing, “I’m so proud of you for pursuing a nonconventional career.” The point of this story, which Eric acknowledged had taken a little while to get to, was that he “truly truly, from the bottom of [his] heart, appreciate[d] every single person” who came to his show. For him, “The reason that’s crazy is because, for me, a Southern Korean dude who came from Georgia had to go to Korea to be able to sing for you in Boston.”
Eric and his fans could experience the fruits of that long ten-year journey, a moment that was special for him but also for his Nam Nation, who was “taking part in a cultural movement that pushes for diversity and creation and acceptance” that went beyond going to his Boston concert. As it drew closer to move onto the setlist again, Eric admitted that he did consider quitting and going back to a “normal job.” But he also contemplated gave out a bit of a life lesson which aptly transitioned into his song, “How’m I Doing”:
“Life is life. Life is hard. Life is difficult, and you’re right, normal doesn’t exist. But you gotta check in with yourself. You gotta ask yourself, ‘How are you doing? How am I doing?’ How are people around you doing?”
When Eric sang “Love Die Young” after “How’m I Doing,” the notes of the piano seemed to reverberate even more throughout the venue. The chords, Eric’s voice, and the lyrics felt so much deeper, rounder, fuller. This group of songs concluded with a fan favorite, “Cave Me In.” At the very end, another chorus was added, although the song had technically ended, in which the crowd sang acapella, their “I want it I do”s growing stronger with each one repeated.
As the night wound down and Eric was almost on his last “TED talk,” he had another life lesson to share. He preceded his lesson with “I’m going to say something really cheesy, but I have to say it.” This last life lesson was inspired by the interviews he had with a few universities before the show: “do whatever the hell you want to do.” With these words, Eric was greeted with a thunder of cheers from a crowd comprised mostly of stressed-out college students.
“Congratulations,” the main track of Before You Begin, closed out the night. Eric hinted at the song at the end of his thank-yous right before as he said, “this is our last goodbye,” the final lyric of the chorus of “Congratulation.” The choice of this song to conclude his shows, besides the fact that it is the title track, points to the humor of Eric Nam as the song ends on these words:
You’re finally leaving (Finally leaving)
Let’s throw a party here tonight
And toast to the end of you and I (To the end of you and I)
You finally mean it (I guess you finally mean it)
Let’s throw a party here tonight (Let’s throw a party)
And raise up a glass (Toast to you and I)
To our last goodbye.”
Regardless of the lyrics about leaving, Eric Nam’s “Before We Begin” Boston show showcased his stage presence, the range and stability of his voice, and the tight choreography for his songs. But, it was also filled with the familiar relationship between Eric and his fans, seen in his “TED talks,” the humorous, as well as the more serious, moments of the night, and the high energy Nam Nation brought.