10:42 am - 11/17/2012
The New Yorker Reviews Alive Tour in New Jersey: The K-Pop Escape
“I love you baby, I’m not a monster.”
That’s the line that Taeyang, of the South Korean boy band Big Bang, crooned to an undulating sea of light-stick wielding fans at the Prudential Center, in Newark, the other night. To my immediate left, pressed against the gray iron bars that separated us from the V.I.P. mosh pit, a thirteen-year-old girl in a silver sequin tank and top hat voiced her devotion in squeals and screams. Behind us, two boys in tuxedos elbowed their way up front, armed with flash-ready iPhones. “O.K., do me first,” one instructed the other, as he leaned back against the bars, fingers raised high in the shape of a V. “Get two!” he ordered, before being edged out by a new tide of photo-seekers.
My fellow concertgoers need not have worried about time constraints. Their idols—G-Dragon, T.O.P., Seungri, Taeyang, and Daesung—rapped, roared, stomped, and thumped onstage for two more hours, buoyed by a dizzying and ever-multiplying array of props, platforms, and video-screen projections. G-Dragon, the most baby-faced of the group, greeted the audience from behind an impasto of smoky makeup while Taeyang strutted in braids and a bandanna, plus pants that fell well below the natural waistline. Even though the quintet has been around for six years—with hiatuses in which band members pursued their own solo albums—Alive Galaxy is their first sixteen-country-wide world tour. Perhaps, in honor of this inaugural occasion, little expense has been spared in making a first impression.
I missed their much-touted emergence onstage (via silver spaceship-like canisters) and subsequent vehicular jaunts (via gilded Segways and low-rise bicycles)—damn my own snail-paced vehicle on the New Jersey Turnpike—but was as mesmerized as the rest of the arena as we watched Daesung ascend, affixed with life-size wings, over and above our upturned faces. If the pageantry and spectacle threatened to overwhelm the music—fire-breathing dragons and a rotor-spinning helicopter were a few of the digitalized backdrops—it did so with the crowd’s blessing: they roared more enthusiastically with the arrival of ever more elaborate fantascapes.
From where I was standing, with the cavernous stadium opening out to its glittery theatre of small, almost anime-like figures, the world momentarily felt like a giant video game. It reminded me of the first time that I heard this music: in the classroom of the Korean middle school where I was teaching eighth-grade English. My students had gruelling schedules: ten hours of school plus cram academy plus private tutorials (for those with the means) plus homework plus daily lectures from parents and teachers alike on the perils of failure if they should ever deviate from their schedule. (Unsurprisingly, the country has consistently led in high-school test scores, even among their industry-prizing neighbors.)
But during their recess, those fifteen glorious minutes between lunch in the communal canteen and sixth period, they would enthusiastically introduce me to two sanity-preserving graces: video games and K-pop music videos. I was hopeless in mastering the former, so my new teachers quickly began tutoring me in the latter. “You don’t know Super Junior! How about SHINee?” my shyest thirteen-year-old tsked upon my pitiable profession of ignorance. Inevitably, the boldest ones among them, boys in identical blue-and-white uniforms down to the plastic slippers they flapped on their feet, would bend their limbs in imitation of their favorite break-dance moves. If the juxtaposition of their sailor-style attire and the hip-jiving dance steps seemed jarring, so was the precision of their reproduction. Somehow in the precious moments between eating, sleeping, and their all-encompassing sprint toward success, they had found time to study something else.
Back to Big Bang: G-Dragon, lauded for his contribution—fairly unique among packaged pop sensations—to the writing and composition of the band’s hit songs, is commonly acknowledged as the creative heart of the group. Early in the night, he performed his solo, “One of a Kind”: “(Hello) My name is me and choice / (Hello) Yes sir, I’m one of a kind,” the twenty-four-year-old singer belted out. It’s not hard to imagine G-Dragon, dubbed the Lady Gaga of Asia, meaning it. His adolescent fanbase back in Seoul, however, are likely only mouthing the words.
BY JIAYANG FAN
The New Yorker, BBupdates