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The rising star that is K-Pop is everywhere now, refusing to stay in the one-hit wonder closet with Psy’s Gangnam Style. K-Pop has reached into the world from which many of its artists came; hip-hop, rap and R&B.
K-Pop has reached into the world from which many of its artists came; hip-hop, rap and R&B. While there has long been a Korean rap underground and K-Hip-Hop legends likeDrunken Tiger, Yoon Mi-rae, Dynamic Duo andSupreme Team, it’s the more commercial groups’ infusion of genres into their safely inoffensive and fan-friendly productions that is changing the game. The young stars who grew up adoring American music are giving back to it, while continuing to love and learn from their idols. Recently, Big Bang’s G-Dragon pursued rap legend Missy Elliott until she gave in and contributed to his excellent track, Niliria, performing it onstage together at last year’s KCON. Snoop Dogg (Lion), Dr. Dre, B.o.B. and Stevie Wonder have all graced the big K-Pop MAMA awards to overwhelming reception. Snoop will be featured on Psy’s upcoming comeback single, while other stars like Kanye West,Teddy Riley, Lil’ Kim and Amerie have collaborated with K-Pop acts.
Growing up on a diet of Kanye, 50 Cent, Pharrell Williams, will i. am, Musiq Soulchild, P. Diddy andChris Brown to name but a few, B.A.P (Best. Absolute. Perfect) burst out of nowhere in 2012 with a mix of rap, soul and hip hop with a daringly harder, less glamorous image and more authenticity than most of the idol groups at that time. The sound and look sometimes shocked as in their violent mini-movies for One Shot and Badman and captivated their fans. That image made B.A.P one of the few K-Pop groups with a visible male fanbase – guys weren’t embarrassed to like them, which is a rarity. Their first EP, Warrior, entered Billboard’s World Album Charts at #10 and the group won literally dozens of “best Rookie” awards all across Asia and Europe.
Another thing that set them apart is their leader, Bang Yong Guk’s taking command of B.A.P’s lyrical content by co-writing all of the group’s songs since their debut; a true rarity amongst major K-Pop groups. He’s chosen to make statements with his lyrics; besides the obvious romantic yearnings, he tackles self-doubt, fighting against victimization on all levels, global injustice and personal betrayal. Yes, of course there’s classic diss tracks and macho braggadocio about his skillz, but the more heady stuff is material that would never make it past most K-Pop companies’ soundboards. On his social media, Yong Guk shows fans the new (vinyl!) albums he’s listening to and it’s an eclectic mix of everyone from James Brown, to Miles Davis, to Helen Merrill and Clifford Brown. Yong Guk’s world view is also notable, having been nominated for a Shorty Award for his film meant to inspire charity efforts. His stated his dream is to self-fund and open a school for impoverished youths. He’s actively involved with Save the Children, he’s a child sponsor through World Vision, and as well as his own monthly donations to UNICEF, he inspired his fans to donate a water pump to an African village.
B.A.P is living proof of their very real love for the music and artists they grew up admiring and their respectful placement of it in their own music, the appeal of which crossing racial lines. There is also the interest in rap and hip-hop they’ve engendered for millions of fans who might never have sought it out on their own.
B.A.P: not at all your average K-Pop group.
B.A.P: Live on Earth NYC Attack 2014
Best Buy Theatre, New York City, April 13, 2014
We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special bulletin, the world’s gone bad and the six young citizens from Mato Planet are coming to sort us out. Our media is manipulated, all systems overwhelmed with feedback and flashing digital displays, until, dressed in fabulous black and gold suits, the alien ambassadors descend from the top of a staircase to slay and entire theatre full of people.
So it was at New York’s Best Buy Theatre Sunday night as the Korean group, B.A.P, just two years into its existence, returned to the scene of their New York concert debut eleven months prior. Once again, the entire venue was sold out and fans camped out the night before to ensure as much possible face time with their idols. New York was the first stop on their Live on Earth USA Attack tour, which will hit Chicago, Dallas and LA, before moving over to invade Europe and Australia. The boys’ fulfilled promise to return to our shores was greeted with literally overwhelming enthusiasm from a rainbow-hued audience waving green bunny-shaped glow sticks and singing back at them in a language mostly not their own.
Some notable moments:
One Shot, the perfect opener. Nothing sets up the attitude of a B.A.P show than this dark, booming, thumping hit, which segued beautifully into the cryptic, creeping Badman, illustrated with digital map images of global cities in distress from wars or poverty. They gave their all from the start, never losing a breath throughout the sharp, synchronized choreography and the level of excellence did not lessen for the rest of the show. Even members who I’d previously thought weren’t as good at their steps upped their game.
The luxuriantly mellow and jazzy Coffee Shop, one of my personal favorites reflecting the group’s broadening musical influences, came with fresh drinks hand-delivered by the boys for some lucky front-row fans off the “StarBabys” coffee cart (Babys is the name of their fanclub). However, this created a scary situation as the kids were already packed in too tight in the small general admission venue, and having lined up from 10PM the night before, I think they all wanted that drink. The song itself was even richer sounding than on record.
The heartfelt, R&B-infused Rain Sound began with the group seated in chairs in front of a backdrop of a nighttime city in a downpour setting the sad mood. Here was the moment that showed B.A.P’s real vocal talent.
Meanwhile, on the flip side of the serious artist coin, we were taught the best way to achieve happiness and popularity just like they do on Mato Planet. Two of the members (I think) came out wearing horse heads and led the crowd through a hip-hop hokey pokey, while an instructional video in the background that promised to raise the crowd to ultimate joy. Hey, the oldest one in the group only just turned 24.
1004 (Angel), the first single from their recently released first full album, First Sensibility, was a departure from the B.A.P sound, with its influx of rock power ballad guitars. It was played during the encore by the guys dressed like Prince Charmings in sparkly frock coats. While the funkadelic Spy was a full-on, boogie-down jam, complete with rumbling bass, manic horn sample and soul brother handshake. I half expectedMaceo Parker to come out of the wings, sax in hand.
Their breakout hit, Warrior, was part of the last encore. The performance featured the Ginsu-sharp stepping moves, which while known to any Western lover of hip-hop dance, had been veritably unknown in South Korea. Their use of it in the music video for the song first brought the group to popular attention. Here’s where the males in the audience showed their loudest support.
Body & Soul – more like Body & Rolls. During this R. Kelly-ish slow jam, the boys undulated and gyrated in mod-cut suits in a fan service fiesta that provided one of the quieter moments of the show only because of the jaws on the ground in the audience. That was, until they all lay on the stage floor and started rhythmically pelvic thrusting into the air.
Daehyun, the group’s lead vocal is capable of soaring heights both with his powerful, wide-ranging tenor and angelic falsetto; therefore I can’t help but think the occasional pitchiness and off-key notes might’ve been the result of the sound being way too loud for the small space. I can’t imagine what it was like in their ear monitors. No click tracks or auto-tune here, folks.
Himchan, the group’s “Visual,” or their “face.” This is an actual role in K-Pop groups. Not merely a pretty boy, the charismatic Himchan played to – and with – the audience; accepting gifts, taking selfies with fan’s cell phones, using his novice-level English (B.A.P has always employed some English in many of their songs ) to make sure everyone was safe and having fun.
Youngjae, the elfin second vocalist seemed to have surprised the audience of fans with his level of fan interaction; hitting both ends of the stage, flirting and basking happily in the female adulation while shamelessly making them scream. This was the only time the sound system didn’t kill my ears as his smooth, facile baritone was hardest to hear of the six members.
Jong Up, B.A.P’s main dancer. This kid is insane. Through each song, whether the frenetic BPM ofHurricane or his muscular B-Boying solo during No Mercy, the young man’s cred as a tournament level hip-hop dancer shines through. Performing flawlessly, he displayed his fluency in other styles like jazz and even tap. Jong Up’s criminally smooth solo stage, just himself in a dark suit and an MJ-like fedora showed his ability to go from powerful and sensual to swanlike grace.
B.A.P’s leader Bang Yong Guk, he of the bottomless bass, who shows fierce flawless confidence and aggression in videos and televised performances, shocked me by being quite shy and reticent with the audience. His raps were perfect and he actually has more tone live than I expected. He was kind of sweet, really – and I must give props for his turning out in one of their many costume changes in a Jeremy LinKnicks jersey – but in general seemed less comfortable on stage than his other six cohorts, allowing them the lion’s share of the fan’s attention, which brings me to …
Zelo. At the time of their 2012 debut, Zelo was 15 years old and already an experienced rapper, dancer and beat boxer. In K-Pop, there is a special designation called “maknae” for the youngest member. It’s a role which usually has its own following with fans being extremely protective and indulgent of the maknae’s cute antics. Zelo basks in that adulation and owns the stage as much as Bang Yong Guk seems to shy from it. Zelo does double duty with rapid-fire raps, with his high-pitched tones contrasting excellently with Yong Guk’s husky growl, while his effortlessly agile dance moves are perfect complement when teamed with main dancer Jong Up. Absolutely comfortable (despite his approximately 6’2” and still growing height) and confident before the New York audience, Zelo cheekily teased the crowd, made eye contact and after slipping on the some of the water that they’d showered onto the overheated audience, bounced back up and laughed. Of all the members, Zelo is the one who seems born to the stage.
Standing with another journalist who knew very little about K-Pop, she voiced real surprise about the huge mix of colours of the fans gathered on Sunday. Indeed there was no principal race making up the audience. African-Americans, Latinos, Caucasians, every type of fan was in that crowd in nearly equal numbers and heartily singing the Korean-language songs back to the group. It was gorgeous and astounding and real proof of the colour and race barriers B.A.P has crossed.
While surely having a lot of space to grow and improve, it is amazing that just two years into B.A.P’s career that this group could possibly be this on point and polished
B.A.P Live on Earth NYC Attack 2014 Set List:
VCR – What is Love? (Matoki Cartoon)
Body & Soul
Jong Up Dance Solo
VCR – Learn the Mato Planet Dance
Dancing in the Rain
Stop It (Hajima)
©The Lady Miz Diva Vélez