Within the past few weeks I’ve had the good fortune to attend two big concerts for American fans of Asian pop music – the first US appearance of Japanese performer Akanishi Jin and the Korean group 2AM, performing with the Wonder Girls – and to be right up front for both. This gave me the perfect opportunity to compare the events on a more intimate level and gauge their impact on me and the audience, and the differences could not be more pronounced.
Akanishi Jin: You & I
Invited to perform as a solo artist at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles, Akanishi Jin had the opportunity to assemble a show and live (or die) without the help of his fellow KAT-TUN group members. This was a bold experiment for the young man: although he’s performed solo in a few venues in Japan where he has a ready made and rabid fanbase, doing a concert in the US would require significant preparation. The concert would be in English, and while he’s spent time in the States before working on his language skills and has made strides, it would still be a challenge.
But ticket sales would not be an issue: a significant proportion of seats were sold to that same dedicated fanbase from Japan, many happy to make the trip to see their idol perform in a more intimate club setting than would be possible at home. My concert companion and I found ourselves the fortunate possessors of seats in the second row, stage left, right in front of the steps to the stage where performers could come down and into the crowd. Needless to say, we were excited to see how the show would play out.
We had zero expectations, knew nothing beyond the work of KAT-TUN, and seen a few promotional videos. What would the music be like? Would he be singing songs from his “Olympos” CD, where he sings under the name Lands? “You & I” would seem to imply a very fan-oriented, sexy, intimate show. Yes, we were excited, and the Japanese fans in the audience a thousand times more so!
So, what was the outcome? How was the show?
Points to Jin for his hard work and his English skills, but this show needs a lot of work if it’s going to live up to the name “You & I.”
“You & I” implies that there will be a connection between the performer and the audience. With an artist who has made his fame as much for his looks as his group performance work, you might expect that Jin would reach out to the audience through eye contact, singing to the audience, and, one might say, make love to the audience. But if that was the idea for the show, it failed miserably in its execution.
From start to finish, Jin failed to connect with anyone not performing with him onstage (he surrounded himself with 2, 4, or more dancers in most every number), and often looked as if he was performing within himself. With our prime vantage point, we watched song after song for some sense that he was connecting to the audience – at one point he stood not 4 feet in front of us, on an extended portion of the stage and waited, waited for him to turn and sing out to the audience, look out to the audience, and waited in vain! At no point did he show us more than 1/4 of his profile, directing his attention to the action onstage.
He also hid his voice behind the demon autotune. Song after song, his singing voice was altered,virtually every stanza, every chorus, by autotune. Judicious use of autotune can add an intriguing note to a song, but every song? The entire song? You cannot claim to be a singer if autotune is your staple companion. The songs, some written (in whole or in part?) by Jin, where mostly forgettable riffs, simple tunes, simple lyrics. Perhaps the greatest disappointments of the evening was that he did not perform any of the numbers from the “Olympos” album, a generally respectable offering.
No, I take that back. The greatest disappointment of the evening were his wardrobe choices. Throughout the costume changes, number after number, Jin appeared in outfits that swamped his shape, hid his face, obscured his personality. Hats, hoods, sunglasses, baggy jackets, overalls, shorts… everything he wore seemed designed to hide the man within. At no point in the entire concert was his face completely visible to the audience. While loyal fans may find this acceptable and swoon with delight, I left the event feeling cold and certainly not part of the “You & I” experience.
2AM, guests of the Wonder Girls
What a difference experience was had just a few weeks later while seeing 2AM perform in Chicago as the guest of the Wonder Girls at the House of Blues! The 4 young men (Lee Chang-min, Im Seulong, Jo Kwon, and Jung Jin-woon) this week celebrated 2 years of singing together as 2AM and were on their first tour of the US as well. Maybe it’s due to the relative newness of celebrity, or the cultural differences between Japanese and Korean artists, but these young performers (ages 19 to 24) appeared delighted with the opportunity to connect with their fans.
Recording of 2AM performance from the concert, fancam by yours truly, and yes, turn the volume way down on your computer before playing! Screaming ensues!
The contrast between the two concerts was striking. Yes, Akanishi Jin was performing nominally as a solo artist but his show was cluttered with dancers (mostly popping and locking) and autotuned melodies delivered with an aura of nervous tension. Chang-min, Seulong, Kwon, and Jinwoon sang in turn and demonstrated the strength, beauty, and clarity of tone that would make each more than capable of a compelling solo career, but when performing in harmony they create a sublime sound. During each song they sang with visible emotion and reached out with their eyes and their gestures to connect with the adoring audience.
Unlike their “Oneday” counterparts, 2PM (who I had the pleasure of seeing as well 6 weeks ago and who also acquitted themselves favorably), choreography takes a back seat to the song and the personality of the artist and the result is harmony – harmony with the audience, harmony with each other. Their delight in seeing the audience was genuine and the love that flowed back to them was equally genuine. This was indeed “You & I” as it should be.
One can only hope that Jin will grow as an artist and shake off his jitters, leave behind the addiction to autotune, and learn how to connect with the audience. He would do well to take a few pointers from the 4 men of 2AM. As for 2AM, their skill is matched by their personalities and the future looks very bright for them. I hope that JYP brings them back to the US again soon – how about a “Oneday” concert, Park Jin-young sshi? This fan is waiting!