[REVIEW] BIGBANG, Following The K-Pop Playbook With Flash

13 Oct

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NEWARK — It’s hard to overstate how imperious T.O.P. looks onstage. The oldest member of the outlandishly popular K-pop boy band BigBang, he walks slowly, almost reluctantly. He regards his surroundings with Clooney-like reserve. If it’s possible to be rolling your eyes while maintaining fierce eye contact with several thousand people, he can do that. He stands ramrod straight, making it seem as if he’s always peering down on what’s transpiring around him.

What’s happening is an extreme, intense, overwhelming Korean pop carnival, and at the Prudential Center on Sunday night — the second of two shows here — T.O.P. was almost certainly the only one over it all. For about a decade, BigBang has been one of the most innovative and popular acts in the flooded-with-talent and always-in-flux world of K-pop. Nothing has derailed the band — not the occasional scandal, romantic or legal; not long breaks, like the years that pass between albums; and not the success of G-Dragon, the group’s breakout star.

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BigBang is at work on a new album, “MADE,” and has been releasing singles over the past few months that are in general less Technicolor and frenetic than its songs of a few years ago, which helped the group break out beyond Asia. (The last time BigBang played the area was three years ago, at this same venue.) This is a sign of musical evolution, and also a realization that the boy band mode comes with built-in time limits. There is also the looming specter of conscription: South Korean men are required to perform two years of military service.

But for now: G-Dragon, G-Dragon, G-Dragon — so many of the screams here were for G-Dragon, fashion show front-row habitué and collaborator with Diplo and Skrillex. Slight and baby-faced, he was toned down from his usual visual excess. As in all boy bands, there is a hierarchy here, of course: G-Dragon is very much at the top. He gets the best clothes — a fascinating patch-covered oversize bomber jacket, or a snow-white turtleneck — followed closely by T.O.P., who at one point wore what seemed to be a Mondrian print on a suit.

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In most boy bands, that would be enough — the rest would be filler. But there is no Chris Kirkpatrick or Howie Dorough here. There’s Daesung, with the same lovable-scamp affect as Ed Sheeran and a powerful voice; Seungri, the youngest and most mannered of the bunch (they’re all in their mid-20s); and Taeyang, the most feline and the most impressive singer.

G-Dragon and T.O.P. drew the most eyeballs during this electric, ecstatic show, in which multiple songs were accompanied by fireworks or lasers or streamers, and in which costume changes came Instagram fast.

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But it was actually Taeyang who stood out the most. His hair fried into a crisp 1991 drape, he stalked the stage with ferocity and sang with real force on songs like the recent single “Loser” and an impromptu (but not, really) snippet of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” late in the night while Daesung danced.

Throughout the night, the group’s indebtedness to American pop, hip-hop and R&B was on full display, from Taeyang’s vocal runs to T.O.P.’s post-dancehall toasting to G-Dragon’s nimble rapping and strange allusion to the “school of hard knocks” he and the band had gone through. (Well, not always full display: BigBang’s backing band, made up wholly of black American musicians, was hidden in the dark at the rear of the stage for most of the night.)

The show and the group were almost perversely chaste, at least onstage. Less so in the interstitial videos shown between songs, which show the band members as what they are: men playing at being boys.

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But even if BigBang is nearing the end of its reign, appetite for the form remains, as was clear from the young and extremely diverse crowd here. Boy bands are an industry and aesthetic all but abandoned by the American pop machine. But like, say, automobiles, South Korean success with the form is another example of a concept kick-started here but perfected elsewhere. A night with BigBang is a loud reminder that American exceptionalism is waning — long live imports, though.

Source: NYT

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