[REVIEW] BIGBANG – K-Pop Heroes Deliver Candyfloss Hooks with a Sharp Edge

14 Oct

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So entrenched by now is K-pop as a global phenomenon that arena-scaled spectacles like Big Bang’s US tour closer at the Prudential Center, towards the back end of a 15-country marathon in support of their third full-length studio album MADE, are all but incapable of surprises. Every familiar accoutrement of the boy-band genre was expected and accounted for on Sunday night and dutifully dialed to 11: the lasers, strobes, confetti cannons and pyrotechnics, the finely tuned choreography, the sleek, modern production ingeniously calibrated with a pitch-perfect touch of Vegas schmaltz.

Yet Big Bang, the first and best idol group of Korean pop-music conglomerate YG Entertainment (whose exponents include Psy and 2NE1) and approaching their 10th year together, still manage to subvert conventions enough to set themselves apart from a billion-dollar industry’s rank and file – and validate a mania that saw tickets changing hands for hundreds of dollars outside the venue. The group’s five members, all established superstars as individuals in the Pan-Asian belt that represents K-pop’s core market, blend the cotton-candy hooks typical of boy bands with a shimmery edge of sex and violence and sophomore-year nihilism, all within a catchy hip-hop package that draws from elements as far-flung as metal and dubstep. The result could be best described to your parents or the otherwise pop-illiterate as a far, far, far superior One Direction. This is fully realised pop as its inventive and sophisticated peak.

The multicultural mass of fans that on Sunday packed the multi-purpose indoor arena to the corners, many holding tulip-shaped lightsticks aloft throughout, squealed full-throatedly as the group ran through a breathless 21-song set that drew from their biggest hits, including viral smashes Fantastic Baby, Loser and Stupid Liar. For two and a half hours, each of the five members’ individual talents and personalities were showcased, often as the show made way for their solo material: G-Dragon, the profoundly talented frontman whose formidable musical chops are matched only by his androgynous, chameleon-like fashion sense; TOP, the oldest of the five and best rapper of the group; Daesung, the playful ne’er-do-well with the exaggerated bangs who showed off his drumming talents with an extended solo during Sober; Seungri, the youngest member and “glue guy” who offers a little bit of everything; Taeyang, the standout dancer known for his soaring falsettos and creative coiffure – and who during one break declared his love for Shake Shack burgers to coos from the crowd. All of it was underpinned by an expert six-piece band and stage production helmed by Gaga and Beyoncé collaborator LeRoy Bennett.

After Big Bang closed the show with the three-song encore of Bang Bang Bang, Good Boy and Bae Bae, the crowd spilled deliriously into the Newark night. Although my own proficiency in Big Bang’s native language is limited to the kamsahamnida that once got me through 10 days in Seoul, the Big Bang experience – mostly in Korean with the occasional English hook or chorus – affirms pop as universal touchstone and cultural panacea.

Source: The Guardian

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