Not to be dramatic here, but mega-Kpop-group JYJ’s first U.S. showcase in NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Friday night was probably one of the craziest things I have ever seen. The concert was slated to start at 8pm, but when I arrived at the New Yorker Hotel at 1pm for my interview with the artists, I was greeted with the sight of approximately four thousand fans jam-packed into lines that stretched for over two blocks at 35th and Eighth.
Passing cars slowed to see what the fuss was about, as anxious police and security guards were having a field day trying to shepherd amazed passers-by out of the way. JYJ, a three-member male group from South Korea, are mega stars internationally (as evidenced by the Guiness Book of Records entries in 2008 and 2009 for World’s Largest Official Fan Club), but this month marks their first debut in the United States.
Released in Asia last month, their first English language album The Beginning is planned to drop on Amazon and iTunes in the U.S. in the next few weeks. It is a major debut, with Kanye West and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins producing separate tracks on the album, which also features Malif “The Poet Yusef”, and is distributed globally by Warner Music.
For Friday’s concert, fans began lining up on Thursday night and spent the night on the street, spurred by the first-come first-serve seating. But what truly floored me was the sheer scale of the international audience; I talked to fans who had literally just flown in from France, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Japan, Thailand, Dubai, and China for this particular show.
“Yeah, I flew to Hong Kong to see their concert two weeks ago and flew back to New York for this one,” said Shelly Jameson, 28, who is a stylist based in NYC. Whitney, 20, and Bonietta, 22 took the bus up from Michigan the night before. “We started hearing their music online and became huge fans even though we didn’t understand what they were singing about.
That’s why we’re so glad this album is in English.” Pierre-Aime from France also said that he had become a fan after he heard their music online, while Alison Slater, a 34-year old artist from Toronto said that she was also flying out for the Las Vegas and LA shows that are scheduled for the 14th and 19th, respectively.
The concert kicked off with hilarious commentary by the two MC’s for the night; Julie Chang of Fox News and the actor Shane Yoon teased the crowd to a frenzied pitch before introducing JunSu, JaeJoong, and YuChun, who emerged in sleek yet showy black outfits a la Rick Owens meets Resurrection, and immediately launched into a blockbuster performance of the first song of their set.
The trio showed effortless dance skills and truly impressive vocal range as they sang “Empty,” a darkly catchy song with a Euro-pop techno vibe, which was written by superstar producer Rodney Jerkins and carried the signature Darkchild electronic dance beats.
The set alternated between performances, onscreen animation, and Q&A sessions with the MCs. JYJ showed off some more sexy moves while performing “Ayyy Girl,” the collaboration track with Kanye West and Malik Yusef, which featured syncopated acoustic layers and a jagged retro beat. The show closed with the band performing a remix of the opening song “Empty” (and nearly causing an earthquake when the members urged the screaming crowd to jump) while a white blaze of confetti blasted from canons onstage.
The agitated energy level of the audience beat Madison Square Garden hollow; I personally witnessed more than one hapless audience member being carried out for suffering a seizure during the show.
In an interview before the showcase, the three JYJ members talked to V about their U.S. debut.
FC: How has your experience in New York been so far?
JunSu: We’ve been to the States about seven or eight times, but we only visited the West Coast, and so this is our first time in New York. We had really high expectations, and it’s as beautiful as we expected. It’s amazing to think that we’re actually performing in the city that we’ve seen in only movies and magazines until now.
FC: Have you found time to go out and enjoy the city?
YuChun: We went to a party on our first night.
JunSu: But then we got sick.
YuChun: The party was probably why we got sick. *laughter*
FC: What was it like working with Kanye?
JunSu: It was a blast hanging out with him at his studio in LA. We all talked a lot and were just chilling, which then led naturally to the recording sessions. Working with him was great because it was so laid-back.
YuChun: We all went out to eat burgers and thought it was funny that he didn’t take his sunglasses off the entire time. *laughter*
FC: Who are some American artists who you would like to collaborate with in the future?
JaeJoong: For me, J. Holiday. His music is very inspiring, and similar to the kind of sound that I aspire to in my own songwriting.
JunSu: I would love to work with Beyonce. We went to see her show when she came to Seoul, and it was amazing.
FC: Although you guys are famous overseas, you are debuting as a new artist in the U.S. How are you approaching your new audience?
JunSu: As musicians from Asia, we know that we have a steep hill to climb in the American music scene, but we realized that coming in. We will continue making the music that we are passionate about and we hope that the American audiences will come to appreciate our particular sound and production.
Frances Cha (Vmagazine.com)