When asked about his group's performance at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, a bleach blonde G-Dragon of K-pop group BIGBANG says under his breath, "I wish it was better."
A refreshingly candid answer in the very formal, professional world of K-pop where the stars are more cute than sexy, scandals are minimal, and its stars spend years training. But this is BIGBANG -- an act that rewrites most of the conventions in K-pop by composing most of their own music, go shirtless in music videos, and have found themselves in the midst of several controversies just this year alone.
Backstage, the five members are in their opening number outfits -- heavy-duty, sparkling white suits looking like edgy Prince Charmings -- but G-Dragon walks around without his jacket on and huge sunglasses before sitting down for some pre-show interviews. Each member personifies himself in their demeanor. The elusive T.O.P., known for his low-bass timbre rapping, wears dark sunglasses and shows little emotion. Handsome Seungri sits straight up juxtaposing G-Dragon's casual answers and laid back appearance. Taeyang, in long braids, acts in a calm manner answering many questions with an impressive grasp of English similar to G-Dragon. While Daesung, the group's charismatic powerhouse vocalist, spends most of his off-camera moments warming up his voice with lip trills. Each has his own bottle of Fiji water (with a bottle of Welch's white grape juice for T.O.P.) with G-Dragon's attitude seemingly not improving just minutes before show time.
The show is scheduled to begin only ten minutes behind schedule (a big difference to the 90-minute plus delay label-mates 2NE1 fell into in August) with little commotion backstage. One back-up dancer scurries out of the female dancer's changing room, being sure to slow down and give a little bow upon passing Taeyang, but all in all, it feels calm before the final American stop of BIGBANG's Alive Tour.
BIGBANG in America: Exclusive Backstage Photos
Who knows what happened in the final ten minutes before wrapping interviews to the show's kick-off (perhaps it was the ear-shattering screams filling the sold out arena show), but when BIGBANG took the stage Friday night, G-Dragon and co. appeared in high spirits throughout the entire performance. Kicking off with "TONIGHT," the band's frenzied electronic track, G-Dragon ran down the stage's runway looking as if he would almost fall off the stage into the vivacious pit of fans if he hadn't slowed himself down sooner (he repeated this same gesture several times throughout the show). The show started off with banging tracks moving quickly to "Hands Up" and "Fantastic Baby" (which peaked at No. 2 on the K-Pop Hot 100). As the show moves on, G-Dragon receives a loud response whenever his parts begin, but Daesung and T.O.P. get equally impressive screams. (Particularly when teasing that fans may be hearing his new solo material soon.)
Throughout the show BIGBANG took a stage approach similar to the likes of One Direction -- using little choreography, relying more on jumping around stage and interacting with the crowd. Stage props were used minimally, but effectively. "How Gee" saw T.O.P. and G-Dragon riding around in bedazzled, upholstered segues and Daesung attaching humongous angel wings during appropriate solo track "Wings" to attach himself on a cable and essentially soar over the crowd.
BIGBANG's musical styling ranges from hip-hop to electronic pop (see No. 1 K-Pop Hot 100 singes like "Blue" and "Monster"), but in-between tracks concertgoers saw a deeper connection to the hip-hop world with members beat-boxing for each other while the group spit raps or harmonized together (including a highlight where G-Dragon offered English verses of "Crayon," [his solo track that peaked at No. 4 on the K-Pop Hot 100] indicating a proper English debut may not be too far away for he or BIGBANG). Concertgoers were treated to breakdancing and Taeyang's gymnastics for a few on-stage flips.
While speaking to the crowd, the group had a tendency to sing the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' New York anthem, "Empire State Of Mind," making their East Coast admiration clear. "It was really tough to get here, three flight changes," Taeyang told the crowd of the problems his band found in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Focusing on the positive he wrapped with, "Let's make it unforgettable."
Today's male pop or hip-hop stars wouldn't be caught dead in the flamboyant fashion the group brought for their Alive Tour (with outfits including brightly colored suit jackets and the tightest jeans imaginable). Yet the look completely works for BIGBANG with nothing sacrificed from an artistic standpoint. One got a sense of the dedication the fans (affectionately known as VIPs) when BIGBANG dropped out singing to let concertgoers take the chorus to their hit song "Haru Haru." The fact that such a large East Coast venue could be filled with the lyrics of a song called "Haru Haru" by the concertgoers is truly remarkable in and of itself.
BIGBANG in America: Exclusive Backstage Photos
G-Dragon seemingly recognized his group's amazing accomplishment with his energy never fading throughout the showcase. "You guys are amazing… I love you," he told the audience to fans' delights. "I promise you we will come back soon." He spoke a similar phrase in Korean, but to lesser cheers.
But with tubs of Brooklyn Lager and bottles of Hennessy backstage provided by the venue, it was clear that regardless of whatever language they were singing (or speaking) in, the final American stop of BIGBANG's Alive Tour was a success for all.