Coronavirus

How Monsta X Is Taking Over the U.S., One Tour Stop At a Time

Monsta X
Dennis Leupold

Monsta X

Less than three months after Monsta X released its debut EP, Trespass, in May 2015, the Seoul-based boy band, under South Korean label Starship Entertainment, made its first stateside appearance as part of the KCON Los Angeles festival that summer. At the time, the largest-scale K-pop tour had been a nine-date theater run by hip-hop trio Epik High — one of six male K-pop tours to hit the United States that year. This year alone, so far nine South Korea-based acts, both male and female, have completed U.S. treks, with 13 K-pop groups including Monsta X confirmed to play U.S. shows in the coming months. Monsta X’s summer tour will be its most ambitious, with 17 North American dates; in comparison, BTS’ upcoming Map of the Soul trek includes eight U.S. stadiums and BlackPink played five U.S. cities on its 2019 In Your Area world tour.

“We never expected to even have shows at big arenas like the Staples Center or, this year, at [L.A.-area venue] The Forum,” says Monsta X rapper I.M. “But we’ve never felt like we’ve needed to limit ourselves.” Jbeau Lewis, the music agent at UTA who works with the group, notes that booking regions besides major cities was vital to planning this outing. “Expanding beyond the limited handful of core K-pop markets into key cities like Detroit, Toronto and Washington, D.C. — where there is not only an Asian American crowd but also a diverse and widespread pop audience — is a critical piece of [our] strategy,” he says. “We want to reach as many fans, both old and new, as we can.”

The tour follows Monsta X’s debut English-language album, All About Luv, its first full-length released on Epic Records, which bowed at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. The lead single, “Who Do U Love?” (featuring French Montana), made Monsta X the second K-pop group to appear on Billboard’s Pop Songs chart. The group has heavily promoted the new release stateside with high-profile TV appearances on Today, The Kelly Clarkson Show and at the 2019 Teen Choice Awards.

But since its 2019 tour, Monsta X has battled internal issues, as original vocalist Wonho announced his departure from the group last October (in part due to a series of accusations made against him on social media that Starship vowed to fight legally) and rapper Joohoney took a leave of absence in January (to deal with anxiety). Now, with the 2020 tour coming up, the group’s focus is primarily on self-improvement: Member Kihyun says the band is eating healthier (Minhyuk is regularly eating breakfast for the first time in his life) and working out more frequently to be in the best physical and mental shape. Adds I.M: “And Joohoney is going to join our world tour — don’t worry about that.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 29, 2020 issue of Billboard.


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