Korean R&B Singer Crush Flaunts His Versatility as Debut International Tour Hits NYC
A crowd dominated by young women lined up on a quiet, unsightly block of Manhattan by the borough's West Side Highway on Sunday (Nov. 13), without a care that work or class or a slew of other responsibilities faced them once the night was over.
The occasion? Korean R&B sensation Crush's first solo show in New York City. The 24-year-old's second show of his CRUSH ON YOU 'wonderlust' tour brought a thousand fans to New York City's Stage 48, a midsize venue in Hell's Kitchen. Though CRUSH ON YOU is Crush's first international tour -- featuring stops in Milan, Paris, London and a handful of American cities -- Sunday night's show was Crush's second East Coast jaunt. Back in June, Crush performed at New Jersey's Prudential Center for KCON New York, but his truncated set gave fans a mere sampling of what he had to offer. With a 90-minute set time and a stage to himself, Crush took fans through his four-year career, displaying his versatility with his singing, rapping, and takes on other artists' hits like a remix of Jay Park's “Mommae.”
Crush, born Shin Hyo-seob, made his debut in 2012 with “Red Dress” featuring TakeOne. The youngest member of Korean hip-hop label Amoeba Culture, Crush has made a name for himself through his self-produced hits and numerous chart-topping collaborations -- Geeks' “Sometimes” featuring Crush currently sits at no. 4 on Korea's Realtime iChart.
Throughout his career, the producer and singer's flirted with neo-soul, new jack swing, experimental jazz rock, electronica and acoustic rock, with a slant towards au courant, club-ready smashes and smooth falsetto-heavy R&B tracks. His latest EP wonderlust, however, is a marked departure from his past works; the lyrics are more soul-searching than sultry, with acoustic guitars and twinkling pianos backing lyrical snippets from his life. With such a diverse discography, the cohesiveness of his show was in question; how does one successfully pull together tracks from all across the energy spectrum without creating a lull, or jumping haphazardly from a high-energy track to a soft ballad?
Thankfully Crush pulled together his most notable tracks in a logical procession, with Club Eskimo crew member DJ Millic warming up the crowd with a modern R&B mix featuring high-energy remixes of Lianne La Havas and GoldLink. Crush stepped out at the tail end of the mix in a machine generated fog, bathed in red light as he crooned the first few lines of “You and I,” the crowd noticeably shifting forward a few feet at his appearance. With his take on Jay Park's pulsating “Mommae,” the crowd went from excited to absolutely electrified, with ear-piercing screams and shouted lyrics accompanying his performance.
The energy ebbed as he moved into the experimental jazz of “In the Air” but picked right back up with “A Little Bit” and “I Fancy You” from his 2014 debut album Crush on You -- his prolonged runs at the end of “I Fancy You” provoked more sound barrier-breaking screams from the crowd. Crush dug deeper into his discography with 2013's “Crush on You” featuring rapper Swings, where he flaunted his ability to rap in the absence of his featured artist.
The crowd fell into the vibey “Woo Ah,” singing along with the disyllabic chorus and the closing refrain “Do you love me/Like I love you?,” while they swayed their arms along to the simple and romantic “Whatever You Do.” On “Two Melodies” and “Just,” Crush did double duty as he took on collaborator Zion.T's lines; absent were the melodies that made “Just” magical, but Crush's voice seamlessly filled the gaps throughout the verses.
Crush moved into “2411,” the first track of the night from his recent EP wonderlust -- the first track that made his lack of a live band noticeable. A completely acoustic take on the song would have elevated it, but given the stage and time limitations and the flow of his setlist, his use of a backing instrumental was understandable. “Sometimes” and “Don't Forget” featuring Girls' Generation's Taeyeon moved the sound of the night solidly back into the direction of R&B balladry, with his softer, toned-down vocal performances soothing the crowd into a false sense of calm before he dove into “Hold Me Tight” and “9 to 5.” The former (by Loco featuring Crush) drove the crowd into a tizzy, with Crush falling to his knees as he drew out his signature falsetto, while the aggressive latter brought out a grittier side of Crush.
His explosive 2014 hit “Hug Me” was the most hype performance to that point in the night, with the crowd jumping along to the chorus. Crush left the crowd chanting “Encore!” for all of a minute before he returned to perform his most popular hit, “Oasis” featuring rapper and producer Zico. The vocal chameleon took on Zico's OG Maco-flavored bars on “Oasis.”
Beyond the solid vocal performances throughout, Crush gave his international fans his love. Crowd engagement separates a live performance from a YouTube video; without it, Crush's set could have easily gone by as a well-performed but paint-by-numbers show. Crush made sure to let the crowd into his world, even for just a few minutes, as he revealed facets of his personality through anecdotes on his music and his life; “2411,” he explained through his translator, is a nostalgic track named after the bus he took in high school to his music academy. On a humorous note, he read a short letter detailing his love of New York City, which he reportedly explored while listening to Chet Faker, and the many “beautiful and sexy ladies” of the city, looking every bit like a student on his first day at a new school. Though it was all a stark contrast from his smooth stage persona, the crowd loved every second of it. Despite the frequent blocks of untranslated Korean throughout the show, the fans weren't bothered -- his earnestness and excitement could still be felt.
The night didn't go off without a hitch, however. The backing track dipped during vital moments, and the occasional whistle of his mic was impossible to ignore. But despite the sound issues and the flat backing track that didn't allow tracks like “2411” and “Don't Forget” to shine, Crush's show was a solid display of the current Korean R&B movement at its best. Crush juggled rapping and guest vocalist duties as he wooed the crowd with endearing platitudes and heart signs. Above all, he showed that hallyu goes far beyond maximalist pop.