CNBLUE has all the qualities of your typical K-pop boy band: Charismatic, good-looking and talent in singing, acting, rapping, playing instruments and beyond.
But the quartet is far from a boy band. Most often compared to acts like Maroon 5 and Jason Mraz, CNBLUE — consisting of lead vocalist/guitarist Yonghwa, guitarist Jonghyun, drummer Minhyuk and bassist Jungshin — is one of the few Korean rock bands that can compete with the idols on the K-Pop Hot 100. In fact, the guys earned their highest-charting entry yet on the K-Pop chart last February when their single “I’m Sorry” peaked at No. 2, spending five weeks inside the Top 10.
And their fans are just as dedicated as any boy band’s.
For the first time ever, CNBLUE brought its show to the East Coast with a performance at New York’s Best Buy Theater on Jan. 21. While the show was announced in December, no one could have predicted the fierce snowstorm would plague fans waiting in line from early hours of the morning to get the best spot in the general admission pit. The temperature refusing to rise above 14 degrees was a stat not lost on the band.
“We’re really worried about our fans who have been waiting since the wee hours of the morning outside,” Yonghwa, via translator, said to Billboard, the only media CNBLUE agreed to speak with before its New York debut. “We’ve dreamt of playing New York for a long time so we’re glad that it’s finally happening. Especially because it’s our first concert of 2014, we want to really go out, even if we faint, we really just want to give it our all… but even if only one fan came, we still would have done the show.”
And it’s that humble, dedicated mindset that has taken CNBLUE so far in the K-pop scene.
Instead of being discovered by recruiters and trained by an entertainment agency, the members of CNBLUE sharpened their skills playing as street musicians in Japan and South Korea. Since its official 2009 debut, the group has steadily risen to be competitive with top Korean acts.
“Most of the K-pop groups are defined by dancing, showmanship and those kinds of things,” Yonghwa added. “But because we’re a band, we think it’s a great quality that all our performances are done live.”
Their unique qualities have transferred over to the Billboard charts. “Re:BLUE: CNBLUE 4th Mini Album” went to No. 1 on the World Albums chart in February andcharted on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart, meaning an entry on the Billboard 200 wasn’t far off. In fact, the guys chalk up their first American solo show to a result of their strong chart showing.
NEXT: “We hope that one day people will say, ‘Oh that sounds like CNBLUE.'”
“We think it’s an honor that so many people bought the ‘RE:BLUE’ album,” Jungshin reflected, before adding a message to K-pop fans: “We think [the sales] were one of the biggest factors that created this opportunity to have a world tour and come to America.”
While the show had a 20-minute delay due to letting in fans delayed by weather, the venue soon erupted with screams as the boys casually walked out to their instruments. Kicking off with songs like “Where You Are,” “Get Away” and “One Time,” Jonghyun, Jungshin and Yonghwa (who may have been most amped for this U.S. show, an American flag design decorating his guitar strap) worked the stage and interacted with one another, lots of times turning to Minhyuk on drums when they weren’t singing.
The lively movement plus the superb rave-like lighting arrangements were topped off with CNBLUE’s rock ‘n’ roll attitude that further unfurled as the night went on. The boys kept leaning off the stage and closer to fans in the pit, extra instrumental riffs and harmonies were added on top of the arrangements and Yonghwa even threw guitar picks into the crowd and winked at specific audience members. The guys knew how to rock.
When asked about their thoughts on comparisons to Western acts like Mraz and Maroon 5 — watch Yonghwa perform “Payphone” here — Yonghwa said, “We’re fans of both artists, so it’s an honor that people relate us as artists to them. But we hope that one day we’ll have our own color and our own sound and people will say, ‘Oh, that sounds like CNBLUE.'”
And while they’re recording new music — naming Bruno Mars and Kings of Leon as current inspirations — it doesn’t seem too far into the future that CNBLUE can be considered the shining example for Korean rock’s international expansion a la K-pop’s.
“Last time we were here, it was a joint concert with [fellow Korean rock band and labelmates] FT Island, but this time because it’s our own solo concert; it’s that much more meaningful for us and for our fans,” Minhyuk explained.
Meanwhile, Yonghwa wrapped with a message to said fans: “Thank you for all your love and support throughout all this. We promise to come back and provide strength through our music. Please look forward to what we have in store in 2014 and keep supporting us.”