Waiting outside in the rain to see Dean in New York City on Saturday night, it’s conceivable some fans might’ve caught cold. But it was clear from the crowd rushing the stage and singing along to the South Korean singer-songwriter a few hours later that all anyone had come down with was a case of Deanfluenza. The 23-year-old performed to an audience of several hundred people at Manhattan’s Flash Factory, serenading them with his synth-infused R&B amalgamations.
After producing songs for K-pop acts like EXO and VIXX under the name Deanfluenza, Dean burst into the spotlight last July when he released his first song, “I’m Not Sorry” featuring Eric Bellinger. Furthering his career with a variety of other releases and garnering widespread acclaim at SXSW, the handsome newcomer won over fans and naysayers of K-pop alike — and without playing by the rules that apply to Korean mainstream music (namely, he released music in the U.S. before putting out a single Korean song). The hundreds of attendees were all there to see for themselves how talented Korea’s most enigmatic musician of the year really was. Some had seen Dean the night before at the concert’s pre-party, or earlier that day at a meet and greet, but it didn’t matter; the venue was bristling with energy ahead of Dean headlining his first New York City show.
But, like Kanye West’s aborted gigs, Dean’s weekend in New York City didn’t go without a hitch. About an hour prior to the concert’s scheduled 8 p.m. start time, event organizers informed the crowd waiting inside the hall that Dean’s show was pushed back an hour and changed the venue from Times Square’s Copacabana to Chelsea’s new EDM hall, Flash Factory. The last-minute switch left ticket holders scrambling between the two venues, and when fans arrived at Flash Factory, they still had to stand outside the performance hall as a summer downpour did all it could to damper their eagerness to see the rising star in the intimate setting.
All was forgiven when opening acts MIL?? and Cheech Bundy hyped up the crowd, heightening anticipation for the long-delayed start of the show. Dean got into the mood with his English-language pump up track “Put Your Hands on Me,” which originally featured Anderson .Paak. After greeting the fans and expressing an apology regarding the changes and the rain, the charismatic performer moved on to present all but the intro track off of his first EP, the alt R&B masterwork 130 Mood : TRBL. Bass heavy trance track “Pour Up” preceded the throbbing passion of “Bonnie and Clyde” and the romantic tones of “What 2 Do” brought new elements to the mix.
Wearing an unassuming plaid shirt and interacting directly with fans, Dean was absorbed with the rhythm of his own voice and set the mood with his frenetic actions. While performing, the fresh-faced star matched his movements to the pace of each song, jumping around the stage and grabbing fans’ hands one moment and lying down on the stage as if in the midst of passion on the next.
Though he may have produced some K-pop hits, his performance’s artfulness revealed that Dean is different than anything Korean music watchers have seen in a long time. The consummate artisan-ship of Dean was audible with each beat of the eight songs he performed that night. By the time he moved into the melodic singsong “D (Half Moon)” and the soul dance falsetto of “21,” the crowd was entranced by his skill and the synthesis of genres that Dean incorporated into each of his creations.
With his pronouncement of “this is going to be the last song” ahead of “I’m Not Sorry,” the crowd groaned and then matched Dean word for word, imitating the artist’s sweeping vocal colors as he reveled in the heightened energy, throwing water on the pulsating crowd as the song built to its crescendo. Bringing both the song and the show to a close, Dean bowed deeply to the audience in a sign of gratitude.
Luckily for the crowd, Dean returned to the stage after fans demanded an encore and ended things off with his hip-hop heavy “I Love It.” And then, like the 20-something he is, he returned again to take a selfie with the cheering audience, saying farewell for one last time.
Or at least until he’s back in New York City, which seems likely at the rate of success Dean is seeing. Continuing down his accelerated path to recognition both in and outside of South Korea, Dean will mark another milestone next month when he brings his brand of R&B to the world’s largest Korean pop culture event, KCON LA.