24-year-old HyunA has been in the Korean pop industry for over a decade, juggling the various roles she’s filled since 2007: a member of the now-defunct Wonder Girls and 4minute, one-half of the duo Trouble Maker, and a successful soloist. As a member of 4minute, HyunA was best known for her memorable, arguably polarizing vocal tone, her magnetic stage presence, and her sexy image.
After fellow 4minute members Sohyun, Gayoon, Jiyoon, and Jihyun decided not to renew their Cube Entertainment contracts in June of 2016 after seven years together, HyunA found herself in a complicated position that was made no easier by media and netizens.
HyunA’s North American The Queen’s Back Tour, then, is symbolic of the signer’s establishment as a full-time international soloist, and the perfect opportunity to connect with and thank some of the fans who have stood by her. The star, despite having her international it-girl moment after hundreds of millions around the world watched her do the horsey dance and charm Psy in “Gangnam Style,” has only performed in America once before as a soloist — back in 2014, HyunA performed a four-song set to a crowd of K-pop fans at SXSW’s K-Pop Night Out.
Nearly three years later, she’s returned to North America, armed with five EPs of material to present to a much larger audience comprised of her loyal fanbase, affectionately named A-ings by the singer herself. With all the possibilities presented by her discography and her talents — HyunA flips between rapping and singing, from low-toned and husky to cheeky and cute — what could concertgoers expect?
At the New York City stop of her tour, produced by KPOPME, eager fans piled into Midtown’s Town Hall on Friday (March 3). The crowd was ready to scream their hearts out for the next two hours, shouting prematurely as the lights dimmed and fog engulfed the stage, only for the MC to step onto the stage and sheepishly apologize for getting their hopes up.
As HyunA took the stage, following a dance cover from contest-winners Serendipity Dance Troupe, the crowd resumed their screaming, lighting up the venue with a sea of cherry red light sticks. HyunA wisely opened the show with her 2015 single “Roll Deep,” a synth-heavy track where HyunA marvels at her own fame, success, and beauty with lyrics like “My scale is different, you can’t touch this.” The track was upbeat enough to set the tone for the evening, which skipped the few downtempo tracks in her discography and played to her strengths: her dancing skills and her smoldering charisma.
After a small translator-assisted chat, HyunA jumped into her 2012 single “Ice Cream,” where she alternates between talking about love in a coy voice and rapping about “diamond rings, so bling bling,” and the A Talk b-side “French Kiss,” a perfect mash-up of Missy Elliott‘s “Lose Control” and Britney circa 2001. Afterwards, the MC introduced a segment that would help fans learn more about HyunA. HyunA answered safe, fan-submitted questions, like “Where in New York would you shoot a music video?” (answer: in Times Square, surrounded by her fans.) After the fan-service-heavy Q&A segment, HyunA performed “A Talk” and the sweet, tropical house-flavored “U&Me,” the first track from her latest EP A’wesome.
HyunA stepped off the stage as a lengthy clip detailing her solo career, from the “Crazy in Love”-inspired music video for “Bubble Pop!” to behind-the-scenes clips from the music video for “How’s This?,” played to the crowd’s occasional cheers. HyunA’s energy noticeably picked up post-intermission, after she returned to the stage in a cropped Thrasher hoodie and matching hot shorts that belied the below-freezing temperatures outside. As the crowd collectively lost it over her new outfit, HyunA dived into the nursery-rhyme-meets-hip-hop of “Red;” the change from stilettos to sneakers definitely helping her execute the big movements of the choreography.
The MC then introduced a number of games designed to get fans to directly interact with HyunA on stage: a match game, where select audience members answered questions alongside the star, a lottery where fans could win goodies kissed by her, and a dance-off, where fans broke more than a sweat to impress HyunA. At this point, the concert felt more like a fan-meet, but those fans were more than ecstatic to have the opportunity to hug and take selfies with HyunA.
HyunA returned to the music and stuck to it for the rest of the show, performing her 2010 debut single “Change,” A’wesome B-side “Freaky,” and the sparse trap-meets-electronic track “How’s This?,” before disappearing off stage. After minutes of darkness and chants of “One more song!,” HyunA returned to the stage to perform the effervescent “Bubble Pop!,” her most notable hit.
The show was, musically, a paint-by-numbers affair. HyunA herself was barely audible over the overwhelming backing track. No remixes or alternations to any of her tracks were present; when presented with the opportunity to rap in place of Highlight’s Junhyung on “Change” or BTOB‘s Ilhoon on “Roll Deep,” HyunA danced through their bars and let the backing tracks take care of it.
As a concert, HyunA’s NYC show was a series of curious choices — from her set list, which clocked in at 32 minutes long and excluded notable tracks like “Ice Ice” and “Do It!,” to the venue itself. The Town Hall, a fully seated venue better known for its rich jazz history and the major part it played in the suffragette movement of the 1920’s, is a far cry from the New York City clubs and arenas where other K-pop artists have played.
As an experience, however, fans got more than they bargained for with the intimate experience. Fans had the chance to dance to “Red” alongside HyunA, take selfies with the unusually approachable star, and have every single shout heard. Every “I love you!” was met with a typical but no less adorable response from the singer. From start to finish, this show was as much about the fans as it was about HyunA and what it lacked in over-the-top stage production and theatrics, it made up in heart. Judging by the audience’s seeming elation and constant energy, it was a good move.