Saturday, October 20, 2012

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: Wonder Girls @ Hard Rock Cafe

L to R: the Wonder Girls in NYC. Lim (Purple), Yenny (Teal), Sun (Blue), Yubin (Pink), Sohee (white).

My love for the adorable ladies of one of KPOP supreme girl groups, the Wonder Girls, continues to grow with each passing day (and it will happen to you if you listen to the 2011 Wonder World album and watch some of their in-English interviews on YouTube, as I've been doing quite a bit of recently). Seriously, if you can watch this interview and not be charmed by at least one of them, I don't know what's wrong with you.
So when I heard word that Sun, Yenny, Yubin, Lim & Sohee would be coming to New York to perform live for less than $10 -- I was totally hands in. That's exactly what happened this past Thursday night at Times Sqaure's Hard Rock Cafe Theatre, thanks to the folks at local radio station 92.3 NOW, who have been big fans of the girls' most recent US single release -- "Like Money".

Quick backstory on the Wonder Girls for those of you who are less familiar -- they are JYP's flagship group (labelmates include "little sister" group miss A and boy bands 2AM and 2PM) that debuted back in 2007 with a slightly different lineup. The group first appeared with their debut single "Irony", featuring members Sun (Sunye), Yenny (Yeeun), Sunmi, Sohee & HyunA. If the name HyunA souds familiar, it should -- shortly after her debut as a Wonder Girl, she dropped out of the group citing health problems, and rejoined the idol scene two years later as a member of 4minute (and would later go on to perform solo with "Change" and "Bubble Pop", and as a duo in Trouble Maker, yadda yadda).

After HyunA's withdrawl, she was replaced by the group's now signature rapper (and my personal favorite) Yubin. The group went through one more member change in early 2010 after gaining superstar status in Asia with their hit single "Nobody" (officially the first KPOP single to chart in the US Hot 100) when Sunmi decided to withdraw from the group to pursue college. She was replaced with JYP trainee (and overall cutie pie) Lim (Hyerim). Recently, the group released their Korean EP Wonder Party on the back of the single "Like This", as well as their first official US English single in "Like Money" (which features rapper Akon). A full US release is expected shortly.
It also should be noted they were the first KPOP group to try for US integration -- and one of the few that is actually doing it the right way. After "Nobody" blew up, the group came to New York and lived here, going through extensive lessons to learn English. It worked in that favor in this regard as they can not only sing effectively in English, but can also promote and conduct interviews without a translator, something many other groups attempting to come to the US aren't able to do.

Their attempts at US success are often compared to that of competitor girl group Girls Generation, who many argue eclipsed the Wonder Girls in terms of popularity when WG decided to devote so much time in the US. However, in my opinion, as an English speaker and a US citizen, I really really respect Wonder Girls more for going through so much time and effort to speak the language. (It's not altogether that different from what BoA and TVXQ! did to pursue success in Japan -- and this idea of learning the language first is really a dying trend in KPOP.)
The group had already toured the US a few times -- first opening for the Jonas Brothers in 2009 and later with their labelmates in 2PM/2AM. Currently, they have been doing a handful of radio shows in support of "Like Money", which included this particular show, dubbed a "birthday party" for one of the station's DJs. I went to the concert with my friend and KPOP concert-goer-in-crime, Christian (aka "DrowningN00b" at McRoth's Residence.) Expecting a large line, we got to the venue long before the doors officially opened only to find the line was quite manageable (a big change from my prior experiences for shows with 2NE1 or JYJ).
Yenny (left) & Sun (right) belt it out during "Ouch".

While waiting in line, myself and some of the girls in line recorded a "Happy Birthday" message for the DJ (read: screamed bloody murder for Wonder Girls), and learned at the show several pairs of Monster Diamond Tears headphones would be raffled off for fans (if you haven't seen them -- they are sickkkkkk). Upon entering the venue, were were all handed a card that had your raffle number on it and on the back was a picture of the Wonder Girls from their Wonder Party sessions signed. Oh yes, it's the first of many moments that night that will be sure to inspire jealousy in all of you Wonderfuls. ;)
Once inside the theatre, drinks in hand (hey, it's a Wonder Party after all), we were shocked to find ourselves right against the stage! It truly was the closest I've ever been during an idol concert -- indeed for an artist of this kind of magnitude, although to be fair, they are hardly as famous here in the US as they are in Asia. Also -- it needs to be said -- the show was sold out, but the venue was small and even though we were right against the stage, the crowd was super relaxed and chill. There was no pushing and craziness. Concert-Goers of Boy Band Concerts, please recognize how nice that really is.
The DJ started the night off playing a mix of tunes, including (inevitably) PSY's "Gangnam Style". Everyone was singing along and dancing -- even the station's two requisite hot girls came on stage to try and do the horse dance. The "birthday boy" came out shortly thereafter and a few seconds later, the Wonder Girls hit the stage in adorable sequined outfits (I figured they'd go for sequins -- I was going to wear a sequined dress and decided against it! Sigh.) -- Lim in Purple, Yubin in Pink, Yenny in Teal, Sun in Blue and Sohee in White, all with white shoes. Some of the girls outfits were rompers (Lim, Sun & Yubin), while the others were tops and shorts. All of them looked phenomenal in person (especially Yenny -- her hair was perfect). I was really struck by how pretty they were -- all five of them.
Yeah, Yenny's looking right at us. Jealous?
They mainly performed their hits -- alterating between in English or in Korean -- running the gamut from newer jams like "The DJ Is Mine" (love!), "Like This" and "Be My Baby", to older hits like "Tell Me" and "So Hot." They also performed "Nu Shoes" from the Wonder World album, despite it not being a single. I would have perferred the rock-esque "Me, In" or my new anthem for life "G.N.O." --  both of which were also from that album and were non-singles -- but still. They also performed "Ouch" and "Stay Together" (the later composed by Yenny), both English ballads that will be featured on their upcoming US release. A great fancam of the girls introducing themselves and singing "Stay Together" is here. They also sang a few seconds of their recent Christmas song acapella.

They closed the night out with a different version of "Like Money" without Akon (meaning, a superior version -- haha). It was clear they were singing live -- Sun and Yenny, the group's main vocalists, were really giving it their all despite a few unfortunate mic problems.
The group has a really great energy on stage -- all of them looked so alive and happy while performing (yes, even Sohee -- I know she gets a lot of slack for her poker face -- Homegirl was getting down at the Hard Rock). All of the girls except Yenny (sad face!) came over to our area and kept interacting with us, through winking, smiling, pointing (Sohee pointed at us for the "Nobody but you" bit -- eff yeah!), and Yubin even grabbed the hand of one of the adorable Wonderful fans we had met in line who was standing with us. Bless her heart, she legit could not handle it. ("Her hand is so soft!!!")
Midway through the set, a cake was brought on stage for Ty Bently, the DJ (is mine) who's birthday it was. There were no plates for the cake, so he kept cutting it and handing it to people in the crowd (which apparently cracked up Sun -- she was dying laughing. It was the cutest thing you'll ever see ever.) Yenny even got in on it and handed some cake to fans with her bare hands.
Overall, it was such a great concert experience -- everyone we met was so nice, we were so close, the girls were phenomenal and acknowleding us and we got signed cards? I think it's safe to say I'm a bonafide Wonderful now.

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