Monday, June 26, 2017


Sunday marked an iconic -- to a degree -- return to #KPOP stanning for yours truly. It involved two boy bands, neither of which I knew much about, feeling like the (delightfully not fangirl-flailing) noona in the sea of hormonally-charged teenage girls, and pure serendipity.


My Sunday began bright and early, standing in line outside of an Apple music store in Williamsburg. I'm as pasty as they come -- waiting for hours in direct sunlight is not my favorite summer activity. Still, I persisted, in order to see NCT 127 live.

NCT 127 are a sub-unit of the NCT boy band concept (it actually stands for 'Neo Culture Technology' and no, I'm not joking) by the behemoth I both loathe and love, SM Entertainment, also known as the agency who initiated me into this #KPOP lifestyle (home of TVXQ!, Super Junior, SHINee, and many more, including the dreaded EXO). NCT's "uniqueness" is that they have an infinite amount of members (and here I thought learning all the names of the members of Super Junior was difficult way back when) so theoretically, it suggests SM would never need to make another boy band. Ever. NCT 127 is arguably the concept's most popular -- chiefly for their "experimental" sound, a very 2017 pop/EDM/rock/hiphop hybrid that is the clear evolution of SM's "copy & paste" production style of the last few years (see SHINee's "Sherlock (Clue + Note)", Girls' Generation's "I Got A Boy", etc.).

NCT 127 was named one of Apple's New Artists To Watch, thanks to their recent release of their EP CHERRY BOMB (and single of the same name). Hence the reason the  group was invited to be the first Korean artist to perform at one of their #TodayAtApple live events, in too-trendy Williamsburg, the morning after making their American performance debut in New Jersey at this year's KCON Festival. "Cherry Bomb", the song, is a grower for sure and instantly reminds one of EXO's "Wolf" for its use of non-sequitur English phrases ("If you're happy and you know it clap your haaannnndddds", still not joking) and chant-singing. 

The troupe of boys -- 9 total, doesn't that sound familiar, fellow noona fans? -- arrived in a black minivan an hour or so before the performance in  red camo to predictably energetic squeals from the younger girls all around us. The crowd in my general vicinity was split in terms of bias -- Johnny and Mark were both common highlights (and both are from North America originally; the former, Chicago, the latter, Vancouver), as was main visual dancer, pink-haired Taeyong.

The red camo outfits you see them where in the music video were the exact same outfits I saw them perform in. When SM commits to a wardrobe, they don't waste a lewk, mmkay? (Side Note: a bunch of the fans were "embarrassed" they performed in the same camo as in the video. Girls, my oppas didn't go through wardrobe concepts like "Twins" and "Tri-Angle" for you to be embarrassed by a little camo. Sheesh.)

I've been to Apple store performances before -- the most recent memory being seeing a re-formed 98 Degrees whilst promoting their reunion album four years ago. This was nothing like that. No chairs, no real security, or crowd formation. Just 100+ excited girls, some boys, a few moms, and a totally bewildered staff, crushing against wooden picnic tables, set up in a square around an oversized screen. I genuinely feel bad for anyone who needed their iPad fixed that AM. It was the recipe for potential trampling -- and I almost was thanks to a handful of teenage girls behind me who were, as the kids say, shook AF. Seriously, I've never heard more filthy phrases come out of a 16 year old's mouth and never would I dare say as much in front of my own  mother at a boy band concert! But 2017 is a different world, ladies and gentleman...

NCT 127 walked onto the "stage" (read: floor) in front of us and proceeded to perform three songs total: singles "Limitless" and "Cherry Bomb", as well as b-side "0 Mile" (which I honestly enjoyed the most). Both singles were preceded by us all watching the music video for the same song on the oversized screen. Why the "hype" for the performance of a single was seeing the same song/choreography via music video first, I still don't understand. Someone quick create SM Entertainment a sizzle reel. It was a real waste of 6 minutes of all of our time. 

In between performances, the group sat down with blogger Arjan Writes and answered a few questions (both in Korean and English) about their career and performing in New York for the first time. They also talked about working with choreographer Tony Testa for "Cherry Bomb" (who also did much of SHINee's choreo formations, as well as every other super famous Western popstar).

That being said, the point of the day was the dancing and I have to say for a group that is hawked as choreography-driven, in a landscape like #KPOP where choreo can make or break you for the mainstream audience at large (look at BTS, after all), I felt a little underwhelmed. Certainly there were bright spots -- Mark, who I admittedly wrote off as one of the cutesy members for his involvement in NCT Dream as well (NCT's bubblegummy most-recent sub-unit), was hard to take your eyes off of while dancing (or rapping). Taeyong was a hot topic when the group debuted because of his dance skill but perhaps I just couldn't see him when he was truly in his element from my vantage point in the corner. I went in to this hoping to really be blown away but left with mainly an appreciation for being grown enough to handle my emotions when around cute (ages 17-23) boys and a general enjoyment for "0 Miles"


With the crowd still in a general scrum, hoping to snap selfies with NCT post-performance (not sure if that ended up happening of them though, poor kids), I headed off to Manhattan to see a performance of '1984' now running on Broadway. Once the show was finished, my friend and I decided on walking through Times Square to the subway trains to head home and stop for ice cream. Here's when it gets really weird... 

Sitting next to the ice cream stand in the middle of Times Square, was a gaggle of too-pretty-to-be-civilian Asian boys. A few were noticeably model-esque tall, the majority had candy-colored hair in a similar haircut. There was absolutely no question in my mind this was a boy band, especially since they were clustered in the most touristy part of New York City (and again, KCON had its final performance the night prior) with only two adults -- a man and a woman -- handing them bottles of water and looking around at everyone with a vague sense of insecurity.  

The only question was...which boy band? It was then made abundantly clear: I'm no longer "relevant" with the K-scene as I was before. These boys could have been anybody, I had no clue. But I knew they were somebody and I certainly didn't want to be that person who asked for a photo when I wasn't sure of any of their songs. 

After we got ice cream, one of the members of said unknown boy band also got his own ice cream, pointing to what I was handed and said he wanted "that". If this doesn't make me famous, I don't know what does, fam.

Stymied, I took a few trying-not-to-be-obvious-but-felt-super-obvious videos of the boys and posted to Twitter asking for help. The answer I received back was almost instantaneous as tens of Twitter users proceeded to immediately inform me I was super lucky that I was four feet away from UP10TION (read: "Up-ten-shun", like attention...but with a '10'), a formerly ten-, currently nine-membered lineup (again with the 9) who had indeed just performed at KCON. 

I think my age shows in that my first thought looking at them wasn't that they were adorable eating ice cream (as so many of my new Twitter acquaintances proclaimed) but that their agency was so kind to 1) let them eat ice cream at all (especially given they have a comeback looming), 2) have this little moment to sight-see in New York. Guilty as charged. I hope all of my faves (in SM Entertainment) are given these little luxuries but given how tiny all of NCT 127 seemed in person, I have a lot of questions about it.

We grappled with the idea of stopping the group anyway and asking for a photo (at best we could be like, "FIGHTING!", right?) but they were quickly on their way, taking selfies that they later posted to their Instagram both alone and with a totally clueless street performer dressed as Spider-Man. I swear I heard one of Up10Tion call the man "Spider-Man-nim" and I almost broke out in the church giggles.

Looking into the group once I returned home -- to abundant re-tweets and more exclamations that I was so lucky on Twitter -- I would hasten to say I was a bit more impressed by UP10TION's choreography formations than NCT's. I'm not here to create a feud -- it's totally unnecessary and the nature of the #KPOP environment is already so needlessly bickery but take a peek at this little jam and see if you agree. Also their fandom is called HONEY10 and I just can't with how cute that is.


Overall, it was a lovely little day with what could be the next generation of KPOP superstars. Given my faves are in the army for what has felt like decades (only a few more weeks left!), it was still so encouraging to know that the genre is really only gaining momentum in our disjointed little niche of music-lovers. 

NCT 127's CHERRY BOMB is available for download now on iTunes (see what I did there?) and Spotify. UP10TION's are making an comeback with a new single/EP in Korea this week called "Runner" (teaser here), set for June 29th. I'll be lookin' out of them and you should be, too.

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