Being a Western K-pop fan can be frustrating if you want to go to concerts. Though more and more groups are embarking on world tours, usually “world” really just means “Asia and a select few other countries.” There’s an intense debate among international fans over which continent is truly the “K-pop desert,” but let’s face it: we’ve all got it rough. That’s why it’s so thrilling when you live in a minor city and a group you like decides to come to your own hometown.
I’m pretty fortunate when it comes to seeing international K-pop concerts. Paris, where I’m currently based, is often a popular stop if groups come to Europe. Other major European cities like London are expensive, but easy enough to travel to. And if I’m in the US, I’m close enough to New York that I’d be willing to make the trek. But even with this relatively convenient setup, I was still floored when SF9 announced Boston – my hometown! – as one of their US tour stops. I had to
pretend to think about it because I’d already been to two concerts this year, but the tickets were inexpensive and the date was when I happened to be in town already. I like to say that their release of “O Sole Mio” was the deciding factor, but it’s pretty obvious that I was planning to go all along.
SF9’s event was technically a fan meeting, because they’re a rookie group and they don’t have enough songs for a full concert yet. So they spent about half the time performing, and the other half interacting with the audience. Though I’m quickly becoming a regular K-pop event attendee, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. K.A.R.D’s fan meeting was relatively light on fan service, probably because they’re co-ed and have a wider demographic. They mostly did special stages and covers of Western pop songs everyone would like. But SF9 is a boy group with mostly younger female fans, and the name of their tour is “Be My Fantasy” (a play on their fandom name). So I imagined that there would be a lot more interacting with the audience.
To be honest, I was kind of apprehensive about that portion of the show. I really go to these events for a rare chance to see groups perform live. I have my fangirl moments just like everyone else – this blog can attest to that – but it’s usually when I’m watching Youtube in the privacy of my own home. Fan service makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward in general. There was a chance to onstage and play a game with SF9, and I was seriously praying that I wouldn’t be picked (I’m in the minority, I know). Not to mention that I was bringing my male cousin, and I was a little worried about what the experience would be like for him.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with the segments that SF9 put together. They were well-organized, and both my cousin and I found them very entertaining. Of course, there were plenty of moments that would please any Fantasy and make their heart flutter. But in general, it wasn’t so geared towards Fantasies (read: young teenage girls) that anyone else (read: a casual fan and a non-fan in their twenties) would feel out of the loop. It actually felt a lot like a variety show, which totally was fine with me. Watching music videos and Weekly Idol is the extent of my involvement with most K-pop groups anyway, SF9 included.
The first section involved the members showing off their various talents and charms. Each guy prepared two things to show the audiences on their tour. So it would be something like, “Do you want to see Youngbin sing or dance?” or “Do you want to see Rowoon act romantic or charismatic?” Fans could vote on which they wanted to see in the days leading up to the show. The results could have been different in Dallas or Seattle, but here’s what happened in Boston:
- Youngbin did a little dance routine with Inseong and Jaeyoon as backup. He also did that trendy move from BTS’s “Go Go,” which my cousin is now fascinated with.
- Inseong did a speed quiz and answered questions about the greater Boston area. Seeing as Boston/Massachusetts is generally not an area foreigners are familiar with, he did pretty well.
- Jaeyoon sang bits of Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder,” and followed up with “Believer” when his members complained that it sounded more like rapping than singing.
- Dawon played a Korean game with Chani. Basically, one person moves his hand in a certain direction, and other has to look in a different one. If he looks in the same one, he has to cover his head with a pot before the first person hits him with a toy hammer. Since Chani lost, there was a bonus round where he picked on Hwiyoung.
- Rowoon flirted with the entire room in a “charismatic” way, which basically just consisted of him pointing around and saying “Hey, you…yeah you! I love you.” And making hearts, obviously.
- Zuho walked right over to the edge of the stage and serenaded some lucky fans with his smooth rapping.
- Taeyang did a very cutesy and accurate cover of I.O.I’s “Very Very Very,” followed by Dawon’s super extra version. Rowoon also convinced Taeyang to do it again facing away from the audience, which of course was a crowd pleaser.
- Hwiyoung did the chorus from “00:00,” which is one of my favorites.
- Chani did some sort of K-drama scenario re-enactment, featuring Youngbin as his “girlfriend” and Zuho and Taeyang as a rather giggly wall to corner “her” against…so I found it a little more funny than heart-fluttering.
They also played a relay game, which is pretty common to variety shows. SF9 had to complete various missions in 90 seconds: two members touching hands after doing 10 elephant spins, two popping a balloon by hugging, one playing catch with a lucky fan, one kicking a hacky sack five times while wearing a cone over your face, one successfully reciting a tongue twister, and two jumping rope five times. They managed to do it all in two tries, but it was still pretty entertaining. It’s times like these when I wished basic WordPress let me upload videos.
One thing that really stood out to me was how much English the members used, especially since none of them are native speakers. I understand very little Korean, but I don’t believe it’s necessary for idols to learn English. It’s a good skill to have, but a few basic phrases is all they really need. So I was pleasantly surprised when the members didn’t really use their MC to translate. In fact, I’d say about 80%-85% of what they said directly to the audience was in English. The younger ones were a little shy about it, but each one really made the effort. Honestly, I thought it was quite touching.
Korean fans and (Western) international fans have some key cultural differences, and most K-pop artists seem to be sincerely surprised that there’s so much love for them outside of Korea and Asia. Perhaps it’s the language barrier, but sometimes it feels like they don’t quite know how to respond to that attention. But SF9 really seemed like they were comfortable with their fans and happy to please them. Besides their conscientious effort to speak English, they also used fans’ cell phones to record videos and take selfies at the end of the event. Catering to fans is obviously part of their job, but I could tell that they were happy to do those things and that they were genuinely thrilled to be there.
As for the performances (which is why I went in the first place!), they were stunning. SF9’s reputation as an up and coming dance group is incredibly well-deserved. Their moves have always looked super sharp and in-sync on camera, but it’s really something else to see live. I tend to zero in on main dancers when I’m watching Youtube videos, so I typically end up focusing on Taeyang or Chani. But watching from the balcony was a good reminder that all nine of them are no joke. Everything about their stages was so crisp and clean, and they killed it.
It’s becoming a tradition in my concert posts to thank whoever was kind enough to come with me. So this time, I’m sending a shout-out to my wonderful cousin Ken. He knows very little about K-pop and our music tastes wildly differ, but he agreed to accompany me so I wouldn’t be alone. And luckily, he had a great time. He was entertained by the game segments, and he was very impressed by the performances (which is usually the best way to pull in non K-poppers anyway). And he was incredibly amused when I explained to him what a “visual” was. So once more, thanks to my awesome cousin for being an incredibly good sport.
I’ve enjoyed all of the K-pop concerts that I’ve been to, but I think SF9’s fan meeting is one of my favorites. I really love K-pop in general, but I’m so multifandom that I end up being a casual fan of most groups. You know, consuming music like a typical Westerner would. SF9 is a group I’ve liked since their debut, but this fan meeting made me enjoy them even more. I went primarily for the performances, but the whole thing really felt like a unique experience that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. SF9 are still rookies, but their talent, level of professionalism, and kindness to their fans proves that they’re definitely a group to keep their eye on in the future.
IMAGE CREDITS: FNC Entertainment, Subkulture Entertainment, SF9’s Official Twitter