NEWARK — What you have to understand is that “Gangnam Style,” the goofy crossover hit that has given K-pop a global profile — it has even reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 — is still something of an outlier, a lightly ironic sendup of the genre’s eccentricities. But it’s very hard to parody something that gets more outrageous by the day.
If anything, the center of K-pop is far stranger. Take “Crayon,” by G-Dragon, an electro-rave-meets-Southern-hip-hop thumper with a video that makes the excesses of, say, Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj in that medium look like tiny incremental gains. It is kaleidoscopically weird, hilariously comic and sinisterly effective.
G-Dragon is a member of BigBang, the long-running K-pop boy band, which played its first show in the New York area at the Prudential Center here on Thursday night. He performed “Crayon” early in the night, wearing a jacket with the head of a white tiger attached to the back, a pair of black Air Yeezy 2s and bleached blond hair standing straight up like sheaves of pesticide-soaked wheat.
And that wasn’t even the most energized part of this vibrant show, in which BigBang — G-Dragon, T.O.P., Seungri, Taeyang and Daesung — performed more than two dozen songs wearing almost as many outfits, and in unusual setups: before “How Gee,” which could pass for an early Teddy Riley production, members of the group took to the stage on gilded Segways and lowrider bicycles.
Over the years G-Dragon has emerged as the flamboyant center of the group. He has a soft voice but a shrieking exterior. He’s balanced out by T.O.P., who raps nimbly in a basso profundo voice and has a regal bearing, even walking around the stage wielding a scepter. Taeyang is the group’s battery, a compact dancer and singer with a tender voice. Daesung has a totally credible R&B voice — during a solo song, dancers affixed wings to his back, and he soared over the crowd on a wire — and the baby-faced Seungri plays the straight man.
At one point Seungri called G-Dragon a genius and told him, “I love you.” It can be a challenge to dig up subtext in K-pop, which gleams with outlandish visuals and candy-coated sentiments, but maybe this was penance of a sort for the recent romance scandals that have dogged Seungri in Asian tabloids.
K-pop can be so heavily referential as to be post-referential. The band wove an interpolation of the signature guitar crunch of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into a song. Multiple members of the group beatbox, a technique that’s hardly, if ever, used in mainstream American hip-hop, its birthplace, but is a routine part of the K-pop star arsenal. Late in the night Taeyang, heavily tattooed, with long braids and a bandanna worn just so, tore his tank top in two, Usher-style, and did a back flip, which is probably beyond Usher’s skill set.
(Throughout, BigBang was backed by a cadre of dancers, the men emphasizing break dancing.)
BigBang’s more recent material is bubblier and more frenetic, like “Fantastic Baby” (the chorus of which, to be fair, does bear a passing resemblance to the buzzing beat of “Gangnam Style”), but toward the end of the show, the group devoted time to more blatantly romantic fare like “Monster” and “Cafe.”
This show was the first of two nights at the arena, part of a short but loud American tour for an act that, while it has a big following in this country, has not yet achieved American pop success. At the end of the night, during a long encore, Taeyang kept singing the hook from Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” as if he could single-handedly change that.
Source: NY Times