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BIGBANG At Prudential Center, Thursday, November 8th, 2012, Reviewed

 in their mid-20s, BIGBANG are the High School nerds of K-pop, serious, intent, industrious, learnt by the book and capable of aceing every single examAlthough they have taken: by rote, because that is what they have studied for. This makes the Asian Phenom less then fun but more than capable. At the Prudential Center, as part of their East Asian Centric, Samsung Galaxy sponsored World Tour, one member of the band (except for G-Dragon, it doesn’t really matter who), mentions they switched planes three times t get here tonight and seven years of cramming for their finals (they formed in 2006) had lead them to this moment. Now will they pass?

 An hour earlier, Prudential had been more like a mix of JFK International Departure Lounge and an all girls school in  a Japanese slasher movie.  The floor doors were slow in opening and the girls were so uniform with BIGBANG backpags and braided hair, there was something kinda spooky about the enthusiasm. I guess all audience have that in common but since Asians are a different race than mine, also their features seem similar. There was a calmness to their hysteria.

 And there was a calmness to BIGBANG. With all the whistles and toots, nine dancers, banks of PCs, full band, this was the most regimented pop scene imaginable. Everything about the show was utilitarian. The stage, a huge, beautiful expansive thing that lead to an ankh shape, had the smooth accountability of an IPHONE or the Samsung equivalent, everything in sharp lateral lines, a clean sweeping clear vision of popularity where all the swing and dirt of rock and roll is non-existent.

 And the band itself, while uncomfortable in English, were very comfortable in Western mediums.  The rapping was terrible, but it was there and the dance was as precise and evocative as you can get. All the songs, all of them, were like computer generated virtual music. Except theyw eren’t anything of the sort. Musical avatar G-D co-writes and co-produces the bands material. Seungri would mention how in awe he is of G-D and really, the songs are remarkable products. Hard dance pop nuggets like “”Fantastic Baby”, “Stupid Liar”, and “High High” are at the high end of cutting edge while remaining as conservative as pop can get,

The band members, one Justin Timberlake and four Lance Bass’ tumbled across the stage grimacing and pouting, calling out to NJ in their somewhat worse for lack of use English, and spreading, but never sprawling. The attitude and the sound seemed to have as much to do with Korean Pop of 1995 as US pop of 2012 has to do with US Pop of 1995, with one big difference. Whether 1195 or 2012m US Pop crossed overseas, but nothing about 1995 suggested anything more than reprocessed regional cheddar. BIGBANG owes everything to everyone, but nobody else puts it together quite like this. It sounds the same but different. It lacks irony, or lightness, but has more more professionalism and control. This is a band  that takes few chances (few, not none, G-D, sings an unrehearsed “One Of A King” off his solo album a-capella), it is a well oiled machine and all the more arch for that.

 Perhaps their look is the most Korean thing about them: in heavy make-up and eyeliner, from white tuxes to rainbow suits, BIGBANG are the gayest looking Boy band since Backstreet Boys, except Backstreet Boy suggested rough trade and BIGBANG suggest Culture Club, when they get tough they look silly, and when they dance hard they seem to glide the backing dancers into a symbiosis, one element under a single name.

Of course, any boy band is gonna be one body with five heads,  that is what is going on here. None of the singers are so great, but they sing well together, and they aren't much for harminizing, rather they trade lines and trade thoughts.

 Anyway, BIGBANG are signed by YG Entertainment, the same guys who brought you 2NE1 PSY and “Gangnam Style”.  2NE1 are the popular girl band  and might break,  but PSY’s style is an implied sense of satire, he is making fun of the scene he is in, and is almost the opposite of the serious weird take on Western pop at the heart of K-Pop. That leaves three questions:                            

1.   Was PSY’s success the exception for K-Pop?

2.  Are BIGBANG the boys to bring K-Pop into the Western hemisphere as more than a one hit wonder?

3.   What the hell do BIGBANG care?

 Really, besides ego, who cares about the Americas when you have Asia? Who needs the US when China is waiting? I don’t see K-Pop or BIGBANG making a serious run on the charts though I believe both are good enough to do so. In purely racial terms, and based upon the audience at the Prudential, and the lack of even one K-Pop band at Jingle Ball, I don’t think a US teen girl audience will embrace these guys. They aren’t bad looking but they are a little effeminate, and there I something a little uncool about the band.

 I would put “Stupid Idiot” among my fave songs of 2012, but once I’ve said that, I am not insane about their songs. I like them as much as, say, Far East Movement, so I do like them, but I don’t champion them. And I don’t think they are as manufactured as One Direction (or the Archies!) but still, they lack sincerity and K-Pop as a loud and shiny thing, and with every state of the art advancement in the world, are a little dull. None of their set pieces tell a story, the band lacks a back story, and their songs are generic. Perhaps the nuances that might be in Korean are lost in English, but really, who believes there really were nuances in this sound.

 BIGBAND never bored, but they never enchanted either. They were a generic genre that never jumped to a place where what it means to be Korean informed what it means to be in a boy band. They didn’t lack stamina, or care, or professionalism, or experience. They were not overawed by playing for an American audience. But they lacked heart.

 Grade: B 


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