In the K-pop onslaught at home, I have always enjoyed a band called TVXQ (which stands for Tong Vfang Xien Qi, and roughly translates to ‘rising gods of the east’), primarily because they are older than many of the others, there are only two of them, and because they do this really catchy number that has a kind of big band-jazz feel, and sees them dancing around a giant faux set of horizontal bass strings. I really like it.
So, when we saw they were playing at the Tokyo Superdome during our stay, we bought tickets.
Now, the interesting thing about TVXQ is that both South Korean members, Shim Changmin and Jung Yunho, are fluent in Japanese, so they also record albums in Japanese and have a Japanese name, Tohoshinki. What I found most surprising about this, is that the Japanese people we spoke to didn’t recognise the name TVXQ at all. It was only when we said Tohoshinki that they generally responded in a fairly excited way, and often then followed up by telling us how many concerts they had been to.
So we’re clear, these guys are mega popular. In Japan (lets not even look at South Korea – use your imagination), they became the first foreign artist to release ten number-one singles, and the first to sell over 3.1 million singles, breaking a record that had been held for over ten years by The Carpenters. They also broke the record held by Elton John for the fastest-selling single by a foreign act, and their Time tour of 2013 is the highest-attended concert tour held by a foreign music act in Japan. Billboard magazine described them as ‘K-pop royalty’.
Anyway, we went. And it was mind-blowing.
The Superdome was sold out – all 50,000 or so seats. Taking photos was forbidden, with being caught resulting in ‘immediate exit’. I literally did not see another person take a photo, and my own blatant rule-breaking felt stressful and wrong. But, honestly, how could I not somehow record this?
When Mary told me we would be the only people in the stadium without lightsticks, I didn’t imagine for a second it was anything but dramatic exaggeration. Oh, how wrong I was! I think the lightstick-absence quota was about 1/100. I will never go to a K-pop concert again without a lightstick. I really let the team down on this one.
According to Mary, the massed lightsticks are called an ‘ocean’, and contributing to that ocean is considered a very important part of being a fan. The audience not only moves them in time to the music, but also in different ways during different songs and chants. Apparently the major groups all have different colours, so I’m thinking TVXQ did pretty well to snag red.
What was really interesting was the crowd, which was so different to what I expected. Not scores of screaming fan-girls in mosh pits, but a fascinating cross-section of age groups, including a significant number of families and, interestingly, groups of middle-aged female friends…all of whom were seated. And everyone was terribly orderly and calm. Listen to how they chanted.
These guys sang and danced their damn hearts out for three hours and, in between, they spoke to the audience, sometimes at length, in what seemed to be a very humble and sincere way. I can’t wait to get a subtitled concert video so I can find out what they were saying.
I loved the responses of the audience. Once, when the camera was on Changmin, he gave a tiny, almost-imperceptible wink at the end of one of his notes, and the crowd erupted into a roar. All they had to do was run their fingers through their hair to get a cheer. At the end of one song, during an extended pause before Yunho’s final note, I’m not kidding, you could have heard a pin drop. I mean it.
And, can I just say, I was expecting high production values, and wasn’t surprised that we saw a truly spectacular band and dancers, fire, fireworks, stages that moved from one end of the stadium to the other whilst being raised and lowered, and giant trucks that drove them around the perimeter of the audience. But I was not expecting each member to step into a steel cage, and be floated in front of me beneath a giant balloon.
Ok, I may have cried a little. United humanity tends to set me off as it is, but the added shock and awe tipped me right over. You can imagine what happened when everyone started singing together during the final song. They got me, the boys did.
I hereby declare them both my equal favourites.