IMG_7800Following in the footsteps of the powerful SM Entertainment Agency and established Korean Wave artists like Xiah (Junsu) and BEAST, who made early inroads into the European market, young idol group Teen Top set off on a 4-country, 5-city European tour in Munich, Germany on February 2, 2013. Organising promoters B7Klan have been bringing Asian acts to the European continent for several years, but until recently their focus has been on Japanese artists, primarily in the visual-kei rock genre. The Hallyu wave is changing the market for Asian music abroad, and Teen Top came in at its early stage to perform before fans from multiple nations, many of whom had never seen a Korean pop group in person before.
Despite being signed with a relatively minor agency, TOP Media, who until 2012 represented only Teen Top and their mentor artist who hand-picked the six members of the group, Andy of the legendary K-Pop group Shinhwa, Teen Top have had a steady and sure rate of success at home in Korea as well as increasing international attention since their debut in July, 2010. In fact, they were spotlighted on the French television program “Le Grand Journal” in early 2011, praised for their striking visual concept and knife-like precise choreography. Perhaps as a show of respect to this positive initial introduction to the continent, Teen Top opened their European shows with the song which had been featured at that time, “Supa Luv.”
Outside the venues in Munich and Dortmund, hundreds of fans lined up and waited outside for hours in frigid temperatures, huddled under blankets and behind plastic sheeting to stave off the snowy winter weather. Fans came to Germany from all over central and eastern Europe. Among the countries represented were Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Russia and Turkey. Following the two shows in Germany, Teen Top headed out in a tour bus to venues in London, Paris and Barcelona, giving fans from every corner of Europe a chance to see idols from the other side of the world. Because most of the venues are actually nightclubs, younger fans had to be escorted by their parents. One mother from the Netherlands told me in Dortmund that she had driven her 14 and 15 year old daughters in that morning for not only their first K-Pop show, but the very first concert of their lives.
Fans organised projects at both German concerts to celebrate the arrival of Teen Top in Europe and to thank them for their performances. In Munich, during the ballad “Angel,” which was originally dedicated to Teen Top’s fans, fans held up signs decorated with the flags of their various home countries which said “thank you” in Korean and in their own native languages. The members noticed the paper signs gradually being raised through the course of the song, smiling and pointing to the fans to signal their appreciation for the gesture. In Dortmund, fans released a large number of lavender-coloured balloons (Teen Top’s official fan support colour) during the encore, passing them among the crowd and up to the stage, where the members variously batted them back, caught the balloons and gave them a kiss before returning them, or blew at them cutely to keep them afloat.
Despite the seemingly vast barriers of language and culture, fans sang and danced along with not only Teen Top’s promoted singles, but even their lesser-known album tracks. Teen Top did their utmost to meet Western fans halfway, speaking in both English and German as much as possible and preparing an entire set of Western pop songs especially for this tour, despite being in midst-preparations for the imminent release of their crucial first full album. When asked at the Munich press conference what they felt the difference was between Korean fans and German fans, L.Joe replied, “just the hair colour is different.” Teen Top’s performances and the attitude both the group members and the fans brought to the tour showed clearly that the love of music and the appeal of well-trained but exuberant and sincere performance can bridge any difference in national background.
Teen Top opened the German shows with their electronic dance track “Supa Luv” and transitioned smoothly into the upbeat “Be Ma Girl” and playful “No More Perfume on You,” taking time to introduce themselves in halting German and express their surprise and thankfulness that so many fans had come to see them for their first appearances on the continent of Europe. The small venues allowed for a very intimate feel, and from the start of the shows, fans tossed teddy bears and other small gifts on to the stage, while the members leaned forward or knelt down to reach their hands out to the screaming fans who had theretofore only seen these pin-up idols on a computer screen. As they continued the first set with the album tracks “Beautiful Girl,” “Baby U” and “First Kiss,” the members used plentiful amounts of English to introduce the songs and attempt to banter a bit with the audience, instead of merely relying on the translator. Little comments like Ricky’s “very hot… verrry hot!!”, C.A.P’s “don’t forget me” or Changjo’s “I love-love-love you!!” gave rise to ecstatic responses from the delighted audience. Member L.Joe, who lived for several years in America, used English throughout. After the ballads “Brushing” and “Angel,” Teen Top asked the fans in Dortmund to take a keepsake photograph with them. Niel gave the fans in the front a lot of one-on-one attention and did cute “aegyo” gestures throughout, even making a heart shape over his head to loud screams. Meanwhile, C.A.P and Changjo teased the crowd by flashing their abs. Small technical issues with the sound were sorted out by the second show, and the members, who were surprisingly full of energy and in picture-perfect form despite the long trip and difficult time change, were even more confident in the second show. Teen Top had the experience of doing a solo concert tour in 2012 in Japan, performing at mid-sized venues venues in Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo. The main difference for this tour was the simple fact that Teen Top had never set foot in Europe before and never met their fans there, whereas they have been performing in Japan frequently since late 2010. How would European fans react to them? Were they really Teen Top fans, or were they merely curious about K-Pop? Would the venues be decently filled? All these concerns were put to rest before Teen Top even launched into the numbers designed especially for their Western fans.
While Teen Top covered the upbeat songs “Troublemaker” (Olly Murs featuring Flo Rida) and “Good Time” (Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen), the audience jumped in time, danced and sang along enthusiastically. The members’ English pronunciation was good and the crowd screamed loudly as they finally left the stage for a brief video montage of Teen Top’s six promoted video clips. When Teen Top took the stage again after a costume change, it was for their debut song, “Clap,” which was met with an incredible reaction from the fans in Germany for its taut dance moves and emotional power. The members’ long training and dedication gave them the precise synchronisation for which they were recognised at the time of their debut. The two and a half years of experience Teen Top have gained since then have given them a new level of intensity and stage presence; the “Clap” of 2013 illustrated Teen Top’s development as artists and performers eloquently.
In a cute moment of cultural exchange, the fans in Munich had spontaneously started chanting “sa-rang-hae! sa-rang-hae!” (I love you! I love you!), to which Niel responded in English, “me too.” To introduce the set of solo and collaboration performances, Teen Top invited the audience to call them “oppa” and cheer for the first “oppa’s stage,” a solo performance by lead vocalist Chunji, who covered “Count on Me” (Bruno Mars), a lovely match for his sweet and clear voice with which the audience happily crooned along. At the press conference in Munich, Chunji indicated that he chose the song because it was one he personally liked and thought the fans would enjoy. Next was a dance performance by lead dancers Changjo and Ricky featuring rapper L.Joe. Wearing white masks and baggy hip-hop style clothes, they showed off dynamic and charismatic moves to dramatic electronic dubstep music, ending with a jumping-split by Ricky, which was met with loud cheers. Changjo explained that the number was designed to show a masculine and mature image. Last up was the hip-hop song “BedRock” (Young Money featuring Lil Wayne and Lloyd) performed by rapper and group leader C.A.P and main vocalist Niel, whose sexy and unique style blended well with C.A.P’s deep voice, getting the entire hall dancing and singing along once again. C.A.P stated that he selected the number because he likes listening to foreign music and he wanted to choose a sexy song which would work up the crowd.
After a brief video intermission, Teen Top were back in new stage outfits for the song the German audience had named as their favourite at both shows when Changjo had inquired: 2012’s smoothly sensual “To You.” The song’s distinctive, demanding choreography and haunting melody had the audience screaming with excitement, singing along and even chanting the members’ names in time just as the fans in Korea routinely memorise. After a run of crowd-pleasing album tracks, “Girlfriend,” “Where’s Ma Girl” and “Shake It!”, the show came to a brilliant climax with the song that put Teen Top on the fast track, “Crazy,” their first collaboration with producer Brave Brothers, which earned them the coveted first-place trophies of KBS Music Bank and SBS Inkigayo as well as a Golden Disk Award for the best K-Pop single album of 2012. To the high-pitched screams of the European fans, who still seemed somewhat in disbelief that Teen Top was really dancing on a stage before their very eyes, they ended the song jumping up and down, the entire hall shouting along the final English lines “Teen Top, Go, Go, put your hands up high!”
For the final encore, the boys changed into the tour t-shirts and came back on to bring things to a warm and suitable close with the Beatles’ classic “All You Need is Love.” After all, it was the international fans’ love for their music, their cute looks and their fun-loving and earnest personalities which brought Teen Top all the way to Munich and Dortmund, and it was Teen Top’s love for music and performing which brought them, despite the difficult odds against surviving, let alone succeeding, in the highly competitive K-Pop market, to the top of the charts and halfway around the world to meet the fans who had waited so patiently for them, who screamed out their names and sang along with their songs. I’m sure the series of five European concerts will prove to be an unforgettable experience for both the fans who attend and for the members of Teen Top themselves.


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