Despite the cold temperatures and long wait outside of New York City’s Best Buy Theatre on January 9th, 2014, fans of the six-member Korean boy group U-Kiss (also known as KissMe’s) were geared up and ready to go for the first stop on U-Kiss’ First U.S. Tour. Before the boys came out on stage screams could be heard as the CD recording of ‘Bingeul Bingeul (빙글빙글)’ –the title track of U-Kiss’ first full-length album released in 2010– played over the speakers. Fans chanted, cheered and sang, waiting eagerly for the boys, themselves, to come out. U-Kiss is a group known for their international fame and activities, having hosted concerts in Malaysia, the Phillippines, Mongolia, Japan, and Latin America. This tour, however, marked their first time performing around the United States.
The concert had a smooth start with ‘Stop Girl’, the title track of their 7th mini-album of the same name. Following ‘Stop Girl’ was U-Kiss’ latest single ‘She’s Mine (내 여자야)’ off their 8th mini-album Moments and the boys kept the energy high with this R&B infused hip-hop track; and after they performed ‘Binguel Binguel (빙글빙글)’ live. This first set of songs was followed by U-Kiss’ introductions to the fans. Since members AJ, Eli, and Kevin are fluent in English – Eli and Kevin being from United States and AJ attending Columbia University when he’s not promoting with the group– they took over most of the speaking, referring to themselves as the MCs of the night. However, throughout the concert Hoon, Kiseop, and leader Soohyun also did their best to speak as much English as they could. It was in this moment that U-Kiss’ First U.S. Tour established itself as a different type of event from previous Korean Pop concerts in the United States. Although a concert by definition, U-Kiss’ First U.S. Tour felt more like a fan-meeting. The boys made great strides to speak to the audience on a more personal and interactive level– which definitely was aided by the fact that three members are fluent in English and the use of a third-party translator was not needed– while, of course, providing a great deal of body-rolling and playful fan service.
Following introductions came another set of songs, kicked off by their electro pop hit ‘DoraDora (돌아돌아)’. U-Kiss then slowed things down with ‘Standing Still’ from their third album Collage. This second set ended with ‘Someday’, a medium-tempo track from U-Kiss’ second album Neverland. Being much slower than any of the previously performed songs, ‘Someday’ was accompanied by a very intimate air that filled the entire concert hall. It was a sweet moment to be shared between U-Kiss and KissMe’s as the boys sang “You get some right, you get some wrong” and the entire audience lit up with pink and rainbow light sticks that waved in synchronization with the swaying of vocalist Kevin’s arm.
The boys left the stage and all the audience turned their attention to the screen in the background. The video began with U-Kiss on a couch, carrying out a sort of interview from member to member in order to introduce themselves, again, to the audience. One member would say his name which would be followed by an image showing facts about that member. After the introductions, fans were treated to clips of New York City which garnered a lot of loud cheers from the crowd. Scenes of U-kiss playing around landmark locations such as Times Square played, joined by the audio of Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ and Alicia Key’s ‘Empire State of Mind’. These videos indicated strongly that the point of U-Kiss’ First U.S. Tour was centred on their American locations and the fans that resided there. They chose to play intermission videos based around what the fans experienced instead of using plot line, or even member centred videos. The New York video was followed by a live cam looking shot of Kevin and Eli who asked if KissMe’s were enjoying themselves– which was answered enthusiastically by loud screams– and who informed the audience that they were getting ready for the next set of special performances. Once again U-Kiss showed their connectedness to the fans for even though they weren’t on stage at that time, the videos still showed their interest in keeping close to their KissMe’s.
U-Kiss continued the show with their unit performances starting with uBEAT, made up of members AJ and Eli, ft. Kevin and their debut song ‘Should’ve Treated You Better (있을 때 잘해 줄 걸)’. The three of them energetically interacted with the fans, each spending equal amounts of time center stage, stage right, and stage left and rotating throughout their performance; fans loved the equal interaction each side got to have with each member. As uBEAT and Kevin left the stage the lights dropped low and a beautiful purple and blue backdrop of a street lining a canal appeared on the screen, showing the silhouettes of two of U-Kiss’ power vocalists, Soohyun and Hoon, who sang ‘More Painful than Pain (아픔보다 이픈)’ from Collage. The stage grew dark again, a single spotlight falling onto AJ as he began the rap to ‘Obsession’, a track from Neverland that AJ composed himself. Fans were elated not only when he started rapping but when Kiseop joined him on stage to sing. The unit performances ended and U-kiss reconvened on stage to ask KissMe’s which performance was their favourite and Kevin thrilled the fans with news of a ballad unit group coming in 2014!
Next came their Question and Answer segment, another aspect of U-Kiss’ First U.S. Tour that made it such a standout. Fans had the opportunity prior to the concert to write questions on post-it notes for U-Kiss and a selection of them where attached to a blackboard that was wheeled out on stage. Then the boys got to each pick a question directed towards them and announce their answers to the crowd. Soohyun spoke first, his question asking about the differences between Korean and New York KissMe’s. Eli translated Soohyun’s response, “First of all our Korean fans are like our family because they’re always with us,” fans immediately interrupted him with sad yells but were quickly quieted by both Eli and Soohyun who continued with, “our New York fans, our American KissMes are like our wives.” Eli teased Soohyun asking how many children he wants to have and with a laugh Soohyun replied with, “Two-thousand.” Kiseop was up next, his question asking him his favourite song of all. He replied with ‘She’s Mine’ and Kevin asked him to showcase his dance part of ‘She’s Mine’ for the audience. Kiseop danced while AJ beat boxed and the other members sang their latest title track a cappella; a real treat for the fans!
Hoon was requested to sing ‘Te Amo’, the second single off of their special album The Special to KissMe, and the audience readily joined him in singing the end of the chorus. The song requests didn’t end there as Kevin was asked to sing Bruno Mars’ ‘Just the Way You Are’. AJ was then asked if he sings in the shower and if so, what song? He replied that his go-to shower song is his own composed cover piece, and response to the U-Kiss hit ‘She’s Mine’, ‘She Ain’t Mine’ that he uploaded on SoundCloud this past December. U-Kiss and KissMe’s begged for him to sing a sample of it, but AJ forgot the words to his own song! On attempt #2 he seemed to get his flow back, but then Kiseop began beat boxing to help him along and it threw AJ off again. AJ switched to another song that he apparently sings in the shower and serenaded fans with a sample of ‘Fall in Love’, one of U-Kiss’ newest Japanese singles.
Finally it was Eli’s turn to answer, but since there were no Eli specific questions he picked one that was directed to all of U-Kiss. One fan quickly sought to remedy this and shouted that she had a question for him. Eli responded – this was one of the many occurrences where U-Kiss responded specifically to the crowd’s shouts, questions, and requests, showing their interest in creating a more personalized concert experience for the fans–, but unfortunately did not give her his phone number like she had asked. The question he picked from the board asked how U-Kiss liked New York hamburgers and the members recounted for the fans all of the New York foods they had eaten – starting with Shake Shack burgers for breakfast that morning! Kevin then asked Eli what it was like for him to be back in the United States, mentioning that that it has been 5 years since Eli has been back to the East Coast– his hometown being Washington D.C. Fans were elated to hear that Eli’s father and sister were actually in the crowd with them and Eli expressed his happiness to be back. AJ then spoke a little bit about being a Psychology student at Columbia and being back in the United States, mentioning that he was returning to finish the second semester of his freshman year after the U.S. tour was completed.
U-kiss then continued their performances with a showcase of two of their most popular Japanese tracks, beginning with ‘Tick Tack’. ‘Tick Tack’ is U-Kiss’ first Japanese single released in December of 2011. Next was their second Japanese single, ‘Forbidden Love’ from their first full-length Japanese album A Shared Dream.
The next part of concert was a treat for everyone, but one special KissMe in particular. Prior to the concert MNet America – who is sponsoring U-Kiss’ First U.S. Tour – held a Super Fan contest in which KissMe’s got to submit their reasoning for being a Super Fan and one lucky winner would receive a special encounter with U-Kiss. Before revealing the fan, U-Kiss explained the contest to the crowd and read the winner’s response out loud. There was a collective sigh of respect and affection from the audience as Eli read how both she and U-Kiss have been supporting each other for so many years and finally the Super Fan was revealed to the audience. She took a seat centre stage and was fawned over by the boys as U-Kiss sang ‘Mysterious Lady’ from Moments – a truly special encounter, indeed!
After the Super Fan was escorted off by Kevin, the boys took to the front of the stage again, lining up for their pop-ballad track ‘0330’. ‘0330’ was quite the switch from the constant jumping around that accompanied ‘Mysterious Lady’, showcasing the slow, sweet, and powerful vocals that make up this beautiful song. As with ‘Someday’, the audience lit up with pink and rainbow light sticks. And of course, one of the most fan-famous song lyrics that AJ penned in this song– “Don’t Deny Our r²π”– was recognized by both U-Kiss and the fans as all six members’ microphones pointed towards the audience and the part was screamed excitedly by KissMe’s.
After 0330 the members took a moment to express their feelings over their first U.S. concert stop. All of the boys took this time to thank North American KissMe’s for allowing them this opportunity to perform in the United States. Kevin was especially emotional in this moment, clearly incredibly grateful to be back in his home country, and had to take a moment because he was tearing up. The audience began chanting “울지마”, “don’t cry”, and were joined by the other members of U-Kiss to console Kevin. After each speech, U-Kiss treated all their fans by blowing a kiss into the audience.
It was time for the final two songs of the night and AJ led into the first asking fans, “Do you guys believe in us?” Of course the fans gave a resounding “yes!” as the opening chords for the first title track of their special album ‘Believe’ began to play over the speakers. The end of ‘Believe’ lead straight into the fan favorite ‘Neverland’ and KissMe’s happily sang and cheered along with the song. U-Kiss actually remixed the middle of ‘Neverland’ for this concert, adding in an explosive bass beat that was followed by a strong shot from a confetti canon that elicited a lot of excitement from the audience.
Although U-kiss has said that ‘Believe’ and ‘Neverland’ were the last songs fans were ready for more and in the dark of the concert hall chanted “U-Kiss!” and “Encore!” continually to bring them back. KissMe’s were in luck as U-Kiss bounced back on stage with the very upbeat and peppy song ‘Without You’, accompanying the cheerful lyrics with a dance filled with skipping and making hearts at the fans. U-Kiss then thanked KissMe’s for the encore and pointed out the pink balloons that they noticed the audience held up before their encore. Before the concert, volunteer KissMe’s had handed out the balloons with instructions to blow them up for the encore as a way to show support for U-Kiss and unity amongst the KissMe’s. U-Kiss was very grateful for the gesture and fans were ecstatic to see that their efforts were noticed. The energy remained high for the “really, really last song”, as put by AJ, and KissMe’s joined U-kiss in singing their smash hit ‘Man Man Ha Ni (만만하니)’.
U-kiss gave fans a show that was distinctively a celebration of their first U.S. tour. It was more than a concert; it was a celebration of this landmark achievement that they wanted to specifically share with fans. U-Kiss chose to forego a storyline centered concert theme and instead put the fans at the center, using their MC moments and the intermission videos as different means to interact and become closer with international KissMe’s. U-Kiss is one of the more prominent international K-pop groups, as can be seen by all their performances in Latin America and around Asia, and their closeness with fans both in Korea and outside is a distinctive part of their charm. Although this was their first U-Kiss tour, KissMe’s and U-Kiss spent the night as if they had always been together. And in a way, they all have always been together. That’s the beauty of K-pop– for no matter how much distance there may be between artist and listener, that familiar and warm connection between the two is always strong.
Tickets are still available for the final show in U-Kiss’ first US tour in LA at Club Nokia. You can buy your tickets at AXS.com
Written by Samantha Lifson