I Traveled All the Way to Bangkok to Watch the King of K-Pop Live and it Was Totally Worth it
The South Korean artist’s ongoing tour is both his solo comeback and his farewell as he gears up for his two-year mandatory military service in 2018
It is impossible not to get caught up in the frenzy surrounding South Korean artist G-Dragon’s recent comeback. The musician, who was born Kwon Ji Yong and rose to fame as part of hip-hop group Big Bang, governs such a level of influence on music and fashion in his home country that he’s often hailed the ‘King of K-Pop.’ His formidable status at home has also garnered him press and followers in the farthest corners of the globe. Naturally, Kwon’s first release as a lead artist in three years, the self-titled EP Kwon Ji Yong, topped charts in multiple different countries recently. His ongoing world tour, ‘ACT III, M.O.T.T.E, Moment Of Truth: The End’ consists of over 30 dates across the U.S., U.K., Europe, Oceania and Asia, making it the largest concert tour lead by a Korean solo artist.
‘ACT III, M.O.T.T.E’ has received rave reviews from fans and critics alike, which is what pushed me to fly to Thailand to catch Kwon on the Asian leg of his tour. The Bangkok stop took place on July 8th at IMPACT Arena, and has been making headlines for the fall Kwon took mid-performance. However, for those in attendance, there proved to be far more to the show than the reported stage accident.
Most fans I spoke to at the venue had flown in from elsewhere for a chance to see the rapper, singer-songwriter and producer live. They were surprisingly an older crowd, aged between 18 and 35, who had supported Kwon from the very beginning of his decade-long career. Having learned my lesson at Justin Bieber’s disastrous India debut in May, I was keeping my expectations in check, but the excitement in the arena was infectious. From the moment the lights went out to signal the start of the introductory video, it became clear that ‘ACT III, M.O.T.T.E’ was about to be a completely different story.
Like the new EP it follows, the tour serves as an intimately honest reflection on Kwon’s struggle to find the balance between being a celebrity and being himself. The word ‘motte,’ aside from standing for ‘The Moment Of Truth The End,’ means ‘mother’s womb’ in Korean. Everything from the stage lighting to the costumes and Kwon’s microphone were a deep red, signifying the ‘birth’ of his stage persona and the ‘rebirth’ of the human being behind it who had to learn to live with the side effects of fame.
The show guides the audience through three acts, which each symbolize the different stages in Kwon’s career. ‘Act I: G-Dragon’ is the personality we have been familiar with since 2006: the world famous rapper, singer-songwriter, producer and leader of Big Bang. During this tour, Kwon harkens to those roots by bursting onto the stage with “Heartbreaker,” the title track off his 2009 solo debut album. The current tour makes no compromises on production value: he’s supported by a live band, a hundred beams of red light and a posse of very enthusiastic dancers. The energetic opening is followed by more pop-soaked hits from early on in his career, like “Breathe,” “A Boy,” and “Obsession,” setting up a chronological progression of his repertoire for the rest of the evening.
‘Act II: G-Dragon vs Kwon Ji Yong’ signals a swift change in tone with a macabre video showing the artist strapped to a gurney and being ‘operated’ upon–the creation of a superstar depicted as a painful, surgical process, serving as a commentary on the superficiality of the entertainment industry. Kwon then dives into the darker, more hip-hop and dubstep-influenced tracks from his 2012 EP One of a Kind and his 2013 sophomore studio album Coup d’Etat, records that cemented his prowess as a songwriter and producer. The rapper jumps genres effortlessly, introducing rock-infused live takes to his electro-hop hits like “MichiGO” and “One of a Kind,” bringing in gritty dancehall on “R.O.D.” and wrapping it all up neatly with sharp choreography. The show takes a break from the fast pace when Kwon belts out the acoustic “That XX,” the R&B ballad “Black” and the cheerful fan anthem “Who You.”
‘Act III: Kwon Ji Yong’ follows shortly after, and is easily the most intimate of the three segments. The first clue that you’re stepping into Kwon Ji Yong’s territory instead of G-Dragon’s is the screening of a video prior to the third act that features interviews with the rapper’s parents, friends and colleagues. Big Bang bandmates Daesung and Taeyang, “Gangnam Style” hit-maker PSY, label mate CL and various other collaborators share personal anecdotes about the man behind the celebrity, giving fans a small idea of what Kwon is like behind the scenes.
The third act also features a bittersweet video monologue from Kwon about his inner struggles, fears and his decision to let his fans in a little more. “In front of you guys… no, at least in this very moment, I wanted to be honest,” he says in the simple yet powerful clip. “I’ve been living as G-Dragon, but now I want to live as Kwon Ji Yong.”
On the Bangkok tour stop, the roar from the 20,000-strong crowd gave clear indication of their approval, which Kwon took as the perfect cue to jump into the songs off his Kwon Ji Yong EP. This segment of the show begins with “Super Star,” a track about the futilities of fame and fortune, keeping it simple with just Kwon, suspended on a platform 12 feet above the stage. The tongue-in-cheek “Middle-Fingers Up” comes next, lightening the mood and bringing back his dancers, followed by the ultimate anti-hater anthem, “Bullshit.”
At this point in the Bangkok show, Kwon paused to take a breather– finally displaying small signs of fatigue nearly two hours in– but smiled through it and thanked the audience for being there. Witnessing the rather menacing G-Dragon melt away into the shy Ji Yong was equal parts jarring and endearing. Though he declared the philosophical “Divina Commedia” to be his last song for the evening, Kwon bounced back for an encore five minutes later amid frantic chants of ‘Kwon Ji Yong!’ to perform two of the biggest hits in his repertoire: 2008’s Maroon 5-sampling “This Love” and 2013’s pop-punk offering “Crooked.” A second encore was imminent however, as he had saved the best for last: “Untitled, 2014,” the heartbreaking lead single off Kwon Ji Yong. Devoid of any rap, the single shows off Kwon’s stellar (but often overlooked) vocal abilities. The producer made his way out into the audience for this and (much to his numerous bodyguards’ chagrin) let fans touch him and hold his hand, prompting a small struggle between the first few rows as they attempted to make contact. He finally ended the night with a few emotional ‘I love yous’ to the crowd and was quickly whisked away by bodyguards, managers and camera crews before the audience could get out of control.
There were only two moments where things didn’t quite work out during the two-hour set; first was the audio trouble on “That XX” where Kwon failed to catch the key that band was on. He handled it by letting the backing track take the lead instead, rather than confuse everyone involved. The second, more dramatic turn of events was, of course, his accidental fall through a stage trap door during “A Boy.” Staff members panicked and rushed to help but Kwon had already brushed off the fall, and was back onstage within seconds to continue the concert in a display of pure professionalism and dedication.
As Kwon hits the cusp of his thirties and gears up for his two-year mandatory military service in 2018, he’s unsure when he will make the return to a live stage. ‘ACT III, M.O.T.T.E’ doubles as both the rapper’s solo comeback and his farewell, so his resolve to lay it all bare and give his fans the best show possible is evident. With precise choreography, stage direction, seamless costume changes and a plethora of pyrotechnics, ‘ACT III, M.O.T.T.E’’s high production value is impressive, but it is Kwon’s unwavering enthusiasm, electric stage presence and brutal honesty that indeed make it ‘the tour you cannot miss.’
All photographs courtesy of YG Entertainment.