By: Hannah Waitt
When press was let into the Verizon Theater in Dallas on February 10, we were led by the MyMusicTaste team to an area behind the sound booth, where we would be posted up for pictures for the first three songs of EXO’s set. As I was prepping everything before the show, a voice to the right of me said, “Hi there!” I looked right, I looked left, nobody. “Hi!” the voice squeaked again, this time from below. Startled, I looked down, where next to me stood a small girl wearing a jersey with the name “Chen” embroidered on the back of it, no more than 11 or 12 years old and a little less than five feet high. “This is my first concert ever! I came here without any friends…” The rest of our conversation went like this:
Who’s your favorite member?
D.O, who’s yours?
(Points to her shirt) Mine’s Chen! What grade are you in?
Um, I’m 25.
That’s cool. Did you come here with your parents?
Yeah, and my little brother. He’s 8. It’s his first concert ever too.
Well this is a pretty cool concert to have as a first!
Yeah. I’m the only kid at my school who likes K-pop. It kind of sucks I had to come without any friends.
Well you’re definitely not the only one here who likes K-pop. I’m sure you’ll have a blast tonight.
This conversation struck me for two reasons. The first was that it’s been at least 10 years since I have been asked the question “what grade are you in?” The second, we’ll get to at the end. Glow sticks twinkled on one by one as the house lights began to dim. My eardrums quivered, threatening to pop as the jumbo screen illuminated and shrieks of excitement filled the venue.
EXO opened with “Overdose”, followed by performances of their more hard-hitting singles, including “History” and “MAMA”. The group’s energy spilled over into the audience; it was that sort of adrenaline-fueled excitement that only live music can incite, the bass rattling your bones, fireworks leaving spots in your vision, your heart palpitating, threatening to pump right out of your chest. In millennial terms, it was “lit”.
Last minute visa issues prevented Kai from attending the first concert (note all moonROK pictures are from the Los Angeles show), and the EXO member’s absence was undeniably noticeable. Anyone who has seen EXO perform – whether live or on screen – can feel the sort of magnetic draw that Kai possesses in his dance. He has this pull to him that gives you the sense that he is the epicenter of the choreography; that he somehow tightens up the group as a whole by being barely sharper than the rest. This is more of a credit to Kai than a discredit to the rest of EXO though. The group was fine without him, but he was certainly missed.
The group kept the pace up with a performance of “Playboy”, in which Chanyeol and Chen elicited squeals of joy from the audience with a sensual couple dance as the other members looked on and serenaded. The group followed “Playboy” with “EXODUS” before most of the members left the stage as EXO transitioned into ballad mode, leaving only the vocal line to perform “Baby Don’t Cry” and “My Answer”, the latter of which was purely instrumental, courtesy of Baekhyun on piano.
If the first half of the show was intense and serious, the second half was fun and light-hearted. After a short video, EXO reappeared wearing denim, suspenders, and red Mickey Mouse hats. The group performed a few of their bouncier tracks like “XOXO (Hugs and Kisses)” and “3.6.5”, resembling a Korean version of One Direction as they freely jumped around on stage, messing with each other as they waved to and winked at fans in the crowd. After another outfit change, Chanyeol hopped on the turntables for a dubstep rendition of “Let Out the Beast”, complete with laser effects worthy of a European rave.
EXO closed out their set with “Run”, “Call Me Baby”, and their explosive hit “Growl” before leaving the stage, visibly exhausted and drenched with sweat after a solid two hours of performing. The lights remained off and what began as an “encore, encore” rumble quickly turned into a roar as the screen lit back up. I was somewhat shocked at what I saw next. A black-and-white film reel played behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage with subtitles, which translated thusly:
That year, it seemed like Spring came particularly late. The last day of March, 2012. To us it felt like the Spring was impossibly, laughably far. Fierce winter winds were blowing, but we will never be able to forget the warmth on the day we first met. It wasn’t easy to match up our greeting as we shouted our slogan at the top of our voices, “We are one!” And when we stood in front of the camera, we went totally blank. We were fascinated by and thankful to all you who loved us, even when we were completely clumsy. We made you a promise. We promised to freely return the love that we had received. We promised to make you happy. Looking back, we achieved so many things that felt like miracles, and it was because of you, who allowed us to. We were so happy that there was truth in saying “we are one”.
However, we encountered hardship much sooner than we expected. We were confused. We cried. We were angry. Our hearts broke for you, who would be hurt more than anyone. But we will not hurt anymore, because these wounds will make us stronger. Today, right now, we make that promise to you again. We promise to be with you until we pay back all of the love we have received. We promise to allow our passion and our gifts to overflow for all of you. You, who have silently trusted in us and waited for us. Please stay as you are in this place right now, so that we can see you forever. EXO-L, thank you, and we love you.
The sincerity of the apology was unmistakable. Most K-pop groups gloss over the loss of members, if they don’t ignore it altogether. But that night, EXO proved why they are not “most K-pop groups”. They addressed their adversity head on, acknowledging and validating the pain that they put fans through. An exclamation of “We are one! We are one!” arose from one small voice in the standing area. The single shout swelled into a booming chant that echoed throughout the arena, raising the hair on my skin and stinging the corners of my eyes as the palpable love that the fans felt for the group permeated through the crowd.
EXO returned to the stage to perform “Sing For You”, and it was abundantly clear who they were singing for. The crowd swayed left to right in unison, melding their voices with EXO’s as they sang along with the lullaby. And here’s where that initial conversation with my new 12-year-old friend struck me the second time. I looked out over the arena and spotted her a few rows down. She was not alone, but instead stood in the middle of eight other girls, arms around each other’s shoulders swaying to “Sing For You”. Though all homemade and thus of different styles, the back of their shirts read in different fonts and colors “Chanyeol”, “Sehun”, “Kai”, “Lay”, “Baekhyun”, “Suho”, “D.O”, and “Xiumin”, and there she was, in the middle: “Chen”. EXO has a remarkable ability to foster a sense of inclusion and belonging through their music, and they did exactly that with their debut North American performance. After witnessing that firsthand, it seems evident to me there is still truth in the phrase “we are one”.
For more pictures from EXO’s concert in Los Angeles, be sure to check out moonROK’s Official Facebook Page.
Tags: Baekhyun Chanyeol Chen EXO EXO'luXion Kai Lay Live Review Sehun Suho Xiumin