SHINee Fanmeet Proves Glimpse of Hope in Disorganized Live Kpop Industry

By: Katie Evans
moonROK Feature Editorialist

 

Two years ago, a video of an arena of fans singing along to Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” while waiting for a Drake concert to start became a mild internet phenomenon. I could have taken an eerily similar video before SHINee’s Chicago fan meet began– I rushed inside the theater when I heard screams, only to realize fans were cheering for themselves after they finished singing along to a recording of “Odd Eye.” This continued for at least twenty-five minutes – up until the show started eighteen minutes late.

K-Pop fans are passionate by definition, and in North America, where you’re lucky if a group comes to your city even once, the hype for each concert and appearance is suffocating. This doesn’t always translate to a great event, though — the management behind BTS’s U.S. Highlight Tour infamously kicked out paying fans, and Hallyu North, where SHINee appeared days before coming to Chicago, was so maligned by fans it reached mainstream Canadian press. American concert organizers and Korean labels are learning the hard way that they can’t shortchange the North American market and still expect to succeed. So, was SHINee’s first solo event on American soil a success? For the most part, yes.

The fan meet kicked off with a performance of “Everybody,” a single I never warmed up to, but the intricate choreography and high energy fit the moment, getting already excited fans jumping out of their seats. The emcee for the evening, Martin Kim, then diverted the crowd as SHINee changed into more comfortable outfits for the “interactive” portion of the night.

I wasn’t familiar with Kim before, but he was an ideal host. What makes fan meets so special — the chance to interact with artists on a personal level — is the same thing that makes them potentially chaotic overseas, and Kim and SubKulture did a great job of working around the obvious language and cultural differences. He kept the show focused and lively without condescending to either the group or the crowd, or directing attention to himself. The Q&A session moved quickly, thanks to the event staff whispering instant translations into each group member’s ear while Kim posed fans’ questions.

The staff were also careful to devote much more time to the charades competition than the Q&A, which eliminated the language barrier entirely. SubKulture pre-selected a diverse group of fans to participate, including two very excited women in their seventies, and Kim grouped the fans into teams led by each member. SHINee has eight years of experience playing up meaningless competitions for laughs in front of an audience, and this, combined with the universal language of the Titanic pose, made the game more engaging and comfortable for everyone involved. It’s no surprise, then, that this section of the show has been the most-discussed since the fanmeet.

While they weren’t as buzzworthy as the games, the six performances, in terms of vocals and choreography, were typically solid. The lighting and effects weren’t as polished, and parts of the theater were blinded during some songs (In the lower bowl, I missed about ten seconds of “View” with lights in my face). It also took SHINee a while to adjust to the sound system and acoustics in the theater – Jonghyun and Onew weren’t always audible during the first two songs. In my personal favorite moment of the night, Onew fixed this by gently asking fans to cheer quieter so they could hear their backing track as Jonghyun giggled two seats down. The next song’s vocals were seamless.

The setlist (“Everybody,” “Hello,” “Replay,” “Lucifer,” “Sherlock (Clue + Note),” and “View”) was an appropriate mix of high-energy tracks and SHINee’s most beloved singles, but I found “Hello” well out-of-place. Its inclusion made sense thematically (they performed it towards the beginning of the interactive segment), but at an event with just six performances, choosing by far their worst Korean single seemed a waste of prime real estate. SHINee has a huge discography, and there are plenty of better songs (“Love Sick,” “Y.O.U.,” and “Juliette” especially) that would have fit the moment just as well.

Given how much mileage the group traveled leading up to the fan meet, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Hello” was a breather first and a performance second; they also performed a deliberately subdued version of the “Replay” choreography. Aside from those tweaks and their visibly tired faces, though, SHINee’s enthusiasm distracted from their fatigue. Key used his excellent English to make perfectly-timed dry comments at his bandmates’ expense, and each member went out of their way to try a little of the local language. Minho in particular crafted his comments thoughtfully, as if he’d been practicing backstage, and seemed to compete with Key for how long they could stay onstage after the final song.

It was SHINee’s clear commitment to the show itself that minimized its shortcomings. I don’t know if the group was aware the show didn’t sell out, but the multiple mentions of their own expectations for the show and audience being exceeded, as well as their gentle reminder to support their solo activities, implied, to me, that they had an idea. Despite this, they showed no signs of disappointment, played down their own exhaustion, and approached the language barrier as a novelty rather than an obstacle. The audience was diverse, with fans traveling from Puerto Rico, southeast Asia, and everywhere in between, and SHINee and SubKulture ultimately put together a show that was both unique and respectably organized. In an industry with recent, highly visible disasters, that’s a powerful feat.

All visual and audio media courtesy of SM Entertainment
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