BIGBANG spent both last weekend filling a U.S. arena to the brim, as a reported 24,000 fans headed to Newark for the final U.S. shows of the group's Made world tour at New Jersey's Prudential Center. The performances marked the K-pop phenom's second two-night stint at the arena, after BIGBANG pulled similar numbers for their 2012 Alive tour. However, the U.S. media attention was markedly more intense this time around, with the New York Times, Billboard and Grantland all delivering write-ups on the short residency.
For most acts, this would indicate a future of much bigger things to come in American markets—especially for an international act that doesn't sing in English. But for BIGBANG, the writing on the wall suggests that this New York-area triumph likely was not the next step in world domination, but a proper acceptance of the boy band's collective limitations meant to underline its members' potential as solo artists.
First, some backstory to the explosive NJ shows. After a three-year break—a lifetime in the quickly moving K-pop world—BIGBANG announced earlier this year that they would release two new songs with accompanying music videos on the first day of every month for four straight months, before dropping their new full-length album Made on September 1. While the LP is pushed back indefinitely (G-Dragon told the October 10th audience that the LP "is coming out very soon"), its title is perhaps most telling. Following a grand, ambitious rollout rarely seen in the eastern music industry, Made feels like the right word to describe BIGBANG at this point.
Here's a more disturbing sign that BIGBANG isn't built to last: Yang Hyun Suk, the CEO of the band's record label YG Entertainment, has spoken to reporters about the band (or at least a member or two) enlisting in South Korea's mandatory, two-year military service as early as next year. It makes for an even more uncertain future for a band who only recorded eight songs together in the last three years together. That possibility wasn't lost on Taeyang, who at one point told the Jersey crowd, "I don't know when I'll see you again, but I really want to see you again."
“BIGBANG is aiming to appear less like a collective unit—the goal of a boy band—and more like five different men.”
BIGBANG is made up of G-Dragon, Taeyang, Daesung, TOP and Seungri—all undeniable superstars in Asia for their solo careers (each member has at least one No. 1 album in either Korea or Japan while TOP has begun acting in movies, and G-Dragon and Taeyang are Fashion Week regulars), and their personalities are growing overseas. G-Dragon is tight with Diplo and Skrillex, for instance, while vocalist Taeyang holds the record for America's highest-charting album by a Korean solo artist.
Back in 2012, BIGBANG's Alive tour was named one of 2012's best tours by the New York Times thanks to a futuristic, flashy stage show that included the guys entering the arena through capsule pods as they rode leather segways in bejeweled white suits. While there was a healthy helping of pizazz on their latest trek—including fireworks and streamers during the first three songs "Bang Bang Bang," "Tonight" and "Stupid Liar"—there was a newfound emphasis on having the guys' individual personalities shine brighter than the pyrotechnics.
Each member got their own points of the show to perform solo songs. BIGBANG's rapper/certified sex symbol TOP showed off his affinity for high-brow art by wearing a Mondrian-inspired suit for "Doom Dada," while powerhouse belter Daesung performed a high-energy rendition of "Wings" with a troupe of back-up dancers—a big difference between the lifesize angel wings he wore while performing the track in 2012.
But most interestingly, video interludes throughout the show also showcased the guys in Tarantino-esque visuals, with TOP drunkenly yelling at himself in a mirror and G-Dragon flashing back to memories with a past relationship. The members aren't just super-human singer-rappers, but complicated 20-year-olds dealing with mental, emotional and, of course, girl issues.
The effect was clear: this tour has been designed to emphasize their individual, regular-human skills. BIGBANG is aiming to appear less like a collective unit—the goal of a boy band—and more like five different men.
BIGBANG's explosion may or may not be over, and what they've accomplished internationally cannot be denied. But what's most important here is how they've established their five different personalities so that, no matter what their future may hold, their boy-band tag isn't their only qualifier when real life enters the mix. There's no Chris Kirkpatrick here (sorry, Chris) -- each member can, and almost undoubtedly will, have a successful solo career in music, fashion, acting or elsewhere. The Made tour not only underlines individual endeavors taking precedent over group goals, but solidifies the fact that BIGBANG really is a boy band unlike any other, which makes their status as K-pop trailblazers all the more important to recognize.