South Korean-Chinese idol group EXO made Valentine’s Day dreams come true for thousands of fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena this past Sunday evening. The Los Angeles concert was EXO’s final stop on the North American leg of their near year-long second tour, EXO PLANET #2 – The EXO’luXion. Concert promoter MyMusicTaste brought the SM Entertainment powerhouse group to five North American cities -New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Vancouver, and Los Angeles- during the month of February.
Though member Lay was unable to join due to previously scheduled activities in China, the remaining eight/ninths of the group sang, danced, aegyo-ed, and smoldered their way through a generous twenty-five song set list, much to the ecstatic delight of adoring fans. All songs were presented in their Korean language versions and formed a fairly representative sample of the group’s major album and EP releases, including title tracks from MAMA, Overdose, XOXO, Miracles in December, EXODUS, and Sing for You.
EXO debuted in 2012 and their rigorous tour and live performance schedules has already turned them into seasoned performers. Their energy was high, their bodies were fluid, and they ran through their choreography with a casual, comfortable grace. Their voices sounded less tired than expected given the rapid succession of concerts.
The boys worked hard to entertain the crowd and they looked like they were having a great time. Aegyo was high, but handsy displays of fanservice were thrown in only occasionally –Chanyeol attempted to untuck a few t-shirts, and Kai molested D.O.’s hat during ‘Lucky’ – but these felt more like afterthoughts. Fangirls anticipating new fanfic fodder or hoping to sail some “ships” off this concert may have been disappointed.
Chanyeol took on the lion’s share of the MC duties and chatted up the audience during transitions and costume changes (at least five!). Most of the members relayed standard greetings and I LOVE YOU [NAME OF CITY] messages via a translator, but leader Suho should get mad props for coming prepared with English dialog. He earnestly tried to engage the crowd and presented shout-outs to several local LA landmarks, amusement parks, and eateries, including Pink’s Hot Dogs. (K-pop idols usually mention In-N-Out Burger, so triple bonus points to Suho for finding Pink’s!) And Baekhyun confessed he had a sore throat but was so moved by the size of the audience that he was working hard to give a good performance. (Awwww! Feel better Baekhyun!) D.O. brought his signature deadpan, Chen brought his voice, and Xiumin gets honorable mention for just being a natural born stage performer.
Some of the EXO’luXion tour’s more spectacular staging effects were scaled back (the live water effects during the Kai/Sehun angst ballet on ‘Baby Don’t Cry’ were notably missing), however, these absences had little impact on the crowd’s enjoyment. Ginormous digital displays served as multi-layered cyclotron and stage curtains, and motion lights, fog, and pyrotechnics were employed with expert punctuation. The EXO’luXion concert was as much a testament to EXO’s professionalism and super-stardom as it was to the well-oiled production machine that is SM Entertainment.
The multiracial audience was predominantly female, predominantly young (the teens and 20s set), and predominantly clad in black. If not in black EXO garb (officially licensed or otherwise), many fans came dressed in the black vestments of other K-pop groups, and at least one brave soul was spotted sporting the name of former-EXO member Luhan on her t-shirt. A controversial choice, to be sure.
The devoted lined up outside the venue hours in advance and few came empty handed. Assorted lightsticks, light-up headbands and hand-made signage were in abundance. LED boards spelling out member names and messages were especially popular among the DIY-inclined.
While not a sold-out show, the seated sections seemed near capacity and the GA floor felt amply populated, even after factoring for the substantial physical compression experienced by fangirl bodies in the presence of a live stage.
Medical crews and stretchers were deployed to the GA floor at least three times over the course of the show as multiple young women succumbed to the pressures of high density crowd compaction + FEEELS. The ambient smoke machine vapors probably didn’t help.
Fangirl compression reached critical mass near the very end of the show. Chanyeol addressed the crowd after the penultimate song and implored the GA floor to take “ONE STEP BACK!!!” It took several minutes and pleading from other members before sufficient air cushion was gained. Finally the concert resumed for the final song! But a two-song encore of ‘Sing for You’ and ‘Unfair’ quickly followed.
From Elvis and Beatlemania on down the line, if there are beautiful young musical men to be worshipped, teenage girls (and young women, and full-grown adult women…) will swoon, weep, gnash, and scream at their feet.
The boys of EXO are some of the most idolized and idealized young bachelors in the Eastern hemisphere and they inspire frenzy wherever they go: the recent Vancouver show experienced ONE STEP BACK interruptions, several EXO fansign events and public appearances in South Korea have been cancelled or interrupted due to safety concerns, and EXO fans were even temporarily banned from attending the recordings of Inkigayo (SBS’s live music TV show).
Perhaps the EXO-Ls of Los Angeles deserve commendations for good behavior?
Photos by Ricky Lam