This week, VIPs across the great state of Texas hauled their asses to Houston to see one of Korea’s most adored solo artists of all time: The one and only G-Dragon. The BIGBANG leader graced the stage at the Toyota Center on Wednesday, July 19, with his second official world tour, Act III, M.O.T.T.E ‘Moment of Truth The End’ . For many, it was a night of nostalgia, as G-Dragon chronicled his entire musical journey as a solo artist (in actual chronological order) from the dawning of Heartbreaker to the precipice of his latest album, Kwon Ji Yong.
But as nostalgic as it was, there was something deeper G-Dragon was trying to convey. What became crystal clear by the end of the concert was that if there was anything G-Dragon wanted the audience to take away from it, aside from a lit experience, was to see him beyond his G-Dragon persona.
Kwon Ji-yong, G-Dragon’s birth name, is a living, breathing human being and it is this piece of humanity that GD seems to cherish today more than ever. This is what propelled the back half of M.O.T.T.E and the overarching theme of Wednesday’s show that culminated with an unexpected and oddly personal one-on-one video with Kwon Ji-yong chipping away at GD to reveal his true self.
I say oddly because G-Dragon took very few opportunities during his set to speak to the audience directly, and when he did there was a distance about him in the way he carried himself and in the things he said. “It was really hard to talk about myself not as G-Dragon,” he said about his new album in one of his live talks, “I’m kind of worried that you guys might not get me.” While his statement was met with roaring applause, G-Dragon only half-responded to our cheers with a coy smile before continuing to thank fans for carrying him to this point in his career. Then he said something that stayed with me for the rest of the show:
“Sometimes I feel lonely … kind of confused. But when I sing like this in front of you guys … I feel really, really happy and alive.”
With everything going on right now, particularly with TOP’s recent legal and personal problems, a statement like that from a person who seems to be at odds with his identity carries a lot of weight in terms of meaning. We’ve known this man for so long as G-Dragon, that we haven’t really stopped to think about how much pressure is tied to the duality of superstardom from the point of view of the human behind all the glitz and glamor. For a person like Kwon Ji-yong who’s been grinding in the grueling entertainment industry from a very young age, the weight that comes with that is bound to take its toll on anyone eventually — and here he was, Kwon Ji-yong, appealing to his audience’s sympathy in an effort to pry himself from the G-Dragon persona we’ve all come to know him as. In that respect, the show’s distinct phases played out effectively well because the entire thing was retrospective on a musical level.
On the other hand, that chronology sometimes worked against the show as a whole because as an actual concert, it took M.O.T.T.E a while to gain momentum.
If you stop and think about when K-pop started to explode in popularity outside of Korea, the timeline starts around 2012. That sets us around the One of a Kind and Coup d’Etat eras. Anything before then would be considered old-school, and it’s the older stuff that G-Dragon kicked off the show with. From the audience, I was probably the only person in my section who recognized “Obsession” off the GD&TOP album. It wasn’t until G-Dragon dove into familiar territory and his newer material that the crowd became more receptive, bubbling with a little more enthusiasm as the concert went on. That’s not to say the Houston crowd was dull by any means because it wasn’t. There were just more pockets of lax enjoyment at a K-pop concert than I was expecting there to be.
The crowd itself was very mixed. From young children, grown adults and everything in between, the Houston turn out was incredibly diverse, though of course largely dominated by late teens and early twenty somethings. Some of us in my section turned all the way up, while a group in the section to my right sat through the entire show, sipping away at their beers and cocktails while bobbing their heads in unison. It was a bit strange since I’ve always stood at a show with or without seats, but I’m also aware that that’s not the case for everyone. In Korea, for instance, people normally sit during these things, so I can see why the overall response could have come across equally mixed.
One thing’s for certain — the songs were damn good. While G-Dragon had a bit of trouble nailing some of them (his singing has never been amazing, let’s get that straight), it was an absolute joy to hear the best of his discography in such a huge setting and experience some of my favorite K-pop songs of all time live.
G-Dragon came equipped with a killer setlist and he delivered it in the only way GD knows best: in spectacular fashion. The show’s production value was perhaps the best I’ve seen from a K-pop concert stateside yet (though the audio could have been better). Each stage shifted in tone with each song, from the lighting to the video screens, nudging the color scheme along from deep reds to purples to finally blues and whites. It wasn’t very clear at first why it all happened that way, but by the end of M.O.T.T.E, everything made sense. G-Dragon had stripped away his red ensembles in exchange for a white coat with hints of red smeared on it, signaling the end of “G-Dragon” and the dawning of a new age in which Kwon Ji-yong has emerged to represent himself without the weight of expectations.