When we last left our Korea Spotlight recap at SXSW 2018, HeyArrrrnold had taken us through a wild journey of the majority of the show, leaving only a few acts left to dear lil’ ole me! So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and jump right in!
Crush had just finished disintegrating all the undergarments in the venue when the lights dimmed low and the setup team fought with fancy equipment I’d never seen before. There was a laptop stand with a laptop, a mic with a strange box strapped to it, a percussion pad, and what looked like a real life version of that Poly Playground app my more creative friends were obsessed with. A rainbow grid of squares then twinkled in the darkness.
Finally, she stepped on stage. I wasn’t sure how the crowd would react to CIFIKA. As a performance artist who makes intensely intimate electro pop or synth pop mixes, she’s had a recent mainstream boost with “MOMOM“, a collaboration with Ohhyuk, but she’s in no way new to the scene. In fact, SXSW was smack dab in the middle of her massive US tour.
Not only did she transform into this beautiful, ethereal, angel of chaos and sound, but she commanded the most aggressive light show to grace the Korea Spotlight stage. With geometric shapes, lasers, and fog, all working to the beat, she transported the entire audience into another world like a sci-fi goddess daintily tapping buttons and twisting knobs. As I looked out across the audience, I realized my trepidation regarding her winning over this crowd was completely unfounded. Every face stared forward enraptured by her performance.
Lee Hi was next to step on stage, backed by her favorite producer and number one fan, Code Kunst. He stood at the mixing board waiting for her, as she smiled sweetly to the crowd. She stood in a jean mini skirt, a black button down cropped sweater, black tights and boots, and a massively oversize blazer with sleeves that drove her bananas until she finally took it off.
No longer was she this sweet pink cheeked girl who sang the blues like she had an old soul. Now she’s this grown woman, all dangerous curves coupled with a pretty face and sultry voice. She greeted the crowd in what was definitely scripted English. She admitted she didn’t speak English but was trying very hard, so the fans could understand her, and the crowd went insane as the very mature sound came from her that most of us had been craving for years.
“Can I sing more unreleased songs for you?!”
The fans screamed back and she went on to sing quite a few more tracks, and the songs were fantastic. So damn good that I felt a tinge of bitterness knowing that with her current situation, we would likely never hear these songs again.
Lee Hi then shed the ridiculously oversize coat and rolled into her hits such as “Star“, “It’s Over“, and her debut song “126.96.36.199“. She also nailed jazzy covers and sang her heart out as the audience cheered her on. She was hopping up and down with glee by the end of the performance, excited to see so many people enjoyed her stage.
Finally, KARD took the stage and the crowd went absolutely rabid. Most of them couldn’t even feel their feet anymore as they pressed forward, much to the chagrin of the girls in the front row against the barrier. BM greeted the crowd for the group and translated the entire show as they talked, laughed, and joked with the audience. This entire night was a lead-up to what basically amounted to a full-fledged KARD concert.
I’m not even kidding you. They performed “Rumor“, “Push & Pull“, “Hola Hola“, “Oh Nana“, “Don’t Recall” (in English), “You In Me“, “Into You” … I mean, basically their whole discography. I felt like I attended two different shows in one night!
The audience screamed, as with each song came high intensity choreography that had everyone sweating just watching them fly through the routines. Each member, in matching gear, danced their heart out and even sang live mic at some points. It was all so overwhelming how gorgeous they all are up close; BM with his cheshire cat smile, Jiwoo with her gentle quietness, Somin with her fiery sex appeal, and J.Seph … OH MY GOD. Let’s just say if he ever side eyes you and then cocks this little side smile, suddenly you’re a pile of mush. I know. Because I was a pile of mush with a camera.
They threw T-shirts and swag into the audience, at one point Somin showed everyone how terrible of an arm she has, while BM shot a T-shirt so high it flew to the top of the loft, got stuck in the rafters and no one could reach it. They thanked everyone for waiting as long as they did for them and thanked them for their support, saying they would be back. And with that, the show was over.
I dragged my carcass to the bar, met my crew, and tried not to die on the streets of Austin as we made our way home. All in all, this being my second year at SXSW, it’s become an annual addiction: my camera has full access to all of these amazing shows, shooting artists like the ones above, mixed with Tierra Whack, RZA (and half of Wu-Tang Clan!), Pussy Riot, and many others … it’s just a dream for me. So thank you to HeyArrrrnold and Asian Junkie for letting me run amok in Austin this year! I can’t wait to do it again!