It might not be the k-pop hub that is L.A., but living in the Pacific Northwest, we get our fair share of concerts in neighboring Vancouver. Even so, when I saw that G-Dragon had extended his world tour to Seattle, it seemed like a minor miracle. I can’t remember a time when a big-name k-pop star has visited the state of Washington, especially in an arena-sized venue.
But with this exhilaration came a bit of concern. Were there really enough k-pop fans in this corner of the country to make Seattle a worthwhile stop for someone of GD’s caliber? Before the concert began, I was worried about all the empty seating within the Key Arena. But when the show finally kicked off (an hour late…), the place was nicely packed. Not completely sold out, but certainly not embarrassing.
At this point, I’ve seen seven k-pop shows and attended two KCONs, but a full concert by a solo act was sure to be different. Having watched GD’s previous tours on DVD, I knew that he was more than capable of filling an entire two hours on his own. The high quality of the show wasn’t surprising at all. Instead, it was the format and tone of the MOTTE tour that really flipped expectations.
One listen to GD’s newest album makes it clear that he’s working to strip back the layers of his “G-Dragon” persona and dig a little deeper into what makes Kwon Ji Yong (his birth name) tick. Almost every moment of MOTTE, whether directly or indirectly, dealt with the duality of these personas and the toll that celebrity has taken on the person inside. This was hammered home during the show’s third act, where an opening interstitial provided a testimony of sorts from Ji Yong himself. As the camera lingered on his every word and mannerism, the video clip elicited an almost uncomfortable mixture of emotions from the crowd. The moment seemed to stretch on forever, as far removed from traditional k-pop fan service as you could get. GD’s music has always been more personal than his work with Bigbang, but this kind of direct vulnerability is not something you expect to see at a k-pop concert.
The topic of celebrity has been combed over infinitely by those in the public spotlight, and often causes non-celebs to roll their eyes as they go searching for the world’s smallest violin. I’m honestly not all that interested in knowing much about a celebrity’s personal life and inner struggles, and k-pop isn’t either. That’s what made MOTTE such a statement. Korean idol singers just don’t talk about these things. That GD framed his entire tour around the subject — from shocking video clips invoking a sort of “idol persona” plastic-surgery procedure to interviews with his friends, family and colleagues that ranged from funny to touching — feels slightly revolutionary for the genre. And it made the final encore of his dynamite 2017 single Untitled, 2014 even more potent and humanizing as he roamed the front row of the crowd, looking as if it might swallow him up forever.
The music itself was uniformly great, though the sound system was having issues here and there. Thankfully, GD chose to hire a live band, which offered the opportunity for intense rearrangements of many tracks. More often than not this included an aggressive injection of electric guitar to songs where you might not expect to hear it. This was a smart move from the production end of things, and beefed up his more spare material. Though primarily a hip-hop artist, GD has always carried himself as a rock star, so it made sense from a style standpoint as well.
The show kicked off with a few tracks from his first album, including a massive version of Heartbreaker. With a few exceptions, MOTTE moved through his discography in chronological order, providing a few tracks from One Of A Kind and Coup d’Etat before performing Kwon Ji Yong in its entirety. Highlights were (of course), the impossibly rousing, anthemic encore of Crooked, the dark, bombastic rearrangement of Obsession and the intense party atmosphere of the keeps-getting-more-addictive-with-every-play Bullshit.
Going into a G-Dragon concert, you don’t necessarily expect the kind of polished dance formations that idol groups are able to offer. GD is a different type of performer, incapable of hiding his honestly behind a shiny, practiced-to-perfection veneer. As many fans have noticed, he’s lost a fair bit of weight recently, and this appearance stripped him of some of the unapproachable braggadocio that he’s often thrown around. To me, he looked utterly fragile on stage. Maybe it was because his group members weren’t there to flank him. Maybe it’s just because he’s going through stuff that none of us can speculate about. But whatever it was, it made MOTTE feel oddly personal and compelling.
Sure, his impish mannerisms and effortlessly charismatic presence were fully intact. This man can squeeze every ounce of attitude from a simple piece of choreography. Even though he was surrounded by dancers through most of the night, I never once wanted to look at anything else but him. He’s a true superstar in every sense of the word, but MOTTE wasn’t about that. As he often reminded us, this was Kwon Ji Yong on stage, with all his imperfections and fears and vulnerabilities. It may not have been the kind of k-pop show I had been expecting, but it will be hard to wipe away MOTTE‘s bittersweet tone any time soon.