In case you didn’t realize it, Beatles-level teen hysteria still happens, and on Monday night, it showed up in the form of the Blackjacks. These are the fans of K-Pop wonder-women 2NE1, who headlined MTV Iggy’s Best New Band Concert 2011. Coincidentally it was also 2NE1’s first U.S. performance, and a line of giddy teens as rabid as those Beliebers or Gaga’s Little Monsters snaked around the block. To name 2011’s Best New Band In The World (a pretty heady title there), MTV fans across the globe hit the Internet in droves and voted for their favorite artists, and, I must say, the result was a quality showing. Hosted by long-time MTV VJs Sway and Suchin Pak and music encyclopedia Matt Pinfield, it was a bit of an odd bill that, between sets, was punctuated too heavily with commentary on obliquely “international” ephemera, precooked colonial stereotypes and occasional quips from Diplo; regardless, there was some quality talent and entertainment on the stage.
The show, filmed and broadcast live on the Web, began with Caracas’ punk-rock politicos La Vida Boheme. The modern-day Mick Joneses kicked off the concert with an explosive performance of single “Radio Capital.” Last time we ran into La Vida Boheme was during LAMC, where articulate frontman Henry D’Arthenay spoke on a panel about the band’s eager homegrown fans, self-named La Revolucion. The foursome cracked a few jokes in both English and Spanish (“If you don’t know us, we’re called Menudo.”) but, as a constantly self- and community-aware band, still drew attention to the difficulties rampant in Venezuela.
Kuala Lumpur’s Yuna also showed up to perform, admitting to CMJ after the show that she “was so nervous!” to perform in the big space. Last time we saw her was in a more intimate setting, but the unassuming singer-songwriter shone just as bright in the more cavernous Best Buy Theater with two original tracks and her striking cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” Representing the U.S. because “it’s part of the world, too!” (had you forgotten?) was reggae break-out star Gyptian, whose steel-drum seduction ballad “Hold You” has dominated commercial radio for the better part of 2010 and 2011. Awkwardly flanked by boobie- and bootylicious babes and sexin’ the audience and the cameras, Gyptian’s performance was like an island version of a music video (sans fish-eye lens) from any Bad Boy artist circa 1995—with purring; he purred at the audience. Or maybe just at the women in the audience?
Hallyu, the global wave of Korean cultural exports—the bouncy K-pop of the past decade included—is not a new phenomenon, but this four-song performance was 2NE1’s debut show in the United States. MTV interviewed a few intensely tongue-tied fans and rewarded them with entrance into the venue; there were about five hype-building false starts; designer Jeremy Scott was interviewed. Despite the overly dramatic and entirely unnecessary pomp, the ladies of 2NE1 were literally named queens of the evening, gold plastic crowns and all. 2NE1 staged a perfectly choreographed pop performance with “Fire,” “Can’t Nobody,” the ballad “Lonely” and current pop hit “I Am The Best,” whose chorus is still ringing in my mind. But it’s not 2NE1’s voice I hear: It’s that of a thousand Blackjacks in hypnotic bliss.