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One Night in L.A.: SMTOWN Live '10 World Tour

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After months of hype and anticipation, it all came down to one night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on September 4, 2010. The SMTOWN Live '10 World Tour certainly arrived in Los Angeles in style on a chartered plane with a hundreds-strong entourage. Just like in Asia, screaming fans filled the airport and stalked the hotel lobby to catch fleeting glimpses of Kangta, BoA, U-KNOW, MAX, Super Junior, Girls' Generation, SHINee, f(x), and other SM Entertainment artists. Names that seemed so close to dreams but far from reality for K-pop fans in the Western Hemisphere had finally made it stateside for SMTOWN's first concert outside of Asia. For one night, fans on the other side of the globe got a chance to see their idols, and L.A. got a taste of why K-pop is taking over Asia.

Solos and Vocals

SMTOWN Live '10 in L.A. opened in high spirits with a cute SMTOWN video (one of many to come) and opening act J-Min, a relatively unknown face to K-pop fans. Question marks floated above the audience - who is she? - but skepticism soon gave way to guitar chords and earthy vocals. The guitar-strumming soloist was a refreshing mystery, presenting a different image and musical style than SM's other artists. Speaking in English and Japanese, J-Min acknowledged that most of the audience probably didn't know her as she was only active in Japan. Judging from the applause though, J-Min won over quite a few new fans that night.

J-Min was followed by another two beauties less familiar to the younger crowd, Sunday and Dana of Cheon Sang Ji Hee The Grace. It wasn't clear in the days leading up to the concert if The Grace would be gracing L.A., so their appearance was a nice surprise even if bandmates Stephanie and Lina couldn't make it. Dana and Sunday both sang solo numbers before joining for My Everything, wowing the crowd with their strong, sweet vocals.

Rounding out SM's roster of talented female artists not seen often enough in Korea was Zhang Li Yin. There were mixed reports about whether the budding Chinese diva would be performing in L.A., so her presence can be chalked as another pleasant surprise for the night. The young star rolled out her R&B power vocals for two songs, the Korean version of I Will and the Chinese hit Moving On.

After the ladies came the solo male artists. Kangta did what he does best, crooning his early ballads Pine Tree and Polaris back to back. Actress Ara stepped in to duet with Kangta on the jazzy 7989. In one of the most effective stage designs of the night, the two sat on benches on opposite sides of the stage for the first half of the song, which also randomly featured SHINee's Onew dropping by as the world's most adorable pizza delivery boy. The sweet duet culminated in the middle of the stage where Kangta got down on one knee and presented a red rose to Ara, eliciting plentiful squeals from the audience.

Just so Kangta doesn't run away with the sunbae title, Kim Min Jong was there to hold down the fort. The yesteryear idol who refuses to age belted his representative ballad "Beautiful Heartache", but he gave the heartbreaking love song a whole new spin in its latter half. The uptempo rearrangement came complete with backup dancers and a wonderful 90s style dance (finger pointing!) that boosted the audience's energy level for the idols galore to follow.

Nonstop Stars, Nonstop Songs

SMTOWN Live '10 World Tour in L.A. Setlist

1. Shine - J-Min
2. "Don't Cry" - J-Min
3. Angels - Sunday The Grace
4. Out of Sight, Out of Mind - Dana The Grace
5. Lachata - f(x)
6. Tik Tok - Krystal & Jessica
7. Chu - f(x)
8. I Will - Zhang Li Yin
9. Moving On - Zhang Li Yin
10. Pine Tree + Polaris - Kangta
11. 7989 - Kangta & Ara
12. Beautiful Heartache - Kim Min Jong
13. Stand By Me - SHINee
14. Replay - SHINee
15. Get Down - SHINee
16. Juliette - SHINee
17. Let You Go - Trax
18. Oh My Goddess - Trax
19. Slow Motion - Lee Yeon Hee feat. Tae Min
20. Another Heaven - Zhou Mi & Luna
21. Sonata of Temptation - Hee Chul, Henry, Jay
22. Call My Heart Out - Kyu Hyun & Seo Hyun
23. Sea of Love - Jong Hyun & Ye Sung
24. A-Yo - Eun Hyuk, Shin Dong, Key, Min Ho
25. Run Devil Run - Girls' Generation
26. Kissing You - Girls' Generation
27. Super Girl - Super Junior
28. No Other - Super Junior
29. Bonamana - Super Junior
30. Way to Go - Girls' Generation
31. Dancing Out - Super Junior
32. My Name - BoA
33. I Did it for Love - BoA feat. Key
34. Sorry, Sorry - Super Junior
35. Genie - Girls' Generation
36. Ring Ding Dong - SHINee
37. NU ABO - f(x)
38. A Man in Love - Super Junior
39. Mr. Boogie - f(x)
40. Paradox - Trax feat. Hee Chul
41. Up and Down - SHINee
42. Oh! - Girls' Generation
43. Quasimodo - SHINee
44. The Name I Loved - Onew, Ryeo Wook
45. Dangerous - BoA
46. Stand By - BoA
47. Energetic - BoA
48. TVXQ Medley - TVXQ
49. Big Time - MAX
50. Why - U-KNOW
51. Don't Don - Super Junior, MAX, Trax
52. Maximum - TVXQ
53. Lucifer - SHINee
54. Gee - Girls' Generation
55. U - Super Junior
56. Hurricane Venus - BoA
57. Hope - SMTOWN
Tucked in among the soloists, a four-member f(x) was the first main group to perform for the night. The group's rapper Amber has been absent since an ankle injury put her out of commission in early summer. Despite hopes that the California native would make the L.A. leg of the tour, f(x) again took stage one member short, though SHINee's Min Ho did make for a crowd-pleasing stand-in rapper on Chu. The four girls had more than enough energy to go around, with Victoria showing off that high kick and Luna blowing the audience away with her strong vocals. Some particularly inventive fans showed their support for the group's leader by brandishing Victoria and NichKhun light signs forming the name "Khuntoria", a nod to her We Got Married "husband".

Having made two notable guest appearances already, SHINee was the first act to make use of the center stage. Standing out in characteristically colorful clothing, the group delivered four consecutive dance hits - Stand By Me, Replay, Get Down, and Juliette - to the ecstatic crowd. Speaking in English, Key explained that the group's name meant "to receive light", and that they were receiving a lot of light from the audience! Like the other main groups, SHINee took stage multiple times throughout the night to perform more hit songs, including Ring Ding Dong and Lucifer, as well as participate in special collaborations.

Trax came on right after SHINee's Juliette, with Jung Mo sporting his new head of blonde hair that makes him instantly recognizable from a mile away. Well, that and his guitar-playing posture. The two-man band rocked out to their rock ballad Let You Go and brand new song Oh My Goddess with dramatic flair.

Almost halfway through the concert, Girls' Generation appeared with Run Devil Run. The crowd went absolutely wild at the sight of the girls in tight black sequin, which soon became schoolgirl plaid for their next song Kissing You. Tiffany was all smiles greeting her hometown crowd, and Soo Young was all kinds of cute speaking English.

After Girls' Generation, it was Super Junior's turn to fill Staples Center with the deafening sound of screams and cheers. The group made their grand entrance with the Korean version of Super Junior M hit Super Girl, and Henry and Zhou Mi were in the midst! Super Junior brought out the Korean, Chinese, and English to greet the adoring audience.

From here on, the songs just kept coming as Super Junior, Girls' Generation, SHINee, and f(x) took turns performing nonstop hits. Girls' Generation smashes Oh! and Gee naturally made appearances, along with their cheerleader outfits and skinny jeans. Looking even more beautiful in person than they do in pictures, the girls also sang their bubbly Way to go, and leg kicked their way through a rearranged version of Genie.

Super Junior put together quite the workout for SMTOWN, making full use of the multiple stages to perform their hits Bonamana, Dancing Out, Sorry Sorry, and A Man in Love with special choreography and a lot of running around. The dance intro and breaks for A Man in Love and modified choreography for the Sorry Sorry remix were especially remarkable, and singing and dancing Bonamana requires so much stamina, it's almost tiring just watching them do it! Eun Hyuk, Shin Dong, and Dong Hae also showed off their dance moves in the special dance battle segment, along with Hyo Yeon, Yoon A, Yuri, Min Ho, Tae Min, Luna, and Victoria.

SMTOWN Exclusives

One of the most exciting parts of the SMTOWN tour is the chance to see special pairings and collaborations that only come around once a year. Sisters Jessica and Krystal were all sugar and spice for their sassy cover of Ke$ha's Tik Tok, while shy maknae Kyu Hyun and Seo Hyun sent the audience into screaming mode when they held hands for the ballad duet "Call With All My Heart". Zhou Mi and Luna also put in some endearingly awkward hand-holding time during their impressive rendition of Leehom Wang and Jane Zhang's "Another Heaven".

Hee Chul moonlighted as a rocker again for his collaborations with Henry and Trax. Henry got the spotlight and the cheers all to himself for his dramatic Fur Elise violin intro into Hee Chul's rock take of Ivy's "Sonata of Temptation". (The price: Hee Chul claimed Henry as his latest pseudo fan service victim.) Jay also featured briefly in "Sonata of Temptation", and Hee Chul returned the favor during Trax's blaring performance of Paradox, a song from the band's earlier hard rock days.

The busiest group in the arena though had to be SHINee. Onew paired with Ryeo Wook for the duet "The Name I Loved", and Jong Hyun with Ye Sung for Sea of Love. Meanwhile, Key and an especially hyper Min Ho teamed with Eun Hyuk and Shin Dong for a roof-raising cover of Jinusean's fun hip-hop anthem A-Yo. Just to cover all the bases, Key also rapped for BoA's I Did It for Love, and Tae Min even played the piano for Lee Yeon Hee's Slow Motion.

Enter the Icons

BoA made her anticipated appearance just after the concert's halfway point, lighting up the stage in a sexy blue sequin bodysuit for her first song, My Name. She sang mostly fast numbers including the hits Dangerous and Hurricane Venus off her newest album, as well as English songs like Energetic. The soft-spoken diva was the most talkative artist of the night, exclaiming that it was her dream to perform at the Staples Center. She shared one of her favorite ballads Stand By with the audience, and very cutely declared her support for the SM family ("SMTOWN forever")!

As the minutes ticked by and the concert approached its climax, it was clear that only two more artists remained: U-KNOW and MAX. Near the end of BoA's Energetic, audiences near the side stages rustled with palpable excitement at the sight of wires being set up in the dark. The crowd was already going crazy before the spotlights landed on the airborne figures of U-KNOW and MAX slowly rising (from the east?) towards the sky and across the arena.

After their dramatic entrance, U-KNOW and MAX performed an electrifying medley of TVXQ hits, as well as their new solos. For those who love MAX's high-pitched scream in Mirotic, half of his solo Big Time is sung in that voice! U-KNOW is, meanwhile, the definition of suave for his fierce dance number Why. MAX (along with his ripped shirt and crazy hair) then joined Trax and Super Junior to form the SMTOWN Band - featuring Hee Chul on drums! - and perform a heavy metal version of Don't Don before returning to stage with U-KNOW. The greeting that fans have gone too long without hearing - "We are Dong Bang Shin Ki!" - finally came after MAX and U-KNOW's catchy new song Maximum.

Next Stop, World

After a long night that still felt too short, SMTOWN in L.A. came to a rousing end with an explosion of confetti, and the entire SM family filling the stage, arm in arm, for the SMTOWN theme "Hope". SMTOWN in L.A. was not quite the epic six-hour affair that the Seoul concert was, but the four-hour show was more than enough to bring down the house and create lasting memories for tens of thousands of fans.

SMTOWN in L.A. was more than just a concert, it was also an opportunity for fans from different places and backgrounds to meet and share in their common love for K-pop. The concert itself was a night that transcended language and cultural boundaries as the artists sang in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese, and spoke in whatever language suited them best. There was even sign language at the concert if one counts the "Always Yours SMTOWN" interlude videos of artists signing inspirational messages.

Here's hoping that next year SMTOWN will travel even farther, touch down on even more places, and make good on the "world" part of World Tour!

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Published October 18, 2010

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