Fan loyalty brings 2PM ups and downs

by Kwaak Je Yup

Korea Times, Kf And Cj E&Amp;M

Dancing boy bands are a common feature in K-pop, but when it comes to fan loyalty, 2PM has few rivals.

Catchy dance-pop singles produced by their agency’s head producer JYP, intricate choreography that often takes a cue from acrobatics, handsome faces with slick hairstyles gelled to perfection — and especially their signature chiseled torsos — have caught the hearts of quite a few fans around the world — in fact hundreds of thousands, to put a real figure on it.

2PM’s first Asian tour, which ran from September to March and visited eight places, attracted nearly 160,000 people. Venues were packed every night. Last month, they sold out six consecutive dates at Tokyo’s iconic Nippon Budokan arena — every ticket was purchased under a minute after going on sale — amassing an additional 60,000.

The six members’ regular meetings with their official fan club, “The Hottest,” look like a rock-infused church service; women let go of their inhibitions and find (momentary) salvation. They sigh, scream, cry, swoon and of course, sway with the massive group.

Non-Korean fans visit the group’s hometown and take pictures in front of their agency, JYP Entertainment, in southern Seoul’s Cheongdam-dong district, as well as billboards with their faces on it, like a pilgrimage.

And when controversy arises, the group elicits scorn and fury like no other. Beginning as a seven-member act — with Kim Junsu, Nichkhun Buck Horvejkul, Ok Taecyeon, Jang Wooyoung, Lee Junho, Hwang Chansung and Park Jaebeom — the 2009 announcement of that last name’s removal from the group brought angry fans holding demonstrations for weeks.

What is behind this ardent emotional connection? Even the members themselves want to know.

“I’d guess that it’s the 2PM identity,” says Wooyoung, 23. “The six members have different individual characters. I don’t think we can be called a global group yet, but when we had our first Asian tour … we couldn’t believe the love that all the Korean and other fans were showering us with, singing along to our songs in groups.”

“I can’t properly describe the feeling on stage when the ‘Cool Ray’ (a lighting device aimed toward the audience) at the Budokan is turned on, which only happens at sold-out performances,” says Taecyeon, 23. “Someone told me that it’s really difficult to have the Cool Ray up. When it happens, you can see every face in the house, all the way up to the third floor. It made me unbelievably happy to see the 60,000 fans (over six nights).”

If 2PM was best-known for its precision and synchronized dance moves five years ago, the six now seem more at ease, enjoying themselves more and trying to let each personality reflect in music and performance — and perhaps even lose control.

“Compared to our debut stage, we are definitely more relaxed,” said the rapper. “And we really know each other like family now. We can improvise a little now because of that.”

“Before one performance, we actually agreed not to rip our shirts off,” says Junho, 22, referring to one of their signature attractions, “But as we were coming off stage, we noticed Taecyeon’s abs were showing. He explained it as an in-the-moment thing; he said he was high on the fans’ love.”

The singer added that he and Junsu, 23, are also increasing the level of participation in the creative process, for lyrics, music and the overall concept, among other things.

“We are also saddened by the fact that our overseas activities prevent us from spending more time in Korea and seeing our fans here more,” says Chansung, 22. “Stay tuned for our next Korean album, which should be released this fall. It will be better than what we’ve done before.”

Even in this path of evolution, some things will remain the same — especially their now internationally famous physiques.

“All of us are really active and love sports. We like that ‘jimseungdol’ nickname that fans have coined for us,” says Nickhun, the sole American member of Thai and Chinese descent who turns 23 at the end of this month, referring to the Korean portmanteau between “beast” and “idol.” “Instead of a drastic change in image, we want to show the sides we haven’t fully explored yet with different staging styles and performances. We are constantly thinking of new ideas and concepts.”

And he adds that there is more than just their bodies to be uncovered: “If you listen more closely to our music, there are softer, more sentimental tracks as well.”

For more information about 2PM, visit 2pm.jype.com. The Japan Times is pleased to present this article as part of a series about Korean pop music produced in collaboration with The Korea Times and enewsworld.com.