We began our day with wind chills and freezing temperatures, congregating at MTV Studios in Times Square. Upon introducing ourselves as bloggers and writers, they apologized and led us outside to wait in line of BoA fans. Having selflessly worked for MTV in the past 4 years as a regular on-camera panelist for "The Freshmen" and a dancer for their HD screen in Times Square (both Winter '05 and Summer '06!), I was not at all used to having been demoted to mere spectator by MTV. But I had to accept that my work with them ended after graduating, even though at ECAASU 2007 I was given a lap dance by MTV World's very own Simon Yin in from of 1,500 delegates at Yale.
So I deserved at least a free cup of coffee.
But as much as I'll try, this entry is not about me. This entry is about BoA. She's the same age as me, but she's much better looking, so I didn't mind getting to see her in person. Unfortunately, neither did the mob of fans outside in front of me who descended upon her as she arrived.
I admit, my knowledge of her only stems from what I gather from the stories of my friends of Korean descent who have united in praising her ability to cross over from Korea into the J-Pop and Chinese entertainment market. "She's a uniter" they all say, so I am inclined to curiosity.
Sidenote: I just remembered that I also danced to one of her songs when I did the Gayo dance troupe in my junior year for a Korean Students culture show. But I didn't know it was her song until she performed the same song "Girls on Top" in the studios. The circle is now complete! Ok, again, enough about me.
So after 2 and half hours of waiting outside (we got there at 9am like they asked us to but didn't get in until 11:30), we were told to relinquish our coats, scarves, knits, bags and all other items of clothing meant to keep us warm. To make matters worse, we also had to turn in our digital cameras and use only our cellphone cameras; this would explain why the pictures for the rest of this entry are of a completely different quality. (But if you can't tell, that's because my phone is the shit (and it ain't a iPhone!). :-D)
And as we walked into the legendary studio popularized by the now defunct TRL, we balked at the low temperatures they had set inside. Now, I have always known that they keep the studios cold so performers don't sweat too much for the camera during singing/dancing/playing tambourines. But this knowledge didn't come to me until well after I was already inside and my coat was tucked away in a cubbyhole. But before despairing, our favorite (and only) Asian American fulltime MTV VJ, SuChin Pak, strolled into the set, also complaining about the cold temperatures. Like always, she was fighting for us commonfolk. And although she looked fantastic doing her thing, she added a nice human touch throughout the program.
Once we were settled in, the producers made a big hooplah about MTV Iggy being the next big international sensation. It reminded me immensely of the pitch that MTV World made to ECAASU 2007 at Yale. Wincing at memories of the MTV World office a few weeks later (I was at a shoot for "The Freshmen" one day and I saw all of the MTV World staff emptying their cubicles into cardboard boxes), I quietly prayed that MTV had learned from its mistakes and that Iggy was the new result of damage control.
The producers also wanted us to film BoA's first song (and just the first song -- we were prohibited from taking any pictures or videos of her next 2 songs). We were also told to eschew YouTube and upload our videos to MTV Iggy's own video community. I just sat and took some great pictures of SuChin Pak:
And so SuChin reported and BoA was about to come out. The producers told the crowd to get excited (which wasn't very hard) and I cracked a joke that SuChin laughed at. Holler. She liked my joke.
With that BoA came out and performed her single off her new album "Eat You Up" (it'll show up as the last song on the webcast and public broadcasting). Now, yes I've heard BoA songs in the past and know what her voice can sound like. But COME ON BOA. This first song had so much synthesizing that it pretty much could've been the bonus track on Britney Spears' new album. This disappointed me; it seemed that the only way for an Asian artist to get a U.S. debut is to sound like someone else. And don't get me wrong, the song wasn't bad -- I would have definitely danced to it in any club -- but it definitely wouldn't get BoA any street cred for being unique.
She's still a helluva better dancer than Britney:
After her energetic performance, BoA answered some filmed questions from some of her fans around NYC (some in Japenese, some in Korean) and generally being very brief with her answers. As far as I learned from her, she was enjoying her time driving around in L.A. and admitting her shyness in meeting new people. However, the crowd was very encouraging (at one point hounding her to the point that she had to step back blushing and SuChin Pak had to comment about their zealousness). They yelled out choruses of "I'll be your friend!" "You're so cute!" "Unni!" And she did quickly point at someone mock-angrily when she heard: "You're so little!!!"
After a bit of talking with SuChin and the video screen, she performed her old song "Girls on Top", which got a lot of the diehard fans going. The synthesizers were all gone for this one, and we were finally treated to her natural voice. And to sum it up: her natural voice is extremely impressive for someone with her stature. She showed off her signature dancing/singing bravado, and I recognized how her appeal can work so well with the Asian markets. But would this appeal be universal and work in the tough waters of the U.S.? Time will tell.
Sidenote: Although her backup dancers were quite talented and diverse in terms of ethnicity, there was no sign of her usual posse of amazing Asian backup dancers. Was this on purpose? Perhaps. Although MTV definitely knows full well our people can dance!
After the second song, BoA resumed her Q&A with members of the audience while keeping to her brief answers about her life and expectations on her U.S. career. The high points came when her pop-star colleague from Japan surprised her with a video wishing her luck, SuChin teaching BoA what ebay was, and a couple of fans getting her birthday presents and a birthday cake. I guess she just turned 22, which makes her eligible for me to refer her to some single friends of mine.
BoA then performed her final song off of her new album (it'll show up as the first song on the webcast and public broadcasting), which was slightly better than the song she had performed earlier, and she fully took her time enjoying her new settings and being more comfortable on the stage.
Afterwards, the fans went wild, SuChin Pak smiled, and the producers demanded that we never forget the words "MTV Iggy" again. With BoA thanking us and stepping off backstage, I could only imagine the stirring excitement she probably felt at finally achieving her U.S. debut. So BoA, I'm not gonna lie: you did tremendously at your debut and your fans in both Asia and America are going to love you for it. You're going to make new friends and encounter new challenges here; but whatever you do on these coasts...stick to being yourself and keeping your own voice. Don't imitate, drop the synthesizers, and never sell out. The U.S. entertainment industry is a very sobering world to live in, but that very same world is yours to potentially dominate. Good luck.
With that, your humble writer took some more pictures and went off his merry way back into the cold winter air.
BoA, see you at ECAASU 2010!
special thanks to Hannah Chang for the company and the extra pictures.