It was a chilly, drizzly Sunday evening when I arrived at Prudential Center for JYJ’s Newark concert on the 22nd of May. There weren’t nearly as many people as I had expected –- I guess I was picturing something similar to the lines that spanned avenues at last November’s JYJ showcase in Manhattan. Then again, it was a Sunday night, and this was Newark, of all places.
That’s not to say that the energy level was low though, because fans – ranging from hoards of young teenyboppers to older married women (and the families they dragged along with them) – were bouncing off the walls in excitement.
JYJ fans are perhaps the most organized and dedicated fans I’ve encountered. I learned that they had a meet-up at the nearby park distributing red t-shirts hours before doors opened. At the venue, girls in red from head to toe were making their rounds, handing out glowsticks, red light sticks, and white light sticks, which I was told (on multiple occasions, mind you) were to be saved for the very last song.
Once doors opened and the crowd rushed inside, the huge arena felt eerily empty at first. I overheard a guy, probably in his late teens, chuckle as he followed his friends down to their seats. “There’s like nobody here,” he scoffed (only to be hit in the arm by the girls he came with). By the time the show started, the venue was filled to about …60% capacity, 70% maybe.
After the “Be My Girl (Remix)” dance tutorial was shown on the big screen and a few instrumental versions of JYJ songs played, it was finally showtime.
The lights went out, and the chanting/screaming/squealing began.
Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu – collectively known as JYJ – rose from beneath the stage after a dramatic pause following the piano intro to “Empty.” The trio was dressed from head to toe in shiny suits: Jaejoong in red, Yoochun in blue, and Junsu in green. Each with different patterns and feathered accessories, but shiny nonetheless.
After pumping up the crowd with “Empty” and “I.D.S (I Deal Scenario),” the three stood in the center of the extended stage, soaking up the JYJ chants from the audience.
I’ll probably never know if they were disappointed with the turnout that night, but there was a clear difference in energy between the first couple songs and the rest of the concert. It wasn’t that they weren’t trying, but they had a far-off look on their faces, like something else was on their mind. Either way, I think the intensity of the chanting shook them out of their daze because the next song, “Nine,” was executed beautifully.
In that moment, as the three harmonized during that captivating ballad, I finally understood why MTV K readers chose Jaejoong as K-Pop’s Sexiest Male Idol. Sure, I always thought he was kind of handsome (in a girly sort of way), but seeing him in person made me realize just how gorgeous this guy actually is. (Sunny, you win).
As for Junsu, you can’t say anything about his looks until you’ve seen him in person. The camera does not do him justice. It’s a unique mix of adorable and masculine, and he oozes with charisma onstage. Yoochun also looks younger and much more handsome than pictures make him out to be, and his playful smile is absolutely infectious.
Sweet, sexy, and smooth solo performances!
“Welcome to the JYJ Worldwide Tour!”
Yoochun did most of the talking throughout the night. Jaejoong and Junsu each piped in with their rehearsed lines, “Enjoy the show!” and “Let’s have a good time together!” before Yoochun introduced the next song, “Pierrot.”
…Or “Pyro,” as he pronounced it. (Not that anyone minded).
An hour into the show brought us to a smooth performance of “Be My Girl,” followed by a behind-the-scenes slideshow video of the trio as they headed backstage for a costume change.
As JYJ performed “Be The One” and “Ayy Girl” in their sleek black and silver outfits, I got a real sense of their experience and professionalism. Being onstage is like second nature for these guys — effortlessly belting out notes while performing intense choreography, comfortably making use of the entire stage, and interacting with the female dancers to get their fans screaming. JYJ are true performers, in the fullest extent of the word.
But that’s the thing that gets me. You’d think that after performing sold-out shows at huge stadiums like Japan’s Tokyo Dome that they’d just resort to half-assing the choreography. Why? Because obviously, they’d look still good doing that.
But they don’t. And that calls for some respect.
For their individual performances, Yoochun, Junsu, and Jaejoong each sang their solo songs from The Beginning, starting with Yoochun’s “I Love You.”
Even before JYJ was formed, I never considered Yoochun a particularly strong singer, but I guess I was wrong because he really does hold his own. My appreciation for his unique timbre and almost-husky voice was interrupted when a female dancer put her hands between his leg and grabbed his crotch. It took me a second to snap out of the shock, but props to him for keeping it together as the dancers each took their turn rubbing up against him. Fans were going crazy, but I couldn’t tell if they were mortified… or jealous?
Junsu’s solo was simply breathtaking. I found myself ignoring the elementary lyrics of “I Can Soar” because he was able to make them sound so precious, and I barely noticed his ugly objectionable belted top while he serenaded the lone ballerina upstage.
Jaejoong’s artsy solo performance, “Still in Love,” was the epitome of his creative direction as concert director. Two male dancers held up a sheer curtain across the stage that the female dancers incorporated into their sexy choreography. Compared to Junsu and Yoochun, Jaejoong maintains a more graceful composure onstage. Anyone else in his shoes might give off a detached, almost haughty impression, but Jaejoong carries himself with an elegant and mysterious air of confidence.
“Found You” from the soundtrack of Yoochun’s drama, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, came after a short dance break introducing JYJ’s dancers (though we never actually learned their names). Everyone in the stadium was singing along, and JYJ seemed pleased at the immense popularity of the song, playfully interacting with each other and the crowd.
“Are you guys having a good time?!” Yoochun yelled after the song ended. He asked Jaejoong and Junsu to say something as well, but they started drinking their water bottles to avoid talking, even though Yoochun said they could speak in Korean.
“Thank you so much for being here,” he said, giving a huge grin. Fans in the front started yelling something, so he leaned forward and whispered back, “I love you too.”
Once the euphoric screaming subsided, he introduced the next song, “Fallen Leaves.”
“We wrote this song thinking about you guys.”
JYJ Sings Their Four Unreleased Songs!
The biggest treat of the night was getting to hear the full live versions of the four (count ‘em!) not-yet-released JYJ songs.
1. “Boy’s Letter” is another beautiful ballad that highlights JYJ’s mastery of harmonizing. At one point the music practically cuts off and Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu carry out the lines with such emotion and power. And Junsu… when he sang “Now, I will make your heart beat…” I almost forgot to breathe. I don’t know how any audio recording will be able to capture the depth he brings to this song.
2. “You’re” is similar to “Found You” in that it’s a mid-tempo track with a bright melody. It was also nice to see Yoochun rapping in Korean again, his original element, and Jaejoong and Junsu’s ad libs in the background made for a refreshing mix. And of course, fans were eating up the lyrics: “Because we are one.” JYJ really knows how to please their fans. Not to mention later on when Yoochun screamed “Always Keep the Faith” as they walked off the stage. What a player.
3. “Get Out” raised the energy level up a few notches. JYJ came out wearing jeans, their white JYJ t-shirts, and colorful jackets (my favorite look that night). I was surprised at how many fans already knew the words to this song (well actually all of the unreleased songs), and the interaction between JYJ and the crowd was at its peak during this portion of the concert (including the remixes of “Be My Girl” and “Empty” that came right before and after this song).
[Bonus: Yoochun screamed F*** You towards the end of the song, even though there was already a bleep placed in the song. Maybe he was just so excited and thought it’d be a cool thing to do. How cute, I guess.]
4. “In Heaven,” the encore song, was by far the highlight of the show. Everyone pulled out their white light sticks (if they hadn’t already), and the mix of red and white made for a surreal atmosphere as Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu (still drenched in sweat from the “Empty” remix) sang their heart out for the last song of the night.
The song itself reminds me of TVXQ’s “Love in the Ice.” It’s a powerful heart-wrenching ballad that calls for the trio’s rawest, most emotive vocals, and I was blown away for the umpteenth time.
“In Heaven” was the perfect song to end the show – with the most appropriate lyrics (“Don’t go, don’t go, I love you, I love you…”) to wrap things up.
The three seemed pleased with themselves. They looked beyond tired, but there was a glimmer of satisfaction in their faces. Like, “Wow, look at what we just did.”
“Thank you so much for being here. We really hope to see you again at our next concert. We’ll work hard, so please cheer us on. Thank you, thank you.” As Junsu closed with these words, JYJ took a long dramatic bow, and the night was finally over.
I think what impressed me the most was neither JYJ’s superior vocals nor their precise dancing skills. It was the energy with which they performed. If anyone was watching Yoochun during the “Empty (Remix)” performance, they’ll know what I’m talking about.
Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu poured their everything into those two hours, knowing that within days, weeks, they’d be doing the same exact thing in another city, another country. It was borderline desperate, but mostly just impressive…
And that’s when it struck me. Have they really gone back to this rookie mindset? Was this really a new beginning for them?
Maybe in their heads they’ve just started this new journey to climb up to the top, but their bodies and voices say otherwise. JYJ are veterans to the stage. There’s no denying it. Music is their home, the stage their natural environment – and it definitely shows.
People say that you never really hear an artist’s music until you see it live.
For JYJ, that saying has never been more true.
JYJ Newark Concert Set List:
2. “I.D.S (Ideal Scenario)”
5. “Be My Girl”
6. “Be The One”
7. “Ayy Girl”
8. “I Love You” (Yoochun solo)
10. “I Can Soar” (Junsu solo)
11. “Still in Love” (Jaejoong solo)
12. “Found You”
13. “Fallen Leaves”
14. “Boy’s Letter”**
15. “Be My Girl (Remix)”
17. “Get Out”**
18. “Empty (Remix)”
19. “In Heaven” (Encore)**