Review: Krowdpop’s Unite The Mic in Toronto

Unite the Mic - Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin

Ever since Kpop United announced their campaign for a joint concert with Jay Park, Ailee and San E, fans worldwide have been scrambling to get their city in on the game. A few days before Christmas Toronto ranked second to Istanbul, a few digits higher than some major US cities. The new year saw the votes climb as the rankings maintained. T.dot secured its place in January, but that didn’t guarantee a concert – the city had to start putting its money where its mouth was by purchasing 1,000 tickets by February. Fast forward two months later to March 20, and downtown’s Massey Hall finds itself packed with fans, industry supporters and media, all in attendance for the second successfully Krowdpopped concert, Unite The Mic 2015.

(For more information on Krowdpop and how it works, check out Cindy’s review of Teen Top’s concert from last year!)

UTM Toronto 2015: The Press Conference

It just so happened that Toronto was the only city in the running that made it, out of Istanbul, New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Las Vegas. I know, even I couldn’t believe it. Then again, there I was with fellow journalists, writers and people working cool gadgets, standing in the Massey Hall’s Century Lounge on a Thursday afternoon awaiting with sweaty palms (it was hot in there) the arrival of three of South Korea’s biggest K-pop acts.

I would say I pretty much was a fan of all three prior to UTM. Which may be a little bit of an understatement. My university years were the heydays of my Jay Park obsession (that too of my housemates – our living room wall was adorned with his smolders, and of course, that infamous six-pack). Ailee reeled me in when she returned to the scene in 2013 after a half-year hiatus with ‘Singing Got Better 노래가 늘었어’. As for San E, the 3AM YouTube adventures started shortly after his hit ‘A Midsummer Night’s Sweetness 한여름밤의 꿀’ with After School’s Raina. You could thus imagine what the first few seconds felt like when they finally entered the room, in person, and took their seats behind their mics. I repeat, in person. Joining them too was San E’s label mate Kang Min Hee, a member of girl group Miss $, whom we were told would be performing alongside the rapper during the concert.

Unite the Mic Press Conference | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic Press Conference | Photo by Jennifer Martin

ATK Magazine was called upon to kick off the Q&A. With my curiosity for all things complicated, I asked them whether or not they still see themselves representing Korea when they perform overseas, given that K-pop itself is a hugely global phenomenon; and whether their childhoods in the US has any influence on that. This is a question that looks long on paper, but sounds longer to the ears. San E decided to point that out; and after the laughing died Jay Park stated that performing “in the States” is “comfortable”, especially because he gets to speak English. Growing up in the States has indeed influenced his music and his performance; but of course, as he is Korean-American he represents both, as well as his label AOMG. Ch-yeah! (his words). Ailee agreed, but she believes that “more than representing Korea or the United States,” as artists they represent “music” and all the artists “out there who do what they want to do.”

Unite the Mic Press Conference | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic Press Conference | Photo by Jennifer Martin

Some interesting questions were asked, inciting interesting answers. Ailee was asked about her recent diet, for which she revealed she ate only about 500 calories a day. There was a question about AOMG’s management style, and Jay Park talked about the label as a team that works and makes decisions together. When asked about their plans for downtime while in Toronto, San E asked the floor what the best place for poutine was (Smoke’s got the most recommendations).

Moreover, everyone seems to have a good sense of humor – in response to what the most difficult part was preparing for the concert, Jay Park joked, “the flight. That sh** was long as hell!” San E was honest – being in business class, the flight for him was great. Though he was asleep through it all, according to Ailee.

Unite the Mic Press Conference | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic Press Conference | Photo by Jennifer Martin

UTM Toronto 2015: The Concert

Then came Friday, the day everyone was waiting for. Big props to the organizers too, for getting everyone settled in safely and starting on time!

Unite the Mic - San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic - San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin

Each headliner had their own set, starting with San E. Looking super fresh in denim, blue plaid and chinos, he was joined on stage by two fellow BrandNew artists, one of whom later rocked the mic with some beatbox originals and mash-ups of K-pop tunes such as ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘I Am The Best 내가 제일 잘 나가’.

Unite the Mic - San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin

All together with DJ IT on the board, they performed a medley of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night 어디서 잤어’, ‘Body Language’ (I wished this was a number of its own!), and ‘Coach Me.’ San E even pulled an audience member onto the stage and took a selfie with her, but not before breaking hearts all around and serenading her with ‘Love Sick.’

Unite the Mic - San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – San E | Photo by Jennifer Martin

Following that was a tormenting preview of something off his upcoming album (which is literally all I can say about it – it was that brief!). After a fun performance of the super fun song ‘Story of Someone I Know 아는사람 얘기’, Miss Kang Minhee finally appeared and sang along to ‘What’s Wrong With Me 나 왜이래’ and, the moment I’ve personally been waiting for up to that point, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Sweetness.’ With her perfect vocals, perfect chemistry between the label mates (and the fact San E had some Molson with him onstage #CanadaPride), this was my favorite performance of the set. That, and the BrandNew ensemble’s 10-second version of the overplayed, over-danced, yet overly addictive ‘Up and Down 위아래’.

Unite the Mic - Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin

Ailee graced the stage next. Along with her foot-stompers ‘Don’t Touch Me 손대지마,’ U&I’ and ‘I Will Show You 보여줄게’, the K-pop princess also took on ‘Problem’ by Ariana Grande, Icona Pop’s ‘I Don’t Care’; and a sultry cover of Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia On My Mind’.

Unite the Mic - Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic - Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin

There were two performances that I remember most clearly from that night. Ailee revealed there was a certain song she worked on long before her debut with ‘Heaven’, one that caused a few emotional breakdowns in the studio because she was adamant about perfecting it. Back then, man, little did she know she would be standing before her Toronto fans several years later, fans who wouldn’t shy away from cheering her on and constantly reminding her that she is “perfect.” That song would be *sniffles* ‘Singing Got Better’. I loved this song before, but after experiencing it live I realized I never really knew what love was. Ailee is known for her killer pipes, but it’s really next level stuff we’re talking when you see her perform in person. She sings like there’s no tomorrow. Which brings me to the next most memorable performance: her cover of “I Will Always Love You” by the late Whitney Houston.

Unite the Mic - Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Ailee | Photo by Jennifer Martin

The atmosphere of that concert hall throughout those four minutes is hard to describe. Her vocal range and control was, of course, on point; but most poignant was the reaction from the fans. There were the ovations, but there were also moments of silence. It was like being in a church during mass, in which silence was an act of respect and reverence. Excuse my fangirl, but seriously, it felt quite magical.

Unite the Mic - Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin

The final third of the concert was Jay Park’s round, which the singer-slash-dancer-slash-bboy-slash-producer-slash-all-round superstar kicked off in high spirits. He sang hits such as ‘Joah’, ‘So Good’, ‘Know Your Name’ and ‘Girlfriend’, then would switch his gears to rap for ‘Taekwondo’ and ‘Work Hard, Play Hard,’ during which he eventually ditched the jacket and tee for a tight-fitted tank. Which would later end up on the floor as he crooned the crowds with his version of Bruno Mars’ ‘Nothin’ On You,’ ‘Count On Me’.

Unite the Mic - Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin

Accompanying him on stage was his AOMG buddy DJ Wegun, as well as a brief and absolute surprise appearance by dancer/choreographer Prepix of Prepix Crew; and finally, even more of a shock, Ugly Duck, the newest addition to the AOMG family. He was given a few moments on his own to address the audience, starting with the irrelevant disclaimer, “I don’t speak English!” Jay returned to the stage shortly donning a Blue Jays jersey, which I didn’t get in the beginning but now I think I do (Blue Jays, Jay? Ohhhh…); and together they murdered with ‘Lotto’, ‘1HUNNIT 사실이야’ and ‘Success Crazed 미친놈’.

Unite the Mic - Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin
Unite the Mic – Jay Park | Photo by Jennifer Martin

Jay Park had left everyone in such a high I have to admit the only thing that would have made this concert 100% complete was a closing stage with all three artists. Other than that, the experience of seeing each of them in their own element was surreal. San E’s work always has a comical or twisted element to it, but I had no idea the Rap Genius was also an actual funny guy. Ailee comes off  as a sweetheart, but her constant expressions of gratitude and the way she sang so passionately won me that night. And Jay Park is, in lack of a better descriptor, just so cool. Yet expectedly and beyond, he knows how to work the crowd, whether he’s serenading, spitting rhymes or sharing a recent story of a confusing fan encounter. Never will I forget the face he made as he mimicked the person who approached him in the mall, asked if he was Jay Park, and walked away just as stoically. (‘(S)he either hated me, or people in Toronto are just so laid back!’).

I personally had so much fun that I really hope all three return for another concert, which is something I don’t find myself saying often. I also appreciated the relative smallness of Massey Hall, as compared to, say, somewhere like Rogers Centre, since it allowed for a connection between the idol and the fans. Which in the spirit of events provided by organizations like Krowdpop, is really what makes the night special.

Special Thanks To…

Krowdpop and Kpop United, Massey Hall, Unite The Mic’s official sponsor Yes Asia, YMC Entertainment, AOMG and BrandNew Music. We also can’t forget the three headliners Ailee, Jay Park and San E; as well as Kang Minhee of Miss $, Ugly Duck, DJ IT, DJ Wegun and the rest of the guest performers for putting on a great show.

Did you catch last Friday’s concert? Let us know what you thought and what your favorite songs and moments were of the night by commenting below!

Disclaimer: The opinions shared in this article are solely those of the author’s and not ATK Magazine’s as a whole. 

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