Returning to the U.S. for the first time in several years, K-Pop legend J.Y. Park (also known as JYP and Asiansoul) took the stage as the first stop of his two-city Groove Back in USA Tour at Brooklyn’s historic Kings Theatre. Fans, called Soulmates, were treated to a two-hour musical journey across his nearly three-decade career. Accompanied by a 10-piece jazz band and flashy backup dancers, JYP delivered an entertaining, high-energy show that appealed to Soulmates and young K-Pop fans who knew JYP from viral memes and for creating groups such as TWICE and Stray Kids alike. But the true heart of the show was JYP’s commitment to bringing the sound of home back to the majority audience of older Korean-Americans who came to support him.
The band kicked off the show with fanfare as JYP called out chords from backstage (“Give me an A-flat! Give me an F-sharp!”) and called for the audience to get on their feet. He stepped out onto the stage and introduced himself, donning a fur coat, a white bedazzled satin suit, and a blue fedora. He paraded around the stage to whoops and cheers before his dancers removed his coat and hat. Now without the bulky outerwear, JYP could dance freely – calling for the band to “hit him” a number of times (anywhere from one to four beats) as he hip thrusted to the band’s well-timed drum hits.
When JYP launched into “Who’s Your Mama?,” the crowd “shook their booties” along to the song’s lyrics with the twerking dancers. Next up was the funk-pop track “She Was Pretty,” which blended in nicely with the boogie and soul that the band was cooking up and served as the perfect transition into a cover of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ hit, “Uptown Funk.” Despite JYP’s vocal issues (he noted during the show that the long flight from South Korea and lack of sleep left him raspy for much of the night), the crowd sang along loudly to the familiar tune. He was able to get every member of the audience engaged as he called for the left, right, and center sections to chant the song’s “uptown funk you up, uptown funk you up” bridge.
The cover set the stage up well for the next song. Without taking a break, JYP and his accompanying performers progressed into the tour’s namesake, “Groove Back.” Concertgoers danced along, particularly to the part of the choreography that went viral on TikTok after the song’s release late last year.
After disco dancing nonstop for 20 straight minutes, JYP was finally able to catch his breath and address the show’s attendees. “Since the name of the show is, ‘Groove Back,’ everything that you’re hearing right now is being played live. Sometimes I will sing the song slower, sometimes I will sing it faster. But if you have anything prerecorded, nothing can be spontaneous,” he said, acknowledging his band. “So for the next couple of hours, I’m going to introduce a lot of different grooves that’s part of the ‘JYP groove.’”
Introducing the next part, JYP described the upcoming stage as “the most dangerous, naughty groove of the show.” Referring to the desire of wanting someone that you couldn’t have, he asked audience members who were in relationships or engaged to raise their hands. Moving into “I Have a Lover,” JYP serenaded the excited fans who raised their hands. He then performed “Switch To Me,” the 2020 collaboration with his mentee, Rain.
Bringing the party mood back to the theater, the band played Cheryl Lynn’s classic disco hit, “Got To Be Real,” which allowed JYP and his dancers to showcase fun, retro choreography. The song was mashed up with JYP’s own song, “Don’t Leave Me.”
“Because of you, things are slowly heating up,” said JYP to the crowd as he took off his bejeweled waistcoat and tossed it to the side. “There’s a lot of Koreans here today, right? I knew this would happen and I know you guys miss Korea. This groove I prepared for this stage is for people who miss Korea.”
The New York Tri-State area is home to over 200,000 Korean Americans – the second-largest population outside of Korea. Those in attendance at JYP’s show, particularly the middle-aged members of the audience, responded with cheers and waves at being recognized.
Changing into a black sequined blazer, the legend directed the band to play a bluesy, melancholy tune to perform a cover of “Four Beats” by Song Dae Kwan. JYP took a beat to rhetorically ask the crowd to guess what song was next, before jumping into “When We Disco,” his duet with Sunmi. The beat picked up and revealed the dancers had a sparkly outfit change of their own, with the women wearing purple sequined mini dresses. The outfits started off with long sleeves, but as the song progressed, the sleeves were removed to reveal shoulder-baring halter dresses underneath.
The outfit changes, Motown-inspired beat, and Sunmi references were the perfect transition into a discotheque version of Wonder Girls’ “Nobody.” The dancers’ outfits were reminiscent of some of Wonder Girls’ own comeback stages for the song. In what was a highlight of the show, the entire theater was singing and dancing along to the choreography of the international hit and what is arguably one of the most recognizable K-Pop songs. Despite his vocal issues from early on in the concert, JYP hit Wonder Girls’ Yeeun’s iconic high notes from the song’s bridge. The portion of the set was topped off with JYP’s fan-favorite song “Honey.”
The audience was roaring with whoops and screams as JYP took a break to rehydrate. “You guys, singing that was the most beautiful thing ever. As you all know, for ‘Groove Back’ I was very much influenced by soul artists such as Michael Jackson, Prince, and Motown – all these artists,” he explained. “But today I have to let you know that there was an artist that influenced me before those artists back in the 70s. You might be a little surprised knowing this artist also influenced the ‘JYP groove.’ In order to show you that groove, we have to rotate the clock back 50 years. I have to take you to a city in the middle of the desert.”
And so kicked off the most elaborate stage of the night. The dancers wheeled out a clothing rack and an entire vanity setup underneath a bright spotlight. They then proceeded to mimic applying makeup and slicking back JYP’s hair before helping him into a white high-collar jacket.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Vegas,” JYP said, accentuating the announcement with some rockabilly hip gyrations. If it wasn’t already obvious that he was paying homage to Elvis Presley, it was once he began to sing a fun mashup of “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” The performance was complemented by a fun quickstep break in which JYP even jumped over one of the dancers in a cute stunt. Perhaps the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor should have gone to JYP instead of Austin Butler for portraying the King of Rock and Roll.
Still dressed as Elvis, JYP and the band kept the vibe going with swing arrangements of “Proposal Song” and Miss A’s debut song, “Bad Girl Good Girl.” The latter was a treat not just for fans, but for Miss A’s own Min, who was in attendance at the show. JYP then performed a couple of his other hits: “FEVER,” “Swing Baby” and “You’re The One,” to which the audience excitedly clapped along.
Finally, it was time to strip it down a bit. Removing the campy Elvis jacket and with a newly rolled-out keyboard, JYP explained that the next stage would be a series of songs he composed for other artists. With just his piano, JYP performed Lee Ki-chan’s “Love Has Left Again,” IU’s “Sleepless Rainy Night,” and 2PM’s “Again & Again,” which he famously performed live with the group in 2009. The audience loudly sang along to the heavily-memed, “weh geulunji molla” lyric and swayed to the song.
Next, JYP surprised the crowd with a performance of his debut song, “Don’t Leave Me.” According to him, he and the band came up with the idea to sing the song that day, and no other city on the tour had heard the song live up to that point. Attendees waved their hands (and a number of ITZY, GOT7, and TWICE lightsticks) to the beat of the song as well.
Introducing “Still Alive,” JYP taught the audience a simple dance move that mimicked flexed arms to be performed during the chorus and shared some insight into the song’s origin. “You know, I debuted in 1994. 90s, 2000s, 2010s and now 2020s. Thanks to you, I’m still here. Every artist wants to do this as long as they can. The only reason I’m standing here is because you guys came today,” JYP said in an interlude. “My only dream – my wildest dream – was to have a song that people would know. And then my first song was number one for four weeks. I enjoyed it but after a while, I was lost. That’s when I said to myself, ‘You know what? Let me try to do this longer than any other artist.’ So when I turned 30, my dream was to give you the best show at 60. And guys, it’s getting closer! I just turned 51.”
Keeping in tune with the sentimental vibe, JYP set the stage for the legendary song, “One Candle,” originally performed by g.o.d. He noted that the song meant a lot for him to perform in New York because he wrote it in the city after seeing a piece of graffiti in Harlem that said, “Light a candle instead of cursing the dark.”
Despite the story, the highlight of the performance was the three-piece brass section of the band. With a minimal role to play in the arrangement, the guys gleefully waved each of their hands and sang along animatedly. Their smiles and infectious energy ended up dictating the direction of the audience’s own hand waves.
JYP ended his official set with a theatrical bow for himself and his dancers and an extended party version of “One Candle.” The entire audience, young and old, was on their feet dancing, jumping, and clapping. He walked over to each side of the stage to greet and thank attendees, and some fans even gave him flowers.
Once again surprising fans, JYP came back for a two-song encore – this time without the colorful roaming stage lights or any musical accompaniment aside from his pianist. First up was a beautiful, intimate arrangement of “Behind You,” a B-side from JYP’s debut album, Blue City. Finally closing the show was “Farewell Under the Sun,” a collaboration ballad with Sunye. The cheers in Kings Theatre were deafening as JYP said his last goodbyes and the show came to a close.
Even with JYP’s vocal strain and the unintentionally comical parts of the show, the concert as a whole was a great time. And despite some TikTok users wanting to use the performance for some laughs at JYP’s age and music, the Korean-American community showed up to enjoy the music of a legend whose impact on Korean pop culture across decades is unmatched. Though the Groove Back tour was short, New York Soulmates will be eagerly awaiting JYP’s next visit.