The state of Arizona saw its first ground-breaking K-Pop group, the powerhouse SM Entertainment act NCT 127, in action on May 3 at Phoenix’s Comerica Theatre for the Neo City – The Origin Tour. The venue was filled with eager fans, called “NCTzens,” chanting the K-Pop group’s name, which echoed throughout the theatre. Presented by SubKulture Entertainment, the tour stop was filled with hyped-up fans who were ready to see Taeyong, Taeil, Yuta, Jaehyun, Winwin, Mark, Haechan, Johnny, Doyoung, and Jungwoo for the first time in Arizona, a city that is now becoming a favorable K-Pop stop.
Hailing from Seoul, South Korea, the boys of NCT 127 instantly made a splash on the K-Pop scene in 2016 with their debut track “Fire Truck.” Their group name is a combination of NCT, “Neo Culture Technology,” and “127,” the longitudinal coordinate of Seoul. NCT 127 is the second subunit of a much larger group, NCT, which consists of four subunits with a total of 21 members.
The worldwide act opened the show by performing an English version of their hit “Cherry Bomb.” The English lyrics were a big surprise and showed the group’s consideration for their international fans who happily chanted members’ names as they performed. With the energy high and the crowd dancing, NCT 127 moved on to their next song titled “Come Back.” Everyone waved their light sticks to the beat and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. NCTzens fed off of NCT 127’s incredible energy on stage.
That energy made it clear why, after their debut, it wasn’t long before the boys made an impact on the American music scene, joining other K-Pop acts who have recently taken off in the United States and all over the world. On October 27, 2018, NCT 127 released the album Regular-Irregular which peaked at #86 on the Billboard 200 chart. The most recent release from this group is a collaboration with Jason Derulo and EXO’s Lay Zhang entitled “Let’s Shut Up And Dance.”
Kyler Eder and Seaun Atchison, two local K-Pop fans and members of the organization, Korean Music Arizona, gave insight into why this energy-packed tour is so important for both the Phoenix and national K-Pop scenes. Mr. Atchison explained, “I came to the concert tonight to support the K-Pop community in Arizona and to support NCT 127. It isn’t every day that you get a huge group like NCT 127 here. No one knows we exist in the K-Pop world and now it’s like, ‘Hey, they’re a thing. Let’s do this.’”
Mr. Eder supported the sentiment and added, “I think other entertainment companies may use this as an opportunity to say, ‘This SM group went to Phoenix and they had an amazing turnout where fans were really happy. Maybe we should consider that in the future.’ It’s a supply and demand type of thing. I think that other entertainment groups may follow through with that.”
Although people love K-Pop, Mr. Eder pointed out that many can’t indulge in their love when the shows are too far away in places like Texas and California, and clash with work schedules and tight budgets. Removing the travel wall gives Arizonans a chance to be a part of the K-Pop community.
And so, the night continued with the group performing songs “Chain,” “Back 2 U,” and “Angel.” From bass-heavy songs to soft ballads, there was a song to match every mood and every NCTzen. NCT 127 also treated the Phoenix attendees to a premier performance of the new song “Jet Lag” from the group’s upcoming EP.
After every set of five or so songs, the group members took the time to connect with their fans by talking about their adventures in Phoenix and beyond. What stood out the most was the fan interaction during one of the final songs of the night. NCT 127 performed the upbeat song titled “Summer 127,” when fans held up banners for a fan-coordinated event. Gabrielle Copeland, a first-time organizer of the fan event, spoke about what inspired her to create the banners. “This is the first time a K-Pop group is performing here and we wanted this to be great. I saw all of these K-Pop concerts I’ve gone to and I thought that I can do something like that for a group that I love.” The event was a lot of work, with $500 in fan donations needed to provide each of 5,000 seats with a banner. Hardworking and dedicated fans like Ms. Copeland are helping Arizona step up its K-Pop game.
After the final song, NCT 127 headed backstage and NCTzen in the audience started to chant, asking for an encore. After a few minutes, the group was back and ready to perform their newest song, “Superhuman.” The crowd went crazy for the high energy of this performance and it was the perfect way to end the night.
2019 is the start of a new era that has allowed groups like NCT 127 to bring Korean music stateside. Although the United States is growing more popular as a place to tour, this is the first time a big K-Pop act has ventured to Arizona. According to Mr. Eder, “The Arizona music scene has already proven itself. The artists look at if there is a want for the musical performance. We have proven the number of fans and that there is a large number that will attend the performances.” Thanks to NCT 127, Phoenix is officially on the map as a possible stop for more K-Pop groups. Other tour stops of this tour include Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, San Jose, Vancouver, and Toronto. This is only the North American leg of the tour as the group will also tour overseas. Neo City is also the first time the group will be touring the western hemisphere.
This was a night that will go down in history for Phoenix NCTzens and for the state of Arizona. Will the Phoenix area see more K-Pop acts coming through? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, this was the show Arizona needed to prove itself, and prove itself it did.
Written & Photographed by: Kayla C.