Concerts

Golden Child A Sleek and Shiny Example of K-Pop

South Korean boy band Golden Child performs at Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston.
South Korean boy band Golden Child performs at Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston. Photo by Natalie de la Garza
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. If you have a natural aversion to the high-pitched screeches of mostly 20-somethings, then maybe a K-pop concert isn’t for you. But, if you can grit your teeth through the most ear-piercing of the screams, you’ll sometimes find that under all that shrillness is real gold.

For example, Golden Child, the South Korean boy band that played Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston on Friday night.

The group, a product of Woollim Entertainment, debuted on August 28, 2017, with the overly sunny song “DamDaDi.” Though currently comprised of ten members, Golcha (as they will from here on out be called) came to Houston with only eight, as group leader Daeyeol is currently completing mandatory military service back in Korea and maknae Bomin isn’t participating in this tour.

This left members Y, Jangjun, Tag, Seungmin, Jaehyun, Jibeom, Donghyun, and Joochan to perform for Houston Goldenness (the name given to Golcha’s fans), and Y, one of the group’s main vocalists, was clearly under the weather. Not to mention that despite the members speaking of getting two days of rest since their last show, ostensibly meant to reassure fans who tend to mother K-pop idols – literally, before the show a Goldenness could be heard saying, “I hope they took a nap before coming out here” – the first thing I saw after Golcha walked out on stage was a member yawning.

But I say all this to emphasize how impressive the next two hours were. Nothing, not the absence of two members, not illness, and not exhaustion prevented the group from doing what they said they wanted to do: Put on a “brilliant performance.”

It’s not an easy feat. Concerts like this are relatively low on production value. It’s a bare stage with one screen that doesn’t show a whole lot and maybe (if you’re lucky) some creative lighting effects. This means that the performers must fill that empty space with their personalities, their vocals, their dance skills. And that’s exactly what Golcha did on Friday night.
click to enlarge
South Korean boy band Golden Child performs at Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston.
Photo by Natalie de la Garza
Golcha has spent the last five years amassing a pretty impressive, rangy discography so, at first glance, the 13-song setlist seemed a little short. Even the members were a little apologetic about it. But the show still clocked in at almost two hours including the “ments” and VCRs – “ments” being the portions where the members speak to the crowd and VCRs being the pre-recorded videos played to give the group time for costume changes and/or rest. In the end, the setlist proved to sit on that knife’s edge of leaving the audience wanting more yet not at all feeling shortchanged.

The other positive about such a short setlist is that every song is a bop.

The show opened with “Burn It,” the smoldering title track from Golden Child’s fifth mini album. Do yourself a favor: If you haven’t yet, check out the music video for “Burn It.” It’s ambitious, more apocalyptic short film than MV, and it jives with the Latin-influenced, EDM song better than you might expect. Plus, the members play dystopian survivors and saviors well (and often). And there are zombies.

“Burn It” showcases Golden Child’s sophistication, like the synthy “Wannabe,” the sleek “Ddara,” and the addictive “Ra Pam Pam,” the moombahton title track of their second album Game Changer. Like all of Golden Child’s best songs, they’re smooth, with earwormy, sing-along refrains and hooks. You can “ooh-ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh” and “ddara ddaddara” all day long.

Duality is a big deal in K-pop, and does anyone do it better than Golcha? During the show, they flow, seamlessly, from the more mature parts of their catalog to the more playful, poppy sound that they showcased in their debut. Songs like “DamDaDi,” “Pump It Up,” and “3! 6! 5!” – all made with production team MosPick – dare you not to chant and bounce along.

And speaking of MosPick, they also had a hand in “All Day,” the last song of the set. It’s a ballad and, with its comforting melody and harmonies – cozy like a warm sweater – it’s a great note to end on.
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South Korean boy band Golden Child performs at Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston.
Photo by Natalie de la Garza
Some random notes: Golcha never stops moving, dancing through most of the show and giving Goldenness a look at all their favorite pieces of point choreography. I’m looking at you, leg sweep from “Ddara.” I think you could listen to vocalists Joochan and Y just sing “이 어둠이 저무는 날까지 / 별들이 다 사라질 때까지” on repeat for a couple of hours and have a good time. The plight of the Texas K-pop concert is that, at some point, someone, will yell yee-haw. Then someone will do it again, and then it will become a thing. This is one of the few K-pop shows where this was avoided. We did, however, still have to sit through a prolonged spell of Goldenness trying to get the group to understand the name Whataburger. Rapper Tag, responsible for the lovely “Oasis” which found its way onto the setlist, didn’t tour with the group earlier this year due to health issues. But he’s on this tour, and he got a lot of love from Houston Goldenness. Speaking of “Houston” Goldenness, it was clear that for many fans in the crowd, their motto was “have bias, will travel.” Goldenness came from places like California and Iowa for this show.

Finally, if you spend any time on stan Twitter, then you know that Studio PAV, the New Jersey-based promotion and production company behind Golden Child’s tour, has a bit of a mixed reputation. The complaints usually range from the logistical problems associated with trying to wrangle a couple hundred fans with (at times) underprepared volunteers to negative encounters with staff members on power trips.

Why does this matter? Well, the parasocial relationship is strong in K-pop, and a huge part of the experience for many fans are the “fan engagements.” They vary from group to group, company to company, and can include such perks as first/early entry, a fansign, a group photo (with you, the idols, and five to 15 of the strangers closest to you), soundcheck, signed or not signed merch, or a hi-touch, where fans get to hi-five the idols though, in the era of COVID, it could be a hi-wave instead. And, it should go without saying, these things cost.

Perks for the Golcha’s show were pretty standard for Studio PAV, with VVIP (the highest and costliest ticket tier) getting a fansign, soundcheck, badge and lanyard, the “no line rule” and first entry along with their ticket. (By the way, the “no line rule,” which gives ticket purchasers a queue number to prevent the dreaded line up/camp out problem often found at general admission shows, should be adopted everywhere.) It all seemed decently run and was fairly uneventful, but only one song during soundcheck? Unacceptable. It should really be at least two.

But the point is Golden Child put on a hell of a show. It was high energy and fun, buoyed by a strong discography and eye-catching choreography. Not even a little screeching could bring this show down. So I revise my opening statement. Unless you have a natural aversion to fun, you should try out a K-pop concert sometime. And if you see it’s Golden Child making a return to Houston, you should definitely start there.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.