Anglophile in New York #6: Momoiro Clover Z and the sea of glow sticks

Fans watching Momoiro Clover Z in New York

Anglophile in New YorkFlashback. Late 1990s Los Angeles. My first K-pop concert.

For someone that barely remembers my first concert, I have fuzzy memories of my first K-pop concert that I attended in Los Angeles. I remember H.O.T. and S.E.S. and Sechskies were there. The older girls there wouldn’t shut up about Tony An of H.O.T. I thought he looked silly with that hair like an anime character and those white pants. S.E.S. was a super cutesy girl idol group with high pitched vocals; their music made me sick to my stomach back then.

I remember clearly what I did when I got back to that temporary apartment on Wilshire Boulevard after the gig. I listened to Live Through This by Hole with “Doll Parts” on repeat. Then I probably went to bed with KROQ. Even back then, I never quite got the whole K-pop thing, and this was years before the wave of hallyu. Oh god, I still remember the dog-whistle like singing from S.E.S. My ears are still ringing from that concert.

Current day, 2016. The Anglophile in New York sees another Japanese idol group.

Sometimes I forget how international a city New York can be. Just a few days ago, I spent two days thinking I was in Camden, London living the British indie music high. Today, I was transported to a slice of Tokyo less than a thousand feet from my Midtown apartment. I noticed that Momoiro Clover Z was doing a gig at Playstation Theater when I saw the marquee. There was a line full of Japanese people dressed up in colorful kimonos and giant six-inch glow sticks representing their favorite MoMoClo member.

Seeing a Japanese idol group in concert in NYC is not a new experience for me. Over the past two years, I had a former friend (who I now hate and despise) who used to take me to see all these Japanese idol groups when they came to NYC. I’ve had the opportunity to see Morning Musume (OMG, I saw Sayumi’s graduation show! I am also being sarcastic and Niko knows that), Perfume, and Babymetal.

I just saw Babymetal for the second time this past May at the same venue. At this point in my life, I’ve gotten used to the hyper, high-pitched, female Japanese syllabic verses of these idol groups. However, the shock of the Japanese concert experience gets me every time.

Today I was walking down 45th Street to get a Starbucks and some Japanese guy asked me if I was from Korea. He actually asked me in Japanese; they refer to Korea as “Kan-Goku”. I told him I don’t speak Japanese – in Japanese – and told him I was Korean.

The Japanese man, dressed in pink, just pulled a ticket to Momoiro Clover Z out of his pocket and said “have fun” in Engrish.

I asked him, “You sure?”

He replied, “Hai.”

I bowed and said “Arigato goziamasu.”

Wow. That was easy. I was happy because I didn’t have much to do tonight. I was probably going to work out, watch CNN, and get mad at the current state of affairs in the USA.

Momoiro Clover Z perform in New York - and so do the sea of glow sticks.
Momoiro Clover Z perform in New York – and so do the sea of glow sticks.

At eight o’clock, I went to Playstation Theater and noticed that the entire venue was filled with Japanese people. Mad otaku and thousands of long glow sticks, OMG. Spotting the non-Japanese almost became a fun mental game for me. There were a few English speaking expats in the audience – but today, they were the minority.

The first thing I noticed was the show started off with two very Japanese kabuki models in long robes and umbrellas. They were starting off the show explaining Spring in Japan, and soon after, Momoiro Clover Z jumped out on stage with their color-coded outfits and began dancing in hyper-jump mode. I was immediately impressed by the choreography of their movements. However, it wasn’t nearly as precise as some of the K-pop idol groups I’ve seen.

The entire hour and a half long set was all songs in Japanese. Some of the songs had Dragon Ball Z anime in the background, others had some other sort of anime while MoMoClo were dancing in dressy Power Ranger type costumes. In between each costume change, there were short intermissions dedicated to explaining the seasons in Japan. There were more kabuki models along with a Japanese man wearing a gold flashy, traditional Japanese outfit playing a old-fashioned drum.

As MoMoClo played on, I was equally entertained by the audience and their color changing glow sticks. Those fancy glow sticks are a Japanese phenomenon; the last time I saw a sea of colorful glow sticks was at Morning Musume two years earlier. In the crowd, there was some sparse Engrish spoken to the expats from the Japanese. I overheard some Engrish. Some of the Japanese were impressed with the otaku level of some of the expats. I saw a few white kids with MoMoClo Japan Tour T-shirts. I wonder if they went to all the domes in Japan to see them multiple times. If that’s the case, MoMoClo should tell them, “domo very much.”

Near the end of the gig, MoMoClo was talking to their audience in Japanese. I couldn’t really understand anything, but the most of the crowd (sans the expats) just hooted loudly in unison during some songs and speeches. I heard a lot of “arigato goziamasu” and witnessed a lot of bowing during multiple encores. The costuming of Winter was the most impressive; all the girls were dressed in white and even sang traditional Christmas songs in Japanese.

During the duration of the concert, I forgot I was a thousand feet from home, in America, and in New York. I felt like I was transported to a mini-Nippon Buddokan where English (or Engrish) was a second language.

My favorite essence of entertainment after the show was the English-speaking security trying to direct the audience out of the venue. Everything just seemed to get lost in translation. I tried to get some Suntory Whisky after the gig at the bar at Playstation Theater. It wasn’t an option. That’s when I remembered I was home. [JL]

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