Eric Nam brings fun, party, and a whole bunch of emotion to the House of Blues.
Korean-American singer-songwriter Eric Nam kicked off the first date of his “Before We Begin World Tour” at the San Diego House of Blues. Similar to Girls’ Generation’s Tiffany Young and f(x)’s Amber Liu, Nam is a veteran K-pop artist trying to establish himself in the Western pop industry. Notably, it’s important to understand Nam’s background as more than just a musician — being a radio star, podcaster, and South Korea’s go-to host for years has led Nam to be a pop culture icon in his own right both in South Korea and to his adoring international fans. But, coming back to the U.S. is the start of something new for Nam. Or, like the title of his recent album “Before We Begin” suggests, the beginning of starting something new.
Knowing all of this beforehand, it still surprised me to see fans not only lining the whole block but also around the corner, eagerly waiting for entry and to get a good spot in the pit. Fans walking along the line handed me a photostrip, a cute fan-made merch item that’s typical to find in a K-pop loving audience. I spoke to a group at the front of the line who had lined up since 6 a.m., holding up fansigns with cute phrases like “ERIC CUTIE” or “GAYS 4 ERIC.” I was happy to see they rightfully snagged spots in front of the stage.
Before the set, the DJ played a mix of pop-inflected R&B and Korean R&B, which perfectly fit the atmosphere as Nam’s sound is at the intersection of the two genre-wise. Every time the playlist cut out, fans cheered Nam’s name in excitement, and it fueled me to leave my comfy spot in the balcony and scurry toward the stage as close as I could. The merch table was my companion for the night, and I had a perfectly angled view of both the stage and audience.
Nam began his set with “Come Through” and “Runaway,” two of his most popular songs off “Before We Begin.” With their free-spirited nature, both songs are the epitome of danceable and had the crowd grooving along. But it amazed me to see Nam engage in choreography with his four male dancers. Maybe I thought that in order for Nam to “make it” in the West, he would have to shed some of his K-pop identity, but I was sorely mistaken, and really, really glad that I was proven wrong.
Afterwards, Nam admitted it himself that he’s not the best dancer, but his choreography was simple, clean, and full of personality. What was there not to like?
“This is Not a Love Song,” the first song of the night sung primarily in Korean, is a moderately upbeat acoustic track hiding rather sad lyrics about losing a lover. This could’ve been a moment for the crowd to simp along, but Nam did the opposite. Through sweet fan interactions and an endearing stage presence, Nam turned the song on its head into a very cute, very flirty, totally maybe is a love song. And this is exactly where Nam shined — in his ability to create a genuine relationship with his fans.
Throughout the show, Nam gave life updates, or what he referred to as “lectures” to the audience. From mindless chatter about his failed attempt to get Jollibee before the show to relaying the story of his Korean mother becoming “more American” to relate to Nam’s white sister-in-law, it felt like listening to an Eric Nam vlog or podcast in real time, both of which are things he does regularly. His transparency is so likeable and charming, it’s easy to see how this led to his fan base of different ages and nationalities, which was fully exemplified by the crowd.
But of course, after engaging with the audience for a bit, Nam began the “sexy” portion of his setlist with a medley of tracks fit for a bouncy club. “Potion,” a boozy declaration to youth and “Don’t Call Me!,” a punchy, sassy anthem both featured flashing lights, sick drops, and a sexy, slinky electronic chorus. Switching up from his pop ballads, these upbeat bops were the high-speed fun that the crowd needed, and Nam certainly delivered. Even with hopping to the pulsating beat and performing alongside his dancers, Nam’s vocals never faltered for a single second.
Nam’s vocal skill was best demonstrated in “Let This Love Die Young,” which marked a stark maturity in his work compared to his previous bubbly pop sound. From starting as a track about feeling burnout from his rigorous schedule as a K-pop artist, Nam turned it into something more relatable: feeling burned out from a relationship.
Backed by a slow, thumping beat, Nam exhibited beautifully emotive and controlled runs. Crowd engagement was at its peak, and there’s something about a wildly diverse crowd harmonizing with Nam as he wistfully sang, “Please don’t let this love die young,” that just pulled at your heartstrings. While the audience took out their phone flashlights to sway along, Nam was bathed in white light, focusing on two things only: the music and his fans.
Earlier in the show during one of his asides, Nam mentioned needing more of “cultures coming together.” As an American coming into Korean music industry, and a Korean-American coming into the Western music industry, Nam has always been different. He’s part of a larger movement trying to bring Asian-American representation in Western music to its forefront. With his experience in nearly every aspect of the entertainment industry, Nam continues to transcend demographics and aims to do what he does best without labels caging him in: creating great, relatable music.
Venue: San Diego House of Blues
Date: Feb 1st, 2020
Photos courtesy of McKenna Johnson