Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

WTK Review: WeBridge Music Festival And Expo 2023 In Las Vegas

Twelve long years after the first multi-K-pop act in Las Vegas, WeBridge successfully brought a more interactive event with a stacked line-up of leading Korean acts to one of the biggest entertainment capitals of the USA!

From the team who brought “Bora-Vegas” to the strip during the last leg of BTS’ “Permission to Dance Tour” in 2022, Infinite Prospects Entertainment and their sponsors have collaborated to bring an exciting (and hopefully annual) K-Culture and Asian culture event to the USA.

From April 21st to 23rd, 2023, WeBridge brought a one-of-a-kind experience to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center and Michelob ULTRA Arena. The festivities included an exposition of up-close artist interactions, food, shopping, art, and dance which attendees enjoyed for three entire days. The event also included exciting performances by ten Korean pop and hip-hop artists for two nights.

The Concert 

DAY ONE:

CIX, ONEUS, Dreamcatcher, and MONSTA X, along with soloists Kang Daniel and Jessi, lit up the stage with their music while Yuri Park (a former “Produce X 101” contestant turned model and singer) emceed the two-night concert.

As the opening act, CIX (launched in 2019 under C9 Entertainment) performed their most recent title track “458,” as well as their previous hits “Like That Way,” “Win,” “Movie Star (their debut track),” and “Cinema.” The group then revealed that a new album is in development and they hope that everyone will look forward to its release.

CIX. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE
ONEUS. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE

ONEUS (who debuted in 2019 as part of RBW Entertainment, home of powerhouse vocal group MAMAMOO) then took over the stage with their performances of “Bring It On,” “Same Scent,” “LUNA,” “Lit,” “Black Mirror,” and “No Diggity.” Before the festival, the group had also just announced that their new album Pygmalion and new title track “Erase Me” will drop on May 8th KST.

Dreamcatcher, one of the more senior artists in the show with a 2017 debut under Dreamcatcher Company, gave a strong showing with “Maison,” “BOCA,” “Break the Wall,” “Silent Night,” “Mayday,” and “Scream.”

Dreamcatcher. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE

The first solo act of the night was Kang Daniel, the former leader of Wanna One (a hit project group created during the 2017 season of the “Produce 101” series), an artist who has successfully established himself as a leading solo act in the industry. Fresh off the North American leg of his solo tour, he captivated fans with his tracks “Nirvana,” “Paranoia,” “Antidote,” “How We Live,” and “Ready to Ride.”

Rapper Jessi (who debuted in 2005) pumped up the crowd by showcasing solid performances of “That Type of X,” “Gucci,” “Cold-Blooded,” “Zoom,” and “Nunu Nana.” In between songs, she held lengthy interactions with the audience and shared her recent move from entertainment giant PSY’s P-Nation to fellow hip-hop artist Jay Park’s More Vision as a newly signed artist and partner.

Kang Daniel. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE
Jessi. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE

The event headliner MONSTA X (introduced in 2015 under Starship Entertainment) wrapped the night up with exciting stages of “You Problem,” “Someone’s Someone,” “Secrets,” “Burning Up,” and “Zone.” As a surprise for the fans, the group made a small encore with an extra performance of “Zone” before closing for the night.

MONSTA X. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE


DAY TWO:

For day two of the concerts, solo acts BE’O and GOT7‘s BamBam joined ONEUS, VIVIZ, and ENHYPEN to entertain the audience.

BE’O (best known for his single “Counting Stars” and his participation in the reality rap competition “Show Me The Money”) performed hits “Limousine,” “Complex,” “Counting Stars,” “Flick,” “Without You,” “Burnout Syndrome,” and “LOVE me.”

The rapper talked to fans between his sets and gave a little insight into the production of “Burnout Syndrome,” revealing that the first verse was written before “Show Me the Money” while the second was written after taking part in the show. He also said it was his first time in the USA and that he will likely come back for more performances.

BE’O. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE

ONEUS was the second act of the night again, performing the same tracklist as night one. As night two had a little more time due to having one less artist performance, ONEUS spent a little more time interacting with the audience between songs.

VIVIZ performed right after the ONEUS, pausing to talk after their first set— which consisted of “Pull Up” (the title track of their most recent album called Various)” and “LOVEADE”— before continuing non-stop with “#FLASHBACK,” “Love Love Love,” and their debut title track, “BOP BOP.

ONEUS. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE
VIVIZ. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE

BamBam (who debuted in 2014 with GOT7 while under JYP Entertainment and is now a solo artist as well) then took over the stage with “Pandora,” “Ride or Die,” “TIPPY TOE,” “riBBon (his 2021 solo debut track), and “Sour & Sweet.” He also spent a lot of time between songs interacting with the audience, acknowledging Ahgases (GOT7’s fanbase), and taking suggestions for his day off after the concert.

GOT7’s BamBam. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE

The night’s headliner was ENHYPEN (from Be:LIFT LAB under HYBE), and they turned the venue into a small ENGENE (ENHYPEN’s fanbase) concert. Through small talks between each song, concertgoers got to see a small dance battle and learned more about the group’s song development process. They performed “Fever,” “TFW (That Feeling When),” “Future-Perfect (Pass the Mic),” “Shout Out,” and— after a brief time off stage— came back to perform “Polaroid Love” before saying their goodbyes.

ENHYPEN. Credit: Peter Byun / IPE

The Expo

While the concert nights are relatively self-explanatory, the expo is a mix of everything. WeBridge described it as “a multi-sensory, live event that immerses attendees into a curated world that bridges what is now, new, and next in Asian music, media, art, and fashion.”

Inside the venue, there were several places attendees could check out: Bg1n (the entrance), boot1k (their merch shop), d4nS.L4b (a choreography space for attendees to take short, hour-long lessons on songs from the featured event artists), gal.RE (an art gallery featuring artists like Buwon Seo, MAWZ, and more), g4mRz (an arcade lounge), m4Rkt (a food and shopping marketplace), and the Grammy Museum Stage.

There were also two smaller areas dedicated to some exhibit tables and a DIY arts and crafts area for fans. Over the three days of the expo, the most popular attractions were definitely the m4Rkt and the Grammy Museum Stage.

m4Rkt.

The m4Rkt contained many local and non-local restaurants where samples of food, ice cream, and drinks were available to try mostly for free. There were also realtors for attendees to talk to. The only for-charge items on display were found in the album shops in the m4Rkt and boot1k where fans were always flocking to during the expo.

As for the Grammy Museum Stage, it held the most valuable experience for basically all fans: artist engagement and fan interactions. All attending acts (minus VIVIZ) had some form of hi-touch event, as well as an artist engagement (minus MONSTA X and Jessi).

The artist engagement was essentially a Q&A session hosted by Emily Mei of the Grammy Museum. Questions were created by the host and the staff, along with some inquiries received from the audience. They also included a single-song performance for each artist between their hi-touch and Q&A sessions. The following is coverage for some of these sessions.

(Disclaimer: All responses to any questions were summarized based on what I was able to catch from the translator and may not be 100% accurate! I tried my best to keep in answers that I know are close enough to the original meaning.)

CIX, at the start of their artist engagement.

Generally, the questions prepared by Emily Mei and the Grammy Museum focused on any new promotional topics and the artists’ creative processes.

For CIX, they got to explain their newest title track “458,” explaining it to be about ‘”looking for the instinct of love, and the journey and wanting desperately to get someone’s heart.” They also highlighted that the group’s individual charm comes from their unique concept (as they’ve had a “movie star image”) which contributes to their unique sound and color.

CIX made sure to show their appreciation towards their fanbase when asked about what their biggest influence has been lately, saying that “their fan’s energy gives them a lot of inspiration and energy!”

An exciting piece of information they dropped in response to a fan question that asked if “there is any song they haven’t performed but they want to,” is that their song “Bystander” has a complete choreography that has yet to be seen. They had also announced that they’re currently preparing a new album so they hope fans will anticipate it and give it lots of love.

Dreamcatcher, during the Grammy Stage artist engagement.

During their turn, Dreamcatcher also made sure to express their love for their fans, saying that “Insomnia (their fandom) drives us forward and makes us want to do better” when asked about what inspires them to create new music. They also hoped that “they can be at least a little bit of strength for” fans and to let fans know “we’re always there for you.”

As for a particularly interesting exchange, a fan asked what the strangest thing they saw in the USA was. Member Yoohyeon said it was her first time seeing a pigeon sleep and it was inside the lobby of one of their hotels during their most recent North America tour. Member Sua mentioned that everything in the USA closes really early, so she wasn’t able to check out anything during her free time. Member Siyeon also said that it was really interesting and cool to see American Insomnia bowed when seeing them and that it was heartwarming. The group thrilled the audience with the confirmation that they will be having a comeback in May!

ONEUS, at the start of their artist engagement.

When it was ONEUS’ turn to talk, the group shared that it was their first time in Las Vegas and that they had just finished their North America tour.

A question was asked, “How do you prepare physically and mentally for a performance?” In response, the group talked about how the fans motivate them with their presence. They mentioned that backstage they have access to LED screens which show the audience for performers and by seeing the audience get excited, they get excited too! Member Hwanwoong added in English, “That’s the reason why we like Las Vegas, right?”

They also showed off their talents in a few instances by singing high notes, dancing to the latest dance trends in the USA and South Korea, and talking about their upcoming album. As mentioned earlier, Pygmalion is to be released on May 8th KST, and the members said that while they usually consider what fans like, this time they took what they wanted to convey into consideration as well. They’re also confident that this is their “most complete album yet with one of their members Leedo taking part in its creative process.”

ENHYPEN, at the start of the artist engagement.

ENHYPEN’s turn for the interview stood out in two ways: the screams were even more deafening and the fan presence was noticeably bigger. They also have the benefit of having some members who were fluent in English (which, in turn, did make it a little tricky to hear what some members said).

Apparently, Jay’s grandmother lives in Las Vegas, so when asked what the group wants to do while in the city, several members cutely expressed that they want to visit his grandmother, possibly together.

When asked about their creative process, there was a big emphasis not only on ENHYPEN, but their whole creative team working together to create and convey their stories in the way they want them to be represented. They mentioned that they hope they can “make something that gives strength to everyone.” All the members also expressed how much they want to be able to make their fans and viewers happy and how much they want to continue performing for as long as they can.

Some members also teased their upcoming release in response to an audience question asking what song or album they’d recommend for someone new to get into ENHYPEN. As of April 23rd, their new album Dark Blood is already out for pre-sale!

BE’O, performing Counting Stars.

BE’O was the only artist to have a performance and artist engagement on the third day of the conference. He spoke at length about his creative process and prospects for the future. He emphasized that a lot of his music comes from his emotions and experiences and that writing songs makes him feel like an actor with how much he “falls into his emotions.” He stated that he hopes that listeners can feel it in the same way since that is what he attributes to his success—how people can relate to his music.

Becoming popular so quickly affected him negatively to an extent and BE’O mentioned that he struggled quite a bit. Eventually, he was able to turn it into motivation to work even harder, making him think more seriously about his future plans as an artist.

He also talked about how he is quite “self-made” as he never had any formal education on how to make music. He’s learned a lot from his collaborations with artists like Ash Island and GRAY. Seeing their creative process and how they bring their best helped him grow and learn as an artist as well.

One thing about the USA that particularly surprised him was fans’ attitudes. He said that South Korea as a whole tends to have a more formal fan culture, so seeing fans just saying “Hi” was quite surprising. To the point that, even when he knows they’ve never met before, they already feel friendly.

BE’O ended by saying he is getting older as an artist so his emotions and his experiences are changing which means his music will change too. As such, he asked fans to “not be too surprised” when that happens.

Jessi, getting ready for her hi-touch

Jessi didn’t have a formal fan engagement, as WeBridge defined it, but instead transformed her hi-touch event into a whole meet-and-greet session. Fans were given a longer amount of time to talk with her than any other act. They were able to give her hugs as she signed autographs with each person who visited her. Like what she did during her part of the concert on day one, she showed a great deal of attention to her fans and one could really tell that she was doing her best to make sure each and every person she was meeting was getting a special experience!

Review

For its first year in existence, WeBridge had a very strong start.

As with all beginning events, it did have a few struggles, so I’ll begin with the not-so-great parts first. Originally, I was skeptical of the festival’s existence as recent new attempts at music festivals, especially ones centering around Korean acts, haven’t gone over well in the USA.

It also felt like there wasn’t enough local marketing either— if I wasn’t a Las Vegas resident who was already invested in K-pop and K-culture events in the area, I don’t think I would’ve known about it. Many of my friends with similar interests weren’t even aware it was happening until it did. A lot of those who did go went by deciding at the last minute.

Another issue was the management of the event itself. I believe that it was due to being the first time such a large-scale, festival-like event has been run for this team and area. Considering that there were ten different major acts to manage— alongside the vendors, media, and influencers— with very different needs on top of all expo and concertgoers led to a bit of mayhem. While BTS’s “Permission to Dance” in Las Vegas was big, it was definitely different with just one team to focus on. So, having multiple artists and days of concerts and expos made for challenges for a first-time event.

It likely caused some kind of miscommunication with the non-event staff who were working at the theater which caused for some mix-ups. Granted, my experience was paid attention to with a great level of care and those helping me make sure any issues that did arise were fixed quite promptly. As such, they were fantastic overall to work with.

This leads me to the good parts of the event! The value of the expo was quite surprisingly excellent. Usually, festivals mean lots of vendors and sellers. Upon first seeing the set-up, I was a little speculative. Compared to the current, oldest, and biggest K-pop organizer in the game, the size of the expo portion was notably smaller.

But that difference in size was made up for by two aspects. One, the minimal food vendors did not charge for the samples provided. I’m sure this helped avoid overcrowding of most booths and allowed for quick and easy service. Two, the Grammy Museum Stage was a huge bonus. Even those who didn’t have VVIP or VIP access got a close view of basically any artist of their choosing (and those who did have VVIP/VIP got a very, very close view).

GA view of the Grammy Museum Stage.

If I were to put the terms into a concert venue view, everyone had good floor seats even if they were a little further back (as shown above). Plus, there were short performances from the present artists on top of the fantastic questions prepared by the host. Even if you were to buy only the expo pass, I would say it’s good value because you were still able to see your favorite artists and be able to see them up close!

The concerts itself were also well-produced and well-run. There were very few pauses for anything in the two days, if any at all. The venue has a capacity of 12,000 people and provides a closer view of the stage for all attendees.

Anything I caught on my phone that I looked back at later had me thinking, “It’s was even closer in person.” The giant LED screens behind the artists were well-animated and personalized for every artist (I especially noticed it during Jessi’s set and couldn’t stop commenting on it to my friends.). Meanwhile, the HD screens on the ceiling of the venue for the higher seats worked well the whole time.

I even used it to watch the stage when I took a moment to sit down among all the standing attendees. The catwalk was utilized by everyone and some artists even made sure to give more personal fanservice with the closer range.

The only wish I have, and I don’t really even consider it a complaint, is that there had been some kind of encore with all of the artists together. Having the MC Yuri Park come out to announce the end indeed made sure no one was sitting in their seats waiting for something to happen at the end. However, a finale with all artists would have been a little extra treat for the concertgoers and added a nice touch!

It would also take off the awkward burden of responsibility for the headliner to end with a bang (and made it a little less awkward for ENHYPEN to walk off after four songs when I think most people got the gist that there should definitely be one more song to finish their set. This was also true for MONSTA X, who ended up performing the same song twice).

Overall, since MC Yuri Park ended by mentioning WeBridge as an annual experience, I’m looking forward to seeing what next year may look like and hoping that the following expo will be even better!

One thing is for sure, the WeBridge Music Festival And Expo 2023 In Las Vegas certainly got off to a great start as the first one to be held! With a great lineup of artists, two amazing nights of concerts, and a fun expo, fans definitely had a great time and can hopefully look forward to next year as well.

Let us know your thoughts by tweeting to us @whatthekpop1 or leaving us a comment on Facebook and Instagram!

Article: Kylie Morishige (Event Reporter for WTK)

Media: Peter Byun/IPE, Kylie Morishige/WTK