I have an ever-growing bucket list designated just for K-Pop which really, is more like a wish list of groups I want to see in person before I die, and on that list EXO has ranked high for a very, very long time. So when it was announced all those months ago, that one of the stops EXO would be making during their North American tour was Chicago, well, I very nearly dropped dead right then and there. However, I somehow managed to keep myself together long enough to buy a ticket (which also nearly killed me) and endure the endless countdown of days that ultimately brought me to D-Day. Concert Day. Better known as the day the zombie and about 4,000 other fans lost their hearts to the eight adorable members of EXO that fateful Friday night.
I could start off by telling you all about my adventures of the day: the harrowing drive down to the city in 800 mph winds (I’m pretty sure I saw the Wicked Witch of the West, a cow, 17 Munchkins, the Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow’s hat all blow by me as I drove), the squeal-filled car ride to the theater with one of my amazing friends (we can’t be in a car for 2 seconds together without fangirling so hard we can’t breathe), my encounter with a rather tricksy falafel sandwich and the massage chair-o-death (pretty sure that darn thing was trying to spit me in 2), and all the joys that come with trying to find the right place to check in at the venue as press, but I’ll spare you all of that and just get to the good stuff.
The line to get into the theater was insanely long (as is always the case when there’s a K-Pop show) and the excitement coming from the crowd as they all filtered into the theater was incredible. It filled the entire atmosphere surrounding the theater with this amazing electric energy that buzzed through you. It made you feel excited and nervous and happy all at the same time and it made you feel like you were on the cusp of something unbelievably awesome. In short, it made you feel alive and it was fantastic!
The theater filled up in no-time and before I knew it the house lights dimmed and my heart started racing. This was it, the moment I’d spent all those months waiting for, had finally come and (internally) I joined in the thousands of other fans who were shaking the foundation of the theater with their thunderous cheers. Externally, I think I may have smiled a bit as I brought my camera to my eye and started snapping a few test pics as the opening video began to play.
Right away I knew this was going to be an amazing show. The production quality of that opening video blew me away and I gained a whole new respect for SM. It took half a second for me to know they put some serious time and money into their work and I was completely in awe . This wasn’t some rinky-dink showcase or cheesy fan meeting, this was a meticulously planned EXO extravaganza designed to give fans the experience of a lifetime and boy, did they deliver!
As the video played, the theater rang with the squeals of thousands of fans, cheering for their biases as they appeared on-screen. You could definitely tell who the crowd favorites were but really, we’re talking about EXO, everyone is a favorite. Being Lay biased myself, I loved how his cheers were the loudest of the evening. I know it was just because everyone wanted Lay to know he was loved, even if he wasn’t there but it still made me happy to hear the crowd roar for him. My proud mamma instincts kicked in those moments and my heart was so happy. But I didn’t have long to dwell on happy thoughts of Lay as the ginormous screen on-stage parted and the dark silhouettes of EXO started to appear. I swear the entire building shook with the roar of the crowd as EXO made their grand appearance. I know my insides did. Good grief, EXO-Ls know how to cheer!
As is always the case when I cover a concert for work, I spent the first three songs madly snapping pictures, hoping with all my might that I might be able to capture the magic of the evening in those few brief moments I was allowed to photograph the boys. It’s a tricky thing, shooting a concert, and there’s not really a lot of time to think when you’ve only got three songs but I did my best. Of course I’d have to wait until after the show to see how those pictures turned out but I was okay with that, seeing as how once the camera was away I could actually relax and enjoy the show.
I know the show opened with “Overdose,” “History” and “MAMA.” I remember internally freaking out as I watched the boys perform my favorite part of the “Overdose” choreo but honestly, that’s about all I remember from the first set. Everything passes in a blur when I’m behind my camera so there’s not really much more I can say about that.
As the boys gave their start-of-concert greetings, I was frantically packing up my gear, trying my best to get to my seat before the next set started. Either they talk really fast or I’m exceptionally slow, I’m not really sure but I do know I didn’t find my seat until the boys had started in on “Don’t Go.” Once I was settled, I was free to step out of my work-mode and go back to fangirl zombie mode and believe me, concerts are way more fun when you can forget about work and just have fun.
And have fun I did! HOLY FLIP! The set continued with “Playboy,” “Baby Don’t Cry” and “My Answer” and let me just say, when Baekhyun sat down at that piano and began to play, I died. Like,my insides melted, my knees wobbled and I wished there was a way I could fall asleep listening to him play, every night, for the rest of my life; kinda like how Hwang Sun A plays the piano every night for Yoon Shi Woo in Moorim School. It was one of the many magical moments of the evening and I swear, this whole swooning totally caught me off guard ’cause, like I said, I’m Lay biased. I wasn’t expecting to be swooning over other members in his absence!
Funny thing was, I ended up swooning over all the members over the course of the evening and the video that played after “My Answer” probably has a lot to do with that. Stupid video! In it, every member magically appeared to woo the audience with their various charms. It was an interactive video so the audience felt like they were actually the object of affection as the boys talked to, smiled at, kissed, and… OH CRAP! Just thinking about it turns my knees to jelly, which is silly, I know, but it’s not any sillier than blushing your way through that dumb video just because a boy smiled directly into the camera and you felt like he was looking into your soul… I mean, wait… What!?! That didn’t happen! No… Not at all… (Clearly I need help.)
After my death by dumb video the boys were back and somewhere during this next set, between “The Star,” “Exodus” and “Hurt” I was lucky enough to catch Chen’s eye and he smiled and gave me a little heart and my poor beflustered heart went to him. He still has it, even if he doesn’t know it. It’s probably squashed, somewhere in his back pocket, an unrecognizable mess, but it’s there and I’ll never get it back but that’s okay because I’m dead anyway and my ghost is writing this post for me.
A completely doey-eyed mess, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Chen for the rest of the evening. Well, at least not for very long. I couldn’t help but get a little sidetracked by Xiumin, his glorious, anthems-need-to-be-sung/sonnet-worthy arms and the fact he was going so hard all night long I was afraid he was going to pull something. Seriously, that boy poured his heart and soul into his performance and OH MY GRACIOUS! I’ve always seen Xiumin as this cute munchkin who I want to keep in my pocket and feed cookies and just give all the good things in the world to, but after Friday night, I can’t say that any more. NOPE! Xiumin is lethal and if he ever wears a sleeveless shirt again, I’m going to fall over dead. Things only got worse for me when he caught my eye as well. Yes, I swooned and smiled and turned into a dopey mess. I also had a really hard time dividing my attention between him, Chen, Kai, Chanyeol (and all his glorious hair flipping)… Oh who am I kidding, I was so overwhelmed by every single member I had no idea where to look! I’m so hopeless! *siiiigggghhh*
Anyhoo… Where was I? Oh right! Coffee break! This next video was hilarious! In it, the boys were dressed in their striped polos and jeans and they looked like a bunch of Where’s Waldo Waldos running around being ridiculous. It took me a second to realize what it was they were doing in the video but once I did, I died. THEY WERE COFFEE ELVES! Yup, that’s right. Nine adorable coffee-making elves, using slapstick humor and way too much cuteness to keep us entertained while the real boys were backstage for a wardrobe change. It was a fantastic way to be entertained and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one wishing they could have EXO coffee elves make them coffee every morning. Oh to be so lucky!
Naturally, when the boys returned to the stage they were wearing those same coffee elf outfits and I died. (Again.) They were so cute with their red Mickey Mouse eared hats and suspenders and OH GOSH! They sang “Peter Pan” and “XOXO” in those outfits and then they went behind this giant paper screen that had been setup behind them and THEY STARTED CHANGING OUTFITS ON-STAGE! Now yes, I know they weren’t actually naked back there but they were tossing clothes and those dumb hats around the stage and it made your mind go to places it probably shouldn’t go and Kai didn’t help anything, popping up with that one bare shoulder for a second… (Little brat!) And then they started singing “Lucky,” popping their heads up when it was their part and they were being all cute and flirty and the back-lighting was used in awfully creative and torturous ways and just… SERIOUSLY SM!?! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!?! ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ALL THE EXO FANS IN THE WORLD OR WHAT!?!
Needless to say, when EXO burst through the paper screen there was much cheering and laughing and squealing and I’m pretty sure it took a minute for hearts to start beating again. Baekhyun had himself wrapped in a giant piece of paper as they sang “3.6.5” and was just the cutest thing ever while the rest of them were all flirty and perfect with their big ‘ole smiles. At some point in this set the “a” of Chen’s abs were flashed by a trouble-making Suho and half the audience fell over. Okay, so maybe they didn’t literally fall over but there were some serious squeals and a whole lotta cheers and the boys just laughed. It’s amazing how affected one can be by a 1/2 inch of skin… O_o
After killing us with so much cute and the most teasing flash of abs ever, the boys took a few minutes to tell us about their adventures in the city. They talked about visiting Millennium Park and how beautiful it was, about Michael Jordan and Chen’s love of the Bulls (which brought on several Jordan impersonations by various members), about how amazed they were by the size of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza. D.O talked about visiting the place where King Kong was filmed and Chanyeol started calling D.O King Kong which got him punched so hard in the chest you could hear it all the way in the balcony. Of course the other members just laughed and went right on with their talking. It was fantastic and I loved the way the made it a point to say everything a proud Chicago native loves to hear. It was a sweet consideration for their fans and, of course, everyone in the audience loved it. As the talk continued they talked about how cold winter must be in Chicago and how sad it was we couldn’t spend Christmas together and such, which was all a brilliant segue into the next set of songs.
You don’t really expect to get a set of Christmas songs at a concert in February but I’m certainly not going to complain. Being able to hear “Christmas Day,” “First Snow” and “Miracles in December” live was so flipping incredible! Even now, days later, I’m still in awe of how incredible the harmonies of these boys are when you hear them live. I’m pretty sure the choirs of heaven are jealous every time EXO performs, they’re that good!
After the Christmas set another video played and this one was just as cute as the coffee elves! Seriously, death by cuteness was the theme of the evening. This time all nine boys were snuggled up in bed like a bunch of Whos on Christmas Eve which is enough cuteness on its own to stop a heart. But then the boys started picking on each other in their sleep and seriously, that much cute ought to be illegal!
When the video ended Chanyeol and Xiumin were the first to reappear, with the sole purpose of getting the audience hyped. (Because apparently 4000 fans screaming at the top of their lungs for almost 2 hours wasn’t quite hyped enough.) With a little audience participation and a whole lot of energy, the entire place was bouncing as the boys started in on “Full Moon.” Joined first by Sehun and then the others, the boys proceeded to turn the entire place into a giant rave and OH. MY. WORD. It was incredible! Moving from “Machine” to “Drop That” to “Let Out the Beast” to “Run” the boys went hard, their energy on-stage driven by the energy of the fans. The harder we went, the harder they went, until, by the end of the set, everyone was exhausted but oh so happy.
Giving everyone a chance to catch their breath, another video played and this one was anything but cute. Hard-hitting and full of action, it felt very similar to the opening video which made me think things were drawing to a close. (Something I knew was inevitable but still didn’t want to accept as reality because that meant having to say goodbye and I just… NO.)
The boys came back with “Call Me Baby” and UGH! I died for the zillionth time. I just… There are no words… Seeing that song performed live was life and death all rolled into one incredible moment and… I… I don’t even know what else to say. Somewhere between “Call Me Baby” and “Growl” I caught Kai’s eye and that was the end of my existence. My soul departed, headed for that big K-pop concert in the sky, and a very mushy brained zombie remained in my seat, a soul-less being blissed out of her mind.
I know the boys talked some more after that, about how surprised they were to find that the Windy City was, in fact, super windy. (I hope someone explained to them the wind that day was one of those weird flukes of nature and not the way things are in Chicago all the time. I guess even Mother Nature couldn’t contain her excitement over EXO, she had to show off with winds strong enough they could blow you to Oz.)
To be perfectly honest, this whole last part of the concert gets a little fuzzy for me. I think I was on fangirl overload or something because I remember things that happened but I can’t remember when exactly they happened. I know the boys talked, said their goodbyes and then closed out the show with “Love Me Right.” I remember dying as I sang along, not only because the boys were amazing but because my heart was breaking. I hate goodbyes, especially when they come at the end of something as amazing as this concert.
Of course everyone knows the “end” of a concert is never really the end so I wasn’t super-duper sad when the boys disappeared into the darkness. A few minutes of heartily cheering for an encore brought the start of the final video of the evening, an emotional and heart-felt thank you to fans for always loving and supporting EXO over the years. It was a truly touching video and one that made so many people cry. Luckily that sadness didn’t last long as the boys were back on-stage at the video’s end, to serenade us all with “Sing for You.” If hearts weren’t touched during the video, they were as the boys sang. The emotion and affection the boys poured into that song was so real, so beautiful, it made you want to cry.
After bringing the entire audience to tears, the boys chatted some more and again, my memories of what was said and when are fuzzy. I remember Baekhyun showing us his reaction to the wind when one of the members opened the window at the hotel that morning. It was hilarious! I remember Chanyeol saying it was cold outside but hot inside and the translator telling us it was because of the good heating system when I’m pretty sure that’s not really what Chanyeol meant. (Zombie Translation: It’s because we, the fans, were hot, that it was so warm inside, not because of a good heater… It may not be an exact translation but I’m a dreamer, indulge me.) I remember Sehun apologizing for not being able to perform at his best because he wasn’t feeling well. He told us he’d been at the hospital earlier that day and he was sorry he couldn’t give his all, which broke my heart because he’d given us so much that night, he should never have to feel like it hadn’t been enough. His story stuck with me the most because he talked about how bad he’d been feeling at the start of the show but how, as the show went on, he felt a warmth grow inside of him that gave him the strength he needed to carry on and he knew that warmth was our love. He went on to say that feeling and the whole evening would be one he’d never forget.
As is always the case at a K-Pop show in North America, the language barrier took some effort to get over and there were times when the members were obviously frustrated by the inability to communicate what they truly felt. As the show came to an end Suho, in particular, was feeling this frustration not because there was any problem with the translator but because he just had so much he wanted to say, so many feelings he wanted to convey, but he couldn’t find the words to express them. You could tell he was touched by the love and support he and the others had been given throughout the night. You knew he wanted to say so much more than he did but he just couldn’t find the words. In the end the best he could do was say this: “We don’t do language, we do music” which, of course, is something we international fans know only too well. We may not always have the right words, we may not always be able to communicate how we feel, but we will always have the music and that in itself is enough to keep us together. Forever.
Like I said, the rest of the night has become a blur. I know at some point near the end, the boys took a group photo with us and then Suho asked for the house lights to come back up so he and the rest of the members could see our faces and remember them. It was a very special moment and one that made my heart melt. The boys talked a lot about how they would always remember this night, about how loved they felt, how special it was for them to be able to spend this time with us. I believe it was Suho who talked about how much fun it was to be able to perform in such an intimate venue. He said it was awesome to be able to be this close to everyone, to be able to see faces and touch hands and how he wished they could do shows like this, where they could really interact with fans, more often.
Of course a lot of what the boys said that night was the same thing they say to all their fans. The customary, “you’re all so beautiful” was as sweet as ever and the promises to come back again filled everyone in the room with hope. Will EXO ever actually make their way back to Chicago? Who knows? What we do know is they seemed to have an awful lot of fun while they were here and we, as fans, loved having them. The boys wrapped up the evening with “Unfair” and long before anyone was ready, they were saying their final farewells. With smiles and waves and all kinds of love, the giant screen closed for the last time and the boys were gone, the entire evening becoming nothing more than a happy memory.
Meeting up with my friends after the show, there were many hugs, laughter and even some tears. We all had stories tell, moments to re-live, and so much extra adrenaline built up over the course of the evening we were a rather emotional mess; but if you ask me, that’s the sign of a truly great concert. When you’re so overwhelmed by all you’ve just experienced you can only express yourself with shrieks and squeals and hugs galore, that’s when you know you’ve been a part of something amazing and that is exactly what this concert was. An amazing evening full of dreams come true and it’s one I will never forget.