Before I headed to Korean rapper, singer and songwriter B.I’s sold out London date for his Love or Die European tour, I took a look on social media to see what I was in for. A fan from his also sold-out show in Cologne the day before had tweeted ‘B.I’s concert in Cologne felt like a cardio class.’ Another had written ‘B.I concerts are no joke. I literally feel like I ran 10 marathons.’ Initially it was a waiting game for his fans. There was already a snaking queue that wrapped around the venue when I arrived to meet B.I at 5:30pm for a quick interview with the Korean star. Inside the venue, VIP early entry had camped out at the front of the stage, excitedly chatting away, post-sound check, sitting on the floor, clearly conserving their energy for the marathon of a show that was to come.
The endurance game turned into a sprint as I watched ID’s (the name of his loyal fanbase) dash through the door like gazelles, trying to get the best spot for the concert. By the end of the show I got what his fans were on about. The energy of the gig was so high throughout, it felt like you had been to one of those one-off perfect, euphoric night’s out that are impossible to recreate, but ingrained as a core memory forever. The man’s got star power by the bucket load- bursting with kinetic energy that draws you into his orbit from the moment he stepped on stage to the second he left.
Simple staging, consisting only a DJ deck, and two dancers was a clever move, backing up B.I’s belief in his extremely high-level of performance. No bells and whistles were added to give his performance a leg-up. Quite simply, he didn’t need it, and he knew it, all eyes were on him the entire time with a masterclass of performing live.
B.I easily navigated the various changes in pace where he whisks you along with rich and dreamy synth melodies and exquisite high vocals of ‘Keep Me Up’, before effortlessly changing a few gears, hurtling through the explosive TTM (talk to me) and ‘BTBT’ with plosive fast raps growling undertones and a catchy chorus. It’s the impressive ability to conduct the audience that makes sure they’re keeping up with him as he takes them through his robust set-list. Various times during the show he had the entire place jumping for him, or bursting into chants of his name.
His movement was almost hypnotic, seamlessly sliding from a tricky raps verse into a dance-breaks to keep everyone feeling the high-energy. During ‘Got it Like that’ B.I used body like a well-tuned instrument, knowing when to dial it down to more delicate movements and drew you in like a gravitational pull, before exploding into a firework of energy and movement to blow you away. The dance breaks were a plenty, with his body moving like liquid before switching to juddering sharpness, not letting up for the entirety of his set that ran over the two-hour mark without even breaking a sweat in his cerulean blue Marni cropped-knitwear that skirted his midriff as he gyrated and spun around the stage.
There’s an incredible ease to Kim Han-Bin’s stage presence. He had a non-arrogant confidence that lets you know he is meant to be a performer. Perhaps it was because you could tell he genuinely loves all elements of being on stage. It helps that excels in so many areas too, switching from rapping to singing to a dancing in a perfect chemical reaction. The whole show never ebbed, only flowed, with whirling eddies of rapping, and crashing waves of emotion that made for a thrilling ride.
B.I also knows have to connect with his fans. As well as his big-hitters, like his show opener ‘To Die’ he peppered the concert with unreleased tracks, such as ‘Loved’ (which is on his up-and coming album out in November) as well as treating his fans to several tracks that were unreleased before the start of the Love or Die European tour. ‘Girl’ and ‘Freaky Boy’ that he performed in the encore had both even been written when the tour started, and were in demo form- though his ID’s knew the words already, of course.
The former IKON star (he departed the band in 2019) has had a tumultuous journey, with plenty of time for self-reflection, which is evident in his music and lyrics. As well as tracks from his album Waterfall, it’s clear B.I isn’t afraid to shy away from darker emotions in his new music as well. He explained that his unreleased ‘Loved’ touched upon loneliness. (though he added “don’t cry about it though” with a wry smile) that have a vulnerability and intimacy to them.
Around two-thirds of the way in, during ‘4 Letters’ he had decided to let the ravenous audience have a taste of him, embarking on an audience tour all around the venue, immersing the crowd in the Love or Die experience, running around all levels of the Troxy, and serenading the crowd from balcony of the spiral staircases.
It was easy to see how Kim Han-Bin had achieved this moment. He had cleverly revved the crowd up, mixing in slower sensual RnB tracks such as ‘Lover’ with fan-favourites including the empathic ‘Michelangelo’ to such effect, that the crowd was quite literally barking at him at several points of the night. B.I has plenty of depth to his discography, and he had curated his set list in a smart way, controlling the speed of things, whether he was slowing things down with tranquil tracks with soothing melodies of ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Middle with You’ before introducing euphoric dance crescendos in ‘Die for Love’ and ‘Wave.’ He punctuated these percussion heavy tracks such as ‘Flame’ to really gain momentum during the heart of the show.
B.I conducted the crowd effortlessly, getting even the VIP balcony seats jumping, the crowd was pulsing like an extension of his music. Again, it was all about connection, which is one of the many things he does so well. He took time with the crowd, admitting he had a sort of soft-spot, or a fantasy for the British accent and learning some slang from his fans. His British ID’s decided to teach him ‘Wagwan’ and ‘Peng’ as a take-away language lesson from the UK. When asking for the definition, his fans explained he was ‘peng’ and he reciprocated the sentiment.
In the encore he picked three fans to dance on stage to the reprise of ‘BTBT.’ Even this was done democratically. A group. of ID’s all pointed to one of their peers for selection, which BI benevolently honoured, plucking her from the crowd. He kept the energy up, even in the extensive, five-track encore so much so, the place was still full to the brim when the house lights came up. No-one was doing the usual sacrifice of sacking off the last couple of songs to avoid the leaving crush. It was a testament to the emotional energy, talent and physical effort B.I had put into his concert that kept his fans there right until the end, devouring every last drop of his performing, even after a 34-strong set, in a masterclass of live performing.