Brewing in Seattle’s vast music scene is a small, but mighty K-pop (Korean pop) fan base, brought together by niche, tightknit communities. Part of this is THE KOMPANY, a University of Washington-based K-pop dance club founded in 2017 by student Eric Tang.
A few weeks ago, when Tang, 20, heard that K-pop boy band A.C.E was coming to Seattle to perform at the Neptune Theatre, he reached out to a mutual contact to see if the group would be interested in collaborating for a busking performance.
K-pop performances are notorious for being tightly curated and managed, for every detail to be perfect, and because of that, fan interactions are fairly limited. But busking has become part of A.C.E’s identity. Donghun, Jun, Wow, Kim Byeongkwan and Chan make up the five-member group that officially debuted in 2017 under Beat Interactive. In the beginning, they performed frequently on the streets around South Korea. The first performance they uploaded to YouTube, a choreographed dance to BTS songs “I Need You” and “Dope,” has garnered more than 5 million views.
A.C.E has since gained a global audience, but they still busk regularly to connect with fans and stay true to their roots — they even wear the same schoolboy uniforms they wore in their early busking days.
Even knowing that, Tang was surprised when the band got back to him and agreed to busk with his student dance crew at Red Square on the University of Washington campus the day before their scheduled Wednesday night performance at the Neptune Theatre.
From that point on, the event quickly came together.
With such short notice, some members of THE KOMPANY had to cancel flights and plans to leave UW for winter break. But for an opportunity of this caliber, it was worth it, they said.
A.C.E arrived in Seattle on Monday night excited to possibly see the first Starbucks, they said through a translator in an interview Tuesday morning. Knowing they have fans all over the world, including Seattle, “feels like a dream,” Jun said.
Chan noted that it’s especially cool to have seen their Seattle fan base grow since their last performance in Seattle in November 2018.
On Tuesday afternoon at Red Square, A.C.E and the members of THE KOMPANY gathered to perform. The air was filled with excitement: It was a new experience for both groups — A.C.E had never performed with a group of fans, and THE KOMPANY had never performed with a global K-pop group.
Tang said that due to time constraints, they weren’t able to practice their dance with A.C.E beforehand and had to just hope that their estimates on spacing would pan out.
Hundreds of fans came to the event and another 18,000 or so tuned in via a live stream on V Live. Many carried signs or wore costumes. Fan Annie Yoon wore a handmade orange costume, paying homage to Chan who is from Jeju, an island in South Korea known for growing dekopon, a type of mandarin orange. Yoon said that as a Korean American, K-pop has given her another avenue to connect with her culture. The orange costume was a way to show that she cares about where A.C.E has come from, and to thank them for performing in Seattle.
THE KOMPANY opened with a dance to SuperM’s song “Jopping” and then performed to a medley of A.C.E songs. Even as a group of amateur dancers, the student dance group brought as much force and precision as a professional group. Meanwhile, A.C.E stood in the back, watching with massive grins, bouncing along to the music and cheering with the crowd.
As A.C.E moved to the center to perform, they shook hands with THE KOMPANY’s members, and even the student dancers who had worn their fiercest performance faces seconds prior immediately lost their composure, turning into starstruck fans.
A.C.E danced to some of their biggest hits, “Under Cover” and “Do It Like Me.” They also sang English covers of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved.” They ended the event with a joint performance with THE KOMPANY, dancing to their song “Savage.” And somehow, despite having never worked together, the two groups looked as if they had been dancing together for years.
Then, it was over. After taking a few photos with fans, A.C.E quickly left Red Square. They’d enjoyed performing, they said, adding that they were impressed with THE KOMPANY’s performance.
Tang said he was just “relieved” that they had pulled the performance off.
“It feel so surreal,” said Tang. “But still kind of like a dream come true.”
A.C.E, UNDER COVER: AREA US; Wednesday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.; $55-$145; Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; all ages; ticketmaster.com