Article. Lee Yejin
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
This is fromis_9’s first solo concert since making their K-Pop debut five years ago. After topping the chart of a major music show on Korean TV last year, each new album release in 2022 outsold their previous work, and in April the group held a long-awaited meet-and-greet for their fans. In addition to being an important milestone on this steady rise to prominence, the “LOVE FROM.” tour is also a special experience prepared just for flovers which makes it that much more precious. “We’ve been dreaming of this for such a long time,” member LEE SEOYEON explained what the concert tour meant to the group, while recognizing that “a K-Pop idol is often expected to be multi-talented, but a singular love for singing and dancing is what led me to this path. The concert felt like the perfect opportunity for fromis_9 to show our fans everything we are really capable of as both musicians and performers.” Looking back a month later, it becomes ever clearer how both artist and fan were equally committed to this project that contained both challenges and opportunities to realize long-held dreams. So to capture this memory, a carefully curated record of the creative process has been prepared.
1. Concert Dates
From September 30th to October 2nd, fromis_9 held three concerts at KBS Arena Hall in Seoul. They then flew to Tokyo for a concert at the Tachikawa Stage Garden on October 7th. As a continuation of fromis_9’s first Japan meet-and-greet scheduled for 2020 that was cancelled due to the pandemic, the concert is significant as it shows how the fan-artist connection held and even grew during those two years. For this occasion fromis_9 performed the Japanese versions of “FUN!” and “LOVE BOMB”.
2. The set list
Echoing the tender closing lines of love letters, the tour title “LOVE FROM.” speaks of the universal symbolism of a long-awaited letter. Lee Eun-a (Project Manager, Domestic Concert Projects Team), the point person for creative planning, and Choi Yu-ji (Project Manager, Concert Production Studio), the concert director, explain that the conception of the concerts as a magical invitation finds its fitting physical representation in the image of a love letter bringing together the artist and fans to meet in a special time and space. It is a cinematic telling of the deep emotional connection between fromis_9 and flovers at last making contact in the real world. “Though fromis_9 always had that ‘girl-next-door’ naturalness in their artistic stylings and engagement with fans, this is still their very first concert. A larger-than-life production concept felt more appropriate this time,” said Lee Eun-a. Indeed, from the setlist which structures the concert flow, to the LED video wall content, musical arrangements, performance design, stage setup and equipment, special effects; all such elements were meticulously crafted to create a kind of theatrical chemistry in “LOVE FROM.” that feels as immersive as the perfect movie experience. For instance, the opening video screen clip showed members scattered across different walks of life in a nostalgic 1950s setting who eventually find each other and sit down in a movie theater with their backs to us, just like the audience waiting for the stars to come on stage. We quickly realize both artist and fan are reading a special message for flovers : “Here we are, at last... Waiting and wishing, and finally it’s just us.” Then the pre-opener set, “Somebody to love" starts. That message had two layers, according to Choi Yu-ji, as it was intended for both the flovers in the audience and also the fromis_9 members in the alternate universe seen in the video wall. This message sets off a chain-reaction from one era to the next – the 60s, 80s, and the 90s – through the fromis_9 members spread across these decades, and so they gather in the current timeline for the concert. The concert flow weaving easily from the stage to the video sequence and back again adds a sense of realness to the audience journey. The narrative told here follows individual stars coming together as fromis_9 and ultimately meeting the flovers. This storytelling structure is one of the reasons why the video backdrop to “Blind Letter” – in effect, the final song of the concert – resonated that much more emotionally in the final chapter of the concert where hand-written letters from fromis_9 members were delivered to the audience through glitter bomb mechanisms. “fromis_9 is possible because of these incredible young women and the flovers. “LOVE FROM.” showed how deep this warm protection and support was, and how the love flowed both ways. Everybody came away from it even more excited for fromis_9's next move,” observed Choi Yu-ji, as she also noted that the energy of “first beginnings” was at the heart of the “LOVE FROM.” experience.
“We knew that there are certain performances that can only be possible during concerts. So, we really wanted this project to show the wide range of artistic styles fromis_9 is capable of, especially those that our fans haven’t seen before,” Choi Yu-ji shared insight to the thought process, and from the setlist it is indeed clear that the focus had be placed on showing the group’s multi-faceted talents. CHAPTER 1 of the concert started off with “Glass Shoes”, followed by “FUN!”, then “Miracle”, and on the heels of these earlier songs from their career, CHAPTER 2 delivered numbers such as “Starry Night”, “0g” and other slower-tempo deep cuts. By positioning “LOVE BOMB” and “WE GO” in just the right order, the audience got to see both the new, evolved styles along with the group’s trademark vivacity and cool energy. As the concert moved into CHAPTER 3, the audience is treated to special sub-unit performances, and songs from their most recent album, “from our Memento Box”. CHAPTER 4, on the other hand, was an opportunity for fromis_9 to show their more mature sides through a jazz rendition of “Feel Good (SECRET CODE)”, and other more moodier pieces. The broad artistic spectrum of the members and their ability to absorb and recreate diverse genres in their own unique ways are all on full display throughout the three-hour concert that carefully selected from the group’s discography to create an irreproachably balanced mix. According to Choi Yu-ji, up to CHAPTER 4 the “concert was still in its colorful build-up to the climax” which began to blossom with the arrival of CHAPTER 5 and the encore stage for a “most joyous and exuberant finale celebrating their first ever concert”. Perhaps the concert’s most delightful surprise was when the LED screens which had closed with what felt like non-negotiable finality as the members waved after the “Mulgogi” set, unexpectedly re-opened to the lyrics “When these doors open,” of their encore song, “THINK OF YOU.” The group joyfully ran out again onto the catwalk, singing, “I follow you, to you”. Choi Yu-ji recalled that “many people thought we’d use this song to open the concert, but instead, by using it for the ‘fake encore’ we felt it created a playful party mood at the end that really nicely reflects the adorably unpredictable and cheekily chaotic energy of fromis_9”. And just like she imagined, the inspired selection for the final set helped both artist and fan leave the concert still riding a high.
3. Behind the scenes
A concert with 22 sets comes with challenging demands that fromis_9 needed to acclimatize to. Performance Director Shin Mi-gyeong noted that “even the simpler moves still are physically demanding so the concert really doesn’t have any rest segments. I imagine the members would have struggled a lot with this earlier in the group’s career, but I feel they now have discovered ways to self-regulate energy levels more effectively.” Still, CHAPTER 2 was not easy. After back-to-back performances of “WE GO”, “LOVE BOMB”, and “Airplane Mode”, SONG HAYOUNG and PARK JIWON had to immediately perform “FLY HIGH”, a song that requires great vocal control. Looking back on how intensely they trained for this, SONG HAYOUNG recalled that “we knew it was going to be tough, so we went through multiple practice sessions of performing the three dance-heavy songs then immediately singing for extended periods. HAYOUNG unni and I would even do this right before bedtime, or in front of the bathroom mirror whenever we found a moment together.” She shared a bit more in that “I was still short of breath during day-of rehearsals and I began thinking this was going to be too hard. But when I was on stage with HAYOUNG unni and our eyes met, it felt like she was saying to me ‘We can do this!’ and it was like this energy began to flow between us.” Shin Min-gyeong also talked about the teamwork that was required to perform the last set, “Rewind”. “As the ending number, we wanted to have this final explosive moment that involved the whole group,” she explained. And as such, the dance-break portion in “Rewind”, which originally was mainly LEE SAEROM, was expanded. “My thought was to burn up the stage for the finale with everybody, leave nothing behind,” revealed SAEROM, while adding that “in the leadup to the concert, I really entered beast-mode and did HIIT training alongside rehearsals, and I wasn’t too winded on stage.” She also shared some behind-the-scenes tidbits with regard to the media attention her impressive abs received after they were exposed during the concert : “I was also really surprised. I even had friends ask me how much longer was I going to keep working on my abs. I think they appeared more defined on stage because I had worked out with our trainer right before to minimize injury risk.”
The salient points of “LOVE FROM.” were the sets the group debuted for the first time. Of these, a total of four album tracks – “Airplane Mode”, “Hush Hush”, “Cheese”, and “Up And” – were newly choreographed especially for the occasion. Choi Yu-ji explains that this was “designed to reveal completely new content just for the concert as a kind of surprise gift for the fans.” During the chorus of “Up And” the members opened their arms wide as they skipped, jumped, and vibed to some bounce beats. In “Cheese”, the members who had scattered into unit formations to groove freestyle to the music, quickly regrouped into razor sharp configurations before returning to a more freewheeling performance that displayed each person’s unique dance moves and facial expressions. All four songs showed moves and styles never seen on stage before, and the flovers loved it. “Each song was designed for the stage in a way that would allow fans to see a side to fromis_9 they hadn’t seen before,” elaborated Shin Mi-gyeong. For “Airplane Mode”, the goal was to introduce a more nuanced, grounding energy to the bubbly and fresh vibe the group is well known for. “Up And” could have followed in the tracks of previous fromis_9 hits in its choreography and style, but the creative team intentionally decided to use it as an opportunity for each member to reveal a completely new side to her artistic presence, since this was a concert just for flovers. Like “Hush Hush”, “Cheese” was also presented in a stage format reminiscent of musicals. Rather than complex choreography, the performance utilized face-cams, polaroid cameras, smaller-scale stage sceneries and props to create natural, unscripted moments that showed off the unique character of each member and the amazing chemistry that emerges among them. “Just like our lyrics, we wanted the stage to feel limitless and free. Like, when CHAEYOUNG and I were goofing around on the steps, we improvised a rock-paper-scissors session with light raps on the forehead for the losing side, and many of the expressions and gestures were spur-of-the-moment decisions,” recalled SEOYEON about the unfiltered joy the members had wanted to convey.
Another special experience for fromis_9 was seeing the songs the members had helped write come to life on stage. “Hush Hush” is a song for a sub-unit in which JIWON and SEOYEON were involved in both its lyrics and music. All its members took part in intense creative sessions in a special chatroom, and indeed the resulting performance showed how much it was a special labor of love. JIWON shared that the set became a favorite of hers as the group prepared for the concert. “The choreography shows that anxious yet exciting energy of the wee hours, and with it the song really came into its own,” SEOYEON observed, and added that “I was really attached to the song, so, when we were able to fully realize the unique and playful vision JIWON unni and I always had for it through choreography and set design, well, that really made total immersion during performance even more effortless.” In fact, JIWON had worked on a grand total of four songs, “Hush Hush”, “Airplane Mode”, “FLY HIGH”, and “Mulgogi”. She revealed that the rehearsals were indeed special : “I would daydream singing these songs for our concert, someday. What would it feel like? How would the flovers react? This is part of my creative process. It was thrilling, a real treat to realize this particular dream of mine. And now that we’ve done the concert, my desire to share more of myself and my thoughts with flovers has grown even more.” SEOYEON also admitted that the concert has stoked the creative flame in her : “It is hard to describe the feeling of performing your own song on stage. The sense of ownership comes on stronger. I feel more driven than ever to create good, fun music for flovers and music fans as a whole.”
There was deep symbolism in the decision to place “Glass Shoes” to the top of the setlist as the official opener of fromis_9’s first concert. “Glass Shoes” was released when the youngest member BAEK JIHEON was just 15. This was the group’s first single, released even before an official debut album had been produced. Choi Yu-ji and Ahn Shin-gyu (A&R Part Lead) reveal that the song was “re-arranged as a big, orchestral piece to channel the layers of complex emotions arising from performing one’s first concert after five years of waiting.” The set opened with each member’s face in tight-framed portraits on the LED screens, as the atmospheric and emotional music played. No words, but the sequence most eloquently communicated the coming-of-age moment for the group. SEOYEON elaborated on this by describing what was different in rehearsing “Glass Shoes” for the concert : “when we debuted, our performance of the set clearly showed our focus on immaculately precise stage formations with differences between members minimized as much as possible. Now, we have grown and each of us has found her unique performance style. The overall presentation is more subtle, soft, and quite different from our early performances.” JIHEON added that “back then, each performance was one anxious moment after another, so in preparing for the concert we decided to turn that into fuel this time by revisiting the recordings of our debut-era performances.” CHAPTER 1 carefully juxtaposed the past and present of fromis_9 by remaining faithful to the originality of the early songs where possible, while also highlighting places where the evolution of the artist produced a new interpretation of the song. In CHAPTER 3, this careful balance was boldly surrendered to clearly show how much each member has grown. This was especially prominent in the “Feel Good (SECRET CODE)” set where the song’s original bright, danceable tune and the funky bass line were rearranged into a jazz formula. The members were able to explore a wider range of emotions in their vocal performances which were delivered through standing mics. Still, the set did not completely forego fromis_9’s trademark powerful dance moves as it wrapped with an “It’s showtime!” moment that thrilled the entire audience. According to Ahn Shin-gyu and Shin Min-gyeong, once the set’s artistic direction was established, the team’s thought process naturally converged upon the decision to choose “jazz as the filter through which the younger energy of ‘Feel Good (SECRET CODE)’ – the title track of the group’s identity-redefining “My Little Society” album – could be reimagined as a more compelling showcase of the mature range of the artists.” JIWON shared that this set was a precious moment for the members personally and the relationships they had formed throughout the years : “It gave us the opportunity to highlight different vocal styles, and I felt SEOYEON’s singing was particularly captivating.”
“We incorporated fromis_9’s idea that the show take a moment to form a deeper connection between performer and audience” said Choi Yu-ji about the final set of the encore stage where “THINK OF YOU” was performed to “playful balloon toss games – mingled with some balloon popping – between fromis_9 and flovers as a direct reference to the use of a balloon metaphor in the song’s lyrics.” When the song’s outro was repeated during the final Seoul concert date to the surprise and delight of the audience, this was from JIHEON’s suggestion that “since the first date is about the giddiness of first meeting and the second date is about fine-tuning the program, I felt that by the third date we would have established a rapport of sorts with the audience, which is an opportunity to further deepen the concert experience with an unexpected moment.” The stadium wave moving through flovers in response to each hand movement of fromis_9, flovers singing to fromis_9 with light sticks, phone flashlights, and printed banners held aloft; both the artist and the audience shared an indelible dream-come-true experience in a place filled with only flovers for this fromis_9’s first concert ever. JIHEON made an emphatic note of that moment she never wants to forget when “in an instant the whole place was filled with lights, creating this amazingly beautiful scene I still can recall so vividly.” JIWON was overcome with emotions multiple times during the concerts, and she tried to put words to this tender moment between artist and fan, of “heartstrings being pulled as eyes met, as we read the messages on the banners they’d lovingly made, and absorbing it all, we got this lump in the throat as we realized ‘Oh, this is their truth they’ve always wanted to tell us.’”
Even during the Japan concert where language was a barrier and vocal audience reactions were not allowed, fromis_9 and flovers were still able to experience heartfelt connections. When JIHEON brought out a hand-written letter she had written in Japanese to help communicate with the flovers, the audience was visibly moved. JIHEON explained she needed to have the letter in hand because “while the other members had all memorized the messages, I couldn’t get over the fear that I might be too nervous to remember all the words. I really wanted to show how thankful I was of their support, and I would be so upset if my mind suddenly went blank onstage.” Though only clapping was allowed, fromis_9 and flovers were able to understand each other through music and dance, meaningful gestures and adoring looks, just as SEOYEON observed : “The first impression of the venue was that the audience was surprisingly close, but immediately we recognized that the fans were all standing with their hands clasped. We felt then that maybe shouting is not always necessary. And since vocal reactions were not allowed, we tried to avoid questions to the audience during the narrative segments. But such concerns were quickly laid to rest as we all discovered that proper conversations can be had with just clapping. It was quite an experience!”
After each performance, be it a music event or a concert, fromis_9 holds a feedback session. The concerts were no exception. After each concert date the group spent more time than usual identifying areas for improvement and sharing each member’s experience of the recent performance. The members were all especially appreciative of SEOYEON’s feedback where she monitored all the sets – both rehearsals and actual concert performances – throughout the tour to provide commentary for each screen capture which was organized into a memo package individually tailored for each member. When asked how she could deliver this level of detail, SEOYEON confessed that even she was surprised at discovering she could do this while preparing for the concert. “It was our first concert, and I wanted it to be perfect. I was really worried the other members might feel like I was criticizing, or just doing way too much. But the desire to make something really great drove me and I reached out to the group and said, ‘Let’s do this together, I hope you can understand where I’m coming from.’ But I really didn’t have to worry because the members are all super sweet and kind. They were, like, ‘Oh, hold nothing back! We’re all grateful for the feedback!’” recalled SEOYEON with a laugh. “While working together to prepare for the concerts, I found that I had this intense fire in my belly that even I didn’t know. Of course, this goes for all of us, and it was wonderful to learn we all had these deep reservoirs of passion in us. The whole experience has taught us we are now quite capable of delivering an even wider range of performances in future concerts.”