The venue was a church in downtown Los Angeles, a gray concrete building with a huge 40-foot mural of a solemn-faced Jesus painted on the facade. Some people might call it a bad part of town. There were no security guards, metal detectors or bag checks. No one camped out hours and hours before showtime. A ticket cost less than what parking costs at other concerts. In this unlikeliest of places, a bonafide K-pop goddess had descended to bestow a performance called, "The Gift of God."
Milal Mission is a Christian organization dedicated to providing scholarships to those with developmental disabilities from North Korea and other third world countries. To date, they have disbursed over $1.8M in funds. To help them raise money to continue their work, first gen SM idol, Bada of S.E.S., is touring the country, gracing stages with her powerful voice and electric performance.
Opening for Bada in Los Angeles was clarinetist Jang Sung Gyun, who is himself a recipient of a Milal Mission scholarship. Jang, dressed in a white tuxedo, performed "Nella Fantasia," an Italian piece from the 1986 movie, The Mission.
"In my fantasy I see a bright world / Where every night there is less darkness / I dream of souls that are always free / Like clouds that soar / full of humanity."
Accompanied on piano, Jang's dulcet tones floated over the reverent audience, many of whom had come not to take in a concert, but to participate together in worship. They sang softly the lyrics the next song Jang played, a hymn called "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow."
"I don't know about tomorrow / I just live from day to day / I don't borrow from the sunshine / For its skies may turn to gray."
He hit a couple of bad notes, which he cheerfully apologized for at the conclusion. "I messed up so you would know it's really me playing, and not a CD," he joked.
"Her face is slightly smaller than mine. Her height is slightly shorter than mine. Her voice is slightly more beautiful than mine. Here is my friend, Bada." As he introduced her, Bada appeared on stage, resplendent in sparkly pink. Showing off mile-long legs and a dazzling smile, she launched straight into "Dreams Come True," a mega-hit S.E.S. track.
"Hello! I am Korea's best diva, Bada!" Bada introduced herself, never one to undersell. "Are you ready to go on a journey with me to snowy Gwang-hwa-mun?" she asked, before singing Lee Moon-sae's, "Old Love."
"There are only two kinds of people here tonight: my fans, and those who will become my fans. Even if you sit there with your arms crossed, I will win you over," she promised audaciously. She flirted and bragged outrageously, as a diva should, but slowly revealed the core of her faith as she sang the hymn, "Jesus Who Washes My Feet."
"For a time, due to my family's hardship, I could not live at home. Some people invited me to live at church, and I was there for most of my childhood before my debut." For this reason, she shared, she supports Milal Mission and other organizations, who work with children to overcome their circumstances.
"When I sing, I feel peaceful. When you listen to spiritual songs, you feel refreshed, like an angel." Kneeling on the stage, as if she were performing, she sang "Vivre" from the musical, Notre-Dame de Paris. This song showed off Bada's exquisite vocal range, her notes soaring higher and higher, as if to touch the church belfry in which Esmerelda is singing for her lost love.
Bringing Jang back on stage, they duetted on another hymn, "You Are My All In All," which overlays the melody of the verse on top of the chorus. She sang with her hand on his shoulder, her notes twining with the clarinet's in harmony.
"Until this moment, we sang to make Jesus smile. Now, I think he wants us to have fun! The dinner stew that didn't come out well, the homework you left undone, forget it all and scream like there's no tomorrow!"
Singing the dance version of "The Song Only I Can Sing," written by Gary and Gil of hip-hop duo LeeSsang, she had the audience clapping along until she came into the audience. Hugging an old lady, taking someone's camera and filming herself, high fiving audience members, telling a man that he's handsome, she didn't stop until she reached the back section, which erupted in cheers and frantic waving.
"You can't avoid my fiery love!" crowed this unstoppable force, before belting out Lee Sun-hui's "I Always Miss You." Bada has been lighting up the stage on KBS's live music program, Immortal Song, with these same covers, but tonight, she proved she doesn't need the spotlights and the band to entertain.
Returning to the stage to perform a dancing finale of Cho Duk-bae's "My Old Story," she urged the crowd to their feet. Had this sainted stage ever seen such a performer upon it? The audience, caught up in her spirited enthusiasm, danced and waved their arms at her command.
Joined by members of the Milal Mission family onstage, she ended the night with her track, "I Will Love (Forever Love)." "Forever love, you're in my heart!" Bada sang, surrounded by the children she came to support. Instructing us all to make big hearts over our heads, she had the photographer take a picture of her with the audience in the background. It was a concert we will fondly remember, the night a K-pop angel gave us the gift of her music and her love.