Asian talent take centre stage at Melbourne’s first ever Asia Pop Fest

Headlined by a standout performance from K-Pop superstar Ailee, the best of Asian talent and entertainment came to Melbourne for an evening to remember. Natalie Ng has the story.

Photo: Mark Gambino

It was an event that was initially aimed at international students; attaching the annual Lord Mayor’s Student Welcome for international students signalled as much.

But what transpired on the evening of Friday, March 24, 2017, was bigger than anyone could imagine.

As part of the Asia TOPA festival, the recent Asia Pop Fest drew a broad mix of local university students, high school students and international students who had flocked to the event because of its starry and promising musical lineup.

Face painting, lucky draw games and dance competitions were part of the evening’s festivities, as were food vendors serving crowd-pleasing favourites like Korean fried chicken. Each community stall and food vendor aimed to keep the crowd satiated and revved up before the highlight of the evening — the performances.

Singaporean born Charlie Lim, who alternates his time between Singapore and Melbourne was the opening act. A veteran of festivals who has supported name acts like Kimbra, Lenka and Sigur Ros, Charlie showed his ease on stage.

He played to a crowd wowed by his musical versatility and slick setlist, which consisted of covers from artists like Frank Ocean and his own original songs.

Versatile musician and singer Charlie Lim, performed with a guitar and grand piano that evening. | Ailee bringing the thunder with her powerhouse vocals. | Photo: Mark Gambino

As the sun set on Melbourne, it was the perfect time for Nathan Hartono to perform. The Singaporean born crooner, who has been performing  for more than ten years, found himself gaining a whole new legion of international fans after his second place finish on last year’s Sing! China (a Chinese version of The Voice) under the mentorship of Mandopop legend Jay Chou.

Crowds of avid fangirls leapt from their seats to dash to the front as Nathan took the stage. Nathan’s live band consisted of a mix of both Singaporean and Melbourne musicians and he himself was armed with a guitar. Nathan’s set included a mix of covers, mashups of popular Chinese and Western pop songs, as well as his own original songs — one being an emotional and heartfelt ballad about grief and loss that he debuted at the festival.

A charismatic showman, Nathan charmed the Asia Pop Fest faithful, and was thankful to such an enthusiastic crowd who even joined in on singing the chorus of his new ballad. Teenage girls were swooning and even the older audience members were charmed to bits by Nathan’s sincere performance.

Nathan Hartono takes a momentary break from singing to have fun with the crowd. | Photo: Mark Gambino

Then, it was time for a change in pace. It is likely that hardly anyone in the crowd had ever had the chance to witness a Vocaloid performance before, so what was to come proved to be a first for many.

The pink haired Vocaloid, IA, brought to the stage both of her personalities, the cute and peppy personality behind songs such as ‘Shooting Star’, and the IA Rocks personality with her guitar and rock infused songs.

Sadly, the performance did not include the usual 3D hologram, expected at a Vocaloid concert. IA’s performance was instead a 2D one, and while the virtual popstar’s presence could still be felt as she performed on an LCD screen accompanied by live dancers, that lack of the 3D element certainly detracted from the overall performance.

Virtual popstar IA accompanied by her backup dancers. | Photo: Mark Gambino

The highlight of the evening however, was yet to come as K-Pop superstar Ailee showed what ‘saving the best for last’ meant.

The Melbourne audience went absolutely wild for her the moment she stepped onto the stage. Ailee herself was genuinely blown away by the crowd’s enthusiasm, taking a moment to thank the audience after every song, and at one point looking like she might actually cry. Ailee also showed an overwhelming charisma and showmanship as she played up the audience between songs.

The Korean-American’s playfulness on stage was something even fans had only seen glimpses of in her Korean-based performances, but here on this stage, it was at full force. At one point, she even invited five guys from the audience on stage as she and her dancers danced for them. Perhaps it was combination of a great crowd and Ailee’s own ease in speaking English that allowed for such an amazing set and experience, both for Ailee and her audience.

And of course, there was her voice. Ailee is known for being an absolutely sensational performer live, with a voice comparable to the great R&B vocalists of the West, but whatever expectations audience members had of her live performance were completely blown out of the water. She performed her hit dance songs like ‘Mind Your Business’, ‘Don’t Touch Me’, ‘U & I’ and more, as well as her hit ballad ‘I Will Go To You Like the First Snow’ and new song ‘Reminiscing’.

And while she brought the crowd to its feet during every single song, it was her cover of Whitney Houston classic ‘I Will Always Love You’  that brought Sidney Myer Bowl to a standing ovation.

Ailee bringing the thunder with her powerhouse vocals. | Photo: Mark Gambino

Ailee closing the show was a perfect way to end an already amazing night filled with great performances. The concert was a terrific showcase of the talent and variety that Asia has to offer.

Moreover, Asia Pop Fest’s success showed how supportive Asian Australians, as well as Asian international students, are of Asian performers and talent, further proving why Melbourne is such a favourite city for international students.

Asia Pop Fest was a great way to welcome the new university year and new international students, and perhaps the concert’s success will signal a tradition of more Asia Pop Fests to come.

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