Junny Brings Love to Houston on His 'Blanc' Tour
Just in case you were wondering, Junny's mic was most certainly on in Houston!
On Monday, Sept. 12, Junny's "Blanc" tour made its way to Houston, Texas. I know what you're thinking: Who plans a concert on a Monday? Well, at least that's what crossed my mind as I took a six-hour Greyhound trip from ATX to HTX to see this young man who I haven't been acquainted with since 2018, right before he made his way to South Korea to pursue his musical ambitions. Don't get me wrong; I've been watching Junny make a name for himself off and on for the past four years. When the opportunity to actually see him in his element presented itself, how could I possibly say no?
It's one thing to have a conversation with someone, to hear their early studio work and note the potential. It's quite another to revisit that person when they're a few years more mature, stronger in their craft and more confident in their ability to create something truly special. Trust me when I say Junny is something special. I have to admit, a sisterly feeling of pride washed over me when I pulled up to Houston's Last Concert Café and saw a line that nearly circled the block. What more can you ask for as a longtime fan, if not a casual listener watching the continued progression of someone who just wanted to bring a new side of R&B to Korea?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The show begins around 7:00 p.m. The DJ plays mostly '90s hip hop, a wide sampling from The Fugees to Nas and everything in between. A diverse crowd of mostly young women congregate as close to the stage as possible. After a few minutes of kicking up sand in Last Concert's back patio area, I make my way to a cordoned-off section meant for VIPs and press. A few more minutes go by; then one of two opening acts, HIGHVYN, emerges. Unassuming and quick with a smile, he takes a few minutes to soundcheck. Then...the crowd erupts as the music blares through the speakers. HIGHVYN certainly lives up to what his name suggests. He's all high energy, smiles and fan service. Musically, he offers much of what one would expect: rap-singing that's taken over the genre in the last several years. It's not my cup of tea, but the kid has an effervescence that's undeniable. He loves being on stage. Loves interacting with the audience, taking selfies and videos with various phones from the crowd, giving high-fives and finger hearts. HIGHVYN sets the tone for what we can expect from the rest of the show.
His set ends at around 7:30. After about 15 minutes, our next opening act saunters to the stage. She'd been milling about the crowd since before the show began, observing her audience, taking in the music, vibing to the atmosphere. When it's her turn to hit the stage, she holds nothing back. "My name is XENZU!" she proclaims. "Make some motherfuckin' noise!" The Chinese-Korean-American rapper has made quite a name for herself, a result of her participation on RAP China and as a member of Jackson Wang's Team Wang label. But here, she's just XENZU, a woman whose energy speaks for itself. "What's my name?" she yells. A chorus of "XENZU" booms from the audience. Again she asks, and again the crowd calls her bluff. This game of call and response goes on for another few seconds. Then, "I bet you remember my fuckin' name now, huh?"
She presents herself as cross between Jvcki Wai and Jessi: sassy, sensual, fearless. Autotune-filtered mic in hand, she sashays across the stage, grinding, winding and putting on a show. She raps with intensity. Her movements read as sensual, but her delivery...? She's all aggression, all "Fuck around and find out" energy. Again, her music might not be my favorite, but her attitude, her bravado and her ability to really out-rap a lot of newer male models of the genre has my respect.
That respect amped up to about 1000 when right before her last song, a gentleman on the side of the stage told her she had to cut her set short. Initially, she was just going to take a selfie and be done with it. Her face was a mask of disappointment, but she's a true professional. She knows how to get the crowd on her side, and it doesn't take much more than a few words, "I wanted to do one more song for you, but..." She just lets the sentence hang. The audience, of course, is not having it. A raucous cacophony of "One more song! One more song!" rises from the now at-capacity crowd. With a cheeky grin, she looks the man who dared interrupt her set dead in his eyes, and absolutely demolishes her final song. "Fuck around and find out."
At this point, it's around 8:15. The energy in the crowd is a buzzing, sizzling thing that crackles and covers everyone under a blanket of electricity. Warmed up from the opening acts, we welcome Junny's DJ for the evening as she plays a set of club bangers to keep the energy at peak levels. When Junny makes his way to the stage, the crowd is already utterly in hysterics. He walks on to the stage singing, his voice crystalline and powerful. From the first song, he's full-throttle, no holds barred. He sings each song as if it's both the first and last time. All the ambition of someone making their debut draped in an obvious elation for what he does. We're two songs in before he addresses the crowd. "My name is Junny..." An ocean of high-pitched screams comes from the crowd filling Last Concert's back patio to capacity. "You ready to have some fun?" He loves this. It's in the way he carries himself, comfortable on stage but never standing still. When he does, it's to sing with all the sincerity of a classic crooner: hand clenched around the mic stand, eyes closed, head tilted to the heavens to release notes as if in reverence to the gods. Despite starting the tour in LA only a week prior (and making stops in Canada in between), he gifts his audience with the same adulation as he no doubt did those in LA and his hometown of Vancouver.
In moments like this, I know that I'm blessed to be able to do what I do. To love music is a gift. To be able to discover and even speak with artists of varying talents and abilities is a sign that there is something greater beyond this spinning rock. Because in these moments, when given the opportunity to truly see someone lose themselves in their craft, you're suddenly stricken with the realization that you've just seen someone give themselves over to their blessing. Junny gives himself to his music. Yes, he's very interactive. Incredibly playful with the audience, reading their signs for him, taking their phones to take selfies with some of his fans in the front row. Even trying on the headbands and hats some of the crowd brought in hopes of garnering attention from one of their favorite artists.
But at the end of it all, Junny is a singer. And, good Lord did this boy sing. "I'm gonna do a little a cappella if that's okay with you." Of course the crowd erupts, an explosion of screams and cries that almost drowns him out before he can get the statement out. Understand, this is no easy feat. It's one that few artists even dare, so used to letting the backing track buffer their performance that they've forgotten the essence of what it means to be an artist. Imagine, Texas September heat, Junny fully dressed in clothes that are almost too big for him. He's already given so much of himself over to the energy of the moment. You hear it in the microphone, the heavy breaths he takes between songs. So to even risk singing without music takes an immeasurable amount of confidence. The cajones on this one are big and brassy. If you had any doubts about this young R&B artist prior to this show, they're quickly snuffed out when he approaches the mic. Hand gingerly grips the microphone, absolute silence, a deep breath, and then...a voice. Shockingly pure and free of any cracks, creaks or heaving breaths. Let's be honest, Junny is an attractive young man. So many of his peers easily skate on their looks and the knowledge that most people will listen to anything that resembles the most trending performers. However, Junny...this young man took a chance, threw himself into the wind. Damn, if that boy didn't fly!
Junny is the type of performer who never takes a moment of his time on stage for granted. Weaving effortlessly between ballads, sweet pop and club-ready R&B, he's honed himself into a finely tuned instrument. He takes requests from the audience, singing a cappella snippets of some of his earlier songs and most popular tracks. His confidence is staggering. However, what makes the greatest impression is his unabashed humility. One could easily lean into cynicism. After all, every artist claims the current city they're in is their favorite. And in the moment, it very well may be. But there's a sincerity to Junny that makes it hard to pass it off as the typical mumblings of a man playing up the fan service. The smile never leaves his face. He sings every note with power and emotion. Those moments when he reaches within himself to sing a cappella are so incredibly pure. Junny's earnestness cannot be overstated. Musically, there's certainly a noticeable glow-up from his Marilyn Mondarland days. But that same ambition, drive, love of music has carried him all these years, and it shows.
If you've got the time and ability, do yourself a favor and attend one of the stops on the Blanc tour. If it was anything like his stop in Houston, it's sure to make you believe in the pure emotional weight and brilliance of music again.