Emotional return to South Korea for DNCE guitarist Lee JinJoo
DNCE guitarist Lee JinJoo had only a suitcase, a guitar and faith when she left for the US to pursue her music dream
It was a special homecoming for DNCE guitarist Lee JinJoo as she played alongside her bandmates from the US dance-pop outfit in Seoul, Korea, for the first time on March 22.
The 29-year-old Korean left for Los Angeles some 10 years ago to pursue her musical dreams, and has been based there since, returning only occasionally to visit her family.
Dabbing her eyes as she addressed a 2,000-strong audience at DNCE's sold-out concert at Yes24 Live Hall to promote their self-titled debut album, Lee - the only female member - said in Korean: "Whenever I felt lonely and things were tough, I imagined a moment. And this is the moment...
"There were many times when, feeling frustrated and helpless, I wanted to come home, but picturing myself on stage in Korea helped me to keep going."
In response, the crowd started chanting passionately: "Please don't cry! Please don't cry!"
The Incheon-born musician was just 19 when she decided to leave Korea.
She had nothing but her suitcase, guitar and faith that she would make it big one day, she told The New Paper at Grand Walkerhill Seoul before the concert.
"I cried 12 hours straight to LA. I remember the stewardess brought me all the snacks in the plane. I landed in LA and I didn't know how to speak English and couldn't understand any words.
"But music speaks for itself. I started going to school, started playing guitar and (everything) started happening," she said.
Lee nailed auditions for artists like Jordin Sparks and CeeLo Green after completing a guitar programme at the Musicians Institutein Hollywood, and became their guitarist on tour.
Whenever I felt lonely and things were tough, I imagined a moment. And this is the moment...DNCE guitarist Lee JinJoo, during the concert
She also toured with Jonas Brothers in 2009, which was how she met US singer Joe Jonas, 27. The former member of Jonas Brothers now fronts DNCE.
In 2015, he assembled the group with Lee and another familiar face, drummer Jack Lawless, 29, who had also toured with Jonas Brothers.
Bassist and keyboardist Cole Whittle, 35,was introduced to Jonas through Justin Tranter, with whom Jonas had co-written DNCE's most famous song Cake By The Ocean.
The result? Quite the motley crew, with palpable chemistry and a wacky fashion sense.
The camaraderie Lee shares with the guys is evident from the good-natured jibes they exchanged during the interview.
She calls the trio her bodyguards, best friends and family away from home, she said.
"I think I'm closer to them at this point because I live alone in America.
"I feel like they are my family because I'm away from my siblings and my family," she said.
She quickly added, tongue in cheek, that "the men just don't get it sometimes", much to their noisy protest.
But it is clear that all three men think the pint-sized Lee packs a punch.
Jonas called her a role model for young women, while Lawless praised her shredding skills and her onstage energy.
Whittle went on a more personal note, saying: "It's important to note that it's not just any girl. It's JinJoo, and there's only one of those.
"Every day, even though she has a really bad attitude - she slaps us and makes us do stuff for her - she's our little sis and we love her."
Being able to hold a concert in her home country, with her family in the audience, was "literally my dream come true", Lee said.
Little wonder then, that her favourite DNCE song is Cake By The Ocean - the one that propelled the band to fame and landed her on this stage.
"Because that brought us here, and (our fans) know every single word. It's like the DNCE anthem," she said.
Indeed, the fans - a diverse crowd comprising young boys, teenagers and even ajummas (Korean for aunties) - lapped up every minute of the entertaining 90-minute party, which saw the foursome making their grand entrance with Darth Vader masks and a brief lightsaber battle.
Tracks like Naked and Be Mean were performed, as well as tributes to the late legends David Bowie and George Michael with Let's Dance and Freedom.
Student Casey Lee, 19, told TNP: "I really liked JinJoo's comment. She was crying, and me too."
Student Jeong Ga-on, 20, added: "I love the way people sang together (for Cake By The Ocean). It gave me goosebumps."