Almost exactly one year since it last hit the Prudential Center in New Yorks’s metropolitan area, KCON 2017 NY presented by Toyota returned once again this past weekend (June 23 and 24) for another two nights of star-studded M! Countdown performances. The Day 1 concert had rookie groups KNK and SF9 dancing on the same stage as the veteran “super rookie” group Highlight. Meanwhile hip-hop and R&B soloist Zion T. and girl group GFriend added diversity to the forever testosterone and pop-heavy lineup.
For some of the artists, it was their first time performing stateside altogether. But for all, their participation marked their debut onto the annual cross-cultural East Coast music festival scene that continues to bring the most devoted Hallyu fans out in droves. Not soon after concert goers filed in to occupy the arena seating and pit to catch the preshow – a fan dance battle moderated by special guest and former U-Kiss member Kevin Woo – had it been already time for the main event of the night. At promptly 7:30 PM, the show kicked off with its trademark “Let’s KCON” motto.
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Ascending in front of a very fitting backdrop of nebulae and celestial bodies, the vertically superior KNK opened with their most recent single “Sun, Moon, Star,” a song which they later explained was about broken up lovers. The quintet delivered the anguish that such a song demands, and decked out in resplendent white suits, they looked and sounded like they were not only a year into their careers. This only became apparent once they moved on from their debut song “Knock” straight into their already final track “Day N Night,” reminding audiences that their discography still has room to grow. The latter is a personal favorite, and since it was never promoted as a single, was a pleasant surprise to their terse setlist. I think lead rapper Heejun was doing all of us a public good when he put up his own mic to lead vocalist Youjin when he hit that high note during the bridge.
It really would not be a KCON without its collaborative stages, and this year seemed to have been Broadway musical-themed (a tip of the hat to good ol’ New York City) as Yuju of GFriend and Dongwoon of Highlight united in a rendition of Beauty and the Beast’s “Tale As Old As Time.” It was definitely an oicwydt moment seeing the gorgeous GFriend member work in perfect harmony with the former “Beast” member. The no-frills duet relied solely on their immaculate vocals, all the while keeping the number subdued without sounding boring.
Up next was SF9, a boy group who I admittedly made the mistake of overlooking going into the concert. From the moment they set the venue aflame with their latest song “Easy Love,” the amount of proud fans clothed in unofficial merchandise and holding up support banners for the group who have not even seen their one year anniversary yet just made sense. The first real “dance” group coming out of FNC Entertainment, an agency typically known for their favoritism towards bands in the truest sense of the word, they did not disappoint. How they are able to execute their razor-sharp choreography without sound breathy is still beyond me, and after seeing the nine-piece group perform in the flesh, I can affirm that the aphorism about how one does not learn to appreciate a song until it is done live was about SF9.
Not only that, the SF9 boys also proved that they are kings of fanservice when three members serenaded and competed for a girl indiscriminately chosen from the general audience. Poor girl seemed torn between her suitors, so the proposal ended in a draw. Despite this, the group managed to reel back into full performance mode, completing their set with their debut single “Fanfare,” followed by “Roar.”
The girl group representatives of the night, GFriend (sans Yerin who had individual schedules overseas), made their entrance with a powerful dance break in their signature uniformed-inspired look, compensating for KCON’s serious dearth of female acts. They continued the trend of opening with the most recent single and plunged right into disco and synth blend hit “Fingertip.” An exciting song to match the equally high-spirited mood.
Unfortunately, as the proceeding “Navillera” transitioned into “Me Gustas Tu” into “Rough,” the rest of their set felt a little like one mega ditty playing up the naiveté of youth rather than three separate and unique songs. Not hating the high school concept trilogy, it’s just that a better setlist that showcased greater variety or another song inter-spliced between the ones could have avoided this misfortune. That aside, audiences still received kindly to the more than stable vocals, synchronized dances, and charms of these girl crushes.
It’s always interesting to see how a solo artist can manage to keep the momentum of crowds going, and with no group dynamic to fall back on, the pressure is certainly on. But Zion.T, draped in what looks like could be his dad’s baggy suit and traipsing his way towards a grand piano, exuded pure professionalism and cool, calm collectedness not witnessed in other acts seen thus far. There, he introduced “Complex,” before moving onto “The Song” off of the same OO album. He already impresses with his distinct voice and frictionless croons, but when he brings out his inner rapper as well, he’s just being unfair.
The man also displayed a subtle sense of humor when he inquired if audiences knew his penultimate song for the night, “Eat” (“you know, like yum, yum, yum eat?”). Unsurprisingly, he closed with the iconic “Yanghwa Bridge,” a sluggish track that is perfect for not only evening commutes home, but also for bringing together a group of disparate peoples in chorus. Not a single person in attendance was not singing either “haengbokhaja” (“Let’s be happy”) or “apeuji malgo” (“Don’t be sick”) of the lyrics’ sweet words to his family. Zion.T’s strength lies in the fact that his slow-tempo songs always have those couple of phrases that are easy to follow along, guaranteeing audience participation. He knows this too as he played conductor, and took advantage of the whole extended stage. Only Zion.T could ever do what Zion.T does best.
The show could have concluded right then, and everyone would have been okay with it, however it did not. SF9 reappeared onto the stage for an unexpected special performance of EXO’s “Call Me Baby” and BTS’s “Boy in Luv,” which was probably KCON’s way of saying “Hey, I know we could not give you guys the two hottest K-pop groups at the moment, but here’s a cover.” In any event, audiences welcomed the familiar tunes and dances in vociferous cheers.
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Rounding off the first night was finally Highlight, who hit the ground running with “Plz Don’t Be Sad.” Outfitted in white long coats with personalized names on the back (Dongwoo’s appropriately had “Guapo” monogrammed), they had as much fun with the performance as audiences did dancing along to the ridiculously fun hook. It was not even their last song, but streamers already rained down as if it was. Though “Calling You,” the group’s most recent release, was another obvious pick, it felt lowkey and paled in comparison to the former song. I would rather they have traded it out for “Can You Feel It?,” the eponymous track off of their first album post-rebranding, which would have offered tighter cohesion considering the other dance songs of the headliner’s setlist. That, and I just would have really like to see “Can You Feel It?” live once, you know?
After exhausting their narrow discography as Highlight, the second generational group moved older fans with “Yey,” one of their more underrated bops that had the crowd on their feet even if they did not agree in the fine workmanship that went into producing the EDM track. They dug back further in their bag of tricks to also unveil the 2014 hit “Good Luck” and 2012 summer anthem “Beautiful Night,” which best describes what the evening was after their stellar performances. They had nothing but their fans in mind as they switched between their parts and tossing out plushies and taking selfies with the phones of some lucky individuals. A personal aside, but it brings me immense joy to know that a group that was once upon a time my first bias group still got it. Beast or Highlight, this is a band that simply knows what it takes to put on a show.
And like that, the night had finished without a hitch. Though Day One of the two-part event was now officially over, there was still a Day Two to go to. While fans were entertained by the mirthful pop songs, intricate choreography, and earnest attempts at communication of the artists, they were already looking forward to what was in store for the upcoming day. After all, what better way to fill the void left behind by post-concert depression than with another concert?
Did you attend KCON 17 NY? What’s your favorite KCON artist? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.