The annual pilgrimage to the Prudential Center in New York’s metropolitan area continued for East Coast K-pop fans last weekend when KCON 2017 NY presented by Toyota came back for another two nights of unforgettable M! Countdown concerts. For those who missed out on the polished choreographies, dazzling visuals, and the A1 fan service from the night prior, Day 2 (June 24th) definitely was slated to make up for it. The turnout to catch a few glimpses of UP10TION, NCT 127, Twice, and CNBLUE visibly exceeded the numbers from the first evening, despite being short an act. Before the show even hit the road, it seemed like concertgoers were due for something exceptional.
The pre-show officially launched with the entrance of the man who needed no introduction, violinist and YouTuber Jun Curry Ahn. Ahn, who has been a mainstay to the east coast leg of KCON USA since its inauguration back in 2015, delivered a heartrending stringed performance of Crush’s “Beautiful” of Korean tvN drama Goblin fame, before moving onto the equally poignant “Spring Day” by BTS. The balladry did not last for long, however, as Seoul-based dance crew 1Million Dance took to center stage immediately after, popping, locking, and getting intimate to Jay Park, BoA, and many more of Korea’s chart-toppers. The chemistry and coordination between the team members – who were also tastefully dressed in matching reds, whites, and blacks – had already commenced the night on such a high note.
Also on Kultscene: KCON 2017 NY’s ‘M! Countdown’ Day 1 Concert Recap
Ahead of their appearance as CNBLUE, lead vocalist Jung Yonghwa and bassist Lee Jungshin came out to introduce the main event, the first set of which was a sudden special homage from Twice to their company figurehead/producer Park Jinyoung (better known as JYP). Twice is just the latest out of a chain of popular girl groups created by Park, and the lone ladies of the night paid tribute to senior group miss A’s “Bad Girl, Good Girl” and clapped along to the point choreography of the legendary “Nobody” from Wonder Girls to a standing audience. It is inevitable that someday they too will be indicted in JYP’s femme fatale hall of fame. Rounding out the medley, they even threw it all the way back to JY Park’s 1988 funk hit “Honey” for the millennial crowd. I would like to think that somewhere out there Papa Park was breaking out into the signature eye-vanishing grin of his at the sight of his girls doing his song justice.
Up next were the nine boys of UP10TION (member Wooshin is currently on hiatus due to mental health concerns), who seized the moment and delighted the public with the yet-to-be-released trop house “Runner” for the first time. As much as it was an honor to be privy to such an exclusive opportunity, it must have been an even greater one for the group to perform for the first time in America. After the usual rounds of introductions, they defaulted on their debut single “So Dangerous” and took advantage of the extended stage during “Attention” in order to finally meet their American fans. And although it would not be the last that concertgoers would be seeing them, the members seemed disappointed that their selective set list was coming to a close with their most recent single “White Night.” All the while, they were unable to hide their enthusiasm at being able to perform at the A-list event in front of thousands, waving to the audience whenever available.
Turning the typical, seniority-based KCON structure on its head were the guys of NCT 127, who followed UP10TION’s set in spite of the additional year of experience that the latter had on the former. A crazed Taeyong set the stage in a dramatic dance routine to a chant-like soundtrack while the other members filed in from the sides of the stage shortly before joining their leader. Their lofty entrance transitioned smoothly into the sounds of sirens accompanied by the three words that every individual love to hear, a “Get It Lifted” in baritone. “Firetruck” was about as atonal live as it is in its studio version, and the fans absolutely loved it. Amidst all the whoops and distortions, it is the kind of sonorous mishmash that can grow on a listener after much desensitization, which is certainly the case in today’s experimental soundscape.
Members Johnny and Doyoung, who had scurried off backstage at the start of the trap influenced hip-hop number, reunited once more to greet fans for the first time since taking the spotlight and to help out with the rest of the setlist, which included the B-sides “Good Thing” and “0 Mile,” which are typically are rare at KCON. They also managed to work in “Limitless,” a single that is august on its own but is shadowed by their more music-forward tracks, before a love song mission and before Johnny took the mic to initiate a warm call-and-response, “When I say cherry, you say bomb,” as segue into said music-forward track.
Yes, fresh off the press was “Cherry Bomb,” a rather drawn out title that tries to be multiple songs at once in the most harmless way possible. Albeit “Cherry Bomb” has less of an obvious format than its close cousin, “Firetruck,” it edges the latter out by successfully doing the unconventional with its addictive, staccato hook, backed with bold claims (“I’m the biggest hit on this stage”). The leg-splitting choreography would be the highlight, but the members’ smoldering gazes which never once broke character simply cannot be overlooked, either, especially Yuta’s intense glower. Where are the boys next door who were just serenading a fan with B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You” five minutes ago now?
In accords with the musical themed special stages from Day 1, the second day had its share of witty K-pop meets Broadway encounters as well. UP10TION returned to perform their rendition of the Mamma Mia version of ABBA’s “Honey Honey ” which has to be a pun on their fandom name, Honey10. Their routine was something out of a theater show, completed with feet clicking, straw hats, and line dances, while their vocals were pristine as always. Unlike their usual no-nonsense choreographies, this was certainly a more refreshing departure, and the bounce in their step seemed to agree.
But back to the regularly scheduled program. With only the headliners and Twice left, fans already started to abandon their seats for standing in anticipation of the nation’s little daughters. A screen displaying images of star clusters and other heavenly bodies gave way to the nine women adorned in white, and foreshadowed the forthcoming song, their latest single featuring an alien-inspired concept, “Signal.” They then did ”Cheer Up” and “TT” back to back. Twice’s legacy lies in their iconic, simple-to-follow point choreographies, and whether it is their adorable “Sha Sha Sha” of the former song or the pouty “I’m like TT” from the latter, pretty much everyone that evening were following along. The only gripe with their set was that it would have been more memorable had they saved their most lauded songs for the finale. Instead, the girl group opted for “Knock Knock,” a blithe masterpiece that deserves better than falling flat next to the record-breaking “TT” and “Cheer Up.” Overall, the performances from the adored girl group adhered closely to the books, notwithstanding the tremendous outpour of love they were receiving from supporters in the stands and pit.
If I’m honest, when KCON first unveiled CNBLUE as headliner, it felt like they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel. The band is not as popular as they once were, so the worry that they would not have a strong presence was always there. With something to prove, however, these seasoned artists absolutely blew these misconceptions out the window; the guys did not come to play.
Also on Kultscene: Inside KCON 2017 NY [photos]
Usually when groups perform their schtick to the T without sounding breathy, there’s a likely chance that they are not singing live, and admittedly this applies to some of the acts from both KCON nights. Not for CNBLUE, though. Frontman Yonghwa practiced proper vocal techniques as his voice reverberated and resonated throughout the whole of the arena during “Between Us.” Years of experience not only taught him how to have fun with a performance, but also imparted onto him a charismatic, sexy confidence (
and body) that had audiences wrapped around his finger. Most of this could also do with the fact that the band does not observe traditional choreographies, allowing for the main vocalist much freedom to do the most on stage. Indeed, though they were only into their second song – “Cinderella” – on their setlist, Yonghwa decided to ditch the band on the main stage in order to host his solo concert on the extended stage, replete with mic tricks, piping notes in line with their rock band image, and fan service out for blood. Even when introducing subsequent songs, he failed to do it without assuming full playboy mode, for example, pointing out individuals and calling them “fine” as a pivot into “You’re So Fine.”
As the conclusion drew near, the ever multi-talented Yonghwa then retreated to the main stage to boast his sharp piano skills during “Can’t Stop,” where he continued to deliver impressive notes, neck veins and all. I must really commend him for being able to carry most of the vocals for the team, an undertaking customarily divvied up among the members of a K-pop group, and still be able to beam as wide as he did. Before bringing it down some notches with the mellow “Love Light” and signing out, he promised to come back soon. And if the merry atmosphere that still lingered in the air post-CNBLUE or the ovations given to the occasional shots of the drummer-by-day-pretty-boy-by-always Minhyuk were any indications of their high demand, hopefully he is right.
Before convention attendees and concertgoers knew it, it was time to bid farewell to yet another installment of KCON NY. This year’s M!Countdown stages provided numerous underrated acts with a chance to shine, while always exceeding expectations and managing to outdo the ones from previous years. The mothership of all things Hallyu will continue in August when KCON returns to LA on the West Coast for their homecoming, and we already cannot wait.
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.