The annual flagship event for Hallyu fans and industry professionals alike, KCON 2018 NY presented by Toyota once again returned to the Prudential Center in New York’s metropolitan area this past weekend (June 23rd and 24th) to host another two days of M! Countdown performances. This year, the first night’s lineup featured entirely new faces, keeping it fresh with leading and promising acts such as Heize, Pentagon, Red Velvet, Stray Kids, and Super Junior. With a roster this high in brand value, this was a show that absolutely could not be missed.
It seems the same could also be said about the pre-show, which kicked off with a double-threat opening set from YouTuber and KCON mainstay, Jun Curry Ahn. Bow in tow, the classically-trained musician took to the stage with a shrill homage to Red Velvet’s “Bad Boy” on his violin only minutes before breaking into an original dance and song, “When I Call.” Singer-songwriter eSNa, who had her career breakthrough with Soyou and Junggigo’s “Some,” followed up strong as well with her powerhouse vocals on “Ahh Shit!,” a response song to her haters and a remake of her Mamamoo collaboration single, “Ahh Oop!” Audiences who were once unfamiliar with eSNa were soon acclimated with her gritty personality through her forward lyrics and jazzy spoken dialogues (“All my ladies out there, you’re beautiful just the way you are”). If Jun had his strings, then eSNa had her pipes. By the time the pre-show’s allotted half hour was up, the arena radiated a nervous energy that only a main event could diffuse.
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Up first was Super Junior, who challenged traditional conventions surrounding concert programming by making a premature appearance ahead of their closing performance. The group, sans member Choi Siwon who was hosting the event, teased concertgoers with an abbreviated version of their 2009 brainchild, “Sorry Sorry.” During the interim, awash of sapphire blue lights – the group’s official color – swept across the venue to simultaneously welcome and venerate the K-pop giants.
After Super Junior cleared the stage and the hoopla from their unexpected entrance had died down, rookie group Stray Kids, or rather their unofficial hip-hop rap subunit 3RACHA, emerged from among the audience to deliver their own introductions. As members Changbin and Han determinedly exchanged back and forth bars on “Matryoshka,” it was clear that the boys did not let performing after seniors intimidate them. Once the two regrouped with band leader Bang Chan and the six other members of Stray Kids, they hit the ground running with their debut single “District 9,” which turned 90 days old as the group later pointed out.
Despite still being the new kids on the block, Stray Kids fortunately had no problem filling out their set with the B-side “Mirror,” which they already had promoted on music shows, and tracks from their pre-debut survival show of the same name, including “Hellevator” and the classic rock number “YaYaYa.” If anything, the random play dance segment midway through felt like it was out of obligation to KCON more than it was fun fluff. Not complaining, though. Where else would we be able to see their cover of EXO’s “Monster,” BTS’s “Fire,” Twice’s “What is Love,” and Got7’s “Hard Carry” all in one sitting, live??
Up next was everybody’s girl crush, Heize. Adorned in a silver sequined dress and matching tinsels that peeked through her hair and caught the spotlights, she shone brighter than anyone else that evening. Fans waved their light sticks and flashlight-enabled phones to and fro to the beat of her slow-tempo starters, “Didn’t Know Me” and “Star.” But after a live performance of her recent hit “Jenga” was traded with a VCR recording of one on the Brooklyn Bridge, her moment on stage was sadly also short-lived. Already time to part ways, the self-made singer-songwriter was at least able to flaunt some of her rapping chops on “Don’t Know You,” which received a positive response from the crowd.
KCON always takes advantage of the many groups and artists in attendance for collaborative stages, and this year was no exception. With Super Junior and Red Velvet present, it made total sense that Yesung and Seulgi would perform their SM Station song “Darling U.” Dressed to the nines in suit and dress, the pair showed up looking as if they were going on their first date for the romantic single. They sounded equally as pleasant too; the sweet marriage of Yesung’s low-key, husky vocals with Seulgi’s sharp, pristine ones set the standard for male-female duets everywhere. The routine concluded when Yesung bashfully handed Seulgi the single rose he had been holding.
Thanks to the viral success of their latest song “Shine,” one of the most-anticipated highlights of the night had to be Pentagon. They must have known this,as they commanded an entire legion of spectators to the hit’s trendy “shoot” dance and easy-to-follow choreography. Since members E’Dawn and Hui were known to be quite active in composing their own music – along with Yuto and Wooseok on raps – KCON then had the group defend their “next singer-songwriter” title by putting Wooseok on the spot for a freestyle rap. The theme, chosen by a random generator, was “lucky,” which exactly describes what fans were witnessing while he delivered his “We are, we are lucky” improv set to the beat of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Aside of their representative track, the boys rounded off their set with their debut song, “Gorilla,” along with the older picks from their discography, such as “Can You Feel It” and “Pretty Pretty.”
Every year the paucity of girl groups at KCON becomes quite the issue among fans. They appear to be working on it, though, and this time around we had not only the usual one, but TWO female acts at the east coast event. Which meant that Red Velvet treated the American audience to a partially English version of “Bad Boy,” a rousing rendition of the summery “Red Flavor.” As for fanservice, KCON got that taken care of with a fitting “Russian Roulette”-inspired bit where each member fulfilled a special request: from Wendy’s rendition of Jay Z’s and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind” (it is state mandated that every K-pop idol who visits the NY metro area be required to cover the city’s unofficial anthem) to Joy and Yeri’s photo op with selected individuals, it was a fantastic opportunity for the girls to connect with their fans. And on Yeri’s cue and then at the audience’s suggestion, the group finally entered their penultimate “red” and ultimate “velvet” stages with “Rookie” and “Peekaboo” respectively. This is, how you say, the duality of woman?
Just minutes away from Super Junior now, the excitement in the air had reached palpable heights. But first one last “Passion”-ate joint collaboration between Pentagon and Stray Kids separated the events that had transpired that evening from its impending climax.
Then, It happened. Decked out in getups to correspond with the single’s namesake, the legacy boy group materialized and eased into the swing-oriented “Black Suit” after a ballad intro. Even better than “Black Suit” live, however, is experiencing firsthand the band’s distinguished “uri-neun super juni-oyeo” (“we are Super Junior”) trademark greeting. Hearing those words uttered, everything felt all the more real. They felt all the more real.
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Just like SuJu’s dynamic stage presence, not much has changed even after all these years. Their humor especially remains intact, as could be seen when Yesung continued to mock his members and as Eunhyuk facetiously taught fans the point dances to some of their most popular singles with increasing complexity (“Bonamana” and “Rokkugo” though, oi). The latter all came together after a pelvic-gyrating performance of “Lo Siento” (with the lovely Miss Leslie Grace in the house!) when the group kicked it into overdrive with a whole SJ Funky medley. Consisting of ten straight minutes of their defining smash hits, including “Sorry Sorry,” “Mr. Simple,” and “Bonamana,” no one could have ever guessed that the foine men hyping up the audience had an average age of 32. Only true talent can make obnoxious autotune, redundant melodies, and looping synths sound this orgasmic. They let us go on a final teary note with their 2005 bubblegum track, “Miracle,” and you know what? They were right – life couldn’t get better.
Whether you came out of the second generation era of K-pop or discovered the genre just the day prior, KCON 2018 NY’s Day 1 well-balanced lineup had something to offer for everyone. The first night was definitely one for the books, and with still a second one to go, it looked like competition was going to be stiff. But that’s another recap for a later time.
Did you attend KCON 18 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.