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KCON NY 2019 ‘M! Countdown’ day 1 recap

Tackling the great expectations of moving to maybe the most famous concert venue in the world, Madison Square Garden, was a big ask ahead of the five groups preparing for day 1 of KCON NY 2019. Each of them were more than qualified to perform there on their own merits but the beauty of a concert like KCON is how they play off of each other. Either by the order of their sets or through collaborations, these pairings can offer up interesting new perspectives on their work. On this day, they strived for a delicate sense of balance.

Opening this night was down to the now veteran of KCON, Kevin Woo, was on hand to introduce the night of concerts at Madison Square Garden. The former U-Kiss member was his usual bubbly and soft self; he tends to be a perfect MC thanks to this quality. He feels more like a friend than some random professional, so it was a true pleasure to be able to see him make the move back to performing after MCing for so long. He performed his two solo tracks, “Over You” and “Ride Along.” They are fittingly bright and breezy for his voice and look, but he’s straying into lyrical territory that doesn’t fit. The player image of “Ride Along” didn’t feel genuine, and that’s something that can come across strongly on such a big platform.

One thing Kevin has that definitely does come across, whether he likes it or not, is that he is a potent reminder of how far K-pop has come. Around since 2009, Kevin has seen almost all of K-pop’s major flirtations with breaking into the west. This gave the night interesting bookends, with Kevin himself, a member of a group all but forgotten to the world, and headliners Nu’est, a group who through an unprecedented resurgence live on amidst K-pop’s most world renowned time. They feel like they’re from the same era and yet remain very much in the zeitgeist.


Also on KultScene: INSIDE KCON NY 2019

The starkness of what comes in between those two was immediately apparent when Ateez took to the stage. They along with other fresh faced boy group The Boyz opened the night with dance performances to contemporary American pop tracks. True to form, Ateez went hard on Skrillex’s remix of Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” As would be seen later on in the night, Ateez have a very particular style of controlled chaos while on stage. They use typically strong boy group moves in very angular and aggressive ways. It’s a style of dance that goes so well with the surprising ways in which they are growing so rapidly. It is in the very literal sense, breathtaking but also almost obstructive of the group at the heart of these dances.

In a smart move to counter this, The Boyz took a much more unusual approach by performing to teen phenom Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.” Watching the 13 members walk like runway models to the cartoony synth run or move possessed along with Eilish’s distant vocals were moments totally singular over the whole weekend. Choosing to dance to these two melodies rather than the beat gives the performers themselves great personality. It’s an effective and simple way of making a dance feel like a story. Something they clearly learned from fellow large-membered group Seventeen.

 

As new as these two groups are they can’t compare to the absolute babies of the weekend, TXT. They were not to be held back, however, as coming along with a five track mini-album filled with gems meant they were more than qualified to be here. No one over the whole weekend would bring as exuberant a charm as they did. Decked in schoolboy uniforms, they jumped right into debut single “Crown.” The unabashed giant synths of it are probably the most infectious sounds of the year so far. It’s the kind of sound many might use to describe K-pop as a whole, so as an opener it was perfect. They took some time from there to talk and perform a short version of ballad “Your Summer.” It was energy well saved as they took a breathless last 10 minutes to blast through “Blue Orangeade” and “Cat and Dog.”

It’s hard to choose one thing that makes TXT so good but it’s just as hard to not say their choreography. It may be early days but it’s difficult to think of a group who handles such a small amount of members so well on stage since SHINee. The way they feed off each other is so important to the way they move, as if they need each other’s permission to go to the next part. They displayed a level of choreographic ingenuity that would not be topped until the weekend’s closers.

“Cat and Dog” will also go down as a great track of KCON 2019. As a song itself it expertly combines the cuter aspects of TXT with the more popular hip-hop sounds of most boy groups these days. It’s silly, brash, and best of all, earnest. This in turn makes it also an excellent bridging point from them into the next group Ateez.

As a further balancing act before that though, IZ*ONE came out with “Highlight.” “Highlight” is their most mature sounding song yet. Its stripped back R&B is helped by a pair of running synths and a trap beat, on top of which the girls eke out an elegant vocal. This gracefulness carries on in the dance as they hold up their hands and barely sway their hips, calling “look at me” in the chorus.

 

Not wanting to disrupt this flow too much, Ateez opened with the melancholic electro of “Aurora” and the decidedly dated tropical house of “Wave.” Ateez are burdened by the fact that every concept they’ve tackled so far has been a clear derivation of other groups. Particularly with these openers —you can’t give yourself a name when people are thinking of the groups who have done this before and better. Of course, even their next and final two tracks suffer from similar problems. This suffering only happens on track though, taken to the stage is a different story.

Closing with the heart-stopping duo of “Say My Name” and “Halla Halla,” Ateez made sure they wouldn’t be forgotten. The group left absolutely nothing on that stage; their sweat is now a permanent fixture of Madison Square Garden. It felt like they never had to stop, and could keep destroying the stage for the rest of the night. The chaos was still controlled but they were almost ready to let it go. It was a stunning display of control when they seemed to not want it at all. There’s aggression in K-pop dances, but nothing ever came close to feeling violent until rapper Mingi jumped over someone and seemed to headbutt the air. A funny but in some ways alarming moment.

The Boyz kept a serious air to the night but still calmed things down, as they began their set with “No Air.” Although a fitting follow up to what Ateez had brought, it felt lacklustre and even anonymous alongside them. This was put to bed immediately though, as the boyish charm and confidence of “Right Here” filled the place with glee. “Right Here” is one of those rare songs that starts off as if it’s already at top gear and yet at every turn still manages to find something small to lift it further. Making it not only a great song but an exceptional live experience. Also it was a smart move to put in the middle of their set, as closer “Bloom Bloom” is a lesser but still fun track that carried on the great energy of “Right Here.”

Needing to slow things a bit after that explosive one-two punch, Baekho and Minhyun of Nu’est came on for a cover of Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars.” Slowing things down was all this performance could really off as it’s not a good enough or well known enough song to otherwise justify inclusion. Certainly not with the potential vocal abilities of the two men singing it.

 


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: THE DANCE EPISODE

Nothing can really inject life into night quite like a Twice knock off, though. IZ*ONE were next up with just that on recent b-side “Airplane.” The cute vitality of the track and the girls more than made up for “Lost Stars,” as well as giving the night its tempo back. Unfortunately, they undid all of this right after as they played two games that took up at least 10 minutes. It would be ok if the games were fun but, it was clear that most of the audience were not paying attention after the first two or three minutes.

In fairness to IZ*ONE, they have the songs to once again reignite things. They ended with a brisk quartet of singles “Violeta,” “La Vie en Rose,” and Produce 48 tracks “Rumour” and “Pick Me.” Despite the cute image many might of them have, all of IZ*ONE’s tracks have major punch to them. This is emphasised really well live, as the bass in the choruses of “Violeta” and “La Vie en Rose” hit hard, but the melodies are never lost. No one carries this idea as well as Lee Chaeyeon. Their main dancer was one of the true highlights to watch over the whole weekend, earning her the nickname, the goddess of wind, with power and grace always together and never at odds.

 

There is no better group to headline this night and to unite all the ideas that have come up than Nu’est. Newly back to full strength as former Wanna One member Minhyun returned earlier in the year. Nu’est have been hard to pin down as a group thanks to changes like this, but they have consistently shown an unquestionable level of stability in sound and performance. They brilliantly mix the harder aspects of the dubstep and hip-hop that pervades their work with a slower sensuality in how they actually navigate these influences. Even up to their latest single “Bet Bet,” which they opened with, this continues. The battle between the ruthlessness of JR and Baekho, and the softer falsettos of Minhyun and Ren are on full show here. Aron sits in the middle somewhere, filling in gaps so as the others don’t quite lose themselves.

From there it was pure joy. “Love Paint” was the best song of the weekend, “Segno” so sweet and uplifting, and closing duo “Look” and “R.L.T.L (One Morning),” an exemplary rendition of the dubstep, dance music work they do. The only problem was that they were one song short. “R.L.T.L” was a good song to end on but only if we had known beforehand. As it was it felt like the perfect setup for “Overcome” to drive us home. But as soon as they finished, the lights went up and the other groups started to come out to say goodbye. There was definitely a slight feeling of being cheated. This was something their labelmates Seventeen would learn from though.

From Kevin Woo through Nu’est all the way to TXT, K-pop has been through too much to recount. KCON is always good at trying to tell this story of K-pop in a few hours and this night was no exception. The flow of every group’s set and the transitions between them felt natural and propulsive. Everyone had their place and performed it to the best of their abilities.

All photo credits to KCON USA

Were you at KCON NY 2019? What did you make of the performances? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Post ‘Produce 101’: making waves in K-pop

Slightly over a year since the airing of the first episode of the boy group survival show Produce 101 Season 2, the next installment of the show, Produce 48 has been attracting buzz with the revelation of the A-list trainers involved, such as FT. Island’s Lee Hongki and former Sistar member Soyou. The continuity of this Produce series can be attributed to the roaring successes of its first two seasons, and of the groups formed following the show (I.O.I and Wanna One). In fact, one year after the program, the K-pop industry is currently dominated by several idols who participated in it. Temporary and project groups have been formed, soloists have debuted, and existing groups were revived due to the popularity of the program, proving the great impact the show has had on the industry.

Wanna One

As the victors of the program, this group naturally had a lot of popularity right off the bat. With their debut song “Energetic” winning 15 music shows and topping both local and international charts, the members gained even more fans through their appearances on several variety shows such as Weekly Idol and Knowing Brothers. Their consistent album releases and music promotions helped sustain this popularity, and their most recent title track “Boomerang,” from the album 0+1=1 (I Promise You) also did wonderfully, netting 10 wins. Since their debut, the members have ranked highly on brand value rankings among idols, with center Kang Daniel consistently in the top ranks due to his numerous appearances in shows like It’s Dangerous Beyond The Blanket and Master Key. Even though the group is due to disband in December 2018, there will be more great music releases from them to come, both as a group and as individual members, and they definitely have bright futures ahead of them.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmMjkMtpnTc&w=500&h=281]

Nu’est W

Quite possibly the most touching success story from this second season of Produce 101, the five-membered group Nu’est experienced a surge of popularity following the appearance of JR, Ren, Baekho, and Minhyun on the program. With Minhyun in Wanna One, the remaining four members (together with Aron, who wasn’t on the show) formed a subunit called Nu’est W, and attained commercial success with their title track “Where You At” off the album W, Here, which earned them their first music show win since their debut. The experienced members shined throughout the program, with all four members making it to the top 20, and their eventual success proves that effort, coupled with talent, always pays off in the end.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e8-4mBiCSI&w=500&h=281]

JBJ

As their name “Just Be Joyful” suggests, the members of this group had every reason to be joyful because they were formed wholly out of fan demand. Consisting of members Noh Taehyun, Takada Kenta, Kim Yongguk, Kwon Hyunbin, Kim Donghan, and Kim Sanggyun, the group melded together well, releasing a string of consistently good music with their three mini albums. Another group with a timeline, JBJ recently released their final album New Moon, with the title track “Call Your Name” as a sweet farewell to their fans, full of promises to meet again in the future. With member Noh Taehyun returning to his group Hotshot after the disbandment of JBJ, I hope that the members, who all have so much potential as musicians, will be active in the music industry again soon.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks6I2rtI4ms&w=500&h=281]

MXM

A project unit formed with the two high-ranking trainees of Brand New Music, MXM consists of Lim Young-min and Kim Donghyun. The duo has released two EPs and one single album thus far, with their most recent title track being “Gone Cold,” which was released in early March. While both members have their own strengths, with Young-min focusing on rapping while Donghyun has a sweet singing voice, they work together very well to create music which reflect their distinct musical identity as a duo. While still a rookie group, they are already gaining a lot of performance experience through the Asia promotional tour they are embarking on, as well as through their participation in huge events such as Korea’s annual dream concert. There is also a high possibility that they will form a new group in the future, once Lee Daehwi and Park Woojin (their labelmates) are done with their Wanna One activities, which will be a group to look forward to given the amazing teamwork they displayed back in their Produce 101 audition.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwCGWTZrfYY&w=500&h=281]

YDPP

Another project group, YDPP is a four-membered group consisting of MXM, Jung Sewoon, and Lee Gwanghyun. As fellow members of Produce 101 Season 2, their comfortable chemistry showed through the fun “Love It Live It” release, which captured the musical colours of youth, dreams, passion, and purity that inspired the formation of the group. Lee Gwanghyun also made his debut through this project, and successfully showed his adorable charms along his members. Im Youngmin also showed a more all-rounded side of himself here because he got to sing and rap. The members complemented each other very well, and while this group is only temporary (like so many others on this list), the magic of this collaboration will last forever.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtigS5IuIks&w=500&h=281]


Also on Kultscene: K-Rapper Artlover talks blending music & fashion, British & Korean Influences [Interview]

Hyungseop X Euiwoong

An adorable duo formed by the Korean trainees from Yuehua Entertainment, Hyungseop and Euiwoong have released two single albums so far, their most recent title track being “Love Tint,” which was released in April. While their debut track “It Will Be Good” was sweet and highlighted their youthfulness, “Love Tint” has a more melancholic and mature sound which allowed them to better showcase their rap and vocal skills, proving how much they have developed as musicians in the short few months between the releases. The rest of their second album Colour of Dream is also a treat to listen to, as they show several sides of themselves through the five tracks on it. If they continue releasing songs this well-performed and produced, the future for this duo is limitless.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laL6PrUBTn8&w=500&h=281]

Rainz

The second fan-created group following JBJ, Rainz is a project group consisting of Kim Seongri, Ju Wontak, Lee Kiwon, Jang Daehyeon, Hong Eunki, Byun Hyunmin, and Seo Sunghyuk. While none of the members made it very far in the reality show (the highest ranked member was Sunghyuk at 31), they gained a lot of fans due to their individual skills, be it in gymnastics, taekwondo, dancing or vocals, which they managed to display on Produce 101 despite their lack of screen time. Since their debut in October, they have released two mini-albums, their latest being Shake You Up with title track “Turn It Up.” The electronic track highlights their impressive synchronised dance and fully shows their charisma, made even stronger when the boys are together in a group. While the future of the group is uncertain, they have been busy leaving their mark on the industry thus far and will hopefully do more soon.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECkZ2eKGyck&w=500&h=281]

HNB

HNB is a boy group comprising of trainees from HF Entertainment, some of whom participated in Produce 101. As the group is undergoing an internal evaluation now, the exact number of members in the group is still indefinite. As a pre-debut release however, four members (three current, one past) of the group who were in Produce 101, namely Park Woodam, Jo Yonggeun, Jung Woncheol, and Woo Jinyoung released “I’m Your Light” to thank fans for voting for them. While the group is being finalized, Woo Jinyoung, Jo Yonggeun, Kim Hyunsoo, and Yoon Jaehee participated in another survival show, YG Entertainment’s Mixnine, in which Woo Jinyoung won first place in, hence making it into the final debut group for the show. The members have also been using V Live regularly to interact with their growing fanbase before their official debut.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT41MgzXYzI&w=500&h=281]

Jeong Sewoon

Although he missed the debut lineup by just one spot (he came in 12th place), Jeong Sewoon has made it as a successful soloist thus far, with the release of his first mini album which came in two parts, Ever followed by After. He also completed a milestone first solo concert, and has been performing on prestigious stages such as Mnet Asia Music Awards 2017 and the upcoming Seoul Jazz Festival. His latest title song “Baby It’s You,” released in January of 2018, is a catchy and upbeat track which shows his wide vocal range and versatility as a singer. Beyond developing as a musician, he has also been active on the variety scene, with his appearances on programs like Sugarman Season 2 and Dangerous Beyond The Blankets, which he recently became a permanent cast member for.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VED_cqxthf4&w=500&h=281]


Also on Kultscene: Primary & Anda’s “Do Worry Be Happy” Album Review 

Samuel Kim

One of the most prominent participants on Produce 101 from the start, his absence from the final debut lineup was shocking to many, but it also sparked a new beginning for Samuel, who debuted as a soloist one month after the conclusion of the program. While he is only 16, he has proven himself very capable of showing diverse charms, from the energetic “Sixteen” to the fiercer “One,” which he released in March. Beyond his charming outward appearance, he has an outstanding sense of rhythm which shows in his dancing, making him a wonderful performer. The best part —he’ll only get better as he continues growing.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvAk65H4JCI&w=500&h=281]

Jang Moonbok

He first caught public attention back in 2010, when he went on Superstar K2. While he initially received a lot of hate and malicious comments, he triumphed through them and emerged stronger than before, earning him the respect of netizens as well as many of the other participants on Produce 101. With his enviable long locks, he became a very distinct personality and continued standing out throughout the show. After finishing in 27th place, he recently made his solo debut through mini album Peeps, with “Red” as his title song. Far from the Superstar K2 performance which he was criticised a lot for, Jang Moonbok has been improving his singing and rapping skills and remains an icon of persistence and growth.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnGruiSPTxY&w=500&h=281]

Yoo Seonho

The chick trainee who captured many hearts during his run at Produce 101, especially with his many bromances and the continual growth he showed, finally made his solo debut with Spring, SEONHO in April. In line with his flower-boy and cute image, his title track “Maybe Spring” is a light-hearted ballad with a sweet melody. Just like a flower that is on the brink of blooming, Yoo Seonho has room for development, but his potential is already shining through from his mini-album, with tracks that diversify his music style by incorporating jazzy elements. He has also been busy with other activities such as CF filmings, music video appearances and a web-drama that he did with his fellow Produce 101 mate, Ahn Hyungseop.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrkC61bRgLc&w=500&h=281]

Joo Haknyeon (The BOYZ)

After ending in 19th place on Produce 101, Joo Haknyeon was added to a new boy group under his entertainment company, The BOYZ. The 12-membered boy group has released two EPs so far, and made a comeback recently with “Giddy Up” from their second EP The Start. “Giddy Up” is a playful song with a nostalgic music video concept that would appeal to viewers of all ages. As the lead dancer, vocalist, and rapper of the group, Joo Haknyeon stands out due to his extensive stage experience but also blends well with the team to create a cohesive performance.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNH7X46gMjQ&w=500&h=281]

Lee Woojin (The East Light)

Soon after finishing the show, the beloved maknae of Produce 101 joined the talented band The East Light, which has an average age of 16.6 years, but whose members mostly have predebut experience and are skilled in various instruments. Despite the members being so young, the band has a very developed musicality. This contrast is emphasized to a somewhat humorous extent in their most recent comeback with “Real Man,” their third digital single, in which they dress in cool-looking suits, until their high-pitched and unbroken voices emerge. They have a charm that is definitely unique in the K-pop industry, and is a band worth looking out for, especially since Lee Woojin, who has shown his vocal prowess among his hyungs on Produce 101, has now joined the band as a keyboardist and vocalist.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiQeBQLBu3U&w=500&h=281]

Yoo Hwe Seung (N.Flying)

Rounding out the list is Yoo Hwe Seung. He gained much attention on the show for his vocal ability, and though he finished in 39th place, he was quickly added to FNC band N.Flying, who had made their debut in 2013. Despite being the maknae of the group, both in terms of age and experience, he quickly took center stage with his vocals and has definitely added a lot of colour to the group. Their most recent comeback, “Hot Potato,” is an addictive track reminiscent of the music of their sunbaes, FT.Island and CNBLUE, but filled with the group’s own playful flavour. Hwe Seung also created a stir with his ‘five high notes’ (rivalling those of IU’s famous three notes in “Good Day”) which he displayed through his recent collaboration with FT Island vocalist Lee Hongki, “Still Love You.” While the song is a typical ballad, and both singers gave amazing performances, Hwe Seung’s moment was the true climax and left goosebumps all over.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXCXlPJ57rE&w=500&h=281]

While the contestants have mostly went their separate ways, they are all making waves in the industry and will continue to do so for a long while.

Have you been keeping up with the Produce 101 boys? What do you think of the impact they have made on the K-pop scene? Share your thoughts 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.