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KCON NY 2019 ‘M! Countdown’ day 2 recap

Day 2 of any KCON is almost always even more exciting than the first. You’ve just had a full convention and some concerts but the prospect of more makes it even better. The Sunday show took a different approach to its sets than Saturday. Instead of a noticeable flow between the groups, they went for independent greatness. Each group stood on their own and showed in less time than the previous night, who they truly are.

Like the Saturday, day 2 opened with its two smaller boy groups dancing to American pop tracks. AB6IX began by performing to Charlie Puth’s “Attention” and Verivery followed with “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars. It was Verivery who took the win here easily, AB6IX were admittedly slick but uninventive. Verivery brought great gestures to the stage but best of all they made good use of each other as props. At the beginning, the group slowly moves together to form a car right as Bruno sings “magic in the aiiirrrr.” The kicker was that they even had one member wraps his arms around the member who was in the driving seat to mimic a seatbelt. Later on two members then duck down to become a turntable and even stick their fingers up to be used as knobs by the would be DJ.


Also on KultScene: INSIDE KCON NY 2019

It was the turn of the girls this time to take the first set. In what was an interesting but good call, Mnet’s very own Fromis_9 opened with recent disco b-side “Love Rumpumpum.” It’s a great indicator of the kind of the group they are, loads of fun but so technically proficient and precise at the same time. This translated into what was the tightest set of the whole weekend. Latest single “Fun” came next and really got the crowd going. They were step perfect in their routines, popping off the stage with bright colours and beaming faces. Sadly they had to condense “DKDK” in half due to time constraints but the despair lasted about a millisecond as the blistering “Love Bomb” followed directly after. They gave no time to relax, no time to ponder the short set. The speed and accuracy at which they did things meant there were no regrets with potential songs they didn’t perform.

Seventeen’s American duo, Vernon and Josh, popped up next to tell a story about journeys to space. Their song “Rocket” is a cute little track that favours being here, between sets, thanks to its easy rhythms. Vernon in particular, looked like he was having a fun and nicely relaxed time. The performance unit joined them halfway through as backup dancers, before continuing the space theme with “Moonwalk.” Again it’s not their most impressive work but that wasn’t called for yet. It’s still great to see such professionals coast through a difficult if not quite intense choreography.

 

Verivery couldn’t quite match the inventiveness of their opening dance performance but they do have the tunes to at least bring some grooves. Finding an identity in New Jack Swing, Verivery’s songs all have big beats, big chords, and big choruses. “From Now” in particular has a chorus so good and memorable that you’d be singing along by the end of song regardless of having heard it before or not. Sadly it was a case of diminishing returns from then on. “Ring Ring Ring” and “Alright” trot out similar ideas with lesser execution. “Ring Ring Ring,” again has a catchy hook but it pales next to “From Now.” They’re not quite ready for a platform like this but no doubt they’ll get there.

Another group potentially not in a place to be on this stage are AB6IX. They are technically the newest group of the weekend but have plenty of experience with former Wanna One members Daehwi and Woojin. They were, however, without the injured Woojin for all of the dances.. K-pop groups are usually masters at concealing the fact that a member is missing, Seventeen would even do it later in the night. AB6IX however, made the major mistake of having Woojin sit on a chair to do his raps. Having him sit at the edge while the four others danced in the middle of the stage made the stage feel unnecessarily huge. The space between them was always palpable.

This was doubly sad given the choreography of their stunning debut “Breathe” is reliant on member interactions. For that song they still just about made it work but their other two, “Shining Stars” and “Hollywood” proved to be misses. Those tracks are not good enough to stand alone and are made even worse with the lack of a member. There were good points though, Daehwi is a phenomenal performer for the absolute grace in his movements. Many K-pop dances can make their routines look easy, very few can make it look like their swimming through the air like Daehwi does. Lead vocalist, Woong, also had the best belts of the weekend.

Fromis_9 returned with the rather boring “covering the big K-pop songs of the day” section. They ably covered Red Velvet’s “Red Flavour.” It’s a good match given the direction Fromis_9 are going in with “Love Bomb” and “Fun.” These covers are always bland though and they do never do much to change things up. SF9 introduced themselves next before their set with EXO’s “Love Shot.” This was slightly more interesting due to their dayglo suits that seemed to be missing whole pieces of clothing. A sexy sign of things to come from them.


Also on KultScene: KCON NY 2019 ‘M! COUNTDOWN’ DAY 1 RECAP

The final girl group of the weekend were up next and thanks to their star member showed something we hadn’t seen until then. (G)I-DLE’s most recent single “Uh Oh” was first and immediately Jeon Soyeon was standing out. Her voice was heard loud above the music, a rare thing over the weekend. She relished every moment on the mic, not being able to stop her smile every time the crowd roared for her. She played off of them, directing herself around the venue as well as at the camera. Soyeon was not afraid to detach herself from the focused expressions and pure commitment to choreography. They went on to blast through all of their singles, a shortened version of “Hann,” “Latata,” and finishing on “Senorita.” Soyeon would grow further into her role as the rest performed their functions. Soojin’s sleek, sensual dance was the only thing to come close to matching Soyeon.

SF9 proved to be the most sensual group of the weekend with their set. They left behind the primary colour suits and replaced with them clothes not so far from bondage. Right from the distorted guitars in their intro number, everything was geared towards a tough, masculine sexuality. No better is this demonstrated than in the heavy percussion and bass of “RPM.” This brought up the pace and kept it high even for “O Sole Mio.” It’s a song that would actually favour a slightly calmer presence but SF9 wanted it intense and they brought it. This was all set up for the banger of their lives, “Now or Never.” Led in the chorus by the infallibly cool Hwiyoung, SF9 delivered the deep electro with a perfectly effortless intensity. Pulling it off so well also meant they could end the night the decidedly more laid back “Play Hard.”

Before the long anticipated headliners arrived, (G)I-DLE were back on stage for the KCON classic Broadway musical cover. Befitting the girl crush image of them, (G)I-DLE chose “All That Jazz” from Chicago. Obviously “Cell Block Tango” would have been a much better choice but there’s also obvious reasons as to why they didn’t perform that one. As it was “All That Jazz” was a solid, mostly low energy number. It didn’t do much to show off the members, it would have if they were singing live but alas.

It was time for Seventeen. There’s little to add when it comes to these 13 boys. In a debate over the great K-pop live performers they would certainly be near the top. With only five songs, they can transform a night from a collective of K-pop groups to a full blown Seventeen show. The level of fun and individuality they bring to every performance is unprecedented. The effort and energy that goes into more recent songs like set opener “Getting Closer,” is no different from them revisiting their debut, “Adore U.” Seventeen have the same zeal for being on stage now as they did back then, maybe even more so. No one exemplifies this better than Hoshi. No single member of any group is better at leading a performance on stage, balancing his time between the camera, fans, and his fellow members. He takes charge alongside actual leader S.Coups and creates an atmosphere where everyone thrives. It was their closer “Very Nice” that finally brought the house down. They had everyone jumping and even sprinted back on stage after it was over for one more round.

Day 2 seemed to take day 1’s level of balance as a challenge. The groups on this night said we’re going to do the complete opposite. That’s not to say it was uneven or messy, but that each group attempted to stand on their own, not letting a potential flow between them stop them from doing what they want. It was a night of individual brilliance. The unbearable cuteness of Jang Gyuri, the lithe, feline movements of Lee Daehwi, the sharp, truncated rhythms of Jeon Soyeon, and blatant sexual energy of Hwiyoung. These moments and people would all be remembered, shining above those around them. With headliners Seventeen, they are a group so attuned to this style of performance that it’s impossible to separate them. They are all brilliant as individuals but geniuses when brought together.

All photo credits to KCON USA

Were you at KCON NY 2019? What did you think of day 2? 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.

Inside KCON NY 2019


For the first time ever, KCON New York took place in the actual city of New York. The 2019 edition of the biggest South Korean entertainment convention in the United States moved itself from Newark, New Jersey to the iconic locations of Javits Centre and Madison Square Garden on July 6th and 7th. It felt destined to be an equally grand weekend with more acts, more guests, and most importantly, more fans.

The hallowed halls of the Javits Centre, home to most of New York’s largest conventions, quickly filled up the first morning of KCON. They just as quickly felt like home to the many fans checking the best of Korean culture available to them. As always, the major highlights at the convention was the panels, a rare chance to get an in-real-life perspective on the many facets of K-pop and also time to speak to many of the best journalists and Youtubers that K-pop has to offer.

The weekend’s offerings opened with a panel exploring the potentially tricky area of “Stan Culture.” Moderated by PopCrush journalist Lai Frances, the panel of guests steered nicely clear of controversy without ever feeling too soft on stans. Each of them went through some of their own experiences with quality fandoms and toxic fandoms. The most interesting exchange came prompted from an audience member when they asked about how the writers themselves feel they can change the more negative sides of fans. Of course, none of the panelists had an exact answer or even a feeling if they did, but they demonstrated the necessity for cultural critics well.

The other great panel of the day was run by Emma from Reacttothek, and featured producers Andreas Oberg and David Amber and critic Jakob Dorof. Titled “What’s the Difference between American Pop and K-Pop?” the four of them attempted to describe how K-pop came to sound the way it does and how that compares to modern American pop. The panel was full of insights into how production works thanks to the two producers, but Emma as well was just as adept at explaining musical terms and elements. Jakob, who lives in Seoul, provided the Korean context. He talked about how the karaoke market is something important to pop in Korea, as well as the fact that the genre-bending type songs we hear now may have their roots all the way back in the 1940’s. One of the most interesting little tidbits though, was his revelation that SHINee’s “Everybody” had ninety different versions before being completed. Apparently they would have a finished song, go to choreograph it, and find that it needed a little something extra here and there before finally thinking it was good enough.

 


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At the expo itself, there was a never ending stream of potential things to do. Many corporate brands had stalls doing games and giveaways, and there was lots of merch and K-beauty products to purchase, and even a glass box in the middle of the room where idols came out to play. Coco was there on this to host for Ateez. They played some Jenga and whoever made the blocks fall would have to dance to a random song. It’s a fun game to watch idols play, but being in the box meant it felt a little less intimate. At the Prudential Centre in previous years, the groups would come out to stalls but still be quite close by. It’s this kind of intimacy that an event like KCON should strive for.

There was also a noticeable lack of fan stalls in the expo. There had always been only a small amount, but given the extra space, there could have been more of an effort to bring in fan artists. Fans could get together in rooms near the panels as fan clubs, but again, that felt too distant from the expo as well as being too specifically catered to one group’s fans at a time.

Day two rolled around swiftly and the panel area began with a packed schedule. There were three separate events going all around at the same time. Two meet and greets, one with now KCON legend, and former U-KISS member, Kevin, the other with four of the team from Reacttothek, and one returning panel “Women in Hallyu Media.” Our very own Tamar Herman was moderating and led the esteemed panelists through a frank and vital discussion. The reality of the pressures even the most successful journalists and media women was totally laid bare. They touched on the issue of women in K-pop and the lack of tours and coverage they get in the west. It’s a never ending cycle of not getting enough news space because the groups aren’t big enough, but never being given that space to get the fame in the first place. Jenny Zha made a remark in relation to this that would feel relevant for the rest of the day: she basically said where the money goes determines all of this, touring and coverage.

Later on, there was another chance to get up close and personal with some idols in the M2 glass box. There was more Jenga playing, this time from (G)I-dle. This included a happily embarrassed Miyeon dancing to “Baby Shark.” Verivery and SF9 took the to the KCON stage, where they partook in showcasing their rookie talent and sitting down for an interview, respectively.


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Again the panels were the easy highlight of the day with more exciting work like the “K-pop and Mental Health,” “Breaking News in K-pop,” and “2019: Year of Girl Groups.” The latter took on a very comfortable sort of half fan club, half panel vibe that played into the positivity of the topic itself. The expo lost even more of its charm by the second day though, as there’s only so many free slices of pizza and ice pops that can keep you distracted long enough to stick around when there are few offerings and interactive events.

As KCON takes a big step in the right direction in New York City, it frustratingly takes some more smaller steps in the opposite way. Zha’s comment from the “Women in Hallyu Media” panel sticks in the mind. Growing in size requires extra money, and extra money requires more sponsorships, which ultimately leads to less creative control over how the convention is run. The panels and concerts are slowly becoming the only reason to go to these events, and who knows how long they’ll last as well, though, as this year is more heavily focused on rookie and Mnet-oriented groups, the TV channel under KCON organizer CJ ENM than ever before. The true danger of this progression is if fans follow this corporatization. Of course, KCON isn’t the leader in how fans consume K-pop, but it can be a litmus test for a general look at what the Stateside portion of the fandom might be feeling at one point. Events like this need fans’ money, but long term, they need their support way more.

All photos credit to Jean Libert. 

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