A First-Timer at KCON New York (Part Two): Saturday’s Concert

In the years since I’ve discovered K-pop, I’ve been lucky to attend a fair amount of concerts.  They’re usually on the smaller side in terms of venues (the downside of being a Western fan), and I’ve always been impressed by how the fans’ excitement makes everything seem so much bigger. But there’s nothing quite like sitting in a giant stadium surrounded by thousands of screaming fans, is there?  I thoroughly enjoy going to see any K-pop concert, but KCON New York was an especially magical time. There’s just something about seeing so many great acts in one place – especially if some of them are your faves!

Stray Kids
Heize
Pentagon
Special Stage 1: Yesung and Seulgi
Red Velvet
Special Stage 2: Pentagon and Stray Kids
Super Junior

NOTE: I know there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding some of these artists recently – Stray Kids and Red Velvet have new music out (as do Super Junior D&E), and we all know what’s going on with Pentagon. But since I was supposed to write this ages ago – like before I went to KCON LA, oops! – I’ve decided not to mention any of that in the rest of the post. I’ll just talk about the impressions I had of each artist and their music at that time.

ABOUT MY SEAT: Though I was fairly high up (Row 20), I actually had a pretty good view of the whole stage and the monitors. However, WordPress doesn’t let me upload my phone videos, and my pictures are not that great quality with all the flashing lights. So, I’m going to use MNET’s official videos instead!

Seating Chart

I was in Section 7!

Intro

As it turns out, the intro is a bit of a funny story. No one in the rows around me, including myself, was expecting Super Junior to come out so early.  When there are multiple groups at a K-pop concert, tradition usually dictates that the most senior group goes last.  (For example, SHINee closed out KCON France) Western concerts don’t always adhere to that, but Super Junior was anticipated as the headliner because they had about ten years of seniority or more on everyone else.

So given that, imagine our surprise when they appeared not even five minutes into the concert. Everyone near me was completely bewildered… but simultaneously rushing to their feet and cheering.  The confusion only grew when they launched right into “Sorry Sorry,” but basically vanished after one minute.  I had my light stick and LED flower crown up and running for maybe ten seconds before the lights dropped and they disappeared. It was just a whole lot of emotions in a very short span of time.

In retrospect, we probably should have been able to guess they were coming out.  Ginjo from TraxX was DJing at least two of their songs for the intro, but I just thought it was a remix of all of the artists we would see throughout the night. In any case, they definitely accomplished their goal of getting everyone hyped up.

***

Stray Kids

Brand new groups like Stray Kids don’t have many songs for KCON staff to promote. As a result, I heard “District Nine” – a song I already felt ambivalent about at best – approximately 50 times at the convention. After seeing the music video at least ten more times during the pre-concert montage, I was about 95% over it. So through no fault of their own, Stray Kids was at a distinct disadvantage for me when they took the stage. Luckily, I was harboring just enough good will towards “District Nine” to enjoy it one final time (and yes, seeing it live does change things).  Even though I truly never want to hear that song again, I think it’s a great showcase of their abilities.

KCON named Stray Kids “Next Performer,” and they honored that title by doing some random cover dances.  Seungmin jumped out for EXO’s “Monster,” Lee Know did BTS’s “Fire,” and Felix stole the spotlight with his rendition of TWICE’s “What is Love.” Predictably, they all started dancing when GOT7’s “Hard Carry” came on – JYP represent – but known Jinyoung fanboy Hyunjin led the group.

They also performed their pre-debut song “Hellevator,” which I personally prefer to “District Nine.” It reminds me of their survival show, and the passion and energy they poured into that song when they were pushing to debut. They did one more performance, but I forget what it was – I’m guessing that it was another song they did during their TV show.  In any case, Stray Kids proved themselves to be wildly popular with the international crowd.  Their edgy music, charismatic energy, and good sense of humor is a good combination for success. They’re not exactly my style, but I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.

***

Heize

***

No offense to Heize or her fans, but this section is going to be much shorter than all of the others.  It’s nothing personal; it’s just that I’m woefully ignorant of most solo artists in the Korean music scene!  I can recognize lots of names, but I just don’t get into their music as much as I do with groups. I’m a straight up dance beats kind of girl, and soloist stuff is usually much more diverse and nuanced.

Anyway, I was really impressed by Heize’s ability to captivate the whole stadium by just standing at her microphone and singing.  All of her songs were slow paced and mellow, but she had our attention the whole time. (This is very important to me, because my attention tends to wander during non-dance songs) She looked so beautiful in her sparkling silver dress… but more importantly, she sounded beautiful. I must admit I don’t really remember the other songs she sang at this point , but I’ll have to look them up when I have some more free time.

***

Special Stage: Yesung and Seulgi

I knew KCON usually has a couple of collaborations, so I was expecting something with Super Junior and Red Velvet. I am one of the biggest SM fans around, so I just love interactions between the artists. Originally, I was hoping that Irene and Seulgi would take the KARD girls’ spots in “Lo Siento” – but that was before Leslie Grace confirmed she would be there. (Fun fact: Irene actually did perform “Lo Siento” with Super Junior in SM Town Osaka) However, this wonderful duet by Seulgi and Yesung was a great choice.  It’s the definition of “easy listening.” Their voices blended together really well, and they had a cute onstage chemistry.  And how sweet was Yesung carrying that rose around?

***

Pentagon

If I was 95% done with Stray Kids’ “District Nine,” I was about 80% done with Pentagon’s “Shine” – which is funny because I actually really love that song. (I guess that shows you how many times KCON played it in one day) However, the natural bubbly energy that “Shine” has is infectious, and Pentagon is the kind of group whose antics will always make you laugh. They were clearly having fun onstage and were really excited to be there. K-pop can sometimes be a machine focused on churning out results, so it’s always nice to see clear evidence that a group is loving what they do.

Pentagon were named “Next Singer Songwriter” by KCON, and they proved that by making up songs on the spot.  Wooseok did the honors for rapping, and Jinho took over for the singing – both did a really good job for being handed random key words like “lucky” and “romantic.”  Then, they took us on a trip down memory lane by performing their debut song “Gorilla” and “Can You Feel It?” I was sad that they didn’t do “Critical Beauty” (my favorite), but they still ended on a high note with “Pretty Pretty” – another jam you can’t help but dance along to.

I must admit, Pentagon has been growing on me this past year.  Most of this has been because of my friend Jess, who is a huge fan and is constantly hyping them up to me. But after seeing them live, I do think they’re a group that’s on the rise.  They make fantastic music, and they’re just so joyful and pleasant.  Kino said on a variety show (I think it was Idol Room) that he got a lot of attention during a performance for smiling and being engaging.  After KCON, I can totally see why – you can’t help but be drawn in by him and the other members.

***

Red Velvet

The girls started off strong with “Bad Boy,” which remains one of my favorite songs of 2018 so far. (In fact, it’s currently at #2) Just when we were all happily jamming along, they gave us a big surprise by switching to English midway through. It actually took most of us a few seconds to register the change… but once we did, the crowd went wild. I’m going to break continuity and tell you to check out the full English version they released, because that song is amazing.  I think English translations of Korean songs can be tricky since the languages are so different, but this one is spot on.

After performing “Red Flavor,” the girls played a game called “Wish Roulette” where each member had to fulfill a special mission.  Irene was challenged to say “ReVeluv I love you” in several languages, which everybody obviously loved.  Seulgi was asked to dance a choreography by another KCON artist, and picked label mate Super Junior’s “Sorry Sorry.” Wendy had to singing a song by an American diva, and chose Alicia Keys’s part in “Empire State of Mind.” Joy had a random mission of rolling forward five times – which she couldn’t do in her skirt – so she and Yeri had camera time with lucky members in the audience instead.

The girls finished their set with their other recent hits “Rookie” and “Peek-a-Boo,” and I was so jazzed to see my favorite song of 2017 performed live. Red Velvet was honestly my highlight of this concert, because this was the only chance I had to see them aside from through someone’s phone at the red carpet.  They’ve always held a special place in my heart because they were the first K-pop girl group that I got into, and they’re now my favorite girl group after a year of stellar music. Not to mention that I’m a huge Irene fangirl – pretty much every video I took was of one of her parts.  While I didn’t get any special fan/idol moments them like I did with most of the other groups, seeing them perform my favorite songs is a memory I’ll cherish forever.

***

Special Stage: Stray Kids and Pentagon

I am all about the dance stages.  Give me some stellar choreography and some flashing lights, and I’m there. I started life as a K-pop fan with mostly boy groups in my Top 10.  Though I’ve become more balanced in my preferences over the years, this special stage reminded me how I used to get so hyped about them. It made me think of other great collaborations in the past, like GOT7 and BTS or Monsta X and SEVENTEEN. I feel like KCON performances in the US are a lot like MAMA at the end of the year (probably because they’re both MNET), and I’m taking this as a sign that these two rookie groups are ones we should look out for in the future.

***

Super Junior

Disclaimer: I had a really different reaction to Super Junior than most.  As I mentioned in my convention post, I got to see them up close during their Billboard interview earlier that day.  I was probably less than 50 feet away from them, which – let’s be honest – was a lot more exciting than the view from Section 7 Row 20. I also briefly and unexpectedly met Donghae – my ultimate bias – which left me pretty out of it for the rest of KCON.  Seeing the concert after that encounter definitely felt surreal.

That being said, the crowd loved Super Junior and more than made up for my mellower state.  The stadium was practically a blue ocean, which was amazing.  (I might not have been as hyped as I anticipated, but I still brought a ridiculous amount of light sticks and blue LED accessories). I actually get chills when I rewatch KCON’s YouTube video of “Black Suit,” which is one of my favorite songs of theirs.

Another great moment was Super Junior’s performance of “Lo Siento” with Leslie Grace, which was probably one of the night’s highlights. I truly think it’s great that we got to see a real live collaboration between singers from the East and the West.  “Lo Siento” is a huge deal for K-pop fans from non-Asian countries, especially Latinx ones, and you could see how much it meant to a lot of them at KCON. K-pop groups are appreciative of all their fans, but their main source of income will always be South Korea and Asia.  A song like “Lo Siento” that experiments with a completely different genre and appeals to a completely different demographic is major.  It’s a sign of K-pop truly becoming an international force to be reckoned with.

My favorite part, however, was Super Junior’s medley of some of their most popular songs.  I’m actually a recent fan of theirs because I got into K-pop right after their hiatus. Part of me finds it very amusing that I barely knew half of their names a year ago (can you even imagine???), and now they’re one of my favorite groups. But isn’t that how it always works in K-pop? The point is, I was definitely not around for all of those classic hits like “Sorry Sorry,” “Mr. Simple,” or “Bonamana.” So, it was really great to see those songs performed live and experience how iconic they are. Super Junior also ended the night on a super sweet note with “Miracle,” which of course filled my heart with all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings.

Every K-pop group that I’ve seen live has been nothing but professional looking, but Super Junior’s veteran status still stand out by miles.  They’ve been active for 14 years – that’s half my life and a good portion of theirs – and it shows.  They mostly abandoned their polished choreography after “Black Suit” and “Lo Siento” to focus on hyping up the crowd, and the energy was off the charts. Even though I was mentally processing meeting one of them in person, I can still appreciate that this was an incredibly special moment for all of us at KCON. We were incredibly lucky to have that experience.  I left that concert full of feels and couldn’t wait for Night 2.

***

NOTE: All images are from KCON USA and all videos belong to MNET.

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