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Thoughts on the 2015 SBS Gayo Daejun

IU_1451012170_af_orgThe annual Gayo Daejuns are one of my favorite times of the year for kpop. A combo of song festival and awards ceremony/gala, they round out December nicely by offering dozens of performances from the biggest artists of the year, often in remixed or reinterpreted versions. They’re reliable for providing some of the biggest and best performances idols give all year.

So, it was with incredible anticipation that I sat down to watch the first of the daejuns, presented by Korean broadcast station SBS. I thought they did a pretty nice job last year, though I preferred rival station MBC’s more diverse line-up and better sound quality. This year… well, things were definitely underwhelming at SBS. I know I’m not alone in expressing disappointment at their presumed inability to choose the appropriate camera angles and cuts for a coherent broadcast. Throughout the night, we were treated to random shots of the floor, ceiling, or (best of all) an entirely black screen.

At one point, it looked as though a camera crew were on stage filming a close-up of girl group 4minute to open their performance, but instead of seeing what we were supposed to, we got to watch the entire filming process from far into the crowd. At another point, Infinite’s L was sitting in their weird interview tower amongst other idols. During the one time he got to speak, the camera focused on the other idols who were just sitting there, so poor L became a weird phantom disembodied voice. In short, it was a mess.

The audio quality wasn’t much better. Most performances were marred by microphones that were too low and backing tracks that were much too loud. At times, it seemed that some mics just weren’t working at all.

My last complaint has to do with the impersonal nature of the staging. I appreciate a big, technologically impressive stage, but my favorite part of the daejuns (other than the performances), is seeing the idols sitting in the audience interacting with one another. It’s always fascinating and entertaining. This time, it was all about the ginormous stages, which drowned out any sense of personality or intimacy. Idols were kept backstage at all times other than the tense interviews, and performances seemed far from the audience. Surrounded by so many flashing lights and spectacle, coupled with the bad camera work, it was often hard to discern the details of the performance at all. I’ve decided that there’s a such thing as too much LED lighting. Besides, unless you’re watching it in ultra ultra HD, all the flashing lights blur the signal so much that the video quality ends up looking like crap, even on a large screen in 720 or 1080.

Oh yeah, and the hosts weren’t anything to write home about either. I don’t know who Shin Dong Yup is, but he was boring and at times confused here, and although IU is cute and all, she’s not really much of a personality.

Now, on to the good. Namely, my top performances of the night:

  1. VIXXChained Up isn’t one of my favorite VIXX singles, but I think the dance and stage performance is stellar, and really elevates the song. Their performance here was the best I’ve seen, with heaps of energy and sexuality. It was surprisingly commanding and compelling.
  2. Infinite – Now, of course I’m biased here, but Infinite always puts on an amazing performance. While I wish their remix of Bad would have amped up the orchestral elements of the song rather than the hip-hop, Woollim always pulls out amazing reinterpretations for them. It almost makes up for the fact that SBS didn’t leave any room for solo Sungkyu or Infinite H performances. The highlight though, was the return of Hoya the powerful dancer. I hope this means he’ll be dancing full force when I see them in a couple of weeks.
  3. Ailee/Luna/Eunji/Solar – I never thought I needed a Korean version of I Will Survive (and I’m still not sure if I do), but the vocal prowess in this special stage was no joke.
  4. Shinee/Exo – I’m not sure why they decided to throw in two oldies with Mama and Lucifer, but those two songs are some of kpop’s finest, so it was awesome to see them performed live again. Lucifer, in particular, was completely arresting.
  5. Wonder Girls/AOA/Lovelyz – It’s all about the remix with these three tracks.
  6. Seventeen – It was way too short, but what we got was a convincing reinterpretation of Adore U. Where was Mansae, though?
  7. iKON – As much as I could complain about iKON getting more performance time than acts that really should have had it (seriously, YG, stop hijacking these big events), their comeback performance was the most convincing thing I’ve seen them do as a group yet.
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