It’s the time of the year for Korea’s annual music festivals! It’s a particularly exciting few days for k-pop, filled with special performances and a look back at the year’s most influential hits.
SBS is the first of the three networks to kick off the week of “gayos,” and unfortunately they set the bar incredibly low.
Honestly, this year’s Gayo Daejun was the most uneventful, dare-I-say boring festival I’ve seen in the years I’ve been watching these. From horrendous camera work and an audio mix that sounded like it was underwater half the time, the technical side of things was just a mess. There’s simply no excuse for playing the wrong track during a group’s stage (poor Twice and GFriend), but even if things had gone smoothly in that department, the entire event just seemed like a… well… non-event.
The most exciting part of the year-end broadcasts for me is the performances where artists rearrange or reinvent their material. That barely happened tonight. Even the staging itself felt very much like a normal weekly music show. Nothing seemed grand or special about the nearly four-hour show. And instead of inviting more acts, the producers gave a few chosen ones a much-too-long stage time. This caused incredible lulls in energy throughout the broadcast. I can’t ever remember being bored while watching a year-end gayo, but SBS managed to make that happen.
It’s a shame, because their core idea was interesting. I love the concept of honoring some of the genre’s legends through special stages, and those were indeed some of the broadcast’s best moments, but the entire thing seemed slapped together in a rush. I certainly hope the remaining gayos will prove more impressive.
Even though there weren’t many standouts, I tried to narrow the performances to my top ten.
Ailee – The girl can sing, and that was enough on an uneventful night.
Lovelyz – I’m still not a huge fan of Destiny, but the subtle remix gave it an added boost.
Mamamoo – The remixed instrumental gave their songs added stadium power, but the lousy camera work took the energy away.
10. Acoustic Stage
It’s always fun hearing popular songs rearranged. I’m not sure I’ll ever love Whistle, and I don’t think the acoustic version of Monster worked, but TT was a bit of a revelation. Who would have thought? All in all, it was a refreshing diversion from all the choreo-heavy performances, but felt a little all over the place.
Like other veteran groups on the stage, their performance seemed overly truncated, but stood out due to its effortlessly strong vocals and energy.
It’s never as fun with a member missing, though the dozens of back-up dancers at the end of Fire somewhat made up for it. Still, this performance was nothing out of the ordinary for the group, delivering the expected choreography and staging. It would have been nice to rearrange the songs somehow or offer something we hadn’t seen before.
Without the instrumental dance breaks, this wouldn’t have made it on my list at all. But that dramatic, EDM-influenced opener (which is stupidly not included in the official video above) and the water-filled finale added much needed theatrics. If only the actual song had been delivered in an equally compelling way.
6. JYP Dance Stage
Park Jinyoung has written and produced a ton of great songs, so there was no way this stage would totally bomb. The dance covers were fun, though would have benefited from better staging and camera work. The real fun started when the boys and girls came together for a true collaboration.
(only the second half of this performance has been uploaded on youtube)
(NO VIDEO HAS BEEN UPLOADED AT THIS POINT. AT. ALL.) This was much more standard than we’re used to from their year-end performances, but Infinite always stands out for their excellent live vocals — even more so tonight, since there was so much lip syncing going on. Though the horrendous sound mixing was trying to sabotage them at every turn, talent always rises to the top. Even so, I hope they’re saving their trademark remixes for the next two gayos.
Nothing extravagant, but their three songs were smartly staged and the members’ charisma was on full display. Of course, being given what essentially amounted to a mini-concert at the gayo’s conclusion certainly helped them stand out as the show’s headlining act. The remix of Bang Bang Bang was particularly fun, though it only served to remind what a strong 2015 they had, which in turn reminded us of how comparatively empty this year was for them in terms of releases.
3. Uhm Jung Hwa
It’s always exciting to see a k-pop legend make a return. Her comeback performances of the new singles were relatively straightforward stages, but once she segued into her older material, the show regained energy for the first time in over an hour. It was desperately needed, and DISCO (with a special T.O.P collaboration) more than did the trick.
2. Ultra Dance Festival
An absolutely inspired idea, especially since the vast majority of these groups wouldn’t have made it into the show any other way. This could have been a total mess, but the performance was smartly staged, allowing each group to have their (short) moment. There were so many great rookies this year, and this stage’s jukebox approach was a good reminder of the high quality pop songs 2016 has given us. I also love how the staging was a sly nod to Produce 101, basically recasting these rookies in the role of the contestants. It was also a reminder of why I generally prefer boy groups’ material. Their choreography packed a punch, transforming the dozens of participants into a veritable idol army.
1. Progressive Stage
This was the performance I was most looking forward to going into the gayo tonight, and while it didn’t fulfill all of my expectations, it was the kind of bonkers moment that only k-pop can provide. I’m not sure what all the racket NCT were shouting was, but if it means they’ll be working with Yoo Young-Jin for their comeback, I’m a happy camper! The heavy metal version of Mama, on the other hand, was an absolute blast. K-Pop doesn’t give us nearly enough material like this anymore!
AND THE WORST…
Hip Hop Stage
(ONLY THE SECOND HALF HAS BEEN UPLOADED) I don’t usually highlight performances I don’t like, but this “special” hip hop stage represented everything I hope k-pop doesn’t become. It was super try-hard, but with shockingly low energy throughout. None of the performers complimented each other, and the material (other than GD’s classic One of a Kind) consisted of nothing but horrendous non-songs. G-Dragon was one of the artists who first got me into k-pop, but this was an embarrassment and honestly made me fear what direction he might pursue with future solo material. I don’t see why Korean rappers feel the need to ape the worst cliches of western hip-hop culture. It comes off as inauthentic and immature. I don’t know much about the other two, but CL and GD are far more interesting than this.