The first thing that was immediately apparent when watching this year’s KBS Gayo Daechukje was that, rather than opting for the biggest stage possible like last year, the producers chose to go more intimate (like back in 2013). This resulted in a very different show than last year, filled with idol interactions and interviews (most of which I didn’t understand because the subtitles take too long and I can’t wait for them). They did a nice job with all the interstitials and pre-recorded packages, making the event feel personal, celebratory and (most importantly) different from a regular weekly broadcast.
On the minus side, the relatively small stage prevented many of the performances from being able to have a real visual moment in a way that a more ambitious, complex set-up would have allowed. Still, I’d much prefer a working sound system and coherent camera angles to overkill when it comes to staging.
KBS outdid SBS this year in just about every possible way, and that’s a sigh of relief after Monday’s disappointing broadcast.
Lots of honorable mentions this time, as the entire show had very few weak moments.
EXO-CBX – Kudos to Chen for recapturing the headset that wanted to escape him. Those types of onstage moments must be absolutely terrifying!
Girl/Boy Group Dance Switch – These are always fun. The girls did a solid job with Be Mine, though of course it wasn’t a patch on the original. As for the guys… well… it was clear that BamBam was in his element. Super entertaining to watch.
EXID – This was a cool remix. I usually find the song’s chorus to be almost unbearably screechy, but this smoothed that over and created a pretty nice vibe.
Seventeen – Some wonky camera work during Boom Boom, particularly when the camera men were actually on stage, running away as fast as they could. But Pretty U’s rearrangement worked, especially the slowed down intro that served to show off the group‘s vocals. I’m still waiting for that epic end-of-year performance of Very Nice that I know they have in them!
Uhm Jung Hwa & Monsta X – This was only part of an extended performance, but I thought this particular collaboration was the coolest — especially how Monsta X worked a bit of Fighter into her song.
Mamamoo – Was this the same rock mix that they used at SBS? If so, it came across better this time, with the band on stage and much more coherent camera work. I would have loved it if they went even further into the rock sound, but this was still awesome.
Great as always, but I am missing the total reinvention remixes they’ve become known for over the past few years. Maybe The Eye is just too difficult to rearrange beyond adding a few brief dance breaks? They’re always incredible, but I’m holding out hope for a total showstopper on MBC’s broadcast.
9. Rising Star Stage
As cloying and predictable as the Justin Beiber cover was, I’m so glad that these rookies were recognized with a stage of their own. Many of this year’s best songs came from new groups, and their energy is totally needed in an end-of-year special like this.
Nothing particularly fancy here, just two super solid performances of their 2016 singles. It was beautifully staged and the guys proved yet again why they are one of the best dance groups in Korea.
Two of the year’s best songs performed back to back. What else can you ask for? If anything, I’ve always felt that the spectacular Navillera is let down a bit by its boring choreography, but I dug the slight remix, and the girls gave the incredible energy they always do.
I love that he sung live. I’d rather have an imperfect vocal performance than lip synced perfection. It just makes the whole thing feel more exciting. He was audibly struggling at times, but it’s impossible to sing flawlessly when performing such intense choreography. Either way, the guy is an absolute superstar. He’s just magnetic when he moves, and the added strings were a nice touch in this subtle remix.
5. “Girl’s Present” – Into The New World
This is what the Gayos are made for. The opening was pretty epic, with each group entering to their debut song (or most classic track, in Red Velvet’s case). SNSD’s Into The New World is such a brilliant song itself. Never gets old. And on a personal level, I was happy that GFriend’s Yuju eventually took her rightful place in the center as the best main vocal of any new generation girl group. Shame about the lip syncing, though.
4. 97line Idol Band – A Flying Butterfly (Present For Youth)
The power of k-pop to make a day brighter is undeniable, and a “fighting” song like this was the perfect choice to bring all these disparate idols together. I loved the fact that even the band was composed of idol members, truly showing off a different side of their talents.
3. Ken (VIXX), Nayeon (Twice) – Present For Mom
This was perhaps the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen happen at a Gayo. What a great idea, and it totally worked when it came to bringing out the emotion. Just knowing how much these idols go through prior to debut — the sacrifices they and their families must make — it’s impossible not to well up at least a little.
2. Two Min Stage (Taemin + Jimin)
Two of k-pop’s best current dancers collaborating? Yes, please! It takes a lot of guts to take on Taemin when it comes to dancing, but BTS’s Jimin held his own. I loved that we got to see a bit of Lie, his excellent solo track from the latest BTS album. I’m not sure what Taemin’s song was… maybe something new? I hope so, because it sounded awesome.
1. “Present to my Idols” Tribute Stage + Shinhwa
Younger groups covering 90’s idols is dime-a-dozen, but this was so artfully staged and choreographed (particularly BTS’s showstopping opening). And then to have Shinhwa themselves come out to blitz through two of their biggest hits was icing on the cake. They were totally running out of breath by Perfect Man, but it’s great to have a veteran group like this in attendance.
AND THE MOST WTF PERFORMANCE…
This wasn’t necessarily bad, just… odd. The melding of Halloween and Christmas was a real trip, but I don’t think the weird remix for Cheer Up worked at all. It was like those mash-ups you hear where the pitch hasn’t been properly shifted to match the beat. TT was much better in this regard.