More often than not the KBS Gayo feels like the most intimate of the three end-of-year festivals, held in a theater rather than a stadium. This has its pluses and minuses, but the idea to structure this year’s special more like a traditional concert was an interesting choice. It was one made out of necessity, as KBS’s strike is still going on, but I think it robbed the show of some of its impact. It felt like a fantastic showcase for its featured artists, but it didn’t feel like an end-of-year celebration.
Luckily, KBS picked a fantastic roster of performers. Of course I would have preferred (many) more, but under the circumstances this format was a pleasant surprise. It allowed its idol groups not to remain locked into one sound or routine, truly displaying the versatility that makes these top acts so successful.
Though the ladies were largely responsible for Monday’s SBS Gayo Daejun highlights, tonight was all about the boy groups. Some truly powerhouse performances helped make this a night to remember.
11. The Unit
If you’ve been watching The Unit, these performances should look very familiar. They benefited from a larger stage, but suffered from a lack of editing to cover the flaws. But even if some of the moves and vocals were a bit messy, it was still fun to see so many idols on stage at once.
Mamamoo are always polished and fun, but I felt that they were lacking some energy tonight. Still, it was nice to hear old songs, and the hit medley stuffed inside Um Ah Oh Yeah was the group at their playful best.
HyunA’s charisma could kill, and it was out in full force here. Red and Lip & Hip work incredibly well together, even if both felt more like standard music show performances than momentous end-of-the-year events.
Something about GFriend performing S.E.S’s Just A Feeling just makes sense. That was the only real surprise in this solid greatest hits medley. I would have loved if they had added Rough or Navillera, but this was still a reliably upbeat performance
7. Hwang Chiyeul
I’ve been so happy to see this guy find the kind of massive success this year that he’s long deserved. As the night’s only balladeer, he captivated with his incredible voice and symphonic backing. It wasn’t as flashy as the night’s other acts, but he didn’t need all the bells and whistles.
6. Red Velvet
The mini-musical staging that carried through their first two songs had incredible potential, and I wish that would have been maintained throughout the entire performance. But even without that narrative framing, this collection of hits was a galvanizing portrait of the incredible year Red Velvet has had. And as far as b-sides go, Happily Ever After was an dynamite choice to open their set.
Twice have been shoehorned into a (very successful) cutesy image and sound, but performances like this go a long way towards proving that they’re not a one-trick pony. That Signal remix was killer, and totally elevated the song. The American pop covers felt a bit random (though I understand they’re a staple at their concerts) — but they offered a nice breather from the more sugary material that sandwiched them. Knock Knock and Likey (carol versions) were pure k-pop cheese… and I certainly wasn’t mad about it.
4. Wanna One
It’s amazing at how big of a repertoire Wanna One have already developed in just the space of a few months. Between Produce 101 and their own songs, they’re been responsible for some of 2017’s best. They blitzed through them all for this performance without missing a beat. I’ve become a bit cynical when it comes to survival series lately, but these guys are the real deal.
This was insanely fun to watch, like “EXO on Broadway” complete with a set that looked like it was ripped straight from a movie façade. I was overjoyed that they chose to spotlight the fantastic Touch It, but it was the touching For Life that really left an impression. It’s easy to forget how talented EXO is as a vocal group, and they don’t always get the chance to show that off.
BTS don’t have to prove anything to anyone at this point, but it’s still nice to hear a more stripped down arrangement that lets their talent truly shine. Spring Day always makes a phenomenal live performance, but it was truly stunning here. The unit stages were smart choices too, focusing on less-performed songs that really deserve more attention. The presence of a live band improved DNA tenfold, and brought a different kind of intensity to Not Today.
This will likely be the most outstanding thing we see on any of the 2017 Gayos. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it the best performance of the entire year, and probably the best performance I’ve ever seen from the ridiculously consistent Seventeen. It’s as if they took everything that makes k-pop great and bottled it into one magnetic, tour de force set of unmatched energy and skill. If these twenty blistering minutes aren’t a testament to the fact that this is the most versatile group out there right now, I don’t know what could be. The orchestral version of Don’t Wanna Cry was sublime, the unit stages were riveting, and the one-two punch of a rock-infused Boom Boom and Clap was simply a marvel to watch. It’s only a shame that The8 couldn’t be there to participate in what will surely go down as a legendary stage.