With another year of KCON behind me, I’m feeling recharged. This is something I needed after a lackluster K-pop summer. Though KCON seemed a bit cursed at the beginning (both ONEUS and Chungha had to cancel, following Everglow who pulled out weeks earlier), it turned out to be a great year. It’s my fifth KCON experience, and it just seems to get better the more I know how to navigate the many opportunities the weekend offers.
If you’re planning on attending KCON, make sure you read my recap from last year, which includes a ton of expert tips!
I think the KCON convention is very different for me than it is for others. I’m not really interested in most of the booths (I do my album shopping in Koreatown the day before the convention — it’s cheaper and there’s less to carry during the con). I don’t really think it’s worth standing in the lines for free gifts (usually just glorified advertisements for whatever company is there). I don’t go the panels anymore, nor do I do the dance workshops or food tasting.
Nope, for me the convention is all about artist interaction. And as usual, patience paid off this year. When adding all the time up over four days, I think we spent 15-16 hours waiting in KCON-related lines. Now, this includes queuing for early check-in, concerts and artist engagements, so I don’t think it’s all that atypical. But, if you want to get a glimpse of your idols, you’ve got to sacrifice a little time.
This year, we did three official artist engagements — a new record, I think. We were in the audience for ATEEZ and Stray Kids (there was simply no way to get a hi-touch pass unless you were lucky enough to pull one or willing to shell out 500+ dollars. I am not). And, we also attended the hi-touch engagement for VERIVERY. These were all a lot of fun. Being in the audience section during engagements makes it difficult to see, but you still get glimpses of the groups here and there, and the room’s big video screens make it easy to watch everything that’s going on. Hi-touches are awkward by their very nature, but it’s such a cool, surreal experience to high-five an entire idol group. As the weekend’s newest rookies, VERIVERY had a smaller crowd at their engagement, but the guys were very charming and clearly excited to be at the convention. I was a fan before. I’m a bigger fan now. Mission accomplished!
KCON’s best addition this year were its food and beauty stages. I don’t care much about either of these topics, but each stage had idol groups visit throughout the weekend for special segments. Booth visits are common during the convention, but usually it’s very hard to see the idols unless you camp out for hours beforehand. But, the food and beauty stages were elevated, offering a great view to anyone who might want to watch. Smart move, KCON!
We watched AB6IX “make” sandwiches and ATEEZ “make” kimbap at the food stage. We had a particularly great view of the former. It was essentially front row, and required a bit of a camp-out session beforehand. But, all the waiting is worth it when you get to watch Woong make a “disgusting” looking dessert sandwich and eat Nutella straight out of the jar with chopsticks, or Donghyun gain great pleasure from secretly revving up the audience when his group-mates were trying to seriously explain the merits of their sandwich-making skills. Daehwi was not too enthralled with KCON’s lettuce selection, by the way. He kept checking to see if it had spoiled.
Beyond this, there were plenty of booth visits, from catching Loona and VERIVERY leaving the Star Square booth to a fortuitous visit from Mamamoo at one of the vendors’ booths. Stray Kids also did a great Q&A on the convention stage, performing snippets from each of their singles. The weekend’s “most frequently spotted” award goes to ATEEZ. They were everywhere. We saw them at Rookies and the concert, at their artist engagement, at the food booth and at the MNET booth. I feel like we’re practically family now, right? Judging from the intense reaction everywhere, I stand by my prediction that these guys are going to be absolutely huge in a year or two.
This was a new feature to this year’s KCON, essentially operating as an artist showcase similar to last year’s Klub KCON. The artist roster was excellent (ATEEZ, AB6IX, Loona), though unfortunately ONEUS were not able to attend because of “visa issues.” That was probably the biggest gut punch of the weekend, as I’m a big fan.
I’m glad I attended Rookies, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been executed better. For one, the crowd was enormous — far larger than 2018’s Klub KCON. So while I was able to see the artists up close and unobstructed last year, it was tricky to see much of anything this time. This wouldn’t have been such a problem if the cameras had projected the stage view on the big LED screens behind the artists. This happened occasionally, but the screens were generally full of KCON’s annoying graphics instead (even during the performances!).
The hosting/interviews were also a bit rough — either too long or too rushed or just meaningless. The first three quarters of the show were taken up with artist introductions, Q&As and games — basically like an extended Artist Engagement session. The game portion was pretty fun since they had the groups compete against each other, but this extended “live variety show” grew a bit old as time went on.
Performances were relegated to end of the night, with each artist getting three tracks (some of them covers). I think it would have been better to have these run throughout the night and break up the monotony of the hard-to-see interview segments. My highlight was seeing ATEEZ perform Pirate King and Illusion — two notable tracks they didn’t perform during the main concert.
This year, we had the best seats yet, slightly diagonal to the side of the stage that gets the most camera attention. This offered a pretty close-up view of the performances from the comfort of a seat. Can’t get any better than that!
KCON’s pre-shows are rarely worth mentioned, but this year they invited the contestants of MNET’s upcoming series World Klass to give dueling performances that were filmed to (presumably) become one of the competitions on the show. Afterward, we were encouraged to use our phones to vote between the two teams. I’m eager to see how this all plays out when the actual show airs!
ATEEZ & LOONA Intro
This was a really cool opener, with ATEEZ covering Block B’s Very Good and LOONA taking on BTS’s Not Today. What I liked most about it was that this wasn’t just a straight cover dance, but an actual performance with the artists’ vocals.
AB6IX were a bit of a revelation for me at KCON. With that said, this performance lost just a bit of luster because it included the same three songs that they performed the night before at Rookies. I would’ve loved to hear Light Me Up, but I get why they chose the songs they did. Breathe and Shining Stars were great. Hollywood… well, you all know how I feel about that song.
To be completely honest, I’m not sure why Momoland was at KCON again. It’s nothing against the girls, but they’ve only had one new single between the time they were here last year. Down members, and performing nearly the same set as 2018 made for a pretty forgettable stage. Maybe I’m just tired of Bboom Bboom and BAAM.
This was, hands down, the highlight of the night for me. I’ve seen A LOT of K-pop concerts, but ATEEZ had an energy and presence that I’ve never experienced before. I was already on board with their music, but I understand now how important it is to see them live. They’ve got the perfect songs and the perfect intensity for an arena like Staples. Wave, Dancing Like Butterfly Wings, Say My Name and Hala Hala made for an incredibly tight set. And while so many other idol groups are locked into their careful choreography with utter (sometimes lifeless) precision, ATEEZ had a looser appeal that really worked to command the stage.
They really gave it their all, so much so that members had to be carried off the stage at the end. It was clear that this performance resulted in (or worsened existing) injuries, as San and Seonghwa didn’t come back up for the night’s finale, which is a shame. But though I never want to see any performer injured, it gives you an idea of just how hard these guys go.
Don’t kill me, Orbits. I still just don’t understand why Loona is so popular in the U.S. Is there some excellent variety show I’m missing? Or something beyond their music/videos that would transform me into a fan? Their supporters had a heavy presence in the arena, and the girls seemed to be the talk of the con. They were certainly polished, and their large configuration gives them definite presence. But, I just don’t vibe with their songs as much as I wish I did. They only performed two, which was less than everyone else on night one. I found this odd, since so many people were looking forward to them.
Here’s another group I don’t feel any attachment to. I like a lot of their music, but in a pretty casual way. They were solid tonight, and definitely had a more “senior artist” air to them than when I first saw them during KCON 2017. I liked that they performed O Sole Mio and Now Or Never, as well as a great b-side (Play Hard). I’m still not into RPM, though.
I tend to be hard on Produce-related groups, but IZ*ONE has had a solid discography so far. As the darlings of MNET, they had a long set at KCON, which included both singles, b-sides Highlight and Airplane, and Pick Me as a finale. That last bit was a great surprise, and brought tons of energy to the arena. I liked their entire performance more than I thought I would, and the members made good use of the stage — assuring that everyone got artist interaction at some point.
I like Nu’est a lot, but I’m always weary of them as a closing act. Their music just isn’t really arena-ready, if that makes sense. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking quality, but it tends to have a more subdued energy that probably works better in smaller settings. With this said, I was pleasantly surprised with their setlist. The highlight for me was a full-group version of Dejavu, which included a few added segments to help incorporate Minhyun. Apparently, it was the group’s first time performing this version, and I bet it’ll become a staple in their repertoire. I’d hoped they would revisit some of their older material (pre-2015 Nu’est is still the best, in my opinion), but the rest of their set stuck to more recent songs.
While Night One was solid but (mostly) unspectacular, Night Two was a wall-to-wall knockout. It may have been the best single concert night of KCON I can remember, with hardly a moment to breathe between awesome performances.
STRAY KIDS & N.FLYING Intro
This was a great team-up to open the show, especially since Stray Kids already have a rock edge to their music. N.Flying did a really fun mash-up of songs from the night’s performers, and being joined onstage by 3Racha only made it better. I want a studio collaboration now!
While they were clearly the “smallest” group of the night, I think VERIVERY left an impression. I was already a fan, but seeing them live and at the convention cemented that fact. Tag Tag Tag has grown on me a lot since last month, and the performance here brought a cool added dance break in the middle. I was happy to hear them perform Ring Ring Ring as well, though I wish they could have done more than two songs.
Like ATEEZ on night one, ITZY’s songs are just made for arenas. Icy and Dalla Dalla were immense, and It’z Summer was the perfect b-side to sandwich in between. During the extended chat between songs, Lia got to showcase her English and the girls displayed their considerable charms. I heard they had to leave the arena early to catch a flight back to Korea, which meant they were unable to come back onstage for the finale. The life of a rookie idol must be absolutely exhausting.
Like Loona and VERIVERY, N.Flying only performed two songs — and one was a cover. But, what a cover! In addition to Rooftop, the guys delivered a live version of their acclaimed Queen medley. Unsurprisingly, this brought the house down. Five minutes of classic stadium rock covered by a band with energy and talent to spare? It doesn’t get much better than this.
I think I would have enjoyed this performance more if it wasn’t headlined by Fun, a song that I still find pretty obnoxious. Love Rumpumpum and Love Bomb were better, if a bit similar in style and energy. I enjoy fromis_9, but just like Momoland and Nu’est, I already saw them bring similar fare last year.
Stray Kids were probably the act I was most looking forward to over the weekend, and they did not disappoint. They assembled an excellent set (Side Effects, Victory Song, Miroh & My Pace) that brought tons of energy to the arena. Like ATEEZ, they have a looseness to their performance style that feels really organic and exciting. Couple this with two of the year’s best songs and you really can’t lose. My Pace was an unexpected highlight, as the members broke from choreography to roam the stage and interact with the audience. As much as I love watching cool dance formations, this freestyle approach works so well for stadium seating and really helped to showcase the groups’ undeniable charisma.
This was likely a tough night for Mamamoo, having to perform without Wheein and hastily revamp their arrangements with only three members in mind. But, if Hwasa, Solar and Moonbyul were feeling any bit of strain, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. They blitzed through a strong set of singles, including the song I was most hoping to hear… Decalcomanie! Hwasa, in particular, was every bit as magnetic as I knew she would be. In addition to their group performance, Solar had a great solo stage towards the beginning of the concert that showcased her powerful vocals.
Before the release of Hit, I wasn’t sure I was excited that Seventeen would be attending KCON LA for the third year in a row. As much as I like Home, it’s hardly the kind of high-energy concert closer these arena shows require. But, Seventeen didn’t even perform Home. Their set was entirely uptempo, opening with Hit before moving on to Good To Me, Clap, Adore U and Very Nice — as well as a special performance unit stage of Highlight earlier in the night.
Adore U was a particularly great surprise, as I’d never seen it performed live before. As with last year, Very Nice was the perfect KCON closer, with no less than three fake-out endings. With their endless schedules, I know these guys must be exhausted. But, they manage to bring a palpable sense of excitement to the stage that’s hard to describe if you haven’t been there. They’re experts at pumping up the crowd and using every bit of the stage when other groups might just stick to safer routines. Of all three times I’ve seen them perform at KCON, this was their strongest, most assured set.