Honestly, I came into tonight’s festival feeling pretty pessimistic. KBS’s Gayo was largely forgettable, and tonight’s line-up was missing some of my favorite acts. But, MBC ended up balking expectations and being the most enjoyable of the three gayos overall.
When I think about it, this isn’t too surprising. I’ve always loved MBC’s more intimate staging, and the broadcast benefits immensely from the New Year’s Eve energy. Still, this is not enough to make a truly standout show. What made tonight especially fun was the “chemistry” concept. Pairing artists and groups together for special collaborations is just what I hope to see during end-of-year festivals like this, and the results and interactions were a blast.
In contrast to KBS, I’ve got lots of honorable mentions tonight!
Kim Jaehwan x Kei x Yeonjeong – This is a powerhouse trio of vocalists, covering one of the year’s most memorable ballads. The spinning set was a bit much (and very odd for the tone of the track), and the instrumental went into some weird ear-piercing whistle toward the end, but I’d listen to these three sing anything.
Chungha x Jang Woohyuk – This was a cool pairing, even if I’m not sure that it lived up to the hype. It makes my honorable mentions for the dancing and the rare, remixed performance of K-pop classic Warrior’s Descendant, but I just don’t like Snapping. Seriously, I’ve come to actively hate that song as the months have gone on. It’s like my kryptonite.
Celeb Five x AOA – I didn’t think the individual performances were anything to write home about, but that in-between dance break was pretty epic. I just wish they would have fully broken into I Wanna Be A Celeb!
Guckkasten – Not too familiar with this band beyond one or two songs, but it was nice to hear some rock tonight. I just wish their cover of Lazenca, Save Us would’ve lasted longer. In fact, I wish their whole set had been a N.EX.T tribute.
Norazo x Hong Jinyoung – Norazo aren’t my thing, no matter how well they perform. But, Hong Jinyoung was a smart pairing for them, and the performance improved by leaps and bounds once she came onstage.
Kim Jaehwan – Though he didn’t make my list, I’ve gotta give extra props to Kim Jaehwan, who rolled with the punches like a pro despite some unfortunate technical difficulties. That look on his face when the wrong music played will be one for the ages!
10. GOT7 x Monsta X x Nu’est
Just A Feeling was a nice, breezy cover with a great atmosphere and lovely harmonies. I’ll always be a fan of boy groups covering girl group tracks, and vice versa.
9. NCT Dream x Stray Kids – History Of K-Pop
It’s funny how these two keep getting paired up! Anyway, I love this kind of stuff – concise, nostalgic medleys that remind us of awesome songs of K-pop years gone by. They picked some great ones for this performance, though I wish that each were given more time to breathe. Host Jang Sungkyu coming out to join them during the finale was super fun.
8. Lovelyz – Beautiful Days
This was a striking mix of Beautiful Days, successful because of its restraint and long, gradual build. The first part was particularly compelling. Lovelyz just do this lyrical, orchestral sound so well, and I’m glad that Woollim gave them the chance to re-imagine this track for their only Gayo performance of the year.
7. Nu’est – Love Me
This really felt like the definitive performance of this song. The staging was perfect, and I loved the extra dance breaks (and bridge) that they added. It wasn’t a full-on remix, but a fun extended version that took advantage of the track’s already potent hooks.
6. ITZY x (G)I-DLE
(ITZY’s stage here)
This was a great pairing, with the introduction and cover performance of Diva a great way to harness both groups’ charisma. I thought that the intro to Dalla Dalla was really fun and clever, but it was (G)I-DLE’s theatrical performance of Lion that really sealed the deal.
5. Seventeen x Mamamoo
This was kind of a mixed bag, but when it was good, it was great. Despite being down a couple of members, Seventeen delivered an especially fiery performance of their best 2019 single Hit. The covers weren’t as amazing (why, oh why, did Mamamoo remove the most iconic parts of Very Nice?!?), but the climactic mash-up was tons of fun.
4. Momo x Jihyo x Taemin – Goodbye
This was another incredibly unexpected collaboration, but one that worked very well. I’m not sure I’m as obsessed with Goodbye as most seem to be, but there’s no denying the magnetism of its live performance. Dancing with Taemin only invites unfavorable comparisons, but Twice’s Momo and Jihyo more than held their own. It was especially nice to hear their voices within a more unguarded arrangement during the song’s first verse.
3. Stray Kids – Side Effects
Stray Kids have really owned the Gayos this year. It helps that they have some dynamite songs to perform, but they’ve also gone the extra mile and remixed these tracks into something that feels special and unique. Tonight delivered on the potential they hinted at last week when they teased Side Effects at KBS. I loved the mix here, and the added choreo was fantastic. It’s an intense live performance even under normal circumstances, and this was the perfect way to push that to another level.
2. HyunA x Dawn
This was the “pairing” that most were probably looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. They both looked fantastic, and they’re just magnetic together. I imagine that their choreography pushed a few buttons in Korea’s more conservative circles, but that’s what makes this duo so great. They need to be releasing more material – preferably some duets.
1. Astro x Oh My Girl – The Red Shoes
Okay, why don’t we get more collaborations between boy and girl groups? This should happen like every week. Astro and Oh My Girl are a perfect duo, and I never would’ve expected them to cover The Red Shoes. It was such a fun, theatrical performance, highlighting both groups’ colors while still pushing them in directions we don’t usually see. I’m gonna need a behind-the-scenes variety special about this collaboration. In fact, I’m gonna need them to just record an album together.