After sharing my thoughts on the Queendom finale songs last year, I regretted not writing more about the show as it was going on – especially since I enjoyed it so much. That regret didn’t quite spur me to cover Road to Kingdom’s premiere episode, but now that we’re in full performance mode, I plan to share my thoughts more frequently.
Road to Kingdom features so many of my favorite groups, so it’s really a buffet of musical greatness. I wish this buffet didn’t end in eliminations (damn you, MNET!), but I’ll take what I can get.
This week’s episode brought us five of the seven performances in Kingdom’s first round. The task was to pick a song by a “K-pop king” and reinterpret it. The groups picked some incredible songs, and every one of them exceeded expectations. If 2020’s K-pop releases were delivering songs and performances this great, we’d be in a much better place.
5. VERIVERY – Mansae (original by Seventeen)
I love VERIVERY, and thought they did a great job on last week’s initial dance performance. They were super polished here too, but the performance felt a little all over the place. I’m not sure I got the connection between Mansae and “nautical,” and although their “sailing to an island” concept was clear, I don’t think they did all that much with it. The remix, while exciting and energetic, didn’t really compliment the song. Too much of Mansae’s original charm was lost in the club beats and dance breaks. But even if this was my least favorite performance of the night, it was still an awesome showcase for the group’s dancing.
4. ONEUS – Warrior’s Descendant (original by H.O.T)
ONEUS started the night off strong, covering a bonafide K-pop classic and injecting it with some welcome theatricality. As much as I love Warrior’s Descendant, it’s a difficult song to perform in this environment. It hails from a simpler time, without all the showy breakdowns and diversions that MNET performances thrive upon. ONEUS succeeded thanks to their clear sense of storytelling. The remix was solid, but the slow-mo fight choreography was the true standout.
3. ONF – Everybody (original by SHINee)
I don’t think I’m as sold on this arrangement as the bulk of fans seem to be, but there’s no denying ONF’s commitment to the performance. There were a ton of ideas thrown together here, from the haunting introduction to the slavish recreation of the original choreography at the climax. For me, the performance really started to hit its mark about halfway through, as the tempo ramped up and the song settled into its groove.
2. TOO – Rising Sun (original by TVXQ)
I was one of those salty viewers who bemoaned TOO’s participation in Road to Kingdom. All of these other groups had paid their dues and needed the attention, while TOO had literally just debuted. But, all bias aside I can’t deny how powerful this performance was. Rising Sun is one of the best K-pop songs of all time, so you’re already going to score points there. But, it also requires a level of energy that not every group can pull off. I absolutely adore this remix (courtesy of producer-extraordinaire TAK). It retains almost everything that makes the original such a classic, but brings just enough twists to stand out. And that guitar at the climax! Wow.
1. Golden Child – T.O.P (original by Shinhwa)
Now, full disclosure. I’ve been supporting Golden Child since the beginning, and they’ll continue to be the group who gets my streams/votes. But, they still have to earn the top spot in any ranking I post here. And, boy did they earn it this time. I like T.O.P quite a bit, but I was worried because the original is easily the least-impactful of the songs covered tonight. But, this was a performance that perfectly understood dynamics, growing slowly so that its dramatic peaks had maximum effect. It allowed the guys to showcase their suite of incredible vocalists, and managed to give spotlight to each member. The arrangement was pure perfection, opening with an ethereal grace and slowly transforming to an all-out rocker. We got power notes, modern dance, hard-hitting rap/rock and a breathless, double-tempo finale. This was a stunner, through and though, and sets the bar very high for the entire series.