A couple weeks after the MAMA Awards showed the potential of an audience-less, pre-recorded stage show, KBS went far less ambitious. Now, it could be argued whether this broadcast should have happened at all given K-pop’s surging Covid cases, but the producers opted to cobble together what they could.
I’m curious why this year’s Gayo Daechukje is happening so early. In all the years I’ve been watching (and recapping) these end-of-year spectacles, I can’t remember a single one happening before Christmas Day. The scheduling alone made this feel a little anticlimactic, like they were just chucking it out there early to get it over with. But mostly, this just felt like an extended episode of Music Bank with a few special stages thrown in.
One thing I hated about tonight’s production were the forced, pre-recorded “reaction” shots the editors would stick between some performances. Almost every single one was needlessly cringey. My other big gripe had to do with song selection, but this has been an ongoing problem for me over the past few years. These end-of-year festivals really only cater to the “biggest” acts of the year, and more and more my favorite tracks come from smaller groups who just don’t get invited to shows like this.
There’s only so many times I can hear some of these songs. I think I’ve reached my breaking point with NCT’s Resonance series, for example. It’s exhausting hearing that long medley of not-so-great tracks, no matter how well the guys might perform. Same thing with songs like Mamamoo’s Aya or (G)I-DLE’s Oh My God, both of which I’m just never going to enjoy no matter how many times I hear them.
With that said, I feel like I’m grading on a curve when it comes to this ranking. Still, there were a few genuinely standout performances on tonight’s show.
Kim Yonja x Solar – Bling Bling
I love this ahjumma! Whenever she comes on Music Bank, I sit up straight and pay attention. She’s just an absolute delight, and Bling Bling is such silly fun. I’m kind of obsessed with how she wields the mic, too. Solar got a little swallowed up by the track, but seemed to grow more confident halfway through.
10. Stray Kids – Dionysus x God’s Menu
This cover of Dionysus was… weird. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it’s not often you see a group cover such a modern song by one of their peers. Usually it’s older stuff or material that’s of a different genre than their usual sound. And the fact that they basically just re-created BTS’s performance, down to the staging, just felt odd.
But, I like how they then incorporated the props into their own track. Stray Kids’ performances are always good (hence their place on this list), but this one definitely confused me a bit.
9.Jessi & Jackson – Nunu Nana
This probably should have been even better considering how well-matched these two are for a duet stage, but it was still a lot of fun. It’s nice to watch something that feels a little less rehearsed, where the performers’ personalities really come through.
8. Chaeyeon & Chae Ryeong – Criminal x Roller Coaster x Rain On Me
I remember watching these girls on K-pop Star years ago, and it’s so great to see that they’ve both successfully debuted. I love when girls cover boy group tracks, or vice versa. Criminal was awesome (you all know how much I love that song!). Rain On Me had potential to be a total showstopper, but was WAY too short. In fact, that was kind of the story of the night. All the best moments were over before they ever got a chance to get going…
7. BTS – I Need U x Dynamite x Life Goes On
This was a super-solid set. It was nice to hear I Need U again, and I appreciated what felt like a looser, more spontaneous version of Dynamite. This was the perfect venue for a song like that. The staging for Life Goes On was quite nice too, even though I still wish the song had more oomph to it.
6. Twice – More & More x I Can’t Stop Me
Leave it to Twice to bring some festive cheer! I loved the holiday stage for More & More, and the new mix brought the song some much-needed life. I Can’t Stop Me is always great, but this performance officially introduced me to the English-language version, which I instantly need to forget. I try to avoid these English versions whenever I can. They always sound so clunky to me, like they’re just trying to fill the space with words that sort of fit.
Anyways, Twice brought the energy on a relatively dull night.
5. Taemin – Criminal x Idea
Taemin makes the list simply because Criminal is such a terrific song, and his performance of it is equally strong. But apart from the very cool ‘hellfire and brimstone’ set, the choreo and instrumental mix were what we usually see and hear from the track. He had more fun experimenting with Idea, but I think that’s a far weaker song. So with everything taken together, it lands him in the middle of the pack, even though his presence is always a ten-out-of-ten.
4. TXT – Hug
There wasn’t anything particularly special about this performance. I just absolutely love TVXQ’s Hug. TXT always pick great, classic songs to cover at these types of events, and this one fit them perfectly. Why don’t composers write these kind of title tracks anymore? It may not be super flashy, but this kind of melody is so timeless.
Also, I love that Yunho just happened to be the MC when this was performed. Coincidence? I doubt it.
3. Oh My Girl – Dolphin x Nonstop
Dolphin finally got the well-staged performance it deserves! I still think it’s a crime that this track wasn’t properly promoted or given a music video. Just like at MAMA, Nonstop was completely elevated by its guitar-assisted remix.
2. GFriend – Apple
This was an interesting image for GFriend, but I think it really worked for the song. I absolutely loved the addition of electric guitar in the instrumental. The mix had a “live band” feel, and made Apple feel more dynamic. The girls also had one of the best dance breaks of the night. The whole thing came across as cohesive and intentional, rather than a gussied up music show performance with some random breakdown thrown in the middle.
1. JYP x Sunmi – Disco Medley
JYP and Sunmi could have offered up three straight hours of this and I would have been a happy camper. Every single song in this medley was fantastic, and I absolutely love these two performing together. They looked great, they sounded great and most importantly, they brought a bit of fun and sense of humor to the show. I loved the reinventions of the old JYP and Wonder Girls’ classics, and the new mix of Pporappippam was a lot of fun, too.
This was basically a stage tailor-made for me, so there’s no surprise I’d put it at number one. While so many groups tonight tried hard to show how “cool” or “edgy” they were, these two just came out and had a good time. That’s what these festivals should be about!