Warning: This recap is not spoiler-free. Proceed at your own risk!
Well… I’m back!
Last year’s Road to Kingdom was a bumpy road for sure, with one particular pothole that still has me feeling PTSD. But, this time will surely be less dramatic. Unlike RTK, Kingdom will not have eliminations! I’m celebrating on behalf of the “warring” groups, while also fuming at MNET for not making this decision last year.
(On a related note, my dorky friends from RTK ended up having the last laugh, so that PTSD pales in comparison to my pride as a fan.)
To calm things even more, I don’t feel like I have a horse in this race. I’ve liked and disliked music from each of these six groups, and though I’m bigger fan of some than others, I feel like each is already successful enough that they’re going to be okay no matter what happens over the course of the series.
The episode starts with the arrival of The Boyz, and it’s like déjà vu all over again. You’d think these guys would be the underdogs of the show, based on the fact that they qualified for Road to Kingdom, but in the time between the two series, their sales have skyrocketed. They certainly don’t have a rookie air to them anymore.
Stray Kids are next, and all I can think about is that cruel debut show they suffered through with JYP. The guys say they haven’t been on a “competition show” before, but I’d argue that that series was as cutthroat as it gets, even though it was probably fixed from the beginning.
ATEEZ enters, dressed in black. I feel like everybody’s going to be dressed in black. Come to think of it, wasn’t it the same in Road to Kingdom? The Boyz’ Sunwoo picks up on the edgy schtick as well, pointing out some funny tropes in a very self-aware moment.
And right as I prepare myself for an all-dark affair, BTOB arrives wearing white suits. They’re such an odd fit for the show, but I’m curious to see how they will do against these younger, edgier groups.
SF9 are probably the group I know the least about as personalities. I know their music, of course, and like quite a lot of it. But, I’m looking forward to getting to know their individual appeals more through the show.
iKON also seem like an odd fit for this show, but they definitely have experience with survival series. I’m eager to see how they do. I feel like I haven’t really watched a lot of their live performances over the past few years. I’m a Music Bank guy, so I never really get to watch YG groups week to week.
Finally, TVXQ enter as hosts. I was wondering if they would edit Yunho completely out of this episode, and I’m glad they didn’t. It’s still super awkward knowing that he won’t be a part of the show going forward.
The duo lays out the rules, including three rounds and a final. I’m glad to see that the voting is a little more diverse this year. I hated how the voting was traded strictly between the groups for a few of the rounds last year.
Then again, I think it’s dangerous to have too much of the vote be determined by global fans, making the series nothing more than a popularity contest. Either way, I’m going to try to stay as neutral as I can during these recaps and rankings.
The groups are each performing a song that won them first place in a music show, and these are some freaking epic songs. I’m happy to hear them in any venue, survival show or not.
Disclaimer: I’m watching the full show, and not just clips on YouTube. So, the editing of each performances may inadvertently factor into my rankings. But, I’ll be embedding the full YouTube performances in these posts.
6. SF9 – Good Guy
I feel like this is going to be a season where none of the groups are able to perform as a complete unit. Poor Rowoon was sidelined with an injury, making this SF8. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to hear much of the song here, and the editing did the group no favors. For too long, it just felt like they were jumping around without any real storytelling. However, I’m still eager to learn more about these guys, and I hope they’re able to push themselves and explore new sides to their music.
5. iKON – Rhythm Ta
iKON got to go last because they were the group that most other groups thought would be the winners. I’m not so sure about that, but I’m definitely rooting for them. They could use a boost after a tumultuous few years. This performance had a surprising amount of leapfrogging! It was fun, and I like the switch-up in energy from the other groups. But, it didn’t leave as much impact as some of the earlier performances. Still, the guys looked like they were having fun, which was a rarity tonight!
4. ATEEZ – Wave
Performing without Mingi is always going to be hard. He’s such a big part of the group. And, Wave relies on his deep tone for much of its impact. With that said, this was barely Wave at all. I’m not sure the heavy remix was the best choice for this song, and I thought the whole bleeding effect was a little cheesy. But, they did a decent job reaffirming their theatricality as a group. I wish they hadn’t kept apologizing afterwards, though. Being humble is good, but so is confidence.
3. BTOB – Beautiful Pain
In the context of this show, performing a ballad is actually pretty gutsy, especially first thing out. But, the nice thing about being a seasoned group is that you know your strengths. I don’t imagine we’re going to see much posturing for BTOB on the show. That might not be to their benefit in the context of a “legendary war,” but it’s a nice contrast to some of the younger groups who are still finding their way. However, I wish this performance leaned more heavily into its choir-like introduction. After that brief flourish, the rest of the song felt a bit underwhelming. The performance stood out because of its focus on vocals, but the group is missing some of those key vocalists.
2. The Boyz – The Stealer
The Boyz have already proven themselves masters of these Kingdom stages, so they arguably have more to live up to that anybody else. I thought this performance was really cool. The choreography was on point as usual, even if the mix didn’t really do the song any favors. I loved the ballet section during the climax. The guys know how to bring a sense of dynamics to a performance, telling a story rather than just bringing the same energy throughout. Despite their relative youth, I think they’re clear contenders for the crown.
1. Stray Kids – Miroh
I said I was going to try to remain neutral, but I can’t pretend that Miroh wasn’t my favorite song performed on this episode. Stray kids get extra points just for that. It’s also a track that naturally lends itself to remixes, and I thought the percussive mix here was really cool. I also think the choreography was a bit more nuanced than many of the groups, and the special effects were used really well. They’re going to be a hard group to beat. With that said, the ending was abrupt as hell.
GLOBAL VOTING RESULTS (SORT OF…)
The episode ended with a peak at half of the fan vote that will determine winning benefits for this introductory round. We only got to see numbers 5, 4 and 3. Who do you think will take the rest of the slots? I want to say Stray Kids will be first and The Boyz second, but I find it hard to believe that iKON would come last. I feel like they have more global popularity than that. I guess it also hinges on which acts have fan bases that are dedicated to this kind of voting.
Comparing this episode to the debut of Road to Kingdom a year ago, I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. Of course, circumstances are different, and the strengths of the groups are different, but some of those introductory Road to Kingdom stages still stick in my mind. I’m not sure many of the performances tonight will have the same longevity. I think the producers missed an opportunity to switch up the staging. It could’ve been so much grander, especially since this is supposed to be a “legendary” war.
Judging from this first episode, I think Stray Kids and The Boyz are the most competitive groups. But, it’s very early and so much can change as the other rounds unfold.
NEXT: EPISODE TWO RECAP