Warning: This recap is not spoiler-free. Proceed at your own risk!
We kick off immediately with the rest of the global fan vote from last week and learn that sixth place goes to iKON. I can’t say I’m too surprised, and I don’t think it means that they’ve suddenly lost their fans. I just don’t think there’s as much crossover between their fanbase and the type of person who would power-vote on these types of shows. Or, maybe their fans are just sick of survival shows in general. These guys have already been through so many! To iKON’s credit, they take their last place finish in good stride.
First place goes to Stray Kids, and The Boyz take runner-up. I’m not surprised. In fact, it matched my own ranking last week! Both groups have relatively newer fan bases that are currently surging. Those two elements are a major boon for this style of a show. I expect these groups to battle it out pretty closely throughout the series.
Introductory Round: Final Ranking
2. The Boyz
1. Stray Kids
Next, the upgraded stage for this season is revealed, and I like that it’s bigger and feels less claustrophobic than Road to Kingdom. As TVXQ stride out to get things started, all the groups go crazy. Rightfully so!
ROUND ONE: TO THE WORLD
The groups are tasked to send “a message to the world.” That’s pretty damn vague, but whatever. Like the introductory round, the guys will be performing one of their own songs. This is fine, I guess. But, I’m eagerly awaiting the covers (and hopefully collaborations) that will arrive later in the series.
The judging for this round comes from a hodgepodge of different groups, which I think is a smart idea. I’m especially interested in who the “K-pop experts” are, whose ranking will determine twenty-five percent of the final vote. Kingdom promises to reveal this “later.”
As expected, MNET spend all sorts of time focusing on Stray Kids choosing the order of performances this week. It’s fluff, but at least we get to see some personality amidst all the “warring.”
It’s decided that for this episode, The Boyz will go first, followed by iKON and BTOB. The rest of the groups will perform on next week’s show.
Disclaimer: I’m watching the full episode, not the unedited clips on YouTube. I’ll be embedding the full YouTube performances in these posts, but my ranking is determined by what was shown in the episode itself.
3. The Boyz – No Air
The group is pleased with their second-place finish, which they didn’t expect. It’s a good spot to be during the first round, actually. They’re near the top, but there’s still room to grow.
As the guys are discussing the song they want to perform, I’m realizing again what a strong singles run they’ve had. They end up picking No Air, which I didn’t care for when it was first released but has grown on me so, so much over the years.
Understandably, they feel pressure to live up to all the impressive stunts they showcased during Road to Kingdom. In a way, they have a harder path ahead of them during this series, as they’ve set expectations so high and have already used up some of their tricks last year.
Perhaps because of this, they decide to literally go underwater for a special video shoot that will be part of their performance. It gives me anxiety just to watch them do this, and reinforces the fact that idols have to do a lot of uncomfortable things just to stand out. Seriously, I don’t even know how they’re opening their eyes and mouth while under the water! I’m totally with Sunwoo here, who really doesn’t wanna be doing this. In fact, I feel like I’m always with Sunwoo. His deadpan observations certainly resonate.
This was a very theatrical performance, as I would expect from the boys. The POV concept was pretty cool, and the staging impactful. I’m not as sold on the song’s remix. It started off really strong, but slowed too much in the middle and lost a bit of momentum. And, all that underwater shooting that they suffered through was barely used in the actual performance!
As usual, there were a lot of clever ideas here and their storytelling was strong. But as a piece of musical performance, I don’t think it ranked among their best. The climax was pretty cool, though — particularly the backflip!
2. BTOB – Missing You
BTOB are by far the “oldest” in the competition, having debuted in 2012. They’re quite different from all the other groups, which can be a challenge or an asset depending on how you look at it. Their behind the scenes package is edited as a parody of popular variety show I Live Alone, which highlights one of their strengths: their fun, easy-going personalities.
Their song decision process comes across as more lighthearted than the other groups, probably because they don’t feel like they have as much to prove. But though they’re largely seen as ballad singers nowadays, there was a time when they were doing high concept dance music like Kingdom’s younger acts. Well, maybe not quite like them, but you get the idea!
They have a hard time deciding whether to go for a ballad again, do something fun and upbeat, or challenge a dark and conceptual stage. Ultimately, they decide to go with a tried-and-true ballad that showcases their strength as vocalists. The sentimental Missing You will be upgraded with traditional Korean elements.
The set design, costumes and lighting for this stage were all gorgeous. Creating a forest was such a smart idea. It’s low tech, but high impact. And of course, as vocalists, they are on a different level than the two groups that went before them. From a pure performance standard, this was highly polished throughout. But, I must admit that I found the staging a bit boring during the middle before the epic sword fight changed the mood.
Minhyuk was definitely an MVP here, and transitioned to the song’s climax with flair. The arrangement was great too. It wasn’t over the top, but changed the original enough to make it stand out.
1. iKON – Love Scenario + Killing Me
iKON have never been a group that felt suited to this type of show. They’re not particularly high concept, which isn’t a bad thing. They’re more focused on the music itself, and the attitude and swagger that powers it. That pays off on the charts, but might be a struggle in the context of a performance-based show like Kingdom.
The group spends some time discussing this very concern before deciding which song to perform. Ultimately, they opt to call celebrity friends to help them decide which song (or songs) should make the cut. Awkwardly, this includes Chani of competing group SF9. Throughout it all, Bobby looks a little distracted, picking at his clothing and awkwardly smiling. I forgot how much fun he is on variety shows. Winner’s Mino and Seungyoon also make appearances, with Mino sporting the most awkwardly disheveled hair.
They end up deciding to mash up Love Scenario and Killing Me — two very good, very popular songs. It gives them a chance to highlight the strength of their discography, while offering a contrast in tones.
I just loved this performance. I’m a sucker for movie musical concepts, and that style of storytelling works very well for Kingdom. The staging was clean and simple, and shone great spotlight on the group’s dancing (which they never get enough credit for).
I adored the funk mix of Love Scenario. It didn’t lose the charm of the original song, but changed it up in such a fresh way. The transition to the darker, more emotional Killing Me could’ve been an absolute mess, but it was perfectly executed in keeping with the theme of the stage. Taken together, both songs showed wonderful range, and should easily help the group rebound from sixth place.
Next week, we’ll see the three remaining performances and I’ll mix them in with these three for a final ranking!