Warning: This recap is not spoiler-free. Proceed at your own risk!
MORE RANKINGS THAN YOU EVER ASKED FOR
Episode seven opens with about twelve minutes of rankings. We get round one, round two (minus online views?) and the sum of both so far. Here’s what the competition looks like at this point.
Final rankings for round one:
1. Stray Kids
3. The Boyz
Final rankings for round two:
5. Stray Kids
6. The Boyz
The sum of both rounds:
1. Stray Kids
6. The Boyz
So yeah… there you go! Now that that’s out of the way, we can move onto the aspect of Kingdom that actually matters: the performances.
“NO LIMIT” ROUND ONE: UNIT MATCH-UPS
The twist for this round is that there will be 33 special judges that watch the performances. I’m super impressed by the roster MNET has compiled here. There are idols from groups like Super Junior, Weeekly and Mirae. There are well-known choreographers and critics, too. They even brought in producers, including my personal MVP: Hwang Hyun of Monotree! Honestly, I’d watch a show with these judges as the stars.
RAP UNIT MATCH-UP
Unit “One” – Bobby x Sunwoo x Hwiyoung – Full Dash
Bobby and Sunwoo are probably my two favorite personalities in this whole show, so seeing them paired together is a real treat. This is the kind of fun collaboration I’ve been hoping for from Kingdom.
I don’t know as much about SF9’s Hwiyoung, but his tone seems to complement the others. Honestly, it’s a blast just seeing the two younger members totally starstruck by Bobby. I love when performers are fans of other performers, and feel comfortable showing that outwardly rather than pretending it’s no big deal.
From their initial meeting to the big YG Entertainment visit, this was my favorite behind-the-scenes package of the series yet. The three seem to get along really well and had great chemistry. I think Bobby’s devil-may-care attitude was a much-needed influence on these younger idols. Sunwoo and The Boyz, in particular, seem saddled with too much pressure in this competition. I’m glad he got to enjoy himself here.
As far as the performance goes, it’s hard for me to be objective. I’m just not a big fan of this aggressive style of hip-hop, complete with autotune effect. There’s no doubt these three are incredibly talented, and their energy was explosive. I thought Sunwoo was the clear standout, bringing a more diverse and dynamic style than the other two. Bobby did his crazy, shouty thing, which we all know he’s good at.
It was a fun performance to watch. I don’t know that I would ever want to listen to the audio of this song on its own, but I could say that about a lot of the Kingdom stages. The trio’s chemistry made the stage pop, and that’s an important factor you can’t really fake.
Unit “Mayfly” – Minhyuk x Hongjoong x Bang Chan x Han x Changbin – Colours
It’s interesting how much larger this unit is than the previous one. I’m kind of surprised Kingdom didn’t impose rules capping the number of members that could participate. Mayfly also seems to have an instant upper-hand, given that Stray Kids’ 3RACHA are well-known composers.
The guys decide to go for a painting/racial justice theme, using a track Bang Chan had already been working on. They were really psyching themselves up in the studio at JYP, shouting and laughing in equal measure. I’m not sure I saw what all the hype was about, as the instrumental sounded pretty basic to me. I guess you had to be there…
The behind-the-scenes package makes sure to include the requisite shots of JYP’s famous cafeteria. I’ve seen it on so many different shows that I practically feel I’ve eaten there myself.
Now, for the song. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this kind of overly shouty rap just isn’t my thing. Sometimes, I feel like it’s the only style K-pop boy groups think rap can occupy. As with the prior unit, this performance could do with a greater variety of tone and energy.
As an actual song, I probably liked Colours a tad better than Full Dash. But, I didn’t think the performance was quite as engaging. I appreciate the concept and message, and the guys clearly displayed their talent and charisma. But, switching between different scenes and solo parts didn’t allow them to have as much of the fun interplay that made One’s performance so exciting.
Regardless, me not being a Korean speaker and not understanding the lyrics really makes my opinion on Korean hip-hop pretty pointless. In the end, I’ve just got to go with how a performance makes me feel.
My vote goes to: One
The judges voted for: Mayfly
DANCE UNIT MATCH-UP
Unit “One” – Juyeon x Taeyang x DK – King & Queen
Ooh, the start of this was awkward… the kind of awkward I love in variety shows. Seriously, just give me two hours of awkward and I’m entertained.
This is a really interesting mix of performers, though. I feel like DK’s style is more powerful, while the others are more elegant.
They’ve decided to take Kingdom’s moniker quite literally and theme their performance around a famous Korean king and his descent into madness. This may actually turn out to be therapeutic for them, given the pressure this show piles on its contestants!
This was a striking performance, with great staging and vibrant pops of color. Both the dancing and acting was incredibly expressive, with some neat set pieces as the three each got a moment of their own to shine. I don’t know that it’s the kind of performance I’m going to remember in a year, but it was certainly enjoyable in the moment. I liked how they had a clear storyline that leant itself to climactic moments.
Unit “Mayfly” – Wooyoung x Yunho x Seonghwa x San x Yeosang x Felix x Lee Know x Peniel x I.N – Wolf
Again, Mayfly’s numbers completely overwhelm their competition. Over half of ATEEZ joined in, making this feel like a giant army of performers. Quantity can definitely be an asset, especially when it comes to choreography, but it also threatens to take some of the personality out of the performance. There’s just so much to look at. It’s almost overwhelming.
Fortunately, the guys choose to do a dance performance of EXO’s Wolf — one of the most unfairly maligned K-pop tracks of the past decade. I absolutely love it, cheesy wolf howls and all.
Seeing Peniel as the leader of this unwieldy unit is quite funny. He strikes me as quite the laid-back leader — more of a cool RA than a demanding taskmaster.
It turns out, having so many members perform together was the right move in this case. It allowed for some cool configurations. I totally bought the guys as some sort of post-apocalyptic wolfpack. It was all deeply weird, especially when Peniel came out with the dancers on leashes. But, Wolf is inherently weird, so I guess it works.
However, I’m not sure the performance as a whole really went anywhere. There were moments that were great (Felix jumping onto the tower of dancers!), but it lacked the clear through-line that might tie it all together. The energy and staging became repetitive a few times, which held the overall performance back. They get an A+ for song choice, though. And even if this wasn’t as consistently great as I hoped it would be, it was still a lot of fun.
My vote goes to: One (by the smallest of margins)
The judges voted for: ?? (we’ll find out next week)
As I approached the two-hour (!) mark on this episode, I think I missed what this last ranking was for. I’m sure someone in the comments will know! Whatever it was, it was brushed aside very quickly.
1. Stray Kids
5. The Boyz