Warning: This recap is not spoiler-free. Proceed at your own risk!
‘NO LIMIT’ ROUND
We’re back with the rest of the No Limit round performances (and Han’s goofy hat). Last week, I took a look at iKON and Stray Kids, and their stages will be folded into this week’s ranking.
6. Stray Kids – Ddu-Du Ddu-Du x God’s Menu
Read my full thoughts in last week’s recap.
5. iKON – Pretty Savage (ft. Lisa from BLACKPINK)
Read my full thoughts in last week’s recap.
4. The Boyz – Monster
The Boyz decide to cover EXO’s Monster, which doesn’t seem to be performed by idol groups that often anymore. In fact, apart from Growl, EXO songs in general don’t seem to be covered as much as they should be.
The guys spend a lot of time on the foot work, which needs to be incredibly accurate and in-sync. Part of me wonders if they would have been better off creating new choreography rather than replicating an already iconic move.
Either way, there’s no doubt this group works seriously hard. The practice room footage looks like they’re going to war, complete with grunts and chants. Younghoon sits this one out, recovering from injury. And apparently he’s not the only one, as next week’s finale will be missing a couple of the members. I guess these are the moments when having so many people in your group really pays off. Still, it seems like these guys are always getting injured…
Another thing that pays off is practice. When it comes to the performance, The Boyz are perfectly in-sync, as advertised. The staging is quite simple this time, but they make good use of rolling platforms to divide up the space and add vertical interest.
Yet despite highly polished moves and impressive intricacy, I felt like this performance came across as oddly flat. The problem had little to do with The Boyz themselves, and more with the staging (or lack thereof). It just felt a bit unambitious compared to the other groups, like a really cool, really expensive choreography video.
Of course, the one exception was the giant snake that wriggled out toward the end, revealing Sunwoo from its mouth. This was one of the most ridiculous entrances I’ve seen on these kind of shows, but definitely memorable! Other than that, there were often too many people on the stage, which drowned out the power of the choreography. It felt like a missed opportunity.
3. BTOB – Blue Moon (ft. Miyeon of (G)I-DLE)
Unlike the other groups, BTOB decided to perform a b-side of their own. Apparently, it’s a song that fans have requested, though I’ll admit I’m not familiar with it despite having heard all of the group’s albums.
I’m not a big fan of jazz, and that may play a part in my ignorance surrounding Blue Moon. But, this genre allows them the perfect opportunity to stage their performance as a musical. Much to my disappointment, they trot out the old La La Land reference, as if no other musical has existed in the past century.
Still, I’m happy the guys decide to go full-on stage show with us. They even enlist a military band and actors to fill the stage to make it feel more movie-like. Miyeon of (G)I-DLE happens to be one of these actors, keeping with the theme of inviting agency juniors onto the show for added hype.
I really appreciated the storytelling and staging of this performance. Yet again, it did a great job showcasing these guys’ considerable skills. And, they managed to keep the energy and transitions quite brisk without devolving into an incomprehensible mess.
Unfortunately, the song itself does nothing for me. So, that blunted the overall performance to a certain extent. If they had given a completely different track this same style and staging, I think BTOB could easily have been closer to the top. Still, I’ll gladly take this over the shout-a-thons from last week, even if I got a little bored during a few points.
2. ATEEZ – Answer (ft. La Poem)
ATEEZ choose one of the best songs of last year: their early-2020 hit Answer. To me, it’s hard to go wrong with a song of this caliber, but if Kingdom has taught us anything, it’s that the groups love to fuss with things that were fine to begin with.
During discussion of the song’s merits, I was happy to see the group point out the fact that Answer’s melodic core is one of its strong points. Seriously, I need ATEEZ to rediscover their love of more melodic title tracks. Their choruses and pre-choruses pack such a punch, and they’ve been largely absent for the past year or so.
The guys look back at pre-pandemic footage, including a concert from early last year. Nowadays, it’s so surreal to see concerts with a full audience, isn’t it? I mean, in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t been that long since we were able to gather in crowds without hesitation. But, it almost feels like some long-lost alternate reality. I can’t wait until fans can fill music shows and concerts again!
This performance is meant to encapsulate the group’s journey so far, and that’s actually one of the more straightforward concepts this round. The staging calls back to past music videos, which is a nice treat for fans. But to be honest, I care much more about the music than the imagery. Luckily, ATEEZ mix up the song by sampling Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. And if Answer wasn’t already epic enough, this symphonic influence takes it to another level.
There’s a heavy dose of rock added to the mix as well, which complements the song’s power. Despite all these additions, this version wasn’t markedly different than the original, and the first half lacked some impact.
But, Answer saved its coolest inclusion for the finale. Operatic quartet La Poem brought incredible drama to the climax. Without their presence, this probably would have gotten a lower ranking. But, I’d watch and listen to the last moments of this performance over and over again. Seriously, bring more opera into K-pop! This was so cool and so over-the-top.
1. SF9 – Move
You simply can’t go wrong by choosing SHINee or Taemin, and I think this is probably the best song selection SF9 have made the entire competition. Their motivation behind this choice is to show something even sexier than the stages they’ve already unveiled. It’s an interesting niche to aim for, and I wonder if this will be their thing when it comes time for their next comeback.
Incidentally, they attempt to tie the word “sexy” to their past singles. I’m not sure it works for all of the songs! If anything, it just reminds us all how awful the styling was during the Mamma Mia era…
For Move, SF9 aim for a more subtle, restrained form of sexy. Apparently, this includes singing with 70% air and 30% voice, along with the occasional panting. That’s even more air than JYP uses!
Preparation also includes a phone call with the Taemin himself, who gives some inspiration behind the concept. He tells Chani to have a “mean heart,” which is pretty funny considering the source. Taemin is like the smiliest idol around!
As for the performance itself, I absolutely loved this. It’s easily the best thing SF9 have done this whole series. The concept was so different for them, but also completely unique within this round. That alone made it stand out in the best possible way. The choreography was excellent, and the bright colors (and lack thereof) on stage really spotlighted each moment in a simple, straightforward way that helped draw and maintain interest.
I also loved how the song itself wasn’t just a straight cover. They added new elements to flesh it out in unexpected ways. I could have done without the noisy dance breakdown, which interrupted the smooth sexiness that powered the rest of the track. A more unique, daring instrumental would have worked better during that portion. But, the entire performance moved at such a great pace — languid but never boring. Rather than bombast, it gave us focused charisma.
Honestly, even with that jarring breakdown, this was right up there with the strongest performances of the entire series. Just very, very cool.
We end the episode with a series of three rankings: expert, group and a combination of both.
5. ATEEZ / iKON (tie)
3. The Boyz
1. Stray Kids
(I’m seriously side-eying that number one choice…)
4. The Boyz
2. Stray Kids
(The correct number one choice, thank goodness.)
Current Cumulative Ranking
4. The Boyz
2. Stray Kids
Next week, we finally get to see the stages for the groups’ original songs. Before that, make sure to check out my ranking of the songs themselves!