Warning: This recap is not spoiler-free. Proceed at your own risk!
Friends, I have disturbing news…
The final episode of Kingdom is over three hours long. Three hours and ten minutes, to be exact.
Gone are the illusions of an early night. This husk of a blogger, wiped from a busy work week and overdosed on TXT has become a ghost(9). And now, the prospect of staying Up All Night to chronicle this three hour swagger-a-thon will see my usual grasp of the English language devolve into incomprehensible eieios and illa illas.
But, I’ll brave all the rankings and re-rankings for you, because that’s what I do. Just don’t be surprised if a sentence stops mid-way through, replaced by a series of random characters. That only means my keyboard began to resemble a pillow. Hey, I’m just “resting my eyes”…
AN ENDLESS INTRODUCTION
Through a combination of voting and streaming, the final round will be decided completely by fans. This obviously has the potential to shake up the ranking, but all votes from previous rounds will be added as well.
The episode opens with all groups marching out one by one, flanked by dramatic remixes of their signature songs. It’s super awkward, with the camera weaving around as the guys stare intensely into space. Some members are better at maintaining this act than others, and of course I’m instantly drawn to the ones who look most uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, BTOB are seasoned enough to simply turn the whole thing into a joke.
And judging by this introduction, it’s instantly clear why this episode will be three hours long. They literally introduce each act several times. In a row. Right before a clip package that introduces them yet again…
After twenty minutes, nothing has happened. I wonder if it would be better to pre-record the finale? I know the voting wouldn’t work the same, but these live finales just DRAG. We need an editor.
MUSICAL CHART EVALUATION
In a fun behind-the-scenes clip, the groups listen to and evaluate each others’ finale songs. If you’re curious, you can read what I thought about them here. As expected, all the guys are very kind with their words. I’d love to see a series where idols spoke about what they honestly thought about their and others’ music. Of course, that would never happen (and for good reason!).
Anyway, part of this final round’s score (20,000 points) is dependent on how well these songs ranked on digital platforms. That ranking is revealed here, at a strategic point that will certainly not impact the live fan vote… right?
Music Chart Ranking
2. Stray Kids
1. The Boyz
I’ve gotta say, I’m a little surprised The Boyz managed to take the top spot. They do have a sizable domestic fandom, though. Plus, the song’s pretty good!
Thirty-five minutes in, we finally hear those magic words: “The final round starts now.”
FINAL PERFORMANCE RANKING
I’ve already shared my thoughts on the songs, and that will definitely play a part in my final ranking. But, an excellent performance can elevate a so-so song, and vice versa.
6. iKON – At Ease
Like many of the Kingdom groups, iKON opt for a food-themed behind-the-scenes video. This is part cooking show, part eating show, and allows their fun interplay to flourish. Even if I haven’t always cared for their performances, iKON have been one of the most entertaining groups to watch on Kingdom. They come across as very authentic and comfortable in their own skin. And from the sound of it, they’ve been able to make a few friends with members from other groups.
They’ve also developed a bit of an obsession with “going up a notch” during each round’s ranking, and they’ve generally been successful in that aim. I get the sense that exposure is more important to them than ranking, but of course you want your work to be appreciated.
I’m sorry, iKON. I just can’t get into this song. And, the concept of the performance was pretty much what I would have expected from this heavy sound. The use of chain fences was cool, giving the stage a maze-like appearance.
iKON always delivers energy, and that was definitely the case here. The prisoner/prison guard costuming worked well, even if it felt too predictable. The song built to a rousing, shout-along finale. But, I feel like I’ve seen this stage before, and it’s just not what I tend to enjoy when it comes to K-pop.
5. SF9 – Believer
SF9 took a commanding lead last week, revealing a stage and concept that felt new for them. They’re still basking in that glory as they meet for drinks in what looks like a large, fancy greenhouse.
There’s a lot of focus on Taeyang’s tight shirts during this clip, as the members gift each other new clothes and other witty items. Thankfully, after receiving some throat spray, Inseong is now able to laugh about his “Spark” bum note during the unit performance round.
The guys look back at some of their stages, highlighting funny anecdotes. As with all the groups, I think their Kingdom run has been hit or miss, but generally on the strong side.
After a moody intro video, SF9’s stage opens in black and white. They’ve really been playing with color (or lack thereof) lately. That continued here, with lighting playing a big role. Compared to many of the other groups, their use of the stage felt more constrained. They spent a lot of time in that (admittedly cool) prismatic tunnel!
I loved the human sculpture that marked the mid-point of this performance, but other than that there wasn’t a lot of imagery that stuck with me. I’ve seen a lot of masks and creepy contacts in K-pop already. The song sounded better alongside a performance, but coming after last week’s triumphant Move, the finished product felt a little underwhelming.
4. ATEEZ – The Real
Oddly, their video starts with fashion, as the guys show us some of their favorite looks. They get all dressed up, only to meet at a construction zone that leads to a riverfront terrace. I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, but they discuss their song and how it shows how “real” they are as a band.
If I understood Hongjoong correctly, The Real is actually an old song they dug out from the vault. I always wonder how many treasures idols, agencies and producers have lying around. Let me feast on your scraps, Sweetune!
This kind of hype track can really benefit from a live performance. I like their theme of “delinquents,” even if it’s not very original. It was well-staged, with fun use of props that gave a lighter-than-expected vibe to a stage I assumed would be nothing more than puffed-up chests and general badassery.
There were a number of creative set pieces, and I loved when they brought the kids on for the finale. As for the song… I remain nonplussed about it. It’s like a less-successful version of music they’ve already released. Why couldn’t they have performed Take Me Home instead?!?
3. The Boyz – Kingdom Come
The Boyz have been very up-and-down throughout Kingdom — a completely different experience from their consistent dominance on Road to Kingdom. To relieve stress, fatigue and injury, the guys rent out Everland — that amusement park you always see on Korean variety shows. From the dark skies behind them, it looks like this was done in the middle of the night. So… maybe not relieving the fatigue??
Anyway, this is the master plan of the injured Younghoon, who couldn’t participate in the last two Kingdom rounds. The event also includes those sentimental video messages that tend to pop up during the last episodes of survival series.
The Boyz love playing on the theme of “Kingdom,” and elements of this can grow a bit stale. If I have to see a crown resting on a podium again, it’ll be too soon…
Luckily, this song is a jam. This was an odd performance because it used a lot of pre-recorded video for transitions. Otherwise, it was primarily a dance showcase, much like last week’s Monster. The dancing was great (of course), the song was great, and the costume changes were great. But, the lack of strong staging bumps this down a notch. And though Kingdom Come is one of my favorite songs of this round, I think it deserved a more inventive concept. It’s not The Boyz’ fault. I just think their team used up their best ideas during Road to Kingdom.
2. Stray Kids – Wolfgang
Stray Kids divide into three groups to go camping, make coffee and play games. It’s a much-needed break, though anything that’s filmed for Kingdom can’t really be considered a “break.” Still, the guys seem to have fun — especially the arcade team. Poor (or lucky?) Han takes his break alone, learning how to make coffee. At least he’s wearing a more sensible hat this week! I also like his black-painted nails.
This segment ends where most Korean variety does: at the grill, stuffing mouths with meat.
I like Stray Kids. A lot, actually. But, they haven’t really blown me away throughout Kingdom. Apart from Seungmin, they haven’t shown the kind of range I’d hoped for. This performance followed suit, boasting incredible energy undercut by a fairly dull song.
I died when the wolf hand puppet shoved itself into the screen (1:39 on this video). It’s so cheesy, and I think the performance would’ve benefitted from embracing that cheese rather than attempting to be “serious.” But even with all the strained edginess, the staging for this was pretty fantastic. They really leaned into the “wolf pack” theme, crawling and jumping all over the place. There were some real striking shots, using a variety of camera angles. Filling the stage with dancers lent Wolfgang a larger-than-life presence that made it feel more like a musical than a typical K-pop performance.
All in all, this strong, memorable performance enhanced a song that could do with more hooks and less shouting.
1. BTOB – Finale (Show And Prove)
The guys head off for a drive, reminiscing about their favorite performances during the show. And like almost every other group, they’re mooyaho-ing all the way. I swear, this “mooyaho!” disease is taking over. Where did this exclamation originate? It’s suddenly all over idol variety.
While eating, BTOB read “fan” letters from their enlisted members. How cool would their stint on Kingdom have been with all six remaining members? I would have loved to watch Sungjae’s interactions with other groups. He’s funny even when he’s not on screen, as evidenced by his letter.
Not only does BTOB have the best song in the finale, they’ve got the best performance as well. This was simple, but never boring. The staging echoed the overblown drama of this track but knew when to pause and use empty space to its advantage. It’s all about playing with momentum and energy in performances like this. You can’t start at ‘eleven’ and stay there the entire time. That’s just a loud version of ‘boring.’
With that said, this wasn’t anything revelatory or life-changing. It was essentially a scaled-down version of a Eurovision performance. But, alongside the rest of the acts, BTOB stands out in all the right ways. I loved their classic sense of showmanship.
While we wait for the final votes to be counted, the Team Mayfly vocal unit (still the best performance of the series) is joined by DK of iKON, Inseung of SF9 and Hyunjae of The Boyz to cover “Boy’s Diary.” I don’t have a lot of commentary on this, except to say that these are the kind of collaborations Kingdom was made for.
The behind-the-scenes video is made even better when Changmin pays the guys a visit. They should have gotten him to join in on the performance, too!
FINAL RANKING AND WINNER
It all comes down to this.
Who will be THE KING? (he says in a dramatic, echoed voice)
Here’s what the fans (and previous rankings) decided:
2. The Boyz
1. Stray Kids
I think we all could have predicted the winner, even from the first episode. In the end, this was always going to be a popularity contest to some extent. That’s not to take away from Stray Kids, who are immensely talented and delivered some great performances as part of this series. But those looking for an upset should probably tune into a different show with a different voting system.
If I were voting, I don’t even know who I would pick. All groups had their ups and downs, and my rankings changed week to week.
I’m more interested in seeing where these groups go next. They’ll all likely make comebacks within the next one to three months, and I’m eager to see if they stick with their pre-Kingdom trajectory or try something new. And will they get the same sales boost the Road to Kingdom groups enjoyed?
As for Kingdom as a whole? iKON’s Bobby probably summed it up best with this nonchalant quote:
“It felt short, yet so long.”