After a three year hiatus, KCON LA returned in 2022 for its ten-year anniversary. The annual K-pop pilgrimage is back, and although none of my absolute favorite, tier one acts were attending, I couldn’t resist making the journey for the sixth time.
As usual, I can’t “review” KCON because the experience is multifaceted and – other than the concerts themselves – a bit choose-your-own-adventure. Back in the day, I used to like attending some of the panels and exploring as many booths as I could. Now, I look for when idols will be on the convention floor and try to attend as many of their Q&As, surprise pop-ups and showcases as possible. KCON seems to have realized that idol meet-ups are their bread and butter, practically flooding the convention floor with surprise visits. It’s always fun to watch KCON crowds lurch here and there at the slightest whiff of an idol appearance. If you didn’t know what was going on, you might think there are multiple emergency evacuations going on throughout the day!
All I’ll say about the convention is that TO1 are my new BFFs (and Drummin’ is the bop that keeps on giving) and those INI songs I thought I hated sound surprisingly good when the group is performing them right in front of your eyes.
Night one of this year’s concert was a marathon. From what I can recall of past years, each night’s show lasted two (maybe two and a half) hours. This one went on for almost four. That’s all well and good in theory. I mean, more bang for your buck, right? But whether you’re standing or sitting, that’s a loooong time to be in an arena of screaming fans. KCON tried many new things this year, from fan engagements to games to raffles. Honestly, most of these should have been cut, and would’ve made for a tighter show. I give them an “A” for effort, but a lot of these interstitial bits fell flat or became mired in technical difficulties.
I also realized the importance of diversity in the line-up. This first night’s concert was STACKED (ATEEZ, CRAVITY, ENHYPEN, INI, ITZY, Kep1er, Lightsum, Stray Kids). But, so many of these groups have a similar energy — BIG, shouty energy. When you put one after another for almost four hours, they tend to blend into one another. It’s not really fair to the artists themselves because, without a respite from the bombast, they kind of lose their individuality. Because of this, songs like CRAVITY’s Adrenaline, ENHYPEN’s Polaroid Love and ITZY’s Surf stood out most. To be honest, I kind of miss the days when KCON would invite someone like Roy Kim to perform a few slower, vocal-driven tracks in the middle of the concert and take the energy down for a bit between bigger-sounding acts. That ebb and flow benefits everyone. Maybe coffeeshop music has its place, after all!
Another facet of this particular line-up was that it attracted a particular type of fan. Yes, I’m definitely getting older and I’m sure you could interpret this as a “get off my lawn!” type complaint, but I couldn’t believe the sustained level of shrieking many of these fans had in them. I don’t want to hush anyone’s excitement. I get the passion. But, shrieking at bloodcurdling levels throughout the entire concert seems like a bit much. ATEEZ opened the show with a staggeringly long eight-song set, but I feel like I could barely hear most of it over the crowd. This might just be my preference, but I really do come to the concert to enjoy the show (and the music) – not listen to others scream bloody murder about their bias for four hours straight.
That’s the end of my millennial rant. I’m curious whether tonight’s line-up (which isn’t so weighted toward aggressive boy group music) will tamp down on the hysteria a bit. Or, maybe all of those overzealous shriekers will have lost their voices after last night!
As for the performances themselves, the night was a mixed bag. Like I mentioned, I already knew this year’s KCON didn’t necessarily boast the kind of line-up that gets me super excited. I’ve already seen a lot of the groups I like (ATEEZ, Stray Kids, ITZY) at prior KCONs. And, all three were very good. I couldn’t believe how long they let ATEEZ perform. It was like a mini-concert, and I was happy they performed a lot of their Treasure-era songs. Say My Name, Wave and Wonderland were particular highlights. Their new “KCON signature song” Poppia was great as well. I don’t always love their newer music, but there’s no denying the group’s energy and passion.
Of the girl groups tonight, I thought ITZY reaffirmed their star power most. Dalla Dalla is always a thrill to hear live, along with Wannabe. Yeji and Ryujin also had a surprise performance with Bebe Rexha, which was one of the night’s big moments that kind of passed me by since I wasn’t familiar with the song. LIGHTSUM and Kep1er were both solid (Vivace and Up! sounded particularly good), and the latter had a cool “dream stage” where fans came up and performed Wa Da Da with the group. I thought that was one of the best new features KCON experimented with this year.
I was really looking forward to ENHYPEN since I’ve never seen them live and I’ve recently become more interested in their discography. Their set was kind of short and the song choices were weird (only one title track?), but Future Perfect (aka: the grower of all growers) and Polaroid Love were personal highlights of the night.
Having seen INI at the KCON convention stage, their concert set paled in comparison to a close-up performance where you could really see the sharpness of their choreography. But, I have a real soft spot for this group and they seemed the most excited and overwhelmed to be on the big stage.
Stray Kids closed the night with a powerful set of singles (Thunderous, God’s Menu, Maniac, etc). But, they missed an opportunity by not ending the night with Miroh. That would have made a perfect closer!! On a related note, Bang Chan MCed a portion of the night’s show and was really, really good at it. I’m convinced the night would have moved much faster had he been in charge of all of it!
For the second half of the concert, we’ve got LOONA, NCT Dream, NMIXX, P1Harmony, STAYC, The Boyz, TO1 and WJSN (JO1 had to pull out last-minute). I’ve only seen two of these acts before, so I’m eager to see what the others bring.
Stay tuned for part two of this wrap-up, coming soon!