It’s time for K-pop’s final year-end festival of they year! As usual, MBC’s Gayo Daejejeon coincides with New Year’s Eve, pausing midway through for a countdown to 2023.
Although HYBE artists were absent from the festival again this year, MBC’s Gayo tends to include a greater variety of genres than the other festivals. We had trot, folk, balladry and plenty of nods to classic K-pop tracks. The theme this year was a vague “With Love” and the more intimate staging placed the audience right up with the idols.
In general, I found this year’s festival to be underwhelming. That’s no surprise, since that’s been the general vibe around these festivals for a few years now. Nothing knocked my socks off, but I cobbled together my ten favorite performances of the night anyway.
An honorable mention goes to ATEEZ’s Halazia. Debut performances of a song always stand out because they’re new, but I didn’t include it on this list because it was essentially just a weekly music show performance with added pyrotechnics. It was still good, though.
10. NMIXX – Atlantis Princess
Though the MBC Gayo was quite dull overall, its producers picked some great cover songs. I’m not sure the execution of this was anything special, but Atlantis Princess is one of my favorite K-pop songs ever so that alone earns it a spot on my list. It’s also nice to hear NMIXX simply sing, unencumbered by the drastic musical shifts of their “mixxpop” sound.
9. Mamamoo – Starry Night, Aya & Illella
Sometimes all you need is a good medley, performed well. None of these three songs are among my favorite Mamamoo singles, but they melded surprisingly well together and the group has such natural stage presence. I loved the dance break transitions.
8. Forestella – Lazenca, Save Us
I’ve adored Lazenca, Save Us for many years and never tire of seeing it covered by groups. Its theatrical drama is a perfect match for Forestella. They were really able to lean into the operatic side of the song. And… that climactic high note!
7. CLASS:y, Jang Sung Kyu & Koyote
I’m surprised CLASS:y scored an invite to this show given their relative nugu status, but they seized the opportunity with this upbeat medley of classic 90’s songs. These kind of nostalgic stages are always a ton of fun. It’s kind of a tradition for a show like this.
6. Younha, Taeil & Haechan – Password 486
Younha’s killing it with her collaboration stages this year. I’m a sucker for NCT vocalists singing rock (who doesn’t it happen more often?) and Password 486 was a great, energetic choice to cover.
5. Moonbin, Sanha, Taeyang & Kim Yohan – Love Killer
Of all the dance cover stages, this felt like the most notable of the night. Though I think the song choice could have been more inspired, these four worked well together and the staging was suitably dramatic.
4. IVE – Love Dive
Love Dive has proven to be the most versatile song on these end-of-year shows. Starship has thrown a plethora of different remixes at it and each one has worked well. This “rock” mix gave the track extra drive, which was particularly effective during the chorus.
3. Yuqi, Arin, Yujeong, Chuu, & Yena – Step
A straightforward cover stage, but anytime the extraordinary Step gets more recognition is fine by me! I need this to plant a seed in the industry so that we get new music of this quality. Seriously, it blows everything else out of the water.
2. Kep1er x Tempest – Pretty U
We need more girl and boy group collaborations in K-pop! This was the perfect song choice for these two groups, though the mix stayed too slow for too long. But, once that chorus and iconic choreography came in, this was bubbly, uncomplicated fun.
1. Monsta X – You Problem, Rush Hour & Gambler
This was a very well-rounded performance, from the cute, outdoor intro with You Problem (an underrated bop) to the very cool rock remix of Gambler. In a stronger night, this might have ranked further down the list. But, its combination of great songs and great mixes makes it an easy favorite. The fact that my top spot goes to a trio of 2021 songs probably says more about 2022 than I meant it to!