Live Review: KCON Australia 2017 Day 1 – Qudos Bank Arena (22.09.17)

There has been an ongoing joke within the Australian K-Pop fandom for many years that whenever an entertainment company announces a ‘world tour’, our country mysteriously disappears from the map. It is on this note that September 22nd made history with the first ever KCON Australia! The convention, aimed to promote Korean arts and culture overseas, brought with it a range of highly sought-after K-Pop idols. Together, these self-proclaimed ‘K-Pop Heroes’ gave Australian fans one of the best concerts of their lives. The beloved Kevin Woo, a former U-KISS member, was the bright-eyed MC of the concert pre-show. The pre-show was filled with audience interaction and had a range of dance cover groups performing on stage like true idols. Then, with the entirety of Qudos Bank Arena cheering “Let’s play, let’s KCON!” the lights dimmed and the official K-Countdown began. EXO‘s Suho and Sehun appeared on stage as our English-speaking and Korean-speaking MCs respectively. They introduced the first act of the night: SF9!

Hello Asia had the opportunity to do an interview with SF9 earlier this year during which I told them that watching their stages makes me feel like I’m being hypnotised. Their stages at KCON without a doubt blew us away more than we could have ever expected with unbelievable synchronisation and stage presence. ‘Fanfare’ was a perfect fit for the opening stage with the whisper of their team name at the start of the song sending shivers down everyone’s spine. It’s hard to believe that the members are not even a full year into their debut watching how they charmed the audience with Australian slang during the talk segment. They spoke in English during the entire segment with main vocalist Inseong leading the conversation. Their next stages ‘Jungle Game’ and ‘Easy Love’ might just as well be included the dictionary definition for power, energy and charisma. Despite having nine members in the group, the cleverly put-together choreography made sure that there was not a single moment during which the stage looked overcrowded. It’s worth noting that every single person I have spoken to post-concert left that night with a newfound interest in SF9, and I can’t wait to see them continue to grow in popularity in the future.

The next group to join the stage was Pentagon. The second-youngest member Kino was first up with an incredible dance solo that caught the attention of everyone in the audience. The rest of the group then joined Kino in a smooth transition to ‘Like This’. It’s a really beautifully designed soft-EDM track and felt like a natural continuation of the vibes set up by SF9’s ‘Easy Love’. The talk segment had Pentagon dancing along to random songs by other singers including the likes of ‘Single Lady’ by Beyoncé! It was the group members’ genuine enthusiasm and goofy antics that made the segment absolutely hilarious to watch. ‘Can You Feel It’ was up next followed by one of Hello Asia’s favourites, ‘Gorilla’. I am not exaggerating when I say that I could not keep my eyes off this stage – it was so interesting so see how they managed to incorporate elements of a gorilla in battle and turn it into such clean-cut and high quality choreography.

I believe what is most amazing about both SF9 and Pentagon is that their choreography is the kind that really cannot be done if you have a weak link in regards to dance ability. Every single member needs to be at the top of their game at all times because every piece of the dance – every formation change, every slight flick of the hand – fits together like a puzzle. It requires absolute teamwork; and just like magicians, if one member of the team lags behind for even a moment, the hypnotic effect is shattered. The professionalism and hard work of both groups had KCON Australia start off on a fantastic high.

EXO’s Chanyeol and Cosmic Girls‘ Seola teamed up for a special stage singing ‘Stay With Me’ from the OST of hit Korean drama ‘Goblin’. The appropriateness of this song choice for the K-Pop loving audience was made evident during the day-time convention: when fans walking past the closed doors of the concert hall were able to hear a snippet of the song during the sound-check, everyone started cheering and screaming before they even knew who was in front of the microphone.

VICTON had big shoes to fill when they joined the stage. In all honesty, ‘Unbelievable’ may not have been the best song to perform at such a large event. Cute and catchy, yes, but slightly typical not necessarily the most memorable. A better choice for a cute song might have been ‘I’m Fine’ – there are a few lyrics in ‘I’m Fine’ which are spoken rather than sung, during which the VICTON members could have interacted with fans or made references to Sydney. (Think Girls’ Generation‘s Tiffany‘s ever-changing ‘Genie’ adlibs: “New York, put it back on!”) Up next was ‘Blank’ and ‘Eyez Eyez’. The latter was what really proved VICTON’s potential all in terms of choreography, synchronisation and vocal skills. VICTON’s execution of the choreography made the song feel that much more powerful.

Girl’s Day continued the party with ‘I’ll Be Yours’ and ‘Something’. It was very sweet to see that even throughout these strong, sexy and powerful songs, Hyeri was taking every opportunity possible to interact with the fans – finger hearts, winks and smiles galore! The group have been recognised for many years now as having an extremely strong vocalist in Minah, and I will be first in line to say that her reputation is well-deserved. The range and vocal control Minah showed during KCON was incredible and made Girl’s Day’s stages one of the highlights of my night. ‘Expectation’ had every member interacting with fans, and the climax of the song – during which Hyeri and Yura sing different lines while Minah and Sojin harmonise in the background – was unforgettable. ‘Ring My Bell’ was their last song and made for a strong finale.

Our three rookie groups returned to the stage for a series of special stages: Pentagon performing GOT7‘s ‘Hard Carry’, SF9 performing EXO’s ‘Monster’, and Victon performing BTS‘ ‘Fire’. It’s a little odd that SF9 covered a group who was present at the same concert, and in all honesty I would rather have seen ‘Monster’ performed by EXO themselves. That being said, each group did their cover songs justice.

Last but not least was the biggest group for Day 1 – the one and only EXO! The opened up with ‘Power’, which I am extremely glad was released before KCON because it is such a joy to see performed live. It’s really incredible to see Kai dance, too – every movement is made with such precision and care, yet his face doesn’t show a single sign of fatigue at any point throughout the performance. Rather, his facial expressions become part of the dance, oozing charm at every moment. ‘Tender Love’ and ‘Heaven’ were up next. These songs have two things in common: they’re both good songs, and they were both performed with no choreography. Do you know what else a good song and does have choreography? Almost every other EXO song under the sun (or EXO Planet). Perhaps it was because the group was missing one of their members and that may require some changes in choreography, but these two songs did not seem appropriate for the last act of such a huge K-Pop event. It would be a different situation if this was EXO’s own concert, but because there were a lot of members of the audience who were fans of one of the other performing acts, it may have made more sense to perform title tracks to which everyone can dance along.  ‘The Eve’ was up next before the group finished up with ‘Ko Ko Bop’. I wasn’t originally a big fan of the latter, but now that I’ve seen it performed live… shimmy shimmy ko ko bop, I think I like it!

Despite some questionable choices in the tracklist, Day 1 of KCON Australia 2017 was an even more enjoyable and memorable experience than I could ever have imagined. I am confident that every group who participated walked out of the concert hall at the end of the night with more fans than they had when they walked in, and it is the well-deserved result of their hard work and efforts. Now that they know how welcome they are in Australia, here’s hoping they come back again soon!