KCON came to Europe for the first time in 2016 with a loaded line up; from K-pop veterans FTISLAND, SHINee, f(x), and Block B to the hottest band of the moment BTS and to fresh-faced rookies like I.O.I, the concert was high with festive spirit to celebrate the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and France. Even the South Korean Madame President attended the concert.
Despite the drizzle and wind, an impressive assemblage of international fandom, mostly teenage girls, lined up early outside the Accor Hotels Arena at Bercy. Some wrapped up in national flags and others singing their favorite K-pop songs to amuse themselves during the long wait, the jolly fans of K-pop brightened up the greyish Parisian landscape with their colorful banners and light sticks.
Unlike the dreadfully disorganized artist meet and greet sessions during the convention earlier in the day, the concert itself started promptly at 8:00pm when the master of ceremony LeeTeuk, sporting a modified ivory hanbok, announced the beginning of the festivity with his signature jolly voice. His unusual outfit was far off the K-pop style raider and can easily make its wearer look ten years older, but oppa, you sure can pull off anything.
After a daylong wait in the line, the crowd in the nearly packed 18,000 seat arena unleashed their bestial howl when BTS appeared on stage singing a remix of Arirang, which LeeTeuk introduced as “Ari-rendez- vous.” Is K-pop now going to turn its eyes from English to French to bastardize the proud language? While BTS was sweeping through the S-shaped stage to the deafening cheer, all other groups appeared on stage, making the beginning look like the finale. This had an effect of bringing the high-strung energy—typically saved for the grand finale—to the very beginning of the concert and the climactic energy never fell flat during the three-hour-long K-pop mania.
As it typically goes for an ensemble concert like this, the set list included the most representative title songs for each group, counting on the common K-pop sense rather than on expert knowledge of individual fandom. F.T. Island and SHINee, now ten and nine years into their debut respectively, sang five songs each whereas the fresh debutant of the year I.O.I sang only three songs. Too bad that I.O.I—a temporary unit to last only for ten months—won’t get to develop an extensive repertoire like other groups.
Block B, making their fourth appearance at KCON, was the zesty mood maker of the day—no wonder they were the first to perform—with the rapper line up just killing it with their hits “Her” and “Very Good.” I.O.I was the next to follow, switching the flow from Block B’s goofy energy to cutesy aegyo. These girls might be the freshest face on the block, only having debuted last month, but the eleven members are already seasoned media personalities commanding a sizeable fandom. But can they command a live stage on a global scale like this one?
My doubts were dispelled by their charmingly executed self-introduction. Chung-ha greeted fans with impressive English while Do-yeon’s spoke quite confidently in smooth French! Girl, is there anything that you are not good at? Elflike Yu-jeong and Mina complemented sylphlike Chae-yeon and Na-yeong, while the spicy dance of Chung-ha balanced out the bashfulness of So-hye, who made the fans laugh when she looked at her cheat sheet to deliver her greetings in French. The “visual” of the team Gyeol-gyeong was at the peak of her youth and beauty. She really doesn’t need the K-beauty tricks that the convention was promoting earlier in the day. But another “visual” of the group Somi was nowhere to be seen, as the French authorities did not grant youth of under 15 a work permit. We certainly hope to see her at KCON someday! Flanked by K-pop gurus like Block B and f(x), it was evident that I.O.I’s stage manners still have a way to mature, but they have just arrived at the scene and the future of K-pop girl groups look bright thanks to them.
Following I.O.I, Han Ji-min and Jin Goo made a guest appearance to promote Korean-France friendship. If you are wondering why these two, please go and watch the nineteen episode Descendants of the Sun—the latest K-drama sensation to have swept Asia. And forget about sleeping before you’re done.
Victoria was missing in f(x) lineup, diminishing what was once a quintet into a trio, but Amber’s large personality made up for the conspicuous absence. After nailing “4 Walls” and “Rum Pum Pum Pum” with the help of dancers to create an illusion of a full lineup, Amber refused to accept anything less than the loudest response from the crowd. Whether you’re a fan of Amber or not, you have to admit that she’s got an attractive personality. Luna performed her new solo song “Free Somebody”—the first time to do so live—to make a point why she is the voice of the group. But to sing like that while performing a complex choreography?
Speaking of a total package, BTS brought down the house! From cantankerous to lacrymonious, they are the masters of fine-tuning emotion. Already maddened crowd went absolutely wild when BTS launched their performance with “Fire.” But when you see the live choreographic performance of “Dope,” life is complete! Aw, what a sight when those lanky boys move in unison!! Hardly anyone in the arena was sitting at that point. BTS interspersed their rambunctious performance with more melodic titles like “Save Me” and “I Need You,” leaving fans behind who really needed some saving after their hearts got stolen.
It seemed almost impossible for anyone to follow BTS, and the lucky task went to F.T. Island. What to do with the crowd still pining for BTS? Oh, why were the concert director so cruel to F.T. Island? But the lead singer Lee Hong-gi hasn’t been in this business for ten years for no apparent reason. The man’s got lots of hutzbah! His husky voice directly penetrated fans and the presence of a live band refreshed the stage with rock authenticity. Lee even said “oh sh*#” during the last song “Falling Star.” Shall we thank him for not having used the “F-word”? Hmm, hmm, Madame President in the house…
The finale was saved for SM Entertainment royalty SHINee. Oh, by the way, earlier during the concert, Taemin delivered a theme song called “Reality,” a famous OST for the French hit film La Boum, and literally melted everyone away with his heartfelt sweetness. But now he was back with SHINee (“The SHINee is back~”) to prove that he is the legitimate “dance guy” of the team. Even seated far away from the stage, I felt that each and every move of his was emotive and precise. Ever gallant Minho looked more gallant for the night, Onew’s smile more radiant than ever, and the salty trickster of the group Key was more impish than usual. Minho confessed that SHINee so wanted to return to Paris, and perhaps it’s the city that did the trick! But Jonghyun, where were you, we missed you in Paris.
When all performers converged on stage to the blinding spotlight and a heavy dose of confetti, fans’ chanting of the names of individual group or idols quickly diffused into a cacophonous murmur, sounding like a plea for their stars to stay on stage forever. Fans indefatigably lingered around the arena long after the concert was over, refusing to let go of the long-anticipated event and savoring the evanescence of a live concert that is bound to last only temporarily. Some young girls were sobbing from joy of having seen the idols live and sadness of having said good bye to them. To these predominantly European fans, this was a memorable occasion where they breathed the same air with the beloved stars whose usual habitat happens to be a two dimensional pixel screen. Paris is a better city with K-pop, with its colorful energy making the enchanting city even more vibrant. The chilly evening air of June cooled the excitement that was slowly but gradually dissipating. In the end, the magic of Paris, impassionate fans, and the chimeric idols made KCON 2016 a truly special event. A perfect ménage a trois indeed!