The Staples Center in LA felt plump with people – not sold out, but definitely a well-attended show. And the venue was once again a great melting pot multi-racial, multi-generational, multi-everything people. Diversity for the win!

Let’s KCON! Let’s M Countdown! was the mantra for the evening. Pre-show began with Jun Curry Ahn doing one of his signature violin/dance covers – this time it was “Save Me” by BTS. Then out came OG hanguk hip hop duo, Eluphant to pump up the crowd.

Next came a surprise event – the presentation of the Quincy Jones Recognition Award! It’s a special new award created by the CJ Cultural Foundation, Berklee School of Music and Mr. Q. Jones himself. The recipient, Suzanne Choi, is a Berklee student from South Korea and she is studying Film Scoring and Electronic Music Production. (And if anyone is wondering how on Earth the legendary Quincy Jones ended up at KCON… well, he’s a Berklee alumn, but also – Mr. Jones has been active and interested in pop music in Asia for a while. He’s has close ties to Korea’s rap goddess, Yoon Mi Rae and he has worked with BLUSH.) Sincere congrats to Ms. Choi! What an honor!

Lee Min Ho made his concert cameo, first on video narrating the history of KCON (now in it’s fifth year) and then in the flesh on stage. The Original Flower Boy, graceful and stately as ever, with only a few words managed and a small gesture commanded the crowd to get excited — and the crowd obeyed.


I.O.I was first on the concert stage in long legs, red pleated school girl-ish skirts, and white blouses: the epitome of a rookie girl group. Any shyness displayed during the red carpet event dissolved and the girls brought their A-game to the stage. Their set included “Dream Girls” and “Pick Me.”


DEAN, the “Super Rookie” was next, looking like an extra from a Nirvana video, if Nirvana existed in some squeaky clean parallel universe with less drugs and more shampoo. The crooner’s two song set – “Bonnie & Clyde” and “I’m Not Sorry” – left pools of liquified fangirls dripping around the stadium.


Ahjusshis love GFRIEND. Like, LOVE them. Like, love them so much they stand up in the aisles and make their companions take photos of them with GFRIEND on the stage in the background. But seeing these lovely young ladies live on stage, it’s easy to see why! The grace, the effortless fluidity, the spunk! They might be the second coming of SNSD. (Other demographics love GFriend too – how can they not? They are the Kpop real deal.)


Block B members Zico trotted out with U-Kwon to assist on his solo track, “Boys & Girls” and then brought Dean out for their recent collaboration, “Pour Up.” The swag was high and everybody was jumping.


Amber, LA local and the darling of international fans, also had a brief solo showcase. Everyone’s favorite “llama” effectively demonstrated how to “Shake That Brass” and touched hearts with her autobiographical English track, “Crossing Borders.” So much verklempting on stage and in the house.


Then it was back to the 90s with Turbo! Astro and GFriend each performed a cover of Turbo classics, and then served as back up dancers for the rest of the set. Kim Jung Kook, Running Man’s Spartan, thank the groups saying, “They made our stage a little younger!” All across the venue, Korean ladies of a certain age were on their feet for the whole set, showing the power of music in evoking nostalgia. After announcing an upcoming concert with HaHa (of Infinite Challenge), Mikey, another LA local, told the crowd he would memorize everyone’s faces and expect to see them all in Las Vegas in November.


Block B took the stage as the penultimate act and in a surprise twist launched with back to back ballads. But they unleashed their signature raucusness with “Her” and “Very Good” and delivered the wild rumpus we’ve come to expect from them. Zico’s hair remained resolutely unflattering, and after over a year of questionable hair styles, we’re wondering if he angered the coordinoonas or is this just his look now?


And at last it was SHINee‘s time under the motion lights. Emerging dramatically from a lift in the stage floor dressed in casual garb from their View album promotions, and the quintet launched into a short set of hits: Replay, View, An Encore, Beautiful, and Everybody. The boys looked a little tired, except for Minho who was his usual 110% on stage. And though Jonghyun kept things somewhat lowkey, he managed to deliver the perfect pensive pose and knew exactly how long to hold it for the camera, his face blown up on the two story stage screens broadcasting feeels into the nosebleeds. Key announced that SHINee is busy preparing for a new album and concert in Seoul – so let’s all keep an eye out for that!


Key and Amber MC’ed the bulk of the show and presented primarily in English. Somi from I.O.I also assisted at one point. Korean presenters got English subtitles on the stage screens. The stage this year was a S-shaped thrust which ran our from a LED triptich on the proscenium and into the GA floor. The trap was in the center of the S, directly under the Staples Center’s flying circular screen and the two were deployed in combo occasionally to good effect.


Again KCON LA M! Countdown delivered an outstanding production with a great variety of artists of establish stars and young up and comers in the industry. It is a testament to the Korean music industry to keep churing out performance ready stars for the global stage. I can’t wait to see what Day 2 of the concert holds.

Photos courtesy of CJ E&M