This year KCON USA presented by Toyota drew in 76,000 attendees over the three day extravaganza in Los Angeles and it sure felt like almost all of them were at the final Sunday night M! Countdown concert at Staples Center!
Now in its 5th anniversary, what started as a small one day convention/concert at Orange County’s Irvine has morphed into a giant three day affair taking up residence at Los Angels downtown venues of Los Angeles Convention Center and neighbouring Staples Center.
The second evening of K-pop music magic got off to jaw-dropping start with its opening acts: violin and electric bass duo Echae En Route hypnotized the full stadium, and the Kokkiwon Taekwondo group absolutely slayed with a long set of stunts, acrobatics, and mad wood-obliterating skills.
Lee Min Ho appeared on screen only this, the pre-recorded greeting signaled the advent of the main event. Amber and Eric Nam took the lion’s share of the MC duties for the rest of the night.
And then MONSTA X rocketed onto the stage like a force of nature – all shoulders and fire, fueled by the power of youth and love for performance. This group also opened for one of the M! Countdown shows at last year’s LA KCON. Just like last time, their energy is contagious and their dance skills are superlative. This young group is gearing up for bias wrecking, mark our words!
Another local Californian, Tiffany of TTS (the Girls’ Generation subunit) made a brief appearance as MC much to the delight of all the SONES in the house. Although Girls’ Generation’s visits to the USA is becoming a more regular occurrence with the full group’s participation at KCON last year, the anticipation for TTS was high. Such is the testament to the staying power of this iconic Kpop group.
ASTRO was next to take the stage. Their boyscout-ish wardrobe and squeaky clean aegyo contrasted sharply with the be-pleathered smolder of bad boy bluffness that was MONSTA X -but ASTRO’s energy was just as high and and they wowed with a few acrobatic moves.
Suddenly a set of American stunt cheerleaders performed and interlude and then TWICE appeared in cropped LA Lakers jerseys, letter jackets and denim short-shorts —athletic knee socks and sneakers completed the sporty high school look. It’s unlikely even the coldest heart in house could have withstood their musical imperative to “Cheer Up”, but it was [that zombie music video] that really devastated.
Eric Nam came out for his solo set. Though styled somewhere between James Dean and Michael Jackson with white t-shirt and black leather jacket, Eric delivered a four-song set all his own. And it drove many ladies in the house to crazy pieces. Especially lethal was “Into You”, his new all-English duet with KOLAJ. The singer of the euphorock duo joined Eric on stage and dance pop with an 80s-ish bend rocked the stadium.
DAVICHI took our breath away with the emotional OST from Descendants of the Sun and then launched into a few of their hits. A more elegant pair of ballad singers may never exist.
A Special Stage was presented for the LA audience: TWICE came out with a mini cover of Mark Ronson & Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Funk” and MONSTA X showed up with “Moves Like Jagger” from Maroon 5. The crowd was doubly delighted by the American songs and another chance to see these groups again.
Then it was time for “The Twinkle”. TTS emerged dramatically from the proscenium floor – even the center LED screen had to flew our for their entrance. Their red minidresses coated in sequins sparkled like nothing else. The ladies of Girls’ Generation are sylphs in human form and to see them in person is truly a wonder to behold. The SONES in the house were near tears as Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun glided through “Twinkle”, “Holler”, “Only You” and “Party”.
And finally it was time for the hottest group in Kpop today – BTS! The M! Countdown crowd nearly died from anticipation as the boys began singing one their lastest ballads “Young Forever” from within the dropped circular screen, making them visible only by projection. And then turntness got up to eleven, possibly twelve, as the screen lifted and the Bangtan Boys launched into “Fire”. Their set also included “Save Me” and their classic “Dope”. The sound emulating from their fans – ARMY – reverberated around Staples Center in a crescendo of noise that has not been heard at KCON M! Countdown before. If there was a decibel meter to measure the noise ARMY made I am quite confident it would have shattered all records – maybe even some ear drums along the way! BTS was at their devastating best, precision choreography and top class musicianship have cemented them as the most important act in Kpop today. Will the mantle of Kpop kings be passed on from BIGBANG to BTS? Only time will tell.
The confetti curtain call lead to confetti snowball fights on stage and no one wanted to leave.
Feels and apoplexy ran free and overflowed out of the Staples Center for the current It Groups of K-pop. This was the perfect way to cap off this year’s KCON and fans continued to effervesce as they spilled out of the venue and into the night. It was a fitting finale to three solid days of the best of Korean pop culture. We await to see the 6th edition of what is now an annual fixture in the LA event calendar.
Photos courtesy of CJ E&M