Rookie boy band BTS might have been the newest artist on the bill, but the huge crowd reaction could have made you think otherwise. With a quick intro, the Bangtan Boys moved into their K-Pop Hot 100 hit "Boy in Luv" as fans roared them on. The septet's choreography was a mix of break dance-inspired moves, sexy hip thrusts and members jumping over one another.
"We're so honored to be here," BTS leader Rap Monster told the audience before each member introduced himself as fans screamed for each BTS boy; sometimes before the member even spoke. Several times throughout their set, Rap Monster introduced his band "for those who don't know us." But based on the cheers from the crowd, it seemed like everyone already might have. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a U.S. tour announced soon.
Girls' Generation member Tiffany stepped out for a quick speech and to introduce the next performance. Rocking newly-dyed, honey-blonde hair, the L.A. native told the crowd how she was "truly amazed" at what she saw in the arena. "If KCON was around when I lived here, I am sure I would have been there dancing and celebrating Korean culture," she said before introducing rock-pop star Jung Joon Young.
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Decked out in a leather jacket, white T-shirt and black skinny jeans, the 25-year-old who gained fame on Korean singing competition "Superstar K" brought the first helping of rock to KCON with a full backing band -- something you don't see often in K-pop performances. But the audience saw something even more rare when Yoon told them he would pay tribute to his favorite artist Michael Jackson with a cover of "Black and White," making his outfit color choices extremely appropriate. While moving through the classic tune, BTS' Rap Monster came out for a rap section on the bridge as Jung got concertgoers wailing with a few of MJ's signature poses.
Next, it was time for the first girl group of the fest to perform as SPICA hit the stage in hip-hugging outfits reminiscent of their "I Did It" video. The girls kicked off their funky set with their most recent Korean single "You Don't Love Me" before moving into a '90s R&B mashup of Boyz II Men's "Thank You" and Blackstreet's "No Diggity."
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Before the next song, host Danny Im came out for a quick chat with the girls to talk about their debut English single "I Did It." Despite K-pop acts being met with various degrees of success for English or American-focused singles, Im seemed to have a genuine excitement and respect for SPICA's newest venture. The audience agreed with heartfelt cheering before the girls nailed the sassy performance. The quintet closed out with the R&B knocker "Painkiller" and a belt-heavy rendition of "Tonight" before coming together in the center of the stage to hold one another.
K-pop's reigning rock group CNBLUE came next to huge screams as the quartet opened with most recent hit "Can't Stop," with lead singer Yonghwa seated at a keyboard with Jonghyun and Jungshin on his left and right side, respectively, while Minhyuk drummed in the center of the stage. With Minhyuk unable to move his drum set, CNBLUE presented the only instance KCON's circle stage choice was an issue, but fans still screamed louder than ever -- particularly when Yonghwa would give a high-pitched yelp that ignited 1,000 more from the fan girls in the audience.
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The quartet's setlist was career-spanning, hitting on their debut Korean single "I'm a Loner," along with early hits "Love" and "Intuition" plus last year's No. 2-peaking K-Pop Hot 100 single "I'm Sorry."
And soon enough, it was time for the night's headliners Girls' Generation. For their first stateside show in years, the girls opened with their latest hit "Mr.Mr." as fans hollered with excitement every time the girls belted a big note. Attendees quickly noticed that member Sooyoung was missing, which the girls later explained was due to filming commitments for a new drama TV show. Still, fans were cheering on the octet with deafening screams as they spoke to the audience. "My oh my oh my has it been a long time," Tiffany commented -- hitting on a sentiment many U.S. fans likely agreed with -- before the girls said their individual "hellos" to attendees, giving members like Seohyun a chance to let their impressive knacks for English shine.
Save for "Mr.Mr.," the girls kept their set nostalgic with older hits, moving into a vocally impressive rendition of 2010 single "Hoot" before getting into 2009's "Genie" that included Tiffany yelling location-specific shoutouts ("Los Angeles, put it back on!).
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After "Genie," the gals came to the middle of the stage for another chat, this time about their seven-year anniversary they celebrated in early August. Tiffany said, "I know we haven't been able to bring our Girls' Generation tour to the U.S., but we thank you for congratulating us on our seventh anniversary." Keeping with the nostalgic sentiment, the girls sang a section of their debut single "Into the New World" a cappella as the entire arena sang along in a remarkable moment showing how far of a reach Girls' Generation has with international K-pop fans. Jessica ran offstage real quick during the break, but if she wasn't feel well, you weren't able to tell with her, and the other seven, nailing "Mr. Taxi" next.
Appropriately, GG ended KCON with "Gee," the band's breakout single and one of the most defining tracks of modern-day K-pop. Incredibly, the track's opening synths set the arena into a deafening tizzy as the girls wiggled and shimmied their way throughout the track. "Gee" was finished off with loads of confetti as the rest of the Day 2 acts came back onstage to throw T-shirts to fans and wave to the crowd one last time. But based on KCON 2014's early attendance numbers, it's only a year-long wait until more K-pop acts are back to say "hi" on the premiere K-pop festival stage.
Look out for stories and video interviews with some of your favorite K-pop stars coming to Billboard's K-Town column soon.