KCON LA 2016: BTS, Monsta X, Davichi & More Close Out Fest

BTS performs at KCON LA 2016.
Konuk RYU

     BTS performs at KCON LA 2016. 

The fifth anniversary of KCON came and went this weekend, bringing with it three days of con and more than 76,000 fans. Almost all of them were there for the two sold-out concerts at the Staples Center held July 30-31.

With 14 acts in between them, the two headlining M Countdown concerts of this year’s KCON LA 2016 Presented by Toyota brought some of Korea’s most talented pop stars to California. And while the first night was all about the longevity of K-pop -- icons Turbo sold their first million albums in 1995 while newcomers I.O.I released their first single a few months ago -- the second night of KCON LA’s concert was all about the here and now. Between the rookie groups and some of the most popular young K-pop stars, the second and final show was most certainly about the current state of K-pop.

Following an opening act featuring indie act Echae en Route and a jaw-dropping performance of taekwondo athletes flying over the stage, the concert began with Monsta X appearing on stage. Kicking things off with a dynamic dance performance and introductory rap, “Yessir,” from member Jooheon, the group launched into their aggressive set featuring “All In,” “Hero,” and their debut single “Trespass.” A year changed a lot for this group, who also opened one concert at KCON LA last year just weeks after their debut into the K-pop world. But whereas last year the newly-formed group was still fresh, the audience on Sunday raised their voices to cheer on the septet. Each powerful dance move evoked more cries than the last and every note was greeted by a huge roar from the crowd, especially Kihyun’s expansive belts. (The audience’s reaction wasn’t unlike the positively lit response BTS elicited in 2014, so this is definitely a group to keep an eye on.)

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Moving from one new boy band to another in quick succession, newcomers Astro arrived on stage as the conceptual polar opposites of Monsta X. Instead of dark and aggressive, the Billboard charting rookie group (they released their first EP in February) was awash in cheeriness. While it was obvious that the group was relatively unknown to many in the crowd, they evoked plenty of passionate shrieks from their growing fanbase. Performing a set of upbeat songs -- “Breathless," "Cat's Eye," and "Hide & Seek" -- Astro’s boppy, happy sound wasn’t for everyone in the crowd but the bright imagery and charismatic dance moves are clearly the key to their popularity, which has already landed two of their EPs on the World Album chart.

Since KCON’s audience is primarily made up of women, coming after two boy bands might be difficult for some female acts. But TWICE didn’t even flinch. Instead the nine-member girl group was introduced by a team of cheerleaders doing flips high above the stage before bringing their colorful pop song “Cheer Up” to Los Angeles’s screaming audience. Male, female, it didn’t matter. Everyone was a fan of TWICE at that moment. (And many fans walking around the convention earlier in the day appeared to be sporting TWICE paraphernalia.) Even though TWICE’s second song of the night was “I’m Gonna Be a Star,” it was quite obvious that there is no “gonna” about it. These women are already stars in the K-pop scene, and proved it once more with the entire stadium singing along with their catchy 2015 debut single “Like Ooh-Ahh.” 

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Next up was Eric Nam, the sweet crooner from Atlanta who charmed KCON fans for the past few years as an MC and got his first chance to perform at KCON NY in June. Following up some last minute changes, Nam had his chance to shine at the Staples Center. And he killed it, beginning with crowd pleasers “Good For You” and “Can’t Help Myself.” But duets were highlights of his set, including a performance of the English-language tropical-house track “Into You” alongside collaborator Kolaj. And if that weren’t enough, Nam then sang “I Just Wanna” with Amber, who had appeared the night before. (The duet off of Amber’s Beautiful EP is the English-language version of f(x)’s “Goodbye Summer.”) The pair, known in the K-pop industry as close friends, had a playful few moments during their set and later on in the evening but it was their melodic dueling vocals that had the crowd swaying in delight.

The midtempo ballad ended and was replaced with a soaring love song by the vocal duo Davichi. Famed for their wide range, Lee Haeri and Kang Minkyung have been pleasing South Korea with their tunes since 2008 and their moving performance contrasted sharply with the numerous dance-pop acts also in attendance. Davichi started off with their latest hit, “This Love” off of the Descendants of the Sun soundtrack, and performed a feel-good rendition of their disco-pop track “8282” followed by the sentimental “Don’t Say Goodbye.” While they didn’t dance much, the audience was far from bored. Between the expressive high notes and Haeri comically lipsynching during Minkyung’s solos, the eruption of applause at the end of their set made it clear that KCON-goers were won over by the sheer talent of the two women.

To bring back up the mood after Davichi’s melancholic final song, TWICE and Monsta X returned to the stage to perform covers of “Uptown Funk” and “Moves Like Jagger.” Coming after Davichi emphasized the gap between rookie K-pop groups and more established singers, but the potential within each group is there. 

Then there's Girls’ Generation subunit TTS, who arrived on stage to charm their way into the audience’s hearts. Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun, the main vocals behind the Korean supergroup, showed off what they had through their performances of TTS songs “Twinkle, “Holler,” and “Only U” before surprising fans with a version of “Party,” one of Girls’ Generation's hit songs from last year. The performance also doubled as a birthday celebration for Tiffany, who was bouncing around stage celebrating her 27th birthday in her hometown. Her gift? Telling the audience about Girls’ Generation’s upcoming song “Sailing,” a special track dedicated to fans that will be released on Aug. 5 to coincide with the ninth anniversary since their formation.

And last, but most certainly never least, KCON LA 2016 came to a close with headliners BTS. It was very much the BTS show Sunday night and the hip-pop group was welcomed by ear piercing screams that didn’t die down for a moment as they ran through their five-song set. The choreography was tight and the group, once known primarily for their rappers, offered up some of the most exquisite melodies and precise choreography seen throughout the two nights.

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During the performance, BTS exhibited their prowess at seamlessly transitioning between a variety of musical styles, one of the factors behind their widespread popularity. They began with the emotive ballad “Forever Young” and then followed up with the thumping intensity of “Fire” and the suaveness of their melodic “Save Me.” By the time they reached the dramatic rap performances in “Cypher Part 3,” it was clear BTS are no longer the rookies we saw in 2014; with each song they were reinventing themselves just as their 2015-6 album trilogy The Most Beautiful Moment in Life had revitalized their sound. The set’s finale ("Dope") came far too soon -- the five songs offered just the slightest look into what BTS has accomplished in the past two years.

KCON LA 2016 came to a close with the night’s other performers joining BTS on stage and waving their farewells to the crowd. Whereas the previous night had ended with the promise of additional performances, Sunday’s final stage was filled with reticence as the K-pop stars took their time saying goodbye to their California audience. Throwing confetti at one another, dabbing, and having impromptu dance battles, the stars -- who had just sold out the Staples Center -- were celebrating their success and didn’t seem to want to leave. But, as the screens behind the stage reminded the crowd, there’s always the next KCON.