For the fourth year in a row, KCON hit the Los Angeles area for America’s annual Mecca of Korean culture. This year, the now-three-day convention boasted a Comic Con-like setup of panels, booths, workshops and vendors about all things Korean culture (or “Hallyu“) at the Los Angeles Convention Center before wrapping things up with a concert on the latter two days at the Staples Center.
An early representation of how KCON looked to broaden its appeal past music fans came with an opening with remarks from actor Daniel Henney (who began working in Korean TV dramas like My Lovely Sam Soon, but has moved into Hollywood films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine). “We’re here because you guys know us,” he told the Hallyu-loving crowd. “We wanted to say thank you.”
With that, Monsta X took the stage for their first U.S. performance ever. The boy band released their debut single in May, but were still a hot item on the KCON lineup and a testament to how quickly K-pop fans react to a polished, new act on the scene. The septet performed three (cardio-intensive) songs, but inspired a huge roar from the crowd — not unlike KCON 2014 performer BTS, who Billboard noted last year as “the newest artist on the bill, but the huge crowd reaction could have made you think otherwise,” ahead of announcing a sold-out tour a year later. The Monsta X boys seem in line for a similar fate, with KCON surely playing an integral role for any further American activities.
Fellow boy band GOT7 kicked off their performance with break dancing before greeting the crowd and addressing why, despite their name, only six members were here. “We are very pleased to meet our L.A. fans,” Thailand-bred, English-speaking member BamBam told a shrieking crowd, before American member Mark added, “I want to say sorry Jackson couldn’t come … we’re going to have as much fun to make him really happy.” Fans were quick to forgive as the Moschino-clad boys moved through singles like “Just Right” and even “Bounce,” a song never officially released by the band.
Siwon and Leeteuk of the night’s headliners, Super Junior, briefly took the stage for a few words as well to introduce the night’s only girl group, Sistar. Decked out in sparkly hot pants and summery tops, the quartet busted out new single “Shake It” along with a dance remix of 2014 anthem “Touch My Body.” While the group attempted to prep some English words for fans, it became clear they were a bit flustered or unprepared as they faltered trying to read some type of monitor or cue cards. But when it came to singing, leader Hyolyn‘s voice filled the arena, notably on a remixed version of “Loving U,” while the biggest reaction may have been to the group’s version of “Ma Boy” — a song originally released by members Hyolyn and Bora as Sistar19, but this special performance brought all four gals into the mix.
The only solo act on the night’s bill, singer-songwriter Roy Kim, changed things up a bit with what was, visually, one of the most interesting acts of the night as the stage and overhead video screens created a spectacular light show for just a dude and his guitar. A highlight of the night came for his cover of Jason Mraz‘s “Lucky” that brought out Sistar member Soyu for a duet, which finished off with a high-five.
While “Lucky” was a surprise, another was right behind as members of Monsta X and GOT7 rushed the stage for what was a bit of a West Side Story-inspired dance battle. The Monstas wore all white and the GOT7 dudes repped red as the bands got down to Hot 100 hits like DJ Snake‘s “Turn Down for What” and Chris Brown‘s “X.” It was not only awesomely unexpected, but also refreshing to see rivals come together for a fun and special stage for American audiences only.
Soon enough it was time for Super Junior to enter the Staples Center, introduced with a video montage documenting their 10 years in K-pop. The arena howled for the ninesome, looking like sophisticated gentleman in black-and-white suits, vests and jackets, moving through hits including career-defining tracks like “Sorry Sorry” and “Mr. Simple.” But it was during what should have been a very-fun medley of tracks like “Oppa, Oppa” and “Rock Star” that the arena’s poor acoustics struggled most obviously. A cluster of noise overshadowed the guys playing air guitar for what would have been, objectively, a ridiculous sight, but instead more or less added to the chaos and pandemonium the boy band can create.
SuJu ended the concert with a slick performance of new single “Devil” that presented loads of smooth choreography and formations before the most interesting part of the night came when all the performers returned to the stage to say goodbye to fans and greet one another. While Sistar members Hyolyn and Dasom were noticeably absent, there were loads of interactions to take in, like the many respectful bows to the Super Junior dudes while GOT7 and Monsta X members hugged one another. The acts also danced and reacted to each other’s songs playing overheard, like when Sistar and Monsta members did choreography from GOT7’s “Just Right” while Bora knew when to bump her chest to “Trespass” by Monsta X for a sweet ending to what was, to date, KCON’s biggest night yet — with another coming less than 24 hours later.
Look out for more with your favorite KCON acts on Billboard soon.