Over the last two years, KCON nailed down how to do a virtual festival and how to do one impressively well. Its online events utilised boundary-pushing technology, adapted fan-artist interactions for a digital world and allowed millions of fans to enjoy all the action from the safety of their homes. Now, with the world slowly reopening, it’s time to return to more traditional festival models.
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KCON will return for its main in-person editions in Los Angeles and Tokyo this August and October respectively and, in the run-up to the event, mini-KCONs are happening across the world. With KCON Premiere already completed in Seoul and Tokyo, now it’s Chicago’s turn to build anticipation for the big comeback. Here are the highlights from the two-day event that reminded us why it’s good to be back together.
NMIXX make their mark on the US
NMIXX’s debut single album ‘Ad Mare’ might have been divisive upon its release in February, trying to cram too many styles into one song on ‘O.O’, but their appearance at KCON Premiere is much easier to digest. The JYP Entertainment girl group are the first act to take to the stage when the lights go down for a powerful dance performance that finds them collapsing backwards onto each other in a line, rising back up as one in time with the beat, before they reconfigure and Jinni clambers onto the arched backs of her bandmates like a mountain lion.
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Power is the name of the game for the rest of their appearances, which are broken up throughout the night. Even when they’re taking part in a game where they have to guess K-pop songs via emojis, the seven-piece dance ferociously, eager to outdo the other members. Covers of BLACKPINK’s ‘Kill This Love’ – slower and moodier than the original – and Beyoncé’s ‘Move Your Body’ highlight the versatility the group could master as they continue to grow.
CRAVITY look like seasoned pros
After debuting not long into the pandemic, all CRAVITY have known until recently is the life of a K-pop idol group lived online. KCON Premiere is their first time performing to a live audience outside of Korea and proves that they haven’t spent their first two years slacking off behind a screen. The nine-member boyband look like seasoned pros from the second they hit the stage, whether they’re delivering impactful performances or engaging in charismatic displays of banter between songs.
‘Adrenaline’, backed by flumes of smoke and pyro, is a fiery introduction to the band on US territory, while the skrrrt-filled ‘My Turn’ is even more infectious live, the venue filled with the sound of fans recreating the high-pitched sound effect that pierces the chorus. Later, ‘Jumper’ raises the stakes even higher, rapper Allen a commanding presence as he declares: “It’s your world / Just do what you wanna do.” For CRAVITY, that seems to be dominating the stage with hard-hitting performances, reinforced by their final, fervent song ‘POW’.
BtoB prove why they’re the kings of the ballad
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a group with a tighter grip on stunning, emotional ballads than BtoB and five of its members (Sungjae is in Korea filming a drama, as he explains in a video message) prove as much with their debut appearance In Chicago. ‘The Song’ provides a heartfelt opening to their performances, while ‘Blooming Day’ acts as a perfectly wistful companion to this in-person reunion.
But BTOB aren’t all about pulling at heartstrings – they also know how to fill a room with goofy joy too. Eunkwang and Peniel act as MCs for much of tonight’s show, corralling fans and other artists alike through games and interactions, Eunkwang ecstatically leading the room in chanting his nickname “Silverlight” at any opportunity. The noise is even louder for Peniel, who was born and grew up In Chicago, and is welcomed back with rapturous warmth.
The night-ending joint stage is full of silly fun
It would be remiss of KCON to have three artists gathered in a venue and not get them to collaborate on a performance. The night ends with a brilliant joint stage that pumps up the joy of the night even more. After a clean version of Gayle’s viral hit ‘abcdefu’ from half of NMIXX, the remaining members, CRAVITY and BTOB return to the aisles between the crowd’s seats, dancing their way to the stage through a take on Psy and Suga’s ‘That That’. White confetti rains down on the room the whole time, only adding to the elation, and brings day one to a giddy close.
TO1 shake the room
In their short career so far, TO1 have already been through several ups and downs, but their appearance at KCON Premiere In Chicago firmly landed in the former category. Starting the night in matching shiny green and white letterman jackets, the nine-member boyband instantly made their presence felt with ‘Son Of Beast’, its tropical-tinged EDM beats making the Rosemont Theatre feel like a summer rave.
Later, after “surfing around” in the crowd during ‘Surf’, they return to the stage in edgy all-black outfits and open their second act with the thundering bass of ‘No More X’. The venue might judder with the sound, but the group are unshakeable, delivering tight choreo until the last note. TO1 are no one-trick pony, though, as they prove with a softer cover of OneRepublic’s ‘Someday’. After this, hopefully the only way for the boyband is up.
STAYC dominate with vibrant performances
STAYC might have been making their debut international performance at KCON Premiere, but at times it felt like it could have been their own concert. The screams of their slogan “STAYC girls, it’s going down” roared throughout the venue every time it was uttered in a track and the audience’s energy skyrocketed at any glimpse or mention of the girl group.
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Their first overseas appearance didn’t disappoint adoring fans either, with bright renditions of ‘RUN2U’ and ‘So Bad’ serving as highlights of the early part of the night. Later, they got closer to the crowd with a mid-room performance of ‘Stereotype’, saving mega hit ‘ASAP’ to (almost) last. Before the night ended, STAYC made one more trip to the middle of the audience, providing a penultimate display in the form of a riotous cover of Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘good 4 u’. When the girl group make their return for their own show, it seems like it’ll be legendary.
BTOB are the masters of the mood shift once again
BTOB once again serve as KCON Premiere In Chicago’s established act, giving fans another chance to witness their performance for a second night in a row. ‘Beautiful Pain’ offers more emotional beauty, while ‘Only One For Me’ is delivered from amongst the crowd. The latter, much like ‘Dreamer’ the night before, acts as a mood shift from the poignancy of earlier, elevating the atmosphere in the venue to something more akin to a party.
As the night draws to a close, BTOB reflect on their favourite moments of the weekend. “My whole family is here today so my favourite part was performing in front of them,” Peniel shares with a smile. It’s a sweet ending to the two days, which have served as a reunion for many, including the rapper and his brood.