HallyuPopFest London 2022 recap: EXO’s Chen gives Wembley goosebumps while Kai mesmerises

The K-pop festival makes its debut in the UK with two days of dazzling performances

For the first time, HallyuPopFest has made its way to London, bringing with it some of K-pop’s finest current acts. For many of them, the festival marked their first performance in the city and, thus, a first chance to meet their London fans – be that on the red carpet, at special meet and greet sessions, or on stage at the OVO Arena Wembley Saturday and Sunday night (July 9-10).

EXO’s Chen, Hwa Sa, ASTRO, and EVERGLOW were among the acts to help set the festivities in motion for the weekender’s first day, while fellow EXO star Kai topped the bill on day two, alongside SF9, KEP1ER and others. Here are our highlights from what went down at HallyuPopFest London 2022.

Day 1

Sam Kim and P1Harmony excel in the showcase concert

Sam Kim HallyuPopFest London 2022
Sam Kim CREDIT: Courtesy of HallyuPopFest London 2022

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Before the main concert begins tonight, two artists get longer sets to win over the crowd in the showcase event. Singer Sam Kim kicks things off with an endearing set of heartfelt pop and soulful R&B, from the gently lilting ‘These Walls’ to the bouncy ‘Where’s My Money’. “This is a dream come true to me,” he says after the latter song, before highlighting the goal of the showcase concert: “A lot of people in this room probably don’t know who I am, but you know now, baby!”

Minutes after Kim leaves the stage, P1Harmony take his place, swapping out his pretty sounds for high octane energy. ‘Siren’ instantly heats things up, before ‘BOP’ does exactly what it says on the tin. Even when they take a break from performing to indulge in a random dance challenge – recreating the routines of the likes of SF9, ITZY, aespa and more, with punishments for members who mess up the moves – the boyband are ablaze with energy and enthusiasm. That spirit wraps up their set neatly in ‘Follow Me’, in which they conduct the arena in getting down on the ground and springing back up for the drop – a moment of joyous showmanship.

ONEUS go hard 

Performance-wise, ONEUS are perhaps the most impressive act of day 1 at HallyuPopFest London 2022. From the second they hit the stage, their arrival heralded by lasers and red pyrotechnics, the six-piece boy band are ready to stun. Their choreography is intense and complex but pulled off as if it’s the easiest thing in the world, whether they’re doing flips or leaping over their bandmates. ‘Luna’ sees them “gorgeously present the beauty of Korea” through an elegant performance that incorporates traditional fans, while ‘Life Is Beautiful’ adds euphoria to an already magnificent set.

EVERGLOW shine bright 

EVERGLOW HallyuPopFest London 2022
EVERGLOW CREDIT: Courtesy of HallyuPopFest London 2022

It’s going to take a group at the top of their game to immediately follow ONEUS, but luckily EVERGLOW are in fine fettle right now. From the first whistling notes of opening track ‘Adios’ to the perfectly delivered choreography of ‘Dun Dun’, the girl group live up to their name and don’t stop dazzling. “I love you London forever,” E:U tells us as they prepare to leave the stage and it’s obvious the feeling is mutual when, during ‘La Di Da’, the crowd yells the infectious chant “EVERGLOW forever, let’s go” at top volume.

ASTRO show off their sub-units 

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ASTRO’s set is a little different to the other groups of the day, with the four-piece (today they’re missing Cha Eunwoo and MJ) splitting into two units. First, Jinjin and Rocky treat us to smooth and sultry performances of ‘Lock Down’ and ‘Just Breath’, before Moon Bin and Sanha deliver slick versions of ‘Bad Idea’ and ‘Who’. Before they all leave the stage, though, there’s time for one track together – a jubilant version of ‘Candy Sugar Pop’, complete with a giddy explosion of confetti as the final chorus hits.

Hwa Sa dominates 

Hwa Sa HallyuPopFest London 2022
Hwa Sa CREDIT: Courtesy of HallyuPopFest London 2022

Hwa Sa might be performing solo rather than with her MAMAMOO bandmates tonight, but it’s no surprise that she dominates the Wembley stage. The singer and rapper has built a reputation on being a fierce and first-class performer, and tonight she reinforces that notion. It’s clear when she’s slinking her way through her debut track ‘Twit’ or delving into more emotional territory with the powerful ballad ‘Bless U’. When she reaches the iconic ‘Maria’, the screen behind her shows galactic images of outer space – a fitting backdrop for a star who is out of this world.

Chen brings the beautiful balladry 

Chen HallyuPopFest London 2022
Chen CREDIT: Courtesy of HallyuPopFest London 2022

“I’m so nervous to be standing with all these amazing artists tonight,” EXO’s Chen, who is headlining tonight, tells the crowd. It’s an endearingly humble moment, but his performances before and after his admission show he has nothing to be worried about. The singer delivers a closing set that shines with beauty and puts his goosebump-inducing vocals at the centre of attention as he stands alone on the stage, looking like he’s pouring every ounce of emotion in his body into the songs.

‘Beautiful Goodbye’ and ‘Love Words’ are poignant perfection, delivered in front of a background of a rainy, leafy scene and a lavender-coloured moon reflecting over the sea respectively. But it’s ‘Best Luck’ and ‘Everytime’ – two of the star’s K-drama OST tracks – that get the biggest screams of the night. As the latter reaches its final throes, confetti bursts into the sky and pyrotechnics shoot up towards the ceiling, punctuating a set that feels just as wondrous as these decorative extras.

Day 2

Paul Kim and Weeekly get to know London better

Weeekly HallyuPopFest London 2022
Weeekly CREDIT: Courtesy of HallyuPopFest London 2022

Taking on the mantle of showcase artists today are unique girl group Weeekly, who’ve risen through their own lane of refreshing, youthful pop, and singer-songwriter Paul Kim, frequent K-drama OST soundtrack star and balladeer in his own right.

Weeekly get today’s proceedings underway with an appearance that shifts between bright performances and charming displays of personality as they engage the audience in various challenges. While it’s sweet to see them passionately recreating the choreographies of the likes of ITZY and BTS during a random cover challenge, it’s when they’re sharing their own songs that they really make an impression. ‘Tag Me (@ Me)’ is giddy fun, their viral hit ‘After School’ is as infectious as you’d expect, while ‘Ven Para’ shows a more powerful side to the group.

Shortly afterwards, Paul Kim changes up the mood with something smoother and more romantic. ‘Wanna Love You’ grooves through light R&B, and ‘Coffee With Me’ sparkles with affection and curiosity. “I’m really shocked that you guys know my songs,” he tells the crowd after they roar in approval of ‘Every Day, Every Moment’. “I was expecting no one to know them.” The singer-songwriter may not be the biggest name in Korean music but as chants of his name grow in volume, it’s clear he’s gained more than a few new fans tonight.

CRAVITY bring the heat

CRAVITY HallyuPopFest London 2022
CRAVITY CREDIT: Courtesy of HallyuPopFest London 2022

“It smells like barbecue up here,” Allen observes moments after CRAVITY have finished a fiery – quite literally – version of ‘Mammoth’. The bursts of pyro that shoot out of the stage during the concert might raise the temperature in the venue, but the Starship Entertainment boyband are more than capable of doing that by themselves.

Their set is ablaze with energy and intensity as they veer from the powerful ‘Veni Vidi Vici’ to the attitude-filled ‘Bad Habits’, while their grand finale comes in a one-two punch of ‘Jumper’ and ‘My Turn’, the latter of which fills the arena with yells of “vroom-vroom, vroom-vroom, vroom-vroom, vroom-vroom-vroom skrrt” – a surreal but brilliant way to wrap up their time.

CIX cement their status as stars

“Some of you might not know us very well but we want all of you to fall in love with us,” CIX’s Hyunsuk tells us midway through their set. It seems like he’ll get his wish thanks to the five-piece’s flawless performance tonight. ‘Movie Star’ is an early highlight, while ‘Everything’ brings sweet sentimentality into the mix. The best moment, though, goes to the effervescent ‘Cinema’, an irresistible song that glitters even brighter live than it does on record.

KEP1ER make a great first impression 

KEP1ER might have only made their debut this January but already they’re showing a lot of promise and their first appearance at HallyuPopFest only added to that feeling. Bursting onto stage with their infectious debut title track ‘Wa Da Da’, the nine-member girl group instantly elicit screams that pierce through the cavernous venue.

The frenzy only gets stronger as their short set continues, whether they’re sharing renditions of the soft, polished pop of ‘LE VOYA9E’ or bouncing around the stage to the zippy ‘Up!’. It’s entirely deserved, though – KEP1ER gleam as a girl group to pin your hopes on for the future.

Technical difficulties can’t stop SF9 

SF9 HallyuPopFest London 2022
SF9 CREDIT: Courtesy of HallyuPopFest London 2022

It’s been three years since SF9 last performed in London and tonight feels like it could be a triumphant return for the group. In the intervening time, the boyband have only grown – both in skill and stature. But when they first appear on stage at HallyuPopFest, things don’t quite go to plan. As their introductory music wraps up and starts to segue into the first song, the sound cuts out and the group – who are promoting as six members currently due to Youngbin and Inseong’s military service and Rowoon’s acting commitments – are left flummoxed. Zuho leads the way through the chaos, taking to the mic a cappella until they get the all-clear to reset.

Once the performance restarts without technical gremlins making their presence known, SF9 soar. ‘Good Guy’ is the perfect song to erase our memories of the false start, while ‘Tear Drop’ highlights the band’s knack for delivering cool and confident tunes. Though their time on stage is limited, they drop hints that there’s plenty more where this came from soon – a world tour is mentioned, while they remind us of their comeback this week, which includes an “amazing” song, according to Zuho.

Kai wraps things up in style

To finish HallyuPopFest London 2022, Kai picks up the baton from his EXO bandmate Chen, who headlined last night, to close out the second day. His performance doesn’t go quite as smoothly as Chen’s – after the slinky R&B of ‘Reason’, Kai informs the crowd that he’s having some trouble with his outfit and leaves the stage for an extended period of time.

Before this unspecified mishap, his set is a masterclass in sultry performance, from the gentle opener ‘Peaches’ to ‘Vanilla’’s mesmerising dance break. When Kai finally returns to the stage, he picks up right where he left off, casting a spell over the venue with ‘Hello Stranger’ and an alluring finale of ‘Mmmh’.

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