Before any concert begins, there’s a specific energy in the air. It’s an almost palpable buzz, a mix of excitement and anxiety that comes from joining thousands of strangers in a cathartic, potentially life-changing event. Madrid’s KPOP LUX x SBS Super Concert was no different.
On the evening of July 22, the Cívitas Metropolitano soccer stadium (home to the Atlético de Madrid team) filled up with that spirit, and not even the sweltering heat could tone it down. Fans from all over the world joined forces to celebrate a glowing line-up, where names like ENHYPEN, ATEEZ and IVE would bring forward much-awaited performances and share heartfelt moments with the audience.
What those eager fans didn’t know, though, was that the very artists they came to see were feeling just as thrilled behind the curtains. “It’s our first time performing at such a huge stadium in Europe, so we really want to do well on this performance,” says Hunter from rookie boyband xikers. “We feel pressured, but also very honoured to be here, even though we only debuted four months [ago]. That’s a huge thing.”
A few hours before the concert began, he and his bandmates sat down with NME at the stadium’s press room, followed by the versatile boy group CRAVITY and the queens of catchiness, STAYC. Ranging from agitated to monk-like focused, they all looked forward to what would come from this experience.
STAYC’s Sumin mentions they aren’t used to playing in outdoor venues, which adds new layers of adaptations to their performances. “Since the stage is so big, we hear many overwhelming sounds, but we’ll do a good job anyway,” she says. Fellow member Sieun adds that this will be a night to remember: “Madrid fans are very passionate, and their energy is really hot.”
On the day before the concert, most of the line-up enjoyed some free time to sightsee the Spanish capital, eat typical foods and interact with fans who met them along the way, making the anticipation even higher. “We were walking down the street and there were fans who showed up, calling for us. That gave us a lot of energy,” shares Sumin.
“As we were walking around, we saw a lot of K-pop fans,” says CRAVITY’s Allen. “Some were even doing cover dances in public and singing along to songs, so it’s really amazing to see just how big K-pop is around the world. It makes me look forward to today’s performance.”
The time to unwind and recharge was much needed, because today their schedules are as busy as it gets. “We come in the morning, and then we have dry rehearsals,” explains xikers’ Hunter. “After that, we’ll start getting makeup and hair done, and then we’ll have a run-through and eat lunch.” CRAVITY’s schedule follows similarly: they arrived at 10 a.m according to Wonjin, and then “had rehearsals, ate delicious lunch, and did our hair and makeup,” as per Jungmo.
Just styling alone takes around three hours, stated by both STAYC’s Sieun and Cravity’s Seongmin. However, if it depended on Seongmin’s teammate Minhee, all that preparation wouldn’t be needed: “We’re handsome without makeup, so we’re ready all the time,” he says, prompting a round of laughter in the room.
After everything has been set and this quick press round is done, there’s the infamous waiting time before the lights go off and the show starts. To counter the nerves, STAYC’s Yoon – who got lost in the labyrinthine corridors backstage and took a minute to arrive at the interview – says: “I eat. All the time. And if there’s more time, I play a puzzle game on my phone called Homescapes, or prepare for the performance. The air is so dry in Madrid, so I’m having some difficulties adapting to it.”
To Seeun from xikers, who also spends his free time eating and practising, “the most difficult part is singing live during the performance”. Hunter complements further: “We also have to adjust [to many things], for example, we always practise in a room with a huge mirror. And then, when we perform at places like this, there’s delays in the audio, so we wear in-ear monitors. Usually, if it’s a small stage, we can take one side off and it will still be fine, but not here. Even the texture of the floor is different, so we have to do the performances two or three times just to get used to it.”
Coincidentally, all the groups interviewed prepared special stages for the show, paying homage to some of K-pop’s brightest stars. xikers did an impressive cover of BLACKPINK’s ‘Kill This Love’, which leader Minjae said took two weeks to learn and still “makes us a little nervous”. Meanwhile, STAYC covered EXO’s ‘Love Shot’, complete with suits and body chains, and CRAVITY spent a whole week perfecting SEVENTEEN’s ‘Super’. “We only have nine members, so it was hard to make up the energy [of SEVENTEEN’s 13-strong unit], and it’s also pretty tiring,” says Taeyoung.
But perhaps the biggest homage in the show was also for the lineup’s crowning jewel: legacy act SHINee, who closed the night with the spellbinding classic ‘View’, as well as recent hits ‘Don’t Call Me’, ‘Hard’ and ‘Juice’.
With a 15-year-long career, they are regarded as legends to fans and peers alike. Some stats to put it in perspective: after SHINee, the second-most senior group at the event were ATEEZ, who only debuted in October 2018, and the youngest idol at the event, IVE’s Leeseo, turned 16 in February. SHINee’s appearance itself was also a reason to celebrate: the last time they came to Europe was in 2016 for KCON Paris.
Given the weight of this moment, it makes sense that, ahead of their performance, a stirring VCR showed testimonies from artists like ENHYPEN’s Ni-ki, ATEEZ and THE BOYZ (who weren’t even in the line-up) professing their admiration for the band. And if that wasn’t enough, during our interviews, all members of xikers, STAYC and CRAVITY were ecstatic to share the stage with them.
“They’re really good at singing live, and growing up they were our role models,” says STAYC’s Sumin. Echoing these sentiments, xikers’ Jinsik says that “SHINee are the seniors we looked up to when younger, so I think that seeing them live will help us learn a lot”.
“We did a run-through [rehearsal] with all the other artists and, during the opening, our group was able to stand next to SHINee,” says CRAVITY’s Allen, his eyes widening. “And SHINee are my role models. Taemin is the reason why I wanted to become an idol in the first place, so it felt really unreal. Like a dream come true. I even shook hands with him.”
“Was it your first time talking to SHINee?” Jungmo asks, captured by the story. Allen agrees. “I’ve seen Key and Minho at music shows before, but it was my first time seeing Taemin.” He didn’t have the courage to strike up a conversation, though, but would like a chance in the future. “I will confess my love for him,” he jokes.
In an era where so many fans are entrenched in silly fan wars and solo-standom brag-a-thons, KPOP LUX’s biggest takeaway was highlighting how K-pop’s past and present are always intertwined, influencing one another. It showed how this generation is grateful to stand taller because of their seniors – who keep inspiring them today. In summary, it honoured that communal, effervescent pre-concert energy, reminding us that we’re all interconnected.