In the weeks leading up to MIK Paris, it feels like the festival could end up a downer. After changing the line-up for each day after putting tickets on sale, the event’s social media posts are flooded with comments demanding refunds or that the bill be returned to its original form. Scroll through too many in one sitting and it starts to feel likely that the Accor Arena could be half-empty come festival weekend.
On the first day (February 18), dedicated to K-pop, that’s thankfully not the case. The stands are packed with fans, carrying with them lightsticks representing the different artists on the line-up, each adding a colourful glow to the throng of people. Throughout the day, the audience erupts in bursts of the ‘Seven Nation Army’ riff, much to the bemusement of many of the idols on stage.
Cherry Bullet kick things off in vibrant, kaleidoscopic fashion, ‘Aloha Oe’ as bright as the retina-burning floral print on the screen behind them. The retro-futuristic synths of ‘Love In Space’, on the other hand, are made all the more intergalactic by the lightsaber-like beams of red light that flicker over the group as they nail the addictive choreography.
For many artists on the line-up this weekend, it’s their first time performing in Paris or, for some, even Europe. B.I is one of the acts that fall into the French first-timers camp and the crowd gives him a rapturous welcome. “You guys are so amazing like this beautiful city,” he says, grinning. The response only gets louder as he delivers a flawless set, from a glittering, infectious ‘illa illa’ to the closing bouncer, ‘Cosmos’, where he becomes the first to jump off stage and down to the fans, performing one verse sat on the barrier.
Chung Ha might have performed in Paris before, but this time she’s back with a treat – unreleased previews of her next album. The first, ‘Don’t Believe In Love’, takes the form of a bittersweet break-up soft bop, made for gently dancing through the tears. ’Love Without You’, meanwhile, masks heartbreak with a euphoric, four-to-the-floor chorus that instantly gets the crowd jumping.
Much of K-pop day is packed with the energy of that latter song: upbeat, high-energy performances that turn the arena into a party. KARD bring a carnival of EDM-tinted bangers to Paris, from the tropical ‘Oh NaNa’ to the skittering club cool of ‘Dumb Litty’, while Pentagon – represented by only five members tonight – select boisterous, brilliant cuts from their arsenal. Yuto, Kino and Wooseok give a fiery first live rendition of their 2021 single ‘Cerberus’, while the group can’t leave the stage without performing ‘Shine’, one of K-pop’s most irresistible earworms.
Later, Hwa Sa showcases her sultriest sides with ‘I’m A B’ and ‘Maria’, before dipping into MAMAMOO’s catalogue for a short, sweet medley of hits, and BTOB – now back at full force with six members – bring a classic feel to the party with the likes of ‘Missing You’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Man’.
Day one is also replete with legends. Hip-hop icons Epik High make it patently clear just why they’re so respected with a performance that spans their inimitable career. We go from their days of being held at arm’s length by the industry with ‘Map The Soul’ to the swaggering, cool ferocity of ‘Rosario’, via their more luminous YG era with ‘Kill This Love’ and ‘New Beautiful’.
To close the day, two members of Girls’ Generation take to the stage, albeit separately. First, Hyoyeon splits her set between performing and DJing, the latter featuring SNSD hits between juddering EDM beats and remixes of Sam Smith’s ‘Unholy’ and Fatboy Slim. Later, Taeyeon wraps things up with an elegant, emotional set that puts the emphasis on her stunning vocals. The word ‘INVU’ glistens behind her as she effortlessly hits the high notes, while she sounds better than ever as she looks back to the beginning of her solo career on ‘I’.
Hip-hop day (February 19) is in some ways quieter – the venue feels much emptier than 24 hours prior – but, in others, far wilder and rowdier. There’s constant chaos on the stage, like Kid Milli’s sprawling set that sees the rest of the WBYH crew hyping him up, spraying water over the crowd and each other, or when JJANGYOU leaps over said railings and clambers up to the first floor in the last song of his own set. From there, he makes like the Pied Piper of Paris, his microphone serving as his magic flute. He races through the rows and back down to the floor, doing a lap of almost the entire room, followed by an excited mass of fans each step of the way.
Unfortunately, MIK Paris’ second day is also its most uneven in quality. JJANGYOU certainly brings some raw edge to the event, but he also falls into the trap of relying on screaming to hype the crowd up. Han Yo Han’s set after starts off sloppily but the self-proclaimed “Korean rockstar” regains his footing as he gets deeper into things – that is until he straps on a bright pink electric guitar for ‘I Don’t Know’. He uses it to deliver a noodling solo that concludes with him plucking the strings with his teeth before ripping the instrument off his body and smashing it in two on the stage. He struts across the stage after surveying the wreckage – fluorescent shards of a hackneyed attempt at embodying the most superficial form of a rockstar.
There’s plenty to get excited about elsewhere on hip-hop day, though. R&B star GSoul eases us into the day with his velvet vocals and poignant songs that elicit lung-busting screams from some sections of the audience. Giriboy later switches effortlessly between rap dexterity and softer cuts, but it’s Big Naughty – dubbed a “future legend” by Jay Park later in the day – who outshines nearly everyone else around him. Although he’s the youngest act of the day by some way at 19, he possesses a supreme level of confidence that keeps you riveted. His star power is only reinforced by his eclectic setlist, which bursts equally with loved-up gems like ‘Lovey Dovey’ and rapid-fire raps (‘5 Gawd Remix’).
Park’s own set is a masterclass in giving the people what they want – in this case, soulful balladry, sexy, swag-filled cuts and, yes, the ‘Mommae’ twerk. Throughout, the star highlights his versatility, from hard-hitting rapper on ‘The Purge’ to king of the party-starters on ‘K-Town’ and tender-hearted romantic on ‘Yesterday’.
After a 10-minute warm-up set from her DJ, CL makes her long-awaited arrival at the Accor Arena, looking ready to dominate the whole day. She wastes no time in doing so, kicking things off with a storming triple threat of ‘Spicy’, ‘Hwa’ and ‘The Baddest Female’, a self-assured grin plastered on her face. “I wanna see all my bad bitches out here,” she declares before the latter, standing tall as the leader of that tribe. The crowd shouts every word of ‘Doctor Pepper’ back at her before a surprise inclusion of her 2NE1 solo ‘MTBD’ precedes the addictive attitude-filled ‘Hello Bitches’ and raises the atmosphere to fever pitch.
And then, about 20 minutes into her set, CL bids Paris adieu and the lights in the venue come up, signalling the end of the show. That premature farewell from a headliner billed for a 55-minute set is a stark reminder of the organisational woes at MIK Paris. Sets begin early and with barely a pause between acts – even when the previous artist has gone off ahead of time – leaving fans who think they have time to refresh and rehydrate in a frenzy. The original issue of the line-up changes also did a massive disservice to fans but likely shortchanged the artists, too: mixing K-pop and hip-hop could have promoted more discovery of acts from both sides of the coin while also giving the hip-hop artists the bigger crowds they deserved.
Overall, MIK Paris is largely a brilliant celebration of Korean music and a much-appreciated opportunity to see so many artists from the country in an area that often gets overlooked on K-pop “world” tour routings. If its organisers can learn from its mistakes, the next event should be a blast.