KCON 2022, the first in-person KCON since the pandemic, returned in full force, boasting over 90,000 attendees over the August 19-21 weekend. As the 10-year anniversary, this KCON was jam-packed with artist engagement opportunities and special stages, but it also came with its fair share of technical difficulties and sub-optimal event organization, with one incident involving a tussle between fans in the GA line. While nobody was seriously injured, the incident highlighted the understaffing and insufficient signage at critical locations.
This year saw the return of the infamous KCON Square, also known as the Dream Stage. Although bringing back the convention floor stage would seem like the ideal location for fan engagement on paper, the reality is far from it. The stage is barely above ground level, making it impossible to see performances beyond the third row from the barriers. If you weren’t one of the lucky few to see the idols at eye-level, there were other opportunities at the KCON Stage and the Dance All Day stage. In a regular year, this would be a once in a lifetime chance for fans to see their biases. However, with the continual spread of COVID-19 in the air, it’s irresponsible to not have some precautions to prevent transmission between attendees and the performers.
Despite 2022 marking KCON’s 10th anniversary, there was very little fanfare to celebrate such. Outside of the return of the increased random chances to see idols on the convention floor, there wasn’t much else to do. The whole experience—stopping by every booth and participating in the various marketing activations—could’ve been done in two hours or less. Without any lines, the entire floor is walkable in just 45 minutes. CJ E&M’s booth took up the largest amount of space, where fans could participate in sport events for prizes, but it merely reflected the amount of empty space it had to fill since there were far fewer booths than the years before. Unfortunately, KCON 2022 had the least amount of sponsors in recent memory, which could mean much less budget to work with.
Alternative programming, such as panels, were also scarce. The most popular ones were quickly capped as they were put in relatively small rooms. Adjacent to the panel rooms were the audition areas for both MNET’s “Boys’ Planet” auditions as well as WAKEONE and MNET’s “One Planet Audition” partnership idol audition. It wasn’t clear if these two auditions were related, however, one was scouting males for a reality show similar to “Girls Planet 999,” and the other was seeking potential members of a new boy band.
The main concerts brought together a mix of rookies and more established groups, with the first night featuring ATEEZ, ENHYPEN, INI, Kep1er, LIGHTSUM, and Stray Kids. ATEEZ did not hold back at all, unleashing all of their ferocity into impeccably executed dance moves, facial expressions that could bore a hole into your soul, and top-notch live vocals–their mics were on. They performed a total of eight songs, including “Poppia” (KCON 2022’s signature song), “Say My Name,” “Hala Hala,” “The Real,” and “Guerilla.” However, the one that stood out the most was “Wonderland (Symphony No.9 “From The Wonderland”),” a cinematic version of their title track turbocharged by the backup dancers and Seonghwa wielding a sword. Having completed a tour earlier in the year and planning for their next world tour later in the year, ATEEZ was in tip-top shape, flawlessly going all out in their back-to-back tracks. San’s dark hair dye was melting down his face and all the members were glistening in sweat by the end of their segment. With all of the effort and time dedicated to ATEEZ’s opening performance, it could almost be called a mini-concert to whet the appetite of fans for their upcoming tour.
Photo credits: CJ E&M
Rookie group LIGHTSUM switched up the energy with their cutie-sexy performances, and CRAVITY rocked the stage in their decked-out black jackets, performing “My Turn” and satisfyingly funky track, “Adrenaline.”
To the surprise of the crowd, Bebe Rexha made an appearance to join ITZY’s Ryujin and Yeji in a special stage to sing “Break My Heart Myself.” However, the ITZY duo didn’t perform their iconic choreography, much to the disappointment of MIDZYs. Next up was INI, a Japanese boy group formed through Produce 101 Japan Season 2. The group made their U.S. debut that night, performing “Password” and “Rocketeer,” both hard-hitting songs with chant-heavy choruses. More melodically-driven songs like ENHYPEN’s “Polaroid Love” and their cover of BTS’ “Permission to Dance” were welcome respites from the sheer number of chant-based songs performed that night. INI stood out amongst the backdrop of the other K-pop groups as they were the only ones who did not have a group introduction. Nevertheless, they gave it their all for the KCON crowd.
Photo credits: CJ E&M
Kep1er performed “WA DA DA” with a cohort of lucky fans who auditioned to be part of Dream Stage, an opportunity for winners of the day-of dance-off to perform alongside their favorite idols. ITZY cemented themselves as queens of the girl crush concept, showcasing their live vocals through their newest release “Sneakers” and their other popular title tracks “DALLA DALLA” and “WANNABE.” Stray Kids, the most anticipated group of the night, rounded out the evening with their powerful choreography and bad-boy swagger. Despite being rookies during KCON 2019, they returned this year as Gen 4 seniors with two world tours under their belt. Yes, “Thunderous” and “God’s Menu” sent the shout-o-meter skyrocketing, but the melodically driven pre-choruses and the group’s crowdwork kept the energy going strong until the very end.
While previous KCONs featured artists performing all of their songs in one go, this year’s show split up the artists’ setlists and included too many non-performance segments, which made the concert flow feel confusing and made it difficult for the artists to showcase a cohesive stage. Not only was the concert filled with several technical issues, but the artists themselves were often confused, almost as if they weren’t told what would be happening. By the time the concert wrapped up, it was near midnight, and fans and artists alike were drained from the nearly four-hour concert.
The second concert night featured LOONA, NCT DREAM, NMIXX, P1Harmony, STAYC, THE BOYZ, TO1, WJSN, as well as guest performers Ellen and Brian. Like Night One, each group would appear at least twice on stage, performing one song or cover and then returning later in the evening to perform the rest of their set. Unlike Night One, the show was run much more efficiently, lasting a reasonable 2.5 hours. The Boyz kicked off the evening, followed by P1Harmony performing their earworms, “Doom Du Doom” and “Do it Like This,” and wowing the audience with an epic dance break.
Photo credits: CJ E&M
Judging by the sheer number of green “meumwonbong” lightsticks in the arena, one could have mistaken the night for an NCT concert, but the crowd cheered enthusiastically for all the groups, even the newest rookies. The freshest rookie group in the lineup, NMIXX, debuted less than six months ago. Even though the evening was dominated by Gen 4 groups, callbacks to older K-pop hits were sprinkled throughout the show, namely NMIXX’s cover of Seventeen’s “Aju Nice,” LOONA and NXMIXX’s joint cover of Mamamoo’s “Decalcomanie,” and TO1’s cover of Psy’s “That That.” Of the covers, TO1 had the most memorable performance, as their youthful energy injected into Psy’s distinctive dance moves made their cover one you couldn’t sit still for. When they performed their own tracks, TO1 had an even more dynamic stage presence, not only because of their colorful outfits, but also because of their interesting formation changes that made good use of the large stage area and a “slightly over-the-top” energy in “Drummin'” (a la Block B) that works well for an arena show–not to mention that it’s just a super catchy song.
However, if there was an “Energizer Bunny” award for the evening, it would go to The Boyz, who bounced around on stage like they had springs in their shoes while performing rousing tracks such as “THRILL RIDE” and “The Stealer.” STAYC showcased their live vocals in their short two-track setlist “BEAUTIFUL MONSTER” and “RUN2U,” which while not quite as catchy as “ASAP” or “STEREOTYPE,” helped propel the group beyond their TikTok fame. Then, LOONA exuded elegance and power as they performed a lovely b-side “Star” and the anthemic “PTT (Paint The Town),” before they were joined by their most dedicated fans during the last chorus of “PTT” in a special Dream Stage.
Photo credits: CJ E&M
Despite only having debuted in 2016, WJSN was already the longest-standing group in the lineup and took to the stage with the confidence of veterans. As the winners of Queendom 2, WSJN was riding high and self-assured of their command of the stage. Their ripped jeans and boho chic style—using Versace scarves as tops—gave their performance a “summertime in LA” vibe, and their sweeping, melodically-driven tracks “As You Wish” and “Last Sequence” gave everyone’s ears a break amongst the shouty songs prevalent in this weekend’s performances.
Closing the night out was NCT Dream, the group most of the attendees were most eager to see, and they did not disappoint. Even with the absence of Mark and Haechan, the remaining five members burned up the stage with their hottest songs “HOT SAUCE,” “BEATBOX,” and “Glitch Mode.” It would have been better to hear more of the group’s actual vocals over the loud backtrack. Chenle was fighting hard to belt out those high notes, but alas, SM has made it a habit recently to drown their singers out on live stages. Nevertheless, their perfect mix of intensity and fun gave the audience permission to let loose and sing their hearts out. By the end of their four-track setlist, it felt like a full-blown NCT Dream concert, but fans had to be content with ending the night on a high note (literally) with the feel-good track “Hello Future.”