Another year, another KCON record set. The largest K-pop and Korean-culture festival in the world took over Newark's Prudential Center this past weekend for its largest East Coast iteration to date. Not only did the fest bring its most artists yet (a combination of nine boy bands, girl groups and solo star Zion.t, up from last year's eight), but KCON reported 43,000 attendees this year (up from last year's 40,000). With two full days of panels, workshops, e-sport competitions, food tasting, and merch buying, KCON ended each night with concerts led by the bright K-pop stars.
Day 1's concert opened with KNK. The emotionally-driven boy band kicked things off with their latest single "Sun, Moon, Star." Dressed in dapper white suits, the guys got the crowd warmed up with songs like "Knock" setting the stage, and the energy continued to rise when SF9 hit the stage for a pyro-heavy performance. The guys brought one of the most hyped-up stages of the fest that included an adorable break where members "proposed" to a lucky fan and sang her Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are." The audience's screams indicated that the boy band—the youngest group to perform at KCON—is certainly one to watch on the scene, not even considering their technically impressive performance.
The show quickly continued as GFriend opened their set with a funky, slightly sexy dance routine before moving into hits like "Fingertip," "Navillera," "Rough" and "Me Gustas Tu." Next, Zion.t quietly yet powerfully rocked the stage and wooed the crowd with songs like "It's You" and "Yanghwa BRDG," along with a snippet of his beloved G-Dragon collaboration "Complex." Before the night's final act came out, KCON brought surprises like a Disney duet between GFriend's Yuju and Highlight's Dongwoon of "Beauty and the Beast," SF9 covering songs by EXO and BTS, and stars popping into the audience. Day 1's headliners Highlight eventually hit the stage for a set that incorporated their latest hits ("Plz Don't Be Sad" and "Calling You") while also being nostalgic for longtime fans (the group performed K-pop chart-toppers like "Good Luck" and "Midnight Sun," released when the group was known as Beast and under a different record label).
Day 2 continued to prove why KCON's concert is a musical experience unlike any other K-pop experience, when the show opened with reigning girl group Twice paying homage to fellow female superstar outfits Wonder Girls (performing a fun take of their crossover hit "Nobody") and miss A ("Bad Girl, Good Girl"). The ladies shuffled offstage for Up10tion to take over who, similarly to SF9, garnered a huge response for their high-flying choreography (including four members kicking over each other's heads on "Attention") despite being a rookie on the scene. The group was followed by NCT 127, another new boy band, who also garnered one of the wildest responses of the night. The group's leader Taeyong opened with a dance solo as the group joined him for singles like "Cherry Bomb," "Limitless" and another adorable section where members proposed to an attendee.
Twice was the penultimate performer, going through their slew of hit singles like "Signal," "TT," "Cheer Up" and "Knock Knock," and cutely addressing the crowd, looking like a girl group dream in flowy, all-white dresses. The night's final headliners, CNBLUE, came out with tons of energy and one of the festival's most varied sets. The K-pop-rock band moved through years' worth of singles with the set, seeing frontman Yonghwa getting up close to the first row audience members, drummer Minhyuk bringing an intense drum solo and Yonghwa eventually playing the piano for "Can't Stop."
When the night culminated with all the acts coming on stage to say goodbye, Yonghwa told the arena audience, "See you again next year," not only making a promise for KCON to come back to the New York area but also to do outdo itself yet again.
Listen to Fuse's K-pop podcast K-Stop preview KCON 2017 New York below: