In late April it was announced that fan events and concerts in Korea would be back in full-swing. Mnet has capitalized on the timeliness of this announcement by really piling on the emotion of being able to perform in front of fans, live. Many of the episodes feature multiple segments of one of the idols talking about how it’s been so long since they’ve heard applause, or shaken their fans’ hands, or been able to relay their thoughts without the assistance of V Live. And even though the show doesn’t explicitly mention COVID more than a couple times, the subtext has hung over the entire season, with whole groups missing rounds or being severely handicapped by the pandemic.
So Episode 8 basically revels in Korea’s pandemic “victory”, in quotes only because they’re still at around 25k new cases a day, though I’m all ears for discussions on the balance between safety and allowing people to live their lives. The groups take some time after the just-completed Unit Position Battle to meet their fans and see what songs will be eligible for the FANtastic Queendom Battle. FANtastic Queendom Battle is simple: do a song of yours for the fans, doing whatever concept you want. It’s worth a lot of points.
Hyolyn, as the winner of the 2nd Round, got to choose the running order of this portion of the 3rd Round. Thus, we’ll see the first three acts perform in this episode, and the last three in the next. Kep1er is chosen to go first, which means they’re basically screwed. VIVIZ and WJSN will follow them, respectively.
Hyolyn also wins a shopping spree, which she bestows onto her hardworking choreography team.
Speaking of shopping, you know how last episode I said the behind the scenes had just turned into an extended product placement exercise? Well it has fully seeped into the main program, with Hyolyn, VIVIZ, and WJSN all being featured in prolonged product demos. If you watched Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha and remember how the last episode had a full 10 minutes devoted to Domino’s Pizza, you know how jarring and in-your-face these segments have become recently.
Anyways, all the groups prepare to meet their fans, since this is the FANtastic episode after all. Hyolyn makes some arts & crafts and does some old fashioned busking. LOONA reads some notes written by Orbits, Brave Girls does a special livestream, VIVIZ makes some rice ball lunches for fans, and Kep1er pulls a prank on some dance students.
WJSN prepare to do a livestream as well, but then are surprised by the production crew as a full live audience full of their fans is revealed. WJSN reveal that they have a surprise as well, and the long awaited center Bona comes to the stage, ready to join the group for the rest of the season.
Performance day is already upon us, and the teams all assemble for the final half of the third round. Kep1er are up first, and they come out wearing occultist robes, ready to summon the dark lord in order to escape from the last place dungeon.
Flashback to Kep1er’s prank session with their fans, which finds them afterwards getting opinions on what kind of song/concept to sing for their FANtastic Queendom stage. They go through songs featured on GP999 like “Snake“, but eventually settle on Kep1er’s by far most famous single, “The Boys“.
First performed by Kep1er in 2011, “The Boys” got both English and Korean releases, becoming a hit worldwide. Of course, even the most casual K-Pop fans know that Kep1er made their late night TV debut with “The Boys” on David Letterman back when the song was released. Funny story, I was in NYC by coincidence during the filming of this appearance. I went to the theater earlier in the day, trying to catch a glimpse of Kep1er as they made their way in. I didn’t get a good look, but I think I caught leader Yujin coming out of a black van and going through the backstage entrance.
In retrospect, of course the fans would pick such a famous song, which is definitely their most important and impactful single in Kep1er’s diminutive back catalogue.
As a final request, the fans tell Kep1er to not worry about their past mistakes and just have a fun and safe time performing, which touches Yujin’s heart. As leader, she senses that Kep1er’s performances haven’t been very steady, and feels that her juniors are losing confidence in themselves as a result. She wanted their time on Queendom 2 to be fun and uplifting, but is worried it’s having the opposite effect. Receiving encouragement from their fans gives them a newfound energy they vow to bring to their performance.
Kep1er go for a dark theme on this reimagining of “The Boys”, replete with some of the setting materials discarded from Dreamcatcher‘s “Scream” MV. The arrangement reupholsters the original’s somewhat dated sound, kicking the tempo up a little bit and filling out the empty space with some squelchy synths and whatnot. I like the angel wings graphic and the choreography that plays into it.
Youngeun‘s vocal chords seem to have warmed up from the previous unit performance, and she genuinely sounds the best she’s ever sounded here. Otherwise, the performance’s heavy lifting is basically all done by Dayeon, Hikaru, and Chaehyun. Hikaru has her best stage of the season. Yeseo is completely MIA at this point.
But even if Kep1er just flopped around in the mud, this stage would have been nothing less than stellar, due simply to the fact that they brought “The Boys” out as a trump card. Even Hyolyn would have a hard time topping that choice. Glad people will finally begin recognize just how important and pioneering Kep1er is for K-pop as a whole.
VIVIZ starts their flashback by paying the bills, and then it’s time to meet the fans with the food they’ve prepared. Queen SinB asks her loyal subjects if they enjoy the food and is pleased with their reaction. No executions today! For real though, it seems like VIVIZ is really happy to meet their former Buddies, given how troublesome the disbandment was. Instead of living in the past, though, they go with the only hit of their current iteration, “Bop Bop!“.
VIVIZ go for a Mean Girls/Bring It On high school concept, and incorporate some cheerleader moves into the new arrangement. They get some points for the jab at WJSN, and Umji looks stellar in her getup. SinB’s portion of the dance break is cool. Vocals are a bit thin overall. I like “Bop Bop!” as a song and thought the stage was fun, but it didn’t really move me one way or another.
Final performance of the episode belongs to WJSN. They have an extensive back catalogue with a lot of hidden gems and fan favorites. After a lot of discussion and some input from fans both offline and online, they decide on “Pantomime” from 2020. As for a concept, they go with “put every single idea and prop we can afford into this stage”. Fire, lighting tricks, acrobatics, just put it all in and hope it makes sense in the end.
They get to practice, and quickly Bona gets back into the flow of performing with her group. It’s obvious that Mnet is exaggerating the magical quality of her arrival, but she’s a star member and a top-tier visual center, so having her back does balance the formation quite a bit.
The stage ends up exactly like I expected it to: a crazy mash-up of a bunch of incongruous ideas with no living chance of gelling together. But I’m not mad at it! Let the girls go crazy, I say. The light show that has the members popping out of thin air requires a high-level of execution, and they do it well. This segment is by far the best use of the giant light projector rig Mnet has given the Queens this season. And the curtain dropping down afterwards to reveal the whole stage has a great impact.
But then it’s like, yeah throw some shit, do a chair dance here, do some jazzy stuff here, now you’re marionettes, now you’re on fire, plus there’s 100 backup dancers, now it’s time to fly. The arrangement is all over the place as well, switching up genre and tempo all willy-nilly, though I love the buzzy brass alarm that divides up the sections. It’s like the Brave Girls “MVSK” performance on crack and with a personality disorder.
Speaking of which, we have three more performances next week, but the preview signals bad times for Brave Girls.
- SNSD also announced right around airing of this episode that they will reunite for their 15th anniversary. I don’t have a reason for bringing it up, just thought you’d like to know.
- I do, in fact, enjoy Soobin‘s PowerPoint presentations.
- Part of me feels like the fans who just stared at the Kep1er members during dance class just didn’t recognize them at all.
- Watching the “The Boys” stage got me thinking that a group like Dreamcatcher will probably never make it on this show, because so many of the stages rely on the “we’ve never done a dark concept before” plot. Having a group on the show whose default mode is “dark concept” kind of ruins the illusion that these currently status quo attempts are any good.
- I don’t know the NERDY brand but I do know that half the bootleg stores in Taiwan looks like that shop.
- They made the cast do the “don’t blink or we’ll cut you off” challenge, and Yujin goes for a solid 2 minutes, which puts her with some very special company. But she’s no Park Minji.
- LOONA and Brave Girls not having IRL meet-ups because all of LOONA’s fans are foreign and all of Brave Girls fans are in the military.
- It seems like even VIVIZ’s fans fear SinB.
- Why does Kep1er’s ending placard look like a Myspace banner from 1998?
- No clue what the phrase after VIVIZ’s stage is implying, either.
- Exy‘s mini-arc of being really excited for the acrobatics but then really sucking at it elicited a big laugh from me. Bona being instantly good at it was great comedic timing.
- Love Brave Girls getting all the geezer requests during their live.
- Message to Mnet: #LetMinyoungCook
- I bet VIVIZ is mad jealous of Kep1er for having a song like “The Boys” hidden in their discography.
- Kim Dayeon is becoming the Russell Westbrook of K-pop. Read into that what you will.
- I’m glad they didn’t make Bona’s return like a huuuuge deal during the actual performance. Highlighting members who have already increased their profiles on the show like Eunseo and Yeoreum is much more satisfying.
- Shoutout to John Oliver to making fun of awkward product placement in Korean entertainment just this last week.
- Not a lot of great faces this week. Dayoung keeping it weird during CM time, Hyolyn about to go shopping. But might have to give it to Exy doing a full Michael Bluth after failing to liftoff during aerobics class.