Nu'est, Loona, Stray Kids, and more highlights from the annual K-pop convention

By Caitlin Kelley
August 20, 2019 at 07:58 PM EDT
KCON USA

This year, KCON LA expanded to four days and featured a jam-packed schedule of industry panels, fan engagement blocks with K-pop idols, and food vendors who specialize in Korean food. Of course, these activities were just the warm up to the event’s main attraction: a two-night spectacle of performances by 14 of the brightest stars in the K-pop world including Seventeen, Ateez, Loona, Stray Kids, Itzy, Iz*one, Mamamoo, Nu’est, and Verivery. 

The convention did face some hurdles as visa issues blocked Chungha, Oneus, and Everglow from making their scheduled appearances, but that didn’t deter the annual festival from attracting a record-breaking 103,000 attendees in downtown Los Angeles. 

Ahead, a round up of our favorite moments from the 2019 event. 

Nu’est performed “Deja Vu” with five members for the first time 

Nu’est’s popularity soared after competing on Mnet’s K-pop reality show Produce 101 — but not without a temporary splintering of the lineup. After lead vocalist Minhyun left to form Wanna One with fellow Produce winners, the remaining members of Nu’est created the Nu’est W subunit (the group’s 2018 hit, the Latin pop-indebted “Deja Vu,” reached the top 5 of Korea’s Gaon charts). But this year, Minhyun ended his contract with Wanna One and rejoined Nu’est, allowing the newly reunited group to perform “Deja Vu” at KCON LA with all five members for the first time ever.

Loona slayed the dance floor

Loona was one of the most anticipated acts at KCON LA 2019. While you might know them from “Stan Loona” fame, this 12-member girl group is also filled with top-tier performers who know their way around a dance floor. This year’s event saw them bring their rapid-fire aerobics to life at the inaugural Rookie Night, along with a cover of BTS’s fight song, “Not Today.”

Stray Kids’ crowd chants

Apparently, all of the screaming on Stray Kids’ new single “Side Effects” made live fan chants that much simpler. The EDM and psytrance influences on the group’s latest release also helped them stand out on a genre-agnostic lineup. There’s a reason why Stays (their fandom name) made up a significant chunk of the crowd on the final night. 

N.Flying’s Queen medley 

On the second night of KCON’s concert festivities, idol band N.Flying proved that there’s room for arena rock in the Korean pop takeover. The quartet commanded the Staples Center with their spin on a medley of Queen classics: “We Will Rock You,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Radio Gaga,” “We Are the Champions,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  Hwiseung even took a cue from Freddie Mercury and swung around his mic stand during the performance. 

Itzy proved they’re monster rookies

Itzy are forging their own group identity on JYP Entertainment’s roster. The quintet immediately established themselves earlier this year after becoming the fastest girl group to win a music show (just nine days after their February debut). Their growing list of confidence-boosting anthems are amplified by their biggest strength: their dance prowess (Itzy’s neck-snapping moves proved to be one of the second night’s biggest crowd-pleasers).

Seventeen’s finale fake out 

Seventeen’s sound may be maturing past their lighthearted showmanship, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still have fun. With a five-song set spanning recent hits and older classics, these headliners proved why they’ve become mainstays on the upper tier of the K-pop industry. As they wrapped up “Aju Nice,” they reprised the chorus not once, not twice, but thrice, faking out the audience by cheekily exiting the stage each time. 

Ateez lived up to Block B’s “Very Good”

If anyone embodies the chaotic energy of Block B’s 2013 hit “Very Good,” it’s their semi-labelmate Ateez. The rap-rock banger is a staple among the kind of bad-boy artist who combines in-your-face rhymes with aggressive choreo — territory Ateez is already making their mark on with their trap-infused EDM

K-pop girl groups dominated 

Following Twice and Blackpink’s headlining arena tours in the States this year, KCON LA  2019 made a concerted effort to achieve greater gender parity than previous years. Though the scale was still weighted in favor of male acts with eight boy groups to six girl groups — or, if visa issues hadn’t minimized the original lineup, nine male acts versus eight female artists — as EW previously reported, KCON is a space where K-pop companies gauge overseas markets on the basis of how an artist is received. All six of the girl groups on the lineup this year have solid fandoms, and the hype surrounding them at KCON proved it. Crowds formed around barricades in the convention space for 40 minutes just to catch a split-second glimpse of Mamamoo walking past them. Their was also an ear-splitting response to performances by Momoland, IZ*ONE, fromis_9, ITZY, and Loona — further proof that there is an eager market for female K-pop groups abroad. 

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