K-pop reality show Kingdom – Thoughts, favourites, and surprises from Episode 1

‘Kingdom’, MNET’s newest reality show, started airing on 1 April. Following their victory on ‘Road to Kingdom’, The Boyz are competing for the crown against some of K-pop’s biggest boy groups: BtoB, IKon, SF9, Stray Kids and ATEEZ. 

As long time K-pop fans, we couldn’t help but want to weigh in. In this series, we’ll have Rimi, Seoulbeats editor and survival show veteran, and Sadhana, HelloHallyu editor who is yet to complete watching an entire survival show, talk about their biases, favourite performances, and the most heartbreaking moments each week. 

Sadhana: Like we mentioned earlier, I have to stress, I’ve never managed to finish a survival show all the way through, so I’m really excited to be live watching this one – especially with all the groups it has. Also a disclaimer: I’ve heard a few songs from each of these groups, but I haven’t really gotten into their discographies. So I’m curious to see which group will catch my attention, especially with the bit where we’ll see them do their take on classic K-pop songs.

Rimi: To be honest, I don’t really follow any of these groups either (though I do quite like Stray Kids and iKon). I’m also curious about what you think of the line-up itself. Given the manner in which the show has been framed, I’d have expected the groups on Kingdom to be ‘bigger’ than on Road To Kingdom. Before the show began, I was thinking that they certainly are, but also that there’s some overlap? For instance, in terms of album sales as seen on Gaon, SF9’s July 6th, 2020 EP ‘9loryUs’ sold 110,874 units, and Pentagon’s October 12th, 2020 EP ‘We:th’ sold 110,479 units in the first month of release. Admittedly though, all groups on ‘Road to Kingdom’ benefited from the show, and these are Pentagon’s sales post the show. So perhaps SF9 ARE bigger — I just didn’t realise it. On the other hand, BtoB’s sales seem to be even lower than Pentagon or SF9’s — but they’ve certainly been around much longer, long enough to qualify as a contender for the crown.

However, now that the first episode has aired and we’ve seen how close the votes were for Ranks #6 to #1, I think Kingdom’s producers chose a great lineup – it’s impossible to predict how this will go. Thoughts?

Sadhana: I think it’s an interesting lineup because, sales aside, we have some very strong groups from 3/4th gen and SF9 and BtoB seem to be good sunbae contenders to throw in the mix. I think the opening shots of the first episode explain why some of the groups that are in Kingdom chose to be here – the masked up crew, liberal dispensing of sanitisers, temperature checks; in these pandemic times, Kingdom is a good way to make sure you’re still connecting with fans and to net some new ones along the way. 

Rimi: Great point. Also, Road To Kingdom was hugely beneficial for the careers of the groups on it – their Gaon sales shot up. Even Golden Child, who were there for only half the show, benefitted. Basically, MNET provides immense exposure – and all this even without all the drama that comes with the usual survival/audition program such as Produce.

Sadhana: Yeah! That was the first surprising thing about this episode for me- the lack of over the top drama. I mean my last attempt at a K-pop reality show was the first few episodes of I-LAND which, well, was very very dramatic. So I thought, going into Kingdom, we could gently rib such attempts at creating theatrics, but so far there have been very few of those moments. So I’m not how fun these mini reactions for each episode will be to write, but the episodes are definitely more fun to watch. 

Rimi: Honestly, I’m a little sad they didn’t show more interactions between the groups. They never do, and fans always comment on wanting to see them. There were a few scenes here and there such as when BtoB spoke to Bang Chan (SKZ), or an Ateez member interacted freely with Changbin (SKZ), but they were few and far in between.

Sadhana: Yeah, that would be really nice to watch. And just throwing this out there but a reality show or at least a segment where members from different groups collab? ❤ 

Also, another surprising thing about seeing this was realising just how much work goes into a stage performance – especially keeping in mind the rolling camera takes. I’ve liked the Music Bank type performances which have these but this behind the scenes look at how some of those are made made me appreciate the work that goes into them. And the same goes for the work that goes into each performance actually, no matter who the artist is. I’ve been keeping away from the variety/vlog content from K-pop groups over the last year or so, so this was like a reintroduction to that world and a glimpse into how exciting and also gruelling it can be. 

Rimi: Always! One of my favorite RTK performances is Golden Child’s Wannabe (Sampling Version), and if you watch the individual members’ fan cams, you get a really good sense of how much work has gone into the stage performance. I like that they showed so much of it here in Ep. 1.

Sadhana: Ahh! I’ll check that one out! One thing I did like and was amused by is (like in other variety shows) the cute graphics and edits that the production team made for Kingdom. Like the 와 (wow) expression edited here.

Or this one… when the introductions were going on.

Sadhana: Also, side note for no reason other than I really wanted to screencap him whenever he came on screen — Bang Chan’s makeup was especially cool. I mean, look at this dark faerie child. 

Sadhana: In fact, we didn’t decide to talk about the styling, but I have to say all of Stray Kids’ styling was amazing.

Rimi: It was hilarious that Peniel (BtoB) felt the three younger groups were exuding a dark aura. All of them in their edgy, dark, dramatic outfits. Which two performances stood out the most to you?   

Sadhana: I think, overall, the performance that stood out (in terms of piquing my attention) for this episode has to be The Boyz for me. I’d heard one or two songs by them but none of them caught my fancy then – but I immediately had to look up the song they performed (The Stealer) after the episode was over. The actual song was very different from the epic version they performed – and I guess that’s where they score as well. They knew how to make the most impact and showcase different styles in the limited time they had, and to change their songs to suit this. Like the aggressive first half to the ballet-like second half with the orchestral arrangement was super interesting for me. 

This is their performance: 

Rimi: Coincidentally, that was my favorite performance too. Agreed that the fusion of different genres helped them stand out. Because three other boy groups (including SF9’s musical choices) had done similarly “dark” concepts, the inclusion of the softer, ballet-like second half, and some very creative use of the camera (such as the mini performance with their hands) was a stroke of genius. The fusion of genres, the synchronised dancing, the athletics at the end with Juyeon being swung in the air really served to show their concept well. It’s clear that The Boyz can handle anything and everything that’s about to come their way. 

Sadhana: Yeah, going into this knowing very little about them and seeing that performance makes me excited to see what else they’ve got in store. My other favourite, because I have a fondness for good live performances was ATEEZ. They had really hard choreography (and that whole blood spilling bit was _shocked pikachu face.jpg_ for me) but they were singing live, and you could hear it, and you know what, I respect that. 

This was them: 

Rimi: That’s a great choice. I did feel that too Ateez had a very clear idea about what they wanted to showcase about themselves and their concept – their strengths in dance, hard hitting choreo, and theatrics. It was conveyed very well through that performance. My second favorite however were BtoB, if only because they were SO obviously different from the rest of the groups that it’s impossible not to remember them. Again, they relied on their strengths and showcased what they brought to the game – vocals, experience, a delicate touch and beautiful melodies.   

Sadhana: Yeah I liked their warm rendition of the song too – it was one of the few BtoB songs I knew so I was really excited! I feel bad leaving out Stray Kids, who were my other favourite performance because I’d heard Miroh before, but they really made me sit up and take notice of it in this episode. But we said two favourite performances so oh well ;_; 

Check out their rendition of Miroh here: 

Rimi: Miroh was a good choice for them. It showcases their energy very nicely. That leaves SF9 and iKon as our least favorite (only for the opening stages so far). iKon brought their hip hop concept, and SF9…their good looks? They’re the only group that left me a little lost as to what they wanted to convey about themselves. I do also have to say that in K-pop the bar is so high, that it felt to me that some of the SF9 members’ moves weren’t quite as sharp as those of the other groups, but I hate to be noting such things – it’s clear everyone works very hard. Nonetheless, excited to see their performances going forward. 

Dare I say it however, none of these performances quite match some of the opening stages on Road To Kingdom, which were mind blowing: The Boyz themselves put on a jaw dropping performance.  

Sadhana: Before we wrap up, I know I said earlier there were no dramatics but they ended the 1 hour 38 minute episode without telling us who placed first, second, and sixth and that was unfair! Anyway, we’ll be tuning into the next episode and commenting on our favourite performances and bits. See you next week and let us know who your favourites are. 

Author: Sadhana C

I'm interested in technology, culture, and the business of Hallyu. I currently work full time as a product manager and have previously reported on start-ups. In my free time I like to read fiction and learn languages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s