Kingdom Episodes 4 & 5 – “Reborn”, but to what effect?

Also titled: In which SF9 runs away with Rimi’s heart.

This week we’re covering all of Round 2 performances from episodes 4 and 5 where we saw the groups re-interpret each other’s songs with the theme being “Re-born.” So, let’s get right to it.

Sadhana: Rimi, what were your thoughts overall on this round? 

Rimi: WHAT a Round! I have so many thoughts! I was worried Kingdom would become a prop war, given how the experts evaluated the stages – and I was right, it has. Live vocals are (mostly?) a thing of the past. BUT what a glorious prop war! I have to especially commend SF9, BtoB and ATEEZ for the stages they’ve delivered over the first two rounds. 

Sadhana: Yeah, I’m pretty much watching it for the choreo and the visual spectacle. Live vocals aren’t even a thing on my radar now. Still enjoy the show, but for other reasons. I was looking forward to the kind of spins each group would put on another’s songs, so Round 2 was really interesting for me. What did you think of the performances in this round? 

*drumroll*

Sadhana: Ooh this round we’re mostly sort of aligned. But very far from the official rankings (which I”ll rant about in a bit). What was it about SF9’s performance that made them #1? 

Rimi: Actually, we’re not that far off from the groups’ rankings of performances! It’s the expert rankings that make no sense! I’m so happy that SF9 did well this time in rankings. I’ve got their arrangement from Round 1 and Round 2 on repeat on YouTube! It’s probably a very good thing they aren’t also singing live because I’ve only just managed to clutch onto my life after Stealer stage.

First, that arrangement is fantastic! Second, the noir concept and storyline is perfect for SF9. The stage capitalises on their biggest differentiating strength – their acting experience. Rowoon and Chani are arguably the most well known, and both have pivotal roles. Rowoon as the gang boss early on is sufficiently disdainful, and Chani is believably scared, then stunned as a gun is put against his forehead. The blood spatter as the gunman is killed is artistic, without being unnecessarily violent; and the stunts show hard work without being excessive. And most importantly, the song, the choreography – so sexy! My heart was stolen! 

Sadhana: I loved it too! For all the reasons you mention and that they take a good song and make it their own both visually and sonically, since that’s the theme for this round yeah? I’ve been listening to the originals vs the arrangements in this round and seeing which version I like better/doesn’t take away from the original. So in this, although I didn’t like the original Back Door much, I liked BtoB’s version and how cleanly the concept and the arrangement came together. They said in their last week’s recap after they got the rankings that they’d have to focus on performance, and they did that, without getting too caught up in storylines. It was neat, it was well done, and I liked it better than the original, so of all of Round 2’s performances BtoB ranked 1 for me, as much as I enjoyed SF9’s performance. 

Rimi: That’s a solid way to judge it! In my case, I too compared against the original but only went back if I liked the cover performance. And here, I have to say, BtoB really won out! The Stealer is a song I already moderately like and SF9’s version has gone on my repeat playlists (meaning I love it). But the original Back Door is a song I don’t like. Stray Kids’ style is too aggressive for me – and here, in Kingdom, BtoB made me LOVE Back Door! I wouldn’t have thought it possible. I also went and looked up the lyrics after Peniel asked after Kingdom’s 15+ rating – and they’re quite..much for MNET. I quote:

I think you’re sweeter than chocolate anyway,
Let me unwrap you slowly,
From head to toe,
Let’s find out just how many,
Licks does it take to may your –  

Clear storyline, a gorgeous Minhyuk (that make-up! those abs!), even more gorgeous vocals in Eunkwang and Changsub, these hilarious lyrics from Peniel, and a compelling rock arrangement! 

Sadhana: Actually the one thing I really didn’t like about BtoB’s performance was MinHyuk’s styling. He looked like someone, who, if you’d passed by him in a street, he’d yell mean things. (Not saying he’s someone like that, but the styling 😡 He was so nice in the first round). 

Rimi: I get you and I don’t disagree. To me he just looked, dirty, haggard and tired (because of the excessive make-up), but I felt it fit the concept very well. 

Sadhana: I also thought the interaction between Stray Kids and BtoB a highlight of these two episodes. The way they try to get info off of each other was hilarious. And I went into a deep dive into Korean meme twitter to find out why Seungmin making a ring that said “MuYoHan” was funny. 

Rimi: That was such a LOL! Moment. I especially love Peniel’s sense of humor – grabbing Bang-chan’s phone when they met –  

Sadhana: And his heavy metal imitation! 

Rimi: Yes, exactly! But also, there are four other performances to discuss! To be honest, I loved BtoB and SF9, and have a hard ranking the rest. I think all of them got lost under the weight of props and gimmicks. But we both have iKON at #3. What brings them to the #3 position on your list?

Sadhana: I enjoyed their arrangement of ATEEZ’s song over the original for one. And what remains with me is that they seemed to have a lot of fun performing. You can’t help but get pulled into their performance. Their storyline/concept wasn’t as clear as the other groups, but they had fun, and looking at that, I did too. In a sea of performances where the kids look like they live or die by them, this was refreshing and purely because of this they were #3 for me. 

Rimi: Wow, same reason as you. They stood out amongst the other four because they seemed to genuinely enjoy the performance – which is something uniquely iKON indeed. I also read on fan forums that Jinhwan and Bobby injured themselves over the course of performances for Kingdom – but not once has that been even hinted at in the show. True professionals. I do have to say however, that their stage relied far too heavily on props, which is why they’re only marginally higher than the others on my personal list.  

Sadhana: I didn’t know that about the members. Wouldn’t have guessed either. Yeah, ranking this round was really difficult since most of the groups seem to be at a similar level right? 

Rimi: Yes. Next we have The Boyz. Here, I have to say I feel bad for them – their idea and performance was excellent. The tango on O Sole Mio was lovely, but they lost their opportunity to pull off a grand stage when the fire gimmick failed. On rewatching their performance, one can see that – other than Juyeon’s scenes in the cage, it’s an important, central focus piece of their performance. Them dancing with fire, amplified by mirrors – it would have been spectacular. Just goes to show that you shouldn’t be overly reliant on props. What are your thoughts?

Sadhana: Yeah, if not for the mirror bit, the torch may not have been as noticeable and they would have still had a nearly perfect performance. What I liked about their performance is their arrangement of O Sole Mio. The original hook is so catchy, but they take that and give it a unique spin. The classical music they add is a very nice touch. I’m finding I’m a big sucker for classical music added to K-pop songs hahah. 

Rimi: Hahaha! I have to agree the arrangement was nice. I particularly loved this part, where the music is gorgeous, soft and enticing, and their dance is perfectly synchronised. They’re art itself in this scene – very elegant. And that brings me to…the rankings. For all this lovely art, HOW COULD THEY RANK LAST?

Sadhana: I have no idea! I came to this doc as soon as I watched the reveal and this was what I typed,

“The Boyz ranked last???????????????????????????????????????????????????????” 

I have no idea what they’re being ranked on especially because ATEEZ ranked first. I have nothing against their performance, they did a good job, but this round they were definitely outshined by the other groups. So yeah, the expert ranking didn’t make sense to me. At all. 

Rimi: But even the groups’ rankings of one another. No one picked them. 

Sadhana: Oh yeah! I dunno why! 

Rimi: It’s strange and sad. In the prep scenes, MNET emphasised heavily on how they feel like they showed too much on Road to Kingdom and don’t have a lot left, but that’s not true. While they showed a lot of athleticism and stunts on Road to Kingdom, they’ve been showing different dance styles here, which is why I appreciate this performance of O Sole Mio so much. BUT I also do think the Game of Thrones underlying theme that they’ve adopted here isn’t clicking very well with the show – possibly because it’s external to them, and not something internalised into their concept, like the pirate theme is for ATEEZ.

Sadhana: Ah, good point! As someone watching them for the first time, I am impressed with every performance of theirs to be honest.  Now, coming to other two groups, while I liked ATEEZ’s performance well enough, I feel like the Stray Kids’ performance was more moving. The desperation they wanted to portray really came through for me. It was not a perfect performance, but I finished Episode 5 as a fan of Changbin and Han, so 😀 

Rimi We really are thinking alike this time. I do want to give Stray Kids some credit because of how personally involved the members – especially 3RACHA – are in the production of performances. Changbin is, in my opinion, one of the industry’s best rappers, and he reinforces that with each performance; but like you, I also finished this round as a new fan of Han. Did not know he could sing so well. That was very impressive. My favorite part is this bit near the end – with Changbin, Han and Seungmin. However, nothing else really stands out too much. It was an impressive stage in its own right, but the general quality on the show is so high, that this was lost amongst the groups. And so they rank last for me, although really, it’s a miniscule difference between them and ATEEZ.  

Sadhana: Fair enough! One thing I did notice in this round, as a reality show newbie, is that the off-stage interactions seem to be following a pattern, as well as some of the moves (like how many times are we supposed to be awed at the hands moving in front of a camera guys?). So I hope the next episodes break these formats a little bit. Or am I expecting too much? 

Rimi: Great point! The Boyz first did the hands thing, and now all the groups are copying them! (*facepalm) Another thing I noticed however, is that I.N.’s mistake/failure to pull off the high note shows that maybe some of the members/groups are indeed singing live? 

Sadhana: True! I’ll look/listen closer next episode. But I think they’re going to have variety fun aren’t they? 

Rimi: Yes, they are. But before we go there, I’m interested in your thoughts on ATEEZ. They ranked first overall, but clearly not so, for either of us. I loved them last round, the performance of Wonderland was captivating. So, what went wrong this time (for us)?

Sadhana: Hmm, their behind the scenes were really sweet right? Them being iKONICS, and being so genuinely excited to get to perform the song? When it comes to the song itself, I feel like the arrangement wasn’t really memorable. ATEEZ have delivered high concept songs with equally high energy arrangements, and for this one it was a good song and performance but given how well all the other groups performed, I found it hard to rank them higher than the others who stood out for one reason or another. What about for you? 

Rimi: Same here, again. Perhaps because I haven’t watched Money Heist, the underlying conceptual idea didn’t necessarily click with me. And like you, while the arrangement was pretty nice, it wasn’t quite as nice as those of the other groups’. I rank them a little higher than Stray Kids only because ATEEZ too, like iKON whom they say they idolise, always look like they’re enjoying their stage. That was some amazing energy there. Also, Seong-hwa. Seong-hwa’s pink hair. I looked him up – he’s a ‘98 liner, so I’m sticking to Min-hyuk as my Kingdom crush, but can I just take a moment to appreciate Seong-hwa. In his pink hair.

Sadhana: That was me with Changbin this episode! I am scared to look his age up.

Rimi: Don’t. Trust me. I did. Once, long ago. And can only hang my head in sadness.

Sadhana: Sigh! I will take another look at ATEEZ’s performance to appreciate Seong-hwa’s pink hair per your recommendation. 

Rimi: HAHAHA! Looking forward to some light-hearted variety and fun interactions between the groups next ep!

Sadhana: Me too! 

Author: Sadhana C

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

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