If I had to say MAMAs brought out the best in me because of how much love it invites me to feel about my favorite genre of music, I would also have to admit that it also brings out the worst in me too. The worst kind of fangirl in me, that is. The one that is hopelessly, overly, analytic of every last sequin on the stage;, the type that relentlessly measures lines in choreography with a straight edge against her computer screen; and overall just the person you don’t want to face when the wifi gets spotty, or far worse, cuts out.

That’s right folks, the MAMAs is a very real holiday for me. It perhaps the only way my stint here at Seoulbeats can even be validated, and I will carry the sanctity of this event in an iron clutch to my grave. So without further ado, cozy up, because the 2015 MAMA highlight review is here.

Exo

Ah, the return of the most talked about and misunderstood group to ever crawl out of SM Entertainment. My heart really went out to Exo this year with the amount of change the group was forced to undergo in such a short time. It’s not easy to scale down a whole unit and consolidate your concept in just a matter of months; so given all the tumult, I think Exo still came out of this year with their heads held high. “Love Me Right” and “Call Me Baby” were knockout tracks driven by cutting concepts, killer choreography, and the boys’ own relentless tenacity.

That being said, it is clear that something is still not right with Exo. While on camera this group is a crisp powerhouse unit, their live execution nearly always flat lines. Though things were getting better post-debut, the group’s recent drama seems to have disturbed something in the group’s on-stage chemistry. Their choreo has never looked so out sync–messy lines,  everyone playing catch-up with speed dancer Kai, and skewed windows and levels.

And unfortunately, Exo’s choreo is heavily dependent on an reinvented old school style that makes an elaborate use of succinct hand gestures, of which they still have yet to perfect since the days of “History.” Their footwork, I’ll admit, is nearly perfect, but their hands are all off and it’s so distracting. It slows down what is supposed to be an upbeat dance jive into a disjointed trail of choreo that loses its emphasis the longer the group remains out of sync.

And before you light your pitchforks, remember that I’ve been watching Exo since the pre-debut, rooting for them as underdogs, and that the football jersey concept poster from “Love Me Right” watches me every night from my closet door. I’m not looking for a reason to hate on Exo. It’s just hard making excuses for them anymore. There have been bigger groups that have tackled far more complex choreography and it’s hard to watch a top label ensemble still find it hard to be, well, an ensemble.

“Lightsaber” was like being at a bad rave and “Drop That,” while fun, was just… You’re not a hype group, Exo. Please stop trying to go hard. No one is hyped. Bobby and B.I are going to wreck you at this angle and you’re walking to a death trap Exo, noooo, noooo, stop making it so hard to be on your team…

iKon

“Apology” isn’t as great a song to me as some of the other iKon discography. It’s dreamy but its vanilla K-pop compared to what I think the boys are really capable of. I’ll take it only because the vocal line is so rich and velvety. But trust me, it’s a good thing they didn’t end with this little number.

But what did I say? WTF did I say?

If Bobby and B.I’s iKon “Anthem” does not get under your skin in all the right ways then you are not a human being. This how you hype up a stage and rep your title at the same time. Whether it’s YG swag or real talent is beside the point. iKon has worked too long and hard to be brushed aside, and this stage is just proof that they don’t want you to forget it.

“Anthem” is only proof that Bobby and B.I stand to sweep the floor of GD and T.O.P hysteria , and their energy is a critical driver in what gives iKon a spark. The intensity with these two is palpable even when the beat is tempered, with your heart in your throat even as you wait in anticipation. Just imagine going up against this duo. Between Bobby’s ‘fight-me’ charisma and B.I’s cold-blooded killer talent, they’re unstoppable. Now put them in a full team.

iKon is here to wrench the limelight away from everyone else’s hands. For instance, while I’m griping about choreo, just look at the side view in  “Rhthym Ta” — there’s a delicate precision to the hard hitting bite in this song that controlled entirely by this choreography. The boys make sure you can feel that cadence because that is exactly the point. For a group that made an official debut this year, this kind of chemistry is nearly unparalleled. Also the gecko green earth tones and the musty brown and blonde dye jobs — BLESS.

Got7 and BTS

Though the RapMon and Jackson intro wasn’t as lusciously dark as the RapMon and Zico match-up from last year, I have to give it up to them for setting up a killer stage. And, speaking of impossibly good choreo, I was stoked when I heard that Got7 and BTS did a collab stage this year. These two groups are definitely equipped to take over the next epoch of Hallyu, and rightfully so.

Just look at how seamless the levels are on the stage, how organic the fade is as members slowly ghost into formation, how the smallest of moves are perfectly timed for that sucker punch reverb. It’s so effortless, you’re not even thinking about it, you can only watch. That’s how choreo should be — arresting. And the black versus white theme has never been so fresh and clean. This is a classic done so, so, so much justice.

“If You Do” is a really good song, and the choreography is good. The only problem I have with it is how the jazzy undertones of the song being sort of stretched apart by intensely pop-centric dance moves. They don’t couple well in my opinion, but that is not to say that the choreography isn’t sharp or that the song isn’t inventive; it’s just that something about it isn’t precisely harmonious.

But “If You Do” is a new look for GOT7, so I’ll give them more time to master the sultry dreamboat angle. And honestly, Got7 is just so good at dancing that you just kind of forget about it and you’re like “whatevs, eyecandy.” Except for the dance break. This dance break was so weird and out of place — it was blantant filler. I was really hoping for a transition to “Girls Girls Girls” or “Just Right,” but it’s cool. The dance break was over so fast, it was like it wasn’t even important.

I’m un-apologetically a die hard BTS fan, but “Run” is admittedly not a favorite. However, BTS stages are always completely energized and synchronized with creepy precision. This choreography is not their brightest and best, but it is undoubtedly clever and tailored to this song down to a tee. I’m digging the color scheme in this stage and the late ’90s N*SYNC vibes I’m getting. But in my opinion, BTS deserved more than one song at this years MAMA after the bangers they’ve put out. But I’ll keep this digression short lest I froth over.

Big Bang

Given that I just saw Big Bang slay their MADE tour in Los Angeles, I was stoked to see what kind of energy they would bring to the MAMAs this year. MADE has been a wildly artistic and adventurous endeavor in Big Bang’s music career, a stark departure from the pop-centric stylings of songs like “Haru Haru,” “Lies,” and “Tonight.” The set list for the 2015 MAMAs was “Loser,” “Bae Bae,” and my personal favorite and unrivaled club banger of the year, “Bang Bang Bang.” Following in the footsteps of the trifecta approach started with the Alive album, the 2015 MAMAs stage was truly electrifying.

The haunting resonance of “Loser” was captured by the use of an enclosed lightscape, amplifying the power of the ‘trapped’ feeling that is so deeply laced into the song. The boys as a unit also used this controlled space in “Loser” is a special number because it balances the both the drama and the power that Big Bang is capable of, and the MAMA stage is proof of that.

“Bae Bae” was also one of those Big Bang stages you watch that gives you rabid FOMO. They’re too much fun on stage to not want to be a part of the action, especially more so when resident troll of our generation Seungri breaks the fourth wall and almost too expertly gets caught on camera harassing teasing SM artists who are almost way too uncomfortable to play along. I’ve never laughed more during the MAMA’s than I did at that moment, bless his heart.

“Bang Bang Bang” brings us home with the same Big Bang intensity we’ve always known, only dressed in their 2k15 finery. If I didn’t know better,  I would say Big Bang hasn’t looked and felt this good in a long time, so soak it in y’all.

Also, huuuuuuge shoutout to Parris Goebel and her crew in the dance break. Literally made my jaw drop.

f(x)

DOES SOMEONE WANT TO EXPLAIN TO ME HOW F(X) ONLY GOT THREE MINUTES OF STAGE TIME THIS YEAR AT THE MAMA’S. I am personally offended by this. I don’t give a damn what you say about f(x) — this group has never been boring. Their dreamy psychedelics have only matured with elegance, and honestly, I don’t even care that Sulli‘s gone. She did nothing for the arrangement in f(x)’s artistic vision other than being the pretty face. Victoria is MIA because of her acting career, but even so, are you telling me that Luna, Krystal, and Amber didn’t absolutely nail this stage?

The delicacy in the choreography is incredibly beautiful, and it lets the mysticism of this song be front and center. The ballet influence in the choreography is so unique and so airy, nothing seems out of place. The girls’ stoicism haunts the grace their movements, emphasizing lines and symmetry as it balances against the overall fluidity holding the stage together. Never in a million years could their sister act SNSD convey this type of elusive romance, and I will never get over at how despite all the woes that have come f(x)’s way, they are so put together in the final hour. No gimmicks, no special effects, no extravagance. f(x) has nothing to prove to you.

CL and (YES!) 2NE1

I’m too much of a Blackjack to even talk right now.

Taeyeon

I was kind of so-so about the Taeyeon solo debut. While it is totally long over due for her, I wasn’t sure that “I” was really all that great. Conceptually it was kind of vacant and the aesthetic was a little too, should I say, bleached for me. I don’t love the Marie Antoinette styling about it, because, frankly, it doesn’t suit Taeyeon. It makes her seem fragile and tepid when in fact she’s the Korean Mariah Carey of this generation. While I get she has to keep up her SONE appearance, I think her stylists could do so much more for her to develop more a Tayeon brand rather than a recycled SONE look.

That aside, Taeyeon was stunning in this stage. She’s completely masterful in her vocal ability. I love the use of a live orchestra to build the complete resonance of the song,

But then of course put the girl in a white dress and have her sit down and her vocals shred the entire stadium open.

Shinee

Would you believe if it I told you it’s been almost eight years since “Noona, You’re So Pretty?” How does that make you feel?

And I’ll be honest. I started off as a hardcore Shawol, saw Shinee live in 2009, and have had much respect for the boys’ discography despite falling off the bandwagon several years ago. I’ve never doubted Shinee’s talent, but merely couldn’t keep a good read on the radar for them in the last couple of years. But as I sit here complaining about lines, levels, choreography, styling, and all the rest, I’m left wondering what it is that Shinee isn’t doing right. I don’t know if it the years in the spotlight, the fact that they were the DBSK-Super Junior oopsie baby, or the grueling price of stardom that they’ve paid, but the boys are absolutely commanding on stage. Not a single breath is a beat out of place in their haunting ease of performance.

Shinee is the last of a dying breed. Believe me when I say they just do not make rookies like this anymore. This quintet has become timeless, and they should be prized for their ability return to us all the conceptual magic of original K-pop without feeling stale, outdated, or out of place. They stand at the helm of a generation of K-pop, and their “View” stage gave me chills as I though to myself, albeit melodramatically, have these boys been our 21st century K-pop saviors all this time? In a music scene that warps a different way ever year to graft newer and newer ideas about style and music, is this the standalone group at the eye of the storm the gives the K-pop genre a center? Is the Shinee World upon us?

I have few words for how perfect the “View” stage is in its simplicity. Shinee blew me away.

Psy

And the phenomenon continues: the long time rapper-cum-international icon returns!

It’s hard to be critical of Psy. He’s not a one hit-wonder, though his recent fame might suggest exactly that. He debut back in 2001 with Psycho World, and since the start of his music career, has always been offbeat hi style, blunt in his lyricism, and unforgiving with his humor. He’s released six studio albums and, in my opinion, never intended to beguile the world to buying into a one hit wonder with “Gangnam Style.” Rather, it was a culmination of an artistic brand that not even YG can take credit for. Which is exactly why “Napal Baji” and “Daddy” continue a long standing tradition of, well, PSYism.

“Napal Baji” is a musical masterpiece that braids together trot, disco, and K-pop in only a way that Psy could. And you have to hand it to Psy for being 37 and still getting down on the dance floor better than some of these K-pop nugus.

“You be my curry, I’ll be your rice” is the best line from K-pop to come around in a long time. Psy’s satire of music is so meta sometimes you really have to wonder at his genius. And it doesn’t help that “Daddy” is so infectious to begin with. But, despite its enormous success as a comeback, it still seems only fitting to end with the song that made Psy into a household name. Even better that as Psy makes his way over to them, GD is texting and Seungri is like the YG sons they are so embarrassed and proud to be at that very moment.

Well, that’s a wrap for the MAMA 2015 highlights and review. Please let us know what you thought of this year’s show and who your favorite acts were!

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