This week on SB Exchange, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at the Gayo Daejuns, or song festivals, that take place in Korea in the last days of each year while they are still fresh in our minds.

As you may have guessed from our coverage of 2011’s Gayo Daejuns, there are three of them, each held by one of Korea’s free-to-air channels: SBS on the 29th of December, KBS on the 30th, and MBC on the 31st. At each festival, all the idol groups perform their respective hits, including the biggest songs of that year, and also collaborate with other artists for special stages.

As a new K-pop fan, this year’s (or last year’s, actually) Gayo Daejuns were my first, and watching them got me  thinking about a lot of things, like past festival performances, the production values for these festivals,  and their overall relevance in the K-pop scene. So, to own their own insights, we have Nabeela, Ree, Gil and Natalie.

What have been some of your favourite Gayo Daejun performances? 

Gil: My favorite one was the Hip Hop stage at SBS Gayo Daejun. Mainly because I love the Korean hip hop scene and Gary, Dynamic Duo, and Yoon Mi Rae brought the house down. And in regards to the idol rappers who performed at the beginning, I pretend that never happened. Personally the rappers from Block B and M.I.B. should have done the “idol” rapping part. Overall I also liked DBSK‘s ‘Mirotic’ and ‘Wrong Number’ stage at the 2008, and the epic WonderBang performance.

Natalie: Well, this year was my first Gayo Daejun experience so I can only go off of that. My favorite performance of the bunch was the huge SM mish-mash. The orchestra, the dancing, the entire frenzy of it all highly amused me. It was a huge mess that managed to be entertaining because it was so bad. But I know that I’m probably all alone on this lol.

Ree:  I’m going to go ahead and say I liked DBSK’s ‘Wrong Number’/’Mirotic’ stage at the SBS Gayo Daejun back in 2008. I’ll be the first one to admit it wasn’t a particularly spectacular stage — I mean, the dance break was sloppy, the stage production wasn’t the best, and the boys did just fly back from Japan with little preparation. But something about it really tugs at my heartstrings, it’s one of the last Gayo performances by them, and even though they weren’t as prepared as the other acts, they still put in their all into the show.

I find WonderBang sort of… not that great to be honest. Hehe. I however, I did love 2NE1‘s performance at the KBS Gayo in 2009 with Lee Seung Chul for ‘I Don’t Care’. Apart from the fact I love that reggae version of ‘I Don’t Care’, the girls themselves looked really classy and I enjoyed watching it. Another performance I loved was this girl group performance with f(x), 2NE1, SNSD After School, KARA, 4Minute  where they performed all the boy-band hits from 2009 (Ring Ding Dong, Heartbreaker, Sorry Sorry). CL performing Heart Breaker was the highlight, but I enjoyed most of the performances. It’s worth seeing Kahi totally rock it on ‘Heartbeat’, she does it better than all the 2PM boys put together. The male equivalent of it was also kinda-sorta of amusing to watch if you want to laugh (though NOWHERE near as bad-ass as the female stages).

Nabeela: My favorite has to be the KhunToria special stage at the MBC Gayo Daejun in 2010. It was a combination of smooth, clean choreography and a fine 90’s vibe that made the stage a winner for me. One of the best Gayo Daejun performance I’ve ever seen, I’m going to second Ree with the DBSK performance at the SBS 2008 Gayo Daejun. I mean, c’mon, the five hottest idols in k-pop tearing their clothes off at the end? How is that not one of the best things you’ve ever seen?
Of this year’s line-up, who do you think performed best overall (in all the festivals they attended)? Who was worst?

Gil: Most definitely Infinite, they had interesting versions of their songs and they are strong performers. I definitely like the rock version of ‘Paradise’, and the boys pulled it off well. Other than it was pretty hard to determine; BEAST had pretty good performances but it wasn’t anything mind blowing.

Natalie: I thought Infinite did very well. Their stages were nicely performed, not as awkward and messy as others. The boys had a great presence and their dancing was great as well– they easily overshadowed their competitors in dancing competitions.

Ree: I’m going to third Gil and Natalie on Infinite, some of them are still rough around the edges, but overall their performances were consistently solid. They didn’t even need to rely on special stages with other bands or gimmicks- they just performed well, and it paid off. I think they’re all performers at heart, even the weaker singers/dancers. Their remixes were also really classily done, not too subtle, not too obnoxious, just perfect for adding spark to prevent a repetitive performance. Plus the orchestral remix of ‘Be Mine’ KILLS ME ;_; Actually, almost every remix on ‘Be Mine’ killed me.

As for the worst, there was no glaringly bad one. There were definitely a few horrible mishaps– like um, SISTAR‘s unfortunate mistake with their outfits, I’d nominate that, but they were okay for the other two. I don’t remember one being really bad.

Nabeela: For 2011, it’s really a tie between 4minute and their ‘Mirror, Mirror’ stages and 2PM with ‘Hands Up’. ‘Mirror, Mirror’ just had sick choreography and good outfits to match. 2PM also had an upper hand because ‘Hands Up’ was such a high energy song, its almost hard not to love it seen performed on stage. Also, 2PM looked the most together to me, and given that they were still in the midst of Japanese activities, they get extra props for still delivering on their performances.

The worst had to be SISTAR. I mean, whoever was coordinating their outfits must have been on drugs or something because the girls’ dresses were so tacky and distasteful, especially in regards to their choreography. There really was no other stand-out for worst performance other than SISTAR. Oh my goodness, so uncomfortable to watch.

3. While each of the three networks try to make their respective festivals unique (like awarding a song of the year, splitting artists into white and red I mean blue teams, or just doing what SM tells it to do) wouldn’t it be much better for them to band together and have one giant festival a la the Kohaku Uta Gassen in Japan? Or is there some cultural thing I’m missing?

Gil: I personally think it should be one whole performance- that way there won’t be a repeat of stages (gets borin’ after a while) and it is not just a glorified Music Core. I think it has to do more with making money than cultural differences; I mean if only one broadcasting network hosts this Gayo that means more money for them rather than combining all of it. But one huge Gayo would mean better quality, for one the idols won’t be intensely overworked and tired thus affecting their performance, and they can put all their effort into one and do a kick ass remix version of their song.

Natalie: Banding together sounds so much better. Fans go crazy over seeing their favorite idol groups together- shipping galore. I personally like the idea of different groups coming together because it adds some freshness. We know how SM groups perform with SM groups, I want to see SHINee dance with Infinite or SNSD go against BEG. I thought the shows altogether were pretty repetitive; I didn’t see much individuality.

Ree: I’m thinking it’s more network competition — who gets to air it? What time slot? Who gets the profits? Every man for himself. Plus, I actually do think I’d rather have three mini festivals. All the big fancy performances are usually saved for the MAMAs and stuff, so it’s not like we’re missing out on having huge flashy stages. Plus 3x the shows, equals 3x the chance of things possibly being good. It also serves as a good countdown to the New Years. I’m sort of used to the Gayos by now, not having three to mock, criticize, and fangirl over almost… unnerves me.

Nabeela: I also don’t know why there are three festivals. I think it would make for a spectacular show if all three networks pooled their ratings and their money into creating some sort of mega Gayo Daejun. I for one think there would be more quality performances to enjoy, and we could have a longer show with more groups involved. It would be more amusing to watch if there was just one end of the year show. Watching three for nearly every big group out there can be tiring.

4. What are your thoughts on the growth (or lack thereof, perhaps) of these festivals over the years?

Gil: Since this year was my first Gayo Daejun experience I really don’t have any platform for comparison but even though it was my first, I knew it wasn’t as good as it could have been. From what I experienced from the three Gayos, it was just a glorified Music Bank with dubstep. And occasional dance battles, I personally thought that since this is the end of the year the stage would be more elaborate than just the normal performances but I was disappointed.

Natalie: From what I’ve heard, the shows have been better in the past. Much better. And seriously, that wouldn’t surprise me. I was mostly bored by all performances this year. I like to believe the quality of these music shows reflects the quality of Kpop in 2011. Here’s to hoping that 2012 is better.

Ree: Growth… It think the festivals are mostly stagnant, as in they don’t get better or worse because of the festivals themselves. The growth of the festivals actually depend more on the growth of K-pop as a whole. For example, Hallyu has been so glorified; thus, we get an SM Hallyu Orchestra. It also depends on what’s in at the moment– I guess Korea thought dubstep was the way to go, so we got dubstep. Also, naturally, the better the music, the better the stages. Honestly, a stage can only be as good as a song is. 2009 was my favourite Gayo Daejun so far, because that year gave me the best music. But I didn’t think 2011 was as bad as some people think it was :x Maybe my standards have gotten low. The huge amount of idol groups probably means there are more mediocre performances available, so maybe that’s what put people off?

Basically, any ‘growth’ the Gayos go through, depends on external factors. The bands, the music, status of Korean Pop, etc…

Nabeela: To be honest, the festivals need a little revamping. I mean, other than having groups perform remixed version of the songs they have been promoting all year long, there needs to be more specials and collaborations. The stages look a little half-assed sometimes, and it really detracted from some groups performances. Also, I have never seen so many tacky and awful stage outfits for a string of Gayo Daejuns like I did 2011. Like, honestly, there were so many bad outfits, I was impressed to find one I actually moderately approved of.


5. And finally, If we were to set up our own Fantasy Gayo Daejuns, what would yours be like?

Gil: If I ran the show it would be the epitome of epic. I would have a true hip hop stage consisting of Drunken Tiger, Yoon Mi Rae, Leessang, Epik High, Verbal Jint, Dynamic Duo, Block B, and M.I.B. Dubstep will not be used in excess, there will be a quota.Wonder Girls will be performing ‘Me, In’, but instead of tackily playing guitars they will be smashing them. SM is not allowed to use English unless they consent to it being proofread. I would also bring WonderBang back. Half of Super Junior (the more vocally talented ones) will sing ‘Sorry Sorry: Answer’ and then transition into the dancers of the group who will perform ‘Moves like Jagger’ cover akin to that of Ryewook’s solo in SS4.

Natalie: Less gimmicks, for one. I want the performers to rely on their own skill, not flashiness. Still, I would demand that everyone has pretty stage outfits. It’s hard to enjoy a performance when you’re blinded by what someone’s wearing. NO DUBSTEP. Ever. I’d have collaborations – Infinite with SHINee, SNSD with Wonder Girls, Big Bang with Brown Eyed Girls, Beast with 2NE1 – and I’d like them to perform something a little unexpected. Instruments would have to be played live and the camera would need to be more stable during performance. And anyone that gives a boring performance would have be slimed, old Nickelodeon style!

Ree: My fantasy Gayo would just be… MORE INTER-BAND STAGES PLEASE. Boy/Girl ones preferably. And I also miss the trend that was going on before with bands covering other bands’ songs — I’d bring that back. :3 And I’d move Minhwan and Minhyuk (drummers of F.T. Island and CN BLUE respectively) forward, because they’ve been in the shadows for too long. I’d just have a special drum stage for them to be honest.

Nabeela: Okay, Nabeela’s Fantasy Daejun….hmmm…..How about we open with SNSD, because they’re always a crowd pleaser, and they look damned hot when they’re dressed up. We can even have glitter and confetti and bubble coming out from the ceiling too. Then I’m going to throw in the original SS501 back in the mix, followed by T-ARA doing their John Travolta Wannabe shctick that I absolutely adore. Then DB5K comes in and tears up the stage with ‘Maximum’ and ‘Mirotic’, and then they rip their clothes off under a spray of water. To follow them, I’ll throw IU and CN BLUE the crowd’s way to mellow out the intensity. In the meantime, Big Bang and DBSK will be doing a collab stage, as well as Beast and 4minute. Then Trouble Maker will perform and they will not look awkward and they will amuse me. Then we’ll feature an idol drama put on by 2PM and miss A, and then they break into a collaboration. Then I’ll give my rookies some love and put SHINee and f(x) and B1A4 and hell, even A Pink can come. To keep everyone happy, I’ll even invite U-Kiss and Infinite, even though I don’t care much for them. Then Super Junior comes through, and we’ll close with a fiery 2NE1 stage full of magic and badass stuff. Yup. Fantasy Daejun. Also, ALSO, Somebody needs to rip Jun.K‘s shirt off. Make it look like an accident or do it on purpose, I don’t care, the shirt must go.

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Nabeela, where do I buy tickets for your Gayo?

The gender-bender stages from the 2009 SBS Gayo Daejun are my personal favourites, for many reasons (Look! Hyoyeon! On centre stage!), and collab stages are always fun to see the different dynamics between idols on stage. And I’m kicking myself for not checking out Infinite’s stages earlier, even though I know they’re always good (I’ll fix that, though…). I also enjoyed TVXQ’s performances in 2011, even with the exhaustion and the outfits.

While I agree with Ree on how the material produced and promoted throughout the year affects the success of the Gayos, the networks also need to be held accountable. Even if we were to discount the reports of torrid conditions for the artists and fans, the lacklustre stage design and outfits, and (worst of all) the ever-present technical malfunctions are signs that MBC, KBS and SBS have much to do if they really want to call their festivals successes, especially now that more international attention is being drawn to them and their productions. There is no point going on about how dominating Hallyu is when a microphone dies during every act. If you’re going to talk the talk, my dear Korean broadcasters, you’ve got to walk the walk.

Ergo, my fantasy Gayo Daejun would have the finest technical crew in the Republic of Korea, and the best equipment at their disposal– no more awkward silences when you can see the singer literally screaming into their mic, no more shaky cam… I’m close to tears just thinking about it, it would be so beautiful. I would also steal the MBC stage they had this (last) year and use that, because it was one of the best I’ve seen; restrict the number of Beyonce covers to one every three years; let the artists do pretty much whatever they want regarding performances and collabs, provided they’ve had enough time to practice them; and force SM to let their groups work with other companies’ artists. Oh, and stylists — ban them all from the venue and pick out outfits myself.

So, Seoulbeats readers, what would your Fantasy Gayo be like? Do you think rolling all the festivals into one is a good idea? And what have been some your favourite (and least favourite) Gayo Daejun stages?

(SPORT Korea, SBS, KBS, MBC, Soshified)