Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny that Mnet know how to put on a good show. While the entertainment value of Show Me The Money has fluctuated throughout the years, this year’s season has seen the show come back to a height rivalling that of its peak, boosted by the additional attention from audiences forced to stay at home during the pandemic.

The show crowned its winner from the final four contestants last Friday, in a live broadcast unfortunately devoid of any live audience members. Luckily, despite restrictions having forced contestants to perform to near-empty seats throughout the season, the show has managed to pump out some of the best songs and performances in SMTM history.

We previously covered the show’s first half, and with musical and variety highlights all exceeding expectations, the second half has not let us down — SMTM9 has been the single most enjoyable reality show to follow this autumn. So, without spoiling the ending, here are the best moments from the last five episodes of the very successful run of SMTM9:

1. “VVS”

In a good year, SMTM will give birth to one or more songs that prove enough of a hit to appeal even to the general public, perhaps scoring a top ten ranking on the charts. This year, “VVS” was that song; in fact, it was the show’s first number one since Simon Dominic, Gray and One’s “Comfortable” for SMTM5 in 2016. Produced by GroovyRoom, the song was one of several composed for the fourth-round soundtrack battle, where teams compete with original songs. While the live version was performed by Mushvenom and Mirani, the final studio version added fellow teammates Munchman and Khundi Panda and mentor Justhis, to create a powerful and gritty yet emotional fusion of trap and rock, uplifted with one of the best hooks of the season.

2. “Freak”

In that same round, Lil Boi, Wonstein and Chillin Homie teamed up for a second time after the third-round crew battle, putting on an absolutely perfect performance with “Freak”. As far as live performances go, this is one of the best in SMTM history; from individually flawless delivery and stage charisma, to perfect team chemistry including dance moves and vocal doubling, there is not a single awkward moment or weakness to nit-pick. Add to that a funky beat, great chorus hook and well-written lyrics (Wonstein’s “Wingardium Leviosa” will live on forever), and you have one of the greatest stages of the whole season, even without backup dancers or fancy effects — if you watch one performance from this season, make it this one.

3. Swings vs. Sky Minhyuk

The diss battle is always the one of most highly anticipated rounds, and this year was no exception, not least because of Swings’ intimidating stature and history of real-life diss battles. He was challenged by plucky young blood Sky Minhyuk, who, despite questionable rap skills, displayed enough spunk and energy to convince judges he deserved a place in this round. Swings didn’t hold back; sweeping Sky Minhyuk’s chef hat off and grabbing him in a headlock, he bellowed a devastating verse right into the poor boy’s ear. However, Sky Minhyuk’s reaction was just as impressive, looking absolutely unperturbed as he put his hat back on and retorted a comical verse right back. Thanks to both, this was one of the best diss battles on the show in years.

4. “Roots”

Following the diss battle, the show returned to original songs with the first of the live performance rounds. While many of the ten remaining rappers put on great performances here with catchy, enjoyable songs, Khundi Panda’s “Roots” was one of the most memorable, thanks to its red-hot intensity, focus on punchy, bullet-speed rap and incredible collaboration with mentor Justhis. Mentors often feature for their contestants in these rounds, but the equal line distribution and effortlessly smooth baton passes on “Roots” made this an undoubted collaboration between artists, rather than the hoop-jumping exercises features can sometimes feel like. Although Justhis does come across as the clearly better performer, their energy and styles are so satisfyingly complementary that one can’t help but be reminded of the iconic face-off between Naruto and Sasuke in Naruto.

5. “Infrared Camera”

Forgoing any features, Wonstein opted for a chilled, dreamy love song on this round, with the stunningly beautiful “Infrared Camera”. The relative unknown had been one to watch from the beginning, but it was this performance that confirmed his musical genius and place as one of the best diamond-in the-rough discoveries this show has ever made. From the opening acapella ditty, Wonstein brings you into his world, and if there was ever a song to make you believe in young love, it is this one. While he was unfortunately eliminated before the final, there is absolutely no doubt that Wonstein is the best artist to come out of this season. For him, the future looks bright, and with potential like his, success both within and beyond Korea is within easy reach.

6. On Air”

During the final, Mushvenom, Layone, Swings and Lil Boi all performed two original songs over two rounds, broadcast while viewers voted via text message. While again there were plenty of highlights, Lil Boi’s “On Air”, featuring AOMG squad Jay Park, Gray and Loco, was perhaps the most catchy and memorable song of the night. The collaboration was a follow-up to their previous performance together on SMTM4, where Lil Boi was the last remaining contestant on Jay Park and Loco’s team and they were all eliminated before reaching the final. “On Air” shows us the experience, skills, status and confidence they’ve gained since then, and for Lil Boi and his SMTM9 journey, there could be no ending more fitting.

Bonus: Show Me The Comedy

With characters and editing that, more than often than not, take themselves too seriously, Mnet’s shows are hardly known for their comedy (at least, not intentionally). With a refreshing change of attitude, though, SMTM9 has offered up more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, thanks mostly to judges who have known SMTM too long to take it so seriously anymore. Code Kunst gets MVP here, with quips that often singlehandedly brought up the entertainment value of each episode. Since there aren’t any good translated clips on YouTube, though, you’ll have to settle for this clip of Giriboy and Zion.T engaging in 100% serious gibberish meditation therapy with their contestants instead.

All in all, SMTM9 has been far more enjoyable than expected, given the low standard SMTM8 set last year when the show looked all but on its last legs. While the erratic nature of the show’s quality is baffling, it’s a relief for the franchise and by extension the Korean hip-hop scene still to show plenty of life, nine years on after the hip-hop trend first took hold in Korea. With SMTM9’s success all but confirming a tenth season, we can expect Mnet to go all out next year, with fireworks and celebrations that acknowledge everything that the show has achieved in the past decade. Such a refresh will be welcomed, and if done well, it could even herald a new decade of the hip-hop competition’s legacy to come.

(YouTube [1]. Images via Mnet.)