Kingdom: Legendary War is part of the Mnet idol reality tv series, including Road to Kingdom and Queendom. Six groups have been assembled from different generations, with different strengths, to showcase their skills. BtoB, SF9, iKon, Stray Kids, The Boyz, and Ateez are the participants in this season of the competition, which will not feature eliminations, will be judged on expert evaluations, self-ratings as well as YouTube views, and global voting.
The first few weeks of the show have shown the audience an introductory stage performance of 100 seconds from a 1st-place winning song, a rearranged hit song, and a cover of one of the other groups’ tracks.
In this discussion, we ask our writers: what are you enjoying about Kingdom: Legendary War? What has disappointed you? Who has given your favourite performance? And what are your thoughts on the season so far?
Is it possible to be disappointed in and enjoying a show simultaneously? Because that’s how I feel about Kingdom. I look forward to each new episode, and I’ve loved several specific performances, like Ateez’s “Wonderland” and BtoB’s “Back Door”. But I also think there are glaring issues with the program.
The performances, and the judging of said performances, are taking an aggressively “more is more” approach. Basically, the groups throw every prop and stunt they can on stage and try to make something artistic out of it. Sometimes, it works! Ateez, a group that in their own releases already leans towards the theatrical, have especially thrived in this atmosphere, churning out impressive and well-received stages. In contrast, besides their excellent intro performance, Stray Kids seem to be drowning under the weight of their stage accessories. Their round one and round two performances felt forced and lacked cohesion. Stray Kids are a strong group, so here’s hoping they stop trying to play Kingdom’s prop-heavy game and just lean into their talent in the coming weeks.
Of course, if they do that, they may suffer when it comes to scoring. iKon have admirably refused to buy into Kingdom’s specific staging preferences, instead centering their group’s signature rogue energy. That’s made for great performances, but less great rankings.
At the end of the day, “winning” Kingdom isn’t really about getting first place, it’s about capitalizing on the platform the show gives to create interest in your group. With that in mind, it’s been nice to see pretty much every group on the show having their moments of performance brilliance and personal charm. I’m also looking forward to the upcoming sports day episode because it will be fun to see some playful inter-group interactions!
Among the three performances we’ve seen, there was only one time when I wanted to rewatch a stage (Stray Kids’ cover of “I’ll Be Your Man”). I love Stray Kids, so I was quite disappointed when the first two stages underwhelmed me. The “Side Effects” and “God’s Menu” mash-up, in particular, had way too much going on for a four minute stage, from members weaving between sets to the abundance of back-up dancers that caused one to lose Stray Kids themselves.
Luckily, for me at least, their next performance—”I’ll Be Your Man”—focused more on emotions and showing off their vocals. The sets were integral parts of the story rather than dominating the performance. The flow from the grotto and the statue of the boy to the classical temple-like structure made sense. Of course, I was very happy that Han got to show off his vocals alongside Seungmin. This stage reminded me of ONF and Pentagon’s collaborative stage, “Kill This Love,” on Road to Kingdom. If there is a dark and emotional storyline, I’m there!
As for what I’m enjoying about Kingdom, I’m excited about getting to know the groups I wasn’t as familiar with—SF9, iKon, and BtoB. I also love everyone’s reactions to each performance, because, honestly, the groups’ expressions are priceless sometimes.
Unfortunately, The Boyz are struggling. Something I appreciated in RtK was their creative use of the narrow stage. This limited space made them think outside of the box; meanwhile, for Kingdom, it’s almost as if the group has a little too much space to work with. Plus, what Siena mentioned before, Kingdom is rewarding those who attack their stages with a “go big or go home” strategy. This may create a visually astonishing show, but, in the end, it may not be memorable.
I’m the opposite of Sara in that I agree with Siena — it seems to me that Stray Kids are getting lost under the weight of the stage accessories. On the other hand, I’ve been consistently impressed by BtoB. From the introductory round to Round 2, they’ve strongly maintained their distinct musical identity (given their “knees“, maybe they had no choice?) and done a fantastic job holding their own despite the “more is more” criteria of expert evaluations. It also helps that they have such a strong emphasis on vocals – vastly different from their juniors.
This brings me to my three main thoughts on Kingdom. First: the stages are creative, of supremely high quality, and incredibly captivating (I mean, the mix on that version of Ateez’s Wonderland? The strong conceptualization and storyline?) – but the lack of live vocals is very noticeable. If it weren’t for I.N.‘s mistake in Round 2, I’d have thought it was all pre-recorded. One of my very favorite performances is SF9’s “The Stealer”, and it seems clear that this is not live singing.
Second: arrangement matters. It’s not all about dance. If the music and melody/sound isn’t working, the performance likely won’t be enough.
Third: strong concepts shine when they’re internalized to the group’s theme (like pirates and Ateez, or SF9 being in last place and stealing the crown, or BTOB “backstage”), but more often than not, pull groups down when they’re ‘external’ (such as The Boyz’ Game of Thrones concept – which I think is letting them down. I wasn’t convinced by Ateez’s take on Money Heist or iKON’s take on Inception either).
I think the other writers sum things up remarkably well in the strengths and weaknesses of Kingdom thus far in that “prop war with a bit of live vocals and story thrown in” feels like a fitting one-sentence summary. Blessedly, more of the raps sound like a live mix than the vocals, but I do wish there were more musical skills or worldbuilding displayed like in Road to Kingdom.
As alluring and exciting as all of the stages have been, the ones that expand on the groups’ existing identities and include a healthy mix of familiarity have kept me engaged. Ateez taking up the pirate banner comes as no surprise, and I have become increasingly impressed with BtoB and iKon in that they sound like they are singing their own tracks despite the many remixes and covers.
Admittedly, this theory doesn’t hold water with The Boyz’s stages though. Their continuation of Game of Thrones-esque gluttony for fire, fantasy, and vaguely gruesome nods to death (the person hanging from the cage in “The Red Wedding” stage???), should have worked, but like Sara said, it seems as if they have almost too much to work with this go around. Their staging has become a game of elaborate cutaways and walkthroughs rather than a cohesive entity in itself. There have been some evocative moments (the staff/scepter routine in “Red Wedding,”) but overall, the lackluster arrangements ultimately make the stages fall flat, likely not prompting a rewatch like their cover of VIXX’s “Shangri-La” did in the same round of Road to Kingdom.
The jury is out for Stray Kids for me personally. I can see them trying to grapple with the resources they have while starting to return to more of their strengths, especially with their cover stage of “I’ll Be Your Man.”
Ateez and BtoB have been the standout groups for me so far. Both groups seem to have maintained their identities and adapted well to each challenge.
Ateez have been consistent with their concepts and plots. In my opinion, their performances have had a healthy amount of vocals, visuals, and galvanising choreography. For a relatively new group, they’ve done well at holding their own. All in all, they have been delivering well-rounded performances with clear plots and an ample amount of energy.
As for BtoB, I agree with Rimi, they’ve been consistent with their performances and have played well into their vocal strengths. I really enjoyed their performance of “Missing You” -it was elegant, uncomplicated and memorable.
I do miss BtoB as a group and wonder sometimes how different their performances would have been if they competed as a whole unit. Would they have caved into the “more is more” pressure? Or would they have kept to their style and blessed us with more killer harmonies?
I must say, although the show underwhelms at times, I do look forward to watching each episode and I do think that the level of detail in the performances is great. It is entertaining to see how much further each group will go to keep from falling behind. Yes, it has resulted in some groups shifting their whole focus to staging, but it has been interesting to see how each group reinvents itself around the challenges.
Whether it’s with excessive use of props, theatrics, or even compromising vocals, ultimately, Kingdom is a competition. The groups will use the strategies needed in order to win the title.
With that said, I am really looking forward to the final stage! I think we can all agree that the final challenge will be the biggest prop showdown.[YouTube, Images via MNet]