Every episode of Netflix’s new documentary series begins with this:

“We asked musicians of different genres, what if you can present one performance before you die, how would you do it?

There’s just one condition… you can do it in one take.”

The thought itself is tempting. What if you can give a performance with no holds barred? It’s every artist’s dream come true. Just as everything that is too good to be true, there’s a catch. The artists can choose only one song and the performance has to be done in solely one take.

Netflix’s Take 1 is much like the Cinderella story with the streaming giant being the artist’s fairy godmother, granting every wish from larger-than-life stage sets to breathtaking cinematography. When the clock strikes midnight, the artist’s performance is over after just one song.

The line-up is already incredible, including some whose appearances are rarely seen on TV: world-famous soprano Jo Sumi, talented sibling duo Akdong Musician (AkMu), ballad crooner Yim Jae-beum, K-Pop superstar Rain, RnB diva Lena Park, singer-songwriter Yoo Hee-yeol, and vocal quartet Mamamoo. Most of them have already performed in venues all over the world. So what more could these artists want for their dream stage? 

Note: This review contains spoilers.

All the episodes follow a singular format. They open with the beginning of the artist’s one-take performance, then go back in time to when the artist is first briefed about the series concept. A constant element present in the series is the Take 1 clock, which is given during the first meeting and tells the hours remaining until the Take 1 stage. The scenes switch back and forth, time-traveling between the preparations, practices, and processes of how a dream stage comes to life.

What makes the series particularly distinct is how heavily involved the artist is in directing the outcome of the performance. Aside from their song choice, they also get to choose the venue and would even go as far as considering other production elements.

AkMu’s Lee Chanhyuk certainly pushed the limits with his outrageous vision of “Nakka”. Since the lyrics allude to falling, the one-half of the beloved duo decides to take things literally by including skydivers. In addition, the crew set up not just one but three enormous set designs in the middle of nowhere. The massiveness of the sets calls for reinforcements that include almost 200 dancers. Amidst the technological challenges, the result was rather ambitious and mind-blowing.

Rain also gave an elaborate performance of “Rainism”, complete with lights, stage direction, and a racing drone. Having been one of the first artists who pioneered the Hallyu wave, it is only fitting that he performs at the presidential residence, The Blue House. For the first time in 74 years, the iconic residence became open to the public, and Rain was thrilled with the idea of being the first ever act to hold a concert there.

On the contrary, there are also those artists who choose the lyrics to speak for themselves with less over-the-top stage designs. Yim Jae-beum returns to singing six years after his last concert. His disappearance from the music scene was sudden, leaving his fans to wonder how he is. He revealed in the documentary that he lost both his wife and father in those years and it affected him badly psychologically and physically. Take 1 is his second chance to return to what he used to love the most.

His stage was on the rooftop of an abandoned apartment complex situated in the middle of a bustling metropolis. His episode had the most breathtaking cinematography with shots from different angles of the city and the color grading that mimics the current situation. His choice reflects the present reality of normal people still struggling to recover from the pandemic.

In line with this, he personally invites a special group of people composed of medical frontline workers, nurses, and small business entrepreneurs, who have been working tirelessly to take care of others and their families. The performance was bare-bones with Jae-bum dedicating the song, “This, Too, Shall Pass,” not only to his audience but also to himself.

For some, Take 1 was an opportunity for them to challenge themselves. Jo Sumi, one of the most distinguished soprano singers in the world, decided to break tradition with her Take 1 stage. Classical singing follows a rigid structure and the inclusion of elements from other musical genres could even be considered blasphemy in the purist sense. Jo Sumi decides to sing opera’s well-known yet most difficult arias, “Les oiseaux dans la charmille,” which translates to “The Doll Song” from The Tales of Hoffman, but with a traditional twist. Lena Park also challenged herself to perform a song she claims she has never succeeded in singing from start to finish.

As for Yoo Hee-yeol and Mamamoo, Take 1 is about their chance to return to their roots. Filmed prior to the explosion of the plagiarism controversy, Yoo Hee-yeol returns to one of his first concert halls as the one-man band Toy. Among all the artists who participated in the series, it is surprisingly only Yoo Hee-yeol who initially declined the offer to be part of the Netflix show. After retiring as the musician Toy, the singer-songwriter is now more known to the public as a show host, a judge, and the CEO of the record label Antenna Music. In his words, he felt that he wasn’t the right person to be part of the program. Eventually, Yoo Hee-yeol agreed and gave a performance that evoked youthful memories and nostalgia in his long-time fans.

Mamamoo decides to do a creative take on time-traveling as the group celebrates its seventh-year anniversary. While their longevity is indeed a celebration—especially with the idol group’s seven-year jinx—the group deviates from the Take 1 rule and performs a mash-up of their debut single, “Mr. Ambiguous” and their first venture to trendy, “Hip”. It was quite a disappointment considering they were the last act of the season; it would have been exciting to see the members “go big or go home” with their signature retro, funk, and jazzy sound. Despite being known for their performances, we can see their disparity with previous performers who have established command over the creative direction of their respective careers.

While Netflix’s Take 1 puts the spotlight on the ambitions and dreams of the artist, the true heroes of the show are the staff that makes everything possible. The series gives us a rare look at the people behind the decision-making process from scouting for a venue to putting together a storyboard and building sets from the ground up. Oftentimes, these people are taken for granted and it was good to see that their work should be appreciated to make our favorite artists shine.

Take 1 builds on the pressure for perfection with dramatic and suspenseful music of whether the artist’s stage will be successful. The ticking of the clock resembles the viewers’ and artists’ beating hearts. One thing is for sure—when it comes to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, people grab and make the most out of it.

(YouTube [1][2]. Images via Netflix.)