[Gayo Daejun 2012] Part 1: The 10 Best Performances

Year-End Festival season is the time of the year when everyone, or at least, everyone who mattered even just a little bit, comes out bringing the songs that made them relevant during the past year. Remixes are made, special stages held, dance breaks added -- anything to make those songs special for what is quite possibly their last hurrah. Gayo Daejuns have become places where acts come out in all their musical finery and show off.

They're like marketplaces -- you have practically the entire idol industry for the picking, so the performances come in a variety of qualities. Thankfully, that wide spectrum of quality translates into pretty tough competition, making acts really step up their game. Every year, a select few rise to the challenge, and succeed, or set bars, only to surpass existing expectations.

The performances I chose are some of the most creative, most confident, and best-executed performances -- they're strong from top to bottom and side to side. These are the performances that bring out some of the best talent in K-Pop, and that really do a good job of showing it off. They aren't flawless, because that's humanly impossible, but the flaws on these performances are either minuscule, or contribute something good to the entirety. It's those kinds of performances that are on this year's list -- performances I would gladly watch over and over and over again.

The non-idol groups
The KBS Gayo Daejun had very little spectacle compared to the other two networks' offerings, but at least the stage looked more elaborate than it did last year. Still, majority of the performances either felt too much like regular music show ones, or tried to do something and failed because of a number of different factors. However, the circumstances managed to bring out the performers, and performances, who are really good to begin with. I swear I didn't even know none of my choices were idols until I looked over the list again earlier!

Ailee - "Halo" / "Heaven" / "Just Dance"
Her "Halo" cover was part of a suite called "Idol & Artist", and with her Hyorin and K. Will also covered "Sway" and "Ribbon In the Sky", respectively. Honestly the only cover I really liked was Ailee's because Hyorin's "Sway" was way too heavy and didn't have that effortlessness that a song like "Sway" really, really needs, and K. Will's was boring until he started belting more, which means it was pretty boring throughout. Ailee, however, not only chose only a newer song that brought out her strengths, but also delivered it with conviction and effortlessness. It's not really the language barrier, to be honest, because Hyorin has had some beautiful English covers, it's really the song choice and the delivery. Which just goes to show that Ailee really does have what it takes to be a soloist because she knows how to carry herself, regardless of the song.

The first thing that surprised me about Ailee's KBS appearance was the fact that she was placed to late in the show, something usually reserved for more senior acts. But honestly, she gave a better performance than a lot of other seniors that night. The song choice was correct, "Heaven" has the possibility to be that epic, big-performance song with the class and sophistication you should associate with Ailee, and she delivered it with mastery and so much conviction. I like that she lowered the high note at the climax, because it shows that she has a performer's mindset -- there's no room for hesitation on stage, so if she felt that she couldn't hit the higher note, it was the right decision to lower it.

The other thing that surprised me was that she did a "Just Dance" cover, which reminded me a lot of past Gayo Daejuns when they'd do special covers of newer songs. Most of the old covers weren't really any good, but it was something to look forward to and get curious about when it came to Gayos. To see Ailee do that, and pretty much slay everyone else who covered "Just Dance" before (didn't someone do that in 2009? SHINee? I think), was one of my favorite moments from all three Gayo Daejuns.

But above all, Ailee's performance showed me that it's possible for one act to have everything I talked about last year (!!) and said that other rookies needed. She has talent, she has presence, but she also has very, very good stage manners. She was singing live on this performance, overpowering her backing track, she showed how much she wanted to be on stage, she was enthusiastic and she didn't count on her "hard work" to show it for her, she went and showed it herself. And finally, once it was time to jump around on stage and have fun, she did just that with so much effortlessness, but she never, ever forgot what got her on stage in the first place -- to sing. So many other acts forget that, but not Ailee. With this performance, she proved that she is, without a doubt, rookie of the year.

Brave Guys - "Wait and Get Ready" (With K. Will, Kang Kyun Sung and Secret's Sunhwa)
Given my limited knowledge of Brave Guys (I'd seen a few gag concert cuts and some other stuff they did), I was extremely surprised when Shin Bora started singing, because she did it so well. She has a gorgeous timbre, the song was right for her, and there was this effortlessness that you don't see in majority of many female idols, who have probably trained for much, much longer. I think it's safe to say that she out-sung almost all the female acts that night. And that this performance, despite not being a "conventional" one, outdid majority of the others.

And this one performance showed me that Brave Guys as a musical act is actually really, really good, so when I found out that they're not doing music anymore, I was disappointed. I mean they're not ridiculously amazing, but they're solid, entertaining performers, with good, catchy songs. That's better than a lot of what we get from other acts. But what angered me was the reason why they decided to quit. Apparently since they're comedians, they "can't do music and comedy", which is probably one of the most stupid criticisms I've heard, and also one of the most ironic, coming from an industry that promotes a "jack of all trades, master of few/none" mindset in idols. You see all these idols trying to go into acting or comedy or anything other than singing (which some of them aren't even that good at in the first place), and while some of them are actually pretty okay, the majority aren't. Meanwhile, you have Brave Guys, who are good comedians to start with, and good performers and musicians as well, and you tell them they can't be all that? I'm sorry but I can't accept that reasoning, and this performance is why.

K. Will - "I Need You"
I loved this performance so much, and it really was one of the most memorable moments of the otherwise boring KBS show. The song choice was on-point -- it wasn't a ballad, but it still shows off K. Will's gorgeous and stable voice. It's also a lot more interesting than his "Ribbon In The Sky" version because it really took advantage of his very clear belting in contrast to his otherwise husky, rich middle range. The dance/instrumental break kept it fresh, but it didn't overpower the rest of the song. This is just one of those performances that are so effortlessly good I want to watch them over and over and over again.

The Boybands
Last year's SBS Gayo Daejun was my favorite out of the three, but I'm afraid I can't say the same about this year's show. I initially really liked the idea of them forming project groups just for that night, because it was a good way to present not only songs from the year that was about to end, but something fresh -- it set the SBS show apart from other shows. But once we got the songs I was extremely underwhelmed by them -- either they weren't any good, or they sounded too much like something else. The only song I really liked was Mystic White's, but the performance was boring. Actually, all four performances weren't that good. So when it came down to choosing the best performances from that night, none of them were even on my shortlist. And, again, I just happened to choose all the boy band performances.

Big Bang - "One Of a Kind" + "Crayon" + "Fantastic Baby"
And this, my friends, is how you do a Gayo Daejun performance -- you take advantage of the fact that the stage is bigger, and you take advantage of the fact that the audience is much better. If there's one more thing to add to my (rather long) list of "Reasons Why I Have THE Utmost Respect for Big Bang", it's that they know exactly how to please a crowd with their music. They know how to balance all these fancy gimmicks and the delivery of their music, so much better than anyone. Groups like BEAST and maybe Teen Top now, they try, and to a certain extent it works, but they haven't yet captured that level of effortlessness that Big Bang put into their playful performances. Like, TOP may be deadpan in terms of movement, but he knows other ways of how to play with the crowd, and GD is just a fireball, really. Also, I wasn't really convinced with a lot of the "Gangnam Style" incorporations this year, save for this one. It wasn't a direct copy, and I really liked that. I really liked the entire performance, and it was one of the few that put a genuine smile on my face without me having to force it.

BEAST - "Beautiful Night"
If the Big Bang performance was something to have fun with, the BEAST performance brought out the anthemic quality of "Beautiful Night". Despite the fact that, like I said earlier, they don't have the music that's as effortless as Big Bang, they bring a different kind of performance to the table. "Beautiful Night" isn't something you subconsciously play along with like a Big Bang song, it's really that anthemic kind of performance that you sit back and appreciate. They're different, really. (So I should stop comparing them!) Stable vocals, strong yet humble stage presence, good stage manners -- it's good over-all, all while being above a music show performance. They played the crowd well, and I like how they succeeded without all those bells and whistles. It's hard to find a balance between the two, but it's also hard to do without the bells and whistles, just like what BEAST did.

Infinite - "The Chaser"
This is probably my favorite remix of "The Chaser", not really because of the presence of the orchestra alone, but because it made the song even more epic than it already is. Because this was truly a Gayo Daejun-worthy performance. The arrangers really made an effort to make it special for the Gayos -- it wasn't just some random new synth line put on top of the original arrangement. And unlike other orchestra versions that have been done in the past, this one wasn't some boring attempt to do "classical" music under a pop melody. You have your strings, but then you also have these electric guitars running around, I loved that part. That's another thing I really like about this arrangement -- it's not pretentious, it's confident. And to top it all off, this was also the best-sung and most stable of Infinite's three Gayo performances. It was a lot more stable vocally, and I liked the friction between their vocals and the instrumental. It was, all-around, one of the best performances of the night.

The Fierce Battles
Finally, a relatively vague categorization. It's not my fault the best from the other shows had striking similarities! To me, the MBC show has always been the messiest of the three -- you have a "battle" thing going on with blue and white teams, but then you have these random special stages stuck in between them, with little to no relation with the main "battle". This year was a bit more organized than last year's though, which is good. And if there's one thing I like about the format, it's that there's a lot to talk about, and a good point to make regarding the battles. In a perfect world, the battles exist so acts can push themselves -- if they want to win, they have to be good. I tried to look for those kinds of battles, but I only found one, so the other pair of performances that I'll feature is sort of my "dream team" -- the two acts that I think would've made for a really, really fierce battle.

(Note: Despite the fact that they're paired up, each act accounts for one performance -- which means the MBC section features four performances ;D)

Epik High - "Don't Hate Me" / "Up" (with Park Bom) vs. MBLAQ - "It's War"
And that, my friends, is how you do a performance. Both groups did the right songs, and they carried themselves extremely well. This was honestly the only battle that night where both acts presented really strong fronts, and made it hard for me to mentally declare a "winner".

Epik High was brilliant, and I really like that instead of doing a whole performance of "Don't Hate Me", they did "Up" as well. It was ridiculously fun, but also fresh and Gayo-worthy. Watching their performance earlier was kind of a culmination of my want to understand rap, because they did it so well and they made me want to do more than just passively listen and passively like it. Park Bom was surprisingly stable, like she should be, but I also really like how even if she got center stage during her solos, it remained an Epik High song and not a Park Bom song, something that I noticed some songs turn into.

Honestly I wasn't so surprised that Epik High did such a good job because well, they're Epik High. I was more surprised with MBLAQ actually, because they exceeded my expectations a thousand times over. That was really one of their best-sung performances ever, one of the most stable, and also over-all one of the best-delivered. This was what I meant when I said that "It's War" truly takes what I used to think as MBLAQ's weakness, their over-performing that oftentimes translates into arrogance, and makes it a good thing. It's a song that will rise to the challenge of over performance, and that's really what MBLAQ has always needed. It's strong enough to overpower their bad points, while bringing out their strengths. And also, I love the re-arrangement. It's gorgeous and not the least bit less epic than the original, but it's something new.

Epik High vs. MBLAQ was really the fiercest battle on that show, and probably one of my favorites out of all the Gayo Daejun performances. They were that good.

SISTAR - "Alone" vs Miss A - "I Don't Need A Man"
A few hours ago I was really frustrated, because I really wanted the MBC section of this post to be centered around the "battle" concept of the show, but other than the Epik High/MBLAQ one, none of the other pairings matched up, to each other or to my standards. There were acts who did well in relation to each other, but outside of that they weren't that good all-around. In Miss A and SISTAR's case, they were both really, really good, but their partners were the opposite. The 4Minute performance was badly sung and the arrangement wasn't really that great, and the KARA one had an interesting arrangement, but they didn't even bother singing it live. However, the Miss A and SISTAR performances stood out too much for me not to include them here.

I really, really, REALLY liked the arrangement of "I Don't Need A Man", because as much as it sounded new and fresh (we'll get to that later), they also retained the original feel of it, better than any of the other remixes that tried. Hardly any of the original elements were retained, and yet it managed to channel a sense of familiarity. The most unfamiliar-feeling element of this performance is the dance break, but I love it. I love how it's so unexpected at first, but when you watch it again it makes sense in the greater scheme of things. And when you look at the elements themselves and how they relate to the song proper, it's actually really, really cohesive. I love it, it gives the song sass. This version was still as fun and tongue-in-cheek as the original one, and actually slightly more playful because there were more things to play around with. But at the same time, I like how the song has a different kind of substance, and how it's clear that this was approached with a musical mindset. The melody was tweaked to match, but not too much that it would become impossible to sing live. And actually, their vocals on this were quite good, and stable in general, save for a few slips and a fraction of the song being really breathy. But all things considered this is one of the most creative performances this year.

It's also a slightly similar case with SISTAR -- the arrangement is really creative and musical. But unlike Miss A, I didn't expect this to even just happen at all. But it did, and then I was surprised at how well it worked. One of the main reasons why I didn't like the original version of "Alone" was because it didn't do a good job of carrying SISTAR and hiding their flaws. And because I found it boring. Well, this arrangement was anything but. From the beginning all the way to the end it's overflowing with confidence, and it has so much spunk it almost hurts. The delivery was really good as well -- they really sold the song. Even if that one girl's voice cracked, it was a tiny miss in a sea of direct hits. In terms of their movements, this really worked too because they finally found somewhere to channel the roughness of their stage presence. This was one of the best things SISTAR ever did, probably the most well-rounded performance of their careers, actually.

Phew. That was long. Watch out for part 2 tomorrow! ^_^


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