KCON 2019 New York kicked off its first concert at the historic Madison Square Garden on Saturday, July 6 with enthusiastic and excited cheers from thousands of eager global K-Pop fans in attendance and on livestream. The Saturday lineup included ATEEZ, IZ*ONE, The Boyz, TXT, and NU’EST. These talented artists earned a full house, but the group this writer came for was NU’EST.
Last year at KCON 2018 Los Angeles, I had no idea who NU’EST were. The subgroup NU’EST W, however, was in the lineup and left a remarkable impression on me with their unique music and engaging personalities. Though there were many talented performances that night, it was NU’EST W’s performance that resonated with me the most.
As a seven-year-old idol group that debuted in 2012, NU’EST is considered to be part of the previous generation of idols in spite of their youth. With the growing popularity of Hallyu in the mainstream music scene, fans new to K-Pop may not know of NU’EST right off the bat. But, by the end of the night, NU’EST had won over the crowd’s hearts with their touching story, brilliant vocals, and outstanding performance. Common social media posts shared by newly-converted fans right after the concert include: “Why did I not know they were this good?” and “Why did no one tell me about them before?“
The audience’s first introduction to NU’EST at KCON NY was through a special stage. They roused curiosity when KCON featured a video of main and lead vocalists Baekho and Minhyun reflecting on their journey to KCON 2019. When asked why they chose Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars” for the special performance, Minhyun explained that the lyrics have “words of comfort” and “cheered [him] up,” so he hoped fans would also be comforted by this song. Baekho confessed that the fans “are so precious and special to us.” Minhyun further elaborated that “NU’EST was also like lost stars and fans have guided us to here. I hope this song also can comfort them and feel the support.” Their genuine appreciation for their fans shone, and inspired interest in NU’EST’s difficult journey to success.
Although NU’EST debuted successfully with title song “Face,” they encountered challenge after challenge due to a series of unfortunate circumstances. This eventually led to the painful decision to audition as trainees on reality show Produce 101 back in 2017. Though only Minhyun made the cut and re-debuted as part of Wanna One, the remaining four members of NU’EST continued on as subunit NU’EST W–the “W” stands for “waiting” as they waited for Minhyun to return to the group following the end of Wanna One’s contract. All five members have seen success since then as audiences witnessed their maturity in the face of their struggles, familiarized themselves with their fun-loving personalities, and became aware of their distinct, signature sound. NU’EST was determined to succeed together as five, and now they’ve accomplished it.
Congruent with the meaning of their name “New Establish Style Tempo,” NU’EST often takes on musical genres that have yet to be explored in K-Pop. Starting with the electro-pop dub-step genre, NU’EST has moved through a multitude of other musical styles, such as the more upbeat, feel-good pop sound in “Not Over You” and the infamous electro dance pop “Sleep Talking.” Their current style meshes various elements of contemporary R&B, pop, electronic, hip-hop, house, funk, jazz, soul, EDM, and more. NU’EST is difficult to place into a box because their music can’t be defined by one genre. They are constantly experimenting and evolving, while still making their music distinguishable as their own.
When it came time for their set, NU’EST awed fans with their newest comeback song “BET BET.” Though less avant garde than some of their previous title tracks, it continues with the sound that NU’EST and NU’EST W have evolved into over the past 2 years. “BET BET” is an R&B/EDM mix featuring strong synths and future bass. The chorus highlights Baekho’s powerful vocals and features the return of Minhyun’s high notes. The intense synchronized choreography puts them on par with other current popular and rising male idol groups. At the same time, the music itself is relatable to the masses while still retaining their signature NU’EST feel. “BET BET” is their first comeback as five in two years, and has seen major success, topping multiple charts, grabbing four wins, and selling over 220,000 copies within the first week.
After “BET BET,” the quintet unexpectedly surprised and delighted fans when they continued with “Love Paint” from their previous album Canvas. “Love Paint” is the title song for Canvas, and is known to be one of their most artistic songs–and the start of their current mature sound. It integrates complex instrumental and vocal layering with dynamic synths to create an entirely new sound. Avant garde and not quite mainstream, “Love Paint” is musically brilliant and the perfect surprise for fans.
Next came the only ballad performance from NU’EST with “Segno” from their newest album, Happily Ever After. Main vocalist Baekho composed and produced all the tracks on the album. With a blooming melody that keeps with their R&B sound, “Segno” heavily focuses on their beautiful vocals to tell its story. The elegant and smooth choreography adds to the wistful feel of the track. As Aron said during the intermission, “the song signals a new beginning for us, NU’EST.” During one of the dance breaks, as a throwback to their past works, each member danced very specific choreographies from their previous title songs.
NU’EST then continued with one of their most popular songs from Canvas, “Look (A Starlight Night).” With a House-R&B-EDM mixed sound, “Look” features an extremely catchy beat and heavy synths, along with very smooth vocal transitions. Despite its very vogue impression, “Look” has a rather fun choreography that allows each member to show their individual personalities, which they did through their facial expressions and other nuances. “Look” not only entertains the fans, it also reveals to the audience that the members have fun with it. As a fan favorite when it was released, “Look” has yet to fail to please a crowd.
Closing out with one of their other beloved b-side tracks from Canvas, “R.L.T.L. (Real Love True Love (One Morning)” evoked even louder cheers from the crowd. “R.L.T.L.” leans a bit heavier on the EDM side with its strong bass and addicting beat, perfect for the audience to dance along to. Along with “Look (A Starlight Night),” “R.L.T.L.” is one of the songs that truly highlights their unique sound amidst the current K-Pop music trends and demonstrates why NU’EST has a dedicated and growing fanbase. The excitement from the crowd bouncing to the beat wrapped up the night on a high note.
With a considerable variety of song selections that effectively showcased their abilities, NU’EST showed New York how they’ve managed to secure their spot in the current K-Pop industry amongst the new generation of idols. Swaying new fans to their side with each performance, they are gaining traction in this highly competitive field. I’m personally excited to see where they go from here, and what they will bring to the plate at this year’s KCON LA.
NU’EST is currently on tour in Asia, with stops in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Taipei. They will also be performing at KCON LA on August 17, 2019. Catch them while you can!