Every year since 2015, when the event moved downtown, KCON LA has taken over the Staples Center and Los Angeles Convention Center in celebration of K-pop and the Korean wave. Whether you’re a fan of the music, the beauty products, the food or the TV dramas, there’s something for everyone to do throughout the four-day event. However, KCON’s highlight is without a doubt the two nights of post-convention concerts, which this year take place on Aug. 17-18.
Since it started in 2012, KCON has set attendance records with each new convention. Last year’s event drew a record-breaking 94,000 attendees, an increase from 2017’s reported 85,000. A bigger event with an expected bigger turnout means KCON has to craft solid concert lineups. Past installments have been headlined by top K-pop acts such as BTS, Girls’ Generation and Super Junior, and they have featured what were, at the time, rookie groups like Monsta X and GOT7 (Both went on to global success).
Unlike previous years that saw more diverse lineups in terms of genres and the inclusion of more established, legacy artists, KCON 2019 is focusing on the new up-and-coming groups that are popular, or well on their way to being so, and that typically resonate more with younger audiences. This is also KCON’s most gender balanced lineup to date, as fans every year previously wanted to see more girl groups included in the event. Why? Because those acts are less likely to tour in the U.S. on their own, in contrast to boy groups that are perceived to pull bigger crowds and thus more commonly mount U.S. tours.
With a roster of 16 acts (seven female and nine male) split between the two concert nights, we selected five groups that you should definitely keep eyes and ears on, even beyond KCON.
“Finally united, I’ve been waiting for this moment to come,” AB6IX celebrate on the opening track of their debut EP B Complete. After two years of participating in different projects separately, the original lineup of members, who auditioned together as trainees from the Korean entertainment company Brand New Music for the competition reality show Produce 101, made their much awaited debut in May. Daehwi (who went to school in Fullerton, by the way), Woojin, Youngmin, Donghyun and added member Woong have made splashes in the K-pop scene quickly, after only a few months since debuting their strong single “Breathe.” All AB6IX members, whose ages range from late teens to early 20s, co-wrote and co-produced B Complete, which these days is highly regarded by the globalized K-pop fandom.
Though Daehwi and Woojin performed in the last two editions of KCON LA as members of Wanna One, and Donghyun and Youngmin held a concert as the duo MXM earlier this year at The Teragram Ballroom, this year’s KCON marks their first appearance in Los Angeles as AB6IX. (It’s also Woong’s first time ever in the city.) Having racked up so much buzz in such a short period of time is indicative of them being one of the rookie groups to watch out for as they grow artistically.
Even if you’re not part of the K-pop fandom, if you’ve spent time on Twitter you might have come across “Stan Loona,” a slogan that fans proclaim to spread the word about the girl act. Though they just made their official debut as a full group of 12 last year with the song “favOrite,” Loona members have released individual and sub-unit projects since 2016. That allowed each to try different concepts and genres, build diverse catalogues of tracks and grab their own spotlights. Meanwhile, it gave fans the opportunity to get to know the 12 members and their skills individually, prior to their debut as a group.
It worked: Loona has one of the most dedicated international fan bases from the new generation of girl groups. They also have a prominent LGBTQIA+ fan base, which Loona has come out in support of recently—something atypical for the K-pop world, though slowly becoming more common. After being one of the most requested groups, Loona performs in the States for the first time ever at KCON LA, making it one of the most anticipated sets of the two nights.
A sold-out worldwide tour and EPs making it onto the Billboard charts are achievements that many established K-pop groups have on their resumes years into their careers. ATEEZ, however, did this not even a full year into theirs. With a solid stage presence due to their polished choreography and carefully crafted identity through their music’s messaging, ATEEZ quickly built an established fan base abroad that is akin to what groups with more years active achieve.
Though their music has varied throughout their three part pirate-themed EPs—going from blending hip-hop with dubstep to a brighter, more tropical sound—the aspect that brings it all together is the performance, emphasizing strong and intricate choreography. The group recently had an LA stop in their worldwide tour back in March and they recently performed at the New York edition of KCON last month, but this will be their first time on the KCON LA stage.
On the girl front, one of the breakout acts of the year is Itzy. The music video for their debut song “Dalla Dalla” broke the record for the most viewed K-pop debut within 24 hours, and the song became the best-selling K-pop cut in the U.S. during the week of its release. That helped Itzy, within nine days of debuting on their first Korean music show–a mix between TRL and American Bandstand with a popularity competition at the end–win the contest faster than any girl group had done before. Mind you, this all happened with the quintet’s one and only song. Their first EP dropped on July 29, landing them on No. 34 on Billboard’s Emerging Artist chart, which signals the acts that are gaining traction.
Itzy’s concept revolves around the idea that they’re “different,” performing in a sassier and feistier way than their counterparts in the K-pop world, which is also reflected in their lyrics and sound. Coming from JYP Entertainment, which has birthed many K-pop legacy groups like the Wonder Girls and 2PM–and and now more recently GOT7 and Twice–Itzy is en route to a similar outcome and may even become an icon for the current K-pop generation.
A band that plays instruments isn’t exactly what immediately comes to mind when thinking about K-pop, but that’s exactly what N.Flying is. The group is part of a few acts known as “idol bands,” which are simply acts with instruments that go through the Korean idol training system. And though some bands like label mates CNBLUE and F.T. Island have seen huge success both in South Korea and Japan, N.Flying had struggled to gain any ground since first coming out in 2015.
That is, until this year, when they got the Cinderella story treatment. The four-piece band’s track “Rooftop” was not going anywhere until about a month after release earlier this year, when a random user posted the song’s music video on an online forum–and it immediately went viral and hit No. 1 on every major Korean chart, making them superstars overnight. They followed up with the album Spring Memories, which debuted at No. 5, cementing N.Flying’s place in the local music market. This year’s KCON marks their first performance in LA, and their inclusion brings a bit of diversity and live music to the roster mostly formed by boy and girl groups.