Like gems in a jewellery box, thousands of lights twinkled with every colour in the sea that wrapped around the Cívitas Metropolitano’s interior. Many fans who came to KPOP LUX Madrid on July 22nd were equipped with a lightstick, which, when turned on, beamed with support for its representative artist. The result is a stunning dance of light from the crowd, and the singers re-energised to give it their all. Even before the festival had begun, these lights were coming on one-by-one, mirroring the growing excitement of the attendees.
It had been a scalding day in Madrid during Earth’s hottest month on record, but that didn’t stop the hundreds eager to get a front row spot from queueing very early in the day - some even resorting to camping the night before. Beneath a canopy of umbrellas had sat K-Pop fans who’d travelled from various parts of Europe and further, keeping themselves occupied for hours sharing snacks and friendship bracelets with their favourite idols’ names spelled in the beads. From lightsticks to exchanges of handmade gifts, the K-Pop fan community is strongest when it’s united, and nothing brings devotees together like the anticipation of the best in the industry: SHINee, who debuted 15 years ago and are considered by many to have achieved legend status, as well as ATEEZ, IVE and ENHYPEN who are widely popular representatives of 4th Gen K-pop, and stars on the rise CRAVITY, STAYC and xikers.
Just as the sunset had pulled over the open roof of the stadium, xikers arrived on stage to kick off the night with ‘ROCKSTAR’, which was produced (as well as many other songs) by none other than labelmate ATEEZ’s Hongjoong. The recently debuted group, of ages 17-20, swaggered on stage in blue outfits, emanating a fresh and youthful vibe that was perfect to set the energy of the night. The teens entered the scene only four months ago, yet their debut hit ‘TRICKY HOUSE’ is so recognisable amongst K-pop listeners that it had most in the arena cheering along. After their set, SHINee appeared on the B-stage to keep the excitement flowing and emcee while the next artists prepared. Even after being in the industry so long, it’s clear the beloved five are still as fresh as they day they debuted; the brief presence of Key, Minho and Taemin was so well received by the entire crowd it had the members beaming with joy.
Next to hop on stage was STAYC, the girl group on everyone’s radar. The girls presented pop perfection in white boots and denim, gaining particular support during their hits ‘RUN2U’ and ‘ASAP’. For the first out of the only two girl groups in the lineup, they took care to show off their own unique style and vibes, ensuring attendees got a taste for the many facets of K-Pop. The girls took plenty of time to chat to the crowd in Korean, Spanish and English in between songs, but it wasn’t long before they passed the mic to CRAVITY, who also debuted in 2020. Unlike the other acts, CRAVITY shifted from delivering performances of hits only and gave a set entirely composed of songs from their latest EP. It gave them the opportunity to show a little variety; after feel-good floor-filler ‘Groovy’, the boys went straight on to dance to ‘Baddie’, which featured gorgeously murky guitar sounds and a dancebreak. By the time their set was over, their faces were glassy with sweat from such high octane stages.
The daylight had finally run out when ENHYPEN graced the stage, and the mood shifted: it was clear things were only getting bigger from here. The immensely popular septet brought pure power and occasional sensuality to their five-track set, and captivated the audience with their dances during ‘Tamed-Dashed’ and ‘Sacrifice (Eat Me Up)’. After taking a break to play some variety games with the crowd, they returned to performing, and it would be a crime not to mention one of the most notorious songs of the night: ‘Bite Me’. The viral hit induced the loudest screams of the festival so far, and even those with no other knowledge of the group knew to sing along: ‘It’s you and me in this world.’
IVE arrived with an aura of royalty in classy matching couture, going straight in with their hit ‘Kitsch’, which is fittingly about having a unique style and their fashion influence on social media. The girls’ singing was clean and incredibly stable, and members Yujin and Liz delivered some impressively high notes in ‘I AM’. On top of all their other talents they displayed, the girls danced elegantly and effortlessly, and at times their formation was graceful as a sculpture. They showed Madrid why IVE are some of the leading girls in K-pop right now, even taking the time to partake in dance challenges with fans. On the cusp of the festival’s climax, members of ATEEZ came out to greet the audience and do some small dance challenges of their own, before making way for xikers, STAYC and CRAVITY to briefly return for special performance covers of some of the industry’s best.
Then came the moment that had the crowd animated with hollering and frantic waving: ATEEZ appeared in cloaks they doffed as their first song ‘HALAZIA’ began. Revealing black suits, the only colours present were in Yeosang and San’s hair, and the boys gave an intense and theatrical first performance that had the entire stadium screaming throughout. In the songs that followed the singers and rappers showed off their well-controlled voices, and the bass that was shifting tectonic plates through the speakers might’ve overpowered another performer, but not ATEEZ. It was not just the oontz oontz factor of ‘Guerilla’ that caused the boys to have arguably the loudest stage of the night, it was their ability to command all 45,000 K-pop fans in attendance to roar along to the song’s repeated ending chant: ‘Break the wall!’ Onlookers even posted recordings on social media of the moment from outside the stadium, to show to all how chill-inducing that moment was. The boys made sure to include some variety segments of their own, including dancing to the 'Macarena' and 'Funkytown', while Jongho serenaded a fan with a beautiful cover of Bruno Mars’ ‘Nothin’ on You’.
Those wearing pearl aqua green got their moment when headliner SHINee took the mics following their juniors. Fans with colour-changing lightsticks switched theirs to a familiar shade of turquoise to join Shawols (the name of the group's fans) in celebrating the group’s first performance in the country. SHINee broke perfection not once, reaffirming their position as the beloved and well-respected ‘Princes of K-pop’. Shawol or not, every attendee at the festival bathed in the thrill of their sheer presence. To some, hearing their legendary song ‘View’ performed live was the emotional equivalent to being put on an IV drip that pumps a magical medicine straight into your veins, fixing every ailment and clearing every fog, leaving you feeling the best you’ve ever felt in life. Others simply enjoyed the party, singing along to the lyrics that, seemingly, every K-pop fan knows by heart.
As confetti cascaded from above, all the idols returned to the stage for a last hurrah, waving to the crowd and grooving to each other's songs. SHINee humbly rejected ATEEZ’s making a way for them to stand in the middle, opting to share the glory with their juniors instead. It had been a perfect night celebrating one of music’s most fun and dynamic genres, and during the moments of tearful smiles and cries of joy, it truly seemed as though the world’s calamities had fallen away for a short while. The spark left over from KPOP LUX won’t die out for a long time.