This past weekend, I had the honor of being part of North America’s largest convention for “All Things Hallyu,” KCON so, of course, I have to share all my adventures with you!
Joining with tens of thousands of fans from around the world, I was one uber-excited zombie, wandering the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center in a state of semi-shock as the sheer awesomeness of what I was witnessing almost overwhelmed me.
It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to find yourself surrounded by tens of thousands of equally excited and slightly overwhelmed people, all gathered together because we share a love of Korean pop culture and entertainment. As one who spends most of her life labeled as crazy, because I can’t keep my Hallyu love a secret, coming to KCON is almost like coming home. It’s a place where your undying love of K-Dramas and K-Pop doesn’t have to be hidden. In fact, it’s one of the few places in the world you can shout your love of all things Hallyu to the world and be applauded, high-fived and/or hugged for it and it’s wonderful!
So what exactly does this incredible convention look like?
I’m glad you asked!
KCON IN A NUTSHELL
Spanning three days, this year’s KCON was crammed full of artist engagements, panels, workshops, special guest appearances, a marketplace overflowing with all sorts of Korean products, goodies and samples, and two unforgettable concerts that left me a sobbing, ruined mess of a zombie fangirl. (Yeah, I may have had a moment or two while I was in LA… I couldn’t help it though! GOT7 and Monsta X caught me totally by surprise and… AUGH! I can’t! I’m still too fragile!)
Let’s get back to the convention, shall we?
Though the convention itself didn’t start until Friday afternoon, guests and fans alike were allowed to check in on Thursday, an idea that was truly a stroke of genius, in my opinion. By checking in early, the stress that usually accompanies the first day of the convention, was pretty much non-existent and for that, I was grateful.
With so many people taking advantage of early check-in, an interesting and completely unplanned phenomenon developed that was beneficial for many and fascinating to watch. Upon checking in, attendees were given their scratchers, innocent enough to the unexperienced, these little cards determined the fate of all in attendance… At least for those who came to KCON desperate to meet the idol(s) of their dreams…
THE KCON STOCK EXCHANGE
There are no words to describe what it’s like to scratch off the little silver box on those stupid scratchers. Anxiety, anticipation, fear, excitement, dread, agony, elation… There’s a mixture of all of them as you hold that little card in your hand, daring yourself to scratch away and have your fate revealed. The heartbreak of a “sorry” is excruciating while the ecstatic squee when the name of a bias group is revealed is impossible to reproduce under normal circumstances. Needless to say, you always knew when someone got the name of a group they wanted.
But back to check-in and the phenomenon that developed as the names on these scratchers were revealed…
As group names were revealed on these artist engagement cards, people began to congregate in front of the room that was in the process of being transformed into KCON’s marketplace, asking those who joined them which artists they were going to see. As more people began to gather, the trading of scratchers began… One audience pass for another… A high-touch for a high-touch… Three audience passes for a Red Carpet… $200 for a high-touch… You get the idea. If there was a deal to be made, it happened and the frenzy only got worse as more and more people joined in the exchange.
I have to admit that at one point near the beginning, I was a part of the action. I’d gotten a pass to GOT7 in my initial bunch of scratchers and I wasn’t going to let that go but I desperately wanted to see Monsta X as well so I bartered and bargained; eventually trading a Daniel Henney for Monsta X for my friend and shelling out $20 for a second Monsta X for myself. (Yes, that was stupid of me, I know. Especially considering I met people on Friday who would have given Monsta X to me for free but hey… Live and learn, right?) Unafraid to join the fray, I helped out a bunch of my friends, swapping one card for another until we all managed to get what we wanted. Once everyone was taken care of, I just stepped back and watched in awe as this frantic-bordering-on-desperate KCON version of the New York Stock Exchange played out in front of me. I really was an interesting thing to watch and one I hope worked out well for everyone. I know I was satisfied… enough. (What can I say? I really wanted to meet GOT7, Monsta X and Block B in person, not just look at them from afar!)
But back to the convention itself…
With KCON spanning three days there was a lot to take in and I did my best to catch what I could but I have to warn you now, between the panels I was speaking on and the Red Carpet I was covering as press, I barely had time to breathe, let alone wander so I can’t give you nearly as much insight as to what happened during the convention as I’d like. Of course that’s not to say I didn’t try to enjoy the convention because I totally did.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET TO BUY… ALL THE THINGS!
Getting to the convention center Friday around noon, I had about an hour to wander the overly crowded lobby as thousands congregated in front of the barrier that separated us from the rooms of the convention. Despite the massive size of the convention center, KCON still managed to cram that one area so full of chattering, squealing, dancing, laughing, ridiculously excited attendees there was almost no room to stand. Once the “doors” were finally opened, the mob dispersed, cramming into the marketplace, lining up for fan engagements and heading to panels and workshops while I was free to wander, just soaking in all that makes KCON great.
I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the brief amount of time I spent wandering the marketplace. With 119 different companies operating booths, there was a lot to look at and I wasted no time in checking out as many as I could. Of course, a stop at one of the K-Pop booths was a must but from there I wandered, drawn in to whatever booth offered free samples, goodies, games and/or a chance to meet some of KCON’s incredible artists and honored guests.
Though I never got a chance to wander back through the marketplace once I left it on Friday, I did have friends who spent quite a bit of time there and I know for a fact, they had a blast. And how could they not when Monsta X, Kim Soo Hyun, Son Ho Jun, Roy Kim and GOT7 (to name a few) all made surprise visits to various booths throughout the weekend!?! I mean when you’ve got shopping, food, contests, prizes and international superstars all gathered in one place, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time!
PANELS AND WORKSHOPS AND GUESTS… OH MY!
Of course, there’s more to KCON than ramen samples and surprise guests. The real heart of the convention lies in the panels and workshops and… Okay, who am I kidding? The real heart of the convention is the incredible lineup of artists that take the stage of the M! Countdown concerts and the 1 in 10 gazillion chance you have of meeting them but I’m a panelist, okay? I have to at least pretend to believe people travel from far and wide to come listen to me speak… Hahaha!
Though those attending KCON may not actually make the annual trek to Los Angeles to hear me speak, there were over 203 special guests invited to take part in 139 different panel programs and workshops over these three incredible days which meant there was a lot going on at any given time. To try to describe to you all that KCON had to offer would take forever so let me put it this way. If you can think of a topic in any way remotely related to Korean pop culture and/or entertainment, there was probably a panel or workshop going on where you could discuss it, squeal over it, or learn more about it. Personally, I found the panel on the best and worst K-Drama tropes to be quite entertaining, as was the panel on acting idols, and the “Secret Lives of K-Pop Fans Over 30” panel was a hoot… but I may be a teensy bit biased. Maybe.
Biases aside, I did have the chance to work with a lot of amazing people, as we prepared for these panels, and I sincerely hope those who took the time out of their busy schedules to visit said panels thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I know I sure did!
MEETING A BIAS, AKA THE DEATH OF THE ZOMBIE FANGIRL
Though I spent a lot of my time at KCON working, there were a few random moments when I got to put aside the badges and just be a fan. The first two were on Saturday, when I got to be a part of Monsta X and GOT7’s artist engagements. (Hey, I wasn’t about to let that $20 go to waste!) Though I didn’t have high-touch for either engagement, I got to be fairly close to the front as the crowd of on-lookers smooshed in around me. Squished as I was, I got a pretty good view of both groups and I have to say, I have EXCEPTIONAL taste in biases!
Okay, okay! Fangirling aside, both Monsta X and GOT7 are adorable in person. They’re so full of warm smiles and friendly waves and they both seemed genuinely happy to be meeting with so many international fans. Monsta X was especially cute as they stepped out from backstage and were immediately met with a room full of excitedly screeching fans. I don’t think they were expecting to be met with as many fans as they were and they were sincerely touched by the overwhelming love they received.
Having been in the U.S. only a couple of months before, GOT7 had a better idea of what to expect when they stepped out on-stage but I think even they were a bit surprised by the love of their fans. I watched first-hand as JB nearly died laughing after one incredibly enthusiastic fan grabbed him around the neck and hugged him. Sure, she got yelled at by the event staff and everyone behind her was sort of rushed through the line but she had her moment with JB and isn’t that really what KCON is all about? (Okay, I know I shouldn’t condone her actions because it was against all the rules but JB took it all in stride… Well, actually he laughed so hard he had to step away from the line for a moment to compose himself; but it was all done in good humor and I know for a fact that woman will cherish that memory for the rest of her life (and never wash her shirt again) so why be upset?)
Though my eyes may have turned a bit green (greener??? It’s hard to say since I have green eyes to begin with…) as I watched the lucky hundred or so high five Monsta X and GOT7, I couldn’t be too jealous because I know for a fact that opportunities like this only come around once in a lifetime and I’d rather be happy for my fellow fans than be jealous they got what I didn’t. What mattered most to me was having these groups come to U.S. and be met with so much love and support that they go home with happy memories and a desire to come back in the future. (Hey, a fangirl can dream, can’t she?)
THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO SAY
To try to cover three days of convention and two nights of fantastic music in one post is pretty much impossible so I’m not even going to try. That’s not to say I’m done rambling on about the wonders of KCON, because I’m not. I just think I may need to give you a chance to process this much before I dive into any more. I mean I could ramble on about the wonders of Saturday night’s concert for the rest of forever but I won’t. At least not right now. But I will be back, and soon. Because I am a fangirl, after all, and I have much to squee about!
Editor’s note: were you at KCON this year? What did you think of the convention, marketplace and panels?