It’s always daunting, sitting down to write an article about something as epically awesome as KCON 2016 LA presented by Toyota. With three days crammed full of panels workshops, artist meet and greets, a convention hall overflowing with vendor booths and samples, and a concert stage that hosted everyone from Korean indie bands to YouTube stars to dancers and pretty much everything in-between, that’s a lot to try to cover in a single article. And I haven’t even touched on the conventions biggest draw, the two nights of mind-blowing M Countdown concerts that wrapped up Saturday and Sunday nights! As you can see, that’s a lot to write about! Obviously I’m not going to be able to talk about everything that I saw or did during my time at KCON 2016 LA (at least not in a single article) but I’ll do what I can to give you an idea of what it was like, being in LA this past weekend.
The KCON 2016 LA Convention
The convention itself began on Friday and I spent my first hour of KCON wandering around the convention hall. Right away I was sucked in by cheery booth workers and free samples. Oh! The samples! In my first 10 minutes of the convention I’d scored a free Kung Fu Panda sheet mask, sampled goodies at both Tous le Jours and Bibigo, gotten a cute flower hairclip, and won a free notebook and pen from Memebox. (Which I know doesn’t sound all that exciting but for me it was because I’d forgotten to bring one to take notes on during the concerts.)
Being the crazily over-committed person that I was all weekend, I never got to spend more than an hour or so at a time, strolling through the convention hall but every time I went, I tried to make sure I visited an area I’d never been to before. It took me all three days to make my way through the entire hall and I think that even after all of that, there were still some areas I missed.
It was very easy to see which booths were the fan favorites as lines for these stretched for what seemed like miles. Most of these booths were giving out free goodies, like totes or snacks or makeup, and the like and had I had the time, I might have joined the hundreds of others lined up for these treats but in all honesty, the only line I was willing to commit to this past weekend was the one that led me to coffee.
Outside the convention hall, a fleet of food trucks lined the street between LA Live and the Staples Center. Far superior to the sparse food offerings of KCON last year, this block-long foodpalooza was every hungry convention goer’s paradise. With food trucks from all over the city offering just about anything you could possibly imagine, there was something for everyone. The temptation to indulge myself in this foodie’s paradise was strong but the weeping of my already sad bank account kept me from going overboard. Instead of splurging, I stuck mostly to free samples and the occasional bite of something offered by a friend. (For the record, mochi cheese fries are ridiculously delicious!)
The Convention Stage
While the vendor booths both outside and in are always fun to visit, they’re only a small part of the larger KCON experience. Inside the convention hall, in-between all the vendor booths and activity centers, stood a stage where artists from around the world were invited to perform, games were played, live beauty demonstrations were given, and dance battles were held. It was a very busy little place and one that ended up being one of my particular favorites, not because I got to watch someone show me how to achieve the hottest beauty looks at home, but because I got to watch a handful of K-indie bands perform on Friday afternoon including Dead Buttons, Sultan of the Disco and Love X Stereo. *squee*
Flower Boy Coffee Shop
The other big draw in the convention hall this year was the Flower Boy Coffee Shop. Exactly as the name implies, this coffee shop was set up by one of the local coffee shops but was staffed entirely by flower boys. For convention goers who have always dreamed of being the star in their own flower boy drama, this coffee shop was pretty much a dream come true. I wish I could give you an insider’s view of this particularly popular KCON experience but alas, tickets for the coffee shop sold out long before the convention started so all I can tell you is what I heard from others. That being that the coffee was good, the boys were charming and that it was a perfectly delightful way to spend an hour relaxing with your friends.
Workshops & Panels
In addition to all the excitement going on in the convention hall, KCON offered attendees a slew of workshops covering everything from how to cosplay to learning the latest idol dance routines. There were chances to meet celebrity YouTubers, an in-depth conversation with K-drama director, Won Suk Kim and even Korean language classes. There were panels discussing various aspects of dramas and K-Pop, and even panels on what it’s like to be a parent of a K-Pop fan or what it’s like to be a K-Pop fan over 30. There really was a panel for everybody and if, by some randomly weird chance, you couldn’t find anything to spark your interest, KCON had a screening room set up where you could watch episodes of some of the year’s most popular dramas and films.
Of course what everyone really goes to KCON for is the idols and this year’s convention didn’t disappoint. With 12 artists scheduled to perform at the convention’s two M Countdown concerts, there was certainly no shortage of celebrities, nor were there a shortage of chances to meet these stars. Between the convention’s highly anticipated artist engagements, which took place throughout the weekend, and two nights of red carpet interaction, fans had plenty of chances to catch an up-close glimpse of some of their favorite stars.
On a personal note, I got to be a part of both Block B and Astro’s artist engagements. Not because I was actually lucky enough to get any of those darn scratchers to say anything other than “sorry” but because I have super awesome and amazing friends who know I’m slightly crazy about these two groups and as such were only too happy to pass these elusive golden tickets on to me. (Gestures of kindness for which I will be eternally grateful.) Standing in the back for both events (because standing in line for hours on end, in the blistering LA sun, just doesn’t appeal to me at all) I was able to watch my beloved groups meet their fans via a high touch. It’s true that there was a brief moment during each where I wished I’d been one of the lucky ones able to actually meet these boys but honestly, those moments didn’t last long. It was enough for me just to be able to stand in the back, watching them up on that stage, being all kinds of adorable as they interacted with their fans.
As great as it was to watch these artist engagements, it was really the Red Carpet on Saturday and Sunday night that became the highlight of my time at KCON. (Well, other than the concerts, but my experiences there are just going to have to wait for a different article.) Having the privilege of standing among my friends and colleagues as we filled the press area directly in front of the Red Carpet stage is something I never want to take for granted, nor is it an experience I’ll ever forget. Being able to stand there, camera in-hand, while idols you’ve only ever admired from afar come parading in front of you is just amazing. (It’s also incredibly nerve-wracking as you have to constantly fight off the panic that comes from worrying about whether or not your photos turned out well, but that’s a whole other story.)
It’s hard to say which moment during the Red Carpets was my favorite. Certainly seeing Lee Min Ho in person was a highlight. I can’t even begin to describe what he’s like in person. He’s tall and gorgeous and he was so very personable. So warm and friendly. I wish I could capture all of that for you in my photos but honestly, there will never be a photo or a drama, for that matter, that adequately captures all that he is. He’s one of those people who really is larger than life and I just stood there in awe, as I attempted to capture just a tiny bit of his charisma in my photos.
Naturally, being the huge fan of ASTRO that I am, being able to not only see them but also photograph them was such an incredible experience. They really are as adorable in person as they are in their videos and I just love that! Being one of the youngest to perform at KCON, they were incredibly excited to be a part of the magic and it showed in everything they did. Their smiles lit up the room every time they walked into it and their genuine love and appreciation for their fans warmed my heart.
Of course any time I’m able to see BTS up close and in person, I’m happy. I mean how could I not be? It’s freaking BTS! (No, I’m not biased at all when it comes to these boys. Not even a little bit…) Seeing them in LA makes the 4th time I’ve seen them and every time I see them, I’m always surprised by how much of effect they have on people. I kid you not, when J-Hope stepped onto the stage of the Red Carpet Sunday night, the entire atmosphere in the room changed. There was a collective gasp for air, the world became brighter, hearts became happier, it was as if all the sunshine and goodness in the universe had been gathered up into this one beautiful being and just being near him for a moment was enough to make your whole life worth living. (See? Not biased at all!)
As much as I loved seeing BTS again, it was really SHINee who brought me my ultimate “oh my gosh I can’t believe I’m here and that this is real” moment. The moment they stepped onto the Red Carpet my heart jumped into my throat and I suddenly needed to remind myself to breathe. With Taemin standing directly in front of me, staring intently through my camera lens, into the very depths of my soul, I found it incredibly difficult to keep myself upright. And then I caught Jonghyun occasionally glancing my way, as I continuously struggled to keep myself conscious, and well… In all honesty, I don’t know how I didn’t fall over dead right then and there.
With so many memories made at this year’s KCON LA, it’s impossible to declare a single one my favorite. What I can say, with completely and utter honesty, is that this year’s convention was hands-down, the best KCON yet. Of course I’m basing that declaration solely on my own experiences which leads me to wonder, am I the only one who feels this way? Somehow I don’t think I am.
So tell me, were you one of the tens of thousands who flocked to Los Angeles this past weekend to be a part of KCON 2016 LA? If you were, what was it like? Did you enjoy yourself as much as I did? Do you have a favorite memory or moment you want to relive forever and ever? I’d love to hear all about it so be sure to let me know in the comments below!