Waking up at six in the morning is never easy but when you have to do it the day after a cross-country trip, it feels darn near impossible. The good news is, when you’ve got a day full of Hallyu fun ahead of you, you tend to find your motivation to get out of bed a whole lot faster than you usually do.
Rolling out of bed on Friday morning, I had a hard time believing KCON was actually upon me. After enduring all those months of hype, steadily growing excitement in the pit of my stomach constantly gnawing on me, distracting me from my “normal” life, the time wait was over and I almost couldn’t believe it. Of course a quick scroll through social media was all I needed to convince myself that it was, in fact, KCON day… So many pics of idols at airports, so many fellow con-goers posting pics of their early morning fun… There was no doubt, today was the day! Excited by all the day held in store, I joined my friend in the garden for a quick breakfast and then we were off. KCON HERE WE COME!
The hour and a half drive down to Newark was surprisingly easy considering we were headed towards NYC during rush hour. Fate must have been smiling on us. Or maybe it was the K-Pop gods… Whatever the case, we made it to New Jersey without incident and before I really had a chance to let everything sink it, I was meandering through a crowd of thousands of fellow Hallyu lovers, the excitement in the air undeniably contagious.
Hyped up on an energy that can only be felt when you’re surrounded by thousands upon thousands of like-minded people, I floated my way towards the various check-in points, the reality of it all still difficult for me to grasp. At least until I had my press and panel badges in my hand… Then the reality hit me… HARD. THIS WAS IT! IT WAS HERE! And in less than an hour I’d be sitting behind one of those big black tables in the panel tents, ready to talk about life as a fangirl over 30 and how to Hallyu on a budget. (As if “Hallyu” and “budget” could ever go together…)
I’ve had several people ask me how I can get up in front of so many people and speak and to be perfectly honest, I can only do it because I know I’m not alone when I’m up there. When you’re sitting at one of those panelists tables and you’re flanked by the likes of Multifacetedacg, Stephanie Kurze (from Kchat Jjigae), Young Ajummah, and Lisa Espinosa (from Hancinema & Raine’s Dichotomy), you know you don’t have a thing to worry about. With such an amazing lineup of speakers, it’s no wonder our “Return of the Secret Life of K-Pop Fans Over 30” panel was such a hit. Words can’t really describe what it’s like to sit up there, looking out on a tent overflowing with people who are all so obviously enjoying themselves as you commiserate together over all the struggles that we, as older fans, face. It truly is one of the greatest feelings in the world and all I can say, to those of you who took time out of your busy KCON schedule to be a part of this panel, is thank you!
With my first panel of the day over, I had a chance to catch up with some friends and actually grab a bite to eat (first time ever in the history of me being at KCON) before heading back out for panel number two. Meeting up with the Nutty Nomads, Cortney (from 2MinJinkJongKey) and Lai Frances (my editor at KPopStarz), we took our seats, ready to dive into the not-so-pleasant topic of how to Hallyu on a budget. As you can imagine, listening to people telling you to practice moderation when it comes to K-Pop isn’t going to be a highlight for anyone and though the panel went well, it certainly didn’t have that fun, energetic vibe you like to feel while you’re speaking. Still, we managed to get through it well enough and really, that’s all that matters.
After panels I had a bit of time to wander the convention itself, which is always fun. As I wandered, I ran across JuNCurryAhn, who was graciously taking pictures with fans who had swarmed around him. I managed to snap a pic from a distance, just for the heck of it, and continued my wanderings. Somewhere between the panel area and the marketplace I stopped to chat with some friends and as we’re chatting, out of nowhere, comes this hurried mob of police officers and important looking staff members. The flurry of activity caught my attention and as I watched, I noticed that at the center of this mass was Park Bo Young! Walking not more than a few feet away from me, I watched her and her entourage make their way into the Prudential Center, most of the people around us none the wiser.
With so much going on, the day passed quickly and before I knew it, it was time to head to the press area and check in for the evening’s red carpet event. With so many friends and colleagues on the professional side of this Hallyu wave, the time spent waiting to be escorted to the red carpet was very happily passed catching up with people I really only get to see once a year. Before long the massive gathering of press had gathered and we were all escorted (at a pace that could out-run a cheetah) to the red carpet area. Winding our way through the massive crowd as we endeavored to catch up with our escort was no small feet but we managed. Given a moment to regroup and catch our breath, we were then allowed into the hockey house to set up our equipment and snap a few test pics. With everything set up and ready to go, it was time for the hundreds of excited fans waiting outside to pour in behind us, their squeals and screeches instantly filling the room with enough energy to power a small country.
As energizing as it was, being surrounded by so many excited fans, as soon as Danny Im took to the stage I was focused solely on the task at hand. As the idols and actors began to make their way across the red carpet, I found myself completely caught up in photographer mode. For anyone wondering what it’s like to cover an event like KCON, let me just say this… It’s not as glamorous of a job as you probably think it is. It’s actually quite stressful and full of frustration, especially when you only have a couple of minutes to photograph each artist before they disappear forever. With such a small window available to you, you try to make the most of it, but it’s not easy, especially when you’ve got a giant of a man standing in front of you (blocking half of Seventeen with his head) and hundreds of over-excited fans standing behind you, constantly whacking you upside the head with their phones in a desperate attempt to get a shot of their ulti. That being said, having the opportunity to photograph an event like KCON’s red carpet is what we, as professionals, live for and I know that I, personally, wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Friday night’s red carpet event included appearances by Seventeen, Crush, BtoB, Ailee, Dynamic Duo, Yim Si Wan and Park Bo Young. It was truly an experience to remember, as each artist took a few moments to answer some questions and interact with fans. Though I guess really that interaction was more along the lines of fans yelling random things at the artists who would then smile and wave (and sometimes comment) in return. It’s hard to say what the highlight of the event was for me. Seeing Seventeen up close and in person was definitely up there, as was having the chance to be able to capture Dynamic Duo’s adorable smiles again. Basking in the beauty of Ailee was another highlight as was being able to see both Yim Si Wan and Park Bo Young in person. Of course watching BtoB show off their legs was hilarious and actually hearing Crush speak felt like such a treat. (Because when I saw him at KCON LA last year, he didn’t say a word during his time on the red carpet.) I guess I can’t really say which moment was my favorite but only because the entire event was a whole lot of (stressful) fun.
All too soon it was time to leave the hockey house and head into the Prudential Center for the evening’s main event. Meeting up with friends, we joined the massive queue outside, the lot of us melting in the heat as we inched our way towards the doors. Once inside it was a million mile trek up to the nosebleed seats, a journey that felt never-ending as my shoes began rubbing blisters on the back of my heel. Despite the pain and exhaustion of a day spent in 90+ degree weather, I found a new surge of energy as the lights inside the arena dimmed and the roar of tens of thousands of fans rumbled around me.
Stepping onto the stage, Danny Im opened the evening by introducing the talented dancers from the local Democracy Republic Charter Schools, who took the stage by storm with my collection of K-Pop covers. Effectively hyping up the sold-out arena, the dancers paved the way for the night’s entertainment, the entire audience on their feet as the evening’s MC, Ailee and Rap Monster took to the stage. I have to admit, I had a bit of a moment when I was Rap Monster’s face show up on the giant screens which flanked the stage. I hadn’t expected to see him until Saturday so to find him standing on stage as an MC very nearly did me in. No longer forced to play the part of panelist or press, I was free to let my inner fangirl run wild for the first time all day and well, Rap Mon was the only inspiration I needed to do so.
Ridiculously excited by Rap Mon’s appearance, I was primed and ready for the evening’s opening act. Needless to say, when Seventeen showed up on-stage, their brilliant smiles illuminating the screens as they performed “Pretty U,” I hit the level of euphoric fangirl. Watching Seventeen perform, I felt my entire bias list crumble to pieces. The energy they pour into their performances, the beauty of their voices, the perfection of their choreography, the undeniable excitement they transferred into the crowd… It all added up to a performance that left me absolutely giddy. They were perfect! Beautiful! Incredible! And yes, I’m now very much in love with them all!
Crush was the next artist to perform and I have to say, though I enjoyed watching him with Zion.T last year, in LA, seeing him perform on his own has given me a whole new appreciation of him. He truly is a stellar performer and his ability to take a crowd of that size and transport them into a world of musical bliss is a talent he ought to be very proud of. As incredible as it was to listen to Crush sing, I think the highlight of his performance (at least for me) was when Gaeko joined him on-stage for his closing number. I think more than the performance itself (which was phenomenal) it was the feeling of reassurance I got, watching them together. Just knowing that no matter what may come these label-mates have each other’s backs, made me exceedingly happy.
Ailee was the next to take the stage and OH MY GOSH! Talk about incredible! I’m sure that by now most of you know what happened during Ailee’s performance… How the music stopped in the middle of her opening number, and how she took it all in stride, singing and dancing as if nothing had every happened. Yeah… I know she was shaken by the incident but the fact that she kept going, her gorgeous voice never once faltering, gave me a whole new respect for her. Despite the technical difficulties, Ailee killed it on stage and I know I wasn’t the only one who walked away that night with a new girl crush. HOLY BUCKETS!
BtoB was up next and again, I had a bit of a moment as I watched them perform. There’s just something about seeing a song you really love performed live that hits you in way you can’t really explain and well, when BtoB performed “Beep Beep” I just kinda lost it. I’d like to say I was fangirling on behalf of my own tiny zombies (because “Beep Beep” is a favorite among them) but let’s face it, no one is going to buy that excuse. (Not even me.) I happily fangirled my way through BtoB’s set and knowing Dynamic Duo were the only artists left to perform, I began steeling myself for the inevitable end.
As Ailee and Rap Monster returned to the stage, I (after yet another slightly crazy fit of fangirl feels) waited for them to introduce the evening’s last act. However rather than bringing the evening to a close, they started talking about artists collaborations and immediately my heart jumped into my throat as memories of Monsta X and GOT7’s collaborative stage at KCON LA last year, rushed through my head. Immediately I began to wonder what sort of K-Pop voodoo I was about to be bewitched by. What sort of heart-stopping incredibleness would I have to endure? As I tried to calm my racing heart I sort of zoned out on whatever was being said, my thoughts too chaotic to focus on anything for long. Dying of anticipation, I watched Rap Monster and Ailee and OH DEAR SWEET BABY FLYING MONKEYS! Nothing in all the world could have prepared me for what happened next.
Returning to the stage for a special stage that darn near stopped my heart, Seventeen stepped out of the darkness, decked out in dashing suits and killer smiles and OH HOLY CRAP! I so wasn’t ready for that! It only got worse when they began to cover classic K-Pop songs as my poor fangirl heart just couldn’t handle all the feels! Once Seventeen started in on Super Junior’s “Sorry Sorry” I lost it. As in hit the floor, clutching my heart because it was so full I thought it might actually explode, while at the same time screeching so loudly I thought for sure I’d have no voice left. Ever. It was undoubtedly a moment I’ll never forget and one I’ll be re-living over and over for many years to come.
Coming down from such a level of euphoria is nearly impossible when you’ve got Dynamic Duo on stage immediately afterwards, so I didn’t even try. I just spent the rest of the night in full-on fangirl mode. I sang and danced and cheered and jumped and enjoyed myself every bit as much as everyone else in the arena. Being the veterans that they are, Dynamic Duo brought down the house with their performance. They truly are fantastic performers and they know how to have fun. Wrapping the evening up as only they could, they left everyone in the place on such a high, there’s no doubt we were all counting down the hours until we could come back and do it all again tomorrow.
When the concert ended, I found that trying to drag myself out of my seat was nearly impossible. I just didn’t want to leave! I’d had too much fun, I was still on too much of a high. I didn’t want to have to go back to real life! At least not yet! However, the exhaustion of my day and the knowledge that I still had a train to catch before I could get to my hotel and crash, eventually prompted me out of my seat. Meeting up with my friends, we made our way towards the train station, our conversation buzzing with all the excitement that comes with a rush of post-concert feels.
The trip to the hotel was uneventful yet exhausting as all the excitement of the day finally started to wear off. By the time my friend and I had checked into our hotel, we were fit for nothing but sleep. Collapsing into bed, I was dead to the world almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.