Now that I have had a few days to rest and reflect upon my time at KCON….I still don’t feel like I can accurately recount it here. It was all such a fantastic, surreal blur.
It was almost perfect. As with most festivals and conventions, there were definitely some kinks and quirks that could be tweaked, but overall my experience was pretty freaking phenomenal.
I guess now would be the time in the blog post where I consider that perhaps not everyone reading this knows what KCON is. WELL LET ME TELL YOU! It’s a huge 2-day convention in Newark, NJ for not just Kpop, but all things Hallyu: food, culture, beauty, travel — if your heart aches for Korea, then this is the convention for you. There’s also a KCON in LA, Paris, Japan, and Mexico. It’s a lifestyle, you guys. I feel like with Kpop, you either: don’t know about it, don’t like it, or FUCKING THRIVE ON IT LIKE IF OXYGEN HAD A BEAT TO IT. I somehow was able to last for more than a year being just a casual listener before it finally sunk its candy vampire teeth into my jugular and turned me into a Koreaboo of the Night.
In addition to the convention, there is also a huge concert inside the Prudential Center both nights, with nine groups performing in total. I’m not going to lie: tickets were expensive. I already gave G-Dragon half of my vital organs & monthly salary for VIP tickets to his upcoming concert, so nosebleed seats at KCON it is!
Before we left the hotel Friday morning, I made sure we each had on a BIGBANG pin: G-Dragon for me (natch), T.O.P. for Chooch, and Taeyang for Henry “I Don’t Wear Jewelry” Robbins. Taeyang was removed immediately after the above photo was captured.
Whatever – Chooch and I were stoked.
Actually, Chooch had no clue what he was getting himself into, but he pretty much will go along with anything.
Since we registered early, there wasn’t much of a rush for us to get there before 10am, but then I got an alert saying that SF9 was appearing on the small convention stage outside in 20 minutes so I rushed them out of the hotel and into the Lyft that conveniently arrived 2 minutes after Henry ordered it. Our Lyft driver got us to the Prudential Center in no time, after trying in vain to make conversation with Tight-Lipped Hank (“What’s going on at the Prudential Center?” “A convention.”). My favorite part was when she rapidly flipped radio stations when the morning radio DJs started talking about large penises. We all started cracking up and Chooch decided she was the best Lyft driver ever and was mad that Henry didn’t try to request her the next day.
The convention technically wasn’t even open yet, but the stage was in a “free zone” where literally any hobo could slither on up and spectate without a wristband. There was some promotional video being filmed with SF9, hence the KCON text alert, so we stood there and watched the awkwardness. The text said they would be dancing, but they only did a quick 10 second thing for the video and Henry was all REALLY WE RUSHED HERE FOR THAT?!
Then we walked around Newark and ate breakfast at some weird Greek place where I had a $4 fruit salad that was actually not too bad except it had a ton of grapes and I’m weird with grapes. Sometimes they make my tongue feel strange, OK?! But the pineapple and watermelon made up for it. I was trying to keep my breakfast light because I wanted to eat so much Korean food all day long. (Spoiler alert: I did not eat Korean food all day long because it was hot as fuck out there and the sun boiled my appetite right off my body.)
We got back to the Prudential Center around 10 and there was a HUGE line to get into the PyeongChang Winter Olympic section of the convention, which was in a separate lot and required wristbands to be scanned in and bags searched. It’s also where all the panels were taking place and there weren’t any I was super interested in, so we checked out the portion of the convention that didn’t require any checking in – the main drag that was loaded with all the good booths, like the Toyota tent where all the dance-offs were happening throughout the day, the InnisFree tent (BEAUTY PRODUCTS FROM JEJU ISLAND, YES PLEASE) and DramaFever which is where Henry and I watch all of our K-Drama (premium subscription up in here).
I decided that this inaugural post will focus on the first cool thing that happened to me at KCON. But let me back this bitch up first. I’m still a big Kpop n00b so I’ve been learning a lot about all the quirks and nuances that go along with being a part of fan groups, etc. Most of this knowledge comes from watching vlogs on YouTube. Yeah, I know, am I really even 37 years old. Anyway, I watch a ton of these things because Kpop is fascinating, the fans are nuts (mostly in good ways) and the lifestyle is just….well, it’s a lifestyle. So what I learned a while back through my research is that there are these things at kpop concerts and conventions called “hi-touches” where fans literally line up to gently touch hands with a kpop group. And at KCON, there are different levels of tickets you can purchase, the two highest ones come with hi-touch “guarantees.” But for the rest of us plebs, we got actually scratch-offs when we registered to determine if we would get the opportunity to participate in any of these fan engagements. For Chooch and me, we only got the chance to win the chance to be in the audience to watch OTHER people engage in the hi-touch. That’s how I won the opportunity to be in the audience during Up10tion’s fan engagement, but that wouldn’t be until day 2 of the convention.
I was happy for any opportunity, to be honest, because I was a KCON virgin and wanted to do as much as I could!
Chooch and I visited the DramaFever booth because we saw they were giving away prizes and taking pictures, and my face hadn’t yet turned into a two day old Thanksgiving glazed ham left out in the beating sun, so I was trying to get these photo ops in the bag as soon as possible.
I didn’t even hesitate to throw on the red scarf because Goblin is my favorite K-drama!
After having our picture taken, I had to post it on Instagram with whatever the hashtag was and then DramaFever would let you participate in their game, which was like a slot machine game and if you got three matches (of the picture you tagged on IG), then you won whatever prize was listed on the screen. I wasn’t expecting to win because I don’t usually win these types of things, but we did and it was a Fan Engagement! I figured it was probably going to be another audience thing for Up10tion since they were pretty much the newest, littlest-known group there that weekend, but no!
I GOT A FREAKING HI-TOUCH!
OK, so KNK isn’t really huge or anything yet either but I at least knew several of their songs so I was really excited for this experience!
Of course, Chooch was all butt-hurt because he felt like he won just as much as I did but I was the one who got the prize. So the DramaFever people took pity on him and let him choose a consultation prize.
He chose a Goblin fan. <3
I was so excited that I got this Hi-Touch that I even texted Todd a picture of it, because we were talking about it one day at work and he just thought it was the dumbest/crazies concept – like, you don’t even get to say anything to these people, that’s how quickly you’re herded past them like starstruck cattle. Even Todd thought this was exciting though!
About 15 minutes after winning it, I had the thought to maybe check and see when this thing was even happening, because the card had no info on it. I found a schedule for the fan engagements on KCON’s instagram and realized that it was going to happen in 30 minutes. Yikes. I found a long line that wrapped around one side of the Prudential Center, and determined it was the right line after asking several girls if it was the KNK Hi-Touch line. Henry and Chooch were like, “OK great have fun bye” and wandered off to check out more booths, leaving me with all these giddy girls in their late teens/early 20s; most of them had hand-made signs too, some were even written in Hangul. You don’t see this shit at Warped Tour, you guys.
While I was in line, I started to fixate on my hands.
My gross, grimy American grabbers. My moist, sweat-slick paws. My clammy, pig-swelled human hocks that were about to touch super-fine Korean hands that were probably lotioned and powdered with the magical secretions of Seoul and then preserved in silk gloves before it was time to meet the fans. Why didn’t I try to find a trough to wash my meatfists in, or just lop them off altogether….UGH WHAT TO DO!
Then the line started to move and I had no choice but to walk it out.
There were numerous checkpoints where we had to show our Hi-Touch proof to staff members. The worst part was once we got through the doors of the Prudential Center where the real security checkpoint was happening. It was such a K-cluster. First, we had to place our bags down on a table and then move ahead to get security-wanded, which was fine except that people behind me started purposely putting their bags in front of mine and the two girls who were in front of me, so that after they got wanded down, their bags were already checked and good to go!
The other girls just stood there meekly, not speaking up, but I was all, “OH FUCK NO” and pointed this out to the security lady who was half-assedly rummaging through the bags with her plastic stick.
“Aw hell nah,” she sighed, and then yelled over her shoulder to the lady at the other table, “SEE? I done TOLD you this wasn’t going to fucking WORK!” and then she started yelling at the other bitches in line to slow their roll while she finally searched my shiny pink laser gun purse and the purses of the other girls next to me who were practically in tears by this point.
Ugh it was so annoying! Kpop fans are mostly cool but not when it comes time to Hi-Touch a motherfucker. Christ.
Anyway, once this was over with, I walked into a dark gymnasium-type room. There were bleachers on one side, so I guess it was some kind of auxiliary arena within the Prudential Center? Looked like a basketball thing. But what do I know. There was a small stage set up at the end and another checkpoint next to a small barricade, which was meant to separate the audience from the people who won the hi-touch.
Immediately, I did not fit in. At all. Everyone was so young and scream-y and holding up their handmade foam signs and I was just like, “WHO EVEN AM I ANYMORE?” but you guys, it was pretty fucking incredible. Even though I was just “eh” about KNK, it was impossible to not get swept up in the mania of it all. So when a cameraman was panning his camera across the crowd, I screamed my fucking face off along with everyone else.
Also — there were commercials playing on a small screen on the stage and Kwang-soo and Ha Ha from Running Man were in one so my heart got all warm and fluttery like butterflies were fornicating in one of the chambers. It was just really exciting to be around all these things that I love, outside of my house!
And then Daniel Lim came out to get us all stoked, and this was how I learned that KNK’s fans are called Tinkerbells, so that was something.
What I remember most from this fan engagement was SCREAMING.
Just tons and tons of screaming.
No—shrieking. And wailing. And flailing.
Bitches were in stitches over the KNK sighting.
There was a short (and awkward thanks to the language barrier) Q&A session, mostly things like, “How do you like New York?” and “What is your favorite American food?” Dude on the end said Big Macs because that’s the only American food he’s had, and the second guy said “hot dog” and then mimed the eating of a hot dog. It was pretty fucking adorable, I’m not going to lie, and I felt myself falling in love with them with the quickness.
Then they played a quick round of charades which was super cute. The audience chose “Kpop groups” as the category so the guys doing the Charading just basically busted out signature moves from each group’s music videos and we all ate it up, especially when it was a girl group.
After about 30 minutes of talking and charading, it was time for the Hi Touch action and I was actually getting nervous! I have only ever seen these beautiful groups in YouTube videos, and now I was minutes away from seeing five of them in real life and I couldn’t even believe my luck! The line started on the side of the room I was standing on, so I was only about 30 people back from the front of the line. We had to relinquish our hi-touch cards to the security guard letting us through to the side of the stage, so there was no chance of keeping it as a souvenir or hopping back in line for a hi-touch second serving.
From what I’ve seen and read, hi-touches are very strict in that you can’t take selfies or video or really even say more than a succinct “annyeonghaseyo.” But I heard some girl in line with me ask if we were allowed to take video and I swear I heard the staff member say yes. Or at least that’s what it sounded like.
So…I went for it.
And by the time I made it to the second guy at the table, someone swooped in from my left and swatted my phone down.
I was like, “OMG I’M SO SORRY I DIDN’T KNOW” because congratulations, Erin, you just made yourself look like a fucking rude, entitled Caucasian Trump-voting asshole. I am such a staunch rule-follower too when it comes to these types of things so this pained me real bad and it was all I could do not to dwell on it for the rest of forever.
But regardless of my gaffe, the boys in KNK were so sweet and their smiles were like slivers of moonbeams and their hands were so soft and perfectly room-temperature and they didn’t even seem like the act of rubbing flesh with all these crazy fans was making them swallow their own bile at all. Such patient angels!
Here I am in line to walk onto the stage. That might be the guy on the left who would later swat my phone away like it was a machete or a Meghan Trainor CD.
What a surreal, bizarre experience. I loved every fucking second of it (except for when I broke the Kpop law) even though it was basically the definition of objectification in motion, a long line of salivating girls (and boys) waiting for their 5 seconds of skinship.
And while all of this was happening, Chooch was outside at the Asiana Airlines tent, spinning a wheel and winning an Amazon Echo. KCON is a fucking DREAM.