KCON 2012: 15 Things Seen & Overheard
For the first time ever on this continent, a convention dedicated to all things Hallyu (the "Korean Wave") took over the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 16. An entire day filled with panels, workshops, and artist signings topped off with a concert filled with K-pop stars, the convention hit every note to provide a new look at a world of music still gaining ground in the U.S.
"There is no language barrier when it comes to K-pop," said the Mayor Of Irvine, Sukhee Kang, a first-generation Korean-American himself. With the thousands in attendance at KCON coming from all over the continent, the convention truly proved its ability to pass language barriers and kick-start what may be an annual music tradition.
The SoCal site was the mecca of K-pop this past Saturday, and here are 15 sights and sounds even the most attentive K-pop fan may have missed:
1. If the demand for K-pop artists in the U.S. wasn't clear enough, KCON confirmed just how eager American fans are to see their idols -- to dangerous extremes. Following an incident where a young girl was taken to paramedics with an injured leg, KCON needed to call the police during one of the first artist autograph sessions. To minimize the risk to fans, artists, and venue, KCON began giving away autograph session vouchers at random instead of lining up fans like originally intended. While fans may have been upset by the quick change, it came down to a safety precaution. Even with the additional precautions, photographers at the signings said that they were on the verge of being run over when they began.
2. Putting their money where their mouth is! K-pop fans also flocked the merchandise tents at KCON with the convention selling out of goods from the night's performing artists NU'EST, EXO-M, B.A.P., and G.NA early in the day.
3. Despite not taking the main stage, Chad Future (formerly of Lance Bass' boyband Heart2Heart) performed a three-song solo set with the most dancers of any performer at KCON. Future, who credits himself as the first AK-Pop (American K-Pop) artist, debuted new music in a set embraced by concertgoers despite the fact he is not Korean. Earlier in the day he spoke at the "Rise of Foreign Influence in K-Pop" panel speaking about how he sees K-pop as a genre, not a culture, that artists of any race could break.
4. Fans united! KCON was jam-packed with fan club booths that saw representation from the top artists one finds in Billboard's K-Pop Hot 100 chart. Girls' Generation, SHINee, SISTAR, Beast, SECRET, TVXQ, 2AM and 2PM all had their loyal supporters running booths, looking to recruit new supporters and pass out giveaways.
5. YouTube celebrities Simon and Martina Stawski run an online guide to Korean living called EatYourKimchi where they interview top K-pop stars. But the Stawskis were famous themselves at KCON! EatYourKimchi needed security to hold back the swarms of fans when they left the VIP area for their various panels and received loads of fan gifts.
6. Things were surprisingly extremely calm in the ultra-exclusive "Artist" backstage section 30 minutes before show time. Despite tables' worth of catered food, the artists mostly kept their respective changing rooms' doors shut with their handlers waiting outside. That was except for poor opening act AJ Rafael, who was asking security where he should go, as he didn't have a dressing room.
7. The glamorous life? Minute before the show, VIXX were being made up two-by-two in their make-shift dressing room with store-bought mirrors sitting on top of boxes while a make-up artist prepared each boy for the stage show -- refreshingly low-maintenance.
8. It's common for artists to have a team around them at all times and performer and host for the night G.NA was no exception. While walking around backstage in a sexy low-cut top and high-waisted short, G.NA was taken aback by how cold a chair she sat in was. Her handlers (mostly girls who looked younger than her) all rushed to take off their coats so she could sit on them. All five of them!
9. B.A.P. was the first idol group of the night to hit the concert stage. The group kicked off with the high-energy "No Mercy," slowed things down with a ballad, "What My Heart Tells Me To Do," and then ended with the energy high again with "Crash." The boy band, with their multi-hued hair colors (fiery red, rusty orange, white, platinum blonde), spoke to the crowd in Korean but elicited an even huger roar of approval when they spoke in English.
10. G.NA kicked off her three-song set list with her latest hit, "2Hot." G.NA was born in Canada, so the American crowd probably felt less foreign to her as she included ad-libs and fun crowd shout-outs throughout her set. She performed the English version of her ballad "I Will Get Lost, You Go Your Way," a song that showed off her vocals but ultimately left her looking a bit awkward on stage from the lack of movement. Despite her body language, G.NA told the crowd, "It's amazing. You guys are the reason we sing, the reason why we're here. So thank you so much," before ending with her upbeat 2011 single "Black & White."
11. VIXX brought some nostalgia back to any music fans who remember '90s boy groups when they sat in stools for their performance of "UUUUU." The six-member troupe performed exciting tracks "Rock Ur Body" and "Super Hero" in their set as well.
12. NU'EST also brought out chairs for their set, but used them in a totally different way. The chair dance choreography of their debut single "Face" was brought to a whole new dimension in real life, confirming that K-pop live performances are something that one truly need to see in person. The group prepared a speech in English (to delighted fan screams) before ending with singles from their latest EP, "Not Over You," and the dubstep-tastic "Action."
13. Despite G.NA's Canadian upbringing, she still made some small pronunciation and grammar mistakes while hosting. She missed a joke that her co-host Danny Im (a K-pop veteran himself) made about State Farm and accidentally called EXO-M by their brother group, EXO-K. The mistakes could be undoubtedly chalked up to nerves given her lack of hosting experience.
14. With six members, EXO-M confirmed that the KCON concert was mostly just a constant scream fest from fans. Whenever a new member would begin to sing his portion of a track, a new group of fans began to scream for him. EXO-M shook things up set list-wise when members Lu Han and Chen sang their "Birthday Sex"-esque duet "What Is Love." The duet was a vocal highlight of the show, but more casual viewers were unable to hear the impressive high notes the two were singing with the superfans screaming along.
15. 4Minute were the headliners of the concert, being introduced as the "representative group of K-pop." Yet once they began their set with the saxophone-dance track "Volume Up" with member Gayoon missing, they kicked things off on an entirely wrong note. Hyun-a and her bandmates came off as stiff and lacking energy for how huge of a song "Volume Up" is, with very minimal choreography. With spaces in their formations for where Gayoon would've been, the opening statement about 4Minute being a "representative group" of K-pop may have instead explained that K-pop acts are so calculated that they are unable to be malleable when members are missing. Still, as the set progressed with past hits like "Mirror Mirror" and "HUH," the group quickly warmed up. "We want to come here often because you guys are awesome," they told the audience before ending the five-song set with "Heart 2 Heart" and "Hot Issue" with a huge blast of confetti showering the fans who had spent over 12 hours on the site. By the end of the show, 4Minute were giving the crowd just what they wanted, even dedicating their final song to the fans, as it was clear KCON wouldn't have even slightly been a reality without these hyper-dedicated fanbases.