For the first time, American K-pop fans’ annual pilgrimage became bicoastal. KCON, the country’s premiere festival for all things Korean culture (a.k.a. “Hallyu”), set up camp at Newark, N.J.’s Prudential Center on Aug. 8, with a modest convention ground around the arena where East Coast fans spent the day sitting in on panels and workshops, buying jewelry and T-shirts from fan clubs, watching fellow fans perform dance and song covers and attended meet-and-greets with the Korean acts on the ground — a similar setup to KCON’s Artists Interviews
The response was big (with some fans lining up at 2:00 a.m. the night before for the best floor spots) and indicated that even with four acts (two less than KCON 2012), East Coasters were hungry for a K-pop experience like the annual California one with Mnet America telling Billboard 17,000 attended the convention and concert.
The festivities culminated in a concert where half of the Prudential Center was sectioned off for the night’s show. Tiffany, the L.A.-bred member of headliners Girls’ Generation, made the opening remarks, telling a roaring crowd, “Finally, finally, finally KCON has arrived to New York. They say New York is the city of dreams and I’m so happy that I get to be the first one to introduce KCON to your extraordinary city.”
With that, boy band VIXX took the stage, each member unveiled via a small dance intro as their names flashed across the screen. Their opening performance of “Error” was emotionally charged, a signature style of the sextet, but the boys lightened up when greeting fans. “I hope today is a great memory for you,” youngest member Hyuk told the crowd, before Leo and Ken gave a little a cappella duet.
Similar to the L.A. concert, KCON’s production game needed to be stepped up as the screens’ English translations of the performers’ Korean were in all-white lettering, making it mostly impossible to read at times. Furthermore, questionable camera work plagued the screens, like when Hyuk was tasked to act cute for the audience (known as performing “aegyo,” a K-pop crowd favorite, but probably bizarre to an outsider), the shot cut away from him just as he was to perform — an unfortunate decision for all the fans not close enough to see the singer’s baby-like face. This is all the more confusing when you consider the show was being filmed for M Countdown, a popular weekly live-music program in South Korea.
What fans could see from any angle was when VIXX got the slightest bit sexy for them: A few body rolls set viewers into a frenzy as the guys pushed through songs like “Eternity,” “Rock Ur Body” and “Love Equation.”
Next up was AOA, who strutted down the stage to their latest single, “Heart Attack,” decked out in pink tennis skirts and white crop tops. The girls sounded strong as Choa and Yuna‘s belts and leader Jimin‘s high-pitched raps came in crystal clear through the system. There was a noticeably lower-pitched, grumble-like cheer for the ladies as they moved through sexy renditions of hits “Like a Cat” and “Miniskirt” — the grumble likely coming from more vocal male fans in the audience.
Teen Top followed with a calmer intro as the sextet opened with their adorable, breezy album cut “5 Seasons,” before busting out their trademark shuffling footwork on slick new single “Ah-Ah.” The guys kept the energy high throughout the set, at one point looking like they were about to smash into each other performing “Rocking” on the stage’s extended bridge into the audience.
VIXX members N, Ravi and Hyuk went into the audience to introduce a special medley of Big Apple-centric songs. AOA’s Choa, Yuna and Hyejeong began by serenading the audience through Alicia Keys‘ “Empire State of Mind (Part II)” before Teen Top’s Niel and Chungi dueted on Extreme‘s “When I First Kissed You.” It’s the one-time kind of performances KCON has become known for, with these being particular standouts in the fest’s four-year history.
Then it was time for headliners Girls’ Generation. The K-pop phenoms are in the middle of a lip-syncing controversy back home and did little to dispel those rumors for their first two songs; though that could be slightly forgiven for the cardio-heavy opening number “Catch Me If You Can” that saw the girls falling to the floor and moving through complicated formations. They finished out the last three songs live, moving through two of their biggest hits “Genie” and “Gee” with roars for belts from Taeyeon and dance solos by Hyoyeon. During a little crowd banter, the girls asked which song the audience wanted to hear and gave a mini, a cappella performance of “Run Devil Run” before concluding with a spirited rendition of their latest single, “Party.”
The show ended with four cannons of streamers erupting as the acts returned to wave goodbye and give traditional bows to the crowd. It wasn’t as dynamic of an ending like L.A. — where a whole arena’s worth of confetti filled the Staples Center — but it gave indication KCON can thrive, and certainly get more explosive, as an East Coast staple.