Where K-Pop Fans Feel at Home
The fourth annual KCON-Los Angeles, a mega Korean hallyu convention, drew tens of thousands of attendees.
by JAY YIM
For Luis Cisneros and Adrian Botello, students at the University of California, Davis, it meant journeying by bus from Sacramento. For Bethany Chadwick, an 18-year-old from Fort Myers, Fla., it meant ditching her family—who had traveled to Los Angeles to spend a vacation together—for the day.
Their destination was the Los Angeles Convention Center for KCON-LA 2015, the annual extravaganza that boasts a giant K-pop concert, vendor fair and blitz of workshops rolled into one. From wherever they traveled, they were eager to celebrate all things hallyu, or “Korean wave” that refers to the popularity of the culture all over the world, particularly in music.
“I met [hip-hop boy band] GOT7 and it was amazing because I high-fived every member,” said Chadwick, the intrepid Floridian who trekked to KCON during a family vacation. “I found out about K-pop through YouTube two years ago. I watched EXO’s ‘Growl,’ and ever since then I fell in love with the genre. I started to follow other K-pop groups, and then I wanted to learn more about the whole Korean culture.”
Indeed, if the 58,000 fans in attendance at this year’s convention, held July 31 to August 2, was any indication, the CJ E&M and Mnet America-organized event that draws people of all ethnic backgrounds (mostly non-Korean), was another smashing success.
This year’s concerts at L.A.’s Staples Center featured Monsta X, GOT7, SISTAR, Roy Kim, Super Junior, Red Velvet, Block B, AOA, Zion. T & Crush and Shinhwa.
During the day, fans packed into rooms to hear such people as actor Ki Hong Lee, model Irene Kim and screenwriter Ji-eun Park, of hit Korean drama My Love From Another Star, discuss their success in their respective fields. Panels included everything from an academic-style discussion (“What is K-pop?”) to reflective commentary (“What does it mean to be Korean?”) to pro-tips in “Hallyu Culture Shock Q&A,” a session where experts clued listeners in on how to impress a native Korean. (Drink soju really well, eat spicy foods and have an extroverted mindset during karaoke.)
During one panel, “The Secret Lives of K-Pop Fans Over 30,” June Salidino of Hallyu Magazine expressed her feelings on being an older K-pop fan. “If people want to judge me, fine, judge me. But until you’ve been in my shoes and you lived the K-pop and K-drama life, don’t judge me,” she said. “Because once you get into it, you are there forever.”
That sentiment pretty much summed up the spirit of the event. Although marketed towards the 18 to 34 age range, the event is seeing an increase in family participation, according to organizers. In L.A, more than 70 percent of attendees were female, with nearly three-quarters age 24 or younger.
“In terms of the size of KCON and its growth, we always knew that the market was there,” Sang Cho, president and CEO of Mnet America, said by email to KoreAm. “What we didn’t necessarily expect is how truly ‘national’ the event has become in a short time frame.”
This was the first year KCON, which debuted in 2012 in Irvine, Calif., held an East Coast version, staging an event in Newark, N.J. the weekend after the West Coast festivities.
As fans looked to buy, sell and trade “audience engagement” and red carpet passes so they could see their favorite stars up close, mini-swap sessions broke out on the floor of the L.A. Convention Center and on the web via Facebook K-pop fan pages. Prices reportedly rose up to $200 for some passes.
On the convention floor, singer Soyu of girl group SISTAR offered makeup tutorials and danced to the group’s hit single, “Shake It,” while hip-hop boy band Monsta X made a surprise appearance, performing its debut song, “Trespass,” to the delight of convention-goers.
“Because you’re so used to seeing them on a tiny screen on your phone,” gushed Anna Luna, a 16-year-old high school student from Bakersfield, Calif., “seeing Monsta X right in front of you makes it even more special.”
Perhaps the KCON 2015 experience was best summarized by Nicole Zatrian, who explained the unifying effect of K-pop in her eyes.
“K-pop connects so many people across the world—not just that small niche of people in high school,” said the 19-year-old from North Hollywood, who is of Mexican and Italian heritage. “Honestly, the people I’ve seen listen to it are happier than the average person, which is kind of weird to say, but it’s true.”
Photos courtesy of CJ E&M
This article was published in the August/September 2015 issue of KoreAm.Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/September issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days.)