I didn’t think my experience at KCON LA 2018 could be topped, but wow, was I wrong! KCON ‘19 gave me and my family the most incredible moments, including one that I never imagined possible, but we’ll get to that… My K-pop stannage was well-founded by the August 2018 event, but going to the convention a second time was like going to a close friend’s home, I really felt a sense of belonging this time around. In 2018, I had barely dipped my toes into the social aspects of K-pop, but by 2019 I was fully immersed. I no longer felt shy attending panels and asking questions. I was able to meet long-distance mutuals in person for the first time, as well as hang with friends from home that I met solely through interactions in the K-pop community.
One huge upgrade to my KCON experience from year one to year two was that my family splurged and attended both nights of the concerts. We had double the fun! Both line-ups were a list of the hottest names in K-pop: AB6IX, ATEEZ, IZ*ONE, Loona, Momoland, NU’EST and SF9 on night one, with Fromis 9, ITZY, Mamamoo, N.Flying, SEVENTEEN, Stray Kids and VERIVERY on night two. Do you see those lineups?? My family joked that there wasn’t a group we stanned that wasn’t on the bill, which of course isn’t true, but even so, what an embarrassment of riches!
As for the convention itself, there were some very nice improvements to that as well. There was a much-expanded K-cuisine presence in 2019 over the year before, with multiple tasting stations and even a Foodie Stage for idols to play around with cooking demos. The move to a bigger expo hall made it less crowded this year and much more pleasant to walk the convention floor. The dance area was easier to get to and wisely located away from the KCON Stage, so the music at one wasn’t constantly at war with the music at the other.
There were unfortunately also a few changes I didn’t love as much about KCON 2019. There wasn’t really a K-drama presence this time around, and in fact I couldn’t find any K-drama-focused area of the expo at all. Another mixed bag improvement was the KCON Rookies Showcase. In 2018, Imfact and In2it played the Rookie Stage on the expo floor, and no additional ticket was required. In 2019, it cost us $45 to see the rookies perform. And more frustratingly, the lineup of KCON Rookies wasn’t announced until after the tickets went on sale, so the decision to fork out an additional $45 was made totally blind. Thankfully the bill ended up including AB6IX, Ateez and Loona, a solid buy. However, with four other rookie acts at KCON 2019 that didn’t play the Rookies showcase, it would have been nice if a couple of them had performed for free inside the convention, so KCON Rookies could be an *added* KCON experience and not a higher-priced replacement for one.
My least favorite change to KCON 2019 was that they didn’t allow an option to attend Star Square for no cost. Last year, my daughter completed a free photo challenge to earn a slot at Star Square, but this year you could only earn a slot by purchasing $110 worth of merch. They also didn’t offer a choice of fan experience. When my daughter did the free challenge, she was able to choose between a slot at the Imfact Star Square OR a spot in the Seventeen hi-touch audience. Without a choice, non-fans ended up with fan experiences they didn’t want but were happy to sell for exorbitant amounts of money. One Ateez fan paid $1,000 cash for a slot at their Star Square! This definitely sucked some of the fun out of KCON for those of us with shallower pockets. It’s better when there are options to Pay or Play, and the choice of This or That. I’m very thankful that an upstanding conventioner sold his unwanted Ateez Star Square slot to my kid for a relatively reasonable $130 after promising her beforehand that he would never fleece a true fan. Thank you random Orbit for keeping your word to my Atiny kid!! Thank you also to the kind stranger that sold my other daughter a slot to the N.Flying hi-touch for $30!!!! She wanted to meet N.Flying more than any other group at KCON, and $30 was what she could afford.
It’s rather unfortunate that the “upper echelon” fan experiences in K-pop are almost always available only to those with unlimited spending capability. What I loved about KCON 2018 was how that wasn’t always the case, and there were many amazing fan experiences that could be had for just the reasonable cost of a convention ticket. I hope that aspect isn’t going away permanently. And I should say that it wasn’t completely gone in 2019 yet… I’m referring again to that particularly unimaginable experience I had… I’ll get to that in just a minute.
I can’t do a proper KCON 2019 recap without mentioning the fact that I missed an entire day of the convention due to an eye injury on Saturday morning. I healed up in time for that night’s concert, but I missed multiple panels, meetups and dance workshops on Saturday that I’d planned to attend. Even though it bummed me out to miss an entire day of convention fun, it didn’t diminish my good memories of KCON, because when I returned on Sunday, I had that unmatched experience to which I’ve been referring. The ultimate “I-never-could-have-imagined-it” fan experience!
My family are huge stans of B.A.P, they’re one of our ult groups for certain. When we saw that Jongup was a scheduled Special Guest at KCON NY, we crossed our fingers that he’d also appear at KCON LA. However, months passed with no announcement of that, and by mid-August it seemed he might not grace LA at all. Still, the announcement for the Jun & Min panel contained a cryptic “surprise special guest” reference, giving us a glimmer of hope. Convention weekend arrived, and when Jongup posted a pic to his Instagram of himself in LA on August 16th, our hopes were really raised! So Sunday morning, we queued up for the Jun & Min panel at 9:30am: a four hour wait would be nothing if it meant we might share the air with Jongup. We chatted in line with Kevin Woo fans until noon, then found ourselves first in line for our panel as hoped. This is when things start getting really good.
A staffer approached us in line and began passing out B.A.P buttons. We asked her if Jongup was the special guest, but she said it was a surprise and she couldn’t say. Suuuure… she’s just passing out B.A.P buttons because they happened to have some extra on hand. More time passed and the staffer was back, this time with wristbands. She told us the first 20 of us in line could have a super special experience after the panel. She wouldn’t say what it was, but she knew we were B.A.P stans, and strongly advised us *not* to turn down a wristband. (!!!!!!)
Then it happened. We saw a vision of perfection in a blonde mullet and yellow tee coming up the escalator. Was it?!! Is it?!?!! YES, it’s HIM!! It’s a credit to our group of BABYs in line that we all remained perfectly calm and respectful. As Jongup passed by the panel queue, we politely called out hello and he smiled and waved back to us. Unreal. I mean, he looked UN. REAL. We were buzzing, especially now knowing we’d probably see him again on his way out!! Amid barely suppressed squeals and hearts beating out of our chests, we managed to respectfully wave as he passed again, and like the angel he is, he warmly acknowledged us back. But instead of heading down the escalator, he rounded the corner to the back entrance of the panel room. OK, this was it, the confirmation that Jongup would be the surprise special guest!!
To say the panel was worth the four hour wait is a crazy understatement. It would have been worth a 24 hour wait. Jun, Min and Jongup entertained us with stories of becoming friends and collaborating on music together. The time passed too quickly and the packed room was then cleared of people “except those with wristbands.” The three S4DBOIZ (as they refer to themselves) cleared the room too, so we weren’t even sure if our special wristband experience would include them. It actually wouldn’t have mattered to me, as just seeing Jongup on the panel from my front row seat was magical beyond words. I’d seen him on the Forever Tour in 2018, but that was from 100 feet away. Here I’d sat less than 10 feet away, close enough to share eye contact and a smile, which was a little intoxicating. The panel experience alone would have been enough to make the whole convention trip worthwhile.
As we waited along the wall of the panel room, a staffer carried in a hot stack of Red Baron boxes while another carried in cans of soda. We were then informed that our special surprise would be having a private pizza party. With Jun, Min and Jongup! I think 20 people collectively held onto each other to keep ourselves from fainting. We could barely hear her explaining that they would also take selfies and autograph banners, because as she said this, the three of them walked back into the room and everything got tremendously surreal. So so surreal. We’re eating pizza, drinking soda… and Jongup is standing there with us. What. is. happening?! It all went down like a dream. It actually felt like I was watching it happen from outside myself, like one of those animations where my spirit leaves my body! Jongup took selfies with my daughters and signed their banners. This happened. I regret that I didn’t get a selfie with him myself, but I let my embarrassment at being “the mom” in the room get the better of me. It was still incredible to live the moment through my girls, and this experience for all three of us will sweeten our memories forever.
So KCON 2019 wrapped up like a dream come true. That Sunday went on to include meeting up with more friends, eating delicious food, appearing in a YouTuber’s KCON video, and seeing the second night’s amazing concert. But still, I never completely woke up from that afternoon’s pizza party dream. I continued to float inside of the experience for hours and days afterward. I now realize why people are willing to spend so much money for these types of fan encounters, because there really is no match for meeting your favorite idol up close and personal. Likewise, I doubt any future KCON will ever be a match for 2019. It certainly would take quite a lot to top it!!