On September 4, 2010 the SMTown World Tour made its way to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. This was my first major arena K-Pop concert and also the first time I was completely exposed to K-Pop fandom in all its glory. It was quite the experience and I have a few observations that some may not agree with so as always, the views in this article are my own and do not represent those of the other Selective Hearing staff.

SMTown Live World Tour 2010 – Los Angeles, CA, USA

I arrived in Los Angeles on the morning of September 3rd around 11 AM PDT somewhat prepared to immerse myself into K-Pop fandom. As I have mentioned previously here many aspects of the fan culture fascinate and annoy me at the same time. Why not see if what I bitched about could be put to the test by actually attending something on a grand scale? And nothing is grander than the annual SMTown Live series of concerts.

Anyway, as my ride pulled into the front entrance of the Sheraton Downtown Los Angeles I was surprised to see many fans outside of the building. As I walked into the familiar lobby (I hung around the Sheraton for Hello! Party last year) I saw many more fans hanging out not only by the upper elevators but also all over the entire lower lobby area. All of them patiently waiting with cameras and gifts and looked ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

It was explained to me by one of my fellow JPH!P members (who I met up with in the lobby) that the entire SM roster was staying in the hotel. Well that pretty much summed up everything, no further explanation was needed. I was asked where my luggage was and I explained that it did not arrive on my flight and that it would be coming in on the next flight out from my connecting city of Denver (or so I thought).

After checking into my room (sans luggage) I spent the rest of Friday hanging out in the lobby with JPH!P waiting for other forum members (and my luggage) to arrive and soaking up the atmosphere. It was great to catch up with many of the people I had met at previous events and to meet some I had been talking to online for the first time in person.

Every once in a while there would be a loud, piercing set of screams that would interrupt our conversations. I learned quickly that was a cue that someone from SM had arrived in the building. People would make mad dashes up the lobby stairs or elevators and just follow the artist(s) who arrived to their destination snapping pictures and filming them. It was very paparazzi-like and to actually see it with my own eyes was really something.

What I found most interesting was that as a fan, to survive in that kind of atmosphere you needed to be in some rather good shape and extremely quick to make the most of the short window of opportunity.

SMTown 2010

I have to say I found it humorous to watch the stampede of fans every time the people at the entrance screamed. Sometimes there were false alarms and people would go back and take their positions disappointed. I also had to participate in such activities and spent some time hanging outside the hotel waiting for artists to come and go. It wasn’t very exciting to tell the truth & it was more about bonding with the group of people I was with instead of taking pictures of the stars.

SMTown 2010

There was also the bonus of having an extremely attractive fan girl around us in full view. A very nice distraction when there was a lull in the conversation or when the high of seeing someone come & go had worn off. She was sitting there quietly by herself and most of the male population of JPH!P spent the majority of their time looking at her. Suffice it to say, she would become one of the recurring topics of the weekend and ended up as much a cherished idol as the SM artists were.

SMTown 2010 YHG

Photo courtesy of rev2hd (JPH!P)

Notice how mostly everyone is looking in one direction and ignoring what is going on out front? Below is a better view of why.

SMTown 2010 YHG

Photo courtesy of jaysonnj (JPH!P)

If you know this woman please let her know that many over at the JPH!P forums would like to meet her. If you are this woman, you have many fans so please come and introduce yourself.

After we got our fill of taking pictures outside the front entrance of the Sheraton it was decided that we go get some food. I can’t remember the name of the place to be honest; it was a pizza restaurant near the Wilshire Grand. The food & company was good as we all got to hang out without the distraction of fan girls screaming and stampeding.

When we returned to the hotel not much had changed and the fan activity lasted well until the early hours of the morning (approximately 2-3 AM) when everyone finally dispersed (or gave up) and went back to their respective hotels or in some cases back to sleeping outside of the hotel entrance. I ended up hanging out in the lobby bar with a few H!Psters and meeting a few new folks in the lobby (what up?) and then participating in an impromptu video report to close out the night. By the way I did eventually end up getting my bag. About 11 hours after I arrived in L.A.

SMTown 2010 JPH!P Dinner

Photo courtesy of Daigong (JPH!P)

Saturday started off where Friday left off as the fans were once again out in full force waiting for the SM roster to head out to the Staples Center. We headed out to the closest place for breakfast (instead of hanging out with the fans) which ended up being IHOP. There’s no IHOP where I live in Canada so it was difficult choosing something to eat but I found something suitable. After having a hearty meal it was off to the LACC (Los Angeles Convention Center) for a couple of fan meet ups held by Koreaboo and Soshified.

Having become familiar with the LACC from AX 2009 it was strange to see the place so empty. That changed when I saw the line up for the Soshified event. Many people lined up to get into their room. So I went off with a fellow JPH!P member off to the Koreaboo room. The line up for that was long as well & it started in the hottest possible area of the convention center. Zero air conditioning and it was like 30 degrees (Celsius) outside so the heat was definitely in full effect on the inside of the building as well.

Thankfully the line moved quickly into an area with air conditioning which made the waiting much more tolerable. While we were waiting to get in a tall, young  Chinese (I think) girl came by and said she recognized the JPH!P logo from Morning Musume ‘s Anime Expo appearance last year. She was part of another forum (JPM) and just wanted to compliment our shirts and chat about the upcoming concert. From what I remember she was a SNSD fan. We would have continued chatting but the line started moving & she had to get back in with her friends. She was cute.

Once we got into the Koreaboo room we could see it was full of people. It was difficult to find out what tables were selling merch for what artists (except for Super Junior’s table) and the mass of people also made it hard to find out where the line ups for each table were starting and ending. We started from the corner of the room and moved around. In the corner there was a DJ booth, then beside that a table for f(x) gear and on the other side closer to the entrance a table for BoA wristbands and a Koreaboo SMTown 2010 styled t-shirt. (Personally, I liked the design of the JPH!P shirt I was wearing more) On the far side of the room were the Super Junior, SHINee and other tables. In the middle of the room there was a small PC streaming the entire event live.

SMTown 2010 Soshified

Photo courtesy of Ping (JPH!P)

I wasn’t really expecting much going into it and those lowered expectations were met considerably. I did manage to get a BoA wristband from the BoAJiang forum and was contemplating the f(x) t-shirt that another group was selling but I decided to hold out and not buy anything else. After meeting up with the rest of our concert group I checked out the Soshified room which was holding a dance contest, serving food and conducting SNSD trading card sessions.

I couldn’t see the dance contest because of the multitude of people but from what others told I was that it was a fairly decent bit of entertainment.  There were also a few other things like a fancy SNSD cake and a huge life size cutout of the group you could get your picture with. After hanging out for a bit it was back to the Sheraton to rest up and get ready for the concert. But not before getting a smoothie and some frozen yogurt to help combat the heat.

Just before 18:00 the ever expanding group of JPH!P concert goers gathered in the eerily empty Sheraton lobby. Really, it didn’t look right to have absolute silence and a complete lack of fans anywhere around. It was kind of scarily calm after being around so much commotion the day before. I ended up meeting Patachu who I and a few other people had dared on Twitter to bring a giant S/Mileage sign to the concert. I didn’t expect him to really do it, but there he was with the big sign. I thought it was funny although others may not universally agree with that sentiment. After mostly everyone was accounted for we made our way to the Staples Center.

The long walk was made short due to the nervous anticipation we all felt. About 20 minutes later we congregated outside the Staples Center entrance to sounds of people screaming for no particular reason. Then my friends from Hello! Ranking popped out of nowhere and the reunion of people who attended Sakura-con 2009 was completed. It was cool to see them again after last hanging at the Utada concert in January. Soon after Pata left to troll the SNSD fans and we wished him luck in coming back in one piece.

SMTown 2010 S/Mileage

Photo courtesy of rev2hd (JPH!P)

After a few more minutes of waiting a loud set of screams signaled that the doors had opened and we all made our way in to the building. I ended up in line with the H!R folk, a couple of H!Psters and one really cute girl who was devouring a Subway sandwich. I later found out that person happened to be one of the few JPH!P admins I had not formally met in any form until that moment. It was definitely a shock when that tidbit of information was revealed. (Which happened when I returned to Canada)

SMTown 2010 JPH!P Pre-show Pic

Photo courtesy of Daigong (JPH!P)

Anyway, the Staples Center has some crazy ass security. Much more strict than what I’m used to attending events at the Saddledome. There were metal detectors, bag checks, dudes with wands and latex gloves asking you to bend over & cough. Okay, that was an exaggeration but you get the point. STRICT. Having never been in the Staples Center I wasn’t exactly sure where my seat was but I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had a really good view of the catwalk and main stage. I guess if I were attending a basketball game I would be courtside.

So as I got settled I took a few pics with my iPhone and waited for the place to fill up. I ended up sitting next to a girl with a glowing sign & she kept hitting me in the head with it & blocking my view. Thankfully she moved down to the first row and I was able to move down a row next to some of my friends I was attending with. Shortly after 19:00 the lights dimmed and the SMTown intro played with many fan girls screaming when their favorites showed up on the screen. It was an omen of the noise to come later on in the show.

SMTown 2010 JPH!P Pre-Show

Photo courtesy of Daigong (JPH!P)

So this is where things get fuzzy because being the K-Pop rookie that I am I don’t know about every single artist on the SM roster outside of the extremely popular ones and honestly the show was so full of awesomeness I don’t think I could really recall the entire set list as accurately as more seasoned fans so I’ll just give you my noob account of the entire SMTown concert experience instead.

SMTown 2010

After the SMTown intro played a few cute female solo singers (Zhang Li Yin and well, some other artists whose names I didn’t catch or remember) warmed up the crowd with some heartwarming ballads that got the light sticks (no glow sticks here, everyone being all environmentally friendly and economical and all) and cell phones waving slowly in the air. Some would say having a bunch of ballads to start the show was a bad idea but I disagree. It was a way to build up energy and anticipation for more of the high energy pop groups to come later. Besides, the songs were pretty good and I didn’t mind that show started off in 1st gear.

SMTown 2010

Photos courtesy of SNSDave (JPH!P)

There was one performance in that entire section that stood out the most and that was when Kangta and Go Ara did a duet. Not only was the song great, but the performance was entertaining with microphones popping out of every possible place. When Onew from SHINee showed up on stage to deliver a microphone from a pizza bag the fan girls went nuts and I heard screaming louder than I have ever heard in my life. They were drowning out Go Ara when she was singing. I had no idea who Kangta was before going to this concert but I like his voice and will definitely check out his music further.

SMTown 2010 Kangta

SMTown 2010 Kangta & Go Ara

Photos courtesy of SNSDave (JPH!P)

After that came the many vocal groups that SM has to offer. It was surreal to see f(x) live (and without Amber) and some would say that they were missing that spark that makes them stand out from other similar girl groups out there but to me, they still rocked. Too bad they really mostly stayed on the main stage area in the front for their performances because it would have been cool see them a little closer on the catwalk area where I was sitting. That is of course because I wanted a closer view of the fineness that is Sulli and the cute that is Krystal.

SMTown 2010 f(x)

SMTown 2010 f(x)

SMTown 2010 f(x)

Photos courtesy of SNSDave (JPH!P)

SNSD (a.k.a. Girls Generation) live is more epic than I have imagined. Not only do they look gooooood but they worked every inch of the stage they could. It was really nice to see them so close up when they hit the middle stage area where I was sitting. I was particularly drawn to Sooyoung, Yuri and Yoona and had difficulty paying attention to anyone else during their performances. But I tried to give equal drool time to everyone. =) I also had much appreciation for the cheerleader (Oh!) and sailor outfits (Genie). HOT I tell you, H-O-T.

SMTown 2010 SNSD

SMTown 2010 SNSD

Photos courtesy of Daigong (JPH!P)

SMTown 2010 SNSD

SMTown 2010 SNSD

SMTown 2010 SNSD

SMTown 2010 TRAX

Photos courtesy of SNSDave (JPH!P)

TRAX is a group I had not heard of before this concert and I was too lazy to invest some time listening to their music before heading out to L.A. I was impressed by their more rock oriented sound. It was quite the contrast to the dance pop of some the other SM artists. I did not like SHINee (pronounced “shiny”) at all before going to this concert. I had heard their songs before and was rather “meh “ about them. But they were the most energetic out of all the groups on the roster and it appeared they were out there with something to prove. Their performances changed my mind about them completely.

SMTown 2010 SHINee

SMTown 2010 SHINee

Photos courtesy of Daigong and SNSDave (JPH!P)

Having been given a chance to hear some of their songs in a live setting I think they have some quality material and I’ll give them another shot. Speaking of shot, who chose the fashion for their first set? They were all dressed like 90’s R&B video rejects. It didn’t take away from their performance; it was just kind of an odd choice of clothing. The rest of the time they had more modern outfits. Juliette, Ring Ding Dong and Lucifer were highlights for me.

Super Junior, much like SHINee brought some crazy type of energy whenever they were on stage and they were competing with them for the love of the fan girls. It was hard to tell who got the louder screams because it was deafening anytime either group (or its members) appeared on stage.  I’d call it a tie I guess? Anyway, the members of Super Junior looked like they were having a blast out on stage and it made their performances fun to watch. The remixed version of Sorry Sorry and their collaboration with Trax for Don’t Don were just nuts. I’d say that the collaboration with TRAX was probably one of the best performances of the night overall.

SMTown 2010 Super Junior

SMTown 2010 Super Junior

Photos courtesy of SNSDave (JPH!P)

Speaking of collaborations, there were many intergroup performances in between the individual group ones. Sisters Jessica from SNSD and Krystal from f(x) a.k.a. Jungcest (as some like to label them) covered Ke$ha’s Tik Tok. Personally I don’t like the song but their version made it listenable for me. Plus seeing those two on stage was enough to make me put my personal biases aside.

SMTown 2010 (Krystal & Jessica)

SMTown 2010 (Krystal & Jessica)

SMTown 2010 Henry Lau

SMTown 2010

Photos courtesy of rev2hd and SNSDave (JPH!P)

Heechul, Henry Lau (Super Junior M) and Jay (TRAX)  working together was also very cool. I haven’t seen anyone play an electric violin live before. The fan girls went into full scream once Heechul hit the stage and man were they ever loud. But under all that screaming was a pretty rocking track. The dance battle thing was also awesome. Seeing some of the best movers and shakers from each SM group was sweet and seeing them do their thing to the late great MJ’s Jam was even sweeter. I enjoyed watching the female dancers a bit more, but the dudes were good too.

SMTown 2010 Dance Battle

SMTown 2010 Dance Battle

SMTown 2010 Dance Battle

Photos courtesy of differentstory12 (JPH!P)

The second half of the concert was when the two remaining members of what was DBSK (a.k.a. Tohoshinki) and BoA appeared. I don’t mind DBSK but never really got into them during their peak and instead started getting interested after the whole behind the scenes mess with SM was all said and done. Anyway, U-Know and MAX had the coolest introduction where they got to the stage by floating over the crowd in harnesses. (Like the ones used in wire-fu movies) From where I was sitting I could see one of them getting strapped into the equipment before their time to go on.

They had some pretty snazzy outfits on. One was dressed like he came out of Saturday Night Fever and the other had some fancy pattern going on all over his clothes. But clothing aside they really worked the crowd and had the fan girls screaming loudly in my part of the arena.  They went through a DBSK medley before singing a song called Maximum to close out their set. Great stuff that kind of makes me think that I should have got into their music earlier.

BoA was one of the main reasons I attended this concert and she showed why she’s lasted for 10 years in the harsh industry that is music. One thing you notice about her is that she’s petite. You see her on video and think that that she’s tiny but it’s kind of surprising to see just how tiny she is. But there is a lot of awesome balled up in the diminutive package that is BoA. Much like f(x) she stayed up front and never really went further up to the middle stage and beyond. (Except for I Did It For Love) It was a little disappointing but then I realized that any opportunity to see BoA live is a good thing and just watched her with full attention after that.

SMTown 2010 BoA

SMTown 2010 BoA

Photos courtesy of SNSDave (JPH!P)

Hearing her speak English was a revelation. I’ve seen her interviews for her American album and all that but never picked up on the slight Korean accent she still has when she does speak English. I thought it was kind of hot, so I’m not going to complain. There was one moment of extreme cute when she had an issue with her in-ear monitors and she said she couldn’t hear herself. But she plowed through her song after the technical difficulties like the pro she is. Her sets consisted of songs off Hurricane Venus and her self-titled American debut along with one old school song from her My Name album. I’m thinking some people were expecting a few more classic tracks but what she had was good enough for me. I had the same feeling that I did when I saw Utada live, and that was just being awe struck.

The show ended with a group song that included all SM artists singing various parts and moving up & down the stage waving at all the fans, taking pictures and filming with their camcorders.  Overall it was a great show and it was definitely worth making another trip to Los Angeles for. Afterwards was the JPH!P after party but I went to get something to eat at IHOP before because without food alcohol is not a good thing for me. There were a couple of cute, well dressed Korean fan girls who asked to look at my SMTown program. I should have asked them to join the party, but I kind of forgot. Stupid me, but oh well, maybe next time.

The after party was fun stuff, I got to hang with my fellow JPH!P members (sorry none of those pics will ever be posted here), although I was kind of sad I didn’t get to hang with everyone who attended but there’s always another chance at the next event. Anyway, good times up in the club room and when I left with my roomie we ran into Kangta and his manager who didn’t look too happy at what was going on down the hall. Perhaps we should have just asked him to join us? Oh well, perhaps we interrupted his beauty sleep? =P I dunno. Apparently there was an official SM after party at the Conga Room but many of us opted to not pay a ridiculous amount of money to attend.

I won’t bore you with Sunday since that was just my trip home to Canada. But I’d like to make some additional observations if I may. The entire atmosphere the 2 days I was in LA was crazy from the time I landed until the time I got to the airport to go home. K-Pop fan girls are insane and HOT. Too bad the majority are probably (statistically) too young for me but it was nice to look at them all. Special shout out to yellow hoodie girl. (a.k.a. snow globe girl)

As I have mentioned before they’re also LOUD. You figure after the first hour of the show they would lose steam but their screams got louder throughout the entire 4 hours. I have not heard anything like it in my life before and tried to record it on my iPhone but the result was muddy. I’ll remember to bring my higher quality recorder next time (if I can get it past security that is)

While the concert itself was a blast, the lack of any merchandise booth was a real low point. I spent most of the pre-concert time searching Staples Center for anything that looked like it was selling SM merch and came up empty. I guess I’ll have to buy concert goods from YesAsia instead. I haven’t really looked at what’s available but I’ll probably end up getting a t-shirt or something similar as a memento.

The other thing that sucked was that my bum knee was stiffening up around the 3rd hour of the show. It hurt a bit so I had to sit down during some parts of the concert and stretch it out a little and get a bit of circulation going around the area. It was also an opportunity to maybe get a few tweets & stuff in as well, so it worked out in the end. Unfortunately my phone bill was not so pleasant. Data roaming in the U.S. isn’t cheap. Again, the expense was totally worth it for this kind of experience so I consider it an investment in fun rather than a bill. Besides, I’m getting Aeroplan points, so maybe I’ll have enough to get a free trip to L.A. next year.

That’s all I really have to bitch about because the rest of SMTown weekend was a blast. It was great to meet all the people I have been corresponding with online, catch up those from the previous gatherings and meet all the new people along the way. There are a plethora of you & I’m not going to name you all but you know who you are. I look forward to hanging out with y’all at the next event whenever that is.

For those of you who are uncertain of whether K-Pop artists are the real deal I’ll tell you this. They are. These highly trained young men and women give their all out there and they do it all LIVE. No lip syncing or horribly off notes were present at all. There is a Facebook group for bringing back SMTown to Los Angeles next year so please join the group and sign the petition and let SM know that you want them to come back.

I would suggest that the next time a concert of this magnitude (Or even something on a smaller scale) comes around that you purchase a ticket and join in on the fun.