The following is my account of the KCON 2019 convention and M Countdown concert series in Los Angeles. The statements made here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other Selective Hearing staff who attended the KCON events in Los Angeles or New York.
I have been out of the K-Pop world for quite a while thanks to many of the groups I once followed (such as Wonder Girls, T-ara, 4Minute, 2NE1, etc.) having gone the way of the dinosaur. The generation of groups after them did not hold my interest so my investment in K-Pop as a whole dwindled as the years passed.
It wasn’t until Produce 48 and IZ*ONE that the fires of K-pop fandom were rekindled for me. Thanks to that program I went back through the songs that were covered on the show and discovered I was missing out on a lot during my absence.
So when I was told about KCON I was intrigued but not committed to going until attending artists were announced. In true Asian pop festival fashion the announcements were painfully drawn out with all of the male groups being unknowns to me. The girl groups on the other hand I was at least familiar with and when IZ*ONE were revealed for Los Angeles I was sold on going.
I have not been to a K-pop related event since SMTOWN 2010 in Los Angeles. Obviously the musical landscape has changed in 9 years but I will assume that the constant factor of unhinged, cray fans would be exactly as I remembered from those many moons ago.
Day 0 of a convention is usually considered a wash as there isn’t much to do other than pick up your badge, wristband(s) and bags of swag. There were two of us attending KCON Los Angeles this year, myself and Allen. For us this day meant showing up to pick up our press passes and maybe take some pictures of the gathering crowd of K-pop fans picking up their badges as well.
We also had some pre-ordered merchandise to pick up so we took the opportunity to get that out of the way before madness really started.
The first actual working day had us check in early in the morning and head straight to the exhibitors hall to see the lay of the land. The various booths appeared to be spaced out well enough to prevent bottlenecks in foot traffic. There was a heavy focus on the beauty products of Korea in regards to content.
Outside of that there were also some K-pop shops, a VR game, some random prize games, the marketplace, cultureplex, Flower Boy Cafe, Dance Workshop and of course plenty of food. The K-pop World section of the floor had the merchandise booth, Star Square, M2 and several photo opportunity areas.
Our plan for the day was to hit up the opening ceremony, 2 fan club meetings and wander around to see what was going on. The Opening Ceremony was kind of a letdown and after getting some quick footage we left to find the panel room for the IZ*ONE fan club meeting.
That fan club meeting had a good number of people attend their panel. The organizers put together an interactive event where everyone had a chance to participate in various games for prizes. I tried playing along but it was hard to take photos and concentrate on the game at the same time. When the games portion ended the remainder of the panel was spent practicing the fan chants for La Vie en Rose and Violeta.
The second fan club meeting we attended was for fromis_9. It also was run by the same organizers of the IZ*ONE panel and it followed the same format. There were not as many attendees for this one. I noticed a few of the IZ*ONE fans from the morning session showed up for this as well.
One thing stood out the most when looking back at the two panels we attended. That was the difference between Korean and Japanese fan chants. The Korean ones have a higher level of difficulty without a doubt.
You cannot get away with half assing the chant and sounding like Sagat (from the Street Fighter video game) in Korea as instead of a generic mix, chants are group and song specific. The fromis_9 chants in particular felt like tongue twisters and appeared to require a few hours of study to get right.
After the fromis_9 panel we returned to the convention floor to watch a MOMOLAND choreography tutorial. To the surprise of everyone the group showed up to dance with the trainers and the fans.
Another early start at the convention. No panels this time as we were focused on artist appearances on the con floor and the IZ*ONE artist engagement session. We took pictures of the gathering masses for IZ*ONE from afar as we were not allowed into the area where the people were congregating or into the artist engagement session itself. So surveillance-like pictures of people standing in line was the best we could do.
After that it was off to the con floor to check out LOONA’s appearances. Getting anything LOONA related did not work out as we arrived too late to shove our way through the gathered masses of Orbits who had been camping out for the past couple of hours. We ended up with nothing and moved on to see the La Vie en Rose dance workshop instead.
Watching the instructors go through the choreography for La Vie en Rose was interesting. Especially considering that the pre-chorus and chorus sections were being covered. The people attending the workshop had some issues getting the moves down but by the end of it everyone seemed to have a basic understanding of the dances. Given the complexity of K-Pop choreography it would be hard to master the dance moves within an hour unless you happen to be a quick study or are naturally gifted with the ability to dance.
With our con day ended and it was off to the first of the two M Countdown concerts at Staples Center. After meeting in the lobby and hanging out with several fans we split off to our seats. I thought my view from my seat was pretty good. On paper it seemed kind of meh but the reality was the opposite and I was able to see a lot more than I expected.
The pre-show started at 8:00 pm and the main event followed shortly after. The artists who performed on night one were:
*ONEUS cancelled due to visa issues.
When it came to the concert I mainly cared about the girl groups. IZ*ONE and LOONA impressed me the most. For IZ*ONE Jo Yuri pulled off the miraculous feat of singing with Jo Yuri. Although Jo Yuri was MIA from the trio which made her song feel incomplete. (WIZ*ONE will get the referral about the Jo Yuriz.) For everyone else it please refer to this article to understand the reference. For the record it was Jo Yuri and Kim Chaewon performing a duet.
Before attending this show I was warned that MOMOLAND might phone in their performance. That did not appear to be the case as they put on a spirited stage. And there were no incidents such as the one in Mexico that I heard of when it came to MOMOLAND in Los Angeles.
IZ*ONE can be summed up by saying they showed up, performed a set similar to KCON Japan and left. No lengthy MC’s or anything like that. I personally liked that they just came in and did their thing rather than drag things out like they did in Tokyo.
Despite not having a lot of interest in the male groups all of them groups impressed me in one way or another after seeing them live, especially ATEEZ.
This was the final early start at the convention. Our plan was to get some photo and video of fromis_9’s appearances at the M2 booth and the Beauty Panel. We decided to split up and I drew the M2 Booth where various dance oriented events were being held.
After 2 hours or so the barricades were set up and the members of fromis_9 were greeted with loud cheers. The majority of them are tiny. Gyuri and Chaeyoung definitely stood above the rest being the tallest.
The group introduced themselves to the crowd and proceeded to film a relay dance for MNET. Afterwards the members grabbed their phones and took selfies and videos with the crowd.
With their time at the M2 booth done fromis_9 walked across the way to the Beauty Panel for their appearance. Once I was informed that video and pictures from the Beauty Panel were successfully obtained I considered our mission complete without complications. Unlike LOONA from the day before. With our day over it was back to the hotel to rest up before the concert.
When concert time rolled around it was smooth sailing into the venue. This time we were sitting together in the lower bowl just above where all the crays on the floor were. While waiting we recorded the 3rd of our KCON podcasts in Staples Center to the best of our ability. It did get kind of loud at times so hopefully the audio turns out okay.
Similar to Saturday the pre-show started at 8:00 and the main card started around 8:30. The artists performing on night two were:
- N. Flying
- STRAY KIDS
*CHUNG HA cancelled due to visa issues.
This concert had a different feeling compared to the night before. Night 1 was very idol-like whereas night 2 was similar to a straight up rock concert. I went in highly anticipating the stages fromis_9 and ITZY the most. I came out impressed by ITZY’s showing. Those girls had a fun (yet short) set that had the crowd hyped the entire time.
fromis_9’s performance was similar to IZ*ONE where they just came in and did their thing. The version of Love Bomb they performed was a remix which either was fantastic or complete crap depending on how in love you are with the original version.
MAMAMOO was down one member (Wheein) who was unable to attend KCON LA due to personal reasons. The remaining trio still powered through with a set of their hits. I wasn’t the biggest fan of MAMAMOO at the beginning of the night but I warmed up to them, especially Moonbyul.
The male groups were the real stars of the night with highlights being N. Flying starting the night performing a cover of ITZY’s Dalla Dalla and returning later in the night to perform their own songs and covers of several of Queen’s classics.
Stray Kids and Seventeen also put in strong stages that showed why they were two of the more popular acts over the 4 days of KCON. I left with a better appreciation of many of the male groups as their songs actually fit within the type of music I listen to outside of Asian Pop.
KCON as an event is probably one of the bigger ones I have attended in my travels. It was split between the convention portion and the M Countdown concerts. The good thing about this setup was you could attend the concerts without having to register for the convention which is a fair option for those who don’t particularly care to attend or be forced to attend the convention portion.
However, if you do decide to buy a convention ticket I believe your enjoyment level will really depend on what extras you buy and how willing you are to camp out in line to cash those perks in. The exhibition hall was nice but the real experience is in artist engagement and trading and/or bartering to get access to the artists you want to see.
Given the random nature of how the artist engagement packs are distributed you will most likely have to visit the pit of desperation and despair that is the trading market at least once if you are shut out from who you want to meet. Be prepared to shell out some cash or be very good at negotiating to get fair value for what you want.
The concerts themselves feature a high level of production comparable to that you see from top tier pop artists from America, Europe, China or Japan. Since the concerts were being filmed for M Countdown they were also somewhat formatted to fit within the confines of that kind of programming. It didn’t really make that big of a difference to be honest.
Here is some advice for those planning to attend a KCON concert in the future. You may not see your favorite(s) perform all their hits or the songs you want to hear but that is the trade-off of a multi-artist concert. When you think about it, the value for the price of the ticket is there given that you are getting several acts on one bill. You might even discover a new group or two if you pay attention rather than stare at your phone until your group comes on stage next.
Lastly I highly recommend investing in a quality pair of earplugs if you are ever going to attend a KCON concert. Unless you really want the last thing you ever hear to be the high pitched screams of fans losing their shit when idols appear on stage.
The final aspect of the KCON experience I want to discuss is the fandom itself. I did see the stereotypical image of a K-Pop fan all around me. Yet, looking past that there was a diverse group of people of all ages, races and sexual orientations gathered together for a common love of K-Pop. Seeing a lot of older folks closer to my age was surprising at first but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. K-Pop fandom isn’t exactly the cheapest thing to get into and having a steady income goes a long way into being able to attend events such as this.
I also noticed that the sample of the Western K-Pop idol fandom that attended this event is not as fragmented or segregated as the J-Pop idol fandom. Yes, there were some people who were probably way too into their groups for their own sanity but the majority of the fans I encountered were rather chill people who just wanted to be around like-minded people. To be honest, I was kind of surprised at how cordial different groups of fans were to each other.
Would I attend this event again? I would say it is highly likely. It would really depend on the lineup and probably the cost of tickets and other extras such as artist engagement. If everything lines up like it did this year I would do it again.
Check out the image gallery featuring photos from the Red Carpet Event, Meet & Greet, Convention and the two M Countdown concerts at Staples Center.