Post #23 – On June 23 and 24, KCON 2017 NY held its third annual event on the East Coast.  It was actually in New Jersey, in Newark, at the Prudential Center.  The hashtags #KCON17NY and #CNBLUE are the ones I used the most in the aftermath of the convention and k-pop concerts.  I went there with mixed feelings and I came back with definite answers.  Including the good, the bad, the ugly … and the pretty … here is a summary of my KCON 2017 NY experience.

KCON 2017 NY - CNBLUE Performance
KCON 2017 NY – CNBLUE Performance on June 24, 2017. The band headlined the main Saturday concert to rave reviews on social media as well as The New York Times

For the vast majority of our www.take-kr.com readers, KCON is a well-known concept.  For those who are not familiar with KCON, here are a few details.  The KCON festivals are a series of entertainment and cultural events held in several locations world-wide, focused on the South Korean k-pop phenomenon and the Hallyu wave. Each event includes k-pop music concerts and a convention showcasing South Korean food, novelties, fan merchandise, etc.

KCON 2017 NY - at Prudential Center Newark
KCON 2017 NY – at Prudential Center Newark filling up for the first day of performances, June 23, 2017
KCON 2017 NY - at Prudential Center Newark
KCON 2017 NY – at Prudential Center Newark

I had the opportunity to attend KCON LA in 2016 and KCON NY in 2017.  Los Angeles and the New York area are the two locations for KCON in the United States.  Other KCON events are held in Japan, Mexico, Dubai and I’m sure there will be more locations added in the future, due to the ongoing rise in popularity of the entertainment produced in South Korea.

VENUE AND TICKETS

KCON 2017 NY - TICKETS AND PASSES
KCON 2017 NY – TICKETS AND PASSES for the concerts and artist engagements

The two annual KCON events held in the United States have been so far hosted at the Prudential Center in Newark and at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.  I would like to start by saying that both arenas are great, with good sound systems, staff, access, and installations.  What makes the difference in the experience is the organization of the event and all the possible hick-ups one has to deal with when attending such large-crowd happenings.

In 2016, the event in Los Angeles was a nightmare during registration time – their electronic system was down and the lines to register were endless, adding to countless hours of waiting.  In comparison, Prudential looked empty in the registration area.  So here are a few tips.  Buy your concert tickets online with plenty of anticipation and ask for paper tickets to be mailed to your home ahead of time.  If push comes to shove, you have your concert tickets in hand.  Also, prepay for the convention portion ahead of time.  The line to redeem the voucher for the convention ticket goes faster than the lines where you have to get your actual concert tickets.

If you plan to be there for the entire duration of the event, go early and pre-register the day before.  During the convention, you will have to stay in huge lines to attend not only the concerts, but also the fan engagements.  In Newark, these lines are outdoors, so get an umbrella for rain or shine and plenty of water, food, sunscreen, etc. so you can survive for hours in this Sahara …

Regarding tickets – I saved a bit by buying each day’s concert ticket separately, believe it or not, and then purchase fan engagement passes from other concert goers, only for the bands I wanted to see, or for the red carpet.  The options of high-touch, audience, and red carpet passes included in combo tickets are not all guaranteed, and you end up buying them separately anyway from private people.  There is an exchange market going on at each KCON.  You will be surprised to find that not everyone wants to see the same performers as you do, and will trade, sell or give away passes you might want.

What type of concert tickets you want to buy depends mostly on your budget.  If you can afford the Diamond, Platinum and other expensive combo tickets, go ahead.  These come with certain perks.  But if you are on a tighter budget, your best bet is general admission standing (generally labeled as P2).  But if you are around 5 feet tall you might want a seat. The standing areas are below stage level, and you end up seeing very little of the performers unless they come up to the border of the stage.

KCON 2017 NY - at Prudential Center Newark
KCON 2017 NY – at Prudential Center Newark – entrance for floor/standing ticket holders

Regarding the venues – please know that the actual convention at KCON NY is held outdoors while KCON LA is mostly indoors, except for the food area.  If need to select one, Los Angeles is by far the best option.  It is bigger, air-conditioned, has a technology exhibition, it has indoor amenities such as coffee shops and eateries, etc.  All in all, LA is significantly better.  It also brings in a larger lineup.  If your favorites are there in LA though, they will play less songs, since they have to share the stage with more groups and bands.  In New York, each group gets more time to perform since there are less performers lined up. Choose wisely.

KCON 2017 NY - FINALE, FRIDAY JUNE 23RD
KCON 2017 NY – FINALE, FRIDAY JUNE 23RD, with all the participating performers on stage

TRAVELING THERE

As with every big event that is not held in your backyard, you need to plan your travels.  I had to fly into Los Angeles and New York for the two KCON events I attended in 2016 and 2017, book hotels and find the best ground transportation options.  It becomes costly, but the chance of seeing my favorite band on US soil was unique, so I embarked on the mission.  It was less costly than flying to Asia… give or take.

Here are a few words of caution regarding Newark, where KCON NY is held each year.  It is better to find a hotel in New York or surroundings which you know to be safe, and then use public transportation to get to the Prudential Center then actually staying overnight near the center.  I opted for a local hotel and regretted it.  The area is unsafe in the evenings and at night, and you will be starving.  Hotels on a budget are substandard.  In comparison, a budget hotel in LA, in walking/Uber distance to Staples was way better.  So avoid staying in Newark.   A better hotel nearby Prudential in Newark will charge a very high fee during KCON – I asked and it was about $300.  Also, Newark does not have a tourism culture.  There are very, very, very few restaurants and coffee shops.  I felt like I was in an apocalyptic ghost town.

Getting to Prudential by public transport before and after concerts is relatively easy. There is the Newark Penn Station in walking distance from the venue, where you can take a train pretty much anywhere you need to go, as long as you leave right after the concert (look up train schedules ahead of time; walk with the concert crowd).  The Path train connects to many other public transport lines.  Make sure you ask daily what track it departs from (it changes sometimes).  An Uber into Manhattan, in case of emergency, is about $70 late at night.  Try to travel in groups of friends and make sure you have battery back-up for your phone.

I hope KCON will reconsider and book a different venue in a safer area for the upcoming years, especially since the majority of the fans attending KCON are ladies and of a very young age.  I am not easily scared by safety issues, and as far as I know, nothing unsafe has happened so far there; there is plenty of police around, etc.  My concerns come from the countless times during my 2-day stay when locals I crossed paths with expressed astonishment, nervousness an unease regarding my safety there.

THE SPONSORS

KCON 2017 NY - KNK
KCON 2017 NY – the remarkably tall male group KNK greets fans at a sponsor booth during the convention

KCON 2017 NEW YORK was sponsored and/or supported by several large brands such as Amazon, Toyota, Innisfree, AT&T, Dramafever, Asiana Airlines, etc.  They offered fun activities and free gifts to the audience.   Some gifts were significant, such as free concert tickets for the day, airline ticket raffles to Korea, and more.  Many activities were held at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics stands.  Although outdoors, the heat was bearable when the whole ‘crew’ of the boy band HIGHLIGHT came to greet the fans and raffle prizes.  It was a unique opportunity, since groups only show up at red carpet or audience events.  Seeing them up-close was delightful, since I am a huge fan of Lee Gi Kwang as an actor, singer and dancer.

KCON 2017 NY - HIGHLIGHT
KCON 2017 NY – HIGHLIGHT display decorates the convention walkways. The group performed on June 23. Center photo – Lee Gi Kwang, vocals for the group, as well as a famous actor and excellent dancer
KCON 2017 NY - Pyeongchang Winter Olympic
KCON 2017 NY – Pyeongchang Winter Olympic mascots were available for photo opportunities to all fans
KCON 2017 NY - HIGHLIGHT
KCON 2017 NY – HIGHLIGHT – the band came on their own red carpet to participate in games with the fans who devotedly screamed as loudly as possible

Toyota was also one of my favorites.  They had an amazing staff working their booths and offered nice giveaways, such as audience special passes for the fans who signed up to test-drive one of their brand new hybrid cars.  After the test drive I was the proud owner of a CNBLUE audience pass – priceless.  Thank you Toyota!

THE CONVENTION

KCON NY has a Convention area that is located on several adjacent parking lots to the Prudential Center.  You will have to show your wristband (which is electronic) to be scanned each time you enter one of the sections – this way they avoid that the public wanders into the convention.  The sections include: food and fan merchandise; sponsor tents and booths; other smaller performance stages and auditoriums, as well as dance areas and so forth.  Everything is outdoors, so make sure you are geared up for rain or shine, heat, hunger and thirst.

Food options are not overwhelming as far as their variety, and the lines were huge at lunch time.  Most food was Korean.  I only ate there once, buying from the only stall that had almost no line – despite that, the food was simply delicious. Also, I bought coffee several times from one of the sponsors, Tous les Jours – one million times better than any other coffee shop option in sad town Newark. Five dollars well spent.

Buying music and fan items at the convention was also great.  Although I did not purchase anything (I had already all the CDs that interested me) the variety was great.  They even had GD’s newest album Kwon Ji Yong available for sale, CNBLUE’s newest 7ºCN, and many others.

The official items from bands were delightful and there was something from each one.  There were no lines to purchase. Many other events held during the convention were dance related competitions, classes, etc.  The boy band KNK also made a physical appearance at one booth, to the delight of their fans.  All dressed in white, the boys impressed me with their height which I heard is in average 1.85 cm (over 6 feet tall) and command of the English language by some of them.  The violinist Jun Curry Ahn also showed his violin and dancing skills at the convention and in the pre-concert show.  He is a crowd darling.

KCON 2017 NY - JUN CURRY AHN
KCON 2017 NY – JUN CURRY AHN

What I missed in New York, but it was my favorite in Los Angeles last year, was the technology section of the KCON Convention.  New York brought a bit of cosmetics but none of the tech stuff.  What a pity.  I guess outdoors it is harder to run the tech gadgets and keep these booths safe and clean.  I missed it.  Also, in comparison, the convention in New York/Newark is significantly smaller.  The food fair in LA was an entire street, while in NY it was just a hand-full of stalls.

LINEUP

This is my favorite subject – since we all go to KCON for the concerts, let’s be honest.  We all follow one group or the other, and having this chance to see them in the US is unique and very much appreciated.  So, THANK YOU KCON! Now, pleasing everyone is a bit hard, isn’t it?  So in the wake of each event, we follow desperately, beg and plead with KCON to bring our favorites.  I personally pray that my favorites don’t cancel after signing up.

KCON 2017 NY - CNBLUE Artist Fan Engagement
KCON 2017 NY – CNBLUE Artist Fan Engagement. From left to right: Lee Jung Shin, Lee Jong Hyun, Jung Yong Hwa and Kang Min Hyuk – Asia’s best pop-rock band

The beauty of KCON is that one gets to meet groups and bands that you did not know well before, and fall in love with new songs, idols or performances.  I can say for sure that I started listening a lot more to MONSTA X after KCON LA 2016, and I am 100% certain, as I was reading an avalanche of tweets and other posts in social media, that hundreds if not thousands of young k-pop fanatics have re-discovered and have fallen in love again with Jung Yong Hwa’s electric and energetic live performance as the closing act of June 24’th main concert.  The frontman of CNBLUE has literally conquered New York that night, as attested by comments in social and mass media as well, such as in an article about KCON published in The New York Times.

On the same subject, Jung Yong Hwa’s birthday had just been on June 22, and his Chinese fans sponsored a huge Happy Birthday lit billboard display for one full week in Times Square.  Not too long ago, Yonghwa had visited Times Square as a traveler during a modeling shoot in New York, taking photos of himself in the crowd, as an anonymous person, like all of us do.  This year he was up there with the big guys, JZ and the likes.  I hope that k-pop will continue to gain more and more recognition in the United States, since it truly deserves it.

 

KCON 2017 NY - CNBLUE
KCON 2017 NY – CNBLUE frontman/band leader Jung Yong Hwa, lead vocal, rapper, guitar and piano, has been multiple time selected as official ambassador of k-pop and hallyu at international events and festivals. Yonghwa is also well know for acting in dramas and movies, modeling, and playing many instruments. He also guest stars in numerous reality TV shows and participates in charity organizations.

The lineup for KCON 2017 NY consisted of: HIGHLIGHT and CNBLUE, the headliners of the 2 concerts, Friday, June 23 and Saturday, June 24 respectively.  The concert on June 23 was relatively full, although I wish more people would have come.  The concert on the 24th was packed to the brim.  Overall, KCON announced that they reached a record audience for the event this year in NY of 43,000.

KCON 2017 NY - SF9
KCON 2017 NY – SF9

Also part of the Friday concert, aside from HIGHLIGHT, were the girls group GFRIEND, and the boys groups KNK and SF9; plus the acclaimed and charming hip hop and R&B Korean singer ZION T.

KCON 2017 NY - TWICE
KCON 2017 NY – TWICE, one of the most popular girls groups from South Korea, with a visibly large male following in the USA as well

Part of the main concert on Saturday, June 24th, in addition to the one and only, best pop-rock band in Asia – CNBLUE, were the wildly popular girls group TWICE, assuring that a significant portion of the audience was actually male; as well as the boys groups NCT 127 and UP10TION.

KCON 2017 NY - NCT127
KCON 2017 NY – NCT127, or Neo Culture Technology, a nine-member band with limitless potential. Taeyong is the charismatic leader and pretty face of the group, among many other talents

The quality of all performances was superb, as well as their styling and backdrops.  It is not hard for me to choose, since I am a big fan of CNBLUE; but among the others, for me, Zion T, Highlight, KNK and NCT 127 stood out.  I am certain everyone has their favorites, and this is what makes k-pop so alluring worldwide.

THE FANS

Us, the fans, is what also makes k-pop grand, and events such as KCON possible.  After the surprising win of BTS at the Billboard Music Awards, the world is now paying closer attention to k-pop fandom.  Its power is something to be reckoned. It is very fanatic in a foreign sort of way.  It is very loyal, very obsessive and … young. I don’t fit the description but in one category – loyalty.  K-pop fans support k-pop in general since that benefits their ‘bias’ group or band. It is truly a devoted support to an entire industry – support for the whole, in order to benefit each part.

KCON 2017 NY - June 23rd concert
KCON 2017 NY – June 23rd concert – Highlight taking a selfie with the crowd

Although the majority of fans are young, there is a silent agreement that every generation is welcome, from kids to seniors.  For now, the bulk of the fans are still school girls, but it will become more mainstream in the near future, as more bands come out of retirement, more idols will go through military enlistment and return to their careers afterwards, and a more international following outside of Asia will pay closer attention.  A look into the overall k-pop state of affairs will come up here on www.take-kr.com soon.  Please look forward to it.

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Author

“A long and sinuous Silk Road unites all our cultures, a road full of colors, hardships, and hopes. If given the chance to travel this road over and over again, overlapping images would melt into a warm human fabric, full of labor, sweat and dreams. This fabric inspires my work. Its resilience is my hope for a common road into a harmonious future.” Ellie Perla

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