2017 marked my third year attending KCON Los Angeles, and each time the convention and concert have felt like a unique experience. I had a lot of criticism for the the convention side of things last year, even though the concert line-up was amazing. This caused me to come in this year with slightly lowered expectations. But luckily, 2017 was a complete return to form in every way possible, returning KCON to its rightful place as the world’s best weekend for international lovers of k-pop and k-culture.
There are so many things to recap over the three days, but here are my top five takeaways from KCON 2017:
1. KCON really got their act together
Last year, KCON LA was really a mixed bag. Its best elements were countered by an overall sense of disorganization that resulted in long lines and missed opportunities. But for 2017’s convention and concert, it feels like the organizers actually listened to all the feedback and improved on every single aspect. Check-in and registration was a breeze. Last year we waited four hours to get in on Friday. This year it took about five minutes. Fan engagements and concerts were on time, and all queuing was located inside the air-conditioned convention hall. Bag check and wristband scanner were located far enough apart as not to create a bottle-neck situation, and there were always multiple exits and entrances. Big kudos for these much needed improvements. It’s rare to feel like feedback is actually taken into account and used in a constructive manner, but KCON delivered.
2. Artist fan engagement is a wonderful thing
There really isn’t anywhere else quite like KCON. Where else in America could I get the chance to high-five all six members of Astro, share the room with Seventeen, stand mere feet from VIXX and Wanna One, and then randomly run into KARD’s BM and J.Seph outside the venue… all in one weekend? K-Pop fandom is a unique culture, and it’s just awesome that this kind of a convention exists. 2017 resulted in more artist interaction than I’ve ever experienced before at KCON.
3. Wanna One’s global popularity is no joke
As part of KCON’s artist engagement opportunities, groups will sometimes come out to the convention floor to meet with fans in one of the sponsored booths. This always seems like a logistical nightmare, as the groups have to be shepherded across a very busy space filled with quite rabid fans (hey, it takes one to know one!). While most artists managed this feat with the expected crowd sizes, Wanna One’s two appearances on the convention floor were met with Beatles-level hysteria. Outside of movies and over-dramatized concert documentaries, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this kind of insane response. We’re talking about entire crowds rushing forward in a sea of excitement. Barricades, pushing, paparazzi-style cameras… the whole nine yards. But though I’ve been kind of skeptical of the sort of insta-fame a series like Produce 101 can provide, hearing Energetic five million times throughout the weekend really started to convert me into a mega-fan. Straightforward as it is, that song just gets better and better every time.
4. The concerts belonged to the big-energy anthems
Both nights of this year’s KCON concert were really very good, with a young — but solid — line-up. Returning to the 365 degree center stage helped, as every seat seemed closer this year. But as much as I loved finally seeing artists like VIXX and NCT 127 live and in person, the musical highlights for me were the songs that really seemed designed for an arena. I’m talking about Seventeen’s Very Nice (I’ve been waiting to see that one ever since its release last summer), Wanna One’s Pick Me (absolutely incredible), Donghae & Eunhyuk’s trio of party-starting hits and, surprisingly, KARD’s tropical pop, which felt perfectly suited for this particular stage. It would be hard to pick a dud act, but in 2017 the highlights were either super energetic or vocally driven (JJ Project’s Tomorrow, Today, Seventeen’s vocal unit’s Habit).
5. Astro really is that rising rookie group
Replace “that” with any superlative you want, but there’s no denying that within the world of rookie artists, Astro really have the complete package. While so many of their peers opt to go darker and edgier, Astro’s bright pop style feels so refreshing and affirming. Not only that, but the guys have some of the most skilled choreography in the business. Having had the chance to see them last year at KCON, it was so gratifying to note how much they’ve grown as performers. Their set this year was more assured, more mature and even stronger than before. I can’t wait to see where they go next. They also got the prized opportunity to duet with g.o.d’s Kim Tae Woo on the classic One Candle, displaying another level of versatility.