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The Ultimate Guide to KCON (+ 2018 Recap)

Another year of KCON LA is behind us, and it was a fantastic experience. Instead of simply recapping the weekend, I thought I’d offer some sage advice from a veteran KCONer. This was my fourth year attending the event, and there’s a lot I’ve discovered since 2015.

So strap yourselves in, because this is officially the longest post I’ve ever featured on The Bias List!


Tip One: Have a game plan

There’s A LOT to do at KCON, and more every year. It’s also not a cheap event to attend, so you’ll want to get as much from the experience as you can.

With that said, there’s no way to take advantage of everything that KCON has to offer. It’s important to know your priorities going in. Mine are usually to spot/interact with as many idols as possible, and to get into the concerts early enough so that I don’t feel rushed or miss any of the show. Pretty simple, in theory.

Others will likely want to be involved with the panels and workshops, k-beauty demonstrations, k-food market and much more. What you’re most interested in will color your weekend and determine where your focus will be.

Regardless of your intent, study the KCON schedules well in advance. Know when your desired panels and engagements are. Know when doors open for various events, and know if any acts you’re interested in are visiting specific booths at specific times.

Tip Two: Prepare to wait

Nothing ventured, nothing gained — and “ventured” in this case means waiting in lines. Most things worth doing at KCON require patience. Want a good view for an artist audience engagement? Plan to queue an hour beforehand (though there‘s not much reason to queue too early for a hi-touch, in my opinion). Want to spot an act up close and personal at a convention booth? Plan to camp out for up to two hours in front of said booth. It may seem ridiculous, and it kind of feels a little stalker-ish in the moment, but it’s worth it if interaction is your goal. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to sit for most of the waiting time.

When it comes to the concert, it stresses me out to be at the end of a long line with the prospects of missing some (or all) of the pre-show. In the years I’ve been to KCON, the Staples Center has been notorious for poor line management. One line fractures into a dozen and they all wrap around and feed into each other until you realize you’ve been waiting in a line that doesn’t actually go anywhere. This is understandably frustrating, and I like to be able to see the entrance I’m queuing up for. To accomplish this, you’ve kind of got to line up 60-90 minutes before the doors open. Again, it seems ridiculous. But for me, it’s worth the piece of mind. I like getting into the venue early and enjoying myself.

With this in mind… if your goal is to attend the red carpet event that happens before each concert, you will likely miss out on at least the pre-show. You’ll be at the end of a seemingly endless line. If you’re arriving with friends, have one person hold your place and explore all entrances to the venue. Some lines tend to be much shorter than others.

Tip Three: Keep on your toes

One of my favorite parts of KCON is the feeling that anything can happen. Sometimes, KCON will announce when a certain act is scheduled to visit a booth or have an impromptu performance/meet-and-greet. But often times, these moments are a complete surprise.

With that said, there are usually rumblings of an impending idol visit before it happens. Keep attuned to twitter and facebook and be prepared to shift your schedule if your favorite act happens to drop by. Keep an eye out for crowds — especially running crowds. They’re not running simply for the exercise!

In my experience, acts often visit the convention floor on either end of their scheduled fan engagement. This makes sense, since they’re already in the building. And you’ll know something is happening when security suddenly appears with metal fences to corral fans.

This vigilance isn’t just for the convention, though! Last year, we ran into the male half of KARD as they emerged from the Staples Center during the day of their performance. They were shooting for a reality show and we got to take part in an impromptu sing-along with only a few other fans. This year, after their Klub KCON performance, we ran into boy group IN2IT at the Target store a few blocks away from the convention. They were with their manager (handler?) buying snacks, and it was a fun, surreal experience.

When it comes to KCON, idols seem to be everywhere. You just have to keep your eyes out!

Tip Four: Know the area

If you didn’t notice, “food” was not on my list of priorities when it comes to KCON. For those of you who are looking to indulge, KCON has a Korean-themed food street outside the convention. It’s usually very busy and (in my opinion) overpriced. I prefer to do food on the cheap.

There’s a great food court a few blocks away from the convention at the FIGat7th shopping center, and there are a few grocery stores around the area as well. Most of the time, your eating schedule is kind of controlled by the events of the day, so it’s nice to have some snacks at the ready. The convention center allows food and drink to be brought in — just not cans.

Downtown LA is not the most charming of places, so be cautious after dark if you’re walking alone. Hotels are not cheap, but we had luck with Airbnb this year. And there is a cheap metro line a few blocks from the convention center if you’d like to stay farther away and take the train in.

Tip Five: Avoid lines when necessary

Unless you are dead-set on being the first one into the convention (or you have a scheduled event right as the floor opens), I’d recommend waiting to arrive an hour after the doors open. There’s often a pretty formidable (though generally fast-moving) line as the convention starts. It tends to peter out quickly and then you can get in without having to wait in the hot sun.

Ditto for check-in. Unless you’re stressed about artist engagements (see below), you might want to check in a couple of hours after it opens. The lines won’t likely be as long at that point.

Tip Six: Wheel and deal

I usually like to check out a couple of the artist engagements each KCON weekend. It’s fun to do a hi-touch and an audience, if you can afford it. If you choose to do this, you’ll likely have certain artists in mind that you’d like to see.

This year, KCON sold artist engagements separately from concert tickets, which made the whole ordeal all that more expensive. The engagements that you purchase are random, and could be happening on any of the convention’s scheduled days. If at all possible, I’d recommend doing early check-in (Thursday, for LA) so that you ensure you’re not getting a ticket for an engagement that has already passed.

Unless you’re super lucky, you probably won’t get the exact engagements you want. In fact, KCON seems to have a nasty habit of not shuffling the engagements particularly well, so that entire waves of fans end up with roughly the same assortment on the same day.

This is where trading comes in. Bring a sheet of paper or poster board, write what you have and what you want on it, and enter the meat market of trading that tends to form right outside of check-out. This can be a dizzying and stressful experience, but I’ve always been able to trade (or buy) what I want in the end. It helps to seek out the less-desired engagements. Some fans will pay hundreds of dollars just to hi-touch acts like Twice or Wanna One, so if that’s your goal you’re probably going to have some trouble.

Join the KCON trading facebook groups, keep an eye on twitter, and hold on to your most valuable assets until you get your number one engagements. The whole thing can be a little embarrassing, but it’s worth it to get what you’re looking for.

If you don’t care what engagement you’re going to, you might wait until just before it starts. I imagine people would be very willing to sell or trade at that point, since the ticket will become worthless as soon as the engagement is over.

Tip Seven: Enjoy the atmosphere

One of my favorite things about KCON is that it’s like a pilgrimage to another world. It’s a reality where K-pop is playing around the clock, everyone seems to be a fan of everyone, and this seemingly niche interest feels like the biggest thing in the world. Don’t forget to simply slow down and enjoy yourself. Watch the cover dances. Walk the floor. There’s so much to see.

Every year, I come away from KCON recharged about K-pop. Songs that were already growers (Oh My, Dejavu, Sorry For My English, Love U, Shine) solidify their status through sheer ubiquity and fan energy. The year’s biggest international hits (Fake Love, Ddu-Du Ddu-Du) become absolutely inescapable, and it’s just a joy to watch so many revel in the awesomeness of these songs.


KCON 2018 Recap

Convention: The convention seems to grow more every year, and 2018 saw some noticeable improvements. The floor seemed more spacious than usual, with various “zones” smartly placed around the room. The convention stage was bigger than I remember it ever being, which allowed KCON to host several “super rookie showcases.” IN2IT, IMFACT and fromis_9 each got to perform a song and chat with the host throughout the weekend. We managed to see a bit of IMFACT and fromis_9’s showcase, albeit pretty far back from the crowd.

I usually don’t attend too many of the panels and workshops, but I was curious to hear producers Andreas Oberg and Matthew Tishler discuss the ins and outs of creating music for K-pop acts. I wish they would have gone into more detail and really dissected some of their own work (with audio examples), but it was still fascinating to hear their perspectives.

As usual, the KCON convention floor was absolutely flush with idols. We missed Pentagon at the Toyota both due to another artist engagement, but we ran into IN2IT and IMFACT, and got to see Dreamcatcher perform the routine to Chase Me from inches away. Ditto for Golden Child, who lined up right in front of us at the tiny Star Square booth.

As you might have guessed from my raving about almost all the material they’re released so far, Golden Child were a big draw for me. We attended their hi-touch on Friday, which is always a fun, surreal experience. Later in the weekend, we went to Nu’est W’s audience engagement. It was hard to see clearly towards the back, but the audience reaction was absolutely explosive. A lot of love for those guys in LA.

Klub KCON: I’d never done Klub KCON before, but was lured in by the fact that it was described as more of an artist showcase this year, and that one of those artists would be Golden Child.

I was so happy that we decided to attend, since this was basically a four hour concert. About a third of that time was taken up by performances by Crush and Dynamic Duo, who were awesome but not really my thing. After that, there was youtube dance duo Ellen & Brian, incredibly endearing rapper Heesun Lee, and equally endearing r&b vocalist Esna.

Then came Momoland, who only performed one song. But, it was a good one. The EDM version of Wonderful Love was a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

After that, we got three-song sets from both Golden Child (Let Me, Sea & Crush) and IN2IT (Bebop Baby, a BTS cover & Sorry For My English). Klub KCON was held in the hall where KCON hosted artist engagements two years ago, so it was a relatively small place with a somewhat sparse crowd. This allowed us to get quite close, and it was awesome to see the choreography right in front of your eyes. Golden Child’s Crush was a particular highlight. This group is fast-climbing to the top of my personal bias list.

MNET CONCERT:

Day One Line-Up: Momoland, IN2IT, Golden Child, Mia, Davichi, Crush & Dynamic Duo, Twice, Ailee, Wanna One

The show opened with Momoland, who blitzed through BAAM and Bboom Bboom — two songs tailor made for an arena show. Their energy was great, though I wish we could have heard more songs. There were so many acts this year that the younger groups only performed two tracks.

Next was IN2IT, which I was already feeling a special connection to after our Target run-in. They performed Sorry For My English again (a total grower) and the fantastic SnapShot. The stage set-up was really cool this year, with a runway stretching out from either side of the main stage. It was always exciting when the acts would come closer to our section, and that happened during SnapShot.

I can’t quite remember whether Mia or Golden Child were next, but the former was an odd inclusion to KCON’s line-up. She’s a singer-songwriter that participated in the MNET series Breakers, so I’m sure there was some corporate synergy going on here (the KCON concert is put on by MNET). She was charming, but her restrained style felt strange sandwiched between more bombastic acts.

Golden Child were the group I was looking forward to most on day one of the concert, and they didn’t disappoint. It was a quick two-song set, but Let Me and DamDaDi were perfectly anthemic for the Staples Center.

I had seen Davichi back in 2016 and was impressed by their vocals. It was the same this year. I’m not a huge ballad fan, but there’s no doubt the ladies can sing. And 8282 is a total dance floor jam.

After watching Crush and Dynamic Duo each perform full sets at Klub KCON, I’d kind of felt like I’d had my fill of each act. They collaborated for the main KCON concert, and it was a solid, fun performance.

Twice were certainly one of the groups most people in the audience were there for, and the energy during their set was electric. I can be somewhat critical of their material, but there’s no denying the star power emitted from these girls. Dance The Night Away works very well in a live concert setting, but it was Likey that really brought down the house. The girls looked drop-dead gorgeous.

Admittedly, when Ailee was announced or KCON I wasn’t all that excited. It seems like all she’s released recently are ballads and mid-tempos, and those don’t always transfer well to arenas. But my god, her performance was a MOMENT. She kicked off with my two favorite Ailee songs — U&I and I’ll Show You. Her command of the stage was effortless, and worked the crowd into a fervor from the very start. She was absolutely magnetic, and I’ve developed a newfound respect for her as a performer.

Closing night one of the concert was Wanna One, who had also performed last year. The growth between years was evident, even if the setlist wasn’t all that different. I was happy we got Energetic, I Promise You and Burn It Up over Boomerang, though I was hoping to hear Beautiful as well. I was kind of surprised that the guys didn’t perform any of their unit tracks. They all looked tired, but still put on a great show.

Day Two Line-Up: Dreamcatcher, IMFACT, Pentagon, Jun Curry, Chungha, Roy Kim, fromis_9, Nu’est W, Seventeen

Day two’s line-up was more conducive to my K-pop taste, so I was definitely exciting coming in to Sunday’s concert. The show opened with Dreamcatcher, who performed You & I and Good Night. They kept coming to our side of the stage, and had tremendous energy. The crowd went wild when the retractable cane made its appearance during You & I.

Next was IMFACT, who performed The Light before premiering their new song NaNaNa. It was thrilling to hear NaNaNa amidst all the KCON energy, and I could tell it was a hit right then and there.

I *think* Pentagon was up next. Unfortunately, both Yanan and E’Dawn were not with the group, making Shine sound quite different than what we’re used to. That was a shame, since it felt like Shine was the number one song that the crowd had been waiting for all weekend. Violinist Jun Curry Ahn opened the performance in a cool guest feature, and then the guys performed Runaway and Beautiful. I would have preferred a different setlist (Like This and Pretty Pretty, please), but the group lived up to their hype regardless.

Jun Curry also performed his debut solo single, Hold It Down. He’s been part of the KCON pre-show for so many years that this felt more like a favor to him than anything. He was good, though I found the song somewhat forgettable.

Chungha is an artist that has officially clicked with me, even though I wasn‘t immediately won over when she debuted last year. Her stage presence and confidence was magnetic, and her English fluency made the between-song chats very comfortable. She performed Love U and Rollercoaster, and absolutely nailed every bit of choreography.

Fromis_9 seemed to be everywhere throughout the KCON weekend, truly putting in the work to grow an international fan base. Their cutesy brand of pop doesn’t make for the most arresting of stage shows, but when they switched it up for an edgy dance cover of Missy Elliott’s WTF (as part of the excellent “Midnight Fantasy Garden” special stage), it was an absolute revelation. Give these girls a concept like this! They’re totally up to the challenge.

Roy Kim’s voice is unreal. He left a mark when I first saw him back in 2015, and this year was no different. His rich tone has an otherworldly calmness to it. Bom Bom Bom is always a treat to hear live, but his cover of Damien Rice’s The Blowers Daughter was the definite standout.

Nu’est W were the first of two Pledis acts to close out the night. I’ve always loved Nu’est, but have gotten into their music even more this year. Between their performance and audience engagement, it was very clear how comfortable the guys are together. They were one of the KCON’s veteran acts this year, and there was a certain level of professionalism and teamwork that goes along with that. They performed Dejavu, Where You At, Polaris and Look.

Seventeen were the final act of the night, and definitely elicited the most excitement from the crowd. It was well-earned, as these guys put on a totally killer show. They have a way of bringing a loose, infectious energy while still sticking to their tight choreography. It’s amazing to watch thirteen performers from a distance, all moving as one unit. They opened with two recent tracks: Oh My and Our Dawn Is Hotter Than Day. Then, they moved into what are arguably their two very best songs: Mansae and Very Nice. This sent the crowd into a frenzy, and was almost overwhelming in its energy. Very Nice was a showstopper, as the guys built to a fake-out ending before bounding back on stage for an encore of the chorus, egging the audience to sing and jump along. It was a tremendous ending to two nights of excellent K-pop performances.

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7 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to KCON (+ 2018 Recap)

    • Very much so. Oh My had already grown into a favorite, but the KCON energy solidified that.

      As for IN2IT, I’m not ashamed to admit I bought one album at the convention and ordered two more after our little run-in!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Reading this makes me so jealous. I went to KCON LA 2016 (arguably the most high profile line up possible) with BTS, SHINee, Twice, IOI, SNSD TTS, Block B etc. It was wild, but at the time Twice didn’t have any really good songs (in my opinion) and I wasn’t a huge girl group fan yet so I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was seeing THE TTS TRIO irl as well as a line up of some of the best Gfriend songs coming right out of Navillera era. It was nice to see BTS coming right out of their HYYH era before they went downhill (once again, my opinion) and of course ot5 SHINee was an experience of a lifetime. Enough about me though, I will NEVER FORGIVE YOU for having seen Dreamcatcher that close up. I’m also mad that I didn’t see Seventeen when they came to my city. At least when I went in 2016 by pure luck I heard some screaming so I peeked through a curtain and saw my ultimate bias (Momo from twice) like a foot away. I felt like a stalker but the moment was worth it – a feeling which I think encapsulates the kpop fan experience haha

    P.S. you’re so right about the staples center lines. That was the worst line experience of my entire life right there.

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    • Dreamcatcher were definitely a highlight. Just seeing that intense choreography inches away was an insanely cool experience.

      If you’ve only been to KCON 2016, I’d highly recommend coming again. As strong as that line-up was, I felt that that year was really disorganized and the convention did not benefit from being in the smaller end of the hall. Things have improved immensely, imo.

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      • Nice to know. I definitely could have planned my own time better as well in terms of panels etc. Now that my brother lives in LA maybe I’ll have an excuse to go!

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  2. Pingback: Song Review: fromis_9 – Love Bomb | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  3. Agreed about KCON 2016, that was THE worst out of all I’d been to (been going since 2014), so it was a welcome surprise to see that the lines this time more or less worked (although I had a ‘designated seat’, and I and the rest of us seat-holders had some confusion when we were told by several nice Staples personnel that we were in the “wrong” line, and they then moved us closer to the entrance doors).

    Also re Mia [“She was charming, but her restrained style felt strange sandwiched between more bombastic acts.“] — Well, but consider: the audience would be just ground down to ashes if every act did big, hard-hitting bombastic stuff every! single! set! – we need some variety to keep us from getting too overstimulated, plus it’s good to show there are different styles/niches within the K-Pop genre as a whole. If somebody doesn’t care for a certain style of K-Pop (say Black Pink, Twice or NCT, for example), it’s nice to know there are other groups out there who have very different styles that they may enjoy better (like Dreamcatcher, Crush, Fromis9 etc.). I was also pleased to see and hear Davichi again – I hadn’t heard them live before the first time they were here in 2016, so it was a real pleasure to experience standout vocals again (plus, of course, Ailee – THAT was a real revelation).

    Thanks for all your good and detailed advice on KCON as a whole, too.
    Even though the whole experience has been getting better over the years (I’m sure the real veterans who’ve been coming since that first one wayyyy back in 2012 would have to agree), it’s still a real ‘anything-goes’ crapshoot at times — I think the best thing people should keep in mind (and I’m only saying this about LA KCON, not any of the others) that they need to be ready for anything happening…..anytime….because it probably will! Study carefully the maps of the venue you’re going to constantly, so that you know before you get there exactly where you’re going, and always add some extra time to get there due to the amount of bodies that will be packed into the same space.

    Looking forward to next year!
    ^__^

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