Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Great K-pop Adventure, Part Two: The Concert

This post has been a long time coming... It kinda fell by the wayside as I got caught up with being super busy the past few months (as has, well, this entire blog...). It's been hanging out in my queue of half-finished posts for four-ish months... Better late than never, eh?

So, for those of you just joining the party, back in September, a friend and I signed up for a K-pop flash mob in Incheon in exchange for tickets to a big concert. See Part One for the full story -- it was definitely an interesting afternoon of (somewhat poorly rehearsed and executed) flash mobbing. But hey, we had a damn good time.

Our final flash mob performance was at Munhak Stadium, which is where the concert was being held. After finishing, we collected our tickets for the Incheon Korean Music Wave 2013. The line-up of twenty of K-pop's best awaited us inside the stadium: 2AM, A-JAX, B.A.P, BTOB, EXO, F.T. Island, miss A, ZE:A, Girl's Day, BTS, B2ST, Boyfriend, Girls' Generation, Super Junior, SECRET, SISTAR, MBLAQ, KARA, T-araand TEEN TOP. I may not know much about K-pop, but I do know of quite a few of those groups -- my students talk about K-pop constantly, so I was quite aware that getting to see all of these groups was kind of a big deal.  

After waiting in line for what seemed like forever, group by group the foreigners with the free ground tickets were led inside the stadium. Much to our relief, we immediately spotted rows of chairs. Considering the amount of dancing/walking we'd already done that day and the fact that twenty groups were set to perform? Our tired legs needed to sit.

Our relief was quickly replaced by shock when we were led to a row literally right next to the stage. For my K-pop loving friends, this was a Really Big Deal. As for me, I was mostly just happy for the excellent view. (And chairs. I was really, really happy about the chairs.)

Just to show off how crazy good our seats were, I took some screencaps from the YouTube videos of the concert, showing not only the layout of the stage (it was kinda in two parts), but also showing you our badass seats:

This arrow is literally on top of my head.

Since we were sitting in the back row that was parallel to one of the stages, we came very close to the actual groups themselves. Some groups started their sets on the stage right behind us, which led to borderline pandemonium from the seated fans as they tried to get photos of the singers about to go up on the stage. This was my first taste of the madness -- ushers were patrolling to make sure everyone remained seated, but still, shit got real when groups like 2AM or EXO were right by us. While I may have easily been misreading his expression simply because I don't know this guy or his life, one of the members of EXO, when faced with a wall of fans about to burst out of their seats and over the barricade, looked like a cornered animal. Though he had bodyguards trying to shelter him from the camera flashes, I caught a glimpse of an expression that definitely didn't seem to be feeling the situation currently happening.

The concert, which lasted several hours, was efficiently organized. Each group came out and performed two songs, which were typically their most popular, then quickly ushered off the stage so the next group could start. The whole thing was hosted by Tiffany and Yuri from Girls' Generation and occasionally they showed videos that promoted Incheon Tourism and next year's Asian Games, which Incheon will be hosting.

While I'd call myself a live music veteran -- going to shows is a hobby of mine back home in the States, -- I typically go for smaller bands in little venues. Gimme that indie-rock band that no one's really heard of in the dingy dive bar. I can actually count the number of big stadium concerts I've attended on one hand, so the production that went into this K-pop concert was both awe-inspiring and overwhelming. I'm talking giant screens, crazy lights, alarmingly close pyrotechnics, and so, so many fireworks. It was seriously impressive.

I can't remember the order of the groups now, but I can say I was surprised at the number of songs I recognized. It's amazing what you learn simply because it's playing in the background at every restaurant and store you go to, and some of those songs are so damn catchy. Like all pop music, it's just infectious and you can't help but dance. 

Another motivator for attending this show was I'd always wanted to witness the hysteria of a concert like this in person. As a former teenage girl who had her share of boy band obsessions, I've always been sad that I was never able to see any of them live. The "Beatle-mania"-esque frenzy of the crowd is something common at K-pop shows, even to the degree where some fans have been banned from attending their chosen idol group's performances.

B2ST fans get extra credit for this feat of organization and dedication. I don't even understand how one goes about organizing something like that, but I am impressed. Some of the letters, namely the "T," were having some trouble with coordinating their letter, which entertained us. But, we also still had to respect their effort as we were still in disbelief that they were actually pulling it off at all. You go, B2ST fans. 

However, from my non-K-pop fan standpoint, I have to say the highlight for me was EXO. I know they're the "it" band at the moment, but they were legitimately good. Between their vocals, the staging, and their dancing, I felt like their set was one of the best. When I reported back to my students that EXO killed it during the concert, I think I won some major points. They're super obsessed with them right now. 

At the end of the concert, all the groups came out to wave goodbye and throw some souvenir printed towels out to their fans. Throughout the concert, the crowd had been, for the most part, extremely orderly. However, all rules of decorum were quickly abandoned when these groups were pacing the stage behind my head, preparing to toss these towels into the audience. 

This was the one and only moment when I thought, "This is actually getting frightening." Do not, under any circumstances, get in the way of a teenage girl and the object of her desire. My friends and I, in preparing to leave, had started to vacate our seats for a split second, only to immediately lose them to girls who were literally just walking across chairs/people to get closer to the stage. As I knelt on a reclaimed chair, pressed into the barricade, I did the opposite of all the fans: I avoided eye contact with the idols throwing out towels, as I recognized my face's proximity to the barricade could turn disastrous should a towel be thrown in my general direction. Luckily, I did not receive any towels and therefore kept all of my teeth. 

Awkward relief at having escaped the crowd without sustaining any injuries. 

For videos of the performances, click here. Keep an eye out for me in the crowd! Since we were so close to the stage, cameras were whooshing over our heads throughout the concert. 

Overall, it was quite the experience. I was perfectly happy to sit and just observe the madness. I'm happy I can cross a K-pop concert off my Korea Bucket List and honestly, even happier that I didn't actually pay any money in order to go to the concert. Though despite my reservations and general apathy towards K-pop, I have to admit that I did have fun.