By Leah Devorak | Layout Editor
Delicious food, top-of-the-line makeup, celebrity meet-and-greets, free gifts and at least 30 musical performances all for the price of one concert ticket? Welcome to KCon, the biggest Korean culture convention in the world.
Started in 2012 in Irvine, California as a one day event aimed at sharing Korean culture with the United States, it has now expanded to a three day extravaganza in downtown Los Angeles, with other, shorter events in Paris, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Newark, New Jersey.
While the convention aims at spreading Korean culture around the world, it is chiefly known as the one place to go to hear Korean pop music, or Kpop, live without having to book a $3000 flight to Seoul – the reason I attended.
As a student learning Korean, I started listening to Kpop as a way to better grasp the language’s strange grammar and even stranger slang. I didn’t like it at first, but the more I listened, the more I was hooked. So when I heard that KCon was returning to Newark and that my favorite Kpop group was performing, I simply couldn’t resist.
I’d recommend the six hour drive and weekend-long stay to any diehard Kpop fan in Pittsburgh, but note that I highly emphasize “diehard.” There were many aspects of the event that left me feeling annoyed and frustrated, and as much as I love Korean music, well, love can only conquer so much.
The biggest annoyance was the event’s huge amount of disorganization. No one knew where to go for anything thanks to an incredible lack of instructions and signage. Many arena workers were also visibly frazzled due to to the amount of uncertainty surrounding everything at the event.
Workers of the convention booths struggled with communication, too, seldom making it clear how much items cost, who to purchase the items from or what method of payment to use. The band merchandise stands – arguably the most important of them all – were especially bad. In one case, I stood in line for 40 minutes only to discover that, while waiting, the shirt I wanted sold out.
An announcement would have been nice. Just saying.
Another minus: The whole convention portion of the event was very underwhelming. There was approximately one Newark street block (aka not a lot) set aside for it, with maybe 40 booths to look at in total. They all sold the same things – makeup, hats, food and band merchandise – and it was certainly not enough to keep people occupied from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. when the concert doors opened.
As a result, I ended up spending more time (and money) in the uncrowded, air conditioned New Jersey Devils gift shop nearby, as well as a little local restaurant.
The only exceptional parts of the convention were the dance tent featuring occasional celebrity appearances and a stage area with special guest performances. The food truck area was also done well, featuring cuisine from South Korea to Spain to New England.
Eventually, though, those areas grew too crowded and lost their original charm, becoming just as boring and frustrating as everything else.
To be entirely honest, the only attendees who weren’t bored were the ones with meet-and-greet passes, obtained either by buying a really expensive concert ticket or getting lucky at check-in and not scratching off a “Sorry” on the free ones given out.
Unfortunately, I was neither of those cases.
All of this, however, does not mean that I don’t recommend the concert portion of the event. I do, 100 percent, because that is where the fun is to be had.
Skipping the daytime convention and just hitting up the nighttime concert — what I did the second day of the event — is absolutely worth it. Not only are there no tears of boredom after only two hours, but there are also no near-collapses from heat exhaustion and general muscle fatigue by the time the concert rolls around.
But no matter. Even if you still choose to brave the pain and frustration of the convention, once the concert starts, you’ll forget all the worries of the day. KCon works to get the best performers in the business, so the quality of the music played will not soon be forgotten.
However, as good as the performances were, I still won’t be making the trek through Pennsylvania in order to experience it again. I’d much rather take that $3000 flight to Seoul and witness both the music and the country directly. Nothing’s ever as good as the real thing.
The next KCon is July 30-31 at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. Ticketing information can be found on KCon’s official website, and actual tickets can be purchased through StubHub.