Inside KCON LA 2023: The mecca of all things K-pop

Throngs of K-pop fans. A slew of K-pop idols. And a ton of booths.

Welcome to KCON LA 2023.

The three day event took place at the LA Convention Center. From August 18-20, KCON LA played host to over 140,000 con-goers, 278 booths, and 153 event panels. On August 20, IHeartRadio and KIIS FM Los Angeles, a popular radio show, hosted their own mini-event just outside KCON and interviewed several artists on their stage.

Each night, MNet Countdown hosted a concert, bringing some of Korea over to the US. Idols each night would perform to the throngs of K-pop fans at Arena.

Stray Kids was the headliner on Day 3. Credits: KCON

There were a total of 21 idols that came out to see fans during the day and perform at night. The slogan for the con each year is “Let’s KCON!”, a rallying cry to embrace things all K-pop and Korea.

To say there was a lot to do KCON was an understatement. I tried to do as much as possible as press / media, but simply couldn’t do everything.

With that said, I did see a lot of cool, new trends. Here are some of the highlights and trends I saw from this year’s KCON LA.

Gotta plan which idols to see

Kep1er graces the Dance Stage to play games and teach dance.

Wanted to see your favorite idols at a certain time and stage?

The unfortunate reality is that you could only see a few of them, while missing out on the others.

That was the unfortunate reality of KCON LA.

During the three day event, I had the honor of covering Ke1per, Everglow, XG, and ATEEZ up close as press.

Yet, the way KCON was set up was that there usually two or more groups performing at the same time. So you may want to see NMIXX at a particular time, but the other group you wanted to see, Xikers, are performing at the same time but on the other end of the hall.

Or there may be a Kevin Woo and Min panel you wanted to check out. However, a ZeroBaseOne fan meetup is around the same time. Or ATEEZ showing up at the Samsung booth, yet XG is performing on stage soon.

Seeing all your favorite idols is like Pokemon: you wanna catch ’em all (or in this case, watch ’em all), but it’s simply impossible.

While I didn’t get to catch ’em all, I made sure to keep tabs on one trending group: XG.

XG came to play

XG greets their fans at the IHeartRadio and KIIS FM LA stage.

The Japanese group came to play and fans came out in droves to support them. To say they were perhaps a top three group at the KCON, in terms of fan excitement, audience numbers, and cheering, is quite accurate.

I covered them three times throughout KCON: at the IHeartRadio KIIS FM’s event, where they showed up for 10 minutes; at their fan singing; and at their live performance on the live stage.

At each event, fans were excited that the group is making retro, R&B, dance music popular in K-pop (alongside NewJeans). To these fans, XG is quite relatable, as it’s girls having fun and have major stage presence.

When the group performed “Shooting Star” and “Left, Right,” a horde of fans swarmed the live stage area. The congestion was so bad that the crowd spilled out on the eastern side of KCON’s main hall, making it near impossible to go on that section. The crowd also engulfing many booths on the east wing, as many of them weren’t their to shop, but rather to watch XG perform.

In turn, the booth owners, knowing they weren’t going to get much business during XG’s performance, simply smiled and watched the girl’s performance alongside us.

The power of XG: shutting down business temporarily because their bangers are so good.

Vendors galore

Photo cards were a big seller at K-pop stores, like at the booth K-pop Nation.

Throughout KCON’s main hall, vendors are spread across the vast hall.

There were six K-pop booths set up with fans purchasing their favorite idol’s albums, lightsticks, and photo cards. There were Korean clothing stores, the Samsung booth, and a variety of beauty and makeup brands.

Food booths also made their appearance, with the biggest one being McDonalds. The Golden Arches were giving out free french fries and sundaes all day long. There was a Korean food booth and some snack booths as well.

Outside the main hall, there were food stalls and tables that con-goers would congregate and eat at.

While music, food, and beauty stalls, there was another category that took up a lot of KCON real estate that weekend: tourism.

Tourism looks to attract K-pop fans

Korean tourism made their mark at this year’s KCON. Pictured above is the STO.

Korean tourism looked to make their mark on this year’s KCON. The Korea Tourist Organization (KTO), Seoul Tourist Organization (STO), Imagine Korea, Asiana Airlines, and Incheon Airport put Korea on the map.

A major reason why tourism was at a K-pop convention is that many fans become interested in visiting, studying in the country for a semester, or moving there for work. In recent years, K-pop, K-drama, K-food, and K-makeup made Korea the “go-to” place. Fans want to experience Korean life for themselves, learn the language, and meet new friends there. These tourist stalls were happy to oblige.

Many of the tourist booths promoted Korean culture, Korean cities outside of Seoul, its language, and games. These companies encouraged con-goers to follow their Instagram to win free prizes, such as toys, bags, and souvenirs. Some booths offered free lotteries, such as Asiana Airlines offering an all-paid expenses trip to Korea to a lucky winner.

While K-pop and K-dramas may be many fans’ first love of Korea, many of them are now interested in Korea beyond those two mediums.

Typhoon Hilary can’t stop K-pop

The streets of LA were drenched in heavy rain and wind on August 20 (Sunday). Credits: Wall Street Journal (WSJ)

The first two days of KCON LA were quite hot, but during the end of the second night’s concert on Saturday, a major typhoon was reported and about to come in hot into LA.

Typhoon Hilary would be the talk of the town that night.

When I talked to native LA residents, they said they haven’t experienced a typhoon in decades. News stations told the city to brace for strong wind and rain. Umbrellas and rain coats would replace T-shirts and shorts. KCON would have to move the lines inside on Day 3.

The next morning, Typhoon Hilary did, indeed, grace LA. The sunny LA weather would be replaced with a hail of rain and strong winds.

Day 3 started off slow, as fans were navigating the typhoon. But not even mother nature would stop K-pop from getting their KCON on. By midday, the con was becoming more packed, as groups appearances from ATEEZ and XG would form LA-like traffic inside the main hall.

By nighttime, MNet Countdown’s strong lineup of (G)I-DLE, ATEEZ, Everglow, and headliner Stray Kids would make fans almost forget the crazy typhoon happening outside.

The craziness of idol dance tutorials

NMIXX teaches their choreography to their legion of fans.

At the dance stage, idols would be scheduled to appear to greet fans and teach fans a dance. The fan service was at an all-time high during these dance tutorials.

Groups such as Kep1er and Everglow came to see the massive mob waiting to see them. After greeting the fans and some small talk, the group that came out would teach choreography from one of their songs. After a short tutorial, the group announced they would have a friendly competition. The idol group would split their members into two teams (teams A and B). Then the group would invite two lucky fans from the audience to dance with the group.

After the two teams would compete, fans would cheer loudly to vote who won. The fan from the winning team would get a small prize and take a picture with the group. Then group would leave the stage and the fans would move onto the next event happy.

Having dance tutorials was one of the many ways fans interacted with their favorite idols during the con.

Onto KCON LA 2024

Let’s KCON into 2024!

Despite Typhoon Hilary blowing through LA during KCON weekend, KCON LA 2023 was a blast.

The con reached new attendance numbers after years of COVID lockdown. The 21 idols that came out were a mix of new groups and superstars. And most fans I talked to came out happy, able to see their friends, visit the various booths and stalls, and of course, see their idols perform.

It was a pleasure KCON. It was an honor covering the event and experience K-pop in teh US.

Until next year where I’ll revisit the phrase, “Let’s KCON!”

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