A First-Timer at KCON New York (Part One): The Convention

At this point, KCON New York happened a full month ago… yet I still find myself thinking about it every day. There’s so much to share that I’m making several posts, but I think covering the convention is a good place to start! This was the first time I’ve been to such a large scale K-pop event, so I was really looking forward to seeing and doing everything KCON had to offer. Since it was my first time, I decided to give some basic information and my general impressions for people who are thinking of going next year – or for people who already went and want to compare notes!

LOCATION
LAYOUT AND ACTIVITIES
CHECK-IN AND ARTIST ENGAGEMENT VOUCHERS
ARTIST ENGAGEMENTS
*HI-TOUCH/AUDIENCE
*RED CARPET
BILLBOARD STAR TALK

***

LOCATION

KCON New York isn’t actually in New York – it’s at the Prudential Center in Newark, New JerseyIt’s about 30-45 minutes away from NYC by train, or an hour by car or Uber. If you’re planning on just doing KCON-related things and not sightseeing, it’s probably best to book a hotel in Newark. That being said, it’s important to know that Newark isn’t the safest city. The streets around the Prudential Center (Broad, Lafayette, Edison, Market) are fine because they’re big and there’s a lot of foot traffic.  There’s also extra security and crowd control during the convention/concert, but you really don’t want to be venturing anywhere beyond that general area.

I’d never been to Newark before, so I decided to play it safe and stay at a hotel a block away from the convention.  It was a little pricier than I’d have liked, but it was really nice not having to worry about walking back at night.  If you don’t have the money, it’s not a problem; there are plenty of cheap hotels in the area! Plus there are so many people going to the concert that there are bound to be a ton walking in the same direction as you.  However, I’d suggest taking an Uber if your accommodations are more than a five minute walk away – especially if you’re staying at one of the airport hotels.

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LAYOUT AND ACTIVITIES

KCON Layout.jpeg

Map for KCON NY 2018 (Credit goes to KCON USA; this is a scan from the pamphlet they gave me)

Be prepared for lots of people and lots of lines everywhere.  Some people who have pit tickets for the concert will skip the convention to guarantee a good spot, so you’ll see them camping out in front of the Prudential Center all day. People tend to line up for artist engagements way before the designated time, and there are so many fans that the staff just tends to convert the unofficial line into an official one.  Not to mention the crowds that gather to buy food or merchandise!  But waiting for the food trucks was totally worth it, because everything I bought was delicious. K-food for the win.

To be honest, I didn’t actually spend a lot of time in the K-Activity area; most of the panels or workshops I was interested in were at the same time other things I wanted to see.  It was a shame, because they offered a lot of interesting and diverse topics about all things K-culture. I particularly wanted to see the ones about K-pop journalism and K-beauty. There were also dance workshops for learning all of latest songs by KCON’s invited guests  – and of course, plenty of random play dance sessions.  And each group had a fan club meeting where you could play games and meet fellow fans from all over the country.  It was definitely the quieter zone, but there was a lot of fun stuff going on!

The K-Culture area was basically where you went if you wanted to buy merchandise or get free stuff.  All of KCON’s sponsors were there in full force selling goods, holding raffles, and distributing free samples.  I didn’t do a whole lot of shopping because most of the sponsors were K-beauty related, and I was battling an allergic reaction to a new skin care product at the time (*sobs internally*).  But I saw lots of stands for clothing, albums and posters, cutesy stuff, etc. And, of course, KCON merchandise.  There was also a place that was handing out free popsicles, which was SUPER nice that one day it was almost 90 degrees. The other main draw was the KCON stage, where something was happening pretty much all hours of the convention – mostly dance cover groups and YouTubers, but there were some times when we got to see the big K-pop acts (more on that later).

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CHECK-IN AND ARTIST ENGAGEMENT VOUCHERS

When you check in, you’ll get a wristband that acts as your ticket for the general convention, a complimentary tote bag, and an artist engagement pack (if you bought one with your ticket). I’ll go into more detail about that in the next section, but it’s basically an opportunity to see the concert’s big acts up close and personal. Based on which pack you choose, you can attend 1-4 sessions with various K-pop acts. The more money you spend, the more likely it is you’ll to be able to get into an event. My experience is mostly with the A1 and A2 packs, which are what most people end up buying. A4 was apparently a new option this year which allowed you to see all the events in one day – but you had to sit up in the bleachers far away from the action.

KCON Convention Prices.jpg

KCON 2018 Convention Tickets (Image credit: KCON USA)

There are also Diamond and Platinum packages, which have benefits for the concert and the convention.  (They’re not in the picture because you buy them as concert tickets) One of those benefits is that you can go to all the fan engagements; Diamonds have all-access Hi-Touch, while Platinum get two Hi-Touches and Audience for the rest. If you’re interested in either of these, be prepared: they’re extremely expensive and very difficult to buy due to limited numbers.  There were rumors that only 20 Diamond packages were up for sale, and I actually never encountered any Diamonds online or in person.

The artist engagements are obviously really popular, but there’s a MAJOR catch: you do not get to decide which artists you’ll see. KCON gives you a random pack of vouchers when you check in.  It’s true that’s probably the fairest way to decide things, otherwise hundreds of people would just be trying to see the same two or three groups. But the “luck of the draw” factor worries many people well before the convention even starts, and rightfully so. If, for example, you buy an A1 but are arriving Saturday or Sunday, it’s very likely you’ll get vouchers for events that already happened – meaning you won’t be getting your money’s worth. If you have the time and resources and you want an A1, try to get there for Friday afternoon check-in or by the crack of dawn on Saturday.

The good news is that if you don’t end up with a voucher for your bias group, there are plenty of non-official ways to get it.  There are always people making trades by the check-in stand, though of course the crowd is biggest on the first day.  If you join a KCON NY Facebook group, people will also post what they’re willing to buy, trade, or sell.  And sometimes, you can even get them for free! I heard several stories of KCON attendees giving their vouchers to people who were clearly dedicated fans, and I actually gave away mine for the same reason. Don’t give up hope! With a little bit of patience, you can always make things happen!

Let me explain a little more about chances. If you buy an A2 or A3 pack, you’ll have two of them – one for Hi-Touch/Audience, and one for Red Carpet.  Like the artist engagements in general, you’ll only know if you can attend these events once you get your pack.  If you didn’t get lucky, the card will say “Sorry!” If you did, it will display the group that you are allowed to see or the day that you can attend the Red Carpet.  Below is a picture of some of our vouchers so you can see what a “Chance” looks like! (Apparently they used to be scratch cards in the past, but I think KCON got rid of that).

Vouchers

KCON NY 2018 vouchers

I was able to get an A1 engagement pack during the initial ticket buying frenzy, but they sold out when I was registering my mother. So, I got her an A2 instead… only for the A1s to restock hours later (*insert eye roll here*). I was initially concerned that we’d end up with completely different events, and that I’d have to do a whole lot of trading to get us into the same ones. But through some stroke of luck, we ended up with the exact same groups – and as you can see from the picture, my mom even got both of her chances! I don’t know how likely that is to happen in general, though.

***

ARTIST ENGAGEMENTS

HI-TOUCH AND AUDIENCE

Although they’re listed separately, Hi-Touch and Audience are in fact for the same event.  In other words, the artists only have one fan meeting for both. Basically, the people who have Hi-Touches enter first (after Diamond and Platinum) and get to stand in an area that’s closer to the stage.  Those with Audience vouchers enter afterwards and stand behind them.  The artists come out and do whatever games and/or fan service they have planned, and then the people with Hi-Touch get to go up onstage and shake each member’s hand.  The whole thing lasts about 30-45 minutes from the time you enter to the time you leave.

My mother is currently using a wheelchair, so we only ended up going to one artist engagement.  When we went to the Stray Kids audience, we discovered the logistics were a little tricky.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really seem like the staff was particularly prepared for making things handicapped accessible.  They were very nice and put us pretty close to the stage, but we were also kind of awkwardly off to one side.  Also, some staff kept eyeing me like I was going to rush the stage. But it was all worth it to see Stray Kids! They were very entertaining and charismatic, and it’s easy to see why they already have a big international fanbase.  Woojin also waved at us over in our special little corner, so that was nice.

Stray Kids Engagement

Stray Kids during the Hi-Touch portion of the event. Sorry I didn’t get a good shot of all of them, but half isn’t bad!

RED CARPET

About an hour and a half before the concert starts, the artists who performing that night walk the red carpet for an interview.  They pose so that the fans can take pictures, have a brief talk with the MC, answer a couple of fan questions that were sent in during the day, and head off on their merry way.  Your pack will only provide you with a pass for one day, but I was actually able to go to both  – I got Saturday in my A1 pack, and my mom got Sunday chance in her A2 (she wasn’t interested in attending the concert, so she passed it off to me).

This is a potentially unpopular opinion… but I personally don’t think the Red Carpet is worth it.  It’s basically like being in the pit of a concert, which I’m not of a fan of in the first place.  You have to get there incredibly early if you want to see anything good, otherwise you just have to content yourself with enjoying the atmosphere.  And if you’re short like I am, any partial view you have will get blocked by a bunch of raised arms and phone cameras the second anyone steps out onto the stage.

Red Carpet

The typical Red Carpet experience (that’s NCT 127, by the way)

That being said, it was pretty fun to see all of the artists before the concert.  I also happen to be a huge fan of SM Entertainment groups, so it was one of the only chances to see them outside of the concert in any capacity because they don’t do Hi-Touch/Audiences.  Same with Wanna One, because I didn’t get one of their vouchers. And I found out that I could actually see everyone well if I watched through other people’s phone screens. I did get a good look when I jumped up and down a bit, but I did that sparingly because it was embarrassing and it caught the attention of several NCT 127 members. Red Carpet was a nice perk to have with the engagement packs, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get a voucher or buy one off of someone on Facebook.

Red Carpet Red Velvet

***

BILLBOARD STAR TALK

Aside from the audience engagements, Billboard had Star Talk interviews with most of the performing artists.  This was a pretty big deal because it was on the big KCON stage in the K-Culture zone, which meant that anyone with a convention ticket could watch. As a result, it was super crowded… but because my mother was in a wheelchair, one of the security guards was nice enough to let us sit in front of the barriers! We ended up spending most of our time here instead of the fan engagements, given our proximity to the stage (I’m guessing it was less than fifty feet) and how much easier the wheelchair access was for my mom.  I wasn’t originally planning on spending my time trying to see as many stars as possible, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

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It was definitely a surreal experience, to say the least. I watch K-pop interviews on Youtube all the time, but it was just so crazy to be sitting next to the cameras and seeing the whole thing live instead of through a screen. Also, I was close enough that a lot of them noticed me. Not in a dramatic or special way, because they were obviously focused on much more important things like the interview/the cameras/all the fans, and I certainly wouldn’t expect anything less.  I just mean that I experienced an unnerving amount of inadvertent eye contact with multiple K-pop stars.  And though I’m a bit shy when I see celebrities in person, I won’t deny that it was thrilling.

There are a lot of little moments that the fangirl in me will treasure for a long time. I got a big smile and wave from EXID’s Hani, which was a huge deal for me because she’s my bias.  Y from Golden Child also waved at me a lot, but I didn’t realize it was him at first because of his new hairstyle… which is ironic, since he’s actually the only member whom I usually recognize. And in a moment that deserves – and will get – a blog post of its own, my mother and I unexpectedly found ourselves shaking hands with Super Junior’s Donghae, who is none other than my ultimate bias. So as you can see, I ending up having a somewhat unconventional time at KCON (no pun intended).

***

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at KCON New York, both during and outside of all of the celebrity watching.  There was so much to do that it was impossible to get to it all, but was nice there were so many different options to choose from.  It was also really nice to spend a weekend fully immersed in all things K-pop, because most of my friends are not into it beyond more than a truly casual interest. So, it was wonderful to spend three days with a bunch of people just as passionate and excited about K-pop as me.  I’m headed to KCON Los Angeles in a couple of short weeks, and I honestly cannot wait to do it all over again!

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