2016 certainly marks the year I became a fan of K dramas, KPOP, and all things Hallyu.
So when I received word about the KCON 2016 conference in Los Angeles, I called up my old college roomie and bestie, Ruth, the person who is completely responsible for my Korean culture passion, and asked her if she wanted to go. Ruth does not hesitate. She said let’s book the flights and hotel while we wait for the conference tickets. Yes, we were that eager!
It turns out being decisive worked out in our favor. The conference was being held in two locations: The L.A. Convention Center and the Staples Center. And with last year’s attendees at the 40,000 count, the six hotels that offered special conference room rates were getting booked up really quick.
We were lucky to get a double-bed room at the newly renovated L.A. Hotel Downtown at 35% off its normal rates. This was actually one of the closest hotels to the KCON venues, at approximately 1.5 miles.
And since we planned it early enough, Southwest still had their early-bird flight specials. Within an hour, Ruth and I had our travel itinerary confirmed and paid for.
The only waiting time was for the conference tickets, which would be available to the public two weeks prior to the event. So we had about a month to continue to build up on our enthusiasm.
KCON has two celebrations in the three-day event. The conference at the L.A. Convention Center housed different informative workshops and vendor booths. The concerts at the Staples Center were set for Saturday and Sunday at three hours per event from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The concerts are the real highlight because they guaranteed visuals of all the Korean musicians and actors who have endeared themselves through K-Dramas and KPOP.
Unfortunately, due to its immense popularity, the concert tickets were sold out within 30 minutes. And they are not cheap at all. From $828.00 for platinum near-stage area to $72.50 for the nose bleed sections, there were none left to buy. Nada. Unless you were willing to fork 3 to 4 times the price in the secondary market.
Although we both love listening to the KPOP tunes featured in several K-Dramas, Ruth and I were newbies when it came to the KPOP groups. The only ones I knew were CNBlue, who featured lead singer and guitarist Jung Yong Hwa (the lead actor in the K-Drama ‘Heartstrings’ and second male lead in ‘You’re Beautiful’) and drummer and vocalist Kang Min Hyuk (featured actor in popular K-Dramas ‘The Heirs’, ‘Heartstrings’ and ‘The Entertainer’). The other group was ShinEE (another five boy group who are known for their dancing prowess as well as their sense of fashion) who featured Onew (who played one of the younger doctors in Descendants of the Sun), Minho (who also starred as the lead in the K-drama ‘Beautiful You’), Jonghyun, Key, and Taemin. Note: CNBLUE ended up backing out of the event a couple of weeks before it started.
Ruth, on the other hand, was a fan of ASTRO, a new KPOP group formed in 2015, who did their debut by being featured in a web drama titled ‘To Be Continued‘. It had six singers and dancers – Moonbin, MJ, Jin Jin, Rocky, Cha Eunwoo, and Sanha.
These artists were part of the KCON Concert lineup, however, it was not enough to justify purchasing the inflated ticket prices on the resale market. So for a moment we were just satisfied to participate in the convention activities, and experiencing this for the first time we both knew we would be kept busy by all the events. There were tons of workshops to attend and we can utilize the time to get to know some of the Korean brand items that we often see in the K-Dramas.
And then five days before the concert we found out the special featured guest actor was Lee Min Ho.
That piece of information changed everything.
Lee Min Ho starred in three of our favorite dramas – Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, and The Heirs. Ruth placed these dramas in my queue when she convinced me to open an account with Drama Fever (the video platform for watching K-Dramas and KPOP). It was these dramas that got me addicted!
Lee Min Ho was not only stunning in looks. He was a very talented actor and versatile in the variety of roles he played.
It was unquestionable.
We had to see him! How could we possibly pass up this chance when, not only will we be in the same continent, but we’ll be in the same city, same event….OMG, right??!!!
Okay, so it is obvious we freaked out. How can we see him when tickets were sold out?
A day before we were due to fly out I had a strong inclination to check out the secondary ticket sites again. Within a few minutes I stumbled upon two VIP tickets being sold less than its original price! It was crazy to pass it up! I immediately texted Ruth and she said to go for it! So we did! And we got them! Incredible!!!
Our anticipation was at its peak! We were about to embark on a total Hallyu experience, with not only days to spend at the convention, but VIP tickets to the Saturday concert that featured Lee Min Ho and the other line up of popular KPOP groups! It was going to be AWESOME!
Here’s sharing with you what we went through, what we learned, what tips we have for KCON attendees, and many more:
(1) LINES GALORE and why it is worth to get VIP Combination Concert and Convention Tickets!
Prepare to line up…for hours. Although the conference starts at 10 a.m. and the lines to enter the LA Convention center begins at 9 a.m., you will still experience tremendous wait times!
This was the portion of I gave critical feedback to the KCON organizers. This year’s conference had 76,000 attendees, nearly double to that of last year’s. But there was no good preparation to have an easy entrance.
There were no visible signs where the lines should begin. All you see are several long spiral lines that circle the building leading to the entrance of the convention. But do not assume all those lines are for immediate admission.
As it turns out, each line represented the type of ticket holder. The shortest lines are for VIP and Premium. The longest are for the general admission. There is also a line for coat check, and another one for bag scan.
To figure out which line you should fall into, my suggestion is to tag-team with the friends you are with, have them fall in line, while one asks an usher for information. That way you do not lose your place.
And stock up on bottled water and snacks. It also helps to bring an umbrella, hand fans, and sunglasses to keep cool under the hot weather.
This is what Ruth and I did and it worked. We were naturally lined up in the general admission, until minutes later we decided one of us should inquire what the shorter line was for. It turns out we belong in that short line! So after moving and waiting for 40 minutes, we were on our way to entering the convention hall!
Later on we heard that the general admission line took an average of three hours before one could enter. If we did not have our VIP concert tickets, we would have fall into the same fate.
Nevertheless, I hope the organizers plan better logistics for next years’ KCON so attendees would not have to waste time. They could have mailed passes early, had more ushers help direct the attendees, put more signs up where to go, and have more volunteers at the bag scan lines and check-in counter lines.
(2) Plan a Schedule of Workshops and Convention Hall Hours
It is going to a full day of walking from the convention hall and the workshop locations, so it is best to plan early which area you want to saturate your time.
KCON publishes the schedule of each day of the event. Utilize this by reading the description, the biography of the speakers, and the types of companies featured in the convention. Then create your own schedule so you know in advance where to go.
A bottle of water is a must! Drinks are sold in the food area or in the outside in the Street Food faire (where street food vendors of different Korean style cooking is served), which is a bit further away from where the convention and workshops are. And they are ridiculously priced from $4 to $6 for a 16 ounce bottle. So make sure you bring enough to help get you through the day. They have water stations near the rest rooms you can get refills.
At the convention, they have an area for the Beauty Block (featuring a cornucopia of all Korean beauty vendors, such as Memebox, Tony Moly, NYX, Soko Glam, Olive Young, and many more!), the Cultureplex (vacation and tour companies with packages that include meeting some KPOP stars), the showcase stage for local performers and up and coming Korean artists, and the Marketplace (shopping area for all the K-Drama and KPOP paraphernalia you can think of!).
There is also the Creative Korea Roadshow, which Ruth and I particularly enjoyed. It had booths of small business companies that will launch their products in the Korean market.
(3) Get the Goodies from the Sponsors!
Prior to attending I looked into some of the posted blog reviews from previous KCONs for some tips from past attendees.
One of the advice that was repeated several times is to pack very light because expect a heavy load by the end of the day.
So Ruth and I brought our empty backpacks, and true enough by the end of the day they were completely full from giveaways, prizes from games, and other freebies!
However, do expect more lines! Each vendor has a fun game with very cute prizes to give away.
If you are in a rush to get to a workshop, you can tag-team with a friend by having one of you line up while the other one checks out the product line of the booth.
Ruth and I were not in a hurry so we did not mind doing things together. The line may be long but it moved along nicely. Plus it is always nice to check out the excitement of the other fans and what loot they received from the other booths.
Because we love beauty products, Ruth and I spent most of our time in the beauty section. We got tons of facial masks of different kinds. We got to play with the makeup at Olive Young. Ruth even got a makeover!
Some of the vendors were selling products at huge discounts! For example, we went crazy over at the Memebox.com booth, where they had some of our favorite Korean beauty creams and makeup, but selling them at least 50% off retail.
When this is offered, buy right away! Trust us, they will be gone very quickly! With so many attendees they only have so much products to give away or sell. With the low prices you will not regret the purchase!
(4) Fan Engagements, Red Carpet Events, and Hi-Touch are a Must!
True be told, apart from the term ‘red carpet event’, Ruth and I had no idea what to expect in fan engagements (limited audience events where the concert stars greet you and give their thanks. Usually takes about 20 minutes) and the concept of ‘hi-touch’ (which means being able to high-five or even hug your favorite KPOP idol).
As it turns out, these are extra perks tied to concert ticket holders, particularly those carrying premium and VIP. Naturally, the most expensive tickets are guaranteed to all the events. But for some they are given random schedules of the appearance of the concert stars.
So do you need to attend the concert to avail of these events? Not necessarily. In the convention hall, food area, or the entrance of the convention, there will be many fans holding up signs to trade or sell these perks. I you are interested, be prepared to fork between $15 to $65, depending on the event.
Is this barter method worth it? It is if you are true fans of a certain KPOP group because you will definitely see them up close!
The red carpet tickets were the must haves! This is the only other event that Lee Min Ho attended apart from the concert. And he did so with such flair, showing up so handsome in a tuxedo. Fortunately, Drama Fever captured his interview, which we watched over and over again.
At the concert he started with a pre-produced introduction of KCON and how the Hallyu wave reached across the Korean borders. Then he did a lengthy introduction of the concert lineup. I could hardly keep my iPhone steady, so fortunately Ruth took a few great shots using her Samsung digital camera.
(5) Be ready to be surprised…so make sure you have plenty of camera/video juice!
There are moments of unpredictability.
ASTRO, the KPOP group that Ruth wanted to see was supposed to be the highlight of the Sunday concert. But lo and behold they performed in a couple of numbers on Saturday!
And they showed up unexpectedly in the convention hall! This definitely delighted the fans! Ruth and I were in a long line at one of the vendors. When they announced that ASTRO will show up on the stage, I asked her to hurry over there while I keep our line in tact. She raced over there and got several close up photos of the group. I was able to catch them at the tail end as they waved goodbye.
Generally, I would rate our first KCON experience 4 stars! We were not able to do everything, but we certainly participated in the events that mattered to us! It helped to do some research from past attendees. From their advice, we knew what to pack, relied on our athletic shoes to help keep us on our feet all day, and had plenty of memories captured on our phones and cameras!
Do we recommend KCON? Certainly! It is a must-see event if you are riding the Hallyu wave! Watch us catch this again next time!
See KCON’s message to me: