Note: Hey Y’all. Muenchabench here. Exciting news here at the eastwest dram comm blom blah – a new blogger to the site!! Bringing some clout and actual television know-how. She has been slaying DVR’s and fighting for television truth, justice, and the dramaland way for many moons. So before I delve down deep into some Pocahontas/Wind the Winter Blows references, I will just say, “Welcome Caitlin!” and look forward to getting to know her and her blog postings (such as this) in the coming weeks 🙂
KCON looks great on paper. A two-day festival where fans of Korean pop culture can meet each other, attend panels, buy fun souvenirs, and watch concerts. It’s bound to be a great weekend, right?
No. Just… No.
The problem with KCON isn’t in the conception, but in the execution. Because it seems every decision made by the event coordinators was designed to minimize fun and maximize the amount of corporate sponsorship thrown into everyone’s faces.
Let’s start where all good stories start, at the beginning. And not the beginning of the festival, but the check-in process. I don’t mean to swear so early in this review, but never has there been a more appropriate use of the word clusterf*ck. It took me almost three hours just to get inside the convention gates, and there were still at least a thousand people behind me. When I finally got up to the check in point, I see that there are only eight lines open to check in thousands of people. While I understand that the sheer volume of people attending this event is likely to cause long lines, it’s hard to believe that no one thought that this was the most efficient system for checking everyone in. And since my calculation that arriving at 10 would allow me plenty of time to check in and attend panels that started at 11:30 was so clearly mistaken, I missed two of the few drama-related panels that K-con had (and my two chances to see OC Koala unni in person!). Strike one against KCON.
But if that had been my last issue with this con, I would’ve gotten over the frustratingly long wait. Because there are other panels to attend, and Lee Seung Gi to stalk! Onwards! Except once I walked through the gates into the event, I was still outside. Those of us forced to wait in that long line to get into the convention had to stand under the hot August Los Angeles sun for almost three hours and then still had to wander around outside under that same sun for the rest of the afternoon. WHY? Who thought this situation would be remotely enjoyable for anyone? The KCON coordinators pick the hottest month of the year to host this event, and they not only hold it outside but offer a handful of tents for people to escape said sun. Needless to say, I was not the only grotesque burn victim that trudged out of the sports arena that night.
I hope you guys are starting to see the pattern here, namely that every way KCON can fail, it’ll do so, and with gusto. Now, the part of my review that’ll be most interesting to people not forced to suffer through KCON will be on the panels. Of course, because every portion of KCON that can be plagued by lines is plagued by insanely long lines (a twenty-minute wait for a KCON goodie bag and a fifteen minute wait before getting into any panels to check my purse for water bottles. No, I am not making this up. They prevented guests from taking water into the panels), I only had time to see one panel.
Of course, I pick the Viki-sponsored panel with Javabeans, Girlfriday, and Sean Richard. This was definitely the high point of the con for me (not that this panel had to do anything beyond not suck to be the high point). Because getting to hear Javabeans and Girlfriday speak and joke around like they do on Dramabeans and in their podcasts was a huge thrill for a fan like me. And Sean Richard, whom I have enjoyed but never found particularly compelling as an actor, had some pretty insightful comments on the limits of the Korean drama industry versus the film industry. What held this panel back from being great were the moderators, who work for Viki’s social media team. As much as I love Viki as a service, their social media experts couldn’t seem to stumble onto an interesting question to save their lives. “What do you think the upcoming trends are in Korean dramas (in terms of fashion and PPL)?” “Why are Korean dramas so impactful?” They had next to them two writers who can diagnose character and plot fails better than most bloggers working right now and who can do so in such fun and pithy ways, and the moderators chose to ask why Jeon Ji-Heon’s lipstick is so popular? Who cares! It was obvious that these two spent five minutes preparing for this panel and figured they could get away with it by asking about fashion (since all that girls care about is fashion and not character development or story arcs). The fans who attended the panel asked more interesting questions, like about whether or not K-dramas are equipped to tackle more serious social issues like the treatment of people with mental health issues (i.e. It’s Okay It’s Love).
There was one other aspect of KCON that I was excited about before I arrived on Saturday. No, not the concert at the end of the day with all the K-pop acts. To be perfectly frank, I know next to nothing about K-pop music, and only know who a handful of idols are simply because they’ve acted in dramas. But there was a side stage during the day that hosted a few YouTube and indie artists, including one of my personal favorites, Hee Young. This video is for her song “Are You Still Waiting,” which is featured on the Lie to Me OST. The second is off of her new album Sleepless Night (which is great, by the way, and you can purchase on iTunes).
So I headed on over to the stage to hear her perform. And she starts playing (awesomely if I do say so)… for thirty seconds. Which is when the audio cuts out. And it can’t be fixed. Which means that she is done performing for the rest of the day. Thanks, KCON. Thankfully, Hee Young is incredibly nice and came to speak to the ten of us who had gathered around the stage to hear her sing. And while I don’t blame the gods of KCON for intentionally breaking the audio equipment during her performance, it seems like a pretty good example of how little care and attention was paid to the people who came to KCON to share their art and their love of music in favor of helping the big corporations shill their products.
Because OH MY GOD the PPL and corporate sponsorship. Every square inch of the con was sponsored by some subsidiary of CJ Entertainment, CGV or Bibigo. The flimsy paper fans meant to prevent attendees from getting heatstroke? Sponsored by Bibigo. The free posters handed around with Kim Soo Hyun? Giant ad pictures from his Tous Les Jours CF. The only place to go inside to escape the sun during the day was the makeshift 4-D theater sponsored by CGV. The tents that the con’s sponsors received were usually way nicer looking than the drama panels’ tents. Part of the reason I ultimately decided to attend the M! Countdown concert at the end of the day was to get away from all of the corporate shills for a few hours (the other reason was to prevent my raw, sun-burnt skin from getting any worse).
Oh, the concert. I have nothing against K-pop inherently. It just isn’t what I’m interested in. It’s clear from these kids’ performances that they work incredibly hard and put in countless hours to dance as well as they do and to look as pretty as those boy bands looked tonight. The problem is that so little of it was… original. I listened to these acts perform for over two hours, and I still wouldn’t be identify now which boy band (VIXX, B1A4, and Teen Top) was which or what any of their songs are. Although I distinctly remembered being sketched out because B1A4 wore schoolboy uniforms and that made me feel like a creepy ajumma watching her favorite minors dance (even if those guys are really only a few years younger than I am).
Likewise, IU has a pleasant voice, and her broken English was charming, but I know that even with a gun held to my head I wouldn’t remember any of her songs. At least G-Dragon is able to distinguish himself not just with his crazy fashion choices but with his catchy beats. I probably wouldn’t listen to his music otherwise, but in his case the legions of screaming fans at least makes sense.
By the end of the concert, I was ready for this all to be over. I was done. On an existential level. I knew that I would do permanent injury to my soul if I decided to repeat the torture that was KCON for a second day. And so I decided that I would rather forsake the $20 I spent on the ticket for the second day and preserve what little dignity I had left by not attending ever again.
So I’m sorry that my first review for this fantastic blog has to be such a downer, but I hope this review serves as a sufficient warning for any other drama fans who may consider attending KCON in the future. All I can say is: DON’T!
PS – I only got to see Lee Seung Gi in person once. I saw the top of his head for three seconds before he disappeared into the crowd. That’s it. Needless to say, KCON was an epic fail.