So something magical happened: I went to my first K-pop concert here in Korea.
It was loud, bright, full of flashing lights, screaming fangirls, and one very charming and goofy singer with a killer voice and the ability to out dance all his back-up dancers. Yeah, I went and saw XIA aka Kim Junsu (김준수).
Bit of background: Junsu was a former member of TVXQ (동방신기 Dong Bang Shin Ki) which sort of started the Hallyu wave of the appreciation and popularity of Korean pop culture around the world; they were the first Korean group to really break into the Japanese market especially, and their song Mirotic, has been consistently hailed as a staple of KPOP. It was a five person boy band that operated from 2004-2009, but broke up when Junsu and two other members, Jaejoong and Yoochun, filed to break with their company SM Entertainment. They claimed that their thirteen-year contract was excessively long, schedules were held out without permission of the members, and profits were unfairly distributed.
In short, they formed JYJ. Because SM is so huge, they’ve since blacklisted JYJ and all its members, threatening all and any broadcasters that they won’t let SM artists on if they allow JYJ on. It’s a big mess. JYJ operated mostly in Japan for a few years because they couldn’t do anything in Korea until SM officially released them from their contract.
Eventually they did, but the blacklisting remains and in over seven years there’s been no to very little opportunities for JYJ to promote on air. SM is generally known to be awful and since JYJ left other artists have as well. So really, JYJ paved the way for artists to challenge their labels who were overworking them in the KPOP machine.
Why did I tell you this? Because how did I find out about Junsu when he’s not allowed to broadcast? Well, we’re all about being nerdy here at The Nerdventurists, and I actually found out about Junsu because he was in the Korean version of my favorite musical, Elisabeth. He has a very unique quality to his voice, it’s not husky per se but kind of smokey (despite the fact he doesn’t smoke), and I was intrigued. So I looked him up and welp… here I am.
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Before the Concert
I don’t like going to things alone, I like shared experiences, so I had two tickets. Surely someone would want to join me on this insane venture. It turns out Nicky (twitter, instagram, blog) had seen Junsu in his run of Dracula and was a fan. Perfect! I filed this information away and asked her to join me. She naturally said yes.
Nicky is also a KPOP concert master and immediately started letting me know how things typically ran (though Junsu’s audience tends to be in the 20s and up range, rather than teenagers, so things were a bit calmer and less fan clubby). The concert was at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Olympic Park, a typical venue with a concert capacity of 14,000 people.
The moment we exited the subway station (and really before hand, I’ve never seen a ladies bathroom line so long), it was apparent there was a concert going down. Heading towards the arena the walkway was lined with banners, everyone eagerly taking selfies with them, and two giant balloons with Junsu’s names on them (JUNSU 준수 & his stage name XIA 시아). There was also the promo bus that was prime photo fodder.
Fan Goods and Merch
Fans always create little things to give away to other fans, usually cute stickers or fans (because it gets hot in the concert). We sadly arrived too late to get any of these, though we saw others with them and I had seen them advertised on twitter before. It’s a really sweet gesture really; making so many can’t be cheap, but it’s this communal appreciation for an artist and to have a little token of that is really nice. I’ll just have to be earlier and scope them out better next time.
But something we definitely wanted to hit up was the merchandise booth… because you HAVE to have a lightstick going into a KPOP concert.
It’s like an unwritten rule.
Each group/artist has their own color. TVXQ famously had ‘the red ocean’ aka red is the color lightstick and so many people attended the concerts that it looked like an ocean. JYJ kept the color, and likewise Junsu has. Nicky even asked me, “what’s his lightstick color?” That’s how important these suckers are.
So naturally we both needed one.
One of the issues about that whole not being able to understand Korean yet is that you miss details… details like all the merchandise was pre-order only. So no light sticks for us… which we’re still bitter about (also in order to do the pre-order you need a Korean credit card, which is nigh impossible for foreigners to get and debit cards in Korea don’t work online for some asinine reason I don’t think I’ll ever understand). So that was a bummer, and definitely felt bereft when nearly everyone else had one, but alas, poor waegookin!
How it works generally though is that you wait in line, you fill out a form saying what you want, and then go down a line and are given what you marked. It’s smart and efficient and I guess the pre-ordering is too, especially for crowd control, but it’s a bummer when there’s no option to buy things at the site.
No lightsticks for us. But we got photos with the bus so…
My K-pop Concert Experience
Bitter about the lightsticks, we headed into the venue. Having been here a few times before, Nicky said we had nice seats, and we did! They were on the second level, sure, but we could see the entire stage, and it wasn’t actually that far away.
This was about the time my heart started racing because it was finally clicking that I was actually going to see Junsu perform live… right here… in person, not a DVD or YouTube fancam. Hot diggity damn. Seeing just how many people there really put into perspective how much KPOP is still a HUGE deal (this is the largest venue in the country minus the stadium and Sky Dome, though that’s reserved for big groups that can sell it out, like when JYJ gets all together). Nicky seemed surprised too, commenting that it takes multiple member bands to sell out the arena, but Junsu was able to do it solo.
It made me a little proud of him. He’s had to deal with the Korean media bowing to pressure for years and yet he continues to create music and be incredibly successful, as well as innovative and creative. Hell, he does musicals for Pete’s sake. I love it.
We were treated to some videos and songs leading up to the start of the show and then suddenly the lights went down. This was it. The crowd went wild, the lightsticks erupted into that red ocean, and the show began.
It’s a strange thing, seeing an artist live for the first time. It’s the true test of how good they are or if it’s all in the studio. I knew Junsu was a good singer, a great one even, but actually hearing him live really cinched that and I swear I spent most of the show clutching my face and smiling. I’m not ashamed to say.
Excuse Me, I Must Fangirl
He’s a killer performer, charismatic to a fault, and thank goodness Nicky was next to me translating. He talked a lot, which made that latter part particularly important, and he does this bit called ‘Genie Time’ wherein he grants three wishes from the audience. We were all particularly cheeky and ended up getting five wishes out of him, many which were incredibly hilarious and/or bizarre (someone brought a pillow and told him to take a rest, which was further made hilarious by the staff trolling Junsu and playing a lullaby overhead that the audience sang to [fancam], and another had him put these butterfly stickers on his face as he had to read out about how cute he was… he always takes these things like a champ, even if he whines about it the whole time).
It’s a goofy segment that I don’t think anyone else does. It makes sense though, because Junsu cannot promote on broadcasting, he needs different ways of connecting with fans, and Genie Time is one of those things.
There was also a bit when he came up to the second floor and ran around. I illicitly filmed it and I’m not sorry.
He sang a bunch of tracks from his new album (the star and big finale being title track Rock the World), but a lot of his previous work as well, which made me happy. Not that I don’t like XIGNATURE, I do, but I was delighted at getting a sampling of his ‘greatest hits’ from Tarantallegra (which went from the acoustic version into the dance version) to Incredible (possibly my favorite immediate HAPPY song) to the powerful Flower which went from the ballad version to this neat remixed version.
And then he slipped at the end and laughed himself off stage. And that, in a singular moment, is why I adore him.
And then it was over.
After the Concert
Many lingered to let the crowds pass and to take photos, us included. Slowly we made our way out of the stadium, smiling like morons. It was the happiest I’ve felt in Korea so far and for the first time I understood what a ‘concert high’ was. Immediately Nicky and I were wondering if we could manage to snag tickets to any of the shows in Japan, but after researching it the total cost would be a bit too expensive. Still, we were ecstatic and I’m so glad I got to introduce Nicky to more of Junsu’s music, she left a bigger fan than she already was.
That’s what a good show will do; you instantly want more.
We happily chatted for awhile before having to catch last subways back, all smiles, hyped up, and the giant balloons lit up reminding us of the fun we had.
And that’s what KPOP is… it’s fun. A lot of it doesn’t have a deeper meaning (though plenty of it does, trust me!), it’s meant to entertain and make us feel good and happy. I’ve written about what Junsu’s music has done for me before, and I’ll reiterate it again; he can make me smile when I need to and cry when I need to as well. And that’s the power of an artist and one of the hidden secrets of KPOP. Sure, they’re very nice to look at and many are mass produced singing machines slaving away (the poor things), but there’s real artists in there as well and don’t pass judgment too quickly when someone says they’re into KPOP… give it a try instead.
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How to Get Tickets
Unless you live in Korea, have a Korean ID (ARC card for foreigners), AND have a Korean credit card… you’re going to have a HELL of a time. I had, no lie, six different people trying to get me tickets and each one of us ran into some sort of issue. Even if there was a Korean ID, the site would only accept Korean credit cards… not debit cards. Now while this isn’t true of every ticketing site for Korean shows, it’s pretty standard.
Because I didn’t yet live in Korea (I was moving literally two weeks after tickets went on sale), I couldn’t provide an address or phone number for the sales, which meant I couldn’t buy them. Anywho, long story short… the tickets sold out in ten minutes and so when the resale happened a few days later (tickets that were returned or not paid for in the 24 hour period), a friend of mine found me a proxy buyer in Korea who could do all this for me. It was a lifesaver. She managed to buy the tickets for me, I paid her, and then she shipped them to me the week of the concert (which was super nerve-wracking).
So unless you’ve got a Korean friend who can do all this for you, go the way of a proxy buyer! They’re legit (they’re no resellers) and if they fail you get a refund. Junsu is really popular so he was especially included in that clause.
Don’t despair though! Research when tickets go on sale, plan ahead, and get a proxy buyer if you feel the need! I do recommend Reina, communication is a bit slow, but she delivered and was great about it.