Being forced to shelter-in-place during what is perhaps turning into one of the most incredible and frightening situations I may see in my lifetime (yes, I am talking about the COVID-19 pandemic) has given me time to reflect on the tumultuous fangirl journey I have been on these past seven years. By the close of 2019, I realized that I had burst through a rather stringent guardrail when it came to Korean entertainment and in particular, Korean music. After my honey baby bias G.O of MBLAQ completed his military service, went from AfreecaTV BJ to YouTuber and yes, even became a husband, I kind of went on a bender. I wanted to write about my explorative fangirl year of 2019 before 2019 ended but failed to actually sit down and do so. Then, I pretty much abandoned the blog altogether. Now that I am in forced lockdown, I really feel the urge to return, show the blog some love, and write again. I have truly missed writing. So, humor me if you will, and let me tell you about my 2019 fangirl adventures (albeit a little late and wordy) and my hopes for 2020.
[ Subtle bias product placement ~ Mino]
January 2019 ~ Winner
The year 2019 was quite pivotal for me in terms of expanding my Korean music horizons. My attendance at Korean music performances prior thereto was light and not varied. In a nutshell, from 2013 through 2018 I saw Rain five times, MBLAQ three times, and one G.O solo stage. And it is not that there were no opportunities. On the contrary. During that timeframe, many Korean musicians and groups found their way to US shores to perform. But instead of whining about the many missed opportunities, I decided to seize any my mature (i.e. old) fangirl heart, soul and stamina could endure going forward. So, when Winner announced a 2019 North American tour at the close of 2018 and put Chicago on the list, I knew I was going to be starting the year off right.
The Everywhere Tour would begin in Seattle and end in New York (a total of seven cities) in what would turn out to be one of the most brutally coldest winters in recent years for the Midwest and East Coast. VIP tickets for each city included a pre-show soundcheck. I wanted in on that for sure and knew that seven VIP tickets would not be financially responsible, especially when travel would also be necessary. And while my adventurous fangirl heart wanted to go on tour with the group and see them in each city, I opted for three: Los Angeles, Chicago, New York.
Los Angeles was the boys’ third stop and I think they were beginning to settle into the groove of being in the US and were hopefully finding US fans welcoming, energetic and as excited to see them as they were to be on US stages. The Los Angeles show was on January 20 which was one day before leader Seungyoon’s birthday so that show had an added special feel. Even though the LA show was a nightmare when it came to the logistics surrounding how the venue and promotors were going to organize who was VIP, who was not, and how everyone would safely enter the venue, it nevertheless turned out fun and very meaningful for me as it was the first time I got to see Winner perform live in addition to having that special perk of the VIP ticket: the pre-show soundcheck. Oh to see these lovelies up close and personal. Looking back I cannot even remember how many songs they did. But I do remember they were all so incredibly handsome and I was duly starstruck.
I am pretty bad about taking pictures and videotaping during shows because, to be honest, I am at the age where I much rather watch, enjoy and engage during a show than have to fight to get footage. I usually try a couple of times and give up. In LA, I stood back quite a bit behind the main floor for the actual show, and it was rather disappointing to see a sea of cell phones being held up, fans too concerned with trying to get that ultimate capture and missing out on all the wonderful nuances that happen on stage. I did not grab any footage of the LA show. The show was fantastic and sadly, it wasn’t until close to the end when the crowd pretty much began to engage (translation: put their phones away, let go and dance). Since I got to finally taste a Winner show live, I honestly could not wait to see them on my home turf: Chicago.
I still cannot wrap my brain around the fact that a group I have grown to dearly love and admire came to my city. Yes, Winner came to Chicago on January 24, 2019! It was snowing and freezing, Chicago weather at its worst, but it was all kinds of warm and cozy inside the Rosemont Theater on that blustery January evening. I did manage a little video. But every moment of that show remains imprinted on my sentimental fangirl heart. The pre-show soundcheck was bonkers! I knew once the venue was full and the actual show started, the combined energy of the group and the fans would light the place up. Sorry LA, but I have to boast . . . the Chicago crowd was pretty fantastic! From the soundcheck to the closing moments, the energy and excitement never waned. The boys fed off of our elated energy and we reciprocated. It was the best! There were moments when leader Seungyoon just looked at us with complete disbelief and wonderment followed by the hugest most satisfying smile! His post-concert Instagram update sums it all up and still makes me beam with happiness:
Here is a short clip of 사치 [Luxury]. Winner truly knows how to have fun on stage, draw fans in, connect, and make every moment special:
Chicago was goooooooood! So very, very good!
Riding very powerful and intoxicating post-concert fumes (Los Angeles and Chicago), I quickly left for New York a day earlier than anticipated to avoid a massive snow storm heading to Chicago. I had one more ticket and one more opportunity to see Winner before they left North American shores. January 29, 2019, would be US Inner Circles’ final VIP soundcheck and final show of the US/Canadian Everywhere Tour, and theirs with us.
I wanted New York to be a finale that would make Winner determined to come back and see us again. I wanted to be a part of sending Winner back home satisfied and happy. I wanted them to remember US and Canadian fans as welcoming, respectful, grateful and hyped to have been able to see them. The January 29 New York show was general admission but there were seats set back behind the main floor. That section was full and it was rather disappointing that the audience in that section remained seated to the point where Seungyoon even asked them to stand up!!! In any event, the show was a satisfying wrap up with one of the highlights for me being when Jinu and Mino spoke towards the end of the show IN ENGLISH, telling us what the tour meant to them. It was an unbelievably touching and heartfelt moment, and I will never forget it. You can find it in this fan cam starting around the 6:27 mark. I cannot help but love reliving that moment over and over.
I will also never forget Mino saying, “I don’t want to go back to Korea!!” Sweet Mino was supposed to come back to the US in March to take part in the Overpass Musical Festival in California. However, due to coronavirus concerns, that festival was canceled. I sincerely hope it is rescheduled and Mino is back on the bill.
After watching Song Mino obliterate the stage with the explosive 시발점 [Trigger] in LA and Chicago, I tried my best to capture the New York moment to have and to hold for always:
Winner came into my life at a time when I was going through a bit of a transition. My beloved bias G.O was moving away from music and I had not invested in any other groups while I was focused on him. Oh sure, I knew there were other groups out there, I just did not feel compelled to listen. Mistake. Winner was the gateway that allowed me to open up and explore. They are and will always be so very precious to me.
[Subtle bias product placement ~ JB]
June 2019 – GOT7
Have you ever come across an idol that made you question your loyalty to any other bias who came before him? I think there are many K-pop fans out there who would agree that Lim Jaebeom, GOT7’s enigmatic leader, is more often than not, that idol.
When I was first introduced to GOT7, I biased jumped, conveniently keeping JB at arm’s length. When the group announced dates for the North American leg of their Keep Spinning Tour, I knew I wanted to experience them live and perhaps see if any of the seven would capture my fangirl heart. They did not put Chicago on the list so I had no choice but to choose a city, get a ticket and go on a mini fangirl vacay. I decided upon their first stop in the US, Newark, New Jersey. And on the scorching hot evening of June 27, 2019, I entered the Prudential Center vaguely being pulled by Jackson, slayed during the show by Jinyoung, and left not realizing that JB was circling my orbit patiently waiting for the opportune time to bias-strike.
I discovered Mr. Lim pretty much gives 1000% on stage. When you watch him, you cannot help but think he was born to do exactly what he is doing. But there is an added special something-something when he and the group perform a song he has written and produced. Here is a little slice of one of them from the Newark show, 안 보여 [Come On]:
GOT7 bursts with charisma. I was blown away by their concert because I have to be honest, I thought that having so many members in the group might be chaotic on the stage. But they are a fine-tuned cohesive group. And, they have fun . . . lots of fun! I don’t think I will EVER forget Bam Bam’s first mention of the night: “Where my ladies at? Bam is without question the group’s mood maker!
September 2019 – Pentagon
[Subtle bias product placement ~ Kino]
I boarded the Pentagon train shortly after they released Shine. I loved everything about that song and thought it was pure pop gold. I honestly did not think I would grow to appreciate the group as much as I have, but after I started exploring their discography, I quickly realized the diversity in Pentagon’s music was something I have always appreciated in a group or artist. They also have SOLID vocalists – which, as you know, I happen to love. They have a ton of music out there and I have not been disappointed by any of it. When they announced North American dates for their Prism Tour and would hit up Chicago on September 6, 2019, . . . no brainer!
Hands down, the best place to see your favorite group (K-pop or otherwise) is in a small venue! I felt that true of all of the Winner shows I attended and even more so with Pentagon because the venue was even smaller and more intimate. I purchased the second level VIP ticket which included a hi-touch with the group following the show. O M G!! If you are neutral about Pentagon, please go see them live and treat yourself to a ticket that offers the perk of a hi-touch. I have had only one other hi-touch experience and that was back in June 2015 when I saw MBLAQ have their first stage after Joon and Thunder left. It was rushed, to say the least, but exciting nevertheless. When I walked through the hi-touch line after the Pentagon show, every single one of those babies was still buzzing with concert adrenaline, smiles big and contagious and gratitude, evident. Again, I have to give BIG props to the Chicago fans. They were a huge part of why I also enjoyed the Pentagon show so much – engaged, loud, welcoming. So proud of Chicago Universe!! Plus, hands down, Pentagon has THE BEST lightstick.
Even though it was cloudy and drizzly outside that late summer day 빛나리 [Shine] was every bit as sunny and bright as I imagined it would be:
October 2019 – GOT7
Well…someone sure left a lasting impression now, didn’t they?!! I am so happy I followed through on my wish of the past seven years to someday return to Paris. And as serendipity would have it, GOT7 put a European leg on their Keep Spinning Tour with Paris being the final stop on October 19, 2019. I knew I could make it work. What I wasn’t too confident about was landing a VIP ticket because unlike the US leg of the tour, Europe was getting a hi-touch and there was a pre-sale option of which I was unable to be a part of. This meant I had to wait until tickets went on sale to the general public and hope for the best – the best being VIP tickets would still be available. Wishful thinking. However, if any of you know me from my G.O/MBLAQ days, you will know that I usually have a backup plan for the backup plan. And in this case, I found myself a legit French ticket broker who was able to secure a VIP ticket. Not only was I going to see JB for the second time in a matter of months, but I would also be seeing him in PARIS and, getting an opportunity to touch him.😳😳😳
Okay, I am not going to mince words here. GOT7 is an explosion of showmanship and talent. They know how to put on a great show and drive their fans into a fevered frenzy. I had a blast. And the French fans were wild and fun, welcoming, engaging and loud. It was fantastic. Even if it was an arena show (not my fave place to see a concert), there was just something about those men that made it intimate nonetheless. As their popularity grows (and it will), GOT7 will no doubt play even larger venues. I hope they can continue to find ways to maintain an intimate connect with their fans as the venues (and audience) increase.
Since this was now my second experience seeing the group, I was able to take notice of a few things like . . . who lays it all out on the stage like he is performing to save his life, the world, or both: JB. Or, who speaks to the fans with genuine gentle warmth: Jinyoung. Or, who gives incredible stage fan service, if that is such a thing: Mark. Or, who treats the entire evening like a party: Bam Bam. This is not to say that the other three members are not giving energized performances, gracious words, fan service or party vibes. They are. But JB, Jinyoung, Mark and Double B stood out for me – both here in Paris and in Newark back in June.
I did manage to grab a little footage. No surprise, it features JB. Here is a touch of Paradise, JB style:
As for the hi-touch following the show, I have to be honest, the ones who left lasting impressions were Jinyoung who is 150000000000x more gorgeous in person and I am NOT exaggerating, Yugyeom, the tall maknae with the sweetest smile, Mark with his sparkling eyes, Bam Bam who is simply one of the coolest mood-makers on the planet, and JB, who actually (and probably not surprisingly) made the biggest impression. You see, JB made that split second feel like a lifetime with the way he made eye contact. And, I have to give him props because I am neither young nor pretty; however, on that chilly, rainy night in Paris, JB made me feel like I was.
October 2019 – PLT
First of all, let me clarify that PLT is not a ‘group’, nor are they remotely K-pop. They are a hip-hop/R&B collaboration of solo musicians (Gaho, Jinwoo, June, Moti, and Villain) from Planetarium Records. In 2019, they brought their We Go Holic Tour to the US and put Chicago on the list. Gaho (one of the vocalists) has been on my radar for quite some time, and I have many of his EPs/songs on my playlist. I did not know if I was even going to able to attend the show given that it was on the day after I returned from Paris. I thought…ohhhh, jetlag may prevent me from actually being awake, coherent and able to find the venue! It was a monsoon that evening, ferociously raining, chilly and damp. Nevertheless, I went. I saw. I enjoyed. These five guys, individually and collectively, are very talented and underrated. And although they are not ‘K-pop idols‘, they have great stage presence and are quite charismatic. Each artist had a solo stage and then concluded the evening with a collection of their collaborative songs. I have to make mention that it even with the horrible rain that evening, the fans who showed up . . . SHOWED UP! I know I am biased because I am a native Chicagoan, but damn . . . we know how to make a group feel welcome and appreciated!
I did not take any pics or videos at the PLT show because frankly, I was too busy dancing and appreciating the music. But, I am grateful to the fan who did capture Gaho’s wonderful Fly, Villain’s gentle Piece of Work, and the rowdy Igoholic finale:
December 2019 – A.C.E
[Subtle bias product placement ~ Donghun]
Talk about a whim. I had never even heard of A.C.E [Adventure Calling Emotions] when I decided to buy a ticket and close out my 2019 K-pop concert run with them when they came to Chicago on December 1, 2019. Moreover, it was kind of crazy of me to buy a VIP ticket to get a hi-touch perk with a group I had never seen let alone listened to. But, I was all about throwing K-pop caution to the wind and allowing myself to continue being open and welcoming to new and different Korean music, groups, artists and the like. It did not take long for me to fall completely in love with the five gems in A.C.E.
Early December came in blustery and cold. On the evening of the A.C.E show, it was downright chilly and damp. Damp meaning freezing rain which eventually switched over to snow. You can always count on Chicago weather to make things challenging and/or interesting. This would be another general admission show which required us to wait in a long line outside of the venue, a line that snaked its way down several neighborhood blocks. The fans were happy, energized and very excited to soon be able to see Jun, Donghun, Wow, Byeongkwan and Chan. Chicago was the first stop of their Under Cover Area: US Tour and we were ready.
Oh my, these babies surprised me. The rappers can sing with as much vocal acuity as the vocalists. And, these children can dance. I was set back from the stage and admittedly it was a little difficult to get the full effect of their dancing prowess. But, I did manage (with the help of two sweet and taller fans standing behind me) to capture a little of the explosiveness of their hit, 삐딱선 [Savage]:
[Chan . . . in your oversized white shirt and shorts – you need to get promptly back into your lane, sir. Immediately. Thank you.]
I think the highlight of the show was when they did a holiday music montage. Each member came out with some kind of holiday headband and sang a song. Byeongkwan started with Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe followed respectively by Donghun (Winter Wonderland), Jun (Last Christmas), Chan (Do You Want To Build A Snowman), and Wow, who was dressed in full Santa regalia (Jingle Bells). They ended the Christmas set with a rousing rendition of All I Want For Christmas Is You which was the best kind of Christmas chaos, missing lyrics, and a sweetness I won’t soon forget!
[Kang Yuchan!!! Lane. Now. Thank you.]
The hi-touch following the show was equally as memorable. Everyone who attended the show regardless of ticket level had the opportunity to walk the hi-touch line and greet A.C.E. That was something special indeed. A VIP ticket included a packet of photocards along with the hi-touch which proved to be a nice memento along with getting the opportunity to say hello and thank them. I was duly charmed by all of the members of A.C.E and wanted to tackle-hug Chan when he screamed, “I LOVE YOU!” when he handed me the packet of photo cards. Got up in my fanjumma feels, I tell ya! [Conclusion: Chan’s a problem.😝]
Ending the year with the A.C.E show was perfect. It set the tone and made me want to attend many more K-pop concerts in the coming year (whether I knew who the groups/artists were or not). It would have been accomplished too had not the world been put under siege by the highly contagious COVID-19 virus which is pretty much locking down everything, including large gatherings of people like concerts.
When I look back at the shows I attended in 2019, I realized there was a running inclement weather theme – nothing that grounded fans or caused a cancellation, however. Snowy, sub-zero temperatures for Winner, scorching summer heat and humidity for GOT7 (Newark), clouds and drizzle for Pentagon, chilly drizzle for GOT7 (Paris), torrential downpour for PLT, and freezing rain/snow for A.C.E. Come to think of it, the one show I did manage to attend at the start of 2020 was also wrought with unfriendly weather. Kind of wonder if bad weather is the special sauce for a great show experience. ~.^
Looking Ahead to 2020
As I mentioned, I was honestly ready to take 2020 by storm when it came to exploring more K-pop via live shows. While I was able to start the year with Stray Kids in February (will save that for a 2020 retrospective and hope that does not turn out to be my only show), I had a VIP ticket to see AB6IX this month which was subsequently canceled. And although it is still undetermined what will happen come June, I am sadly preparing myself to receive news that the NCT 127 show in Chicago will be canceled as well. Sigh . . . .
Still, I believe there is a silver lining. Many of my current fave groups continue to create and release music. Winner just dropped a new album on April 9 and GOT7 is coming back with new music on April 20. And, I continue discovering new music (even when it’s not so new) daily. Have you listened to Xydo, Junny, Fr:Eden, Jomalxne, or Sam Kim, to name a few? As long as people make music, there is still so much good in the world.~😍
Ok, I need to wrap this up as I have babbled on far too long. In my defense, I did have a reasonably busy fangirl year and now that I think about it, I managed to do it without leaving US shores – except for Paris which was a planned vacation. Seeing GOT7 was a bonus. For 2020 (and beyond) I hope all K-pop and K-music fans will have many opportunities to see their favorites no matter where the venue. I learned in 2019 however, that it is extra special sweet when the groups we love come to us.
Stay healthy and be safe out there!
[Videos, except for the YouTube links, are all mine; the images are theirs]