KCONTACT: My online concert experience during a pandemic

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On May 6th, I received a notification from Twitter saying that the annual Kpop convention, which is normally held in NYC, would be online this year.

This was news to everyone.

KCON, the official convention name, updated us weekly leading up to the event and explained that things would be different compared to past years. Instead of in-person, the entire convention would be remote and the event would be a week long instead of three days. However, it quickly became obvious that the KCON coordinators weren’t giving us all the information. A month later, they released the lineup of artists performing and told us about the new stage with 360 degree views.

Each participant would purchase a $20 YouTube premium package to allow viewing. If we wanted to participate in the concert as part of the live audience or enter for a chance to be on a video call with the artists, then we had to submit a separate application via google docs.

Under normal conditions, people would go online once the tickets drop, purchase the package they wanted, and then purchase a separate convention ticket, which allows them to access the main floor, panels, and merchandise. If they wanted to meet the artists performing that would be extra, as well as any other perks.

I sent in 10 applications to be part of the live audience and the video calls for some of the 30 artists performing. Two weeks later I found out I was going to be part of the audience for 5 of the performances, but was not selected for any of the live calls.

What KCON failed to tell us is that there was a minimum age necessary to apply for the live audience. Due to Korean laws, anyone who is a minor cannot appear on Korean television without parental consent. Of course, KCON didn’t want to send out over a thousand parent permission forms without knowing if the minors were going to forge signatures or lie, so anyone under the age of 18 was automatically taken out of the drawing.

Another issue many people had was how some viewers would get multiple video calls, or multiple audiences, while some got nothing. We all payed the same price, yet some people weren’t picked for any of the extra perks. KCON did clarify that there was never a guarantee of a live audience, only a chance. This didn’t stop people from attacking the convention on Twitter, saying they were “lied” to and calling KCON “snakes.”

The day before KCON started, we were told to have a sturdy computer with a good connection. Because we would be on Korean television, they also told us to cover up any revealing images in our background. They also explained that if our computer glitched or we got kicked out of the zoom session for the concert, we couldn’t get back in.

I woke up at 5am each day that week so I could get “in line” before the concert started at 9am to ensure I would be on the ‘big screen’ in the recording. We were provided with a zoom link and told that we couldn’t enter the session until 6am and had to stay until the concert ended at 12pm. No one knew what a virtual concert would look like so we weren’t sure if they would even be able to see us.

Finally, the concert started and we had a prompter tell us when to cheer and when to turn off our cameras. For each artist there was about 100-150 fans on the screen. For those who made it in line early enough, like me, we showed up on the big screen behind the performers. For those who made it in line later, they were on a screen facing the artists, but the recording never showed them.

Viewers who wanted to watch the concert but weren’t selected for live audiences were able to view it via YouTube. I had a banner for each performer I was in the audience for and the KCON staff encouraged us to hold signs and cheer, even though the artists couldn’t hear us.

Overall, besides the few hiccups, it was a fun experience. It allowed those who normally can’t afford the convention or can’t travel to participate with all the perks.

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My name is Mariah Olmstead and I'm a Senior at NEC. I transferred to NEC in fall of 2019 and I'm currently a communications major with a concentration in Journalism and Media/Production. Before coming to NEC, I worked for the Walt Disney Company and Universal Studios Orlando as a performer, and before that I was a student at Community College of Vermont. I want to be a travel writer or work for a production/media company once I graduate in the spring. I love Kpop, theatre, and dancing. Most of my editorials are personal stories or related to theme parks, and the Kpop industry. Once I graduate, I plan on teaching English abroad in Korea.
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