Maybe The Real Treasure Was the Concert Friends We Made Along the Way

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Last week, I was supposed to be attending Jungkook’s performance at Central Park as part of Good Morning America’s summer concert series. I say supposed to, because I never made it in. Between a confusing press access situation and an intense, but brief, thunderstorm, getting there at 5am turned out to be too late. But, I got to spend the morning with a friend, waiting on a line together and slowly walking up Fifth Avenue towards the entrance to what was a once in a lifetime opportunity: an intimate concert with the first-ever performance of a song by a member of BTS.

We didn’t get to, but was it a waste of a morning? Nah. We had sleepily spent the moment attempting to witness history together, having as good of a time as we could.

Jungkook posing on the GMA stage with his arms out, ARMY i nthe background cheering him on
ABC News/Paula Lobo

The friend I was with, who I’ll call “J” for the sake of this newsletter, and I met years ago, attending K-pop concerts. We both happen to live in New York City, and probably see each other once a week, if not more, both to attend K-pop events and just to, you know, be friends. I know her family, she knows mine.

We come from totally different walks of life. We had no overlap in our communities beyond K-pop, but now we’re integral to each other’s day-to-day lives. She knows my struggles and I know hers. Happiness is shared, and so are the lows. I’ve become a better person, a better friend, because I know her, and I hope she values our relationship as I enjoy hers. And we met because of K-pop concerts.

Attending a concert is all at once one of the most communal and individual experience you can undergo as a  human. It means something to you personally, and means something to everyone in attendance on a larger level.

I recently finished a very slow, multi-year perusal of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. One of the final chapters had a bit about why baseball is important to Lamott and other people, and I sat there nodding my head along to it, relating it to my experience with concerts and being part of fandom.

"Little by little, in telling [Lamott’s son] Sam all these details, I got to see the bigger point of baseball, that it can give us back ourselves. We’re a crowd animal, a highly gregarious, communicative species, but the culture and the age and all the fear that fills our days have put almost everyone into little boxes, each of us all alone. But baseball, if we love it, gives us back our place in the crowd, it restores us.”

Concerts similarly restore us, as there’s power in the crowd. But crowds are made up of individuals, and finding your people within a concert crowd is one of the most beautiful experiences. I love going to shows and meeting new friends, making connections in a crowd that turn us all into individuals loving the same things.

It’s also not necessarily all that beautiful sometimes. I think with regret of all the concert friends, and just K-pop fan friends in general, I’ve connected with over the years and fallen out of touch with. Concerts, K-pop, and everything we love as a hobby are just part of our lives, with all the ups and downs. Like everything else, there are moments of hardship, because life is not all sunshines and rainbows, but still, we find joy in the moments and music, and each other.

Waving our lightsticks in sync, loving together, it makes it all worthwhile when we walk out, laughing and chatting to unwind after a frenzied passion of a performance, and relive it through videos, photos, and the moments each one of us lived individually. Sometimes, we never speak outside of concerts, but sometimes concerts are just the spark of friendships.

A different friend who lives in Seoul was heading to a fanmeet recently, and said she had to get there early because she heard fans were giving out freebies. “I feel like everything is so capitalist except for fan 나눔 (sharing) and giving away stuff,” she texted me, and it made me pause, because it’s more or less true. We as fans come together, and the rules of quote-unquote “normal” relationships tend to fly out the window. Whether it’s freebies at concerts or cupsleeve events, or trying to ensure that tickets don’t get upmarketed, swapping merch extras, or just simply asking one another whether they have a place to stay after or before a concert, there’s a camaraderie that’s simply wonderful based around this music scene.**

Which is why waking up at 4AM and spending a morning standing between 68th and 72nd streets on Fifth and never making it into the GMA concert wasn’t a waste. We had each other in our early morning pilgrimage to see a star. When it failed, when it was announced that the concert was cancelled due to an impending thunderstorm even while people were still being let in until moments just before, we went to a nearby coffee shop.

There, we sat and talked, and met and other fans who had also been there, some who got in and were happy they got to see the soundcheck, and others devastated that they hadn’t been able to see Jungkook. We didn’t know each other, probably will never see each other again, but we were together, in soggy commiseration and adoration. J and I will relive this day again, probably referencing it every once in a while, and now we know… Don’t get to GMA later than 3am if you definitely want to get in.

This friend and I will be heading to Los Angeles later this summer for KCON,*** and maybe we’ll be spending more time in line together. We’ll hopefully make more memories, probably while chatting about some recent releases we loved, or the Kdramas that she’s zooming through and I’m watching at a much slower pace. We’ll see other concert friends, some of whom we only ever see at KCON, and it’ll all be worth it.

*By asking around, we figure nobody who got there for general admission later than 3AM, 4AM at the latest, got in. Check-in didn’t technically begin until 6:30.

**There is, of course, all the other terrible stuff. Toxicity is here, and it’s terrible. But I’m being an optimist today, so let me live!

***Let me know if you’re going. Let’s say hi!

What I’m listening to

I wrote this newsletter while listening for the first time to to NCT Dream’s ISTJ album.

I spent the weekend binging the explicit version of Jungkook’s Seven with Latto. I have group chats full of people discussing why or why not they love that he made an explicit version, but personally I think it’s phenomenal to see what he’s doing with his career, and how he’s very publicly proclaiming, shouting, his adulthood after being the eternal youngest member of BTS.

Purple Kiss has some great vocalists, so I was excited to see that Swan is releasing solos songs. She released both the single Twenty and B-side Be my Everything in Korean and English, which feels like is becoming the norm for many reasons, but possibly even more so because of the success of Fifty Fifty’s Cupid on TikTok thanks to its multilingual versions. Regardless, Swan’s voice is captivating and the single is engaging, so if you haven’t listened yet check it out.

What I’m reading

On the news side of things, I’ve been reading a lot about what’s going on regarding Blackpink, Fifty Fifty, and NCT’s contract situations. I’m also watching what the KFTC is doing about certain investigations into K-pop companies.

had an engaging interpretation of NewJeans’ music video for NewJeans, which featured a PowerPuff Girls collab. “The wand’s overbearing presence alludes to the power imbalance that exists, at times, between idols and fans,” muses Allie."

For The Guardian, Kate Solomon wrote about how being a pop fan is becoming miserable when you consider things like ticketing and online discourses.

What are you reading or listening to lately? Let me know, maybe I’ll feature it in an upcoming edition of the newsletter!