This was written back in June, for the Fourth K-pop Writers’ Workshop. In May, I went to Seoul for the first time, and that trip remains to be my favorite memory this year. As the following account shows, it’s the journey that counts, and not the destination – which, in this case, happened to be The Lost Planet, EXO’s first concert.
Traveling to another country is exciting enough in itself, but traveling to another country because of your favorite band is even better. Imagine getting to live out your own private “Detroit Rock City” alternate universe fan fic of your dreams, replete with a kickass soundtrack and fangirl friends! I was all set – I was headed to Seoul for the very first time to catch The Lost Planet, EXO’s first solo concert! I had everything I needed save for one tiny detail – I didn’t have a ticket to the show. “Detroit Rock City,” indeed.
May 23, Friday 1 a.m. – The plan was to catch the last train out at midnight from Hongdae to the Olympic Gymnastics Arena, the concert venue at which both my friends were already queuing for the next day’s concert tickets. Because I arrived at our hostel at half past twelve a.m. fresh from touchdown at Incheon Airport, I had already missed the train. Buzzed out of my mind (I was in freaking Seoul OMG) I tried to get some sleep.
There were girls everywhere. Because the park was closed, people were discouraged from setting up camp inside the grounds. Fans were exiled to the area surrounding the Olympic Park subway station like refugees from The Lost Planet. Picnic mats were spread out on all available surfaces. Technicolor socks peeked out from under blankets. Space was scarce, and scrambling to find your own spot was rampant. It was a huge slumber party by the side of the road. I’d never been to anything like this, but this was par for the course for Korean fangirls. This was normal. Whatever I saw on K-dramas was not an exaggeration.
It was awesome.
Even more amazing was the fact that there was a definite order to the chaos. It became clear that there were a few girls who had taken on a leadership role amid the tangled mess of blankets, backpacks and bed hair. I heard that those were the girls who had been at the venue since Tuesday, and they navigated the maze of bodies like fangirl Gestapo – checking for numbered wrists, ensuring no one broke the queue sequence established hours earlier. Nobody questioned them, and they moved through the chilly dawn like prison wardens. I ducked low and hid, hoping my unnumbered wrist would go unnoticed.
5a.m. – I got caught inside the venue for not having a registered queue number. My friends and I tried (though not very hard) to appeal to the HFBIC (Head Fan Bitch In Charge), but we all knew better than to get in a pissing match with a Korean fangirl over queuing priority. Hey, I knew my “Reply 1997”, and besides, I was in her turf. Sucking it up, I headed to the back of the line, about 500 meters away. I couldn’t feel too bad for too long, because in mere minutes, the line behind me started growing even longer. I bought my own picnic mat and curled myself in a ball to catch up on sleep.
It was going to be a long day.
10 a.m. – Breakfast was three hours ago, when I foraged the nearest convenience store and battled my way to the cash register. The day’s fuel de fangirl was prepackaged kimbap, bottled iced coffee and orange juice. I shared my table with two timid girls who were at first scared to approach me and bowed after I invited them to sit. I wanted to talk to them more, but I couldn’t.
I wanted to talk to my fellow queue-mates, too. The girls ahead of me were part of a large group whose average age seemed to be about fourteen years old. One of them would occasionally break out an odd English phrase, but they conversed exclusively in Korean and random EXO lyrics. I called them Troop EXO. One of the girls’ dads would come over and check up on them to see if any of them needed anything, which was sweet. I was touched by how supportive some of these fans’ parents were of this insanity. The fan behind me was a lone wolf. I shared my mat with her, and we would communicate in nods and waves whenever any of us needed to leave the queue temporarily. I looked at everyone and thought, “I could be your mom.” I bet I was the oldest one there.
2p.m. – The box office opened at 1p.m. I had already circled the park twice, and could not make heads or tails of where the line ended nor when it began. It snaked around trees and spiraled in clusters, a Mobius strip of hopeful and vigilant fangirls. Progress was slow, but at least the line was inching ever forward.
Different lines were forming around the main ticket queue, but I was never sure for what. I figured it was for fan-made goods, and the rule of thumb seemed to be to run fast. You schmooze, you lose. Good strategy meant you brought backup, like Troop EXO – friends to hold your place in the main line for you while you queued up for concert goods. I spotted an ahjumma in a straw hat sitting on a Monobloc chair fanning herself and wondered if she beat me at The Oldest EXO Stan game, or if she was yet another Proud Parent. Neither one would surprise me.
4p.m. – Something was happening! Security was being called over to Troop EXO. Someone was actually trying to cut in line! I’d been relying heavily on Troop EXO’s non-verbal cues to gauge developments and updates all throughout the day, and this was the most interesting one so far. The Line Cutter was visibly upset, trying to argue her way out with straws. Troop EXO were not hostile, but they weren’t backing down either.
Line Cutter approached me. “Do you know how to speak English?” “Yes…” I said, curious as to what she had to say for herself. Line Cutter explained what I already knew. Back the F up sister, are you trying to get me on your side? Troop EXO were watching me. “You go to back of line, sorry,” I said, not sorry.
5p.m. – The end of the line was so close, I could taste the paper the tickets were printed on. The worst-case scenario was having the line cut off at me while concert venue staff posted signs announcing “Tickets Sold Out.” I’m sure that was what everyone was thinking at that point. We all sharpened our internal knives to cut a bitch while watching the front of the line. I bargained with the Universe: I already got this far. You can’t just dangle this in front of me and take it away.
I was afraid I was losing my mind. Time started to warp and collapse in on itself. Every step forward mattered. Then – we were at the very front! Finally! YES! But also no! There was a collective gasp when the line cut off at the girl directly in front of me, the concert staff ahjussi holding her back. NO! Fuck no! What was happening? Was it over? Concert staff ahjussi was saying something to the Scout Leader of Troop EXO. Then she burst into tears. “Okay…okay…” she said, relief spilling over her cheeks. It became clear that concert staff were grouping ten girls at a time to approach the ticket box office. The line had simply cut off in front, but that didn’t mean tickets were sold out. Heart attack! I reached out to console Scout Leader. “It’s okay, we’re so near! Look, we’re so near!” I said, my first legitimate words to her since 4a.m. “We will get our tickets!” She smiled at me and asked me in shy English where I was from. Then she asked me who my favorite in EXO was, proving that a shared love of biases can cut across language barriers.
8p.m. – Confession time. I was ready to shell out triple the box office price of one ticket if push came to shove, but luckily I didn’t have to spend 300,000 KRW for these eleven little pabos. The standing section had sold out, and only the corner section by stage right was available. At that point, I was ready to take any section if it meant I could get inside the stadium.
No amount of maximum security-level could deter the most hardcore of fansites from taking their HQ photos during the concert, but it was enough to scare me. I only took photos before the show, only as proof to myself that I made it, in case I blacked out from the awesomeness of The Lost Planet.
I do feel some regret about that, because I can’t remember one damn thing after the house lights shut off and the sea of light sticks started moving as one. I don’t remember what I saw specifically apart from video wall projections and random members moving in closer to the audience. From where I was standing, I couldn’t see the action on the main stage, so I don’t remember seeing why the whole show felt like a two-hour lap dance. I don’t remember Chanyeol’s drum solo, or Baekhyun playing the piano, or Luhan flashing his abs. I don’t remember Chen’s slow thrusts during “My Lady”, or the entire stadium screaming “Oh Sehun” and “Kim Jongin”. I don’t remember getting scared for Tao when he swung around his Wushu stick, or D.O. in his little flying basket. I don’t remember Lay’s snapping hips and Xiumin shaking his booty and Suho – oh my god, what did he even do? Most especially I don’t remember not seeing Kris anywhere.
It was all just one beautiful silver-lit blur to me.