Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Adventures of a Crazy American K-pop Fan In Seoul: The Last Fansign


The train to Mokdong is crowded on a Thursday evening, and I shift uncomfortably, brushing against anonymous handbags and shoulders, happy it’s only a short ride from the point where I had transferred to line 5 (I don’t know what it is about the purple line, but it’s always been my least favorite). Today I’m headed to Bandi & Luni’s, a bookstore in the Mokdong U-plex, in order to purchase NU’EST’s newest album, Action, for a chance to get in to a fansign event.

Its ironic, I think, that my last fansign in Seoul will be with the first group I ever went to one for. Assuming I get in. Attendance is determined by lottery, you see, so out of the albums sold Wednesday through Friday, 150 fans will be chosen. Of course, when I went to my first NU’EST fansign, getting in was a simple matter of being one of the first 150 fans to buy the album from the host record store on the specified day because it was first come first serve. I’m actually a bit proud of them for meriting a lottery style fansign. The goal of all parties involved is obviously to make money, and with rookie groups that are just starting out, the first come first serve tactic it is a sure way of selling at least 150 albums, because people know for sure when they are buying the album that they’re going to get in to the signing, and it’s a good way of peaking people’s interest. With the lottery tactic, assuming the group has a substantial enough fanbase, they have the potential of selling  more than10,000 albums for a 150 person fansign (I’ve seen it happen with popular idol group Super Junior), as each album counts as a chance to enter your name into the lottery. I have witnessed hopeful fans buy 60 albums at time for a chance to meet their favorite singers. I personally, will be buying one album as NU’EST is nowhere near that point in yet. By having a lottery-style fansign though, it means that both NU’EST’s management company and the hosting record store are banking on substantially more than 150 albums being sold, thus a telltale sign of their increase in popularity.

Though there is a slightly smaller chance of me getting in to a fansign when it’s via lottery, it’s more convenient, because I don’t have to rush to the store the first morning of sales in order to be among the first 150 people. I can go on my own time (as long as it is during the designated dates.)

I buy an album for myself, and another for a friend who has only recently gotten interested in the group. In return the store clerk hands me two tickets indicated where I must write name, phone number, and birthdate. I fill out one for myself, and the other for my friend, and the clerk gives me the corresponding tickets in return. The list of names chosen to attend the fansign will be posted Friday night at 10pm, she explains, and if our names are there we need to bring the corresponding tickets to the store the day of the fansign and redeem our spots. I’m not too worried about getting in, but I do miss the certainty of the first come first serve style. I try to put it out of my mind for the next several days.

As it turns out, there was no need to be nervous. When I check the list Friday night, both my friend’s name and mine are on the list. We arrive an hour or so before the event begins and get our numbers in line (35 and 36). We have a bit of time before we need to line up so I buy some stationary from a nearby store.

I don’t usually write letters to idols, but I’ve been supporting NU’EST since their debut and I’ve attended enough events that they know who I am, or at least recognize me in the crowd as one of their few regular white fans. It might sound weird, but I realize that I really do feel like I have a real relationship with the members. The distance between fans and idols in Korea is far less marked than for the fans who can only access K-pop through the internet or TV, and as someone who has now experienced both perspectives I can see how much of a difference it makes. I’m leaving Seoul soon and I’ll have to go back to a faceless fan who views events and music shows helplessly from the internet, and I won’t pretend it’s going to be easy to go back to being an international fan, but I’m immensely glad I got to experience fandom within Korea. So I write Aron, the oldest member and a native of Los Angeles a fan letter. I feel a little like a 12 year old girl, because I’m 21 and probably should be over writing letters to idols, but at the same time like a protective older sister who’s leaving her baby brothers behind. I tell them to stay take care of each other and work hard but not to sacrifice themselves for it. I tell them I’m going to miss watching them perform ,and that I’m proud of how much they’ve accomplished since their debut. And I mean it. I’m glad Aron speaks English because I don’t think I could’ve expressed myself well if I’d had to write entirely in Korean.

When the time comes to line up and I see the five members of NU’EST sit down at the low tables that have been prepared with beverages, thick black markers, and a bevy of security guards, my hands start to shake. No matter how many times I go to a fansign, no matter how many times an idols walks by me in a parking lot, no matter how many times one waves at me when I’m calling his name or shakes my hand as he shuffles off stage after a performance, I don’t think I’ll ever be immune to the dazzling aura of Korean celebrities. Dressed in their tight fitting performance outfits, with a fresh coat of make up to intensify their already gorgeous features, these boys are almost inhumanly good looking. And at the same time, so hyper real, their laughter and widening eyes so entirely boyish and natural. It does a number on you, to see such normalcy on people that look like they just stepped off a magazine page, photoshop and all. And to think we have a fairly familiar rapport still blows my mind slightly.

I kneel on the floor across the cloth covered table from the leader of the group, JR, still a little tongue-tied at his existence, but I manage not to embarrass myself too greatly. When I get to Aron, I tell him I’m headed home soon and that I probably won’t get to see him again. He looks genuinely saddened to hear it and I’m hit with a little burst of affection for the 19 year old, he tells me good luck on my last year in college and I give him my message to pass on to the other members. It’s a bit sad to say goodbye like this, but I count myself lucky that I get to say anything to them at all in person. When Minhyun, the last member in line has finally finished signing my album – there was a bit of a hold up when his pen ran out of ink halfway through writing– I give them all a little wave and move a way from the crowd to wait for my friend.

She comes away just as breathless and excited as I was after the first time I’d met them in person, smitten by their easy smiles and adolescent charms, and it makes me happy to know I’ve helped NU’EST gain another fan. The K-pop high that usually swamps me at fansigns is tempered with a sober finality that makes the moment a bit bittersweet. But as I flip through the pages of my album I have to smile seeing that the members signed my album “To Nuna.” Even though I’m leaving Korea I’ll always have this album as a reminder of my time in Seoul and my time as a crazy fangirl. I’ll be able to gaze fondly upon the scrawled upon faces of these boys months, years from now, and feel this day echoed and reverberating from the pages.