Among the things I came to appreciate about EXO’s concert in Dallas last week was, well, EXO. I have championed and advocated repeatedly for the K-Pop idol. For all the time I’ve spent criticizing K-Pop’s ridiculousness, I have also spent arguably an equal amount of energy and huge chunk of my blogging career writing about the immense talent involved in shaping it.
At EXO’s “EXOPLANET #2: The EXO’luXion”, it all came to a head in an overwhelming sensory experience that took me a while to wrap my head around. I never imagined writing about a K-Pop concert experience of this caliber before, but it happened. It was amazing, frightening, surreal, and unsettling all at once.
EXO’s concert was, for a lack of better terms, fucking awesome. K-Pop became tangible that evening. The lines were blurred between reality and fantasy, and I was tip-toeing between both interchangeably. I never thought I would spend a whopping 2 and a half hours wildin’ out to EXO, but I did.
But rather than diving into the actual show, I do want to point out something that is probably obvious, but that rang so true as I experienced it:
A K-Pop concert is one of the best places to observe the effectiveness of Hallyu and to get an honest idea of the audience it caters to. The K-Pop fandom is diverse. Very, very diverse. In fact, K-Pop caters to such a unique demographic, that at times leading up to EXO’s concert, I felt completely out of touch and out of place. I bring this up because being in the midst of it had a strange effect on me.
It made me uncomfortable.
It’s pretty evident from my social media footprint that I make it a thing to keep up with K-Pop; I mean, this blog is dedicated to it. At the same time, K-Pop is one of many threads of consciousness in my daily life. Like anyone, I have many interests and K-Pop happens to be one of them. So for me it was interesting to be confronted by a large body of human beings who were far more devoted to one specific aspect of K-Pop than I think I could ever be, and that in itself was a form of madness I wasn’t prepared to deal with. I’m a 26 year old dude who pokes fun at all of this on the daily, while on the other hand K-Pop resonates in an incredibly different way to someone else. Such was the case at “EXO’luXion”, and it took experiencing it first hand to help me understand that.
As I stood in line sandwiched between two separate groups of teens – adolescents made up the majority of “EXO’luXion” show-goers – I found myself questioning if I actually cared enough to be there. If all K-Pop gatherings were anything like this, could I survive that? I’ve attended concerts before, so why was I uncomfortable now? Be it nerves or whathaveyou, I couldn’t relate to this demographic, and that confused me.
It’s tough to admit, but I was haunted by an anxiety that I didn’t understand, at a stupid K-Pop concert of all places. The little energy I harbored in the moments leading up to the show, I didn’t want to spend discussing K-Pop or flipping through idol Instagram accounts, like those surrounding me were doing. In seven simple words: I – did – not – want – to – be – there.
But what eventually alleviated the mental stress, especially upon entering the venue, was that no matter how far removed I felt, at the very least I knew we were all there for the same thing. Regardless of our background, temperament, or avenues of expression, we had EXO in common.
For me, it wasn’t so much that I was going to see EXO that activated my euphoria (although, c’mon, It’s fucking EXO), but that I was about to soak in the spirit and intricacies of every single concert, performance, show, and video that I’ve ever watched online and documented for years in person for the first time in my life. As a writer, that was what I was chasing going there. But for the rad girl who ended up sitting next to me–she went to the concert on her own, like I did–she was there for a completely different reason.
It was the thought of appreciating these artists in unison but each in our own different way under a controlled environment that finally took me from drowning in a breadth of discomfort to feeling a sense of belonging. I was overwhelmed with excitement, just like everybody else. We were ready to cheer, holler, and spill our hearts out. And at that moment, I was alright.