With over 140,000 fervent K-pop enthusiasts gathering at the Los Angeles Convention Center and Crypto.com Arena from Aug. 18 to Aug. 20,
A single-day convention ticket was $30, granting fans entry to the extravaganza. For those in search of an unforgettable evening concert experience, seats in the uppermost sections were available for $95. Meanwhile, those yearning for a more intimate connection with their beloved idols had a $100 meet-and-greet hi-touch pass, which allowed them to step onto the showcase stage and exchange greetings with their favorite stars, who were safely standing in glass boxes.
Just a day before KCON LA kicked off, super rookie boy group xikers made a heartwarming gesture. They spent a special afternoon with their devoted fans, known as roadY, engaging in a free, all-access event in Hollywood. Many roadY camped overnight for the first-come, first-served occasion, which was limited to just 120 fans. With general admission, the number swelled to 240 in a space with a maximum occupancy of about 300.
Hosted by hello82, a K-pop entertainment brand with a mission to connect idols and their fans, the inaugural and newly erected fan space in Los Angeles symbolizes a vision for the future of K-pop fandoms. Historically, these communities have thrived online on platforms such as Tumblr, Reddit, Discord, Twitter, TikTok, WeVerse and Bubble.
In 2019, hello82 uploaded a video to its YouTube channel that would serve as its ethos. K-pop legend Sunmi traveled to Buenos Aires and was filmed spending a day with one of her biggest fans; from there, hello82’s channel produced viral hits such as Reddit AMAs with artists, groups singing in foreign languages and idols playing games with kids. The channel has since grown to over 1.7 million subscribers and has expanded to a network of other original content verticals in Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian and Arabic, among other languages.
“Artists were posting and uploading videos and photos on Instagram and Twitter, but nobody was truly serving the fans,” says Jae Yoon Choi, founder and CEO of hello82’s parent company, KAI Media. “We wanted to serve the fans, bring the artists to them and connect and bridge that relationship.”
Choi has had a keen eye and interest in the fan experience for over a decade. He served as an executive producer and head of programming for South Korean entertainment television network Mnet for over 12 years before spearheading the creation of Dingo in 2015, which has grown to become one of South Korea’s largest multi-platform media brands.
Tasked with building up Mnet America back in 2011, Choi came to the U.S. during the rising wave of K-pop and online content. “We were trying to make digital media and something in the real world so we can meet as much of our audience online and in person as possible,” he says. Alongside hello82 co-founder Sang H. Cho, the pair were instrumental in creating KCON 11 years ago.
KCON set a gold standard for the K-pop fan experience, becoming the norm for concertgoers. But while the traditional K-pop concert experience is a dream-come-true for many, it comes with its own set of challenges. K-pop tours, which often span multiple countries and continents, can be financially taxing for fans. The costs of tickets, VIP packages, travel, lodging and merchandise can add up rapidly, creating barriers for many enthusiasts.
Over the past couple of years, there has been a surge in K-pop concerts. Mega groups like BLACKPINK, TWICE, (G)-IDLE, MAMAMOO, NCT Dream and dozens of others have embarked on tours, and several fans have managed to see some of their favorite groups this year at inaugural events like We Bridge in Las Vegas and K-pop Krazy Super Concert in New York. Mainstream festivals such as Coachella, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands have boasted artists like NewJeans, TXT and aespa in their lineups, reflecting K-pop’s growing influence on the global music scene. However, these festivals can also be exhausting for fans who navigate through crowds and multi-day lineups just to catch a glimpse of an artist up close.
In Korea, on the other hand, traditional meet-and-greet options involve a lottery system, which can sometimes be influenced by the number of albums a fan purchases. Even fan-led cup sleeve events do not typically include appearances by the artists they are dedicated to, and this is where hello82’s pioneering blueprint comes into play. On the physical level, hello82’s fan space has photocards, vibrant posters and the latest albums. The venue is a warm, hospitable gathering place where fans can sit down and immerse themselves in the world of K-pop while sipping on boba and bonding over their biases — a departure from typical K-pop stores that lack the space for socializing.
“We always say we should be called the K-pop fans’ playground,” says Kelly Shin, the head of marketing and community at hello82. “We aim to create a unique experience distinct from traditional meet-and-greets, where fans often have to spend a significant amount of money. We want to help fans create lasting memories beyond a simple high-five. Our approach represents an evolution from traditional meet and greets and other VIP treatments. We understand that fans can’t always wait for concerts to connect with their idols. That’s why we offer experiences that coincide with artists’ visits.”
For instance, xikers’ August visit was part of what hello82 calls a “layover” event, which occurs when a group is in town for a concert performance or promotion. Not all hello82 events will include appearances from a K-pop act, but each one is meticulously planned to offer something fun. Shin’s favorite event to organize was an experience with boy group ATEEZ for the release of their song “Bouncy.”
“It was basically a flash mob in L.A. We gathered almost 350 people. It was truly amazing because when we released the application form, almost 8,000 people applied within the first few minutes. The event was free, and anyone could join by simply submitting a video of themselves doing the ‘Bouncy’ dance challenge,” Shin said.
As part of their U.S. stop, xikers promoted their latest album, “House of Tricky: How to Play.” The group will embark on their first U.S. tour in October. The title of their new album is fitting as it mirrors hello82’s aim to transform the fan experience into a dynamic playground.
Embodying the motto “Wherever You Are,” hello82 is erasing the digital and geographical boundaries of fan experiences. Looking ahead, the company hopes to expand its fan space beyond Los Angeles, heralding a future where overnight campers and lines of fans stretching around the block eagerly await, all wanting to say hello.