Spending my birthday in Korea was awesome and yet terribly sad. Sad because I was away from my family and friends that I’ve known forever. I didn’t get a cake or even seaweed soup (since I heard that is what I was supposed to be eating on my birthday in Korea). No one sang to me and no one threw me a party. But who needs all that?
I turned 21 years old in Korea. That is awesome. I spent the entire day in Gangnam. You might have heard of the place. There is a song that released a few years ago by the title “Gangnam Style” that parodies the whole area.
The area is pretty cool. Department stores that reach far into the sky. Filming locations that fans will recognize from their favorite music videos and tv shows. Malls that scour deep underground with endless shopping and walking galore. Women walking in the highest of high heels. Men strutting a suit and a matching tie, looking so good that it is hard to look at anything except the uneven sidewalk. But you should definitely be keeping an eye out for the uneven sidewalk since you don’t want your face to meet it if you trip over a block that sticks out.
Well, welcome to Gangnam.
I had been there once before and took a bus ride tour, ate at a famous Japanese noodle restaurant, visited a quiet temple, and went underground to shop. This time we stayed above ground. This time we decided to take a behind-the-scenes look at Korea’s music industry. Armed with a map, we scouted out entertainment agency buildings to see what the hype was with each one.
The group, two friends, that I was with are huge fans of Kpop, Korean pop music. I have my favorite Korean bands but some of the music is not to my liking. However, since Gangnam is home to several agencies, we wanted to come say hello.
First stop: SM Entertainment. SM Entertainment is best known for groups like Super Junior, Girl’s Generation, and SHINee. I guess they are also known for fans that stare daggers into your soul. We arrived at the agency. We just wanted to take pictures of the exterior, looking in on a place that produces some of Kpop’s best known music. Since we were walking so much, I was forced to change shoes. Our plans had changed somewhere since the beginning and I wasn’t exactly dressed for walking, wearing ballet flats that were digging into the back of my heel. We took some pictures but these girls kept getting in the way of this perfect shot. Since these girls also occupied most of the benches out front, I changed into the only other pair of shoes I had on me at the time- high heels, while balancing on a friend’s shoulder. They were all like robots that caught someone with a malfunction. Every head turned to my shoes, as if I was a threat. The air was thick with anticipation, wondering what my group was going to do next. It was at that moment that my two friends and I realized who these girls were.
These were fans but not the kind of fans that like a band and will go to a concert to see them. These fans can’t wait until a concert. They have to see their favorite band now. These fans wait outside these buildings day in and day out, watching and waiting for people to come in and out.
Before a fight could break out, we were on our way to the next building. FNC Entertainment. Best known for my favorite bands, CNBlue and FTIsland. Girls stood outside this building too. It was so interesting to us that they respected an invisible boundary. They did not huddle by the door but rather crowd in the streets. However these girls seem to smell intention. Pulled out of deep conversation with their standing friends, a man with dark shades walks out of the side door that is visible from the front gate. He wastes no time getting his helmet on and rides off in his motorcycle. As soon as he crossed this invisible boundary, the girls start chasing him—him on his motorcycle, them in cute skirts. They do it for a chance to meet them, for a chance that the guy underneath the helmet may be their favorite singer from their favorite band.
My friends and I were astounded that Korea would be home to a very different fan culture than we were used to. I’m sure there are fans like this in America but I feel like they are a bit more hidden than Korea. At least, I feel like the America’s building security would have taken care to not have fans loitering in the streets 24/7.
We also visited JYP Entertainment and CUBE studio.
It was so interesting to experience this type of fan culture. Can you imagine skipping school or work for a potential chance to see your favorite singer walk in to work? It astounds me.
Sadly, the few minutes that we did mill around the buildings to take pictures, we did not catch anybody that we recognized.
Overall, it was a good 21st birthday, despite the lack of cake and seaweed soup. It was awesome spending a birthday in another country and being able to travel around Gangnam.
And speaking of robots, I’m currently obsessed with this song (but not so obsessed to wait outside their building to catch a glimpse of them) and keep listening to it everyday: