Molly Dektar

Thousands of fans gathered in Newark on a cloudy Saturday for the East Coast’s first KCON—a celebration of “all things hallyu,” a catchall term for Korean pop culture.

In LA, the convention was three days long; this year, it drew 58,000 fans — up from  43,000 last year. Over the weekend in Newark, 17,000 fans came out for the inaugural event. A smaller number, but spirits were high and screams were piercing. Some had camped out since 2 in the morning to snag a spot close to the stage.

The attendees came from all over the country and ranged widely in age and background, but they were unified by their good-natured and inclusive fandom — as Mei, age 13, said, “It’s so cool knowing everyone here likes the same thing as you do.” They came for panel discussions, for sing-alongs, for a talent show, and for workshops on “Crazy Korean Cooking,” but most of all they came to see their favorite bands in person, and, in fan engagement sessions, to “hi touch” (like high-fiving, but gentler) the hands of their idols. “It was so soft,” said one 14-year-old about the hand of Leo, a member of the wildly popular boy band VIXX. “So soft.”

'Our outfits were inspired by the music video ‘My Copycat’ by Orange Caramel.' — Tiffany, Colleen, and Michelle.
Paige, 20, and Sienna, 20 are students at Brown University and were excited to see VIXX.

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Twins Tia-Mona and Bria-Leta, 22.
Mei, 13, and Allie, 13 drove from Western Massachusetts for the convention, and they were most excited to see VIXX.

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Susan, 22, made her outfit, including her polka-dot eyelashes. 'It’s inspired by Nana from Orange Caramel.' She bought the slip dress at Forever 21 and painted it, then cobbled together the rest from Joann’s Fabrics—and the polka-dots glow in the dark.

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Jorge, 30 and Rei, 22. Jorge said, 'Hood by Air is very popular in the K-pop industry. I’m especially representing Y.G.' —the entertainment group that produces Big Bang and Psy, a.k.a. the Gangnam Style guy
Jasmine and Ameryst, both 20. Jasmine said of Ameryst: 'She came because I dragged her.' Jasmine said she likes K-pop 'because it’s more upbeat and happier than American pop.' 'And the choreography is always on point,' added Ameryst.
Elliott, 30, wore Tevas and a Sou-Sou top and shorts. 'I think it’s great that K-pop and Korean culture in general are becoming more celebrated in the States. That cultural output has a lot to give.'

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Sabrina, 14, drove up from Florida. She admires K-pop stars because 'they take such time with the choreography. Americans are quite lazy compared.'
It took four bottles of dye for Sabrina to achieve this shocking pink.
Olivia discovered K-pop via friends and Tumblr. 'I was very surprised by the size of the convention. I expected it to be a lot smaller since it’s their first time doing it in New York.'

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Lamar and his feline backpack.
Travis's shirt lists the eight members of Girls’ Generation. (There were nine members up till 2014, and 'there’s all kinds of controversy now.') K-pop’s draw, he said, is that 'it’s kind of like American boy bands on steroids, but better. They’re better vocalists, with far better choreography.' Travis rented a car and drove from Columbus, Ohio for the convention.

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Hawa, 21, made her own hat. 'K-pop, the culture, is sort of like popcorn—it surprises you, it’s very delicious and very yummy, and wholesome and warm.' Hawa hoped that Tiffany from Girls’ Generation would see her outfit.
Anwar was most excited to see Girls’ Generation. He’d just picked up a lot of the components of his outfit in vintage shops in London

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Necklaces on sale at one of the booths
Vanessa: 'We danced and did the lip sync thing and won free vouchers to see VIXX earlier!'

Photography by Molly Dektar

Molly Dektar is from North Carolina. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College and lives in Brooklyn.