What happens when a heartthrob Korean boy band announces that it’s coming to Seattle?
Fans mobilize, and it all started with a tweet.
College student Rachel Ramirez sent a tweet, asking if anyone was going to see K-Pop group Pentagon perform at the Moore Theatre in Seattle. She wasn’t sure if anyone would respond.
But quickly people did, and she started adding people to a group chat to talk about the band and going to the concert. At one point they hit Twitter’s 50-person group chat limit. Fans from all over the Pacific Northwest were buzzing, as K-Pop groups typically stick to bigger cities like Los Angeles and Chicago while touring.
With superstar K-Pop groups like BTS and BLACKPINK permeating into mainstream American culture, Korean pop music has steadily been on the rise in the U.S. Although it still sometimes struggles to find its footing in the American music scene — notably a recent controversy at the 2019 Video Music Awards, when a separate category of “Best K-Pop group” was created, instead of allowing K-Pop artists to compete with other American pop groups — diehard fans are determined to ensure that K-Pop finds a home in the U.S.
Embarking on its first world tour, and first time performing extensively in America, Pentagon has been floored by its reception from U.S. fans.
The nine-member K-Pop group debuted in 2016 and is currently on the rise in the K-Pop scene. Band members Jinho, Hui, Hongseok, Shinwon, Yeo One, Yuto, Kino and Wooseok made their Seattle debut Tuesday night at the Moore Theatre. Ninth member Yanan is currently not on tour with them because he’s dealing with health issues.
But weeks before Pentagon even set foot in Seattle, its fans were excitedly discussing plans to welcome their idols. Generally, fandoms are notorious for gatekeeping, but K-Pop fans instead focus on uplifting each other and their favorite groups and spreading the word about loving and appreciating K-Pop.
I spoke with one Chicago-based fan, Janae Edwards, who was in Seattle for the Pentagon concert this week and has been following Pentagon across the U.S. leg of their world tour. She’s already seen them perform in Chicago and New York.
As a full-time student with a part-time job, she acknowledges that it’s an expensive endeavor, but for Pentagon, she says it’s worth it.
“It can be tough for [Pentagon] to have tour dates so close together,” Edwards said. “I’d like to believe that when they see some familiar faces at their concerts they think, ‘If my fans can do this, I can too.'”
Fans are incredibly committed to seeing their favorite K-Pop groups, but what’s especially unique is the community K-Pop fans create.
“I’ve gotten in line at 5:30 a.m. to see a concert that started at 7 p.m.,” said Brie Mclean. “It’s pretty rough, but you also get to meet a lot of people. Other fans will play music and dance; it’s cool to be around people that like the same stuff as you.”
The online Pentagon fan group decided to meet up in person before the concert this past Tuesday night. While many had never met in person and shyly approached the group, all were welcomed with loud hellos and a bombardment of small gifts many in the group had made for each other.
Ramirez made individualized cards for every person from the group chat, and another fan, Angelina Hanson, made 150 buttons covered in pictures of Pentagon that she packaged with other photos and stickers.
“We’ve been so surprised because we haven’t toured outside of Korea much,” Pentagon member Yeo One said through a translator in an interview with The Seattle Times on Tuesday afternoon before the concert. “But every time we perform in a new city we’ve had so many supporters.”
Jinho noted that he loved how much Pentagon’s American fans like to dance at their concerts, with some even following the same choreography as the band.
Having arrived in Seattle on Monday, performing Tuesday and then leaving on Wednesday for their next concert in Los Angeles, Pentagon has had a tumultuous schedule traveling from city to city.
With the little time they had to explore Seattle, they were excited to try some of the local food and visit Pike Place Market. Shinwon fulfilled his “dream” to try every McDonald’s he can while touring in America. He said Seattle’s tasted pretty ordinary.
Pentagon started the concert off with a bang, with two of their biggest hits “SHA LA LA” and “Gorilla.” And while most of them don’t speak English, they all practiced before touring so they could talk to the audience.
I will say for the record that I believe boyband fans are often unfairly characterized as screaming, ballistic teen girls. But it would also go against my journalistic integrity to not mention that Pentagon fans know how to make noise. The singing, screaming and chanting was all-consuming, and got especially loud when Yuto dropped a verse in his ever-mesmerizing deep voice.
Pentagon’s performance overall was a bit rough around the edges, but in the best way possible.
K-Pop is known for its extreme attention to detail and sometimes heavy-handed curation. Pentagon performed with pitch-perfect vocals and tight choreography, but there were also plenty of moments when they just did things for their own fun. From doing goofy dances during certain songs to going on random tangents in English when talking to the audience (highlights include: them listing all the things they had eaten in Seattle, Jinho describing his recent hoodie purchase, Hui turning around to show everyone how sweaty his back was) at many times it felt like 1,500-plus people were just hanging out with friends.
Which in many ways was fitting to the day as a whole. Everywhere I went, I witnessed moments of community and gratitude: from Pentagon fans greeting others that they had never met in real life like they were old friends, to the end of the concert when the performers were saying their goodbyes and thanks, and people in the crowd were shouting “THANK YOU” back at them.
Maybe some of this sporadic community will last past the evening, and some of it won’t, but it was really, really fun while it lasted.