Saturday, February 10, 2018

#ASTROinDC : My experience at the ASTRO fan meet at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC 2/7/2018

Perfect happiness is standing in a sea of fangirls, the very air surrounding us vibrating with excited energy, skin buzzing, fingers fidgeting with light sticks and fan signs. When the house lights go down, the music kicks in, and the theater erupts in a cheer so powerful you can feel it in your very bone marrow because you’re screaming too.

There is nothing like it in the world.

Last Wednesday I took the entire day off of work in the middle of an extremely busy and stressful week to attend a fan event here in Washington, D.C., for the Korean male idol group ASTRO. And I’ll be honest here: Did I know who ASTRO were before I happened to catch the advertisement on my instagram feed? No.

But here’s the thing: I love fan events. The price was reasonable and I needed something to look forward to after an incredibly shitty end to 2017. So, after checking out a couple of ASTRO’s videos, I decided that they seemed fun and that I’d try to buy a ticket. And on January 5, at precisely 10 a.m., when tickets went on sale, I bought one. Row C, on the center right aisle. I was going ASTRO’s fan meet.

Then the real fun began. Preparation.

What most normies don’t understand about male idol groups is that the performance is collaborative between the group and the audience. While the group members are on stage everyone in that theater is ASTRO or BTS or Arashi or A.B.C-Z. The songs these groups perform aren’t just stale recordings frozen in time but dynamic pieces of art, with each performance given fresh life by the audience’s participation whether that’s through fan choreography done with light sticks or through fan chants or just by adding energy through whoops of approval for our favorite parts.

(Here’s a fan chant video. The chants aren’t just some dumb thing teen girls do but are a vital part of the song. No two performances will be the same.)

So, even though I was new to Astro, I was not new to being part of an idol group audience. I knew I needed to study hard for the next four weeks or so to be able to put in a proper performance. I couldn’t in good conscience attend a fan meet and sit in the front row if I wasn’t able to do the fan chants. I owed it to both ASTRO and to ASTROs fans--all the lovely AROHA worldwide--to get up to speed fast.

I take my fangirling and my male idol groups very seriously.

Here’s what I did in four weeks:

1) Learned ASTRO’s names and faces.

2) Binge watched ASTRO’s extremely charming miniseries (titled To Be Continued, available on Netflix).

3) Listened to their full discography until the lines of the songs were etched in my mind.

4) Watched a million youtube fan compiled “crack” videos, live performances, and episodes of their extremely ridiculous reality show DDOCA.

5) Ordered their latest two CDs (Dream Part 1 and Dream Part 2).

6) Bought a light stick on ebay.

7) Started teaching myself Korean.

8) Went out and bought them something so they’d remember Washington, D.C.

9) Made a fan sign.

10) Arrived at the Lincoln Theater three and a half hours before the doors opened so I could stand in the rain and wait with all the other AROHA.

11) ACTUALLY BECAME AN AROHA MYSELF.

I think it was somewhere between watching ASTRO utterly fail at herding a cicada out of their rehearsal space and seeing them kill it at the idol olympics that I fell head over heels for this group of delightful idiots.

ASTRO are Jin Jin (the leader), Rocky, Cha Eun Woo, Moon-Bin, MJ, and Yoon Sanha (the baby). They specialize in incredible six person choreography but are also very talented singers and overall performers. While their music may be a bit too sugary for mainstream American ears, I found their songs and style to be utterly delightful. They harmonize well and make good use of all the singers. I grew particularly fond of Moon-Bin’s reedy tenor and MJ’s buttery vocals when he goes for the high notes.

(IT DOES NOT GET BETTER THAN THIS FOR FG-APPROVED CONTENT.)

(HOW ARE THESE THE SAME GUYS WHO CAN’T HERD A CICADA?!)

Waiting in the cold, cold February rain outside the Lincoln Theater with me were my kindred spirits. AROHA. We all quickly became best friends, bonding over who our favorite members were and the songs we liked, funny incidents we remembered, what we hoped to see that evening. Occasionally a cheer would erupt from part of the line and everybody would pull out their phones to see--ASTRO HAD POSTED A TWITTER UPDATE! Girls went up and down the line selling fan-made goods. We huddled under umbrellas, sharing coffee and warmth, making new friends, feeling that anticipation build higher and higher… frozen toes and tired backs were forgotten when the lights of the Lincoln Theater signboard clicked on. The time was getting close!

I kind of hoped ASTRO would be able to visit Ben’s Chili Bowl next door after the show for some real DC food.

Finally, inside the theater--after buying my tour tee shirt (an FG must have)--I went in to find my seat and get settled, organizing my fan sign, light stick, assorted concert goods, coat, umbrella, and glass of well-deserved wine. As one of the first ones in, I had a bit of calm before the storm. The empty theater felt sedate and drowsy. But as the seats slowly began to fill up, the energy level began to rise. A pleasant hum of excited chatter filled the room. ASTRO was here… in the building with us. HERE WITH US. Who’s your bias? When did you start liking them? What’s your favorite song? HOW CUTE IS MOON-BIN?! OMG DID YOU SEE THAT “CRAZY SEXY COOL” PERFORMANCE? WHAT ABOUT THEIR HOTEL ROOM V-LIVE WHERE THEY WERE SINGING LION KING?!

All the stuff we can never talk about in real life bubbling to the surface. There is nothing better than being surrounded by people who just get it. I’ve said this before in blog posts but American culture has a real disdain for women/girls’ culture and interests. Apparently taking pleasure in catchy pop songs, good dancing, handsome men working hard to please us, as well as an appreciation of deep homosocial friendships is the absolute worst thing on the face of the planet and marks us as vapid and stupid. I’m old enough to not care what people may think about my hobbies but my heart does break for the younger fans bullied into giving up something that is source of great joy for them because it’s “not real music”--whatever that even means. (Ladies, anybody who says you’re stupid for liking idols is a misogynist. Being an idol fan is no different than liking a sports team. I know because I do both.)

After a dance performance by a fan to get the crowd warmed up, the house lights go all the way down and “Crazy Sexy Cool” begins to play. The theater sparkles beautifully with purple light sticks and fan signs. My heart is so full of happiness I’m afraid I’m going to start crying. As the song plays, the crowd sings along--shouting the fan chants with enthusiasm. THIS SONG IS REALLY GOOD AND ASTRO ARE HERE! DOLA DOLA DOLA!

When it ends there is a roar from the crowd as we realize that there is a member on stage! IT’S JINJIN!!!!! He and Rocky do an incredible duet dance performance and then the rest of the group comes out for “Again” and that was it. I was gone, so happy that there was no room left in my body for anything else. Not cold toes or a tired throat or empty stomach. Just utter bliss.

ASTRO are very talented dancers and watching them from as close as I was I could tell that they had put in hours of rehearsal time to get all the timings and movements in perfect sync. Sometimes Asian groups will bring their B-game (or even C-game) to America knowing that we aren’t as able to tell the difference as the home crowds but ASTRO brought their best selves. And that respect for us won me over that much more.

As somebody who has spent a good 15 years or so as a male idol group fan, I can’t say enough good things about ASTRO’s dancing and their six person choreography. Even numbers are hard to work with. A lot of times you end up with a hole in the center. Four member groups, especially, tend to look like they’re missing somebody. Two, Five, and Seven seem to be the magic numbers for a good balance on stage but ASTRO just kills the six person rotations. They make a lot of use of a rotating center, where one member will be in front and flip around and another appears behind him or have the guy singing the main line off to either stage left or stage right with the other five acting as counterbalance. To my delight, they also use what I call the “Soul Train Line” move and have two sets of three facing each other and somebody will peel off and strut down the center.

(Prime use of Soul Train Line formation. How could I not fall for these guys?)

It was glorious watching them do all these dances in real life, right before my face. Seeing things that YouTube could never show. The smiles at the crowd, the way muscles move under denim, the sweat, Rocky’s hair flips… Just seeing six people dance in unison like that… I loved it all.

In between the mini-song sets ASTRO played games and chatted with us in the audience. I was really impressed with both ASTRO and Shimmy--our MC for the evening--and the way they were able to bridge the translation gap. I’d been a little worried that there would be a lag in comprehension either on our end, since the majority of us weren’t Korean speakers, or on ASTRO’s. But Shimmy kept things moving smoothly and cleanly and ASTRO had clearly practiced speaking with the (off-stage) translator so between the entire on-stage team, I mostly even forgot they weren’t speaking in English. It was about as close to real life subtitles as you’ll get.

The games were silly variety show type things and I laughed really, really hard at everything because I was having so much fun. The highlight was undoubtedly when the Young Team had to “sexy write” their names with their butts as punishment for losing and Rocky just went for it with this move that had him lunging low into the swoop on the R. I lost it. Between that and the fan service hearts he’d been throwing off on our side of the stage, I was officially now Team Rocky. Poor young Sanha had covered his eyes at this point in the sexy butt writing, horrified. You’ll understand one day, dear boy. Moon-Bin nailing the choreography for like seven songs in a row in a lightening “Name this song” round was also a real delight.

But more than anything else, what I remember is just how happy ASTRO seemed to be on stage performing for us. And how much love I felt standing in the middle of that crowd of fans. There was only one moment where things got out of control, during the encore some fans began rushing towards the stage as ASTRO were throwing out little bags of gummy bears for us. Security were unprepared and what started as a few people snowballed into a somewhat dangerous herd. But as soon as they’d finished tossing out candy, ASTRO told everybody go back to their seats and to the DC fans credit, they did just that.

And then it was over.

But I didn’t feel empty. I felt satisfied… and thankful. Thankful to ASTRO for coming to DC to perform… for existing in the first place. And thankful to the lovely AROHA I’d met in line who were so sweet and kind and made my day so much fun.

This is why I love idol groups. Being a fan of an idol group isn’t about buying crap because you want to marry one of the members. Being a fan of an idol group is about love. A love of music and dance, a love for your fellow fans, and a love for the guys who work so hard to please us. We are AROHA. We are ASTRO.

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