[RECAP] KAMP LA Was A K-Pop Festival That Happened

Cr. Ericka P.

Since the mid-2010s, K-Pop events have grown in size and spectacle in the United States due to the rising popularity of the niche pop genre. Groups frequently perform at small theaters to big stadiums, attend late-night shows, and even have their albums available for easy purchase at your local Target. Being a K-Pop fan has become more acceptable than a decade ago, as evident from the enduring success of KCON and the steady flow of trending groups adding the U.S. as a part of their promotional schedules performing on infamous late-night shows like Colbert and Fallon

This success had to be what KAMP festival organizers had in mind when they were creating the first K-Pop festival in the U.S. called KAMP LA 2022, riding on the modest success of their inaugural event in Singapore a few years back. The two-day event had an incredible original lineup of 15 acts and surprisingly, it was created with every type of K-Pop fan in mind from the hip-hop fans (Epik High and Zion.T) to the fans of big players (KAI, Taeyeon, and BamBam). It was also going to be held at the Rose Bowl Stadium, a historic venue that only juggernauts BTS and the rising Asian and Asian American music label 88rising had managed to pull tens of thousands into Pasadena. It’s a feat that not many artists, even those outside of the genre, can achieve in the U.S. because it requires a large, dedicated fanbase to get there. Both had venues much smaller before their debuts at the stadium. With a lot on the line, KAMP had to deliver. 

Unfortunately, their efforts fell extremely short of expectations.

A day before the first day of the festival began, hints from BamBam and Somi being unable to board their flights arose, followed by many hearing unconfirmed reports of KAI, Taeyeon, Lapillus, and Zion.T having visa issues. Many fans, including those who were already in LA or flying in, were blindsided by the news. After all, traveling in the age of COVID is difficult and expensive, and it did not help that KAMP LA tickets were sold for hundreds of dollars, with a VIP package priced at a staggering $1,500

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The day progressed and soon enough, the attendees were given notice by the respective artists’ companies that six total acts (KAI, Taeyeon, BamBam, Lapillus, Jeon Somi, and Zion.T) would be unable to attend the festival. Monsta X’s cancellation would be announced in the early morning hours of the second day of the festival, making a total of seven acts out of the original fifteen unable to attend what was anticipated to be the biggest K-Pop festival in North America to date. What made it worse was the photos of the near-empty venue flooded social media channels with many dubbing KAMP LA as the “Fyre Festival” of K-Pop concerts.

Nonetheless, the two-day event happened anyway with a change in lineup for the first day, adding TFN (called T1419 at the time of the festival) and MOMOLAND. The energy coming into the stadium was palpably apprehensive, but that started to disappear as the acts began to perform with the anticipated energy and professionalism. 

P1Harmony kicked it off with their latest title track ”Doom Du Doom” as people continued to trickle in slowly into the venue. The relaxed, poppy hip-hop track was highlighted by Soul’s freestyle floor routine as he banged his chest up with explosive and defiant energy, setting a clear message that despite all odds, every artist will give it their all. The six-membered group also performed songs like “Do It Like This,” “Black Hole,” “Follow Me,” and “Ayaya” with the last three songs boosting the crowd’s energy. P1eces sang passionately along with fan chants, jumping in tandem with the members.

TFN followed suit wearing resort-themed outfits before performing their second single, “EXIT.” The members brought the intensity with their high-energy tracklist with songs “Get the Bomb,” “Asurabalbalta,” and “FLEX.” During TFN’s ment, the translator asked the most ridiculous question: “Who’s the biggest BTS impersonator?” The group was caught off guard, gathering dissent from the audience as such a question wouldn’t have been brought up for a veteran or more popular group. Despite the clear discomfort, Sian dodged the question with tact, stating, “I really respect them!” before doing a short cover of Jimin’s “Serendipity.” 

Up next was MOMOLAND, the only girl group performing for the first night. The sextet performed a variety of their hit tracks, including the cute and sensual “BAAM” to their rendition of the viral saccharine TikTok hit, “Wrap Me In Plastic” to the funky and mature “Yummy Yummy Love”. A drizzle did begin during their time, but the members continued, expressing concern for the concertgoers. They had prepared for the light rain but had to throw away their umbrellas before entering the stadium. The group ended their set with the viral 2018 hit, “Bboom Bboom” with their notorious “GREAT!” chants interspersed in the song.

As night crept in, iKON enveloped the Bowl in a vibrant and uncompromising red soon after. The group came out with their smash hit, “Sinosijak” before doing a few more of their high-powered singles like “Rhythm Ta” and “Bling Bling” Of course, an iKON set was not complete without the infectious earworm “Love Scenario,” a clear favorite as the crowd sang the chorus unwaveringly word-for-word. This marked iKON’s first appearance in the U.S. since 88rising’s “Head in the Clouds” festival in 2019 and iKONICS were elated to see them. Perhaps what captured the vibe the most was hearing an inebriated fan asking Bobby if he needed a babysitter as the smiley member recently became a father and a fianceé.

Lastly, the first night concluded with Super Junior minus two members due to Siwon’s filming commitments and Heechul’s leg injury. The seven members hit many with a nostalgic high for the second generation of K-Pop, performing hits like “Black Suit,” “Devil,” “Sorry Sorry,” and “Bonamana.” Super Bongs enveloped the venue in a deep blue with ELFs happy to see them. After all, their U.S. appearances are rare and sparse in between. Looking sleek in tan suits, the members greeted their fans with the usual upbeat and light-hearted energy that Super Junior is known for. The crowd also celebrated Donghae’s birthday, singing “Happy Birthday” as Eunhyuk and Ryeowook shuffled around to spell “DH” out with the two cakes the SM Entertainment staff prepared in between rehearsals. Leeteuk also gave a bit of skin, taking off his blazer and revealing his well-built abs to a roaring audience

And with that, the first day of KAMP LA ended unceremoniously and with little fanfare. There was no reunion of the artists at the end for more fan-to-idol interactions or even a message from KAMP thanking the attendees or a safe trip home. The organizers’ lack of understanding of K-Pop fan culture was glaringly obvious throughout the first day – they even banned freebies, a K-Pop concert experience staple. The concert was cut short by two hours despite the promise of extending everyone’s sets to accommodate for the changes.

With the shakiness of the first night, the second and last night began as fans continued to show up for the artists and made peace with the disorganization. Perhaps it was due to the organizers softening the blow with free tickets and floor/VIP upgrades, but the crowd was bigger, louder, and genuinely, more ecstatic than ever before. 

TFN opened the second night with most of the first day’s setlist intact in the same sleek white outfits, adding “Run Up” and “Dracula” into the mix with swift, clean choreography and clear vocals. The members, adorned in edgier black and white outfits than the first day, showed their cool masculinity. The group performed to a bigger audience than the previous night, gathering more cheers and newer fans.  

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MOMOLAND was the next and last act performing twice for the festival with a lineup change. Arin was missing from the action, with the members mentioning her exhaustion as a reason. (The group had their flight delayed and arrived in Los Angeles hours before their first day’s performance). Nonetheless, the crowd was noticeably louder with the group’s lightsticks scattered amongst the audience. Merries sang enthusiastically to all of their hits to the point where Nancy quipped, “I feel like there’s more people today!” It was refreshing to finally hear “Bboom Bboom” with the addicting fan chants this time around, with many raising their thumbs in the air to the beat.

Then, CHUNG HA made her way to the stage. With only four backup dancers, the I.O.I alum effortlessly went through her set with chic, cool ease despite having major audio and mic issues. At some point, they played the wrong song, but CHUNG HA and her dancers seamlessly transitioned and garnered a lot of praise, performing hits like “Snapping,” “Why Don’t You Know,” and “Gotta Go.” The singer was thoroughly touched in seeing her debut album in the growing crowd and thanked the attendees for singing along to her set. CHUNG HA also gave her fans a taste of her upcoming album “Bare & Rare Pt. 2” by singing an unreleased track, Love Without You.” The all-English song introduced her stronger diva powerhouse vocals, similar to high notes in the house-heavy prerelease “Stay Tonight” in 2020, which was a nice departure from her usual light and airy vocals. 

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Next was the veteran and one of the building blocks of Korean hip-hop, Epik High. The trio sauntered in with almost two decades of performances under their belts and commanded the stage from the get-go as the crowd got pumped. Tablo and Mithra Jin ripped through their verses with incredible precision, laced with profanities that got ear-ripping cheers during “No Thanxxx” and “Burj Khalifa.” It was the most the audience has done during the entire festival with new listeners vibing through hooting and on-beat clapping, pleading with Tablo to throw water at them. DJ Tukutz broke into freestyle dances much to everyone’s surprise in between spinning through the set with his DJ equipment and delivering a few verses here and there. It felt as though one was thrown into an Epik High concert as the trio introduced themselves in the only way they knew how: by humor and over-the-top theatrics. 

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DJ Tukutz and Mithra Jin greeted the audience in an incredibly unserious manner with the Avengers and Universal Studios theme parodies as their introductions. Attendees laughed heartily at their grandiose efforts of uplifting the mood of the festival. Then, Tablo said that was on everyone’s mind all weekend, entering a dramatic monologue for the ages

“There are times in everyone’s life where it feels like you’re not gonna make it,” Tablo began. “There are times in your life when you feel like everything is going to shit where you feel like, all the plans you made, all the hopes you had, no matter how well organized and prepared in advance, [it] don’t matter because it’s not in your control.” 

Tablo at KAMP LA

He delivered the much-needed vindication and validation that all attendees wanted, and it was beautifully succinct, expected from the Stanford alum. 

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“There are times in your life where you don’t always get what you want and it breaks your heart,” Tablo continued sarcastically in between chuckles of disbelief. “I’m sure none of you know what I’m talking about. I’m sure none of you [have] experienced even a little bit of that this weekend.” 

But one thing was for sure: Epik High was there to save it, performing “One,” “New Beautiful,” and “Don’t Hate Me.” They concluded with “Born Hater” with many chanting “We want more!” 

As the trio was signing a t-shirt to be thrown by Mithra Jin somewhere in the sea of newly converted fans, Tablo thanked the artists, both in attendance or otherwise, and the fans who showed up. 

“Jokes aside, we really know, we do realize how much difficulty you’ve faced to be here tonight.”

Tablo at KAMP LA

He threw more shade with a major emphasis on KAMP being a memorable experience, stating, “In more ways than one, tonight will be historical!” before extending his offer to appear in a potential documentary about the event, alluding to the Fyre Festival documentaries in 2019.

Lastly, aespa took everyone to Kwangya in gorgeous denim outfits, starting the set with their debut track, “Black Mamba.” MYs were immediately stunned by the members’ beauty as they gave their all, charismatically charming everyone in the audience, performing their hit tracks like “Savage,” “Girls,” and “Illusion.” They also did the cheeky and sassy English version of their B-side, “Life’s Too Short” from their second EP Girls before ending the second night with “Next Level,” their second single that dominated the charts last year. The audience sang happily along with fan chants included, ecstatic to see the quartet after their appearances at Coachella and their showcase. It was not all smooth sailing of course, as member Giselle was dragged off stage by staff a couple of times abruptly to fix her outfit, with one instance causing the audience to gasp in complete shock

Despite the less-than-stellar organization and dismal turnout, KAMP LA still proved the fact of K-Pop concerts: without the artists and their dedicated fanbases, a concert cannot go on. It was unmistakable how it could be easily ruined by half a lineup missing, but the fans who stuck through it went anyway, decked out in the respective groups’ merch, and cheered on with fervor for the other groups and acts. There have been debates on K-Pop standom being plagued by those stanning only one group, but that wasn’t the case as EXO-Ls, SONEs, Ahgases, and Monbebes banded together for the festival while mourning for what could’ve been. Many who didn’t show up still convened somewhere in Los Angeles at sizable get-togethers to have genuine heart-to-hearts because as Tablo said, “The artists had to go through a lot too, but nothing compared to what the fans had to go through.” 

The KAMP organizers have yet to issue a full story of what happened and truly, fans deserve to know. If there weren’t any last-minute lineup changes, the concert would’ve been decent. Many argued the organizers’ overzealous ambition as the cause, citing KCON’s decade-long success as a prime example of setting expectations, never once moving to bigger venues and sticking to the Crypto.com Arena year after year. (Although it is important to note that KCON does have the influential and powerful financial backing of CJ E&M while KAMP has only organized two events).

The production wasn’t a lost cause either. The camera work was at the level of live music shows in South Korea and the lighting and graphics were on point. Noticeably, the audio was left to be desired as one of the major speakers blew out on the first night, followed by clear microphone volume and feedback issues in some of the acts’ sets but even with that, it was salvageable. It wasn’t a surprise there was no social media blast from the official artists’ channels because just like everyone, this was a festival that many wanted to forget existed. 

But perhaps Tablo said it best:

“I don’t know if this is a silver lining or any consolation at all, but ten years from now, or fifteen or twenty years from now, they will ask you this question: Where were you during KAMP LA?”

Tablo at KAMP LA
1 Comment
  1. I had tickets and every artist but one that I wanted to see wasn’t able to come. I’m glad the companies made statements saying they did all of the paper work on their end early and that it was Kamp who didn’t properly file for the visas. At least I was able to get a refund. I do feel bad for the artist who did attend and performed.

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