The Staples Center was lit up by thousands of little yellow torches. About 20,000 individual screams created one cacophonous wave that filled the darkened arena like a raging monsoon. The throngs were jumping up and down, waving handmade signs and chanting words I didn't understand.
You'd think I was in the middle of the French Revolution, waiting to savagely snatch Marie Antoinette's wig like a pissed-off drag queen. Not on this night, though. On this night, the mood was more electrically hormonal than bloodthirsty.
There among thousands of tiny, well-dressed Korean teens and tweens and some chaperoning moms, my best friend Michelle and I stood more than a decade older, and in her case a foot taller than 95 percent of the crowd, basking in the aural/visual explosion that is Bigbang. We looked like narcs.
For the uninitiated, Bigbang is a South Korean pop (also known as K-pop) group composed of five heavily made-up dudes blessed with what Michelle describes as "cheekbones that could shuck an oyster." K-pop stars are known for their incredible street style and for creating music that heavily borrows from American hip-hop, pop and electronica. All these genres often meld into one multi-climactic pop jammer that seems mastered to make your head—or ovaries—explode. I'm forever indebted to Michelle for introducing me.
While waiting in line to buy $12 Bud Lights, eruptions of cheers flooded the concession stand. Young girls holding candy and Cokes looked frantic, hoping they weren't missing G-Dragon, T.O.P., Taeyang, Daesung and Seungri's grand entrance. When it became clear Bigbang had hit the stage, two girlfriends threw down their chips and drinks and sprinted to their seats, their poor mothers trailing behind them. I held onto my shitty beers and continued waiting. Brews before dudes.
I've experienced this level of screeching teenage fandom up close before. When I was 12, I attended my very first concert: Enrique Iglesias. This was back when the Latino-pop megastar sang only in ethpa ñ ol . For years I buried this tidbit of trivia for fear of losing my punk cred, particularly in high school when my punkness was already dangling by a thread thanks to my mom's homemade packed lunches.
My mom and tia dropped my cousin and me off at what was then the San Diego Sports Arena. I was high off my excitement and the confidence gifted to me by the velvet flared pants I was rocking like a prepubescent Steven Tyler. Girls screamed and fainted and threw themselves onto the stage, wailing for Enrique's love. It seemed insane even to my kid brain, but it also looked pretty fun. So I joined in on the hysteria. (This is how cults gain followers.)
Just as I had gulped the Kool-Aid when I was 12, I chugged my Bud Light and went for the full fangirl concert experience. Michelle and I danced and screamed for the Bigbang boys (who are actually well into their 20s), glancing at each other and fanning our sweaty faces like a pair of ovulating spinsters.
"Which one is that?" I breathily asked Michelle while pointing at a lanky pretty boy dancing in a tailored Piet Mondrian-inspired suit and rapping huskily in Korean.
"That one's T.O.P.," she answered knowingly. My girl follows many Tumblr pages dedicated to Bigbang.
I decided then that T.O.P. is totally my favorite and immediately pictured his name scribbled in my notebook with hearts all around it. My Google image search was going to be filthy with T.O.P. photos.
In my 12th year and now again in my 31st, I dived joyfully into the deep end of teen fandom. How could I not? This concert was a mondo stage spectacle with explosions, lasers, a stage that shifted over a crowd of fans and five young men working their asses, and their foundation, off. And boy did they know how to work the crowd. They individually addressed the audience between songs, flirting shamelessly in their adorable broken English inflected with the "Oh, hey girl" twang of an R&B singer.
"Hey L.A.! Can I have some noises?" The arena fills with screams. "I jus' wan' to say I don't like you, L.A." Pause for effect. "I love you!" This causes an outbreak of screams, including my own embarrassing adult ones.
It dawned on me that time will never change a young girl's ability to lose her shit when a boy band hits the stage. Whether it's Beatlemania, Bieber Fever, Backstreet Boysiritis or Bigbangarosis you're infected with, we are connected in our feverish obsession with cute boys that can harmonize. That fever transcends time, age, language and location.
What was also fascinating was the magnitude of the crowd. Popular music in America isn't just what you hear on the radio. It's not even limited to the English language. We are a country full of people from all over the world, and we have our music that can be shared and enjoyed across all barriers. With the Internet and streaming services we're even more closely connected and able to commune in a musical experience than ever. The entire back catalog of a K-pop boy band is at your fingertips. Take a listen, pick up some concert tickets and feel free to Google image search. You may look like a creep, but you won't regret it.