What Are K-Pop Stars Like When Faced With Millions Of Fans? I Witnessed NCT Dream Up Close

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I’m writing this story from my hotel room in Seoul and I can tell you that if you’re a full-time K-pop fan, Seoul is as vibrant and lively as you imagine it to be. Chuck in an opportunity to see six handsome K-pop idols up close in the flesh—it was the ideal itinerary!

I travelled to Seoul with phone case brand CASETiFY, to celebrate their collaboration with K-pop brand NCT Dream. For the uninitiated, they’re a seven-member group formed by record label giant SM Entertainment in 2018, and part of the wider NCT group. Think of the members — Mark, Jaemin, Ji-sung, Jeno, Haechan, Chenle and Renjun — as the cheeky younger cousins of the NCT fam.

They might not be as well known to non-K-pop fans as BTS or BLACKPINK, but that’s set to change. NCT Dream boasts nearly 14 million followers on Instagram, and have recently kicked off a world tour that will see them play arena shows for the first time in Europe, US, and Latin America.

So along with media from around the world, I went to the centre of K-pop fandom — and lived to tell the tale.

First, what makes NCT Dream different?

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about NCT DREAM that separates them from their industry peers is that the boys operate on a ‘graduation system’ akin to that of high school. Once a member turns 19 years old, they finish up their time in the group and rise up the ranks to join their seniors.

… that’s how things should’ve been in theory, anyway! Due to each member’s popularity, SM Entertainment abolished the graduation system and made all the boys permanent members. For example, fellow singer Mark left NCT DREAM in 2018 but rejoined the group in 2020. Talk about being a dream team. 🎉

If you’re just getting into their music, I highly recommend Candy. Look how dreamy these boys are.

Yes, they’re just as good looking IRL

Here, I can confirm that Korean celebrities are just as stunning in person as they are in photos and videos online. Style? Immaculate! Disposition? Professional! Face card? Never declines!

NCT DREAM members, Mark, Jaemin, Ji-sung, Jeno, Haechan, and Chenle (Renjun was unfortunately sick and had to give the day a miss). How so? Whenever K-pop groups make public appearances or go on television shows, they typically adhere to a verbal ‘template’ when greeting the media and fans.

 The format is as follows: group slogan + “annyeonghaseyo” (“hello” in Korean) + group name + “-imnida”, a suffix used to express formality. This is often synchronised.

For example, BTS’ formal greeting is: “2, 3, Bang! Tan! Annyeonghaseyo, BTS-imnida!”. In NCT DREAM’s case, their greeting was: “To the world and here! Annyeonghaseyo, NCT DREAM-imnida!”

Fan engagement, K-pop style

I’ve been following K-pop since primary school, so you could say I’m a K-pop boomer. Hence, to finally witness how K-pop idols carry themselves was eye-opening.

When I say these boys know how to pose, they really do: their movements were incredibly synchronised. Witnessing their poses, how they stand in formation, and how they turn to different cameras, it’s also apparent that they’re trained to understand what photographers are looking for and which angles works best.

Think about it: press from around the world fly in to Seoul for 72 hours, to spend less than 72 hours in Seoul just to spend 5–10 minutes taking photos of you. You therefore have to make sure you serve from every angle, every corner, every POV. And serve they did. The level of professionalism and discipline from NCT DREAM made the photocall session easy breezy for everyone involved.  

Ji-sung, NCT DREAM’s youngest member, was down with a sore throat that day. However, that didn’t stop him from doing his best to constantly provide ‘fan service’. He even noticed my camera and waved back at me! Mission accomplished. This woman (me) was too stunned to speak.

After the press event, we had the opportunity to browse the cute CASETiFY x NCT DREAM phone case designs and play games in the pop-up store. The CASETiFY team sent us on a sort of scavenger hunt, trying to find each NCT DREAM member’s signature hidden around the pop-up. In case you were wondering, yes, I put my detective skills to the test IRL and managed to find all their signatures. 😉 

K-pop group NCT DREAM x CASETiFY collab
I got a first peak at NCT Dream’s CASETiFY collab. Photo: Supplied.

The pop-up store also had mini stations and booths for fans to experience: for example, you literally follow this road that leads you to a silver getaway car that the NCT Dream boys escaped in after the event! Just kidding. They were in that car for an ad. 

Seoul searching in Gwangjang Market (and beyond)

What else did I get up to outside of CASETiFY’s event? My three3-day itinerary in Seoul was food, food, and more food. Gwangjang Market, Seoul’s bustling traditional street food market (that was featured on Netflix’s Street Food: Asia) was a feast for the senses. 

Yukhoe (Korean beef tartare), hotteok (Korean sweet pancakes), and kalguksu (Korean knife-cut noodles) were just a few of the delicacies I ‘sampled’ on the busy streets of Gwangjang Market. My review of the food? Just shut up and take my money, honestly. Say no more.

South Korea’s beauty industry is one of the world’s leading, so, I stopped by Olive Young—the country’s answer to Mecca and Sephora—to pick up sheet masks and essences. We are manifesting glass skin this era, girls!

The other highlight of my 72-hour Seoul touchdown was heading to the historic Gyeongbokgung Palace, renting a “hanbok” (Korean traditional attire) and strolled around palace grounds. I had the ultimate tour guide: my best friend, who now lives in Seoul. Her hot tip? Entrance to the palace is free if you’re dressed in a hanbok — plus, the opportunity for pics is unmatched.

All in all, I barely scratched the surface but I left Seoul feeling extremely happy. The city was a magical place; a dream. I’ll definitely be back!

Jie Yee Ong travelled to Seoul as a guest o CASETiFY.

Lead image: PEDESTRIAN.TV.

You can join the CASETiFY x NCT DREAM waitlist here.

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