By: Penny Rae Hawkins
From the moment I got into rock music, I wanted to be a groupie. However, middle school self wasn’t as interested in sleeping with the band as I was being able to support and inspire the musicians who inspired me. In my head, I would follow a band to every date, fighting tooth and nail to get to the barricade and smiling when the members recognized me from city to city and state to state. Maybe, if I was lucky, one would pluck me out of the crowd like Penny Lane and whisk me away to the promised land of rock n roll. No matter where that would end up being, I would finally be home.
When the real world happened, that dream began to feel further and further away. Bills, lack of consistent transportation, depression and eventually college made it seem impossible. Now, thanks to the help of a fantastic support system and finally having a grip on my finances and mental health, that dream is becoming a reality in a way my middle school self would never imagine: a K-pop group.
As a kid, the only thing that seemed to matter to me was rock music and punk ethos. Sure, I liked (okay, adored) pop music, but artists like NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys quickly took a backseat while artists like Against Me! and Joan Jett took the steering wheel. I still had my favorites (Pink, Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert, to name a few), but those weren’t acts I intended to follow on tour. I knew what K-pop was and had songs I liked (“Purple Line” and “Call Me Baby,” to name two), but it wasn’t a genre I would seriously obsess over until January 2019 when BTS invaded my workplace.
But, even as K-pop became even more important to me, I would see my friends spend hundreds to thousands of dollars for the chance to talk to their favorite groups, and it felt even further away than ever. At least bands like Against Me! are as likely to be seen in the Grog Shop as the Wolstein Center. As much money as I’d pay to see it, there’s no way BTS’s rap line would ever do a grimy bar show. But, with the help of some very good friends, I’d discover that there are smaller K-pop groups just like there are smaller bands.
Enter Vanner: a five-piece boy group made up of Taehwan, Gon, Ahxian, Hyeseong and Yeonggwang. They debuted on February 14, 2019, under VT Entertainment with their song “Better Do Better.” I knew that song from my roommate playing it for me once or twice, but I knew I was hooked the moment I heard their leader Taehwan sing just the opening lines of “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi. From then, I not only began to love the band and their music, but the goofy personalities of the individual members and the passion the band’s small fanbase holds for them.
Calling the fanbase, called VVS, small isn’t an understatement. To this day, their Daum Cafe only has a little over 2,000 members and they’ve yet to secure a win on any of the major Korean music shows (Music Bank, The Show or Inkigayo). To compare, CIX debuted in July 2019 from a small company and have nearly 50,000 Daum Cafe members and secured their first win on The Show with their debut track “Movie Star.” While this is a massive bummer in general, they deserve all the awards if you ask me, this and their partnership with Rising Star makes it quite easy to build relationships with the individual members, which is something I never thought possible even in my wildest high school daydreams.
From 2017 to 2021, I studied music journalism with the goal of going to concerts and writing about music as a job. In some ways, I’ve succeeded. I’ve helped cover Riot Fest, have my own show on the campus radio station, and interviewed rock artists including The Wrecks and Dallon Weekes before I turned 25 or graduated college. Even though I’ve graduated college and am now entirely freelance, I’m excited to say I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to follow Vanner on tour and record my experiences in essays like these and more traditional articles.
Needless to say, I never became a groupie. But I have found a way to follow Vanner to Chicago, Orlando, Denver and Los Angeles for their 2022 Boost Up tour in a more journalistic manner. In my next letter, I’ll outline the planning process and how I’ve prepared for these upcoming excursions.
Love and light,