A bright green truck bearing the faces of nine beautiful Korean men traveled through the streets of L.A. on Sunday, handing out free sticker sheets, cupsleeves and boba drinks along the way.
The occasion? The release of K-pop boy group NCT 127′s latest full-length album, “Sticker.”
NCT 127′s company, SM Entertainment, partnered with Boba Guys, Virgin Music, SUBKSHOP and Mandu K-pop Store to organize a boba truck tour that stopped at three separate locations in both Los Angeles and New York.
K-pop cupsleeve events like these began popping up in Los Angeles around 2019. Since then, the long-standing Korean fan practice has only flourished in the United States. At participating cafes, customers can receive beautifully designed cardboard sleeves along with their purchased drinks to celebrate birthdays, comebacks or debut anniversaries of their favorite idols. While most of these events are organized by fans, SM Entertainment became one of the first to officially sponsor one in the United States—and their four-wheeled cafe was met with great success.
“There were definitely a lot more people than [my roommate and I] had expected,” said Kate Mitchell, a junior at USC who attended the last stop of the tour at Madang Plaza.
Unlike Mitchell, I thought I knew what to expect when it came to NCT fans, also known as NCTzens. I have probably spent upwards of 24 hours waiting in various lines for NCT events ever since they first started coming to the U.S. in 2017, though I’d rather not think about it long enough to get a more accurate number and face the realities of my unhinged behavior. Still, after showing up 45 minutes prior to the event’s 4 p.m. start time, I was surprised to find a line that spanned an entire block along Sixth Street, from Western Avenue to Manhattan Place.
By 4:30 p.m., the line disappeared around the corner down Manhattan, reaching almost half of the way to the next street before it actually folded in on itself, snaking back up Manhattan to return to Sixth.
“[My roommate] didn’t realize how famous NCT was here in the U.S., and seeing the line wrap around that far was shocking,” Mitchell said.
Only 500 people across the three Los Angeles stops received the exclusive drink created for the event: a Boba Guys twist on the classic Arnold Palmer. The green beverage, dubbed NCTea, was made up of matcha powder, lemonade, mint leaves and boba in honor of one of the songs on the album called “Lemonade.”
I was equally torn between fighting or crying if I didn’t end up being one of the lucky 500, but thankfully, I didn’t have to choose. As NCT’s “Regular” played in the background, the Boba Guys employee in the window of the truck even rapped along about my drink to the beat of the song as he was handing it to me.
Maybe I was just riding off of the high energy from that Boba Guys employee and the mounting excitement of the NCTzens around me, but the cold citrus on my tongue really got me feeling good. The drink itself was not particularly sugary, but the syrup-coated boba offered just the right amount of sweetness to balance every sip.
The truck ran out of drinks before the first scheduled hour at Madang Plaza had passed, but those who remained in line could still get a hold of all of the free branded stickers and cupsleeves commemorating the day.
NCTzens could also buy albums from a small SUBKSHOP table at the front of the truck. Soon, 6th St. came to life with crowds of fans trading photo cards, enjoying refreshing lemonade and dancing to NCT tracks in celebration of the album that took the group 459 days to prepare.
Thanks to Boba Guys and SM Entertainment, Koreatown became the perfect place for fans of NCT to come together as a community. There was only one thing missing to complete the experience: NCT themselves. NCTzens will, unfortunately, have to wait until the city sees much lower COVID-19 infection rates to meet the group in person, but the event showed that NCT will be welcomed with wide-open arms when that day finally comes.
Correction: A previous iteration of this article stated it had been 459 days since NCT’s last song. This has now been corrected to reflect that it took the group 459 days to prepare for their latest album.