As we head out of San Diego, ready to road trip an easy 1300 miles due north, we detour into LA for a quick errand at the LINE Friends' LA Pop-Up to grab some Stateside BTS21 merch.
But if that sentence was at all unclear, please allow me to explain.
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Remember that massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011? Yeah, that's where our story begins.
As the twin disasters demolished the Japanese telecommunications infrastructure, local engineers quickly rallied to build a new internet-based communication platform and christened it LINE. Within a few months, the resulting LINE app was released to the Japanese public and promptly blew up.
Today, the LINE app is widely and wildly popular, still rolling out country by country all around the world. It features many of the chat, media-sharing, video production, and music capabilities that we humans have come to expect from our phones, with one feature that is particularly charming: a set of unique and much beloved cartoon figures that users can purchase as digital stickers and use in the LINE app in lots of clever and cutesy ways.
These figures, known as LINE Friends, were created by a South Korean artist named Kang Byeong Mok and they are insanely popular among LINE users all around the world.
Now, if cute lil digital stickers are so appealing, what if they were adapted into plushie pillows and toys? And sure, they can be sold online, but what if there were pop-up stores, placed oh, so selectively and fleetingly, at the toniest of upscale locations around the globe, where these adorable fuzzy creations might be sold?
Thus the LINE Friends Pop-Up Store was born.
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But I've skipped over a key subplot in this story.
Just a few months before that Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit, over in South Korea, a new musical act was just beginning to come together. Though they were known by a handful of different names at first, these seven young men of humble origin soon unleashed themselves as BTS, and began to shake the world.
Defying easy categorization by any conventional labels - hip hop artists, K-Pop performers, boy bands - BTS quickly broke out of those old molds and established their music as broadly influenced, and their lyrics unusually outspoken on controversial topics of personal and social commentary: coming-of-age issues, mental health challenges, and the journey of learning to love yourself. Within a few short years, BTS had garnered a devoted and loyal worldwide fandom know as their ARMY, and commanded global attention.
Now comes the pure branding genius. The great minds at LINE Friends invited BTS into a collaboration whereby each of the seven members would develop their own cartoon figure, and their menagerie - plus an eighth character designed to represent the ARMY - would be sold alongside the LINE Friends products as the BTS21 line.
All that remains to be told is that my daughters joined the ARMY early on, and over the years on our trips to South Korea (where my third-born lived for two years), I have visited several of the LINE Friends Pop Ups in Seoul and experienced first-hand this international phenomenon with astonishment and respect.
So, as our travel plans for San Diego were coming together, and my ARMY daughters heard about the new LA pop-up, it was quickly determined that we should pop in. Here, then, are a few scenes from our visit.
^ Meet the BTS21 cast of characters, as presented on the upper wall between the yellow palm trees,
from left to right:
Mang the dancing pony
RJ the alpaca
Chimmy the playful puppy
Van (behind) the space robot
Tata a heart-headed alien
Cooky the rabbit
Koya the sleepy koala
Shooky (behind) an actual cookie
The shelves below our heroes are filled with plush pillows available for purchase. My daughters already own many.
^ An LA backdrop available for taking photos with a gigantic Tata.
^ The BTS21 line has morphed into countless products: tote bags, zippered pouches, phone and air pod cases, lanyards, key chains, planners, backpacks, and on and on.
^ For the first time ever, I buy myself a little BTS something. After much mulling I decide on a plush Chimmy keychain - he's the yellow puppy and I think he kinda looks like he's wearing a lil space suit, so that apparently that makes him my favorite. But I spend most of my time staring at this wall and loving the mix of color, shape, and graphic styles.
^ Chimmy and me, safe at home.
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Now I've come to the end of the story about my visit to the LINE Friends Los Angeles Pop-Up Store.
And now, even if you didn't know before, you know.
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Come celebrate San Diego with me and my daughters as
we break out into our first post-Covid road trip!