For most fans who get to meet their pop culture idols in person, it is usually a cursory meeting – a quick selfie, hug or handshake.
Even for those who pay thousands of dollars for VIP ticket packages, their time with the celebrities is limited to a photo opportunity and a quick chat.
But student Merissa Tee, winner of an Airbnb contest, recently spent the better part of three days in Seoul with BigBang lead singer G-Dragon – and it cost her nothing.
The 25-year-old was one of fivewinners in Asia of the AirbnbX G-Dragon contest and along with fans from South Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong, she got to stay three days and two nights in G-Dragon’s Dukyang Studio, where he trained for years before hitting the big time with BigBang.
The studio, which is located in Hongdae, a neighbourhood known for its urban arts and indie scene, was temporarily transformed into an apartment home.
It was filled with memorabilia and decor from G-Dragon’s 10 years in the music business so far, as a rapper, singer-songwriter and record producer.
When G-Dragon himself opened the door to greet the winners, Ms Tee recalls being dumbstruck. “All I could do was say ‘annyeonghaseyo’ (Korean for ‘hello, howare you’),” she recalls.
“The whole time we were there, everyone was wondering how I was so calm, but I wasn’t calm, I was just overwhelmed.”
While the studio was transformed for the Airbnb contest, it has since reverted to a training studio for other pop stars in training.
MsTee, a final-year visual communications student at Nanyang Technological University, got plenty of face time with G-Dragon from Sept 21 to 23. More than once, she sat next to him for group selfies, chats on the sofa in the apartment or dinner at the canteen of YG Entertainment, the agency behind BigBang.
An amateur singer-songwriter, she even played BigBang’s first single We Belong Together, released in 2006, for the pop star on her trusty ukulele.
She put her own spin on the song, doing one verse in English and another in Korean with her own melody and lyrics and noticed that G-Dragon was grooving along.
“And then at the end of the song, he shouted, ‘Woo!’ and said, ‘You’re a really good singer’. I was really freaking out,” she says.
What struck her was how much of a gentleman he was. She recalls he took the effort to memorise all their names and learnt how to pronounce them properly when they first met. He also helped with the luggage when they arrived at Dukyang Studio.
“It’s not like I was going to a BigBang concert to see G-Dragon or a fan meet. It felt like going to meet a friend,” she says.
While G-Dragon, YG Entertainment and Airbnb deliberated on the five international winners, the final decision was the pop star’s own.
Ms Tee felt overwhelmed that G-Dragon handpicked her, describing the entire experience as “surreal”.
She believes that her love of travel and connecting with people through music was what stood out in her winning entry out of 5,500 entries from South-east Asia.
To enter the contest, fans had to register with Airbnb and explain what they would do to connect with someone from a different cultural background.
Ms Tee says: “GD himself is a travelling artist – I feel he gets inspired by the culture, meeting new musicians everywhere – and that’s how I feel when I travel.”
A fan of BigBang since their debut in 2006, she had about a week to prepare for the trip and had to skip classes for a week. She rushed to paint a portrait of G-Dragon to give him.
When she gave it to him on their last day, she recalls that he quipped: “Is this me? I think it looks better than me!”