Wearing an orange fox tail, black boots and triangle sunglasses, 16-year-old Casey Grosskopf spent more than four hours waiting for a glimpse of South Korean pop idol Psy at University Mall on Saturday.
Grosskopf left without ever seeing his face.
"Could I be doing more productive things with my day? Yes" Grosskopf said. "Am I still glad I'm here? Yes."
That was the story for many fans interviewed among the crowd of 3,000 or so as they learned that the inside entrance to a JCPenney store isn't the best place to see a 10-minute concert by a star whose "Gangnam Style" video is YouTube's most popular ever.
Still, no one appeared angry – over the staging of the concert or the news that Psy protested the Iraq War in 2004 with an anti-American screed about killing "Yankees" as well as their mothers and daughters. He also smashed a model U.S. tank on stage.
Psy issued a lengthy apology for the remarks, but it was not enough for some local vets contacted Saturday.
"He is a very sick man and so twisted," said Army Sgt. Joel Tavera of Tampa, severely wounded while serving in Iraq. "How things could be twisted like that? But I'll pray for him and his situation."
"There would be no 'Gangnam Style' if Americans were not willing to lay their lives down in Korea, flat out," said Mike Jernigan, a Marine from St. Petersburg who was blinded in Iraq. "He is from South Korea. My grandfather was in South Korea, fighting with the U.S. Marines against North Koreans and Chinese Regulars. What else needs to be said?"
Psy's appearance in Tampa was another appeasement, of sorts, staged to make up for his withdrawal from the Jingle Ball concert scheduled Sunday at the Forum.
The reason? He was invited to perform at the White House instead. The White House, according to news reports, said the invitation still stands.
At least 50 Psy fans weren't complaining Saturday about how far they stood from the star. They were chosen from a signup list to meet with Psy during a 30 minute meet-and-greet before he was escorted back to his private jet.
Tampa police monitored traffic around the area while off-duty Hillsborough County deputies helped mall security monitor crowds inside, said University Mall Property Marketing Manager Keily Potter. Homeland Security even weighed in on event preparations, mall officials said.
John Batram, 19, arrived six hours early for the performance but still found himself near the back of the crowd.
So he climbed atop a mall directory tower with help from his friends and held his smartphone as high in the air as he could.
"I could see him and his back up dancers," Batram said, high fiving friends stuck on the ground. "They were doing the exact dance from the music video, which made it worth it. This was a once in a lifetime chance and it was free. That's the best part of it."
A few feet away, 15-year-old Chris Jones guarded a spot near the stage that he had snagged at 1:30 p.m., using the downtime to "try to talk to girls."
He led the crowd in a loud chant, "We love you Psy" – an experience he said he'll never forget.
"Everybody was hyped and there was such a good feeling. That's what I like about concerts like this, everybody is always hyped," he said. "I tried to dance along, but I had to just stop and watch him do it. It was just too hot to move."
As soon as the song was over, fans bolted for the doors.
But Psy lookalike Emil Cruz – complete with white button-up shirt, black vest, fedora and sunglasses – was pinned against a glass shop window, posing for photos with Psy fans upset they couldn't get closer to the real article.
"It's great to see the support of the Americans for an Asian and to see the song become so popular," said Cruz, 42, who came with his teenage daughters and nieces, said. "Was it worth it? It's free."