K-pop proves itself a gateway to South Korea at KCON

August 3, 2015
A group of Super Junior fans gathered to support the band at KCON 2015 Saturday outside the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

A group of Super Junior fans gathered to support the band at KCON 2015 Saturday outside the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

By Tae Hong

Drowned in the enthusiasm of tens of thousands of K-pop fans, KCON 2015 boomed as a center of South Korean culture this weekend as it welcomed convention goers to Downtown Los Angeles.

The three-day convention, organized by CJ E&M America, saw an expansion to Japan and New York this year after three increasingly successful turns in the City of Angels.

Musical acts included Super Junior, Block B, Sistar, Got7, Shinhwa, AOA, Roy Kim, Zion.T, Crush and MonstaX. Actors Daniel Henney, Son Ho-jun and new Hallyu king Kim Soo-hyun rounded out the star-studded special guests list.

K-pop is a genre that has seen a fast rise in recent years thanks to the magic of the Internet, from online communities to social networking to YouTube.

Each year, fans travel across the country to catch K-pop live. This year was no exception, with one particular fan base — named ELFs — showing up wearing blue devil horns in support of K-pop mega-group Super Junior.

“Super Junior brings a good feeling to my life,” said Ami Chen, 23, a fan. “When you’re feeling sad, when you turn to look at Super Junior, they make you really happy.”

Her friend, Sarah Yuen, 20, manages an online fan base for the band. She collaborated with other fan bases to put together fan chants, the devil horns and signs for the convention. Yuen pointed to social media, especially Twitter, as a primary means of communication and expansion for K-pop fans.

“When you read the mentions on Twitter, you can really feel the excitement of fans,” she said. “The Internet is honestly really powerful, especially for K-pop.”

Fans wrote messages for their favorite K-pop acts at a Korean language promotion booth run by Gaon Korean at KCON 2015. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

Fans wrote messages for their favorite K-pop acts at a Korean language promotion booth run by Gaon Korean at KCON 2015. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

Heather Walgren, 31, and Lisa Seiverlich, 28, drove from Utah and Colorado, respectively.

“Being one of the older fans, it’s something that I think keeps me youthful, because it’s fun,” Seiverlich, who became interested in the genre after hearing a Japanese version of a Korean song, said. She’s since picked up a love for K-dramas as well. “K-pop has helped me understand and want to know more [Korean] technology, skin products, the food, the fashion.”

Walgren was searching for the American drama “Lie to Me” when she came across the Korean drama of the same name. It wasn’t long before she was hooked. “I was amazed at the culture. I loved the fact that I could laugh, and there was nothing dirty. It was very clean.”

From there, with so many K-pop idols acting in K-dramas, her eyes opened to the music.

“I’m a project manager at a company in Utah, so for me [this] is kind of unexpected,” she said. “I’m going to start taking Korean classes.”

Stories like Walgren’s are welcome news to organizations like Gaon Korean, a South Korea-based language institute that ran a booth inviting convention goers to write messages of love and support to their favorite stars in Korean.

K-goods booths lined up inside the Los Angeles Convention Center for KCON 2015. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

K-goods booths lined up inside the Los Angeles Convention Center for KCON 2015. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

“At Hallyu events like this, we come to promote the Korean language,” said Son Won-ho, assistant manager. His team also opened a booth at KCON Japan, and plans to continue coming out to K-pop events. “Through programs like this, we see that K-pop drives a huge amount of interest and attention to Korean and to Hangeul.”

Gaon was one of a handful of promotional booths set up inside the convention. K-pop has proved itself no passing fad. It’s not mainstream hit that was “Gangnam Style” — it may never be — but it’s a fervor, all right, and South Korea’s other goods, including its fashion, food and beauty merchandise, are booming as a result.

Fanya Cohen, marketing director of the U.S. branch of Leaders Cosmestics, a leading South Korean face mask producer, said the company is soon launching its products with American beauty chain ULTA but that they came to the convention to offer a first look to potential customers.

“It’s all feeding off one another,” Cohen said, of the KCON booths. “People are coming for the K-pop, but they find [us] too. People are having a good response to Korean skin care. They’re trusting it, and it’s an honest lifestyle trend.”

Last year, KCON drew 40,000 enthusiasts from around the country in a two-day affair that brought dozens of special guests, YouTube personalities and a lineup of K-pop dazzlers; this year, the convention offered even more panels, workshops, merchants and fan interaction opportunities.

K-pop dance classes, discussions and panels about K-dramas, Hallyu culture and fan culture, cooking and make-up demonstrations, and Q&As with popular writers and directors were among the offerings.

“We put on this event with the current trend in mind and for this generation,” said Angela Killoren, CJ E&M America chief marketing officer. “We’re not just looking at music. We’re a convention, a concert, content, a conversation.”

K-pop group Got7 walked the red carpet inside the Los Angeles Convention Center for KCON 2015. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

K-pop group Got7 walked the red carpet inside the Los Angeles Convention Center for KCON 2015 Saturday. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

Singer Roy Kim performs inside Staples Center Saturday at KCON 2015. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

Singer Roy Kim performs inside Staples Center Saturday at KCON 2015. (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

 

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