Aubergine

KCON Rocks L.A.

August 11, 2014
VIXX attends the Saturday red carpet at KCON 2014. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

VIXX attends the Saturday red carpet at KCON 2014. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

By Tae Hong

Tens of thousands of K-pop fans packed the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena this weekend for KCON 2014, attracted by the flash and pomp of Korean idol stars and by the celebration of, as promised, everything Korean.

The annual convention has expanded to a two-day K-pop mecca, growing from 10,000 attendees to an estimated 40,000 this year since its debut in 2012.

KCON touts itself as “all things Hallyu” — it is the largest convention of its kind in the U.S. — and offered, in addition to a two-night concert comprised of popular K-pop acts, an array of vendors, food trucks, contests, games, panels, a League of Legends tournament, workshops, additional outdoor performances by special guests and artist engagement activities.

Topics for panels and workshops ranged from K-drama panels and K-pop dance lessons to an introduction of the Korean language and a fan fiction open mic.

Fans wait in line to see the red carpet at KCON 2014, Aug. 10. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

Fans wait in line to see the red carpet at KCON 2014, Aug. 10. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

This year’s lineup of performers featured B1A4, BTS, CNBLUE, G-Dragon, Girls’ Generation, IU, Jung Joon-young, SPICA, Teen Top and VIXX; special guests numbered over 100 and included noted musicians, journalists, chefs, YouTube personalities and popular bloggers; and featured guests included megastar Lee Seung-gi, Lee Seo-jin and Yoo In-na, all popular actors with internationally beloved K-dramas under their belts.

It was a hot, dry weekend, but fans equipped themselves with umbrellas and hats to combat the heat. Many traveled across the country to attend, fueled by their love for K-pop and for Korean culture.

Carolina Barbosa, 22, and Jack Hui, 21, came to Los Angeles for the first time from New York.

“I think a big part of K-pop is that it’s not just about liking the music, but it sort of creates a community. A lot of fans stick together and it sort of creates a family,” Barbosa said.

“It brings together how music is a universal language,” Hui said. “Even though you don’t understand it, you can get into it with a bunch of people who are also into it. You get to meet a lot of new people, get to know a lot of new things. It’s produced a culture.”

A Sunday dance workshop at KCON 2014. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

A Sunday dance workshop at KCON 2014. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

For some, the convention began at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX last week, where hundreds of fans crowded to greet K-pop idols as they landed in the city.

Ella White, 23, was one of them. A fan of K-pop since age 12, she said she and a friend drove three hours from Las Vegas for the chance to see K-pop stars, usually thousands of miles away, perform live.

“[K-pop is] about the music and it’s bringing together so many people, and I feel like it’s going to be universal,” White said. “It’s like, I don’t know Korean, but I know the music. And it speaks to me.”

Others, like 15-year-old Felicia Guerrero, came driven by the promise of seeing their favorite stars — for her, CNBLUE leader Jung Yong-hwa — in person.

“I think that a lot of people should get into [K-pop] more, because my opinion on the music here — it’s a very bad influence and it talks about drugs and all that bad stuff,” Guerrero said. “K-pop has nothing like that. It actually makes me feel good when I listen to it.”

In fan merchandise tents, fans found paraphernalia sorted by fandom, from Super Junior T-shirts to baseball caps emblazoned with “EXO” members’ names. One of the largest vendors was Soshified, a Girls’ Generation fansite and KCON mainstay that took an extra tent this year for a life-sized cardboard cutout of the group’s nine members. Fans lined up to take photos.

A group of Girls' Generation cosplayers. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

A group of Girls’ Generation cosplayers. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

“KCON fans are super eccentric and super excited to be here. Because they don’t get to see K-pop artists all the time, they dress up like crazy,” Soshified founder Oanh Nguyen said.

She was right — mini-G-Dragons and Girls’ Generation cosplayers peppered the crowd, thousands of whom showed up decked out in fan gear, both homemade and store-bought.

“K-pop artists show a lot of individuality and different styles that you might not normally see. You see them, and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to dress up differently, to listen to music I don’t understand.’ It kind of gives them courage to be different,” Nguyen said. “People relate to that. More than the music, they relate to the atmosphere. They want to be around that type of culture. ‘I want to be cool. I want to be like G-Dragon and young, wild and crazy.’”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti visits a live taping of "Danny From L.A." at KCON 2014, Aug. 9. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti visits a live taping of “Danny From L.A.” at KCON 2014, Aug. 9. (Tae Hong/The Korea Times)

The K-pop phenomenon is quickly spreading worldwide each year. At the end of last year’s event, the convention’s Facebook page had 25,000 likes. That number has now grown to 200,000, said Angela Killoren, senior vice president of marketing at CJ E&M, a Korean entertainment mogul that puts on the event in conjunction with K-pop music channel Mnet America.

“It’s hard for us to understand what the size of this market is, because it’s not tried by most mainstream metrics,” she said. “But what we do know — we know that 40 percent of the people who are here at KCON have traveled from outside the state of California. That happened last year as well. I think that kind of dedication and passion is infectious.”

Even Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stopped by for a visit Saturday. Called up onto the stage during a live taping of an Mnet program hosted by former 1tym member Danny Lim and Korean American rapper Dumbfoundead, Garcetti threw his arm up in the air as he shouted, “Long live K-pop! Long live L.A.!”

 

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