Some love it. Some hate it. Nobody can escape it. 2012 brings London’s SUMMER OF K-POP! It’s fresh, it’s in the air, and it’s everywhere we turn: K-pop flashmobs, K-pop academy, K-pop club nights, K-pop auditions, K-pop concerts, K-pop, K-pop, and K-pop! It’s been featured in top Brit newspapers The Guardian and The Telegraph, and has even been compared to Beatlemania (I certainly haven’t seen anyone go this balmy over music idols or heard screams quite this loud for a while!)
If you’re wondering how this happened, rumour has it that the K-pop craze really took off in Europe late last year, with the emergence and popularity of flashmobs. These provided an outlet for K-pop-lovers to express themselves and their passion for popular Korean tunes in an energetic, attention-grabbing and fun way. They also encouraged more and more K-poppers to unite as a community, to practice and perform dance moves together, and to celebrate as one. For many teenagers, K-pop flashmobs mean a lot. One Londoner told me “I started participating in K-pop flashmobs last year, and now I do them regularly. I used to be painfully shy, and flashmobs have given me confidence, and allowed me to come out of my shell.” In summer 2012, London K-pop flashmobs are more frequent, and more energetic, than ever!
Noticing the growing trend in K-pop, London KCC’s first K-pop Academy took spring into summer. This educational scheme took thirty students through a programme of musical, theoretical and cultural Korean learnings. They were rewarded with enhanced knowledge of K-pop and other areas of K-culture, a new set of like-minded friends, a physical hub for their K-pop activity and, best of all, a personal message from Big Bang (see below!)
In return, K-pop Academy graduates have become dedicated ambassadors for Korean culture in London, just through their sheer love of it. Many are now regulars at KCC events as well as other K-pop related occasions. They also help to increase the profile of K-pop in the UK through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (perfect for vocal and dance K-pop covers) and websites such as unitedkpop.com.
Meanwhile, various K-pop club nights and parties run by KPOP Team have kept London K-poppers busy outside of “skool”. The KCC have started to organise similar nights, the most successful so far being the May K-pop Party that marked the opening of the All Eyes on Korea summer festival. K-poppers reported being glad that they travelled from as far as Scotland to attend. DJs entertained with the best and latest tunes from Korea, while raffles and competitions provided extra excitement.
As if trendy social events weren’t enough, the YG Entertainment Auditions in June brought Brits the rare chance to become the next K-pop idol. UK hopefuls flocked to London to give it their best shot, and why wouldn’t they? With talent show-format programmes such as the Got Talent franchise being so popular in both Korea and the UK, many popsters saw this as a potentially life-changing opportunity. The results are yet to be announced…
All this K-pop mania left fans craving for some real Korean pop idols on our British soil (2011 brought us Shinee and the United Cube concert). The MBC Korean Culture Festival 2012 (AKA MBC K-pop concert) did not disappoint! Headliners EXO-K were accompanied by girl group 4Minute and old-skoolers Norazo. And that’s not all; the festival also featured beautiful hanbok fashions from Park Sul-Nyeo and traditional music and dance performances from the Dynamic Korea team.
As soon as the festival was announced, K-poppers united online to share in their excitement and discuss information and ideas for the big night. Talk of a 4Minute signing inspired a “4Minute Fansign” Facebook event page, where over 600 people confirmed themselves as “attending”. Although in the end the signing never happened, the event page remained a meeting point for fans as they planned how best to make the most of the night, and show their idols their adoration and appreciation.
And all that preparation really paid off. Preceding the concert, one group of fans handed out luminous yellow glow sticks in support of EXO-K, another provided pink ones to wave on 4Minute and yet another handed out cool “I <3 Norazo” hand-fans. Looking around, I could see that some K-poppers had especially designed or decorated the outfits they were wearing (many included the name of their favourite group or idol), and others had made an extra effort to achieve the Korean aegyo look. There were masses of Korean flags and handmade signs and banners everywhere. A massive crowd gathered as a well-rehearsed flashmob troupe performed perfect dance routines to hearty cheers.
2, 500 people gathered to London’s IndigO2 for the festival. Venue manager Tom Sutton-Roberts was previously unaware of the K-pop phenomenon, but was overwhelmed by the night’s success. “When the tickets sold out so quickly, I wrongly assumed the venue would just be filled with Korean youngsters”, he explained “However, I’ve never seen such a diverse crowd made up of people from so many different backgrounds”. Indeed, audience-members ranged from hardcore fangirls and fanboys to K-language students, Korean families and K-culture junkies.
The energy, excitement and adrenaline from the idols, organisers and crowd were infectious, and the festival lived up to its promise as a spectacular, emphatic display of all aspects of K-pop. Although this was certainly a Summer of K-pop highlight, the celebrations did not end here. K-poppers continue their camaraderie and passion, flashmobs fill the streets of London, catchy Korean tunes float in the air and I’ve even heard on the grapevine that a certain boy band may be making a Big Bang in London on their world tour…
Summer 2012 has made me realise that K-pop is far more than a musical genre, and that K-poppers are not just fanboys and fangirls. Rather, K-pop is about fusing a love of music with other aspects of Korean culture- it can be as much about having an interest in art, history, fashion or travel as about pop music. To me, K-pop is defined by effort, commitment, friendship and togetherness. I may not be a teenager and I may not know the dance moves, but I certainly feel welcome and accepted on the K-pop scene. And as it’s so much fun, I think I’ll stay awhile.