Gone are the days of the hesitant individual sending out an online appeal before performing a ditty, in a modest troupe, to a non-existent audience. October 2012 has seen the UK’s largest and most successful K-pop flashmob with more than 300 participants, even more spectators, and 20,857 YouTube views at the time of writing. How on earth did it come to this, and more to the point, what is a K-pop flashmob?
Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English defines a flashmob as a “group of people who organise on the Internet and then quickly assemble in a public place, do something bizarre, and disperse.” Rewind to the early noughties, when the first flashmobs proper were occurring in the USA, usually in public places such as supermarkets, and involving a performance or improvisation of some kind. The craze soon spread across the world, and caught the imagination of all manner of interest groups. All of this corresponded with the rise of YouTube and viral culture, and flashmobs made for entertaining and popular internet viewing.
A few years and some Halleluiahs, T-Mobile adverts, lightsabers, Michael Jackson tributes, marriage proposals and Glee performances later, the Hallyu was also riding high. Out of dedication, admiration and sometimes unashamed obsession, worldwide K-pop fans were rehearsing and performing word-for-word cover versions of their favourite songs. Amateur singers would post their offerings to YouTube, where fans from all over the world would view, “like” and comment to show their appreciation. This was the start of something phenomenal: the K-pop fan having the platform and opportunity to become a K-pop star in their own right. Yet a throng of non-singing K-poppers were unable to share in this interaction.
In April 2010, K-pop group 2PM ingeniously launched a flashmob event to coincide with their comeback. Here, their choreographer gave a clear demonstration of the dance moves to “Don’t Stop Can’t Stop”, enabling those with no dance background, indeed those with two left feet, to be able to join in. As if this wasn’t enough, the event was also a competition. Fans were requested to record their cover dance video and upload to YouTube, with the chance of winning the band’s on-stage outfits and signed CDs.
This magic combination of hype and engagement was a winner for everyone. 2PM received more exposure and support than they could’ve hoped for, and their supporters went from unknown passive fans to dancing viral superstars.
2011 saw this at the next level with the K-Pop Cover Dance Festival, a global dance contest judged by idols including Shinee and SNSD, with the grand prize of a trip to Korea. Flashmobs were part of this huge event, and in this context were serious business. They inspired talent, precision, creativity and teamwork from their performers, many of whom are loyal ambassadors for K-pop flashmobs to this day.
In July 2011, London K-pop enthusiasts turned the “flashmob for exposure” technique on its head, using one to grab the attention of the Korean press and music industry. This was the fans’ plea to YG Entertainment to send K-pop stars to Europe and the UK for some much-desired concerts. What better way of transmitting their message?
By August 2011, flashmobs no longer needed an incentive or big ambition to justify their existence. They were happening organically, for no reason at all other than to celebrate K-pop, meet with others who felt the same way, and share this with the world. The unique buzz of energy, excitement and camaraderie in early flashmobs is evident from this clip:
It’s worth noting that flashmobbers did not (and do not) necessarily know who they’d be dancing with, nor did they meet up to practice their act in advance. Learning the moves to a K-pop song is most often done individually and privately, with the YouTube music video as a guide. Facebook and Twitter are then used to advertise a time, place (in London, Trafalgar Square has always been a hotspot!) and occasionally a dress code or some song titles, and voila, another flashmob is born.
As K-pop flourished in popularity, so did its flashmobs. Some flashmobbers became “regulars”, made close friends with each other, and introduced their peers to the community. This brought a new chemistry, synergy and professionalism to the performances. Just compare this clip of the flashmob outside the London MBC concert in June 2012 to the earlier one, and you’ll see what I mean:
Which brings us back to today, October 2012, where Psy’s “Gangnam Style” rules the world. This time there are no prizes for guessing which song provided the soundtrack to the biggest London K-pop flashmob to date, and countless even bigger flashmobs across the globe. Who knows where the K-pop flashmob will go next!
So what is a K-pop flashmob? To passers-by it’s entertainment, funk, fun, a surprise and a snippet of Korean music and culture. To participants it’s a pleasure, a pastime, an expression, a confidence, a talent, a community and a passion. To some tipped-off audiences it’s the next best thing to a live K-pop concert. It’s crazy, it’s exposure, it’s attention, it’s communication, it’s live, it’s re-watchable, it’s viral. And it’s pretty darn infectious!