Korean pop-culture fest KCON LA wrapped up an in-person edition on Sunday with a second multi-act concert that largely filled Los Angeles’ Crypto.com arena.
The mania for Korean culture seemed barely diminished by the COVID hiatus, during which time the genre’s digital natives gathered virtually and KCON morphed into KCON:TACT.
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The seamless flow between fandom’s online and offline iterations was a dominant feature of the convention, held in person for the first time since 2019. And organizers Monday confirmed that the three-day event at the Los Angeles Convention Center attracted more than 90,000 real world visitors, plus a further 7.17 million worldwide via video streaming.
“The Asian American community, they existed 12 years ago [when KCON started]. They were at home. Now they are everywhere. They didn’t have a community,” said Kevin Woo, a San Francisco-native singer and actor who was trained and achieved success within the Korean talent system. He is next heading to Broadway with “K-Pop: The Musical” in mid-October.
At a presentation Friday, Woo talked about his own journey through K-Pop and the genre’s intense and unceasing fandom. “I envy this generation. You can use social media, create dance covers [in the U.S.] see them go viral and people back in Korea watch them.” But Woo also confirmed the Korean music’s industry’s all-consuming stresses. “You’ve got to love the attention. You’ll have to sacrifice your private life for five years. Minimum,” he said.
On the convention floor, those stresses and strains were largely put aside and replaced by a fast-paced succession of fan events (idols meet college-age crowds), dance teach-ins and dance competitions – one billed as a ‘Dance Battle Relay’ – and photo-ops galore.
Many convention floor attractions featured video technology that allowed fans to pose virtually with stars or to insert themselves into scenes from Korean TV dramas — modern-day equivalents of the distorting mirrors and your face-goes-here cardboard cut-outs from fun fairs and circuses of old.
The college-age fans appeared to stretch across the U.S.’s racial divides and to joyously embrace multiple aspects of South Korean soft power. These included booths operated by food and cosmetics companies.
A two-day Marketing Summit also gave KCON LA a more high-minded academic and commercial angle. The sidebar included insightful presentations from U.S. university professors and how-to lectures from platforms such as TikTok intended to help U.S. businesses harness the K-wave for themselves.
Event organizer CJ ENM also used KCON LA to audition U.S. hopefuls for a TV talent show it will launch next year. The show aims to discover a new global K-Pop boy band.
Perplexingly, considering their success at the Oscars and at major film festivals, Korean movies seemed largely sidelined at this year’s convention. That’s something CJ ENM sources say may be remedied in future iterations.
This weekend, however, music was the prime mover. A warm-up mini concert on Friday featured KCON LA debutants Cravity, Lightsum, StayC and TO1. These new acts will next segue into a six city U.S. tour.
Saturday’s three-hour show featured Ateez, Cravity, Enhypen, INI, Itzy, Kep1er, Lightsum and Stray Kids – plus Bebe Rexha who joined Itzy to perform “Break My Heart Myself.”
Sunday was lit up by Loona, NCT Dream, NMIXX, P1Harmony, StayC, The Boyz, TO1 and WJSN. TO1’s set included a cover performance of Psy’s “That That.”
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