By Mandy Day
AsAmNews Staff Writer
KCON, the annual U.S. event celebrating Korean pop culture, took over Downtown Los Angeles last weekend. Bringing together more than 76,000 fans for the three day event, KCON has established itself as the place to experience all things Hallyu (Korean pop culture and entertainment).
This extravaganza gets bigger every year. Last year, New York and Japan saw their first KCON events. 2016 proved to be a bigger year with the addition of expos and Korean music concerts in Abu Dhabi and Paris. Adding events at The Novo by Microsoft located at L.A. Live, the convention, expo, and two day concert festival spread beyond the Los Angeles Convention Center and The Staples Center.
Similar to last year, panels were hosted about a variety of topics. Activities included dance classes, competitions, and fan giveaways. New to 2016, the Halo Championship Series Finals held at The Novo by Microsoft (formerly Club Nokia), while attendees also had access to a Korean Street Food Market serving more than fifty Korean food choices. Also a first this year, live-streaming of the weekend on KCON TV which had its official launch at the convention. Live-streaming reached 40,000 people on Saturday with 10,000 newly registered users signing up the same day.
Many of the artists who attended KCON LA also performed or appeared at previous KCON events. Returning for a second year were popular groups Monsta X and Block B, both performed at 2015’s KCON. Also returning were members from Girl’s Generation (including native Californian Tiffany Hwang); Taiwanese American rapper Amber; Korean American singer Eric Nam; and BTS who performed at 2014’s festival. Concerts were hosted by Korean celebrities including television star Lee Min Ho who filmed portions of a television series in Southern California several years ago creating mayhem as fans sought out locations for where the star would be. This year’s event also brought back one of South Korea’s first really popular boy bands. Like Shinhwa, who performed last year, KCON brought out some “old school” pop music from the nineties with Turbo. Turbo’s most famous member, Kim Jong Kook is largely known for his solo career and appearances on numerous Korean Variety programs like “Running Man”.
Though AsAmNews was not covering the event in person this year, it appears that the elements of last year’s event stayed largely the same. UCSD student Vivian Tran was in attendance, and provided AsAmNews with insight into what KCON had to offer attendees this year. Her first experience with the festival and convention, in 2013, was much different and smaller than this years. Tran told AsAmNews, “It was nice having the convention portion indoors. The last KCON I went to was in 2013, and the convention was all outside. 2016 was bigger and had more variety of Korean-related content than 2013.” She was surprised to see a large number of Korean start-ups present promoting everything from produce preserving plastic bags to bone replacement technology. Also present at the expo were large numbers of Korean products and services such as makeup tutorials, makeovers, and manicures.
Tran did find puzzling aspects of the convention and concert as well. She told AsAmNews that fan engagements weren’t particularly intimate and much of the event with celebrities and artists were watching those who scored “hi-touch” vouchers (a celebrity high five), followed by an interview portion, and concluded with a message from the artists. At last year’s KCON, many fans lined up for hours to get into the fan engagements and there were definite grumblings about the lack of intimacy or face time that could be overheard in the expo hall.
The concerts were indisputably Tran’s favorite part of the weekend. The collaborations between artists were a particular highlight as were the English songs that were performed. She said that BTS’ fans were the loudest she’s ever experienced and their performance was, by far, the fan favorite. Her least favorite part, the marketing of Lee Min Ho as a special guest, but he was only on stage for a few minutes. My experience last year was similar as I thought performers could easily have handled hosting duties, saved money, and spared dedicated fans’ from disappointment.
As each year proves, Hallyu culture has spread to the far corners of the Earth, and as its popularity skyrockets, so does the demand for more events like KCON. What started as a small-ish, one day concert festival in Irvine, has become a worldwide phenomenon providing fans with everything they need to become more connected to the Korean people.
Produced by Korean conglomerate CJ E&M, the company seeks to expand access to Asian culture and entertainment. Mnet Media, the music arm of CJ E&M brings Korean music and television to North American audiences with Korean and English language programming. Both concerts will air on the network’s music show, “M Countdown”.
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