- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
While Western pop music’s annual celebration was taking place in Brooklyn at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night, enthusiasts for its South Korean counterpart sold out the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena for KCON, the largest K-pop convention in the United States.
Doubling in attendance from its first outing in Irvine a year ago, the second annual KCON drew a racially diverse crowd of more than 20,000, mostly in their teens and 20s. The majority had first been exposed to K-pop via YouTube, before tumbling down a rabbit hole of Korean music and drama obsession.
Madeleine Kyeremateng, a 15-year-old of Ghanaian descent from the Inland Empire, stumbled upon boy band Big Bang’s music video “Haru Haru” while browsing random videos on YouTube. “Since then I’ve been hooked on K-pop,” says Kyeremateng, who won a dance contest at KCON.
The two-day convention, presented by South Korean entertainment company CJ E&M and produced by Mnet, a division of CJ Group, also included cooking demonstrations, beauty makeovers and panels on various aspects of Asian and Asian-American culture. It all culminated in a Sunday night concert featuring several of K-pop’s hottest acts. That these artists, many of whom routinely sell out arenas across Asia on their own, were flown out to the other side of the world to perform three or four songs each speaks to the Korean entertainment industry’s view of its international growth potential.
Winding through a diverse array of acts that included girl group f(x), who played SXSW in March and were featured in a Funny or Die sketch with Anna Kendrick, and 12-member Korean-Chinese boy band EXO, whose set was accompanied by unrelenting shrieks that shook the arena seats, the two-and-a-half hour concert concluded with two artists perhaps best poised to bridge the continental divide between the American and Korean hip-hop scenes.
The only non-Asian artist to take the KCON stage, Missy Elliott, had much of the crowd on its feet for “Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control.” The Grammy winner’s musical output has been relatively sparse since her last studio album, 2005’s The Cookbook. But last January she tweeted that she had recorded two songs with Korean superstar G-Dragon, the KCON headliner. The rapper-producer turned 25 last weekend but is already a K-pop industry vet as frontman of Big Bang, arguably Korea’s most popular boy band. Cutting a slim and stylish figure onstage, G-Dragon seamlessly moved through his solo singles “One of a Kind,” “MichiGO” and “Crayon” before bringing Elliott back onstage for the debut of their much-anticipated duet, “Niliria.” The two emcees, with their combined corps of backup dancers, looked utterly comfortable onstage together. “Get your freak on, get your cray on,” the two rappers chanted, mashing up the lyrics of their two respective hits as they made their way down the catwalk to close the show.
“Niliria” will be featured on G-Dragon’s upcoming solo album Coup D’Etat. The full KCON concert, M! COUNTDOWN What’s Up LA, will be broadcast online and in 14 countries, including the U.S., on cable network Mnet America tonight at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET.
For those who saw the show in person, there were no regrets about skipping the VMAs for K-pop. Fifteen-year-old Courtney Wiseman and her sister, Jessica Mangrum, 26, were exposed to the genre via a foreign exchange student at Wiseman’s school. The sisters, both Caucasian, flew to KCON from Tennessee with Mangrum’s 3-year-old daughter, Akira, who was decked out in a G-Dragon T-shirt and mini bandana. When asked to choose between the hypothetical chance to attend the VMAs live or KCON, Wiseman didn’t hesitate. “KCON. I don’t even know what artists are popular here anymore.”
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day