Korean pop culture festival KCON LA wrapped up an in-person edition on Sunday with a second multi-act concert that packed the Crypto.com arena in Los Angeles.
The Korean culture mania seemed barely diminished by the COVID hiatus, during which time digital natives of the genre came together virtually and KCON morphed into KCON:TACT.
The seamless flow between online and offline iterations of fandom was a dominant feature of the convention, which was held in person for the first time since 2019. And organizers confirmed Monday that the three-day convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center attracted over 90,000 real-world visitors. , plus an additional 7.17 million worldwide via video streaming.
“The Asian American community, it existed 12 years ago [when KCON started]. They are at home. Now they are everywhere. They didn’t have a community,” said Kevin Woo, a singer and actor from San Francisco who trained and made it through Korea’s talent system. He will then head to Broadway with “K-Pop: The Musical” in mid-October.
During a presentation on Friday, Woo opened up about his own journey through K-Pop and the genre’s intense and relentless fandom. “I envy this generation. You can use social media, create dance covers [in the U.S.] seeing them go viral and people in Korea watching them. But Woo also confirmed the all-consuming tensions in the Korean music industry. “You must like the attention. You will have to sacrifice your privacy for five years. Minimal,” he said.
On the convention floor, these stresses and strains have largely been pushed aside and replaced by a rapid succession of fan events (idols meet college-aged crowds), dance lessons and dance competitions, one billed as a ‘Dance Battle Relay, ‘ and photo ops galore.
Many of the convention’s floor attractions featured video technology that allowed fans to virtually pose with stars or insert themselves into scenes from Korean TV dramas – modern equivalents of the distorting mirrors and cardboard cutouts of your fairgrounds. and circuses of old.
The college-aged fans seemed to span across America’s racial divides and happily embrace multiple aspects of South Korean soft power. These included stalls operated by food and cosmetics companies.
A two-day marketing summit gave KCON LA a higher academic and business angle. The sidebar included insightful presentations from professors from American universities and hands-on talks from platforms like TikTok aimed at helping American businesses harness K-wave for themselves.
Event organizer CJ ENM also used KCON LA to audition American hopefuls for a TV talent show it will launch next year. The show aims to discover a new global K-Pop boy band.
Curiously, given its success at the Oscars and major film festivals, the Korean film seemed largely sidelined at this year’s convention. This is something CJ ENM sources say could be fixed in future iterations.
This weekend, however, the music was the main driver. A warm-up mini-concert on Friday brought together KCON newbies Cravity, Lightsum, Stayc and TO1. These new numbers will then follow a six-city tour of the United States.
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. The TO1 set included a cover of “That That” by Psy.