Monday, October 17, 2011


When I first arrived in Korea nearly two years ago, I had never heard of K-pop. I was unfamiliar with the 90's-style boy and girl groups that dominate the music scene here, and the only Korean musician I'd ever heard of was Rain. It will also come as no surprise to anyone familiar with homogenous Korea that most of these groups sound/look/dance exactly the same.

Big Bang. My boyfriend is the one in the middle
Surprisingly, K-pop is extremely popular outside Korea, and even the USA has jumped onto the bandwagon with the emergence of Big Bang. These 'bands' make silly amounts of money, most of which the singers/dancers don't see, and come and go faster than junk food outlets. It's not difficult to see why these groups are so adored, though. They're beautiful. Boys are androgynous and the girls look like anime fantasy characters, the kinds of people Westerners dream about before coming to Asia.

Now, let's be clear. I don't generally like K-pop. It's all the same, I can't tell one boy band apart from the next, and I particularly don't like the girl groups. But. I love Big Bang. Like, a lot. I know their names, and I know what their songs are called in Korean, and I listen to their individual stuff. My favourite is Taeyang (watch the link, it's so dramatic!). If you ask my students, they will tell you that he is my boyfriend. Oddly enough, he is the most masculine of all the K-pop boys... I should like G-Dragon more...

Anyway! Despite my general ambivalence about the genre, I found myself at the Asian Song Festival this past weekend, where many very popular K-pop groups performed, as well as big names from Japan, China, Hong Kong and Thailand. The concert was free, held by the city of Daegu to thank the citizens for coming to watch the IAAF Athletics World Championships last month.

The stadium was packed, and we all got free blankets and glow sticks (I love Korea, always giving us free stuff). We sat with what seemed like the entire foreign population of Korea, down on the pitch in front of the stage. Clearly the organisers wanted the cameras to catch us, to show how cosmopolitan the whole thing was! See! Foreigners love Korean music!

The first few acts were fairly terrible, but hugely entertaining thanks to the overtly sexual dancing in a stadium filled with children of all ages. My friend Tim, who loves himself some Korean girls, was mesmerizsd. I don't think he looked away from the big screen for a minute. There was some horrifically bad lip syncing from the starter acts, they'd not yet mastered the art of keeping the microphone by their mouths when 'singing' and dancing.

BiBi Chou, from China
The international acts were good though. I really like a woman from China called Bibi Chou (watch the link!), who was quite sexy in an andro way and had a really good voice. You could tell she actually sang the songs, and she had some English lyrics in there too, which made a nice change. The guy from Taiwan, Peter Ho, was hilariously lame, but a granny in the row in front of us went mental for him. She kept telling us to stand up, but everyone else was seated so she jumped up and down all on her lonesome.

G.NA, rocking her upside-down heart ensemble
The main Korean acts were so slick and professional. These guys really know how to put on a show, especially the big names. Miss A kicked off the main acts, but alas I was in the mile-long line to go to the toilet! Bloody porta-loos! But I got back in time to see G.NA (pronounced Gina) who is super hot and all my boy students adore her. It was nice to hear a song I could sing along to for a change, and we all waved our glow sticks about as we sang 'Black and white'. Well, aside from Andrew and Fiona, who were bored out of their minds!

BEAST, currently the most popular group in Korea, as far as I can tell, was a massive hit. An entire section of the stadium held up green glow sticks in the shape of their band name, which looked amazing. They sang three songs, danced like machines in their black and white suits, and reduced many a spectator to hysteria. I think I had more fun watching the audience than the actual groups.

I'm not going to lie. I had a good time, and when time came to leave at 8pm to watch the Man United/Liverpool game... I stayed behind to watch the concert *hides face in shame*. Luckily my blushes were spared when the rain came down and I had an excuse to leave. We joined the mass exodus out of the stadium, before mega groups Super Junior and Girls Generation had performed. We thought the show would stop because of all the electronics, but as we got on the shuttle bus we heard it kick off again. Bugger.

SNSD, or Girls Generation
So those who stayed got to see Super Junior and Girls Generation, as well as Perfume and AAA from Japan. I wasn't that sad, honestly. I was K-popped out by that point and just wanted to get to the pub to watch the football. Pity United were playing like rubbish and ended up with a 1-1 draw, the clowns. I later discovered that the show was broadcast to 40 countries, maybe I'm famous in Bhutan!

1 comment:

  1. Is "famous in Bhutan" the next "big in Japan"?

    By contrast, I was sitting in a fabulously expensive seat at a George Michael & smyphony orchestra concert in Zurich on Friday evening; the juxtaposition fades when you consider that he was indeed once the quitessential pop artist... something the irritating Italian ladies sitting behind me lamented not seeing - consistantly, throughout the whole concert - by "Whooo-hoooo"-ing every time he soulfully crooned into the microphone a-la Tony Bennett... they wanted Wham George, but they got "SHUT THE HELL UP" sTivstares instead.