KCON LA: Korean pop culture festival ends on a musical note

Korean pop culture festival KCON LA ended an in-person edition on Sunday with a second multi-act concert that largely packed Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena.

The mania for Korean culture seemed little lessened by the COVID hiatus, during which the genre’s digital natives virtually gathered and KCON transformed into KCON:TACT.

The seamless flow between the online and offline iterations of fandom was a dominant feature of the convention, 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 more than 90,000 real-world visitors, plus an additional 7.17 million worldwide via video streaming.

“The Asian American community existed 12 years ago [when KCON started]. You were at home. Now they are everywhere. They didn’t have a community,” said Kevin Woo, a San Francisco-born singer and actor who was trained and thrived within the Korean talent system. Next up is K-Pop: The Musical in mid-October.

At a presentation Friday, Woo spoke about his own journey through K-pop and the intense and relentless fanbase of the genre. “I envy this generation. You can use social media, create dance covers [in the U.S.] See them go viral and people in Korea are watching them. But Woo also acknowledged the all-consuming stress of the Korean music industry. “You have to love the attention. You have to sacrifice your private life for five years. At least,” he said.

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Kep1er meeting with fans at the KCON LA 2022 Convention.

On the convention floor, those stresses 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 dubbed the “Dance Battle Relay” ‘ and photo ops galore.

Many convention-floor attractions featured video technology, allowing fans to virtually pose with stars or blend into scenes from Korean television dramas – modern-day equivalents of the distorting mirrors and cardboard cutouts found in amusement parks and circuses of old.

The college-aged fans seemed to stretch across America’s racial divide, happily embracing several aspects of South Korea’s soft power. These included booths from food and cosmetics companies.

A two-day marketing summit gave KCON LA a more sophisticated academic and commercial perspective. The sidebar featured insightful presentations from US university professors and how-to talks from platforms like TikTok to help US companies capitalize on the K-wave.

Event organizer CJ ENM also used KCON LA to audition US hopes for a TV talent show that will launch next year. The show aims to discover a new global K-pop boy band.

Confusingly, Korean film seemed largely left out of this year’s convention given its success at the Oscars and major film festivals. That’s something that CJ ENM sources say could be fixed in future iterations.

This weekend, however, the focus was on the music. A warm-up mini-concert on Friday featured KCON debutants Cravity, Lightsum, Stayc and TO1. These new acts will next transition into a six-city US 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 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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KCON LA fans and bands on the convention floor.

https://variety.com/2022/music/news/kcon-la-korean-pop-culture-fest-kevin-woo-cj-enm-1235347481/ KCON LA: Korean pop culture festival ends on a musical note

Charles Jones

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