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Korean wave washes over the Anime con scene

Korean music, also known as “Kpop” has been growing in popularity over the last decade. It has become such a strong force that it has started to seep into the anime convention scene though booths in the dealer's room, panels over the course of a weekend, and cosplay. This surge in popularity is known as “hallyu” or “Korean wave”. This wave first started with Korean dramas as they became popular across East and Southeast Asia. Now K-dramas and K-pop have become global phenomenons and it shows no sign of going away any time soon.

Candiie as Kwangmin from Boyfriend "Janus" MV
Starrfall Photography
VIXX Cosplayers at katsucon 2014

People are discovering Kpop through various methods. Some are learning about it through word of mouth from friends or discovering it as conventions. Others have used sources such as Google and Youtube to dive into the colorful videos and variety shows coming from Korea involving many of the Idols of Kpop. “Youtube got me into Kpop after a 2PM music video randomly showed up in my video recommendations,” Said Heather, a 25 year old fan from Canada. For some, anime was the actual start of their love for Kpop. According to Candiie from South Carolina, “I remember watching “Inuyasha” and BoA sang one of the ending theme songs, “Every Heart”. I later found out that she’s a Korean singer and she had songs sung in Korean too. I slowly learned about other k-pop singers...My best friend was the one that got me hooked onto k-pop when she showed me Big Bang’s Lie MV for the first time.”

Kpop seems to be a positive influence as it expands people's knowledge of the genre and it is also a two-way street, with Kpop fans also discovering anime along the way. According to Kayla H., a 22 year old from New York, “I was a Kpop fan first then it spread to me loving more about Asian culture. I actually fell in love with anime when my friend first showed me Fruit Baskets three years ago.”

So how do fans mix Kpop with anime and how is it affecting the American anime convention scene? With it gaining in recognition, many fans have started to show their support at conventions that once were home to just anime. According to Liz, “more and more anime are using kpop in their closing or opening songs. People are like wow that is kpop and are getting more into the music because of that.” Also just as sci-fi and fantasy costumes are becoming more prominent at anime conventions, so is Kpop cosplay. Panels are helping to bring knowledge to convention attendees as well. Heather has helped that push, “I've held Kpop panels before, the most recent being a video showcase at Triad Anime Con 2013 in Winston-Salem, NC. ” She also had this to say about anime and kpop mixing, “Most friends I know who I've met through cons or concerts who like Kpop usually are anime fans as well.” Candiie agreed by adding, “I think over the years, kpop has gained a significant presence at anime conventions. I’ve seen the same kpop booths return to the same con every year, which means they’ve made good enough sales to come back. I sometimes see people cosplaying from kpop and people hosting kpop panels. You can sometimes hear kpop being played at cons by fellow con-goers as well.” Candiie also had this to say in how she supports the kpop and anime convention merge, “I usually cosplay a specific outfit from a group’s music video or I often find myself buying stuff at a k-pop booth in the dealer's room.”

There are hundreds of Korean artists out there so how does anyone keep up with it? Many pick a favorite group and devote themselves to it. Each group has fanclubs and their fans are called by certain names that are unique for each group. For example VIXX's fans are known as Starlights, Ukiss fans are Kissmes, Big Bang fans are VIPs, and the list continues. So what characteristics do fans look for in a group when choosing a favorite? Brianna Newman, a 22 year old fan from California said, “I look for the type of music, their personal personalities, how they portray the meaning behind their songs, and how they portray themselves with their individual talents. I end up liking everything about them.” According to Heather, “I choose a favorite group based on how many songs/music videos of theirs I like, how often I find myself watching their variety shows, how entertaining they are, and how talented they are. Groups who produce their own songs or choreograph their own dances get major bonus points in my book.” Candiie believes it is also according to trends and following who is new and hot at the moment, “You can tell which kpop group has a significant following when you visit these kpop booths and go to the panels hosted at the conventions. I’ve hosted a few kpop panels and I’ve noticed how popular and how many fans a certain group has based on how loud the crowd cheers for them.”

The question becomes, how can fans of K-pop enjoy a genre that they can't understand the language of. K-dramas have subtitles, but music is a different story. The sentiment seemed to be unanimous amongst all that were asked that question. Liz from Tennessee said, “it is a different type of music and sound. I love the dancing. “ Kayla H said, “ is something that if you’re having a bad day can just pick you back up or if you’re happy or sad or whatever emotion there’s a kpop song that you can listen to.” According to Brianna, “It's different. Some may be there because they find the idols look good to the eye, but a lot of them just like the sounds, the voices, the videos.” Heather also agreed by adding, “The Korean music industry is much different than say the North American or European music industries. The songs are unique compared to Top 40 radio and the images portrayed aren't really seen anywhere outside of Asia.”

So why is K-pop growing so rapidly throughout the United States and the world? Kayla H has this to offer, “Kpop companies have been doing a great job with bringing more kpop concerts to the USA for fans who can’t just hop on a plain to Korea to see their favorite idols.” Availability does appear to have an effect. When international stars U-Kiss came to the USA on their tour, they were interviewed on such shows a “Good Morning America” and widely recognized papers such as the “New York Post”. This brought Kpop into the homes of Americans who have probably never even heard of it. Now even more groups that have never toured the US are headed into the country this spring and summer. Even the companies appear to be noticing the upward trend of popularity in the states. But there is more to it then just the companies coming. According to Candiie, marketing has a lot to do with it as well. “...the really cool and unique packaging of the cds, different merchandise, and concerts help factor in kpop’s growth.”

So why do the ones we interviewed love Kpop? “I owe so much to Kpop it has helped me meet so many amazing new friends who I now see as my family,” said Kayla H. “Kpop has helped me through some very hard times in my life. You could say Kpop saved my life and I thank god for it “ For Brianna, she can't imagine life without Kpop and anime. “Both are simply amazing and have become such a big part in my life. I wouldn't trade them for the world and I do hope that Kpop grows more so many can enjoy it.” Liz is hopeful for the future of Kpop in the US, “Kpop is growing more and more popular here. Several Kpop groups have been doing tours here. People are going to the shows which means hopefully more kpop concerts will be held here in the US.”

It appears Kpop is here to stay and will likely become even bigger if these fans have anything to say about it. With groups becoming more and more well known across the globe and including the USA in their world tours, it can only mean more exciting times for international fans. Even anime conventions have brought Korean guests over. Otakon brought VIXX as a musical guest a few years ago and each year Kcon in California hosts multiple musical guests such as G Dragon, EXO, and Yu Seung Woo. With more Korean artists heading to the USA to promote, the Hallyu wave is likely to keep gaining strength.

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