Crazy Over K-Pop
Foreign Fans Travel to Seoul Just to See Favorite Pop Stars
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Korean boy band TVXQ
When Mai Lor, a Hmong-American student, and her friends from different countries were planning their trip to Seoul last February, they were not worried about the freezing cold weather or the fact that there are limited tourist attractions during winter.
They were traveling to Seoul not to see the historical palaces or go shopping in Dongdaemun. For Lor and her friends, the main reason for their trip was to watch their favorite Korean boy band TVXQ’s first major concert in Seoul.
In recent months, die-hard Korean pop (K-pop) fans from Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and other Asian countries have traveled to Seoul specifically to attend concerts by top K-pop stars such as TVXQ, Shinhwa and Se7en.
Lor, a 20-year old student, met her friends from the U.S., Singapore, Australia and the Philippines, through a TVXQ fan Web site. They were all fans of K-pop, especially TVXQ, even if their knowledge of Korean language was limited.
When they heard of the TVXQ concert in Seoul, it was hard for any of them to pass up the chance to see their favorite K-pop stars in concert. Lor said it was initially difficult for the group to obtain tickets since the Web sites selling concert tickets were in Korean.
"We were very stressed out while waiting to hear from the company as well as having to wait for others to buy the tickets for us. We had no power to buy them ourselves, even though we had the means to pay for them,” she said.
The group eventually got some help from Korean friends to obtain tickets directly from SM Entertainment, and from an online auction site where the tickets were double the original price. Lor and her friends ended up watching three out of the four concert dates of TVXQ.
Even if traveling to Seoul is relatively expensive, they willingly spent between one million to three million won ($1,000 to $3,000) for their entire trip, including hotel, tickets and shopping for K-pop CDs, posters and other souvenirs.
Korea’s pop heartthrob Se7en performs
during his solo concert last June in Seoul.
/Korea Times Photo
Difficulties for Foreign Fans
A frequent complaint of foreign K-pop fans is the lack of concert information in English. They also complain the entertainment agencies are focusing mostly on the lucrative Japanese market, while failing to cater to the demand of the K-pop fans in other countries.
Helen Vuu, a 33-year old manager from Australia, lamented the fact that entertainment companies seem to ignore foreign fans.
"I think it’s extremely difficult for foreign fans to obtain tickets for Korean concerts, not only due to language difficulties but more importantly, Korean entertainment companies’ lack of interest in overseas fans,’’ Vuu said.
Foreign fans also urged entertainment agencies to create English-language Web sites for foreign fans and international Web sites. They said possible "concert tours" to Korea should be considered for foreign fans to attend concerts and fan meetings.
Beatrice Song, an administration officer from Singapore, said the biggest barrier for foreign fans is the language. "I think the biggest problem is the communication breakdown and language barrier. By using a language that allows foreign fans to understand already makes us feel more appreciated and motivated to support the artist even more," she said.
Despite the difficulties, the foreign fans enjoyed the experience of seeing TVXQ in concert. "The concert itself was wonderful because the performances were awesome. It was definitely worth going all the way to Seoul just for that concert… Most of the (Korean) fans were friendly and helpful especially after finding out that we were foreign fans," Justine Itoralba from the Philippines said.
Recently, some entertainment agencies have recognized the demands of foreign fans. When another popular boy band Shinhwa held its concert in Seoul last May, entertainment agency Good EMG offered fans from China and Southeast Asia the opportunity to book tickets through e-mail. But there were a limited number of tickets for foreign fans, and there was a special tour option for an additional $50.
To capitalize on the rising popularity of K-pop stars in Asia, Shinhwa is currently on an Asian tour, which will see the popular group hold concerts in Bangkok, Thailand and possibly Singapore.
Fans Promote K-pop Concerts
Some foreign fans have taken matters into their own hands, and have set up their own English-language Web sites and forums devoted to K-pop concerts.
One of the sites is Khype (www.khype.com), which is devoted to providing accurate and up-to-date information for all K-pop fans in the U.S. Three K-pop fans, Chor Moua, Amy Madden and Alicia Um, who met during a K-pop concert at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. in 2005, founded the site.
Moua said they decided to form Khype, which stands for Korean Hype, after experiencing problems in obtaining tickets for K-pop concerts in L.A.
"In the past, there has always been confusion and misunderstanding, which was very frustrating, especially for those who can’t read or speak Korean like me. Getting the information was hard because most of the time the sponsors or concert coordinator didn’t speak English well enough to clarify things for us,’’ Moua said, in an e-mail interview with The Korea Times.
From the original 10 members, the forum has grown to over 500 members, including Caucasians, Korean-American, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and Hmong.
Most of them only became K-pop fans after stumbling on a K-pop video, which caught their attention enough to find out more about the Korean music scene. An informal survey of the members revealed the most popular K-pop artists are Rain, Shinhwa, Se7en, Fly to the Sky, TVXQ and Lee Hyo-ri.
Khype’s Madden, a Caucasian-American, said she finds K-pop appealing because of the artists’ passion for music and love for the fans. "I believe non-Koreans are finding the excitement that follows Korean music, thus they get pulled into the hype. Though non-Koreans might not understand the words when a musician sings, music holds no language barriers. Anyone and everyone can enjoy Korean music,” she said.
Currently, fans in the U.S. are abuzz over the planned YG Family concerts in October in New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.
In Southeast Asia, K-pop Kingdom (www.K-popkingdom.com) is one of the Web sites for southeast Asians interested in Korean music, and provides K-pop concert information.
Yuri Aizawa, in charge of art and public relations for K-pop Kingdom, has been a longtime fan of K-pop and realized how difficult it was to get information, buy cds and attend concerts of her favorite artists.
Now, there are over 2,500 members, with 75 percent from Malaysia and the remaining 25 percent from Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Brunei.
Aizawa noted the Web site helped promote the TVXQ and Super Junior concert in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month. "It (K-pop scene) is at a beginning stage (in Malaysia), but we managed to really open up the K-pop market with the TVXQ concert, which was the first K-pop concert in Malaysia,” she said.
The Kuala Lumpur concert attracted thousands of Malaysians, as well as fans from neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
Kristina Garcia, a Filipino IT consultant, was one of the many fans that traveled to Kuala Lumpur to see TVXQ. She has already traveled to Hong Kong, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur to catch TVXQ’s performances.
"Despite the fact the (Kuala Lumpur) concert was the fourth time I saw the same performance, I still enjoyed it immensely. The boys (TVXQ) gave awesome performances despite technical glitches… It was all worth it for me," she said.
Even if she has been to several concerts, her excitement over TVXQ has not waned. Garcia said she would still like to visit Seoul again in the future.
"I would definitely go back for a vacation and a concert, too, if time and money permits. I would like to see Fly to the Sky, TVXQ and BoA in concert,” she said.