A K-pop storm is brewing across the other side of the globe and is poised to unleash it’s sugary, dance-infused goodness onto the western world. South Korea has been curating an army of overstyled and plastic-faced girl and boy bands with obnoxious names like B3AST, f(x), SHINee, U-KISS and MBLAQ in the hopes of cross-over success and Saturday night saw one of their first UK invasions in the form of a ‘Korean Cultural Festival’ with headliners EXO-K (above) at the Indigo O2.
Hundreds of fans lined up with homemade signs and painted faces to prove just how hardcore they love their favorite idols, many of whom spend years of intense training, strict diets, plastic surgery and isolation from their families in order to maybe make it as a singer in one of the label manufactured super groups.
One such group of girls who has hit the big time riding the Korean pop culture wave that has swept through most Asian countries, 4 Minute, opened the show in style with cutesy introductions, infectious dance moves and a pop-tastic rendition of one of their biggest hits ‘Huh’ (8.9 million views and counting on YouTube).
You don’t need to know Korean to understand how they gyrate those hips – plus there’s always an English lyric or two thrown in to make lip-synching a little easier for the rest of the world.
Next up was the overly bizarre duo Norazu, who’s combination of ridiculous outfit choices, high pitched rock anthem vocals and cheezy dance moves are sure to bomb anywhere outside of Korea. Their entire set was tacky and you couldn’t help but laugh at the poor bastards up on stage and wonder who thought this could translate well.
To add a little more old world culture into the festival, there were also traditional samul-nori dancers plus a fashion show by Korean designer Park Sul-Nyeo who presented an overly long yet beautiful collection of traditional Korean outfits known as hanbok.
Another highlight were two UK based K-pop dance troupes who won the chance to perform their favorite songs by Big Bang and Girls Generation (aka Sonyeo Shidae, ‘SoShi’ or ‘SNSD’ as their fans like to call them) in front of an audience of screaming teens. The girl troupe danced well enough but their mismatched styles were no match for the flashes of oiled up abdominals from the boy troupe that caused mayhem among the audience.
The highlight of the night and what everyone was anxiously waiting on the edge of their seats for was the glitter-fueled performance from EXO-K, 6 members of the 12 member half Korean, half Chinese super group EXO. (EXO-M are 6 Chinese boys who sing the same songs, but in Chinese and promote primarily in China – are you as confused as I am?) If you have the attention span long enough to sit through the minute and a half mythological cartoon opening sequence thingy in the video for their single ‘Mama’ (above), it will get stuck in your head I can promise you this. Which is exactly what K-pop is designed to do.
Words & photographs by Chad Burton