It really is that time again. KCON NY 2017 took place this weekend at Prudential Center for only its third year but for everyone involved it seems like home at this stage. For me however, it was my very first time so naturally there was a number of things I learned not just about the convention itself but the fans, groups, and much more.
1. K-Pop Journalism is growing and improving.
As soon as I arrived at KCON I went to a panel called “What Type of Fan Are You?” in which panelist and Billboard writer Tamar Herman had some much need truths to offer. In the wake of BTS’s BBMA win, coverage of K-pop was much more comprehensive but also more divisive. Fans were upset at some well-known K-pop journalists choices and bored by the more introductory pieces by outlets not used to covering K-pop. Her passionate defence of these writers and how fans give them too hard a time when the details are usually decided by editors, is a sign of how K-pop coverage is evolving along with the music itself. This was also evidenced by Jeff Benjamin’s panel with producers LDN Noise. This discussion showed a willingness not only from journalists but from fans too, to go further into music analysis. Both writers displayed that K-pop deserves to be taken seriously, artistically and critically.
2. LDN Noise plan to start their very own K-pop group.
Speaking of the superstar producers from London, England, during their panel they said their ultimate goal was to build their own group from the ground up. The makers of SHINee’s “View”, f(x)’s “4 Walls”, NCT 127’s “Fire Truck”, and many more smash hits, have been enamoured with K-pop ever since they were first introduced to it and want to continue going deeper and deeper into it. If they can make something similar to how Brave Brothers created Brave Girls then we are very much on board.
3. The international K-pop fandom is growing and changing too.
That being said, it will be strange to see two English men creating a K-pop group. Amidst the controversy of EXP Edition, the desire for white people to get involved in K-pop does not seem to exist. Yet being at KCON, experiencing the huge diversity of people who love K-pop, it’s clear that how the west consumes K-pop is going to change. At the panel for LDN Noise there were young people speaking about how they’re in college studying music production with a dream of someday producing music for K-pop acts. While K-pop has used foreign producers for a long time, it’s clear to see the lines blurring with time. An example is Coco Avenue, Jenny and Jenna, two young black women who write and sing in Korean. They declared that they were disbanding a few days before KCON but over the weekend said they still plan to continue making music in the same vein. Seeing these people on stage at an event like this will clearly inspire some people to follow in their footsteps. The change is clearly happening, time will tell how far it goes.
4. International audiences need to see more female acts.
The only negative thing I took from the whole convention was the shortage of female acts. At the concerts which had nine acts in total only two, GFriend and Twice, were female. Hearing the huge amount of people there just for Twice and the consistent love for GFriend’s dance breaks made it clear there was room for them. It would be definitely bring a bigger crowd and allow female groups to try start building bigger international fanbases.
5. NCT 127 are the fastest growing group in K-pop.
A group that is very clearly building a big fanbase is NCT 127. I guessed that they would have the biggest reactions of the weekend but was still surprised at how dedicated they were. During the red carpet whenever the members were speaking, you could not hear a thing because of the noise of the fans. It was seriously impressive and if they capitalize on it could potentially become the first group after BTS to start making major strides in the western market.
6. SF9 are the rookie group to look out for.
NCT 127 have the backing of the biggest company in K-pop so were bound to achieve a certain level of success but a group like SF9 have to fight for their time in the sun. They did, and they fought hard. No group was as happy to interact with fans as they were, their choreography was intense, and their special stages the most involved. They came with a surprisingly large number of fans but I’m sure they left with many more.
7. 1Million Dance Studio could start their own group.
1Million Dance Studio, the Korean dance crew making a name for themselves thanks to their great Youtube videos were at the convention and made a big impression. Each of their appearances was packed and when they opened for the concerts on the Saturday night, the crowd was just as happy to see them as any of the idols. When you choreograph for the likes Girls’ Generation, After School, and 2PM it’s easy to see why they’re so loved but it really is refreshing to see them get to be on the same stage as the people they train.
8. Korean culture is more than just pop music.
Maybe we all knew this but there’s no better reminder than the one you get at KCON. From the various wonderful food stalls, to the packed out cosmetics booths of Innisfree, to the gaming booth the culture of Korea is on full display for the public. The gaming booth in particular was a reminder that Korea’s biggest media export is not actually pop music but games and online gaming is the real deal for Koreans.
9. Kevin Woo wants to return to America but with some music of his own.
Kevin Woo, host of After School club and former member of U-Kiss, was a guest of the convention. He participated in his own meet and greet but also took the time to host a number of events. He was a constant delight and had a large number of fans in his own right. Over the course of the weekend he mentioned a few times that he really wanted to come back to America when he got the chance but with some music of his own. Whether he gets to that in the end, we know for sure he’ll be dropping some solo work in months to come.
10. K-pop fans are the best in the world.
We definitely already knew this but it’s always worth a mention. You don’t even have to go to any booths, or see the concerts to understand this, just walk amongst the crowd and look at their varied and marvellous outfits (my personal favourites were the three girls dressed as Orange Caramel from the “My Copycat” video). They were not only gorgeous but at each panel had interesting things to say, at each workshop and booth danced their butts off, and of course screamed their lungs out in awe of their favourite idols. Sadly this year there was only one fan run booth, although the women of ECKO (East Coast Korean Outlet) did enough work for all those missing. In a short amount of time they gathered work from around 10 different K-pop fan artists. They collected a number of beautiful drawings and even some small fan made zines. They did a wonderful job of promoting the talent of east coast K-pop fans.
Photo courtesy of KCON USA