Last Sunday there was a fairly large K-Pop concert in south Incheon. The Incheon Korean Music Wave Festival 2010 was held in the World Cup Soccer Stadium where the local team, Incheon United FC, also happens to play. It’s something I would generally never pay money to see, but it was free for English teachers in the EPIK Program. Even if we did have to pay for it , it would have only been 5,000 won (I can’t imagine a show in the U.S. like this costing less than $50).
Something like 15 acts were on stage for three hours playing about two songs each. Well, they didn’t really “play” any songs because most of the bands are manufactured by big conglomerates and investors and are driven by drum machines and autotune. Most acts don’t have much skill beyond looking pretty and being able to dance. In fact, all the songs at the show sounded exactly as they do on YouTube or the radio. It was a lot like when YouTube had the vuvuzela button during the World Cup. It was the same music, but with crowd noise.
I know the photo at the top is crappy (cameraphone), but you should be able to make out a tiny stage in front and the four glowing rectangles. Those are the stages. During each two-song set the next band/act gets into position. There’s really no delay; it was a pretty fluid experience. A few bands actually play their own music, but most of them are boy/girl bands with 2-9 members that just dance with one or two who actually sing (or lipsync, sometimes they don’t even hide the fact that they don’t sing on stage.) The one thing they all do well is look really attractive.
The crowds, mostly made up of young girls, was really into everything (as each group only played their two most popular songs). It was supposedly a sell-out crowd, but the rain earlier in the afternoon likely kept some people out. I didn’t stay for the entire show (I had a long bus ride home), but I did see most of it.
K-Pop is like an extreme version of the Top 40 music scene in the US. Bands can come and go in a matter of weeks. Songs get overplayed (worse than Ke$ha) everywhere. Grocery stores, bars, cell phone shops, restaurants, you name it. It’s musical junk food. It will fill you up now, but in 20 minutes you’ll be hungry for something more satisfying.
For an example, here is one band I saw, called “After School.” As you can probably see, it’s like the Pussycat Dolls, except the backup singers are even more superfluous.
John is a Technical Success Manager at WP Engine. Before moving to Austin, John lived in South Korea and China for the better part of four years. His life as an amateur Chinese web censorship expert, traveler, map nerd and beer geek can be found on this site.