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The K-POP Experience

When on exchange in South Korea while the Korean Wave is sweeping the world makes it almost a sin to not engage in the K-POP experience while you’re here. Truthfully I am not much of an avid K-POPper anymore and I am particularly fond of only one group, called U-KISS (I know terrible name, but I assure you that they are a bunch of fantastic humans). I had the excellent opportunity and an insane amount of luck to go on exchange when they coincidentally began their Korean promotional activities. So here’s some general information about doing the whole K-POP thing.

Contrary to popular beliefs the K-POP community within Korea is very closed to the international audience. If you are an international K-POP fan and you plan to attend events, shows and more, you will need to conform to the unspoken rules of Korean fan culture. Firstly, there is a fan hierarchy to follow. The highest ranking goes to the official fan club members, second ranking to those who purchase the physical CDs, third ranking to those who purchase the digital CDs and fourth ranking to those who just “like” them. Having been a big fan (I’m talking 1990s to Backstreet Boys big) for five years, I knew the kinks already. I had my official membership ready and I was able to get the most out of my K-POP experience. A warning to those who love K-POP all around, the Korean fan culture does not take kindly to those aren’t “loyal” or “faithful” to one artist. If you fan (-sleep?) around with several artists, you will be blacklisted by fan clubs and virtually extinguish your chances of ever seeing K-POP artists in Korea.

There are several types of K-POP events, but I will focus on weekly music shows.

If you’re even as little as toe-deep into K-POP you will know that there are weekly music shows across every broadcasting company for their artists to promote on. Some of these shows are brutal and some of these aren’t, depending on the size of the studio. I had the pleasure of attending Arirang Simply K-POP (Tuesday), MBC Music Show! Champion (Wednesday), MBC Music Core (Saturday) and SBS Inkigayo (Sunday). Other shows include MNET M!Countdown (Thursday) and KBS Music Bank (Friday), but l had class. Even if you’re on exchange you must attend class and be a responsible student, right?

Here’s a description of the shows I attended in the order of easy entrance.

1. Arirang Simply K-POP (located close to Gangnam)

Simply K-POP is catered towards an international audience, with the whole show broadcasted in English (or with English subtitles). They are very welcoming towards foreign fans, even more so if you’re an obvious foreign fan (i.e caucasian) and you will even get extra perks for it (i.e introducing the show on camera, sitting next to the host and being interviewed). The studio is quite small as it only fits a seated audience of 150. Despite its small size, it’s still relatively easy get admission. The show begins around 7PM, so there is usually no need for the notorious before sunrise line ups.

2. MBC Music Show! Champion (located close to Children’s Grand Park)
Show! Champion is a Korean cable music show catered more for the Korean audience. However I have seen tour groups attend the show to showcase the rising popularity of K-POP. It is also a smaller studio that caters to about 200-300 standing audience members. The show begins around 6PM, so there is usually no need for the notorious before sunrise line ups.

3. MBC Music Core (located in Ilsan)

Music Core is a Korean music show from one of the biggest broadcasting companies in Korea. They aren’t too foreign friendly, but won’t mind as long as you’re with your fanclub. It is located very, very far from the heart of Seoul (approx. an hour and half subway ride). It has a large studio but the show begins early so there may be the need to line up earlier. In addition the show occurs on the weekend, so those little kids are free to run wild to their favourite K-POP stars.

4. SBS Inkigayo (located on the way to Gimpo International Airport
Hands down Inkigayo is the hardest to attend. If you though kids were running wild on Saturday (some kids still have school on this day), then Sunday is when all hell breaks loose. Inkigayo is from, again, of the largest broadcasting in Korea. They have one of the smaller studios that can only fit 200ish seated and standing audience members, but they always disregard the fire safety rules and cram in approximately 300 people. The show starts early, so you’re only chance of attending is if you get on the very first subway train (yes, the one where everyone is drunk and missed the very last subway) or hop into a cab.

With music shows each fan club starts a “name list” to write down, in order of arrival, the fans that wish to attend the show. When the very first fan arrives, they will begin the list with the “no.1” being themselves. No.1 has the responsibility of doing a roll call when the “check-in” time comes and lining fans up. After you line up, the official fan club staff comes around to give you a number (whatever number you were on the list) when you show your fan evidence (membership card, CD purchase, etc). There are also entry options for “general admission” but those are very hard to get into if you’re not a Korean citizen and I just never applied (it was much easier to get in with my peeps).
It would be wise to bring your quirky fansigns or banners and learn fan chants to your favourite artists songs (example: to show your support. I am not clear of other groups but the members of U-KISS love to spot for their fans and give them a special wave or engage in playful staring contests at times if they know you like them a little more.

Music shows have two types of recording, they have the pre-recording and the live show. The pre-recording is when an artist performs 2-4 times repeatedly to achieve the “perfect” shot and happens usually when the artist releases a new single. They are more intimate as it is usually the artist and their fans. Live shows is pretty much what you see on TV, with a mixture of artists and fans.

I would like to emphasis that this is based solely on my experience as a U-KISS fan. It should be noted that U-KISS does not have a large fanbase in Korea and…well where there are less people, there’s less havoc. 🙂

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