“Gangnam Style”: Not the Only One

Yellow caution tape covered the entrance to BCD Tofu House on a Friday evening, while a wall of people surrounded the area as bystanders stuck their cellphones out ready to take a snapshot. It was no ordinary hustle and bustle of the weekend for the culinary hotspot. The tofu house attracted a different type of crowd that night — a K-Pop fandom crowd.

Hollers, claps and hoots hyped the atmosphere and warmed the crowd, turning the regular sidewalk into a red carpet event. A handful of young thin women stepped out of the Honda van and walked into the tape through the crowd as people shouted “KARA.” Other artists also joined KARA and the crowd grew. Once they all finished their dinner, the boy group, Beast, stepped out of the tofu house and into the loud enthusiastic crowd. One over-excited fanboy did a back flip and cartwheels in front of the van trying to get the boys’ attention.

The scene above is a representation of the growing fixation of Americans into the world of Korean-Pop culture. For others, it may seem to be another “Gangnam Style”-hit wonder, but to some, and most of the fans in Diamond Jamboree, it is a culture of catchy tunes and electrifying dance moves that capture their hearts and transcend beyond Psy’s “Gangnam” fad.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, Irvine’s Verizon Amphitheater hosted the SBS K-Pop Concert in America, which brought well-known Korean boy and girl groups together to perform in front of their American fans. The line-up included KARA, Sistar, 4Minute, Beast, CNBlue, 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation.

This was not the first time for such an event. Irvine previously held the very first K-Pop convention in early September. The concert drew a variety of people, from families to middle-aged men to crazy teenage fangirls.

Organizers of the concert held a meet-and-greet as fans stood in line for hours to get a glimpse of their idols.

One of those who waited in line to see CNBlue was Elynmar Laureano, a 30-year-old petite youthful-looking mother.

“I traveled all the way from Puerto Rico. My 9-year-old daughter wanted to attend, but she couldn’t come,” Laureano said.

“I like the beat and the dance [moves]. It’s addicting. After I listen to one song, I want to listen to another and then another.”

K-Pop is known for its upbeat tunes and catchy phrases. In 2NE1’s electro-pop club beat song, “I Am the Best,” the main vocalist CL continually roused the crowd at the concert repeating the Korean Hangul phrase of the title, “naega jeil jal naga.”

But what makes K-Pop’s genre any different from the same electro-dubstep beats of the American mainstream music? For fans, K-Pop is not just about music — it is also culture.

“K-Pop is opening doors in perspective to Korean culture, such as Korean dramas, Korean food and Korean writing,” Tiffany, a member of Girls’ Generation and host of the night, said.

Francis Collins, a 25-year-old K-Pop fan from Massachusetts,  describes the K-Pop theme as something more accessible.

“What I think sets them apart is that I see them interacting with their fans. I appreciate that they reciprocate back their love back to their fans,” Francis said when asked what makes them different from other American female artists.

“A lot of the American artists that I follow seem to be detached from the reality [and their fans]. So the fact that the K-Pop groups are so immersed in interacting with their fans and the fan base is so enthusiastic gives a fuller musical experience,” Francis said.

Having been a fan for about three years, Francis has been to four K-Pop concerts.

This growing fondness for this K-Pop phenomenon seemed to transpire during the concert. The crowd grew wild at each performance as glowing light sticks waved up and down to each beat and tune. Forgotten was the bone-chilling 40-degree weather in the outdoor amphitheater as each performance sent waves of heat to the lively audience.

The concert may be an indication that the K-Pop phenomena may not just be another 15 minutes of fame brought by Psy’s hit, but a culture that might influence that of the American mainstream music.

As a fan, Francis envisions K-Pop in the future similar to that of the late ’90s Macarena craze.

“In America, it seems that Macarena’s success had indirectly caused the rise of Latin American music. I hope that would be the case with Korean music as well,” he said.

“I don’t think that musicians like them [K-Pop artists] should be isolated to one place. I think they have been doing a great job of keeping to their Korean roots as Korean idol groups and I can really see them succeed in the future.”

Whether it is just the latest fad or something America will be seeing for a long time, it is evident that the Korean pop culture has finally hit American soil.