Some naysayers claim the cultural phenomenon that hit the world in early 2000s is losing its gloss as it runs out of contents to showcase. Boy bands, girl groups and food like kimchi and bulgogi -- the centerpieces of the cultural wave -- are getting old for global fans.
|K-pop fans attend an outdoor event during the KCON convention held in Newark, New Jersey, from June 24 to June 25. CJ E&M|
A recent government report also showed the growth of Korean culture worldwide is slowing down -- an index of global fans’ interest in the Korean culture and Korean goods stood at 117.56 in 2015, down from 122.25 in 2014. A score higher than 100 indicates it is growing on-year.
However, hundreds of people forming a snaking queue in front of the Prudential Center, a convention center, in Newark, New Jersey, to attend the KCON 2016 NY on June 24 seemed to refute the somewhat disappointing data and prove that hallyu is still hot.
“We are now witnessing a new phenomenon that the popularity of Korean music and drama is spreading to other areas like Korean beauty and lifestyle industries,” said Angela Killoren, chief operating officer of CJ E&M America, at a press meeting at the convention center on the opening day of the KCON convention, which was held through June 25.
“Hallyu is growing in an organic way as fans who are multicultural and multiracial make their family members and friends also become hallyu fans,” the COO added.
Hallyu, which is epitomized by K-pop, is not like other cultural fads in the past, like those of Hong Kong films in the ’80s and Japanese animation in the ’90s.
|K-Pop singer Ailee performs at a concert, held during the KCON convention in Newark, New Jersey, on June 24. CJ E&M|
“The hallyu fans do not follow conventional ways of consuming cultural content. They actively reach out to find exactly what they want instead of absorbing something presented by mainstream broadcasters or newspapers,” the COO said.
K-pop and K-drama are often said to have an unrivaled level of completion and quality, which keeps fans loyal.
“American music is great but they are sort of lazy. On the other hand, I can see efforts in K-pop. From performance to production, everything is really upscale and they are way better than those of American music and others,” said a 16-year-old girl from New Jersey, who introduced herself as Jessy.
Around 90 percent of the participants at KCON held since 2012 are non-Koreans and 60 percent of the participants take part in events of the cultural festival for more than two hours, according to the Korean media firm’s own survey with the participants of KCON.
YouTubers J.R.E from Miami and KeNNy from Hawaii, well-known among global K-pop fans for their channels devoted to promoting Korean music, participated in the event to discuss K-pop at a panel session.
“The popularity of K-pop has multiplied since I first started my YouTube channel,” said KeNNy, adding it was K-pop that connected the two born and raised in different places.
J.R.E. said he started introducing K-pop since 2011 after he listened to, and eventually fell in love with, music of some bands like SNSD, and Big Bang.
The fans used to be mostly teenagers in the beginning, but K-pop is seeing an increasing number of older fans, too, the two YouTubers said.
From Korean popsicles to trending Korean makeup, the KCON festival, which embraces a concert, makeup tutorials, and food trucks for Korean street foods, gave participants the opportunity to learn more about the latest hallyu trends.
It is a marquee project of CJ E&M, which has been held across global markets including Japan, the US, France, and the United Arab Emirates since 2012.
The highlight of the festival is the M Countdown concert. This time, a total of nine Korean pop singers and bands, include Dynamic Duo, MAMAMOO, BTS, and Ailee, took the stage for the two-day concert.
In the first leg of the concert on June 24, the K-pop fans -- from New Jersey, New York and even Canada and Mexico -- filled the entire 10,000 seats at the concert arena and screamed their heads off every time their favorite music bands and singers appeared on the screens, hanging up in the air above the stage.
The crowd of K-pop aficionados erupted in deafening screams when stars performed onstage. All tickets for the concert for two days were sold out, according to CJ E&M.
Some programs at KCON in New Jersey were also aimed at embracing the local community.
Around 200 students from Democracy Prep Charter School in Harlem, which deploys educational systems similar to those in Korea, were invited to take part in the cultural programs during the KCON.
A dancing team from the school took the stage to do K-pop cover dances.
Joining hands with Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization to help children with life-threatening conditions to make their wishes come true, CJ E&M invited some patients to meet with K-pop artists.
Last year, the Korean media firm held the KCON event in Los Angeles from July 31 to Aug. 2 and in New York City on Aug. 8, drawing around 75,000 people.
The KCON in LA received 698,000 likes on its Facebook page, and added around 435,000 new followers and subscribers on its social network services such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and KakaoTalk.
The New Jersey convention attracted around 42,000 in just two days.
“KCON, which has been held in Abu Dhabi in March, Japan in April, and Paris early this month, is not just about making money. Numbers are important but what matters more is the potentials created by the event for the next five, 10 and 20 years,” said Shin Hyung-kwan, president of CJ E&M’s Mnet contents business at the press meeting.
Shin said that the company will expand its partnerships with Korean small and medium enterprises to bring more local products and services to the global market.
The next KCON is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles in June 29 to 31 and in China in September this year.
By Kim Young-won, THE INVESTOR correspondent