The power of fandom was on display in Downtown Los Angeles last week as thousands of K-pop devotees gathered for KCON, a three-day celebration of South Korean pop culture.
KCON was more like a family reunion for many attendees, as several of them explain on the latest episode of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast. K-pop is growing in popularity around the world, but it’s still niche enough that its most ardent fans revel in being together with those who “get it,” as numerous attendees explained.
“You come for the music, the choreography, the outfits — all the pretty, fun, sparkly stuff. And then you end up staying because you make friends,” said Epiphany, a KCON-goer who lives in North Hollywood.
Conversations with other teens and twentysomethings who attended the conference and two concerts at Crypto.com Arena revealed a host of trends in media, media consumption and how affinity groups that assemble online can have massive real-world impact. The growth of K-pop, largely outside of the mainstream U.S.-based entertainment conglomerates, has had a huge impact on South Korea’s economy.
Moreover, the trends that have fueled K-pop’s rise are playing out across other media sectors, including the emphasis on artists having a direct connection with fans, and the promotion of contests and trading cards that allow fans to gain special access to their beloved “idols,” as K-pop artists are known.
Whitney, who traveled to KCON from Chicago and met up with friends from Atlanta, explained the appeal of the “High Touch” meet-and-greet events that allow fans to make fleeting contact with their idols in the way that sports teams often begin or end games — with the players walking down a line to exchange brief finger touches.
“I mean, to get that little five seconds of eye contact is totally worth it. For us anyway,” Whitney said. “To other people, that sounds crazy, but it’s definitely worth it.”
The appeal of K-pop can’t be denied, nor can the expectations of its fans. There’s a lot for Hollywood to learn from the organic growth of this market, particularly in places like Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and countries far removed from Korea.
“What originally got me was just like the fan culture surrounded by it, because like people treat each other like a family,” said Christina, who is Epiphany’s roommate. “And you know, there’s all these freebies and events, it’s very much like, it feels like family because, like, you love the members that they love, you know, and they show love to the fans. But the fans themselves, like, rally around something that we all love and we’re all passionate about.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud. Click here to subscribe to the free “Strictly Business” newsletter.