This year, KCON — the second annual convention devoted to all things K-pop and “Korean wave” — promised to be bigger and better by expanding to two days and filming Korean music chart show “M COUNTDOWN” live on-site. Like last year, the convention brought panels, workshops and six K-pop acts to perform and meet fans. This past weekend (Aug. 24-25), KCON 2013 managed to rise above what attendees signed up for with K-pop stars on the panels, more engaging artist meet-and-greets, a surprise performer and even some American flavor added with a performance from Missy Elliott.
K-pop veteran DJ Koo — a rapper/singer in ’90s Korean duo Clon and now a turntable maestro mixing beats of the East and West — perhaps summed up the sentiments of the weekend best during the press conference before the Sunday night concert. “K-pop has matured where it’s grown to its own individual flavor and color,” he said when asked about the genre today.
This “flavor” has matured in America into pure fanaticism best captured in an entire 15,000-capacity arena’s deafening screams as arena cameras got close-ups of the fans crying watching the Korean idols during the concert taping. Fans can watch the madness when it airs on TV and online via Mnet America on Aug. 29 at 8:00 p.m. EST.
Thus, SoCal was the Mecca for K-pop this weekend. Here are 15 key sights and sounds to characterize the convention, plus a few that even the most devoted fangirl or boy might have missed amid all the screaming and crying.
1. East Meets West Collabo: G-Dragon used the “M COUNTDOWN” taping to debut a new track from his forthcoming sophomore album, “Coup D’etat,” featuring Missy Elliott. The track opens with Elliott shouting out her K-pop counterpart before moving into the knocking drum ‘n’ bass production. The collab was centered around a catchy, repetitive chorus that hip-hop and pop fans could certainly get down to — across the globe. The duo had blazing chemistry, trading off verses and name-dropping one another. The title was not revealed, but the words “Niliria” flashed across the stage backdrops several times (According to Google Translate, it means “I open” in Swahili).
2. New K-Pop in English? Fans of Girls’ Generation started a frenzy after a group of fans claimed a representative from the girl group’s label told them three-member splinter group Girls’ Generation-TTS will release an English album and played them an English version of their No. 2-peaking K-Pop Hot 100 hit “Twinkle.” Whether or not if the report proves true, Girls’ Generation-TTS does have the highest-charting K-pop release on the Billboard 200, with their “Twinkle” EP hitting No. 126 in 2012.
3. Showing Love Post-K-Pop: Bekah, a former member of girl group After School, dished on fellow K-pop stars during her panel “Day in the Life of a K-Pop Artist.” The Hawaii-bred rapper revealed that her celebrity crush was T.O.P. of BIGBANG, adding the first time she saw him in person, she ran out the room. The 24-year-old also showered praises to acts such as Orange Caramel (“Even though their dances are really cute, they work really hard”), NU’EST, HELLOVENUS (“they’re really nice, cute little girls”) and 2NE1, adding that her ideal female rap collaboration is with leader CL and she is a big fan of 2009 single “Fire.”
4. A “Rocking” Live Premiere: TEEN TOP fans (called Angels — many of them were sporting homemade halos) were in for a special treat when the six-member boy band unveiled their new single “Rocking” live at KCON. Angels heard the high-energy club track in full first… and live from the boys themselves! The music video has since been revealed:
5. Crying Crayon Fans: Crayon Pop, the K-pop act of the moment currently in their second week atop the K-Pop Hot 100, were an unexpected additional artist for KCON attendees. On Sunday, it was announced the girls would hold a fan engagement meeting and perform at “M COUTNDOWN.” When it was announced the quintet would not make the fan meeting in time — rumored to be because of airport hold-ups — an attendee estimated 30 fangirls bursted into tears. Luckily, those fans caught their two-song set at the concert.
6. Super Junior at KCON 2014? Henry — a solo artist and member of Super Junior sub-unit Super Junior-M — elicited a roar of approval from fans when he promised to bring “all the guys next time,” keeping the dream alive that Super Junior will bring their current world tour to the States or maybe appear at next year’s convention.
7. f(x)’s Red Eyes: f(x) performed a three-song set to kick off “M COUNTDOWN” — hits “Electric Shock,” “Rum Pum Pum Pum” and “Hot Summer” — but did not return for the final curtain call, where all the artists came onstage to wave goodbye to fans. Rumor was the girls were flying back home to Korea that night.
8. Model Behavior: Korean model Soo Joo was spotted hanging out backstage with G-Dragon’s posse before the superstar took the stage.
9. K-Pop Kindness: K-POP DREAMS, a non-profit “dedicated into helping K-pop fans achieve their dreams and improve the K-pop community,” was able to hook up at least seven K-pop fans with convention and/or concert tickets who could not snag them due to financial reasons. Asiana Airlines helped the organization award four tickets.
10. 2AM Does Bruno: Boy band quartet 2AM — famous for their ballads — pleasantly surprised the American K-pop crowd by performing a hit song they knew in their home country: Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” The group opened their three-song “M COUNTDOWN” set with a harmony-laden, fully English cover of Mars’ No. 1 single.
11. No Questions, Please: During the press conference, every artist was asked a few questions by both the host and press. Press were not allowed to question hip-hop veterans Dynamic Duo. This comes after member Gaeko was targeted by his former labelmate, rapper E-Sens, in a diss track. Gaeko has revealed his response track. While rap feuds are nothing new to U.S. hip-hop culture, this is uncharted territory in South Korea and their label likely wanted to avoid any flame-fuelling.
12. Well-Behaved Boys: 12-member boy band EXO earned rave reviews by fans and KCON staff members alike for being the most outgoing, friendliest and funniest act at the fan engagements.
13. A Word to the Wise: Dear future KCON artists, English rules when speaking to fans. While the thousands shouted along to the singers’ Korean lyrics, whenever the idols spoke to the crowd in English, an even louder response was illicited compared to the still-quite-loud response given to Korean shout-outs.
14. Lucky Couple? f(x)’s Los Angeles native, Amber, helped a confused older couple with what floor they were on in the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, where she was getting glammed up. Unbeknownst to the couple, they were talking to a huge Korean starlet!
15. No Drama: Much competition is made in South Korea and among K-pop fans between the entertainment agencies and their artists. Yet in the final moments of “M COUTNDOWN” concert, artists from the three major companies SM Entertainment (featuring EXO, f(x) and Henry), YG Entertainment (G-Dragon) and JYP Entertainment (2AM) stood together, smiling as one. As did acts from smaller agencies (TEEN TOP, Yu Seung Woo), veterans (Dynamic Duo) and newcomers (Crayon Pop). And each artist looked exceptionally happy to be on that stage, among their peers, showering in the screams of the thousands of attendees. That’s what the convention whittled down to and that’s what K-pop boils down to: unwavering fanaticism. It doesn’t matter what label they are from — fans love the singers just the same and appreciate all efforts artists make to visit. It felt like the idols were returning that sentiment by giving fans one last goodbye because it weren’t for the fans’ undying support, they, and KCON itself, wouldn’t exist.
Stay tuned to Billboard’s K-Town for exclusive photo and video content from KCON artists including EXO, 2AM, f(x), Dynamic Duo and more.