Alyssa Tolentino, 18, came all the way from Chicago to see the South Korean male pop group EXO perform in Los Angeles this weekend.And the story of Ms Tolentino rings true. Trust me, it's not just Korean-Americans and other Asian-Americans propelling this forward.
But before the show, she gave a performance of her own at the KCON convention Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Taking the stage during a midday talent contest, she donned a rubber horse mask and worked through dance moves she had picked up from a music video.
Afterward, out of breath and sweaty, she revealed her true dedication. "Today's my move-in day for college, so I missed it," she said. "But it's worth it."
That level of fandom from Tolentino, who was supposed to be starting her life as a film major at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, may seem extreme, but it's typical among people at KCON, a convention for fans of the energetic and diverse sound and culture of Korean pop music, or K-pop.
About 10,000 people attended the first KCON last year in Irvine. For this year's conference, organizers expanded the convention to two days. That reflects the increasing popularity of K-pop in the U.S., said Ted Kim, president and chief executive of Mnet America, the K-pop cable network and Internet hub presenting KCON, which costs $60 to $300 to attend.
The Internet has made it easier for music buffs to discover new genres, and more Americans have been introduced to the culture through the viral success of rapper Psy, who broke out in the U.S. with the song "Gangnam Style."
Korean pop music encompasses a wide range of sounds, borrowing from European dance music and hip-hop and relying heavily on boy and girl bands, similar to the Lou Pearlman-arranged American pop singing groups of the 1990s. Girls' Generation, a popular act whose nine members wink at the camera in brightly colored videos, and 2NE1 (pronounced "twenty one") have both signed with major U.S. labels.
The groups are typically assembled by music companies, and performers often train for years before going public. Like hip-hop, K-pop encompasses its own world of fashion and dance. "Fans see something very positive, whether it's the music, the fashion or the dancing," Kim said. "This is a really smart audience and they know what's being manufactured and force fed."