Fans go crazy over K-pop stars in Newark

K-pop stars Teen Top (left) and Girls' Generation (above) drove the crowd mad at KCON at the Prudential Center in Newark.
K-pop stars Teen Top and Girls' Generation (above) drove the crowd mad at KCON at the Prudential Center in Newark.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
K-pop stars Teen Top (left) and Girls' Generation (above) drove the crowd mad at KCON at the Prudential Center in Newark.
K-pop stars Teen Top (above) and Girls' Generation drove the crowd mad at KCON at the Prudential Center in Newark.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY • The tears began as soon as Teen Top waved hello.

The Korean pop group were here last Saturday for the East Coast debut of KCON, a one-day festival for all things hallyu, the Korean wave of culture sweeping into the West. Teen Top and three other groups were to perform at the Prudential Center that night, and throughout the day, bands greeted fans or, in the case of Teen Top, gave them a chance to say hello with a high-five.

Ms Michaela McDonald, 21, was one of the fans in line for high-fives. A week earlier, she had been in Los Angeles for KCON there, which began in 2012 and has been growing ever since. The Long Island student had her hair dyed blond and styled in a manner popular among K-pop stars. Like many other fans at KCON, she was dressed to mirror the artists she loved.

As she crossed the stage to high-five Teen Top's six stars, audience members screamed from the floor. One young woman wiped a tear with one hand while using the other to hold up her selfie stick like a periscope to see the band above raised hands.

K-pop superfans were taking advantage of a rare chance to meet Korean bands that rarely tour the United States. For the fans, obsession with the music weaves its way into everyday life, influencing what they watch, wear and even eat. Superfans closely follow Korean TV dramas and may also use the same beauty products as the stars or learn to cook Korean food.

"These people are more passionate than Bieber fans," said Ms Angela Killoren, marketing chief for the American arm of the Asian media company CJ E&M, which put on the convention.

Ms Charlotte Cho, who runs a Korean beauty blog called The Klog, was nearby leading a demonstration of Korean cleansers and make-up. The products' ties to specific stars were emphasised. A cranberry facial cleanser, for example, was billed as having been used by Song Ji Hyo of variety show Running Man. The fans also discussed their favourite Korean shows, whose popularity has spawned a dedicated streaming service, DramaFever.

DramaFever's average user spends 53.9 hours a month streaming videos, compared with 10.7 hours for Netflix users, according to the company's data. Its audience is 85 per cent non-Asian and mostly women aged 18 to 24.

That demographic information is in line with KCON's audience: Of the people who pre-registered, 70.1 per cent were women and 68.8 per cent were younger than 24, organisers said.

But, for many of these fans, nothing compares with seeing their favourite K-pop stars in person.

"It's not every day you can do this," said Ms Heather Co, 21, a student from Chicago. "You can't just go to Asia."

At the artist appearances, there was little the pop stars needed to do to elicit deafening cheers. When the group AOA accepted a couple of questions from the crowd, an 18-year-old named Jonathan Corman asked one of the singers, Choa, to sing a song. She did and the crowd wailed.

Mr Corman, from Anaheim, California, had been at KCON in Los Angeles, but this moment was unprecedented for him.

"Choa is my favourite," he said. His eyes widened as he flipped through photos of her he had just taken. "I'm overjoyed. Ecstatic."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Fans go crazy over K-pop stars in Newark'. Print Edition | Subscribe