Concert review: Busan One Asia Festival kicks off with a crash course in Korean pop history

Girl group Girls' Generation member Yoona at the inaugural Busan One Asia Festival on Oct 2.
Girl group Girls' Generation member Yoona at the inaugural Busan One Asia Festival on Oct 2.PHOTO: CREDIT SBS PLUS


Busan Asiad Main Stadium/ Saturday (Oct 1)

Korean pop history class was in the making at Saturday night's opening concert of the inaugural Busan One Asia Festival, a massive K-culture affair spanning K-pop, K-food and K-beauty events unfolding across Busan this month.

Held at the Busan Asiad Main Stadium, the two-hour music extravaganza featured pop acts from the 1990s to present day, interwoven with pre-recorded videos chronicling the Korean wave.

The K-pop 101 theme was befitting of the festival, which is riding on the Hallyu, or Korean wave, in hope of drawing visitors to the nation's second largest city. The opening show is the first in a series of concerts held over the next three weeks as part of the festival.

But on Saturday the K-pop acts would have been better served if they did not have to perform one after another rapidly, as if providing new fans with a crash course in Koean Pop 101. Each act performed one to three songs, giving the idols hardly any time to interact with fans.

The 1990s era was represented by boyband Sechs Kies, which made a comeback this year after they disbanded in 2000. Five of the original six members are currently active in showbusiness, and turned up onstage to perform nostalgia-tinged tunes from their heyday such as the banger Com'back and the breezy Couple.

The five men in their 30s, elders amid K-pop teenyboopers, proved that old - or older - was gold. Well, almost gold.

When they performed, their fans wearing yellow raincoats, which made up a sizeable portion of the 35,000-strong crowd, held illuminatd balloons to form an impressive glittering sea of yellow, the band's official colour.

Save for the distinct 1990s vibe in Sechs Kies' tunes, the uninitiated would not have guessed the quintet launched their careers two decades ago. Wearing trendy outfits and loud hair colours, the lads pulled off dance moves in sync, while working the 360-degree stage with the energy and enthusiasm of any nubile teen K-popster.

The next wave of acts that took to the stage included girl groups I.O.I and Apink and boy bands Infinite and B.A.P.

But one of the Noughties' biggest names was K-pop queens Girls' Generation, who debuted in 2007 and has continued their reign till today.

The leggy octet caught the eye in sparkly blue rompers, performing two songs spanning their career - break-out dance hit Gee (2009) and their latest album's soul-pop tune Lion Heart (2015).

Bangtan Boys, also known as BTS, entered the scene three years ago and already they could give the reigning K-pop queens and kings a run for their money.

One could feel the heat emanating from the stage as the six guys executed high-powered moves in tune with the thumping beats of dance hit Fire (2016), surrounded by plumes of fire. (A seventh member of the group, Rap Monster, sat out the performance due to health issues.)

The screams of their fans were deafening and thousands retweeted posts about BTS' performance.

While pop music performed by single-sex groups inevitably dominated the night's programme - a reflection of K-pop fare popular worldwide - the concert organiser shrewdly included a smattering of alternative acts, such as hop-hop trio MFBTY, which stands for My Fans Are Better Than Yours.

Comprising Tiger JK, Yoon Mi Rae and Bizzy, they presented rapid-fire rap in the tune Bang Diggy Bang Bang and also showcased soulful singing in Angel .

Solo singer Lyn belted out the wistful theme ballad My Destiny from megahit K-drama My Love From The Star (2013), with famous scenes from the show playing on the jumbo screen above the stage.

Closing the televised portion of the concert, Psy - a maverick in the K-pop world because of his sheer difference from the plastic-fantastic lookers of the scene - easily brought the house down with the very kind of infectious energy that powered his 2012 hit Gangnam Style to worldwide ubiquity.

No matter one's opinion of what is undeniably a wacky dance ditty it may be, it was a no-brainer to use it to telegraph Korean pop's plan to win the world's attention by any means necessary.

If one had to gallop like a horse, then gallop away.

Indeed, Gangnam Style's atypical K-pop success served as a timely reminder to the industry to spice up its exports with variety.

Catch the Busan One Asia Festival concerts within 24 hours after the concert takes place on Korean entertainment streaming site Viu It is also available on the Viu app, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.