Fans of K-pop stars are willing to spend big bucks to see their idols

G Family Concert in Seoul, collaborative stage, between 2NE1's Dara (middle in white) and hip-hop trio Epik High.  -- PHOTO: YG ENTERTAINMENT AND LIVE NATION KOREA
G Family Concert in Seoul, collaborative stage, between 2NE1's Dara (middle in white) and hip-hop trio Epik High.  -- PHOTO: YG ENTERTAINMENT AND LIVE NATION KOREA
K-pop star Psy performing at Jamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea on Aug 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: YG ENTERTAINMENT AND LIVE NATION KOREA
K-pop girl group 2NE1, (from left) Minzy, Park Bom, CL and Dara. -- PHOTO: YG ENTERTAINMENT AND LIVE NATION KOREA
K-pop boyband Winner, (from left) Lee Seung Hoon, Nam Tae Hyun, Song Min Ho, Kim Jin Woo and Kang Seung Yoon. -- PHOTO: YG ENTERTAINMENT AND LIVE NATION KOREA

Thai lass Pookie Bunnak has been leading a jet-setting life chasing her favourite Korean pop idols BigBang around the world for the past seven years.

The 30-something happily tells Life! she has attended more than 30 of their concerts in places such as Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong.

Last month, she travelled to the heart of K-pop in Seoul to watch BigBang perform at the multi-act YG Family Concert held at the Jamsil Olympic Stadium. The star-studded show, which will make its Singapore stop on Sept 13 and 14, is a showcase of entertainment powerhouse YG's hottest talents including Gangnam Style star Psy, edgy girl group 2NE1 and rookie boy group Winner.

Besides the YG Family concert, Ms Bunnak has a busy itinerary during her month-long stay in Seoul centred on BigBang activities.

The bubbly fan, who runs a construction company in Thailand, says: "It's a ticket war for me over here. I'm trying to bid for tickets to BigBang member T.O.P's stage greeting at cinemas for his new movie. I had to try really hard to get the tickets."

Back in her home in Phitsanulok, a province in nothern Thailand, she has a shrine to showcase her BigBang acquisitions that run the gamut from music albums to T-shirts.

"I've bought many BigBang products and I want to show them in a beautiful way. I've never really counted how many items I've bought. But I think I've spent more than one millon baht (S$39,000) on everything related to BigBang in the past seven years," says Ms Bunnak, who will be coming to Singapore for the concert too.

"In each country, the feeling I get from each concert is different. I want to listen to them talk in different langauges."

The deep-pocketed passion of international fans such as Ms Bunnak is proof of top-tier Korean talent agency YG Entertainment's successful global strategy. An industry insider tells Life! that the Seoul-based entertainment agency is going big on its outreach to China and America.

YG has even attracted the attention of the investment arm of French luxury conglomerate LVMH, the parent company of luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. Reuters reported last month that LVMH will invest up to US$80 million (S$100 million) in the Seoul-based management agency.

Indeed, the global appeal of YG's artists is seen in the foreign fans spotted among the 35,000-strong crowd at the four-hour mega concert - they come from Asia, Europe and South America.

One of them is Russian student Daria Abnizova, 18, who also got the chance to attend the concert's rehearsal, that was held on Aug 14, a day before the YG Family concert. Called the Sound Check Party, it was a one-hour session where 1,000 lucky concertgoers got to watch a sampling of the actual concert rundown in a much more informal setting.

The drizzle on the evening of the sound check did not dampen the excitement of the poncho-clad Ms Abnizova, who says: "I'm a fan of girl group 2NE1's Park Bom. Park Bom is my favourite 2NE1 member and my favourite singer in the whole world. I flew to Seoul so that I can hear her sing live at a concert.

"I have been saving up for this trip for a long time because I wanted to go to South Korea using my own money that I earned myself." She had worked part-time in a cafe to earn the US$1,700 she needed for her maiden Seoul trip.

Accompanying her in the snaking queue to enter the concert arena are two fellow Russian fans. Ms Abnizova says: "We are all from different cities in Russia and we met on the Internet, thanks to our passion for YG Family.

"In Russia, 2NE1 and all the YG Family artists are popular. Almost every K-pop group has fans in Russia. We are very pleased that Korean artists are slowly beginning to hold concerts in Russia. I look forward to more K-pop artists going to Russia."

The ripples of the Korean wave, or Hallyu in Korean, are felt all the way in Latin America, says Brazilian fan Pollyana Coura, 37, the main administrator of Facebook fan page BigBang Brazil.

Ms Coura, who works for a hotel chain, says that the first time the Brazilian media paid attention to K-pop was when mayhem erupted when boyband MBLAQ was in Brazil to promote a dance cover contest in 2011.

"The organisers did not expect the crowd - more than 5,000 fans went to Sao Paulo to see MBLAQ," adds Ms Coura, who has attended the YG Family Concert in Japan (2012) and BigBang's Alive Tour in Peru (2012).

Her love of Korean culture has taken her to Seoul for a holiday last month, where her fellow Korean VIPs (the official name of BigBang fans) invited her to attend a promotional event graced by the cast of the movie Tazza 2, which stars BigBang member T.O.P.

She says: "Since I like Korean culture, I went there to see the country I have seen so many times in K-dramas. I got to know the Korean VIPs, people who run fansites tend to talk, collaborate on projects, and we become friends."

The friendships forged among fans can be a formidable force when they team up to show support for their favourite K-pop idols, even those who are not well known yet.

Chinese and Taiwanese fans of Team B, a group of YG trainees that have yet to debut, managed to raise 10,000 yuan (S$2,000) to send a rice wreath to the recent YG Family Concert in Seoul.

It is a common practice for K-pop fans to show support by sending bags of rice, that will later be donated to charity, that will be displayed outside concert venues.

The row of colourful rice wreaths that lined the backstage enterance of the Jamsil Olympic Stadium is a sight to behold. There seems to be an unspoken competition among the fans to see who could donate the most rice - there are varying amounts of rice, ranging from 50kg to 518kg, and varying sizes of signs emblazoned with the respective idols' names or images.

Ms Fu Ying Jie, who is the president of TeamBxWIN Taiwan Fansite, says: "We want to show Team B the love and support from their overseas fans. To donate 500kg of rice is a pretty massive project, so we decided to team up with three Chinese fan sites - B-MINE, BOBBYQ and ClimaxCN. The impact would be greater if we pooled our resources and channelled it to one project."

Filipino fans of new boyband Winner also wanted to make their presence felt at the YG Family Concert in Seoul. The fanclub Winner Philippines contributed a "small amount" to a Korean fansite to help fund 150kg of rice sent to the Seoul concert, where Winner was scheduled to make their official stage debut.

Contacted via social media, Ms Jhayvie Cacho, 23, a nurse and one of the main administrators of Winner Philippines, says: "We wanted to cheer Winner on for their stage debut. We wanted to let them know Filipino fans support them even though we were not able to attend the concert."

As the YG Family concert heads to the Singapore Indoor Stadium next week, local fans are busy working on projects to welcome their favourite K-pop idols.

Local BigBang fan club SG VIPs hope the concert organisers will help pass on a meaningful book filled with the messages of fans penned before the concerts here.

One of SG VIPs administrators, Ms Sarah Ishak, 34, who is in the service line, says: "We really want to give VIPs the chance to convey their thanks and well wishes to BigBang because it's a rare opportunity for international fans to do so."

The keepsake may be a more personal gift, but local fan Queenie Wong has a larger scale project in mind, one titled the Rainbow Sea Project.

The 20-year-old hairdresser, who runs a Twitter account dedicated to Team B, is working together with local and international fansites to rally concertgoers to light up the stadium in different colours to represent the various YG acts.

She is conducting a donation drive to raise the roughly $300 needed to fund the costs of printing 8,000 instruction sheets and buying 8,000 stickers to be pasted over mobile phone lights.

Ms Wong says: "The idols are like our lights, they light up our lives. So this time round, we will light up the stadium for them."

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