Korean pop, widely known as K-pop, long ago departed the confines of the peninsula, transcending language and creed creating a fan base that is increasingly global and multicultural. Nowhere was this more readily apparent that at the recently concluded K-Pop NY Festival, held on a beautiful summer afternoon in August, at New York University. The winner of the event, which was sponsored by the Korean Cultural Service, who qualified to potentially represent the United States at the K-Pop World Festival was an African-American from Staten Island by the name of Arnelle. And, the second-place winner, in what was “reportedly” a close competition was a Hispanic-American from the Bronx named Fernando.
The annual K-Pop World Festival provides an opportunity for everyday fans to showcase their talents, by using their favorite K-pop artists as inspiration. You could say, it’s flipping the switch and turning the tables around giving a chance to fans to be the K-Pop stars and idols. Even, if only for 15 minutes.
K-pop World Festival, to be held at the end of October in Korea will have teams from all over the world, including places as far away as Uzbekistan and Nigeria. Like Arnelle, these teams are the winners of their regional competitions, but will have to also win the online voting round to seal the deal and win the trip to Korea to compete, perform and meet their K-Pop idols. Voting ends on September 22nd, and only 15 of the total 43 local-champions will go to Korea.
A recent panel of K-pop industry experts and insiders in New York, were asked if a non-Korean could ever be part of a K-pop group? Stumped by the question and seeking a to answer “no” without saying it, the discussion turned to the question of “What is K-pop?” A valid question. But maybe it doesn’t need to be that deep. It could simply be a matter of talent, will and vision from all the relevant players. To wit, recently a commenter on Youtube expressed with frustration that all non-Korean trainees seemed to be dropping out. This simple comment that passed like a whisper on a Youtube video may eventually become a drumbeat as the international fan-base grow.
Essentially, global dominance may be a double edged sword for the indigenous K-pop industry. Which could mean that as K-Pop continues to grow globally, and events like World K-Pop Festival continues to attract multicultural fans from the far-reaches of the globe, one day the K-pop world may awake to find a Fernando or an Arnelle signed to the likes of YG or SM entertainment? Food for thought…