(ATTN: REWRITES headline; UPDATES with details at bottom; ADDS photos throughout)
By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) — This may come across as counterintuitive to some, but with all the attention and hype K-pop is getting from abroad, the idea that music fans in South Korea are sometimes left out in the cold by the industry is not entirely a far-fetched notion.
KCON, which started in 2012, has established itself as an annual K-pop pilgrimage gathering abroad, while chances of seeing big names, such as EXO and BTS, are probably higher overseas, given their hectic world tour schedules.
This is of course due to economics, as companies and management agencies try to expand their stars’ international clout — and thus revenue — given the limited growth potential at home. But still, there always has been a nagging sense of neglect among local fans, especially against the ever-growing KCON abroad.
Thus CJ E&M, together with its music television subsidiary Mnet, has moved to address this void amongst die-hard K-pop fans at home, presenting them the first-ever “idolCON” at the Convention and Exhibition Center (COEX) in southern Seoul on Friday and Saturday.
What exactly is “idolCON”? It’s basically an expo-style convention where fans can watch K-pop stars perform and interact with them. Programs include fan meet-and-greets, mini-live shows, radio shows and on-the-spot idol auditions that are also scheduled throughout the two-day event.
Attendees with talent who are interested in becoming a singer can also receive lessons from industry experts and also get inside glimpses of the industry from stars’ actual managers as well.
What distinguishes “idolCON” from KCON is its freshness, not just of the event itself but also of the stars taking part in it. B1A4, Gugudan, DAY6, Oh My Girl and other artists are relatively well-known by now. But other teams, such as KNK, Vromance and Imfact, are groups that are quite new and at the moment obscure.
Several soon-to-debut idol groups by the names of S.I.S, G9, Black Mamba, Dayday, P.O.P and more will also showcase their skills pre-debut during the event.
“I’m a big Gugudan fan, but I like that I can watch other groups as well, especially new rookie teams and other groups that haven’t made their official debuts yet,” said Kim Ae-ran, a 16-year-old attendee who came from Daegu, on Friday.
“We hope ‘idolCON’ turns into a massive K-pop event, a stepping stone for fresh K-pop artists to make their names in the future,” Kim Hyun-soo, head of CJ’s convention business division.
At the end of the day though, when all is said and done, what really matters when gauging quantitative success is turnout and buzz. So, how has the first day of the inaugural “idolCON,” the domestic counterpart to KCON, turned out so far? — “underwhelming” would pass as an appropriate modifier, at least on its first day.
Admittedly, the prime event of “idolCON” is the concerts: these are reserved for the relatively big participants, such as Gugudan, DAY6 and B1A4. These shows, about 90 minutes each, are held at COEX’s auditorium, which is also within COEX but separated from the event’s main stage.
Hence the concert programs ended up creating somewhat of a cannibalization effect, with the crowd of the main stage becoming empty, to the point of becoming hauntingly eerie for a K-pop event — all the while a new rookie team was performing a showcase on the main stage.
The level of publicity, or a lack there of, has also been raised among fans.
“While this is a K-pop event, the lack of English promotion on the event’s Facebook page was somewhat disappointing,” Erika Kindblom, an Swedish exchange student at Kyunghee University, said.
Claudia Arancibia Garcia from Chile agreed.
“It’s really less crowded than I expected. While I like the opportunity to get to know new K-pop groups, the promotion of the event could have been improved,” the exchange student at Ewha Womens University said.
Overall social media publicity, to put it mildly, could use some improvement as well. For example, its Facebook page has a mere 4,048 likes as of 4:30 p.m. on Friday. Even the live video aired over Facebook was broadcast while turned sideways.
At this point, it is unclear whether CJ is committed to continue with the event in the future. CJ said it has sold some 8,000 tickets from advance sales. On-site ticket sales so far haven’t been tallied.
The company hasn’t replied when asked whether it will continue to hold the event in the future like KCON.
“Whether it will be held in the future would depend on the turnout of this year’s event,” one employee of a partner organizer said.
But a senior official at CJ said he hopes that the event turns out to be a “gateway” for new talented stars to grow into “unique star idols.”