January 28th was bright sunny morning, perfect for members of KPK heading over to the campus of University of California-Berkeley to hear the keynote at KPOPCON12, the first collegiate convention designed “to bring together individuals from across the nation to foster stronger fan relationships, provide university-level educational workshops and discussions, and positively impact fan identity.”
We arrived just at the end of fans cover-dancing to 2NE1‘s I Am The Best:
These were just a few of the fans that converged on the campus for the event. Wesley Jackson, conference organizer for the Talk session, said that over 250 people registered for the conference.
Sponsored by organizations including YesAsia, YesStyle, VIKI and CJE&M, the conference featured a program that included three main sections, Dance, Talk and Create. The program also promised performances by Tara, Allysse, Dachirim, 2NITE and Half & Half, as well as fan meetups with fan clubs supporting 2AM, 2PM, B1A4, JYJ, TVXQ! and SHINee.
KPK members arrived just as the Dance portion was just ending, but just in time for the keynote by Joyce Lan Kim, former CEO of Soompi.com and Susan Kang, founder of Soompi.
Armed with a power point presentation and familiar MV clips, Kim and Kang provided not just a walk down Kpop memory lane, but a snapshot of its present and a peek into its future. Kim began by asking the mostly non-Korean audience questions about Kpop and Kdrama.
Kim used MV clips from Seo Taiji & Boys‘ debut in 1992 and B.A.P.‘s recent debut to bookend the discussion on the history of Kpop. She would know: Soompi itself came into being in 1998, at the dawn of Hallyu.
Kim explained that while Soompi started with a small staff made up of equal numbers of men of women who were mostly of Korean descent, Kpop had developed a multiethnic and mostly female fanbase from countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Mexico. Keeping up with the international demand for Kpop, Soompi recently expanded its operation to include Soompi France and Soompi Spanish.
“Kpop has taken over social media,” says Kim, which allows Kpop fans all over the world to show their support. For example, Kpop Twitter mainstays like Super Junior‘s Heechul and Siwon as well as individuals like Taeyang and Jaejoong allow a fan to “take a look at the world through the eyes of a celebrity.” Sometimes it does not work to a celebrity’s advantage, as Park Min Young recently discovered as she became the subject of an anti-fan movement. In contrast, Soompi “encourages people to be positive.”
On the other hand, Kim noted that others, like Gu Hye Sun have used social media to their advantage. In fact, Soompi sponsors an annual ulzzang contest, whose winners, including Carlos Park, have been signed by talent agencies. Kim sees such contests represent a “legitimate way to make it in Kpop.”
Kim ended with data showing the state of Kpop today and speculated on what it may mean for the future. One statistic showed Kpop fans hailing from around the world in impressive numbers, and while there were mostly female, there were also mostly Asian and African American in the United States. While YouTube is not a big player in Korea, it is crucial to Kpop’s spread in other countries. Kim surmised that since even American media had taken notice of Kpop’s sold out concerts, fans should expect to see a lot more activity.
Kang next talked about Soompi as an organization. Headquartered in Korea, it has partnered with YG Entertainment to promote BigBang and KBS’ Music Bank in Paris. It has sponsored contests, including one featuring 2PM. Soompi hopes to open a store featuring Kpop merchandise. Finally, Kang showed the audience, Image2Play, a technology that allows a person to use a screen shot to find the video from which it came.
Kim ended the presentation with a statistic that should make anyone interested in Hallyu think: of the 400 artists that have debut during the Korean wave, 25% of them debuted last year.
The audience enthusiastically thanked Kim and Kang for their overview of Kpop history and their thoughts on its future. After the presentation, KPK members talked with Kim further about the current state of Kpop.
But that was not the end of KPK’s adventure. Watch this space for Part 2, KPK’s Talk Session: Hello Hallyu!: Kpop Fictions, Facts and Fans in the Global Academy!
Sources: Hello KPOPCON12 Program