If you plan on visiting South Korea, you’ve had to have heard of Kpop: the Korean pop groups taking the world by storm. But music in this country is so much more than that - it’s full of theater, rock, indie, rap, and any other genre you could imagine! The music scene holds a crucial part of the Korean identity, and I found enjoying it to be a wonderful way to understand modern culture.
The first welcome given to Yonsei foreign exchange students came in the form of dance. I remember sitting in a packed, dark auditorium a week after arriving in Seoul, when suddenly the stage lights revealed a dance troop blasting korean hip hop. They went on to execute every move of their dances perfectly and captivate us all in our seats. At that moment everyone believed it was a group of famous idols before us, instead of just regular college students like us. But music and dance in Korea is more than just a hobby to people, it’s a difficult talent you put hours into cultivating. When I walk down the streets of Hongdae at night and see all buskers dancing and singing, I am always impressed by their rhythm and appreciation of music.
Later in the semester I attended the Rapbeat festival at Seoul Land. As most music festivals go, this was a full day excursion my friends and I decided to take on. Artists such as Zico, Zion.T, Dean, Nafla, Beenzino, Heize, Colde and a hundred more performed sets on three different massive stages to crowds of ears. I noticed that Koreans don’t dance as much as we do in America to their favorite artists, instead hold up their phones to steadily record. The energy was there, but seeing so many people looking through their screens inspired me to live in the moment and just dance to the artists I never thought I’d see live. In the beginning of the festival my friends and I tried to move our way to the front, but you should never underestimate the dedication of Korean fan bases. It felt like everyone else was prepared to stand there under the heat for years just to be an inch closer to their bias, and weren’t afraid to shove or glare you down if you took their spot. After 10 hours of listening and drinking water, I found myself placed in the way back of the main stage, utterly content with the breeze on my back and enough room for the final songs of dancing.
In the city of Seoul, Korean artists will often do pop up concerts you can attend for less that $20. One weekend, my friends and I decided to go downtown to see the artist Bloo perform his new set. He was scheduled to perform at 11pm, so we got there at 10 to secure a good spot in the club; around 1am we were still waiting in the small, dark venue literally overflowing with fans. When the rest of my group gave up waiting and went to get some chimek, I stayed to see the artists I had now waited over 3 hours for. When Bloo did finally come out, the energy in the room was electric! While he rapped he reached out to the crowd sang his songs directly into the eyes of his fans. Although the night hadn’t gone as planned, it was fun to be a part of the dedicated music culture.
As a fan of Kpop, I knew I had to seize the opportunity of living in Korea and go to an idol concert. Because my friend was leaving early, she had an extra Blackpink ticket I jumped at the chance to take. While finding my seat in the concert hall, my ticket number kept bringing me closer and closer to the stage until I was 5 rows away from the front. I hadn’t realized how good of ticket my friend had got until sitting there under the lights. Almost everybody in the venue had these pink, heart shaped glow sticks they would wave to every song while yelling memorized fan chants. But the concert wasn’t just about the music, it was about getting to know the members of Blackpink through interviews and game show games. Luckily I made friends with the girl sitting next to me, who would translate the important parts so I could better understand the jokes. Even without a sufficient understanding of everything that was being said, seeing my favorite girl group in person made them more human and more than constructed media figures.
My experiences with modern music in Korea were some of my favorite times here; the quality of performance is like no other in the entire world and I am looking forward to returning again.