Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Great K-pop Adventure, Part One: The Flashmob

[This entry is hideously overdue... So my apologies for a delay of nearly two months for the full story of my K-pop experience...]

Somewhere, on my lengthy Korea Bucket List, is "see a K-pop concert." 

Now, I should start by saying K-pop isn't my style really at all, but, being as I'm in Korea, and I hear about K-pop constantly in the classroom, I've managed to develop a passing interest. By this I mean I don't listen to K-pop and have actually only bought one K-pop song on iTunes... Overall, I'm not a fan of K-pop simply because I'm rarely a fan of anything "pop" in general, the notable exception being NSYNC, of course. However, I do have to admit that some of those songs are damn catchy. If I was the type of person who worked out at a gym, I can see a K-pop playlist as being really fun to do workout things to. Truly. But otherwise? I'll stick to my mellow, folky-indie-rock, thanks. 

I'm sure you can see the dilemma here. I don't like the music, but I want to see a concert in person. Why, you ask? Because the atmosphere at a K-pop concert, from what I'd been told, is nothing short of Beatlemania. (Stay tuned for part two of this adventure, where I describe how it is, indeed, sheer insanity.) I just really felt like this was something I wanted to witness myself. Lately it's seemed that K-pop, if it has its way, would happily take over the world. And I wanted to see this hot mess with my own eyes. 

So, on September 1st, bleary-eyed and semi-apprehensive, my friend Talisa and I woke up early so we could catch a cab to the Chinatown area of Incheon. We knew very little of what the day would entail, but the promises of "flash mob" and "free tickets to a K-pop concert" were enough for us to jump right in, hoping the day would exceed our (admittedly low and/or vague) expectations. 

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob

At some point back in July, I'd happened upon a Facebook invite for the event via a local expat/teacher group. Some organizations, somehow affiliated with Incheon Tourism Organization, were looking to promote their upcoming annual K-pop concert. The concert, Korean Music Wave 2013, boasted a massive lineup of 20 different idol groups, many of whom I hear about on a daily basis from my students. The actual tickets to the concert were a cheap ₩5,000, and apparently they sold out lightning fast. In order to promote Incheon's tourism (and Korea in general) to foreigners, they also set aside a ton of foreigner-only tickets for various giveaways. Some options involved buying something from an Incheon business and showing your receipt, while others were more extravagant, such as spending a night in a particular Incheon hotel. The option that caught my eye, however, was a K-pop flash mob. 

Free ticket in exchange for dancing? WHERE DO I SIGN UP

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob
Yes, "flash mop." 

As we got out of our cab at Incheon Station, we easily found the stationed flash mob coordinators who gave us directions to the rec center where we would be learning our choreography. Once there, we got checked in, which included the first of three stamps that we would get throughout the day. Maps and schedules were also handed out, and we were ushered into a black box theater to begin rehearsal. 

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob
Stamped and mapped. 

Before rehearsing, we also got a rundown of the day. After practicing the dance, we would walk to the nearby Jayu Park for our first performance. Second, we were to head to Sinpo Market for a performance near one of its entrances. Then, our third and final performance, was to be outside of Munhak Stadium, where the concert was being held. As the day went, we would also get vouchers for free coffee and ₩5,000 in "money" to be spent at Sinpo Market. Upon completion of the final flash mob, we would get a souvenir shirt and a concert ticket! Simple enough, right?

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob
Our teachers, explaining our marathon, K-pop filled day.

The choreography was from the videos for two popular K-pop songs: "Fantastic Baby" by Big Bang and "Gentleman" by PSY. A fairly simple routine, but definitely one that required more rehearsal time than we were given, which was about an hour. Maybe I have outrageously high standards due to twenty or so years of dance training and classes, but they really didn't teach us well... But that's a long-winded rant that none of you care about. 

Though we were under-rehearsed (and generally confused), our first two performances were (luckily) in pretty uncrowded areas, giving us some much needed "dress" rehearsals. 

Dancers starting to fill in at Jayu Park. 

I have very few pictures of us actually dancing since I was in the middle of dancing myself! I managed to snap the above photo right before jumping in, since we were supposed to trickle in instead of joining the flash mob all at once. (Which was a concept most seemed to... have trouble understanding. Mostly because I don't think that was explained well. Le sigh.) 

incheon korean music wave 2013 k-pop flash mob
First round of freebies to use at Sinpo Market. 

incheon korean music wave 2013 k-pop flash mob
I wonder what that very conspicuous group of foreigners is doing lurking in the street? The area of street pictured is where we had our second performance.

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob
All stamped and ready for the final performance!

After grabbing food and coffee with our vouchers in Sinpo Market, we hopped on some shuttle buses to be driven across town to Munhak Stadium. The final performance was scheduled for 3:30pm, almost five hours before the concert was set to begin, but we knew that this last flash mob would have a much, much larger audience. 

Walking up to the stadium, you could feel the energy and excitement from the throngs of K-pop fans. Vendors were selling various items that declared your love for the idol group of your choice, long lines had already formed outside the gates, and we saw quite a few groups of girls run screaming past us for no apparent reason. We milled around our designated dancing space, trying (and failing) to blend into the crowd until the music started at 3:30.

So, without further ado, here's a shaky, blurry video of some clips from our dance: 

I was actually surprised that by the end, we'd drawn quite a crowd! After our performance, our dance teachers did some K-pop dance covers of their own. They were, of course, way, way better than us, as they'd actually rehearsed their routines carefully and for longer than an hour. When the guys were dancing, the teenage girls around us looked like they were ready to faint -- the screams were deafening. One of the dudes took his shirt off and all hell nearly broke loose. Needless to say, I began bracing myself for what would happen once I was actually inside the stadium... 

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob
Part of our audience. 

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob
Panoramic shot of the circle that had formed, with the girls dancing in the middle.

After the dancing ended, we were all done! We lined up to get our souvenir shirts and tickets, and shortly after, all we had to do is wait for them to let us inside the stadium. Everyone was getting really excited for the show itself at this point, though after all that dancing and trekking around Incheon, we were also all hoping our ground tickets would magically involve chairs...

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob

The experience, while exhausting, was really great. I've been in a few flash mobs before, back in Austin, and they'd always been loads of fun. Getting to run around town and dance was enough for me, really, so the free concert ticket was a bonus. Definitely one of the more memorable days I've had in Korea so far. 

Stay tuned for Part Two, which will cover the concert itself, including some moments when I was actually afraid for my life... I'll just leave you with this as a preview/hint: Teenage girls are intense when they're mere feet away from the objects of their lust... 

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob

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