My second trip to Japan and first to South Korea is now over. How I become to dislike Germany now. Comparing my small village and the German attitude in general to Tokyo and Seoul is quite demotivating. Lucky the next trip can be seen already on the horizon.
Enough of lamenting. The flight with Finnair to Seoul, Incheon Airport, on the 15.09.2014 was unproblematic. Finding our hotel as well, as my sister knew the neighbourhood already from one of her last trips. I for myself was to tired to do anything on the first day so I went to bed early. My sister on the other hand met with my other sister to go to JYP in Apgujeong, trying to see some Korean idols, their main reason for coming to Korea. Can not accuse them for that, can I? I wanted to see them, too. And I will use this space now and then for commenting on the differences of the idol business in Korea and Japan, as there are quite a lot.
The second day was our first K-Pop Festival, celebrating the start of the Asian Games, hold in Incheon. We were getting there early to have a look at the city, which became quite an odyssey, as we didn’t know anything about it. So we had to try out several stations until we found some worthy area for sightseeing, eating and shopping. Nothing extraordinary to talk about though. The fact, that the Asian Games were soon to start, didn’t became relevant: Apart from the advertising all around town there was nothing reminding you of it. There wasn’t not even a higher amount of foreign tourist to be seen. As I got to know at the end of my trip, the Asian Games were pretty poor visited and part of it was because of the bad organization form the Korean promoters. Very sad, especially from a country that should be used to big events, already hosting the Olympics and the Football World Cup in the past. But as my interest for sports is relatively non existent, I couldn’t care less. Though the Games would have quite an impact on my schedule a few days later. But we come to that in time.
The line-up for the festival was great: Not only did it feature my faourite group T-ara, but also 4minute, which I met personally in Stockholm this May. Other groups included: EXO, High4, JJCC, Red Velvet, Jay Park, BTS, 100Percent, BESTIE, Boys Republic, Secret, JANGWOOHYUK, Zest, G.NA, KARA and TEEN TOP. So everything for guys and girls, and some really well known acts as well. It was outdoors and the capacity of the place was 14,000 people.
There are obvious differences between the idol-fanbases in Korea and Japan, which wasn’t clear to me before. I will already tell you my final conclusion: There is NOTHING compareable in the world to Japanese idol business, regarding everything concerned: About the groups, public image, sound, merchandizing, their fan behaviour and what not: Whereas in Japan the fans are mostly men, but also with a good number of female fans, the fans in Korea consists in the VAST majority of females. In fact, I had a hard time finding male fans in the audience as they were so rare. Well, as I am a male, I can not find negative aspects in that *hehehe* What was also different is the behaviour of the K-Pop fans during the shows – it is like in western countries. They use light sticks as in Japan, but not that much. Instead it is mostly about screaming to their favourite singers. Most apparent during male idol shows. So in general K-Pop is handled like western Pop Business. I also associate the word IDOL with direct fan service in the form of events like handshaking, 2Shots and stuff. Although they have that in Korea too, it is very rare and hard to come by. During 4minute‘s small European tour they held high touch events, made group photos and autographed posters. This was great and I remember it dearly (Jihyun <3). But here there was nothing! They didn’t even sell merchandize! How poor is that? Especially the last part I will never understand: No easier way to rip fans off money by selling stuff at the shows. And I don’t even have to study marketing for this insight…
The lack of events can mostly be justified by the larger scale of Korean idols. If a group doesn’t make (a lot) money soon, it won’t stand a chance. There is no big underground idol scene as in Japan, with hundreds of small groups, majorly in the business only for the fact of being an idol. At least I didn’t heard of such. Would be great though if Seoul would have venues like AKIBA Cultures Theater or PARMS, with daily idol shows. But I presume, that the gender factor plays much part in it?!?
A great aspect of the Korean idol business though is the appeal to foreign fans: They sell tickets online especially for foreigners and even have ticket stands with English speaking staff. I know that this is mostly to bring the Korean Wave around the world and make more money, but that is their right. Completely different to Japan, where you only have Japanese text and have to rely on friends there or online ticket vendors, who will buy you tickets for shows. The only occasion I know of, where they opened online ticket sales for foreigners and applied English speaking staff was during TIF. So if the Koreans would just increase their information policies it would be the superb, as it becomes quite difficult to find specific information for upcoming shows. Here the Japanese again have an advantage: You can find specific and continous information on the official sites, their blogs, twitter and summary websites like idolscheduler.com.
I will comment further of the differences in later posts, but for now let me say, that the festival itself was enjoyable, although sitting in a special area for foreigners. Yes, it was all seats. The view was okay. We were not sitting that close, but there were large screens installed to follow the show. What surprised me was the fact it wasn’t sold out. The line-up couldn’t be a reason. But this seems to be something ordinary as I made the same observation during later similar events on my trip. Each group performed mostly two songs, with quick MCs. T-ara their new song Sugar free and the classic Roly Poly.