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(Yonhap Feature) K-pop bands captivate Paris in Europe's first KCON

All News 09:00 June 13, 2016

By Kim Kwang-tae

PARIS, June 13 (Yonhap) -- Thousands of young French fans and other Europeans screamed with delight and waved their glowsticks at young South Korean singers as a pulsing electro-dance beat filled a concert hall in Paris.

Many audience members opted to stand, dance and even stomp along rather than remain in their seats during the concert on June 2 that lasted about three hours.

The enthusiastic reception from the 12,000-strong audience in Accor Hotels Arena, a prominent concert hall in Paris, illustrated the growing popularity of K-pop in Europe.

Lucy Ekel, a sales assistant handling clothing in Israel, said she is addicted to K-pop and that it was amazing to be able to see the concert, noting until now, she could see her favorite groups only on the computer screen.

"It's like a dream come true," Ekel said after the concert.

Ekel, who is the chairwoman and co-founder of a non-profit organization meant to promote the Korean wave and Korean culture in Israel, said she flew from Poland where she was traveling to see the live K-pop concert for the first time.

The concert itself was the piece de resistance of the European debut of KCON, a Korean culture festival that also included K-food and K-beauty, entitled KCON 2016 France for its host country.

The events were part of celebrations of the 130th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between South Korea and France.

President Park Geun-hye, who was in Paris for a state visit, watched the concert after touring an exhibition on Korean food and cosmetics near the concert hall. The fans greeted her with cheers as a big screen on the side of the stage showed Park standing up and waving to the crowd.

KCON first started in California in 2012. So far, it has been held in Los Angeles, New York, Japan and the United Arab Emirates, according to CJ E&M, South Korea's entertainment giant that organizes the convention.

Dos Santos Diego, a 21-year-old college student in Switzerland, said he drove several hours with two of his friends to see the concert, though they were in the middle of their exam period.

"It was my first time seeing a K-pop concert," Dos Santos said. "But the show was just amazing, they are all huge performers."

The K-pop concert organizers once again tapped into the go-to algorithm for multi-group showcases with a lineup of K-pop veterans and rookies as well as a curated set list of sure-to-please hits.

The concert opened as boy group Bangtan Boys (BTS) barreled onto the stage with a K-pop rendition of the Korean traditional folk ballad "Arirang" and were then joined by five other South Korean boy and girl groups performing that night -- Block B, SHINee, f(x), F.T. Island and I.O.I.

No song went without the accompaniment of the audience or their shrieks.

During Taemin of SHINee's cover of "Reality," the title track of classic French teen flick "La Boum," the crowd and its fluorescent glowsticks still in hand swayed to the melody, only to burst into cheers during a quiet refrain.

Interspersed throughout the duration of the show were cascading beams of light representing the French Tricolour, a nod to their host country and many of the attendees. Colorful confetti also fluttered down at the end of the show to bid fans "au revoir."

Laura Almario, a 17-year-old student, said she cannot imagine not knowing K-pop music, to which she said she was addicted.

Though the show was hourslong, to some, it was merely minutes.

"When it was over, I was so shocked that it was already over. It seemed more like it just began maybe 10 minutes ago and it's already over, so I was so sad but at the same time very happy because I saw my idols," said Maeva-Lee Goubet, a 17-year-old student.

"Since I love K-pop, it has a very big place in my life. I have to watch their updates every day and I listen to K-pop a lot," Goubet said as tears welled up in her eyes, apparently overwhelmed by the concert.

Goubet's mother, Jihyon Goubet, said she traveled with her daughter about six hours by car to see the concert and said getting tickets was like an exam as they seemed to be selling out in about a minute.

South Korea said 10,000 tickets were sold out three hours after sales began. An additional 2,500 tickets offered afterwards also sold out in an hour. The French bought six out of 10 tickets while the rest were purchased by British, German, Spanish, Belgian, Swiss and Swedish fans.

Jennifer Nguyen, a 20-year-old college student in Lyon in south central France, said she waited for more than 10 hours outside the concert hall amid light rain as she and her friends were handing out printed banners for BTS to about 2,500 of their fans.

Nguyen said she was under stress in preparing the banners for a month with the money donated over the Internet by BTS fans, but the concert gave her comfort.

"K-pop is a must for happiness," Nguyen said. "K-pop brings me a comfort when I feel sad or have hard times."

K-pop and its broader Korean Wave has struck a chord with young people around the world and inspired some of the attendees to learn the Korean language to understand lyrics from K-pop songs.

"Thanks to K-pop and Korean dramas I want to learn more about Korean culture and I want to learn Korean because it's a beautiful language," said Hoda Mahmoud, an 18-year-old student.

K-pop also burnished South Korea's image as a trendsetting country, home to "Gangnam Style," South Korean rapper Psy's mega-hit song. It was a big transformation in a country that had long been associated with the 1950-53 Korean War and tensions with North Korea over its nuclear program.

Some of the concertgoers said K-pop had put South Korea and its culture on the map for them.

Idalina Pivert, a 24-year-old student in law at the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, said she can read and write in hangeul, the Korean alphabet, by learning the writing system through free websites on the internet, though she could not understand Korean.

"When listening to K-pop, we do want to learn more about the Korean culture in general," Pivert said after the concert.

Clara Mansour, a 20-year-old college student, said she has also started learning Korean thanks to the influence of K-pop.

"I love Korean culture and I would like to work in South Korea or work related to South Korea," Mansour said in the afterglow of the concert.


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