Like the Beatles in the 1960s and 70s transformed the world’s music scene, K-pop is having a similar impact today, perhaps not to the extent in the West as in the East, but still pretty major.
That certainly was the take away from the “preliminaries” 2018 K-Pop World Festival held on June 15 at the Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta in Norcross.
Young-yun Kim, the South Korean consul general based in Atlanta, told Global Atlanta that he was surprised to have 43 applications for this year’s “preliminaries” representing a combination of solos and teams adding up to 77 performers.
The first Atlanta “preliminary” to qualify for the hotly contested opportunity to perform in Korea was held in 2016 with only 11 applications and 13 people. The second held in 2017 had 29 applications with 48 people.
Atlanta’s consulate general invited all the applicants to come and perform on stage the past two years. But this year due to the high volume of applications, the judges scored them first via YouTube videos and selected 20 based on their scores.
The consulate advertised the contest throughout its jurisdiction including six Southeastern states as well as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It advertised through its website, social media, local Korean radio and television stations with the assistance of teachers and professors of Korean language.
K-pop’s popularity has suffused through not only Atlanta’s Korean neighborhoods but Violet-S, one of the contestant teams, represented a K-pop club at the Forsyth Central High School.
The enthusiasm that both the performers and spectators exuded in the association’s hall was proof enough that K-pop has become a truly global phenomenon. It’s blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography and production values are even featured at a K-pop store in Duluth and another one in Suwanee.
The music is attached to a widening recognition of a fan base for Korean culture generally that includes K-drama, K-movies and K-food. And you can’t minimize the importance of “Gangman Style” that racked up up more than 3 billion views on YouTube, reigning as the most-viewed video in the platform’s history before being dethroned in 2017.
The growing recognition of the importance of K-pop as a diplomatic “soft power” initiative was underscored by the number of correct answers by the spectators to a quiz about Korean culture that was held at half time. And the soft power gambit serves as an antidote to the “hard power” policy favored across South Korea’s border to the north.
The importance of K-pop was even underscored during the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympic in PyeongChang when the athletes marched in the Parade of Nations to the accompaniment of a select group of K-pop hits.
The three judges including a conductor, an entertainer and a professional dancer often were quite direct in their evaluations of the performers vocal power, expressions, pronunciation, stage charisma, choreography and technique.
Surprisingly none of the winners were Korean-Americans. Jennifer Hoang, who won the first price in the singing division, is Vietnamese-America; Christian Saraos, who won the first prize in the dance division is Filipino-American and Amaya Johnson, who received a special prize from theKorean American Association of Greater Atlanta, is African-American.
Ms. Hoang, who is a student at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville, sang a song in Korean while playing the ukulele. The judges were amazed by the excellence of her Korean and asked her to repeat the song, which was about a girl trying to forget her beloved by drinking wine, without the ukulele so they could better hear her performance. The song was both melodic and had a rap section.
Christian Saraos is originally from Las Vegas and competed in last year’s preliminary in Atlanta where he won second place. He won with a solo performance this year because his routine called UCT-U-Boss filled the stage.
Amaya Johnson won the special prize because of the energy that she brought to her dance performance.
The winners of each contest throughout the United States, including Atlanta’s, will be judged via video by judges from Korea. The selected winner will go the final round as a an American representative in the finals that will take place in Changwon, Korea, on Oct. 5.
Last year, the winner dancing team I.V. from Atlanta advanced to the final as a representative of the U.S.