Eli Concert Hall in Carrollton is flooded with hundreds of fans dressed in Korean inspired fashion. Large screens flash music videos with K-pop artists. We are at K-Pop World Festival Dallas. The sixth annual event’s put on by the South Korean Consulate with help from a fan group, K-pop Dallas.
How big is K-Pop in North Texas? Big enough to inspire fans to form groups that emulate their favorite bands. These performing groups have names, like “H1P3” or “Konquest.” Some sing their favorite songs, karaoke style. Others practice the dance moves in popular videos, and then perform them as the videos play, striving to get as close as possible to the complicated steps their idols seem to perform effortlessly. That’s kind of like video karaoke. All the groups are gathered here to compete for a chance to advance in an international competition.
Around 800 folks have turned out. Traditional snack foods are being served, like sweet rice cakes filled with honey and sesame seeds along with kimbap, a Korean version of sushi. Some fans live and breath the music, others enjoy the fashion. This is the second time Sarah McKay, of Austin, has come here.
“I loved all those bondage harnesses. K-pop tries to not be too racy. They’re still racy in their outfits.”
Another K-pop fan, Jesus Velazquez, says it made him try new things.
“Because of how catchy the tunes are and how good the videos are, they attract people from different parts of the world and it makes people try new things. Like, heck, I’ve never tried Korean barbecue until my K-pop friends decided to take me out and you know, and I liked it.”
But what makes the floor shake in the hall are not the songs. It’s the chanting.
K-pop performer Catherine Peal explains the ‘fan chant.’ “If there is a song, there are certain words that stick out a lot or in the beginning, they say all their names until they actually start singing.”
Before the big competition, performers practice their moves in the halls. Contestants are vying, ultimately, for a chance to perform for their favorite groups in South Korea. This is precisely the kind of interaction the festival is designed to foster – personal connections between North Texas fans and the K-pop industry.
“There are large K-pop followers here, and it is quite natural for us to invite them and let them perform, sing and dance, all the fun stuff together,” said Sang Soo Lee, the South Korean Consulate Head of Mission.
Robert Venger is a member of the North Texas group H1p3, pronounced “hype”. He explains the rules of the festival’s contest. “Anybody can enter as long as they perform some kind of K-pop or Korean media thing whether it be vocal or dance or both. And the other big rule is they cannot be of Korean descent.”
That may seem odd. It’s a Korean-centered festival, but the competitors can’t be Korean. Lee, from the consulate, explains their reason: “It is for fairness. I mean K-pop has a larger population around the world, so we need to exclude those Korean descendants.”
Most festivalgoers don’t mind the rule. But some have mixed feelings.
K-pop fan Tammera Nguyen: ” I guess that the point of the festival is to show diversity of all these other groups of people who like K-pop, but Korean Americans should be let into the competition as well because they love it just as anybody else.”
First-time festival goer Titania Ramirez: “It feels kind of odd, but at the same time I guess it’s more for different cultures to be able to experience it. “
Liliana Tinoco founded K-Pop Dallas, a Facebook page and website devoted to the culture. She remembers the call from the South Korean Consulate, asking for help hosting the festival.
“The guy who was actually the head consul back in 2013 contacted us and he asked me in Korean, ‘We’re the Korean consulate, blah-blah-blah,’ and I was ‘I don’t speak Korean,’ so he had to change it to English. And he was very shocked.”
The K-pop Dallas Facebook page has 7,000 followers and now, companies from around the world reach out to them for help to bring Korean artists to Texas.
“We started basically getting more likes to the point where even people from Malaysia or South Korea would contact us and ask, Do you want to help us put up an event?’ And that’s how literally the first K-pop concert in Dallas happened.”
K-pop Dallas member Delia Alarcon. “That was actually a pretty cool thing, because at that time the Korean agencies knew the U.S as New York and California only.
Back in the hall, 14 groups performed over three hours. Tere Akira won first place for dancing and is advancing to nationals. While most performed in groups, Akira danced solo, mimicking the moves of Taemin, a member of the band Shinee. She dominated the stage as the crowd went wild for her moonwalk. She performed moves from two songs, showcasing the complicated choreography K-pop ideals must master.
Annabelle, another solo performer, won in the singing category.
After all the singing and dancing, rapping and eating, organizers politely asked the audience to clear the auditorium. So festival-goers headed for the lobby — and started a dance party.