Dancing in the streets: performers gather for K-pop festival - GulfToday

Dancing in the streets: performers gather for K-pop festival

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Competitors about going on stage for their performance.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival, contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre's biggest hits -- with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country's biggest cultural exports.

About 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organizers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.
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Competitors from Canada preparing before they go on stage./ AFP

"This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics," said the event's host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

K-pop -- along with K-drama soap operas -- has been one of South Korea's most successful cultural exports to date.

A key part of the "Korean Wave" which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boy band BTS its latest high-profile exponent.

"The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one's own country can experience similar success in the future,” said CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US,

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

"I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come," a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star's death.

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week's contest, K-pop's diversity -- with some tunes having dark themes, while others were "cute" or sensual -- is what gives him a sense of liberation.

Agence France-Presse.