January 31, 2013

A Walk with the Stars

The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) arranged a K-pop concert and walking tour for foreigners, suitably entitled "A Walk With the Stars". With 10 million international tourists estimated to make their way to Korea for the first time in a calendar year, there was certainly cause for celebration. The primary draws were two splendidly gifted girl groups - Sistar and 9 Muses.

K-pop is a major cultural export for South Korea, particularly in East Asia. Most of the fans in attendance were excitable young women from this region, possibly with serious self-esteem issues. Promising artists are plucked from their families at a very young age, and undergo a rigorous training and dieting regimen for many years as they are formed into a product with mass market appeal.

The output is as artificial, and as beguilingly addictive, as the women who regale the upscale coffee shops of Seoul. The tunes are catchy and the music videos are slick. The whole K-pop industry is heavily promoted by several large entertainment companies such as JYP and SM, with ample support from the government as it seeks to spread Korea's soft power around the globe.

The day was scheduled to begin with a walk around Seoul's Olympic Park and end with a concert. There was a slight delay as 9 Muses needed a bit longer than anticipated to get ready. As soon as the K-pop stars arrived on the scene, otherworldly shrieks emanated from the audience. A small stampede took place as the fans battled to get near the stars. The idols had a security detail to protect them from their manic devotees.

The walk lasted all of five minutes. The mob was hot on the heels of the stars, following them to the parking lot and then gathering beside the concert stage soon thereafter. Sistar and 9 Muses got back into the van that had transported them to the venue. I could not tell the male stars apart from regular Korean boys, so I had no idea about their whereabouts.

The emcee came out on stage, confused as to why everyone was already back when the concert was only scheduled to start in a couple of hours. He announced that the walking route was much longer - around the park and not just around the parking lot. The crowd made their way around the actual circuit for the next few hours. Sistar and 9 Muses were were worth the wait.

A special treat awaited those who had tolerated the performances of several androgynous boy bands that followed the enchanting audiovisual talents of Sistar and 9 Muses. Little Psy, the child who appears beside adult Psy in the viral hit "Gangnam Style", made his way on stage as a surprise guest. His dance moves wowed the audience. There were howls of delight as he took off his jacket and threw it into the crowd to end the concert.


"Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it." ~ Henry David Thoreau