K-Pop Concerts Across America: A Year in Review

Photos via MTV K

by Linda Son

Last April, when a car pulled up to the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, it became hard for those waiting in the crowd to breathe, let alone move, as throngs of young people flocked to the automobile.

The group of diehard fans of Korean pop music, or K-pop, whispered among themselves as they craned their necks and stood on tiptoes to get a clearer look into the car. “Who is it? Is it someone I know?” Their hopes were usually dashed as an average hotel guest would emerge from the car. But sometimes, the person in the car was actually the pop music celebrity they were waiting for to arrive and pandemonium would ensue.

The evenly dispersed group would transform into one enormous mass of people and many would find themselves being pushed into nearby strangers. Cameras would begin flashing and the air became filled with shouts of different Korean phrases: from simply calling out the artists’ name to declarations of love and adoration. Decked out in big sunglasses or hats to hide their makeup-less faces, the stars would try to make their way through the fans, sometimes stopping for a few autographs, never a picture, until their staff members or managers would usher them inside. When the star successfully made their way to the elevators, the crowd would simmer down until another car pulled up to the Sheraton, then the madness would start all over again and continue until the wee hours of the morning.

The hotel, famous for housing K-pop stars this time of year, sees this scene almost every April and this year was no exception to the fangirl madness as scores of people waited outside the Sheraton to catch a glimpse of their favorite singers. The reason? L.A.’s annual Korean Music Festival.


Nine years in the making, KMF, as it’s known to many of its patrons, has featured top K-pop acts such as TVXQ, Girls Generation, Big Bang, Wonder Girls and Super Junior. This year, the Korea Times and other sponsors brought out Jay Park, 4Minute, G.NA, U-Kiss, Secret, Sistar, Baek Ji Young, K.Will and DJ DOC among other singers of trot music and traditional Korean music.

“There is much more excitement in seeing the band you love live than through a computer screen,” said Ann Yang, a first-time attendee of KMF. For much of the show, Yang was up on her feet, dancing and singing to the songs she knew, along with the thousands of other fans in attendance.

G.NA and DJ DOC’s own Kim Chan Ryul played hosts for the star-studded event, which was seen by thousands of people who traveled from all over North America and beyond.

K-pop garnered more attention in 2011 than ever before. YouTube announced its official categorization of K-pop as a genre on its music page, providing easy access to videos. This year also showed K-pop’s popularity in the United States where a number of concerts were held and dozens of Korean artists not only delighted their overseas fans but also performed to sold out crowds or at venues that were near capacity.

The Korean Music Festival used to be the only concert where North Americans could travel a reasonable distance to see K-pop artists perform live. These artists, however, are more frequently stopping by the U.S. to perform for their international fans.

In May, shortly after KMF, the group JYJ stopped by different U.S. cities for their first-ever American tour. Kim Jaejoong, Park Yuchun and Kim Junsu, formerly of TVXQ, took to a world tour after splitting with their talent agency.

On the heels of last year’s showcase the trio held in New York City, JYJ performed in four North American cities: Vancouver, Newark, N.J., Los Angeles and San Jose. The shows were smaller than the huge arenas they once played, but the guys still found love from their North American fans. A few months later, the same fans who loved the guys when they were in TVXQ got another treat when the remaining two members of TVXQ joined a slew of other artists in the New York area.

In honor of South Korea’s 20th anniversary of joining the United Nations, the Korean Broadcasting Station (KBS) sponsored a massive free two-day concert in New Jersey hosted by singer Lee Hyori and featuring TVXQ, B2ST, 4Minute, SHINee, 2PM, Sistar, among others. The first day of the KBS Open Concert was a showcase and celebration of Korean culture while the second day was a large-scale K-pop concert.

The show was originally planned to be held in Randall’s Island in New York, but for months promoters gave fans and hopeful attendees the runaround on the location. Promotion of the concert started months before the logistics of the show were even finalized, causing headaches and confusion among K-pop fans. As the estimated number of attendees rose, capacity issues arose along with it and the free concert was on the brink of a complete cancellation. At the last minute, the show was moved to Ridgefield, N.J., where an audience of more than 10,000 watched their favorite artists perform.

“The KBS show definitely needed a better ticketing method,” said Roselynne Lam, an avid K-pop concert attendee, who attended KMF, the KBS Open Concert and K-Pop Masters, “[and] probably a new venue (seating arrangement made it hard to view), and more specific information that is NOT released last minute.”

According to Lam, the organizers at the KBS show did a very poor job organizing the event, and constantly changed instructions and ticketing arrangements up until the last moment.

“KMF was pretty well-organized, especially since it’s been an annual thing,” said Lam. “KBS Open Concert and K-Pop Masters, however, was not exactly the best.”

Despite the poor organization, Lam said she enjoyed seeing her favorite bands perform live at the KBS Open Concert. A few weeks after that show, two of the performers, TVXQ and SHINee, returned to New York for the SM Town New York concert.

In late October, SM Entertainment artists joined their label mates TVXQ and SHINee for a nightlong concert event at the famed Madison Square Garden. Veterans Kangta and BoA along with Super Junior, Girls Generation, and f(x) performed for thousands of their fans. The trip to the States didn’t end at SM Town New York for TVXQ and SHINee. At the end of November, the guys were in Las Vegas for another K-pop show.

Organized by Billboard Korea and KPMA, LLC, the show, called K-Pop Masters, took over Las Vegas’ famed MGM Grand Garden Arena for two days. Due to high demand, a second date was added. Along with TVXQ and SHINee, the final lineup for the K-Pop Masters show included MBLAQ, B2ST, Brown Eyed Girls, 4Minute, G.NA and Sistar. Unfortunately, the all-star lineup wasn’t enough to please all the attendees. Concertgoers could tell that the show wasn’t as organized as other shows.

“[K-Pop Masters] could have been better organized,” said Jackie Duong, a concertgoer. “You can tell that organizers didn’t really actually care about the K-pop wave as much as they advertised and were only trying to make a profit off of it. The staff at the venue also weren’t cooperative, as they refused to answer questions even when asked directly to their face.”

Miles away from Las Vegas, Tiger JK and his group Drunken Tiger filled the Wiltern Theater for a night of Korean hip-hop at a show dubbed “The Jungle Concert in LA.”

L.A.’s own Dumbfoundead jumped on stage to spit a few verses to Drunken Tiger’s “Jet Pack.” A little while later, Jay Park was also invited on stage, which only further excited the crowd. The early December show included Drunken Tiger, Yoon Mirae, Lee Ssang, Jung In and Bizzy in the lineup and was nearly at full capacity in the Wiltern Theater.

A few days after the Jungle Concert, 2NE1 stopped by New York’s Times Square to perform. The all-girl quartet received the “Best New Band in the World” award from MTV Iggy and was invited to perform for a massive crowd of their fans. The two-hour show was the group’s first U.S. concert and comprised of some of their most popular songs including “Fire,” “Can’t Nobody,” “Lonely,” and “I Am the Best.” At the end of the show, the girls received the honor of being, literally, crowned “Best New Band in the World” to round off the year of K-pop concerts.

2011 was a breakout year for K-pop in the States with Korean artists delighting their international fans with shows from coast to coast. 2012 is already starting off strong with Cube Entertainment announcing Beast’s six-city U.S. tour, which is just one of the many concerts scheduled in the new year. As big as 2011 was for the K-pop scene, 2012 is likely to bring bigger, better and more concerts to the U.S.