NZ's K-Pop Factor

From Voices, 7:00 am on 8 October 2018

Korean Pop fans in New Zealand are helping to boost the Asian genre's ongoing international success.

Despite so much music on offer these days, Korea's colourful K-Pop melodies still manages to attract millions of fans.

The popularity of the genre was on full display at a recent K-Pop competition in Auckland.

The contest, which is part of the city's annual Korean Festival, has become so popular, it had to hold auditions for the first time.

This enabled the organisers to narrow entrants to just the top 10 in two categories -  song and performance.

The music is unique, upbeat and catchy and this formula is a multi-billion-dollar business.

It churns out dozens of perfectly polished pop groups who seem fashionably cool like Big Bang, Girls Generation, EXO and BTS.

K-Pop's fan base is increasingly cross cultural.

Korean NZ Cultural Association's Hye Won Diane Lee with K-Pop event coordinator, Trezanah MacCauley

Korean NZ Cultural Association's Hye Won Diane Lee with K-Pop event coordinator, Trezanah MacCauley Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

This year’s event coordinator, Trezanah MacCauley who says she’s “obviously not Korean,” has a heart for Korean Pop, as she’s been a big fan since she was 11.

"I went to a school full of islanders. Like if you were caught listening to K-pop it was like why are you listening to that music? Because everyone was listening to hip hop and RNB," she said.

"It wasn't until I got to university in 2014, that I was introduced to the K-Pop community and thought 'wow there are actually people here who listen to K-pop?’ " 

Her all-time favourite is BTS, one of the biggest and trendiest boy bands in the world.

This seven member group look polished and groomed to perfection and look comfortable on the mainstream global stage.

BTS recently addressed the UN in New York as part of a UNICEF campaign, and appeared as guests on numerous talk shows including The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

DUALITY won first place in the K-Pop Contest 2018, Auckland NZ.

DUALITY won first place in the K-Pop Contest 2018, Auckland NZ. Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

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Mele Hala is one of the contestant in this year’s K-pop contest with her group Exist.

Although they did not place on the night, Mele was happy to sing in Korean.

“Music is a universal language so you know no matter what language it is in, you can see how hard they’ve worked to make their music through their videos and you can understand it via the body language as well," she said.

Sola Adekunle competed in the dance section under Duality and the duo took out first prize on the night.

She also loves K-Pop groups like B.T.S. and said being so far away from Korea, social media is key.

"We don't have access to them personally, going to their concerts or have fan meet and greets, we are more based on trying to connect with them on social media and through other fans on social," she said.

"That is the big difference for international fans in general."

In the crowd,  three friends and colleagues, Raval Bhandal, Alex Chai and Des Chang, were all there to support K-Pop.

"I think it is very vibrant, and good dancing too," said Des, who believes that BTS is the best.

Alex's favourite group is BTS too, as they are ‘the best singers, dancers plus they look really good.’

“Also K-Pop mixes in the culture and hip hop," said Raval.

K-Pop fans Raval Bhandal, Alex Chai and Des Chang.

K-Pop fans Raval Bhandal, Alex Chai and Des Chang. Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

K-Pop began in the 1990s with groups like H.O.T and g.o.d. but these days it churns out dozens of groups for hundreds of millions of adoring fans, including in Aotearoa.

Older Korean migrant, Hye Won Diane Lee, of the Korean New Zealand Culture Association is also a fan.

When she migrated to Auckland in the nineties she said it was one way to keep her language, music and culture alive.

"This music is for all ages," she said.

"It used to be hard rock but nowadays K-Pop is more emotional and soft, so most people like it."

"The new songs are not easy to remember, but I still enjoy listening and sometimes just copy the dancing."

Arum Jung, also an older migrant, works at the Korean Embassy in Auckland in public affairs.

Often when Koreans move to New Zealand, they can feel lonely and isolated, Arum says.

"We have this great culture K-Pop and Dance. Very bright and personality. It can actually make people feel great happy and positive after listening or dancing to K-Pop music."

Arum said the embassy has organised some free K-Pop dance workshops in the city this month to help raise awareness of mental health issues in the community.

Statistics showed the number of Koreans settling in Auckland regions has risen from under 1,000 in 1990 to 24,000 last year.

K-Pop contestants, K-Pop Contest 2018 Auckland NZ

K-Pop contestants, K-Pop Contest 2018 Auckland NZ Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Auckland's first Chinese Councillor Paul Young also attended the contest.

He said K-Pop is the first choice for so many fans, of all ages.

“That is great, as we are a diverse city. Lots of good performers and culture to bring here to New Zealand,” he said.

“It’s good to see them, the local people and local Korean people, be able to integrate together -that is truly wonderful.”