JYJ member Kim Junsu has described the response to the Latin American concerts as “utterly surprising, and the most enthusiastic.”
Seoul’s top music talent agency SM Entertainment has held concerts featuring its flagship groups such as the 13-member boyband Super Junior and the nine-strong Girls’ Generation in Paris, New York and California since 2010.
Colombian TV network Caracol has since April aired a talent show for K-pop fans. Winners were offered a six-day trip to Seoul to meet their idols. About 2,000 participants from across the country sang and danced to the songs of K-pop bands such as Big Bang and 2NE1, with South Korean boyband U-KISS acting as a judge by watching video clips.
Song Chang-Woon, public relations manager of South Korea’s Arirang TV which has partnered with Caracol, acknowledged K-pop’s popularity in Latin America is still limited to a relatively small circle of young devotees.
“But our partners in Caracol TV certainly saw potential and wanted to test the market with ‘K-pop reality,’” he said, referring to the show also being aired on South Korea’s Arirang TV station this month.
K-Music, a Colombian music cable channel, has also started to air a K-pop music segment imported from Arirang, Song said.
Typical K-pop stars — trained since early or mid-teens — offer a mix of good looks, powerful choreography and accessible tunes that give an alternative to Latin America’s music scene, he said.
“The K-pop boom has just landed in Latin America and there’s no way back from here,” Song said.
Prominent music critic Kang Hun and others rejected suggestions that promotions by the Seoul government had helped sell K-pop overseas as its home markets become more saturated, saying it jumped on the bandwagon belatedly.
Kang added that K-pop offered a new cultural experience, particularly for trend-conscious teenage girls and women in their 20s in Latin America.
And the language barrier does not matter.
“Ask anyone about the last song they heard on the radio and they’d struggle to tell you what the lyrics mean,” van den Heuvel said.