One thing that gets lost in Americans' conversation on K-Pop is the eclecticism of the music. Like EDM or R&B, K-Pop is an extremely loose genre term that does little but describe the country it comes from (and given the global reach of K-Pop, even less so today).
On Sunday night, the finale of the annual KCON exhibition (a two-day music festival and three-day convention for all things K-Pop and South Korean pop culture held in and around downtown's L.A. Live), more than a half-dozen acts showed the range of the genre. The show affirmed K-Pop's place in the U.S.as a fully realized, many-faceted underground pop culture arena.
Where else could a pure ballad duo like Davichi, which harked back to Barbra Streisand more than the upbeat techno-pop, still fit into a scene like this?
And in what other place could BTS, the longtime hip-hop group with quick-fire verses and stomping dance moves, plausibly inspire a newcomer like Astro, a boy band whose moves are pure adolescent sugar?
Not to mention Monsta X, a boy band whose industrial-dub-step-rap leanings come from a different planet entirely.
But on Sunday night at KCON, it all made sense.
The show was notable for a big debut. TTS, the sub-group from the K-Pop institution Girls' Generation, had yet to perform in L.A. despite many passes through town in its larger incarnation (the group's co-lead singer Tiffany grew up in Diamond Bar). Though Girls' Generation is packed with first-name-only personalities, this format let each of them — Tiffany, Taeyeon and Seohyun — shine through a bit more.
The '70s-funky "Holler" and '90s-swinging "Twinkle" showed off their formidable vocal power (which sometimes takes a back seat to Girls' Gen's dance moves), and the trio had a wisecracking charisma all its own in this setting.
For a more outsized girl-group experience, there was newbie Twice, a nine-member act that winked at American cheerleader tropes with plenty of zest and and smirk on songs like "I'm Gonna Be a Star."
Eric Nam was K-Pop's Zayn before there was an original Zayn — a dashing, multicultural solo star in a leather biker jacket who can croon a feathery ballad and knock out an upbeat disco single like "Can't Help Myself." Nam doubled up with hosting duties for the night, along with Amber Liu from the group f(x), and proved a fine master of ceremonies for the whole occasion — advocating for UNESCO's girls' education initiatives, trading side-stage banter with Liu and kicking up his heels on the stage runway.
BTS closed out the night with a reminder of why the group is one of K-Pop's most lasting and influential acts. No high-fructose boy-band syrup here, just a sleek and robust hip-hop crew at the top of its game.
The group bounded over the KCON stage with precision and verve, and took long, live turns to show off the members' rhyming dexterity in the thick of it all. K-Pop has everything now, and Sunday's finale showed just how good a lot of it can be.
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