Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was bristling with K-pop fans afternoon on June 8 (local time) as they waited for precious glimpses of their idols, ahead of the first-ever live K-pop concert in Europe scheduled for June 9 and 10.
Around 1,000 autograph-hungry fans crowded in front of Gate E at the airport’s second terminal, jostling for space and calling out the names of various dance group members who were due to arrive aboard a Korean Air flight. The big names included TVXQ, SHINee and f(x), managed by SM Entertainment. Girls’ Generation arrived in the fabled city of romance one day earlier.
Most of the fans waiting at the airport were teenage girls, but even middle-aged adults could be spotted among the crowds. The fans, who waited more than two-and-a-half hours for their stars to walk out of the gate, showed no signs of boredom, singing their favorite Korean songs and creating a party-like atmosphere.
"We expected around 300 fans, but we were surprised to see many more at the airport," said Maxim Pake, head of Korea Connection, a Korean culture fan club in France.
Alarmed by the passionate nature of the fans, French airport police mobilized 20 officers to escort the stars from the arrival gate to the parking lot, where they were whisked on to buses. Fans shouted out the names of their heroes as they walked out of the arrival gate at around 7:30 pm.
Prior to the arrival of K-pop stars at Charles de Gaulle airport for the concert, the Espace Champerret in Paris’ 17th arrondissement had seen an unusual spectacle of hundreds of French teenagers singing and dancing to Korean pop music afternoon on June 5 (Sunday). Four of them took to the stage to lip-sync to 2NE1’s hit song "I don’t care" during a K-pop contest held there while the audience boogied along.
At booths across the stage for Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, SHINee, and f(x) fans, hundreds congregated to leave messages in Korean to the K-pop stars, who were due to visit Paris on June 8. French teenagers danced to 2NE1’s hit song "I don’t care" during a K-pop contest at the Espace Champerret in Paris on the day.
The event on the Sunday was organized by Korean Connection that also organized a demonstration in front of the Louvre on May 1 calling for an extra day concert by a bevy of Korean stars after the 7,000 tickets for the concert sold out in just 15 minutes online.
Maxim Pikett of Korean Connection said, "More than 4,000 people visited our event. It shows how the popularity of K-pop is intensifying here."
Finally, K-pop stars took their first tentative steps in the heart of European culture on June 9, giving hope to the music industry here that the Korean Wave can wash across Europe as it washed across Asia. Hundreds of young fans from France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Poland wept and cheered at the “SM Town Live in Paris” concert organized as part of a world tour by the Korean agency SM Entertainment at Le Zénith de Paris on June 9 and 10.
French media paid close attentions to the K-pop concert. The daily Le Figaro ran a story on June 9 about how it was extended following the protest. “K-pop warriors have begun conquering Europe after taking over Asia. Paris has become the beachhead for K-pop’s advance into Europe,” it reported.
SM Entertainment had held its Town Live concerts in Seoul, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Shanghai. They will return to the Tokyo Dome on Sept. 3 and 4 for some 100,000 fans.
K-pop s’ Global Ambitions
In Europe, Korea is perhaps better known for TVs and cars than for music. The Paris concert marks a milestone on the road to a higher profile for K-pop. French daily Le Monde said Korea, a country sandwiched between Japan and China and known only for its automobile and electronics products exports, is showing the world its culture.”
“European consumers prefer high value-added products, which has made it difficult to penetrate the market,” said Jang Ho-keun of the Korea International Trade Association. He expressed confidence that the concert will “increase the value of the Korean brand.”
There still appears to be more room for growth of Korean pop culture in Europe and elsewhere. A key factor is the strength of Korean information technology, which enables K-pop fans around the world to access it quickly. SM Entertainment head Lee Soo-man told that K-pop is being accessed by fans around the world not through radio and TV but through YouTube and social networking sites. SM Entertainment is Korea’s largest showbiz management agency.
CEO Lee Soo-man is the founder of the entertainment company, leading the bold move. He told, “At one point, I was worried that we might be making reckless investment in something that could happen only in the far future,” adding, “But the plans to globalize our pop culture that we’ve been quietly preparing for more than a decade are starting to bear fruit.”
“We’ve been building relationships and content with composers in various countries for a long time to globalize K-pop,” Lee said. “This series of concerts is the fruit of those long-term efforts. SM has a pool of over 300 composers and producers in the US and Europe, so we’re capable of producing music that can appeal to people all over the world. I’m confident that we can captivate young people in France, the US, Britain and Germany with our music.”
Another factor behind the strength of K-pop is Korea’s unique system of spotting and nurturing young talent from an early age and customizing their song-and-dance routines to the tastes of fans in different countries. Lee said, “We select talented youngsters with a lot of potential at an early age, and nurture them into highly competitive entertainers through rigorous training.”
He claimed, “There is a limit to American and European agency system as it only makes investment in already proven stars. But in Korea, we have a system that constantly discovers new stars. There is no place for those who seek a windfall or jackpot with a one-off investment in the Korean entertainment industry. We have produced stars through long-term planning and investment.” He said, “In fact, the US and Europe are trying to learn from our system these days.”
Lee added the explanation on his three-stage business strategy for K-pop to make inroads among European listeners in a press conference in Paris on June 11 in front of some 70 European reporters.
“I will make the K-pop business model the standard of the global music industry,” Lee said. Credited with the first K-pop exports to Asia 14 years ago, Lee’s modus operandi involves intensive training of manufactured bands and unique music videos to sell their product.
The first stage is the export of products created by Korean directors and artists, according to Lee. The second stage involves manufacturing bands which consist of both Koreans and foreigners and exporting their songs and music videos around the world. He sees the so-called Korean Wave at this second stage at the moment. In the final stage, Lee hopes to form joint ventures overseas so his performers can reach the market they are targeting.
“We will see consumers placing more importance on who made the product, rather than which country the product came from,” Lee said. “In the third stage of the expansion of the Korean Wave, a Chinese artist can become a star, but that star will be the result of SM Entertainment’s efforts,” he boasted.