The common thread that connects all of us at KCM Agency is the pride we each have in our multicultural roots and multifaceted identities. We love working with clients that embrace culture and community as we find projects that embody this attribute to be the most rewarding, and so when the opportunity to work on KCON with CJ E&M, Asia’s leading content and media company, presented itself in 2013, it was a no-brainer.
KCON is an annual convention and concert dedicated to the “Korean Wave” (also known as Hallyu), which refers to the growing popularity of South Korean pop culture internationally. The convention showcases Korean music, food, beauty, and other forms of media and entertainment such as dance, movies, and gaming. As the finale for each convention day, a widely anticipated concert is held, featuring an impressive lineup of the year’s top Korean pop (K-pop) stars. KCON first started in 2012 as a one-day event in Irvine, California, and drew an attendance of 10,000 fans. Since then, KCON has turned into a multi-day event that is held all over the world from Chiba, Japan to Paris, France to Abu Dhabi, UAE with 350,000 attendees worldwide over the last 6 years.
The 2017 KCON season kicked off with its first stop in Mexico City, and our team was thrilled to support and experience IRL KCON Mexico’s inaugural event!
The popularity of K-pop and other forms of Korean entertainment in the U.S. has been documented as a steady rise in influence from niche interests within Asian American communities to a more mainstream acceptance, even having a yearly showcase at SXSW, K-pop Night Out, since 2013. With KCON’s origins in the U.S., there is no better place to gauge the variety of groups and ethnicities that have embraced Korean culture and flock as if in pilgrimage to KCON every year. According to Remezcla, unpublished data in 2014 from Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) places Latinos in the U.S. at 21.4% of the total K-pop fandom in the U.S., second only to Asian Americans. Korean drama (K-drama) streaming site Dramafever cites a parallel statistic for their Latin American viewership: 30% of their total audience is Latinx, making it their second largest market after the U.S.
Hallyu has been growing rapidly in Latin America. Business Korea claims Hallyu has a 7.1% growth rate in Mexico’s content market with a projected $38.02B USD in market size for 2018. Fans all across Central and South America have picked up the practices of K-pop fandom which include things such as, “celebrating the birthdays of their favorite stars, creating fan clubs, and filming “flash mob” re-creations of popular dance moves” as NPR reported in 2013.
KCON, as the premier event for Korean culture, sought to bring “all things Hallyu” to the millions of fans across Latin America with a debut in Mexico City. Over two days (March 17-18, 2017), 33,000 fans found themselves able to experience all aspects of Korean culture, from food and beauty (K-beauty) products to K-pop dance workshops and panels held by influencers best known for their Hallyu-centered content.
It was a long and strenuous week in Mexico City with most of our days spent on-site at Arena Ciudad de Mexico, but we witnessed and were motivated by the incredible passion of the fans. Despite the rain and hail, attendees started lining up outside the arena gates 24 hours before registration even opened. Thankfully, the clouds cleared just as the KCON doors opened, but we don’t believe the rain would have put a damper on the fans’ spirits.
The majority of the morning was spent with attendees picking up their KCON registration package which included the coveted KCON scratchers. We heard screams of sheer joy and wails of agony depending on whether or not they had won an opportunity to meet their favorite “idol.” Shortly thereafter, an unofficial bartering system emerged, with fans holding up signs indicating the Fan Engagement scratcher they possess and which scratcher they’d like to trade for. It appears this KCON ritual knows no borders and is universally a part of the KCON experience!
The fans’ energy levels are always high, and although 2017 marks KCM Agency’s 6th year working on KCON and KCON Mexico marks our 8th KCON event, the excitement is still infectious. As one team member put it, “Even though I couldn’t understand what they saying exactly, I could tell they were enjoying the event. They were just so happy to be here, just like the fans in Los Angeles or New York, and that made me happy to be a part of the event.”
When it came time for the concert, the energy intensified tenfold. From the concert floor, you could see homemade banners so large that multiple people were required to hold it up. Others held up merchandise purchased at the convention and bobbed their lightsticks to the beat of the music. Major props to the artists who addressed the fans in Spanish to the best of their abilities, especially Eric Nam who also hosted the concert almost entirely in perfect Spanish, and paid homage by preparing special Mexican performances! Despite the language barrier, the fans’ support for the artists remained consistent and strong throughout the night, once again reminding us of music’s universal reach.
After the weekend, the team reflected on their experiences, sharing it with the rest of KCM Agency back in Los Angeles. Every event is hard work for the people involved behind the scenes, and this first KCON in Mexico was no exception. The excitement of launching something in a foreign country is accompanied by both expected and unforeseen challenges such as trying to communicate an urgent and complicated matter through a translator, a sudden surge in convention attendance from the general public, and ever-changing weather forecasts, to name a few. But we believe these are just growing pains. As we continue to work on the rest of this year’s KCON events and KCM Agency’s scope grows with each one, the experiences we shared and the lessons we learned at KCON Mexico will prove to be invaluable!
Next up: KCON NY on June 23 to 24