What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word Chile?
The country of dictators, sweet wine and perhaps the land of South American passion might come to mind. However, when Chileans hear 'Korea,' it seems they associate the word with girl groups and idols. Chile is currently one of the many places that have come under the influence of the K-pop wave. JYJ Junsu's solo "Tarantallegra" recently was awarded number one on one of Chile's broadcasting network websites. Last weekend, in Santiago, a K-Pop contest drew 1,000 people, including contestants and viewers.
On August 18, the contest titled "2012 The 4th K-Pop Dance and Singing Contest" was held in one of Santiago's popular neighborhoods. The venue could hold approximately 1,300 people and the event began at 1:15PM. However, the fans started lining up at 11AM. On one side of the streets, the competing teams were seen practicing. When the Korean consulate handed out tickets to the event, people lined up despite the pouring rain and 400 people were turned away.
AT 1PM, the judges came together, which included people from KOTRA, Consulate employees, Chilean record company representatives and music experts. Out of this contest, they will pick certain teams to attend the "2012 World K-Pop" event to be held in Changwon in October. Fighting for the spot and the crown were 20 dance teams and 10 singing teams.
The judges are hid away on the first row of the second floor. The stage has a screen that says, 'Over the Andes to Patagonia.' Dance will be evaluated based on visuals, rhythm, technique and reactions. Singing is evaluated based on rhythm, breathing and pronunciation. The judges do not say whether they pass or don't pass, but score them on a scale of 0-10.
The contest begins.
A 6-member male group 'Just Blackstar' performs BEAST's "Shock." They are fully dressed in their outfits and their dance seems incredibly authentic. Reactions are instant, as people cheer the group on. The judges award 9s and 10s. The 'Blue Boys' performed Super Junior and the reactions aren't as good. The groups keep coming, some performing lesser known songs and not able to draw big reactions from either the attendees or the judges.
The judges don't say anything to them but keep score on their scorecards. A group that performs JYJ's "Get Out," all missed their beats and drew low scores from the judges and the viewers. These similarly average performances continued until 'Big Crash,' who performed Big Bang's "Fantastic Baby" and they really hit the mark with their dance moves. The fans go crazy and sing along to the songs.
Even a documentary crew from KBS is there, filming the performance and the judges. The show puts on promotional videos of Korea that include Park Ji Sung, Ban Ki Moon, Namsan Tower, 63 Building and Kimchi. All the things that you'd expect from a Korean cultural experience are present. There are vendors selling Korean goods and candies.
Why is K-Pop so popular in Chile, a country that couldn't possibly be farther away geographically from Korea?
A Chilean record company executive Gonzalo Garcia said, "Here in South America, Japanese culture was really popular for a while and there was a lot of consumption of Asian culture. In the beginning, Korean culture began here when Korean dramas started to compete with Japanese dramas. And now K-Pop is much more accessible and familiar than Japanese music. The music, dance and visuals are all very unique. It's a completely different experience." Could it be that the growing economic power of Korea, the amount of popularity it's gaining in the internet and the improvement of the Korean cultural experience are all working together?
After the contest, the judges got together in a room and faced the difficult challenge of picking only a few winners. Because there are so many criteria and many judges, it's hard to come to a unanimous agreement. Deciding to pick out of majority, they decide on the 3 groups that will win. As the judges come back out on to the stage, Psy's "Gangnam Style" blasts out and sends the whole venue into frenzy. Even some of the judges are dancing along to Psy's viral horse dance.
The event ends slightly over 7PM and the awards are handed out. The fans start to go home, their bags full of Korean ramen, snacks and drinks. The K-Pop party was now over. The fans are taking their groups' posters from the wall and when asked how they felt, they said, "It was amazing. It was so much better than last year and we hope that the event will be held in a bigger venue next year!"
This will probably come true. Popular Korean drama "Secret Garden" is going to be airing on their main broadcasting channels and JYJ Junsu is planning on a concert there in September. There are even Korean schools where over 100 Chileans are learning Korean. It's thought that Korean cars and cell phones will be successful here as well.