K-pop in Toronto – Part 1

2K12 Korea Night - The Crowd
2K12 Korea Night – The Crowd

Over the past few years I’ve watched the popularity of K-pop – and Korean music in general – grow in Toronto (and around the world but I’m going to focus mostly on Toronto for these articles). Of course, there was always a small subset of the population that knew about K-pop – and other forms of Hallyu (films, dramas, etc.) – but nowadays there are more fans, more mainstream references (thanks Psy), and thankfully, more concerts. Okay, most of the concerts are in the U.S. (New York & LA), but a girl can hope.

Some of the recent popularity – and a lot of the mainstream references in the media – are a direct result of Psy’s Gangnam Style of course. Like it or hate it, you can’t deny that his video, much more than the song itself, certainly helped firmly establish K-pop in the Western psyche. I mean, my Mom even asked for his CD for Christmas (which I, of course, bought for her) because she thought the video was funny. But K-pop was gaining ground in the West – and in Toronto – long before Gangnam Style.

The crowd lining up to get in to see Psy - 2+ hours with tickets
The crowd lining up to get in to see Psy – 2+ hours with tickets

Now, if you’ve been reading for a while you know that I’m a fan of K-pop – or rather, I’m a fan of a wide variety but certainly not all of Korean music. But I’m not your typical K-pop fan and perhaps because of that fact, K-pop fans fascinate me. That fascination – along with the aforementioned growing popularity of K-pop – has led to this 4-part series about K-pop in Toronto (of which, this is the first).

What can you expect?

My fav K-pop parties in Toronto... Pop! Goes the World
My fav K-pop parties in Toronto… Pop! Goes the World

Part 1 (this article) will give you a general overview of K-pop in Toronto and its fans. Part 2 will talk about Pop! Goes the World and other K-pop parties in Toronto. And perhaps snippets of an interview or two. Part 3 deals with all the K-pop cover events and competitions. I’ve reached out to a few dance groups for interviews and those who responded will be featured. Same with some of the event organizers. Part 4 will talk about the few concerts we’ve had in Toronto and those who are trying to bring us more and bring fans together.

Toronto’s K-pop fans

Younha came to Toronto... but mainly to film a TV sshow
Younha came to Toronto… but mainly to film a TV show (phone pic, sorry)

Let’s jump right in! Toronto, while a major North American city – we’re Canada’s largest and recently trumped Chicago’s population (for real) – with a large Korean population (and an even bigger Asian population), is hampered by our proximity to New York City (and the U.S. in general) when it comes to concerts. Oh, I’m simplifying it but we’ll delve into more detail in Part 4. But we have had some concerts here – although more of the alt-rock variety (often known as “Indie” music in Korea) than K-pop. More common are K-pop cover events, fan events and DJ’d K-pop parties.

HallyuCon 2012 - organized by fans, for fans
HallyuCon 2012 – organized by fans, for fans

That being said, there is a very passionate – and increasingly organized – K-pop fan base in Toronto (and indeed, in all of Canada). Fans that got tired of waiting for some company to organize an event for them so they grabbed the ball and ran with it. They mobilized and turned a Facebook group into something more, putting together a very well attended fan event, HallyuCon, last fall. You’ll hear more about them later too. 

There are fans that chat online, share YouTube videos, create online communities that almost become like a family for many of them. Those communities – and others like them – are instrumental in helping to spread Hallyu – and not just K-pop – to the world. Just search Facebook for K-pop fan groups and you’ll see several.

DJ Koo came to Toronto in 2012
DJ Koo came to Toronto in 2012

While much of the fan base is young – under 25 years old – it’s not entirely so. I often get into conversations on Twitter that start with something like “I’m a little older than many K-pop fans…” almost like they’re apologizing for it. As one of those fans that’s over 25, I know where they are coming from even if I say I’m more of a Korean music fan nowadays. 

But it’s not the youth of the fans that sets them apart – lots of music genres and groups have young fans – but rather their engagement and passion. Sometimes perhaps a little too much passion. While we haven’t had any cases of sasaeng fans (사생팬, excessively obsessed stalker fans) in Toronto. At least, not that I’m aware of. And if you are familiar with the term, Google it to see some of their obsessive craziness, and yeah, that’s the right description. I don’t even want to touch on their antics because I just don’t get them (but then I’m too shy to even ask if I can take my picture with a group/singer I like after I interview them). However, Toronto K-pop fans are still plenty passionate and some are even super passionate, like head-of-their-fan-club passionate. Tattoos, flying four hours to L.A. to see their “bias”, driving to New York (oh yeah, I did that :P) or heading to the airport to welcome their favs (or see them off) are examples of that passion.

And so did Lee Juck (in 2012)
The crowd at the Lee Juck concert (in 2012)

I’m a very low-key person for the most part, so my idea of being a fan is buying CDs (or their music from iTunes most of the time), attending their concerts, and perhaps, buying a t-shirt or socks (I have a huge collection of Big Bang socks). But even I’ve had a few over-the-top moments… like $200 tickets and driving to New York to see Big Bang. K-pop seems to inspire a completely different commitment from its fans, so much so that even I’m not immune to its influence. But I do sometimes have trouble wrapping my head around some of the antics of some fans but try to remove my bias – not the Konglish meaning of the word, the real one – in reporting about them.

On a teeny bit of a side note, I dislike the misuse of the word “bias” and “comeback” in regards to K-pop. The word “bias” means prejudice in the English dictionary but is used to mean preference or favourite with regards to K-pop. Similar meaning, yes, but still incorrect. But that’s nothing compared to how much the misuse of “comeback’ drives me nuts. It should mean a return after a long-term absence… say 5 years. But it’s used for each and every new release. I’m sorry but if you released an album – mini or not – less than a year ago and have been touring and promoting, then it’s NOT a comeback, it’s just your next release. Sorry… the ex-English teacher sometimes escapes and wants to correct the grammar of the world.

Super Wave Korea 2012 - one of the many K-pop cover events
J.Reyez at Super Wave Korea 2012 – one of the many K-pop cover events

But word misuse aside, K-pop fans are fun, active and extremely engaged in Toronto. They are vocal, ambitious and come out in droves to all of the fabulous K-pop events we have in Toronto. Stay tuned for Part 2! Are you a K-pop fan? What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve done because of your K-pop love? 

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

2 thoughts on “K-pop in Toronto – Part 1

  • June 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    “However, Toronto K-pop fans are still plenty passionate and some are even super passionate, like head-of-their-fan-club passionate. Tattoos, flying four hours to L.A. to see their “bias”, driving to New York (oh yeah, I did that ) or heading to the airport to welcome their favs (or see them off) are examples of that passion.”

    I’ve…done all of that
    except gurl LA IS NOT JUST A FOUR HOUR TRIP omg it was like 10 hours for me including stopovers and bussing to buffalo it was awful
    but worth it for my bbs

    • June 23, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      Lol, the flight is 4 hours… but yeah, the trip is longer with airports and stopovers. Although the only time I went – for a wedding, not for K-pop – it was a direct flight so much quicker.

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