Review: Hallyu North

SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto
SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto

Editor’s note: This review is a little different from our standard reviews. Normally, our reviews are simply the opinion of myself or one of our writers but for this review, it’s based not only on my thoughts but also those of a few others I spoke to afterwards. We also contacted Hallyu North for clarification.

I was super excited, if perhaps a little skeptical of some of Hallyu North’s claims, for the expo because I was living in Korea when SHINee debuted so they are one of the K-pop groups that I actually know a little bit about. Plus I know some of the people involved in Hallyu North which led me to pay more attention to it than if it was organized by strangers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to either expectations or its promises which has led to some pretty serious backlash, including a segment on CBC news and in Now Magazine. And the organizers have gone to ground on social media after a cryptic message saying they were conducting an internal review of the event. But before we get into all of that, let’s talk about Hallyu North, from its promises to what actually happened.

SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto
SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto

What was Hallyu North?

Hallyu North was a two-day “expo” that marketed itself as “Canada’s Biggest Hallyu Expo” which I have to assume was simply because it was held in a huge convention centre, and therefore covered the most square footage, not because there was more to do, buy and see than anywhere else. However if one actually took into account that space that was actually used, rather than the total size of the space, I’m not sure that they could honestly say that. You see, the vast majority of the hall that the SHINee show was in was empty. SHINee and the area marked off for the show took up less that a quarter (probably less than a sixth) of the space… way less.

Attendees got to meet Mike Maiku Mike, Aaron Lim and Gemini
Attendees got to meet Mike Maiku Mike, Aaron Lim and Gemini

But I digress a bit. The two-day event was to include a marketplace, SHINee special guest performance, Asia Food Fest 2016, K-drama and film screenings, YouTube stars performance and more.

Tickets ranged from $75-270 for the SHINee show + expo or $25-50 for the expo only (no SHINee but everything else) and they were expecting 5000+ people [according to their website].

There was lots of cute merch to buy in the marketplace
There was lots of cute merch to buy in the marketplace

What did Hallyu North do well?

Despite all the backlash – more on that later – there were some good elements to the expo. Attendees had a chance to not just meet and take selfies with the YouTube stars but mingle with them as well as they could often be found wandering around the marketplace.

The marketplace/vendor area was probably my favourite part. There were a variety of different vendors and attendees could get a K-pop idol inspired makeover, buy K-pop and anime stuff (both actual products and artist-made stuff), check out different organizations and like I said, meet YouTube stars and a couple of former idols.

R.P.M's Michaela teaching a "Replay" by SHINee dance class
R.P.M’s Michaela teaching a “Replay” by SHINee dance class

The performances on Saturday were a highlight for many of the attendees who made it out on the second day.

And of course, SHINee was wonderful for the 25 minutes that they were actually on stage and despite the extreme brevity, left a whole bunch of very happy fans. I watched a young fan in front of me during the show squeal with excitement for pretty much the entire time as she enjoyed her first concert.

SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto
SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto


Despite the short length of their performance and the rather odd venue choice, SHINee put in a solid, if short, show. The stage was simple, just a regular rectangular stage, with a giant screen behind it but SHINee’s vocals and choreography made you forget the lack of bells and whistles while they were on stage. Unfortunately, there was nothing to cover up the fact that it was only five songs in total, lasted under 30 minutes and had almost no fan interaction. It’s hard to blame any of that on SHINee though as they looked happy and were engaging while there.

The mess that should have been 4 lines
The mess that should have been 4 lines

Issues with Hallyu North

Where to start? There were several issues but let’s start with the brevity of SHINee’s performance. Fans were expecting an hour long show with more interaction. What they got was a different MC then was advertised (originally the MC was supposed to be Dabit and Hayana), a very short four song set with a brief two minute chat with SHINee that was poorly translated (was the guy even a translator?) and a single song encore that all added up to 25 minutes. And left a significant portion of the fans angry. As I was leaving the venue, I saw a group of angry fans trying to speak to someone in charge with no joy and afterwards a Facebook group was formed to air their grievances (there were 484 members on May 12th).

I spoke with one of the people behind the Facebook group seeking a partial refund, Vesta Choi, who said:

“Bottom line, they didn’t deliver what they promised. We only received half of what they promised, so it only makes sense for us the take back half of what we gave them.”

She was also interviewed by the CBC (starts at 9:22) if you want more insight on the fans dissatisfaction.

Another person I spoke to had this to say (on the condition that they remain anonymous):

“In short, Hallyu North’s exec team promised too much and failed to deliver, and no doubt it has jaded fans and also potentially ruined what could have been a good thing.”

While I have contacted Hallyu North as well, they were still conducting an internal review at the time this was published and would only let us know what SHINee enjoyed their time in Toronto.

SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto
SHINee at Hallyu North in Toronto

There were others that I spoke to but the feedback was basically all the same – it was disorganized and the organizers over-promised but under-delivered. So back to my impressions…

To be blunt, it was probably the most unorganized event I’ve ever attended. There were no signs directing people to the panels, no information posted that I could find letting people know what was happening, no schedule posted other than one that could be downloaded on your phone and wasn’t updated with cancellations (interestingly, it’s been removed from their website), no maps helping people find things… and no one appeared to be directing or helping the attendees line up for the SHINee concert at 6pm. And despite lots of complaints on Friday, little was fixed for Saturday as it was still hard to find the panels based on feedback I received. I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture.

The lack of organization, leadership and signage lead to the craziness that was the lineup for the SHINee show. By the time they got everything all sorted out, SHINee started an hour later than scheduled with reports that not everyone was in the hall when they came on stage. And the brevity of the show was just emphasized by the fact that everyone had spent so much time prior waiting, first in a massive clump that in no way resembled 4 lines and then in those lines.

The lack of communication. I’ve already mentioned the lack of communication via signage and to help facilitate the line up process but there also appeared to be an internal lack of communication as day-of questions, even simple ones asked to the appropriate person, often required them to ask someone else for guidance.

Not much selection with only two food trucks
Not much selection with only two food trucks

But while the disorganization and lack of communication were annoying, I would say that their misrepresentation of what was to happen was the key issue. In addition to promising an hour with SHINee and not delivering, there were also other programming elements that never materialized. Dabit and Hayana were removed at the very last minute and everyone only found out from the artists and their management company, Hallyu North never said a thing. The expo promoted itself as an Asian Food Fest but there was only two food trucks, one of which had to leave, and an ice cream vendor (not Asian food). There was a Korean cooking demonstration on Saturday but even still, that’s not enough to claim “food fest” in the marketing.

I’m not going to go into my issues as media as those are similar to the above, including the lack of communication which led to some media being in the photo pit while others were told to stand at the back. Hence my crappy photos (sorry ^^).

There was a Hanbok fashion show on Saturday too
There was a Hanbok fashion show on Saturday too

Final Thoughts

There were good elements to Hallyu North and I wanted to like it. I really did. I mean, here was a group bringing SHINee to Toronto. Unfortunately, they over-promised, over-charged (for what actually happened) and under delivered. I’m still curious as to why they cancelled Dabit and Hayana at the very last minute but I suspect, like the many questions about the event, we’ll never find out. It would be good, however, if someone was to explain, take responsibility and try to reach a resolution with the unhappy attendees. At the time this article was published, there has been no response from the organizers to the attendees.

Were you at Hallyu North? What was your impressions of the expo?

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.

4 thoughts on “Review: Hallyu North

  • May 16, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    This is my experience. While we were waiting in the late morning until 1:00 pm, which the pre-sales people were supposed to get inside for their numbered wristband. No one came for the pre-sales ticket customers as promised on their advertisement. When 2:00 pm arrived, we were told they would take 15 minutes more. After that they needed another 5 to 10 minutes. By the time we went inside it was after 2:30 p.m. Close to 3 hours of standing in the hot sun, thirsty and tired from being on our feet for hours. There was no concession stand with them not being concerned standing under that glass roof with the sun beaming down on everyone underneath for hours. I lost most of my voice from thirst and I would not dare get out of line that was a mile long. I am glad no one in the crowd had a medical issue or it would have been a real disaster with people standing in those conditions for so long.

    Earlier there was one woman that tried to advise the volunteers and the staff since it’s a K-pop performance it will be a bigger crowd. It would be best have everyone stand like a theme-park lines so everyone can get in efficiently. The supervisor / volunteer told her that they know what they’re doing and they going to open all the doors so everyone can get in at the same time which caused a massive chaotic bottleneck of people pushing and shoving to get in. When the doors opened as predicted, was a lot of pushing and shoving and by the time I got my ticket I was number 74 which I was actually the 12th person.

    Everyone that were the first few people in section A found out the volunteers got their tickets before the pre-sale people. Once again the pre-sale people were robbed of being the first to come in to pick out good spots to watch the concert. Pre-sale bands were mixed in the numbers with the regular sale ticket sale buyers which caused a lot of them to be angry.

    We all waited patiently eating and shopping until the performance was about to start. The volunteers announced for everyone to be at the concert door at 6:00 pm. At 6 pm everyone (all ABC and D) were all crowded at the door to get inside. Once again it was a chaotic mess. There was no organization of how to streamline everyone in by section letters. The volunteers yelled for everyone that is section A to come forward and others back way.

    No one would move it was so crowded they couldn’t back up and the volunteers were yelling in frustration to back off and no one could move backwards so the volunteers just stood there for 20 minutes.

    Finally they told everyone to exit out of the building so they can line everyone up in a order. It took a long time to get out because of the crowd and then everyone lined up by numerical order and they did a first countdown to make sure everyone was in a numerical order. Then we waited out there for about 25 minutes for them to count again for the second time.

    Afterwards, we were told by 7:00 pm to enter the building section A goes first. While we were moving 1/4 already inside, one of the volunteers was saying “Darn we are supposed to let the pre-sales ticket people go in first!” so once again the pre-sale ticket people were mixed up with the regular sale ticket people and then they told us to run for it once we were inside by the time we got there it was priced 7:10 pm.

    It was after 7:30 by the time that all sections everyone finally arrived into the concert room in order for SHINee to perform. Due to the delay SHINee was only able to perform for 30 minutes.

    It was supposed to be 1 hour. There were advertisements on Twitter and Facebook indicating SHINee performance will be from (7:00 pm to 8:00 pm) We we did to get an 1 hour’s worth of the performance because the Organizers did not find it marketable to advertise SHINee performance for only 30 minutes. Basically they lied to all the ticket buyers that had intentions of watching SHINee perform. Great deception Hallyu North. Especially when there were people flying from the US to see them perform. Hotels expenses and flights are not cheap.

    Enercare Centre and Hallyu North should have contracted CONCERT EVENT PLANNER to organize all this and made it a smooth and efficient process. It did not occur. Instead, we had chaos, frustrated customers that were angry standing looking for someone to resolve the issue. We kept getting excuses from the volunteers and supervisor saying they know what we’re doing. They made the whole experience into a huge chaotic circus.

    Because of them all Paying customers only got 30 minutes worth of performance and a lot of people paid over $300 for being ripped off having 30 minutes performance.

    There should be a partial refund especially issued to everyone. EXPECIALLY for the pre-sales ticket buyers since they paid early to get in to be able to get a better spot in the concert room to watch these SHINee perform.

    A formal apology on Facebook is not acceptable even though this is their first time having a large concert of this magnitude, they should have had the adequate staff to be able to handle a large crowd for that type of performance. The typical small music bands that performed there is nothing compared to a big K-pop group specially a reputable one from South Korea which has a higher fan-base crowd that would attend.

    The fault does NOT lie with SHINee. They did the best they could since they have a tight schedule of their own. All the fans appreciate their effort of flying 12 hours to arrive and perform a few hours later. They danced and sing through the jetlag and exhaustion. I am grateful for every song and their time. The volunteers and staff’s fiasco did SHINee injustice of lying to the ticket customers and not providing a stage large enough for them to dance comfortably. Someone mentioned that Minho almost fell off the stage doing a dance number. There were other issues with their equipment. They were not provided adequate equipment to do a performance under SHINee’s standards.

    The fault lies with the people at the Enercare Centre and Holly North that actually set up this whole event. They had plenty of time to prepare in advance and could have set up everything on Thursday. I was in the building the night on Thursday. Nothing was set up and I was in the building from 5:00pm to 7:00pm.

    If they set all the tables, the stage equipment and everything. On Thursday evening, the volunteers and staff would have to only prepare organizing & handling the ticket customers first thing in the early afternoon. .

    No they wait until hours before the performance to set up the tables for the ticket stands and everything. The only exception was the food vendors. They had to set up that day but all the other things could have been done it already and they could just focus on the ticket customers (pre-sale and regular) coming inside efficiently by preparing entrance lines for every section to receive numbered armbands without any chaos, frustration, anger and upset customers that paid a lot of money.

    I was one of those customers that came from the US to see SHINee perform and I feel slighted because I paid all this money for flights, hotel stay, and the ticket to only have 30 minutes performance and their issue because they could not organize themselves and delayed everything. If I had known SHINee would be performing only 30 minutes I would have went to the SHINee fan meet in Chicago. I would have gotten my moneys worth of seeing them for 2 HOURS.

    I doubt SHINee will return to Enercare Centre. The disorganization and lunacy most likey not give them a good impression to the KPOP groups and SM Entertainment.

    There are a mass of angry customers. Hallyu North and Enercare Centre fell through on their word. There is many posts on the following Hallyu North Facebook page. Including a new Facebook group in the process of disputing Hallyu North. I will add a snippet of one of the comments.

  • May 16, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    I forgot to add. Hallyu North attempted to do a CLEAN UP of establishing DENIAL job by DELETING all advertisements and conversations of SHINee performance starting at 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm that was POSTED repeatedly on their Twitter page and Facebook. They underestimated the Ticket Customers since a good portion of the people print screened the advertisements on their cell phone and computers. They also did not factor the customers that received a text confirmation of what time SHINee performed as well. That was a bad move on Hallyu North trying to stage a deception and FAILED.

    This is a case of bad business practices that leaves an aftermath of broken trust and lack of customers in the future. I would not attend anything from Hallyu North even if they give a 75% discount.

    Here’s my advice to Hallyu North. I may not be in the entertainment business but I do have enough common sense to know if I am doing an event for the 1ST TIME of this magnitude I would HIRE SOMEONE OR CONTRACTOR that CAN do the job and do it RIGHT. That way, it’s a win – win situation for EVERYONE. The entertainers are happy, the customers are satisfied. Everyone walks away happy and satisfied.

      • May 16, 2016 at 9:40 pm

        Thank you. I was one of the people that emailed my experience to the man that ran the Hallyu North Expo Promotion article weeks before in the CBC news.

        A lot of people submitted their stories to Mr. Lee-Shanok so Hallyu North would not quietly sweep it under the rug. We want it all out in the open for the public to know. You probably read already. I am quoted in there. I was the one that named it “A chaotic Mess.” quite a befitting title for the whole situation.

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