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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?